Tag Archives: roadtrip

Banish The Pixie Dream Girl

I was going to write a post seeking riding buddies and new friends on the road, but then I got sidetracked by a recent episode of the podcast Modern Love.

At first blush ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl‘ seemed like it was going to be a cheesy love story, but you know, that’s not really Modern Love style. There must be some insight. There is always a lesson.

As the narrator talked about his love of the genre of manic pixie dream girl romance. He told a story of how he once found his very own manic pixie dream girl. Describing the exciting but damaged personality that makes up the manic pixie dream girl, I wondered if I envisioned myself as a manic pixie dream girl too.

No, I don’t envision myself as a Natalie Portman from Garden State. I lack the physique and eating discipline to actually be pixie-like (note: photo is nothing like Natalie Portman) But that old trope of the fun, interesting, quirky and intriguing girl who is also emotionally and mentally damaged from whatever ghosts haunt her and she needs fixing by a stable, strong, infinitely patient protagonist. The storyline goes that the stable protagonist finds himself a manic pixie dream girl. She, through her wild antics, she draws him out of his shell and introduces him to an exotic new world of new experiences and, of course, sex.

They fall in love. But the heroine can’t escape her mental defects. The sexy intrigue becomes unbearably eccentric. The wild excitement turns into fear-inducing volatility. The fun quirkiness becomes mental instability. The sass becomes mean.

We worry about what she will do to him. Or what she will do to the relationship. And we are certain she will ultimately hurt herself. Naturally, love overcomes all and our strong and stable protagonist is able to fix her; thus saving her from herself.

My favorite of this genre is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It doesn’t follow this exact formula and our manic pixie dream girl, Clementine, is less hapless and cutesy pixie and more self-assured and decisive woman. I hesitate to add manic, because that would imply she actually has a mental health disorder that the audience thinks she needs fixing. She doesn’t need fixing.

As I declared myself an atheist at age twelve, I am not so into the idea of fate nor star-crossed lovers nor soulmates nor one true loves. So, it’s odd that I love this movie so much. It relies entirely on fate – our two soulmates, despite erasing each other from their minds, they find each other again because they are destined to be together.

The movie abruptly ends after they find out they erased each other from their respective brains. They learn about their previously volitile relationship that ended in heartbreak.

Roll credits.

We are left to believe Joel and Clementine are fated to be together. Armed with the knowledge of how their relationship failed, perhaps they avoid all the mistakes of the past and live happily ever after.

Or maybe they are the same people, the same personalities and the same relationship they were the first time. Perhaps, they are destined to just repeat the same heartbreak again and again and again. Groundhogs Day.

Okay, that was a fun recap of my favorite movie. So, why, you might ask, would I envision myself some sort of manic pixie dream girl? I don’t want to, really. In fact, it’s not even specifically the manic pixie dream girl that is the problem.

She is just the embodiment of that tired old mentality that most of those smart, intriguing and fun girls we love are flawed. They need to be fixed. The “I like all these things about you and you would be perfect if you could just fix all these things about you.” Your amazing, but totally screwed up. I’ll take all the good stuff, but let me help you identify and eliminate all this shit that stinks and offends me. Your great, but broken.

Here is the problem. We are all flawed. No, not flawed. We are all different. With the good weirdness comes the bad strangeness. With the exciting and exotic comes the scary and different. With the wild and fun come the unpredictable and volatile. It is all matter of degrees and increments, compromises and acceptance. It is not flaws in need of fixes.

I fell for the romantic construct of the manic pixie dream girl. We all do at some point, don’t we? We envision ourselves as some gauzy, doe-eyed creature who is wonderfully and tragically imperfect. We are broken and we need someone to fix us and save us from ourselves. And it’s not just any anyone – it is only the fated one.

No doubt, I can be improved. But let’s banish the manic pixie dream girl and all her incarnations. The concept of her is broken. I am not.

Happy cooking and dreaming!

Irresponsibility continued.

Rereading my last post (here’s a picure of me for fun), I realize there are so many little things I wanted to include that would really paint the picture of how irresponsible I’ve been. All these spicy details that make compelling gifts for a writer. Like the cop who told me to my bleeding face that I was lucky my father loved me so much. Or the professor who looked at me in disbelief when he learned I had a near perfect GPA. He advised me no one would believe that because I partied so much. That advice was echoed by a manager I had for an internship. “Your male counterparts won’t take you seriously if they think you are a party girl.”

Oh sweet little nuggets that just have to be left for other occasions or left altogether. Such is the blog format – red herrings get sacrificed for concise brevity.

I left off as I ventured to Cambridge – a place with more brainpower per square mile than virtually anyplace on Earth. It’s a bit terrifying for an average girl who just got “lucky”.  While I can ramble on and on about my perceived “luck” in life, I will leave the discussion of imposter syndrom for another day.

Unlike many of my peers at MIT, I hadn’t been curating my academic trajectory since diapers. I chose MIT because it is the best. I also never lived on the East Coast, so Cambridge was an adventure. I was a mountain girl, not a city girl, so why not? Rather than join a well-funded and well-known lab where I would serve as a lackey for a PhD candidate, I exercised my irresponsibility yet again and opted to join the underfunded, filthy and falling apart Cryogenic lab.

My advisor was 72 years old. He put together a lab from discarded machines and equipment all over campus. For those of you who understand machining, he machined a feed screw for an obsolete lathe on the lab’s other obsolete lathe. For you not in the know, he was a fucking magician. His stainless steel welds were a thing of beauty. And rather than putting up with some self-entitled PhD giving me crumbs of work that I could hope to stitch into a thesis, I did original research, independently. Granted, I first rebuilt a broken cryocooler and scavenged copper tubing from the building’s plumbing. Which is ironic when you consider MIT has an endowment larger than the GDP of many countries.

My brilliant advisor grew nervous that midway into my fourth semester, I had yet to start writing my thesis. This time the dumbass luck was real. In an effort to impress a boy, I tore my ACL skiing. For the months after surgery I spent in an akle to hip brace, I wrote chapter after chapter. I earned my Masters after I turned a PhD length thesis. Not to brag too much, but only one rewrite per chapter (graduate students will understand how rare that is); our lab admin said it never happened as long as she worked there. I was always luckier at writing than engineering.

I sometimes feel a bit cynical about the reputation of MIT and all the accolades and opportunity that come with it. On one hand, I brandish the credentials when feel I am not taken seriously. On the other, I also bristle at the ohhs and ahhs that come unearned at those three letters. That reputation carried me to an oilfield company in Texas. Yeah, my hippie, environmental self took her mercurial tendencies to a corporate job in a filthy industry.

Because of my flighty nature, I requested my start date be put off until September. Before I settled into my 9-5 cubicle life of conformity, I needed three months. Just as I am doing now, I was to mark starting a new phase of my life with a road trip. My younger self opted for a pickup truck with four wheels.

The first leg – Boston to Denver- wasn’t solo. Long before the proliferation of dating sites and just a few years before a guy up the street from MIT created a huge social network, I met a guy through a college message board. We didn’t date, but we became good enough friends (shout out to Rocky) to spend four days driving cross country together. We took the back roads, got stuck behind a Mennonite buggie, made a 70 mile side trip to see a mall, got pulled over in South Dakota over a foot out the window and drugs in the console, froze our asses off in the Badlands, saw giant heads carved into a mountain, and at last, arrived in Denver.

I found this ad in magazine around this time. It resonated with me – well, it must have, I still have it after all these years, wrapped in the plastic I put it in back in 2001. Great advice for one preparing to jump onto the corporate laddar.

I realize I am slowing down on my story here. I am offering way more detail than in my previous post. So, this story is to be continued yet again in another post.

It was a wonderful time in life. I escaped my past. I kept that promise to myself – never again. I felt victorious. I was sure my future held promise. The 3-month interlude on the road was a celebration to absorb all I acheived. A reward for working my ass off. From that one bedroom apartment with the couch on bricks, the black and white TV, bed and dresser to a married then divorced student to a National Science Fellow and scholar to a woman with an assured future. Never again would I ever be as down as out as I was when I left home at 18.

Lucky me.

Now, here I am perched on a different precipice, separated by nearly two decades. All that promise behind me and the unknown ahead of me. Maybe it’s more promise. It’s probably not a couch on bricks, but it’s so hazy, maybe it actually is.

For now, it’s a motorcycle with a continent in front of me. For good measure, I leave you with another pic of my ride.

Happy cooking, riding and thinking.