how Notting Hill (the movie) turned my day around

There’s a Miranda July quote that I’ve been thinking about for the last few days.  

All I ever really want to know is how other people are making it through life—where do they put their body, hour by hour, and how do they cope inside of it.


It was on Thursday night that things sort of fell apart. And I use the term fell-apart loosely. I was out a bar with my very dearest friend and I didn’t have the proper credit card to pay the tab. It was the stupidest thing. The easiest fix. I simply had to find a debit machine, pull out some cash and that was it.


And yet.


And yet and yet it felt like the straw that broke the camel’s back and all of the sudden there I was, two months deep into a bad mood and only just waking up to it.


It’s been such a difficult winter here in New York. I haven’t wanted to admit it because I fear the long, sweltering days of summer and I’m pretty sure you don’t get to complain about both, but this winter has been really, really hard.


And then came today. This perfectly normal day at the end of a two-month-stretch-of-bad-mood whereupon I walked around thinking, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe. I really can’t breathe, knowing all the while that of course I could.


But sometimes just to be alive and human is a nearly crushing responsibility. Occasionally brilliant, but very often quite, quite difficult.


I have a stack of pages I’ve been carrying around with me for a month, information and research that I’m quite sure have much to do with both my future and my past. And on the back of one of the sheets, in my dark scrawl are two words: interoceptive sensitivity. Something Tom said to me recently. I’m going to butcher exactly what it is—mostly because it’s sort of beyond my comprehension—but my very cursory understanding is that, it is the notion that some people feel emotions in a more physical way than others.


And there I was walking around today thinking I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe because there’s this tightness in my chest and I know it’s a tangle of fear and nerves and self-doubt, but fuck if it doesn’t feel like it might actually kill me.


And do other people feel this too? They must. Not everyone perhaps. But if there’s a medical term for it and a whole medical theory surrounding it, then surely I’m not alone.


It’s on days like this when sadness feels so very present and full that I wonder how everyone doesn’t see it. And then I worry that I’ve gotten too good at hiding it. Because what that really means is I’ve gotten too good at hiding everything. And hiding denotes a lack of courage.


And I am not courageous. I am really, really not courageous. I’ll cop to that.


Sometimes I’d like to walk around with a post-it on my back, a sort of disclaimer: Not as courageous as you think. Not unfriendly or unkind, so much as occasionally out-of-my-depth terrified.


And out-of-my-depth-terrified means I sometimes walk around working very, very hard to get breath into my lungs.


So yesterday’s lack of air meant that when I finally got on the subway home I tilted my chin down, my baseball cap—the one I wear when thinking about the shadow life I could have led—hiding my face, and I cried and I cried and I cried and wondered if other people find New York as tremendously difficult and unnerving and persistently lonely. And I wondered if others become frustrated with a subway that only gets more crowded as it hurtles toward Brooklyn. And if the sheer weight of so many strangers is upsetting to anyone else.


I used to be fat.


(How’s that for a segue way?).


I’m not anymore. I’m not skinny, but I’m also not eight, so that’s for the best. I’ve got hips and breasts and room for a baby if that day ever comes. But I am also tall and sometimes lithe and I am so very lucky to live in the body I live in.


I used to think that when I got un-fat everything would be easier. And some things are—a lot of things, actually. Getting up in the morning and letting my feet hit the ground. Getting dressed. Going to the doctor. Sitting on the subway and not worrying about my thighs touching the person next to me. The everyday things are easier. My overall quality of life so much better. I feel lighter in my skin. And some of this has much to do with being physically smaller, but also much to do with the really hard work of figuring out mental and physical health, and the journey that ensues.


But I’ll say this. In the body I’m in now—this very lucky body—I don’t feel any more beautiful standing in front of a man I find attractive. I am no more confident. No more self-assured. And I no longer get to blame my less-than-feelings on some extra fat, which leaves me feeling awfully exposed. Because all I’ve got is myself and the insecurities that I’m still wading through. And beauty is such a tricky thing because I don’t know how to trade in it—what’s the cash value of this particular commodity? People seem to think there is one, but I’m not so sure.


So there I was last night, riding the subway home, crying—in a mostly private way—my head spinning as I thought about love and how that’s sort of all there is—when everything fades away—that’s it, and if it’s so goddamn important then shouldn’t I being willing to risk more for it? But, then again, if I’d only ever lived in New York I’d be sure that no such thing as a-really-good-man actually existed. And as I’m thinking of all of this my thoughts land on Notting Hill.


The film.


And that really genius line that’s been quoted again and again, because it’s really as good as we think it is:


I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.


And Anna Scott says that and she is a fucking movie star. Like real-deal-top-of-her-game-MAMMOTH-OF-A-MOVIE-STAR. And she’s saying this to some daft, goofy, English bookseller. But isn’t that just the thing about love and the alchemy of affection, it levels the playing field!


It makes giants out of the people we adore.


What I mean is, when you’re really nuts about someone, they are more exciting, more powerful, more thrilling than anyone has ever been or ever will be and so who the hell cares who’s the movie star and who’s the bookseller? It’s hard to say I love you. Period. Full stop. Status and power and fame and wealth, and dare I say, beauty don’t even enter into. Because everyone has been whitewashed equal with the unparalleled force that is attraction. Affection.


I’m not making any sense.


I think, the thing is, I was walking around yesterday feeling really bad that I’m not able to smile more easily, or flirt more easily, or turn-soft-and-lovely more easily (as the expression goes), but if Anna Scott had difficulty with it, well then, maybe that’s okay. Maybe that’s just life. Or part of my particular experience with this particular life.


Maybe it’s just a part of who I am.


And yeah, okay, I get that Notting Hill is a movie. But I imagine whoever wrote it thought, I know this story, I’ve lived some version of this story. And I feel some need to tell this story. And that need alone validates the experience of it.


(Also, can we talk about how good Julia Roberts is that role? So simple and clear).


And I think the flipside of my point is that, everything in life can be going swimmingly—the perfect job, unlimited funds, men the world over talking about how bang-able you are (well, that’s not quite as good as we might think) and yet, none of these things make that ultimate leap of hey-I-like-you-do-you-like-me-check-yes-check-no any easier.


It’s like we’ve got these cups in our life. One for family, and one for friends, and one for work, and one for a love—and any one of these cups can be so full that it’s literally running over, but the part that runneth over doesn’t runneth over into any of the other cups. Excess work-juice doesn’t fill up an empty family cup, any more than an abundance of friendships can fill up an empty love cup.  Which is maddening and a little unfair, but probably, just as it should be.


And we’re all scared. I have to remember that. That, probably, the guy is scared too. (my metaphorical, somewhere-out-there-guy). Because the good ones usually are.


So I got off the train yesterday, got myself pizza, cursed that no grocer ever lets you finish actually checking out before calling the next guest over (which would NEVER happen in Texas), headed home to my small studio apartment and ended up entering the building at the same time as another young woman. And since I never see my neighbors and even if I do, no one in this city smiles much at eachother, and this young woman was so kind, which is to say, friendly, which is to say, she smiled and told me to have a good night.


And it helped. Sort of turned my day around. The unexpectedness of it. That it asked nothing in return.


And it reminded me of the weight of that very simple action.


Turn soft and lovely.


Which is to say, smile.


When you can.