Boss Up with Bevin Your dream life is at the end of your comfort zone

2017-02-13

Authenticity and Intimacy: Remembering My Relationship with My Grandmother

Some of the best gifts I have given myself were making decisions, even when I didn’t know how to move forward. The decision to stop hating my fat body. The decision to pursue an art career instead of law. The decision to move to LA. The decision to be myself, no matter what. Authenticity is freedom and the gateway to real connection.

In 2011 I made a decision to have a close relationship with my Grandmother. I had always loved her, of course, but our relationship was through the veil of family dynamic and not one-on-one intimacy.

Grandmother would always come with me to Crystal Fantasy, one of my favorite metaphysical shops. We shared an affinity for amethyst.

As you can imagine, when you have a Grandmother who you call “Grandmother” like it’s a Royal title or something, she’s unusual.

Grandmother is a title not a term of endearment. Flowers in the Attic is one of the only cultural references for that, and it’s not a warm fuzzy one. Even on Downton Abbey where they emote in the most British and subtle ways they call their Grandmother “Gran.” Emily Gilmore, that vestige of Connecticut upper class propriety, went by “Grandma.” Whenever someone outside of the family called her “Your Grandma” you kind of wince a little and correct them.

Calling her Grandmother was the first way I put her on a pedestal. I worshipped her, in a way. She was an icon: of femininity, fanciness, elegance, intelligence, independence and beauty.

My mother (who just went by “Mom”) raised me as a single mom in the Bay Area, about a seven hour drive from the rest of our family in Camarillo and LA. Grandmother lived Beverly Hills adjacent with Grandfather David. I only saw them a couple of times a year, and usually amongst the crowd of our family. I grew up knowing her as the Grandmother character in our family but not in a personally intimate way.

Rare shot of Grandfather David not wearing a suit.

I think if I had spent some time just the three of us (me, Grandmother and Grandfather David) it would have been great because we were all three Capricorns and loved to ask people questions. However, I’m super sensitive and my Grandfather could be crabby* so it was probably good we saw one another infrequently so he was always on his best behavior.

Our lifestyles growing up were so different! I lived in an apartment, my mom was literally always stressed about money and Grandmother was living in a big house finally doing well in her life financially as a Real Estate Broker in Beverly Hills. (Her 90210 office address was so cool to me in high school. I loved that show a lot.) Grandfather David was a professor of biochemistry at UCLA. Their house on Warner Drive looked huge to me. It had floor to ceiling bookcases, a standard of opulence I still appreciate today.

I have no idea who this dashing celebrity looking dude is but I wish I knew. I also wish I knew where that dress ended up!

It really mattered that I pursued higher education. Growing up I never questioned that I would go to a University, it was all I ever heard from my mom and from them. I went to Law School in large part because of their influence. They told me higher education was completely vital to credibility and that because I was smart there would be a yellow brick road of security paved after I got that JD.

I learned after charting my own course in life that security is not happiness. Having a JD made it way harder to get a job a lot of times, the complete opposite of what the Dean of Admissions said during 1L Orientation. When my “secure” law firm job of five years suddenly disappeared during the economic crash in 2008 that message finally hit home—nothing is truly secure. It became vital to me to live my truth and do what I’m passionate about.

So here I am a writer and making reiki infused tea and producing parties and working towards that talk show I am destined to host. I had an amazing, spiritual moment with an older man at a bus stop who, I realized in hindsight, was clearly channeling my Grandfather who told me I was a writer and he was proud of me. I know Grandfather could never have said that to me in this realm.

She really did a Norma Jean / Marilyn thing when she went from being a brunette bombshell to being a blonde bombshell.

I had to learn how to perform myself and not perform other people’s expectations of me. Grandmother did her own version of performing herself.

She created a persona for everyone she interacted with, she knew exactly how to get on someone’s good side and agree with them on the right points to put them at ease. I noticed this last year, she would be really positive with me and Dara because we are eternal optimists. I would hear a different story from other people and realized what she was doing. It’s a trauma response, to curate yourself to be the most pleasing to your audience as possible. I don’t think she did it intentionally to manipulate, I think she did it because she wanted to make people feel good. And people felt great around her.

Her with her hair stylist a few years ago.

When she was well into her 80s and it was convenient for her—bypassing those post-9/11 shoes off lines with her high heels still on, for example—she would proudly announce her age and provide her id. For years before that she hid her age with make-up, strategic plastic surgery and begging her children not to out her as their mom. She was a charmer and could command a crowd one by one, with each interaction and also with her fabulous looks. I’m bummed I never got to see her work a room in LA and learn how to network from her.

The fact that I didn’t feel particularly intimate with Grandmother when I was already in my thirties was what I made a decision to resolve. She had already given me glimpses of what she was like one on one in car rides, and she had been so accepting of my queerness that I decided to give it a shot. I didn’t know how exactly to create a deeper relationship, but from what I learned in Al Anon it was about trusting her with my authentic self and taking her off that pedestal. Pedestals are a huge barrier to intimacy.

Glamming together at my mom’s wedding in 2008.

I drove cross country in 2011 because I wanted to visit her alone for the first time and it was cheaper to gas up my Prius than fly and rent a car. I had run an emotional gauntlet by the time I got to her house, having just lost my job at Re/Dress when it closed, gone through a break-up, saw a beloved alcoholic ex-girlfriend who I had thought was going to drink herself to death for the first time post sobriety, and saw my estranged father. By the time I got to Grandmother’s all I could do was sleep and talk. My emotional risk paid off, she was so loving, sweet and accepting. It was very healing to be with her.

I never realized she hated Mexican food until I moved out here. Before that she would ALWAYS take me when I was visiting from the East Coast, which was a really nice thing to do. But once I moved here she knew she didn’t have any obligation quesadillas to eat with me.

That visit really opened me up to a lasting relationship. It’s interesting how when we are used to occasional visits with our families in big groups we don’t develop a lot of one-on-one intimacy. I loved that I felt like myself around her. We didn’t agree on everything, but she was always open to hearing me out.

One of my favorite moments recently was her complaining about seeing a woman doctor who hadn’t brushed her hair before their appointment. She equated sloppy personal aesthetic with not being a good doctor. Whereas I would prefer the doctor who was so consumed by her work that her hair was not at all a consideration. I told Grandmother that people have different value systems and no one here has to be wrong. Some people might think it was a waste of time for Grandmother to spend however long she did on her make-up in the morning (sometimes it was a full hour, sometimes she could be in and out with full face in 15 minutes**) but that they just had different values from her. I like to think that one sank in.

She told me I should date a Scorpio (her first husband was a Scorpio) and it turned out she was good friends with Lois Rodden, a famous astrologer, who my astrologer Katie Sweetman of Empowering Astrology confirmed made important contributions to modern day astrology. We had such great visits and I always longed to make enough money to be able to fly out a few times a year from New York City. Not having achieved that, making the decision to move ended up being the best choice.

I’m so grateful I moved to LA for a million reasons, but the ability to go visit her so often in her last year (we had no idea it was her last year, she was independent until she was felled by her only chemo treatment) was the best gift. We even spent last Valentine’s Day together! Being able to be so present for her illness and her Passing on to Something Awesome (POTSA) is something I’ll always treasure. Last Summer I shared with her a confidence I only shared with a small handful of besties. I’m so grateful that when she passed I had no secrets from her.

It all started with making a decision.

*I’m being kind; he could be a complete dick but at least he was nicer than her first husband.

**Our whole family could be waiting around for seemingly forever to go out to breakfast but Grandmother would take exactly as long as she wanted to get ready in spite of everyone’s protests. I loved her acts of defiance in service to her aesthetic.

2016-08-26

Dara and Bevin’s Epic Seder

When Dara’s father Passed On To Something Awesome (POTSA) I took very seriously the last email he ever sent me. He had thanked me for attending the family Skype Seder that brought us together from NYC, Vegas, Seattle and Bloomington, IL. Mel said, “Someday soon you’ll host Seder.” Judaism was super important to Mel and I knew it would gladden his heart from the great beyond for me to support Dara in her reconnection with Jewish culture after his passing. So I did the right goy girlfriend thing and bought a book (What to Do When You’re Dating a Jew: Everything You Need to Know from Matzoh Balls to Marriage) and read it cover to cover on the flight to Mel’s funeral.

sedertwilightTwilight at the Epic Seder.

It only took two years for me and Dara to host Seder for the family. Being the nontraditionalist goofball gang that are the Barlins, Seder was a few weeks early and lead by the youngest sibling (Dara). Her mom, brothers and their wives and kids came out to LA, rented an air bnb, we did Disneyland and all of that and added to the vacation plans having everyone over to our new place for Seder dinner. This was my first time. I wasn’t raised knowing how to pull off a huge, traditional family Seder in a working class household of just me and my not practicing Catholic mom. I know Judaism mostly from my awesome wildly nontraditional queer Jewish friends and that book I read. My Grandfather David was Jewish but was not in touch with his Judaism, a tale for another post. Dara had never hosted Seder before, either. We had to start from square one.

coverofhaggadahThis was the cover of the Barlin Haggadah.

I literally cooked the whole meal from scratch. My menu was mostly Martha Stewart and I made a gluten-free option for everything. My pinterest for the Seder is pretty cute and extremely ambitious. The gluten-free matzo balls were German potato knaidelach and I made them specifically to honor Grandfather David who escaped Germany and the holocaust on the last train possible out of their village. When we no longer have our family recipes due to circumstances or anti-semitism, we create our own traditions. Potato Knaidelach matzo balls are a delicious new one.

harosetHaroset made as an experiential performance piece cuts down on some of the prep time.

The Seder at our house was a complete mishigas. We had just moved in 6 weeks earlier, so the house was cray. A bunch of stuff fell through that affected the planning and execution of the meal. The haggadah Dara wrote using Haggadot.com wouldn’t print out at Staples. There was a minute we thought the whole meal wouldn’t happen because Dara’s mom got sick. Due to that, the meal got a late start, yet I was still cooking during the entire meal. Afterwards we had a lot of areas for growth to review. (But the memories of Dara and her brothers singing Pesach Man to the tune of Piano Man, and her incredible nieces and nephews acting out the plagues, and the sweetness and support of Amy and Chau the sisters-in-law Barlin will be forever etched into the mishigas of our first ever Seder.)

bevindarasederI played God and Dara played Elijah for our Seder play. My costume is literally a very pretty piece of fabric I had pinned together but hope to one day sew it into a beautiful see through mumu. The costumes were very DIY aesthetic.

In spite of all that, we decided to push forward and apply for a grant Dara heard about to throw an EPIC Seder. If a regular Seder with 11 family members was such a beautiful disaster, what could we do if we had FUNDING? I want you to know that as I write this I understand the logic is missing but we didn’t really see it. We had the Spirit about it, wanted to do a big fun thing for our friends in LA and consecrate our house as a gathering place for meaningful rituals and karaoke.

bevindarisederWhen I can get my hunky queer friends (like Dari here) in hunky costumes I know I am doing a favor for everyone on my social media.

Last summer Dara went on the trip of a lifetime with the Schusterman Foundation that works to incubate a new generation of leaders. Part of their work is funding cool stuff that their incubated leaders come up with. My perspective on the grant application was threefold: yay to Dara wanting to explore her Judaism by hosting Seder, yay to getting funding to throw a party but also OMG what are we getting ourselves into we just moved to LA and are both starting small businesses.

We got the grant and we pushed on.

mosesOur neighbor Michael played Moses and he NAILED IT.

The planning and execution of the grant was not any more serene than the first Seder, but we managed to do it and the results were extraordinary. I quit the Seder for a couple of days because I got too overwhelmed and went to Grandmothers. Of course, “quitting” the Seder still meant I spent hours working on buying decor for the event in Grandmother’s living room.

backyardforseder

I always believe the Universe has your back and we went to a queer party called Sunday Service in Highland Park a couple weeks ahead of time. The girlfriend of the party promoter was in the back selling brisket sandwiches and we got her info. Luckily Amber was super excited about and willing to cater the party for us at cost and told an amazing story of resilience you can see in the video below. It was a relief to me to not have to cook everything, but still a bummer because I love to cook for people. My perfectionism is a difficult burden to bear but I have to honor my capacity!

tablescapeI’m very proud of my tablescapes and wish it hadn’t been so windy. The plates are all from Amazon, the burlap is from JoAnn’s (I went to TOWN on coupons) and plants were from Home Depot.

Dara wrote an entire Seder play. She conceived of a whole event styled after Sleep No More (if you’re not familiar with the epic immersive performance experience, I wrote it up here) and cast our friends in roles in the play. In addition to reading from the script, they were also going to be part of the experiential hour ahead of time. I designed a room to look like an Egyptian Royalty Den, Dara made a spinner to give people ways to interact with the royalty. (Alana was the Pharoah and Jenni was the Princess and they both nailed it.) Our buddy T and his adorable pit bull Blue acted as the “guards.”

egyptinroyaltyQueer Femmes Jenni & Alana playing the Pharoah and the Princess. Nailed it.

There was a brick making station where folks made Haroset and put them into these bricks that Dara bought meant for kids’ building blocks. We had a room for people to make Plague finger puppets. Everyone was wearing costumes, that’s how we greeted people so they could get in their parts. I think you can imagine the logistics were outrageous.

plaguepuppetsmatzoballsoupPlague finger puppets.

We rented furniture for the courtyard between our house and the house behind ours. I took some of my Girl Scout event planning roots and bought cute plants, took cute paper and wrapped the pots to make centerpieces. Cute pinwheels and handmade bunting lining the yard made it look so festive. I also designed a “burning bush” out of our avocado tree. I spent HOURS trying to figure out the right lighting solution for the burning bush but I don’t think I nailed it.

femmeswithpowertools2Build out of the Egyptian Royalty Den.

In addition to the play, Dara wrote another Haggadah. Much shorter. We did some prayers, four questions and then had small group discussions about the Israeli Palestinian conflict. Some of my favorite event and performance work is making stuff really fun, then going deep, then going fun again. I think it makes the emotional and educational work more effective.We honored resilience from slavery, both the Jews from slavery in Egypt but also the ways in which slavery and oppression affect us today. The stories of resilience people offered were so incredible.

talkbacksederResilience talk back. Dara and I are both professional facilitators so…

After the second part of the play we capped the evening off with Schmores (chocolate covered matza, coconut covered marshmallows roasted over the fire) and Jewish karaoke. It was really fun and a great way to end the evening. Did you know Paula Abdul is Jewish? Check out some of the Jewish karaoke gems in the amazing video Dara edited together below.

costumemakingOur friends really went there making stylish costumes out of burlap.

Thanks again to the Schusterman Foundation for their generous support of creating weird, queer, beautiful, contemporary takes on Jewish tradition.

Check out this fabulous video Dara did about our Epic Seder, it really tells the story better than I can. I know folks walked away from that night ignited and so did we.

I want to acknowledge all the folks who helped make the Seder happen on the ground. Amber and her amazing helper behind the buffet table, Scott our neighbor/videographer, Dari and Jenn for helping us get our house together, all the friends who had roles in the Seder play, and especially Victoria who swooped in three days before and was wildly helpful setting it up. I love you, miss you and pray for you.

darasteps

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