A Tough Act to Follow, or The Message in the Mixtape

As originally published on The Gaggle

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I am easily won over with a mixtape.

While the more tangible mixtape of the 80s is relatively extinct, the concept behind it is alive and well. I’m referring to when you’re gifted a musical playlist by that special someone, filled with random pop-hits and – if you’re lucky – a promise that he’ll make love to you, like you want him to as this mix provides the soundtrack to your falling for one another.  Better yet, for the communicatively challenged, the mixtape has been known to provide hints pertaining to your relationship; a sort of figurative progress report for your burgeoning young love.

The first time Peter Parker (my boo-thing) gave me a mixtape, he told me – point blank – not to read into any of the songs; not their titles, lyrics, not even a romantically fueled riff.  He was very clear that he had compiled this group of songs solely to present me with roughly an hour of easy listening.

Remember that bit of time in the beginning of your relationship back before you slept with your significant other?  That time you insisted on taking it slow to ensure it was real?  As if to suggest that if he could successfully withstand blue balls time and time again, he might be a keeper.  He was doing his own version of that to me.  He was emotionally cock-blocking me.  As if to suggest that if I could successfully accept his playlist as just a playlist and not an invitation to be his soul mate, I might be a keeper.

Read into those songs I did not.  But then the second mixtape arrived; a mixtape with no such disclaimer denying emotional responsibility.  Hot dog!

Mix #2 (the official title) has played at full volume and on repeat in my Ford Focus for six straight weeks.  Favorites include Boom! Clap! by Charli XCX (it should be noted that there are no exclamation points in the title of that song; I just wish there were), Bed Peace by Jhene Aiko/Childish Gambino (sexy/sexy), and a cover of Hall and Oats’ Maneater by Grace Mitchell (I may or may not have an issue with biting).

It was the inclusion of Simplethings by Miguel that had me just tickled though. In this song, Miguel – with his smooth, provocative tones – states “I don’t need a model / I don’t need a debutant / just be a tough act to follow / you know, a free spirit with a wild heart.”  I get lost in this song.  I roll my windows down, feel that hot, smoggy LA wind on my face, and think, you hear that Hollywood?!  He doesn’t need a model; he’s content with a socially awkward Midwestern comedy writer with big feet and a messy backseat! (That last part’s not a euphemism; the backseat of my Focus is just obscenely, embarrassingly messy.)

Just be a tough act to follow.

Do you know what kind of beautiful relationship advice this is to a young woman in the entertainment industry; to a young woman living and doing her best to thrive in Hollywood, the epicenter of all that is insecure and malnourished?

Don’t let the Kardashians fool you; this is such a horrible place for love.  We don’t all get to have our [second] televised dream wedding [in 3 years] to [everyone’s favorite cuddle monster] Kanye West.  Most of us are just aimlessly wandering love-hungry loons.  We’re doing all sorts of idiotic things like dating naked on VH1 or worse, believing The Bachelor/Bachelorette have something legitimate to offer by way of relationship advice.  We’re reading Cosmo as if it were Blow Jobs for Dummies and desperately designing profiles that convey we’re attractive, well-groomed, well-educated, employed, devoid of daddy-issues, all in (3) simple photographs.  Add one casual selfie in your best push up bra.  Please swipe right.

We’re lonely, mostly, I’d say; and starved for true human connection.  Worst of all, we’re inundated with widespread and easily accessible bad information on what it means to be a good girlfriend or boyfriend – as if it were that simple.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve worked very hard to embody “good girlfriend material” in your dating history.  I’ve been the cool girl, the girl who eats only salads, the girl who shaves herself to the likeness of a naked mole rat for optimum sexual appeal.  And I’ve done these sorts of things thinking they would guarantee me the kind of romance you see on the big screen.

In my last serious relationship – born out of the kind of forbidden, truest of true love that I couldn’t help but declare my own personal Nicholas Sparks’ mini-drama – we each worked very hard to epitomize the other’s perfect partner.  Five years of molding your own character to fit someone else’s would-be specifications leaves very little room for the kind of self-maintenance required to be a well-rounded, happy human being.  It’s the kind of behavior that makes you resent one another, and ultimately, sadly destroys your ability to work as a team.

Just be a tough act to follow.  A pretty common phrase in our vernacular and a pretty simple concept to grasp:  be so good that nothing could ever compare.  Love, like art, like entertainment, is entirely subjective; there is no right or wrong in any of it.  And how can you be that incomparable partner if you’re simply acting like everyone else and constructing a generic personality to someone else’s [or worse, society’s] criterion?  Answer is:  you can’t.

The best shot you have at being a tough act to follow is truly discovering what it means to be you, nurturing and glorifying your most unique features, and refusing ever to bring a less than honest version of yourself to the table.    This is what makes you incomparable and with that, I believe, affords your greatest shot at finding love that is grounded and true.

Be the type of person unafraid to admit you don’t like playing team sports if that’s the case; that never says “I don’t care where we eat” when you know what you really want for dinner is a Baskin Robbins ice cream cake.  If you want to be incredible in bed, put down the magazine and ask your partner what they like; and more importantly, show them what you like.  Be the type of person that stands for something, gets mad when its warranted, that sometimes need to shake off the bad days with an epic, solo dance party to the idiosyncratic mixtape that is your soul.  Yeah, I said it.  You owe it to yourself and to the ones you love.

Point taken, Miguel.  I’ll tell you one thing: this mixtape is going to be a tough act to follow.  Good luck, Parker.

Kirsten Plays Football, or Why They Started Calling Me Ol’ Corpse Foot Knisely

Until I went to college, football had little relevance to my life.  Even after I started at the University of Michigan – a school where football fandom is a way of life (Go Blue!) – the sport played as much a role as intended for me: it was a school wide activity that inspired social events and a means of making friends; not to mention the fact that my chances of drinking too much Nati Lite and making out with one of those sexy business majors at AEπ was exponentially greater.  This is what football season meant to me: a better chance* of making out with a Jewish frat boy.  I learned the game, I respected the game, but that was then.  These days, I really have no need for the game.

And like I give a shit about professional football.

But you know who does?  What seems to be the entirety of my surrounding [late] 20-something population, that’s who.  And no longer does “giving a shit” simply entail being a fan – it means actively participating in what they call a fantasy football league.

Here, as a responsible blogger, I would usually take about a paragraph to thoroughly explain what a fantasy football league is so that you, my faithful reader, could truly understand what kind of dilemma this is for a girl like me.  But I know you know what fantasy football is; you know I know you know what fantasy football is.  And that’s because everyone fucking knows what fantasy football is.  It’s what people my age have been doing while I’ve shat on my 20s becoming a “responsible blogger.”

I moved to LA a little over a year ago.  In a way, moving to a new city is a lot like going off to college again.  You’re tasked with establishing yourself socially if you have any hope for survival.  So when a potential new friend is super into fantasy football, maybe you pretend you’re super into it too.  (Don’t judge me, I’m weak.)

After a promising double date with Ellen and Biff, my boyfriend (we’ll call him Peter Parker) and I decided to check out their fantasy league combine.  Yes, their league came together early that weekend, competing in a series of football specific conditioning drills to determine draft order.  In the way I am committed to pressuring someone to play Settlers of Catan with me at least once a week, these people are committed to fantasy football.

The day started out well.  Everyone was kind and welcoming.  Ellen was the only female competing that day, and I admired the energy she brought to the whole thing.  She was athletic and fiercely competitive, while simultaneously light-hearted and supportive of those around her.

Perhaps it was this admiration that compelled me to say “sure, why not” when asked if I wanted to join in their impromptu game of touch football – because in no other circumstance can I make sense of the girl that brought donuts and a “Go Ellen!” sign decorated with smelly magic markers, jumping up so eagerly to pretend she’s sporty.

Don’t let the fact that I ate 3 donuts fool you, guys, I am like totally a sports girl and I’m funny and intelligent and well groomed and above average in height and I deserve love and companionship in life.  This game will prove that to you all!

When it came to  teams, I wasn’t picked last.  I was picked second to last and the reason behind that was “well, they have [one of only two girls], so I guess we have to take [the remaining girl] to make it even.”  So – for all intents and purposes – I was picked last.

There were four other guys on my team.  I knew one of them by name, but the rest were complete strangers.   In our first huddle, they strategized a play, tracing out running patterns with small x’s in the dirt.  I put on a dopey voice, jabbing my QB lightly in the ribs,  “am I the confused looking X down there?  The one saying, ‘how do we even play football anyway?’ Am I right, guys?!”

But this was no time for jokes.

They told me to cover Ellen, and I took my place in the line, ready for the “hike!”  Ellen fell in place in front of me; it would appear she was given the equal but opposite task of covering me.  In that moment, I was thankful for the institutionalized sexism at play in our humble little game of touch football.  Thank you to the boys who assumed I could only handle chasing the other girl around because she would make me feel safe and I could secretly pretend we were dance fighting the whole time – because that’s exactly what I was doing.  If anything, this was a poor, poor waste of Ellen’s talent.

Once the pitch was made, I growled audibly and charged at Ellen.  The play was quick, and so she was still laughing from my over-selling the gruesome NFL character I had adopted.  I will say one thing: I do not enjoy playing spontaneous team sports; I do, however, greatly enjoy making people laugh.  This is how I will get through this, I thought to myself, starry-eyed; I will turn this into a performance.

Play after play, I sold the big-dumb-jock act – beating my chest, bearing teeth on the line, talking shit.  I got so into character that half way through the game or so, in an attempt to lose Ellen (for absolutely no reason relevant to the play), I aggressively shouldered her off of me.  I shouldered her right in the boob.  Now this is what I call fantasy football.

Back in the huddle, however, I wasn’t having such an easy go at things.  They did little to acknowledge me.  In fact, most of the time they closed off the circle before I had a chance to join, leaving me to hop around the perimeter saying “guys, guys, guys, guys” to no avail.  I can’t say that I blame them – half the time I couldn’t have told you if we were playing offensively or defensively, I was just running.

But all jokes aside, it isn’t a great feeling to very obviously be the LVP of your team; and I can tell you one thing, the feminist within me wanted to kick my ass for the fact that I was, in this moment, the epitome of every unfair bullshit stereotype about girls in sports.

It’s time like this that I start overcompensating.

The final huddle came.  Assignments were dished out to everyone but me.  I spoke up.  “So I’m just covering Ellen again, I take it?  You know, my dudes, there’s no way in hell she thinks you’re gonna throw me that ball.”  The QB looked at me; I smirked back at him.  “You think you can get open?” he asked me.  “You bet your ass I can!”  I had no idea where this was coming from, but it was working.  “If you get open, call out to me and I’ll throw you the ball,” he concluded.  I nodded, brow slightly furrowed, and took my place on the line.

Adrenaline was pulsing through my body.  “Hike!”   This was it.  I charged forward, and cut left.  Ellen didn’t miss a beat, sticking so close that I knew I would have to get fancy if I was going to lose her, catch the ball, score a TD and be carried off the field on the shoulders of my teammates like a goddamn champ.  I started shifting my weight left and right in an attempt to confuse her.  It was working.  I became crazed, taunting her, “which way am I going? This way? Or THIS way?!?! YOU’LL NEVER KNOW!!”

And then it happened.

I got open.  This was my moment, all eyes on me.  The QB called my name, my arms reached toward the sky, but suddenly something was wrong:  my right foot had seized up and was no longer working.  The second I tried to put weight on it, my knee buckled and I was down on the ground.  Of course, everyone was still looking at me, as this was still my moment.  I waved my hand behind me, “throw it to someone else and stop looking at me please!”  Expletives began to emerge from the depths of my soul.

It would appear that the beautiful Ellen had stomped on my foot and so the game was called on account of my secretly believing I would never walk again.  It would turn out that I did get carried off the field; just not in the way I had anticipated.  Peter Parker took me to the doctor for an X-ray.

It’s not broken, but severely sprained and deeply bruised. It has turned out to be a much more severe injury than I thought it would be.  I couldn’t walk for over two weeks; as in, if these were the caveman days and my tribe was being attacked by a giant saber toothed tiger, I would be the one mauled and eaten because I literally wouldn’t be able to run away.  My only hope would be some Herculean type caveman love interest throwing me over his shoulder and taking us both to safety; but let’s be honest – I’d likely be into the scrawny, socially awkward guy in the corner of the cave inventing the wheel.  Tiger bait.

The bruising created the illusion that my foot had died and joined the cast of the Walking Dead – this inspired my best friend suggesting I adopt the persona Ol’ Corpse Foot Knisely.

I’ll tell you one thing: I’m not a woman who cares much for sports.  And for much of my young life, I didn’t necessarily want to say that out loud because I’ve wanted so badly to be the kind of girl who is likeable.  Or maybe it was because I thought I had to prove something.   I’m starting to notice this behavior pattern does far more damage than good.

As the story goes, Ol’ Corpse Foot Knisely never played football again.