I Tried to Party With College Kids and I Did Fair-to-Middling

I went to visit my brother at college last month. It was the weekend leading up to his graduation, and I was full of excited thoughts like, great: I can party like I’m still in college and great: I can get drunk with my bro. But I was also nervous. Like, what if I accidentally fall asleep at 11? What if I just talk about adult things, like artisanal cheese? Oh god – what if I’m not even cool anymore?

My brother, Tommy, was living with 11 other dudes in a place called Trash House, a converted motel owned by one of those slumlords who drink the sodium-rich, ramen-infused blood of college students.

Tommy gave me a tour. Trash House wasn’t just messy; it was on the verge of collapse – my father would later rename it the less-catchy but more solutions-oriented “Code Violation House.” The furniture was molding, the walls were sticky, the wiring was frayed. The porch was littered with cigarette butts. Green crust covered the dishes in the sink. In the kitchen, a five-tier shelf made out of PVC-pipe sagged under the weight of Spaghetti-Os and applesauce.

The design aesthetic hadn’t changed much since my own college days: generic posters of Biggie and Malcolm X, a living room bong, a collection of empty Captain Morgan bottles on the kitchen counter. Each common area was crammed with salvaged couches and tables, and every room was saturated with the scent of college life: weed, stale beer, and boys.

As a college pad, though, Trash House was pretty sick. There was an indoor bar leftover from the motel days and a pool table that could be covered up for beer pong and family dinners. There was also a separate apartment in the basement where my brother lived, equipped with its own kitchen and a bathroom that could have doubled as a set in a summer camp horror movie.

“And this is Trash House after we’ve cleaned it,” my brother whispered.

I put my stuff down and we headed into the basement kitchen. Two of the roommates – the Trash House Boys, or THBs – were sitting at the table drinking beer.

Okay, here we go. Were these guys going to find me cool or pathetic? Would I uncontrollably spew advice like “the real world is balls” and “start looking for a rich spouse NOW” like some kind of embittered, mentally-ill aunt?

But I had nothing to worry about.

“Wassup! It’s Tommy’s sister!” one of the dudes shouted, pulling me into a bear hug (soon, I would realize that all eleven of the THBs are clinical giants).

I opened a bottle of Bulleit I had purchased for the occasion. This would be the only part of the evening at all reminiscent of the life I currently lead as an adult in Los Angeles. I had wanted to drink something less hangovery than Smirnoff – or at least, that was my intention before the last vestige of my post-grad life disappeared and I was once again trying to get fucked up like it was a Zeta pre-game before Toga.

The kitchen steadily filled with people, none of whom seemed to think I was pathetic (maybe it helps that I look 17 and not 25? Maybe no one could tell I was an elderly fraud?).

We all headed to the bars. It seemed like no one over 22 lived in this town. Every place was packed with college kids eager to be out with their fake IDs or new alco-legality.

Tommy bought a round of tequila shots and the kids threw them back like pixie stix. I tried but ended up choking and dribbling Tequila all over my shirt.

“Ah too bad, brah,” said one of the giants, pity in his eyes.

At about 1:45 AM we ended up at a club where a DJ was pounding 90’s electro to an empty room. Desperate to relive my glory days, I herded the group onto the dance floor and began to pop off in that stupid, jerky way only drunk college kids can dance. One young buck kept trying to grab my waist, not knowing (or caring?) that I was a mature lady. Another guy was tripping on Ketamine. Wow, I thought. This is definitely college!!

But an hour later, the adrenaline had worn off and I was alone in the Trash House basement eating from a jar of Value Brand Peanut Butter with a knife. It was 3 in the morning and I couldn’t remember where my brother had gone. My phone was dead. I went through half a jar of sugary peanut butter before I decided to call it a night.

But I couldn’t find the light switch. Exhausted, I finally unscrewed the entire light bulb. I fell asleep with my pants on.


The next day Tommy was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, as if he had spent the night in a Korean spa. I looked like roadkill. He made a pot of coffee and I drank it on the porch steps. I watched joggers and bicyclists making the most out of this beautiful Friday. I hated them.

Our parents would arrive later that morning. Graduation festivities would begin that afternoon. I would take a break from playing college to hang with my parents, do a crossword puzzle, and watch my brother graduate. I slept a terrible night on a hotel rollaway bed. I ate a giant continental breakfast.

On Saturday night, I returned to Trash House with my parents after the graduation ceremony. The THBs had, like the heartwarming giants they are, catered a big dinner for all the families in town for graduation. They had spent two full days cleaning the house and hiding the bongs. They spread aluminum tubs of food over the pool table and set up tables and chairs outside so we could all enjoy the perfect summer evening.

Though the scene was idyllic, I had had a long, busy day hating myself for becoming a loser since my own graduation. I was ready to get drunk. So, sitting between my parents, I steadily consumed an entire bottle of Sutter Home Chardonnay and then proceeded to interrogate the graduates about their life plans.

My parents looked on with worried eyes, but said nothing. As they were getting ready to leave, they asked if I wanted to come back and stay in their hotel, or continue to drink here and sleep once again in the rat-infested basement.

Without hesitation I said basement.

My mother hissed “be careful” on her way out.

The transformation was instant. As soon as the parents were gone, Trash House filled with college kids ready to party. Someone brought a fresh keg. Someone else laid out cups for a drinking game. A weird-looking freshman started to DJ from his MacBook Air.

I failed the drinking game and then  refused to drink the beer because I don’t do gluten. One of the THB Giants was kind enough to drink it for me.

I found a group of girls who looked like they could be my friends and I asked them about their astrological signs.

“Who are you sleeping with here?” I shouted. “And omg you should totally study abroad!”

“Are you…still in college?” one of them asked.

“No, I graduated! I love being out of school!”

“That’s cool. What do you do?”

“OMG girl I do whatever I want! Life after college is GREAT!”

They looked bewildered, but I didn’t care. “Let’s all go to the bathroom together and put on more makeup!” I cried.

Eventually everyone headed to the bars. I grabbed my new best girlfriends and followed.

It was a lot like the first night, only this time I hadn’t technically been invited. There were a lot of pool tables and denim shorts and very cheap mixed drinks. I was getting ready to rage again when suddenly everyone latched on to their significant others and withdrew to have close conversations with their real friends.

I sat between two couples and sipped a whiskey-ginger. They gave each other Eskimo kisses and ignored me. I thought about how graduation was going to ruin their love and felt satisfied.

I also felt very drunk.

That night, I once again found myself alone in the Trash House basement eating Value Peanut Butter with a knife. I couldn’t find my sunglasses. My phone was dead. I passed out in my jeans.

I did, however, find the light switch.

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Maintenance: or, why sometimes I look like a garbage collector and other times I look aight

Los Angeles is the IHOP of throbbing fantasies; the land where money, bikini bods, and Kardashians are served up 24 hours a day with six different kinds of syrup. Everyone knows that if you were a 10 in your hometown, you’re a straight 6 in L.A., and every bar and yoga studio within 30 miles is brimming with model-slash-actresses who are definitely cuter than you are even on day six of your cayenne-probiotic cleanse.

So the odds are favorable that, at some point, you’ve stressed about finding a decent date.

Trust: you’re not alone. We all have days spent rolled up in an anxiety burrito because seriously are we hot or not. The tricky truth is that if you want to land a high-qual date you have to stop trying to look good for other people and focus on looking good for yourself.

Here’s an exploration of the high and low maintenance modalities that can keep you loving your appearance like one of those married couples that still holds hands at dinner.

Low

Imagine a lifestyle in which you really are ready in 10 minutes.

Low maintenance ideology believes that putting a lot of effort into your appearance is a capitulation to the forces that conspire to keep women insecure. These forces tell us that makeup and heels are required if we want society to find us palatable, hire-able, and human.

Beauty norms define what we can and can’t do with our bodies. If you don’t shave your legs you can’t wear shorts. If you don’t wear makeup, you’ll look like a mole that’s been exposed to sunlight.

Other taboos include lady mustaches, wearing sneakers to the club, and relentless ponytails. For a full list, consult Mean Girls.

In low maintenance culture, makeup is like coffee – something that’s fun to put near your face but if you do it too much you’ll develop dependency issues. If personal charm and a mild facial astringent can’t make you attractive, you’re probably not worth being around anyway.

Being low maintenance means spending your concealer money on travel, happy hour, and gourmet frozen yogurt. But this is not a call for poor hygiene or sloppiness – on the contrary, in low maintenance culture, showering and basic grooming are critical.

I’ve rocked it all: armpit hair, pixie cut, facial piercings, orthopedic shoes, two-toned dye jobs. And like, I still want to look pretty. I just don’t want to NEED to manipulate my appearance in order to feel like myself.

Who you’ll land: A person values simplicity, authenticity, and spontaneity. And that’s a good thing. If a guy can’t get it up unless your legs are smooth, he really isn’t much of a man anyway.

High

Let’s start with the bottom line: Beyonce.

Looking good means power. Looking good leads to opportunities. When you get that blow-out, that manicure, that wax, that facial; when you’ve got that perfume, that matching handbag, those flawless shoes – people pay attention.

Looking good is a way of being LIFE professional even if you don’t work in an office. On the days that I put on my best button-up, apply mascara, and strap on the heels, I feel like I can take on the world, or at least like I can get baristas to spell my name without Ks.

I heard a story on Snap Judgment about a woman who was sitting at an airport when a man struck up a conversation. He was kind and intelligent, and she noticed his elegant suit and well cared-for hands (he turned out to be Gabriel Garcia Marquez).

“I could tell that he loved himself,” she said, “and I love people who love themselves.”

I believe this completely: practicing self-care is power. Taking the time to love yourself is radical. And caring for your physical body is an essential part of both.

Even if you don’t have a lot of money, you can practice being high maintenance by making sure all of your clothes are cleaned, pressed, and thoughtfully arranged. You don’t necessarily need to get a Brazilian wax or shell out $$ for a weekly massage – on the contrary. The point is to do whatever you want, as long as you do it out of joy.

Joy separates the high-maintenance from the insecure.  It’s looking impeccable not because you feel like you HAVE to, but because you are a human and you have a body and you’re going to celebrate by draping it with beautiful things. Your body is a temple, so decorate it fabulously.

Pedicures make me feel like a pretty pretty princess, which makes me feel special, which makes me feel like I can do anything, which makes me think I don’t have to go to law school, which makes me think about a bigger, brighter future where I don’t just stand in a series of windowless rooms filling out forms.

Who you’ll land: Power attracts power. You’re about to meet some guys and gals who really know how to treat a lady – hopefully someone who doesn’t mind getting a couple’s massage, because they know how to love themselves too.

emmastone

11 Clouds Dressed As Animals

Everyone is trying to find clouds shaped like animals while I’m over here trying to find animals shaped like clouds.

Clouds are masters of disguise, so a keen eye and refined palate are critical if you want to find one in full costume. Here’s a gallery of my favorite incognito clouds on the internet.

1. This obese goat who is actually a low-hanging cumulus.

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2. This cloud in an Angora bunny suit. Like many clouds, this creature does not have eyes. Unlike clouds, we can make its fur into a sweater.

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3. This cloud bank. Not pictured: baby seal.

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4. This Persian cat. “Persian cat” is actually Hungarian for “cloud monkey.” Isn’t language amazing?

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5. This white owl. Actually, white owls are what happens when a persian cat mates with a cumulonimbus.

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6. This cloud in a pomeranian costume. Fact: when Plato came up with his theory of Forms, he believed that clouds were trying to represent this animal.

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7. This fucking spider. This stupid fucking spider.

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8. This caterpillar. Unsurprisingly, when one googles “fluffy white insect” this image is the fifth result even though it’s just a cloud in a bad suit.

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9. This cloud in a silkie chicken costume. I have 19 separate images of this chicken saved to my computer because its cloud game is sooo proper.

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10. This cloud disguised as a fashion-forward peacock. Incidentally my spirit animal.

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11. This smug alpaca. Smug because he’s not actually an alpaca, he’s just a tricky-ass cloud trying to fuck with you.

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6 L.A.-Based Kombucha Brands You Should (and Shouldn’t) Try

Kombucha is like yoga. Once a hallmark of an alternative lifestyle, it’s now something your mom has on her Healthy Lifestyle board on Pinterest.

Kombucha dates back nearly 2000 years to the Tsin Dynasty, where it was consumed regularly for general health. It spread through East Asia and into Russia, where it is still enjoyed today under the iteration Tea Kvass.

Kombucha infiltrated the Western hemisphere after WWII, but for decades the only people drank it were hippies and beatniks. That is until recently, when Kombucha suddenly morphed from freaker juice to household elixir. Now it’s worshipped by Whole Foods junkies, yoga practitioners, and detox fiends alike. A few months ago I found it on the shelves of the Chinatown Walmart.

Despite its newfound popularity, lots of people don’t really know what Kombucha is. Devotees describe it as a miracle elixir that will make you live forever. Haters think it’s poison.

In reality, Kombucha is made by fermenting tea and sugar with a probiotic culture called a SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast). The SCOBY spends about two weeks eating the sugar and converting it into amino acids, probiotics, and enzymes. The result is a sweet-and-sour beverage that’s good for digestion, energy, detoxification, hangovers, and immune health – but everyone is affected by it differently, if at all.

At the time of writing, L.A. County is home to 6 major Kombucha breweries, each scrambling for an edge in an increasingly-saturated health-drink market.

With so many brands of a (not very well understood) product emerging on the market, it’s hard to know what to drink. For your consumer protection, I set out to review all the L.A.-based booch brews that have made it to the big time.

Methodology:

I assign grades to each brand based on flavor, ingredients, and commitment to maintaining Kombucha’s health benefits.  In particular, I note whether the product is certified organic. I also evaluate marketing tactics used to distinguish each brand. Finally, since Kombucha is a health-food supplement, I include how I felt (physically) after consumption.

Whenever possible, I chose a ginger-related flavor to avoid comparing apples and oranges (or rose hips and cranberries, as it were).

  1. Búcha – Torrance

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I am immediately drawn to Búcha’s bottle, a tall, slender little number that looks like a light sconce in a fro-yo bar.

There are several flavors of Búcha, each more exotic than the last: Masala Chai, Yuzu Lemon, Guava Mango, Grapefruit Sage. Since Whole Foods is out of Lemongrass Ginger, I go with Verbena Rose.

According to the label, this drink is going to taste like the exotic sensuality of Morrocco. But it doesn’t. It tastes like a shitty Mountain Dew.

No one could identify this as Kombucha in a blind taste-test – the signature vinegar taste is completely absent. Instead, my tongue is coated in a sticky, thick mass of fizzy pink…stuff.

I check the ingredient label. There’s a whopping 24 grams of sugar per serving, clocking in at nearly one hundred calories per drink. In addition, Búcha’s bottles are clear, not tinted, which exposes the Kombucha to UV rays and ultimately damages the culture.

The schtick: Each flavor has been hand-crafted by a team of experts who convene monthly at a “taste panel” to bring you gastronomic delight.

Búcha thinks of itself as the kind of beverage you sip in a jasmine-scented room after midnight.  It wants to be intoxicating as an orchid; as captivating as a sexual encounter with a woman whose name you can’t pronounce. It is, more accurately, a teenager on a night out trying to not call attention to her braces.

Búcha is certified organic.

How I felt:

I only had two sips, so I’m not a fair judge.

Grade: D

  1. Kombucha Dog – Lincoln Heights

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Beefy. That’s the word that comes to mind when I take my first sip of K-Dog’s Ginger Kombucha. Maybe I’m picking up psychic energy from the cock-eared puppy on the label, who probably is jonesing for some jerky. Or maybe it’s because this Kombucha is really, really strong.

The most important thing to know about this Kombucha is that it’s delicious. Strong, spicy, and full-bodied, this flavor will make ginger lovers rejoice.

Kombucha Dog uses cold-press juice to flavor its Kombucha instead of processed sugars or pasteurized juice. According to Juice Press, a leading New York juice company, cold-pressing juice works to “liberate the nutritional enzymes from the fibers of the produce.” Which means you’re getting more health benefits than you would from pasteurized or concentrated juice.

The bottle is tinted for UV protection, shaped like a beer, and has the most wonderful schtick: the guy who founded the company is a professional dog photographer, and his labels are printed with portraits of dogs that need homes. So if you love the pooch on your booch, you can contact the company and they’ll guide you to the adoption center. According to Kombucha Dog’s website, over 65 dogs have found a home since the company’s inception.

As cool as the label is, I am troubled by the lack of printed nutritional information. Many people turn to Kombucha to aid digestive disorders, so it’s important that consumers know just how much sugar (an intestinal irritant) they’re drinking.

Kombucha Dog is in the process of receiving it’s organic certification.

How I felt:

Not very different. feel much different. BUT I still dream about that taste.

Grade: A

  1. Better Booch – Huntington Park

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Okay, full disclosure: I used to work for Better Booch, so my review is a little biased. BUT I don’t work for them anymore, so I promise my interest in their company is purely academic.

I sought a job at Better Booch because the product is, simply, better. It bills itself as “LA’s Premier Kombucha Tea-” a big statement given all the other brands in this city. But Better Booch really does live up to its name. Better Booch is fizzy, delicate, and just slightly sweet.

The schtick: BB doesn’t use juice or added sugar to flavor their tea. Instead, they start with premium organic loose-leaf teas hand-crafted by the renowned Art of Tea (also LA-based). Each of their six flavors is brewed with a separate tea blend made from herbs, rose petals, marigolds, dehydrated apples, etc.

According to the label, each bottle contains 10 grams of sugar. The actual amount is a little less, since fermentation continues even after the beverage is bottled.

My friends who hate Kombucha love this drink. My friends who love Kombucha love this drink. It doesn’t have the cloying sweetness of soda, nor is it overly acidic. It tastes a little like Champagne; a little like a hard cider. There are no creepy floating strains of probiotics. It just tastes – pure.

One drawback is that the bottles look a little too much like the Health-Ade bottles (see below). Not sure if this is a real problem, but it is unfortunate.

Another problem is that the company is not certified organic. As I learned during my stint as the Booch Babe, the organic certification process is prohibitively expensive for start-up companies. I have been assured that the product is 100% organic, raw, and unpasteurized. But until the USDA label is a reality, Better Booch is at a disadvantage.

How I felt:

Revitalized.

Grade: A

  1. Health-Ade – Glendora

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Health-Ade is the American Apparel of the L.A. probiotic scene – you either love it or you hate it, but you definitely spend money on it. One person I spoke with said it was “the most incredible Kombucha ever.” So I went in with some pretty high expectations.

And…it was okay. Not great. Not terrible. It lacks the full body of Kombucha Dog and the delicate sweetness of Better Booch. The carbonation level was closer to flat than bubbly.

Health-Ade adds cold-press juice to their brew, and that’s exactly what it tasted like – vinegary tea mixed with weak lemon juice. The result, for this flavor at least, was medicinal. But at 4 grams of sugar a bottle, I really can’t complain.

The schtick: Health-Ade, like American Apparel, is all about being made-in-LA. They’ve made an effort to keep their production in the greater Los Angeles community, so they stake out weekly farmer’s markets and source their fruits from a local farm. Some of their employees are hired through Homeboy Industries, which is tight. Health-Ade stages health and wellness “lectures” at Whole Foods where people can see how Kombucha is made and what, exactly, it is.

Health-Ade is certified organic, gluten free, and non-GMO.

How I felt:

My appetite disappeared, which was good as it was late afternoon and that’s the time I like to binge on tortilla chips.

Grade: B+

  1. G.T. Dave’s – Vernon

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G.T.’s is the IKEA of Kombucha. It’s convenient, consistent, and pretty corporate.

The company is hush-hush about its brewing practices. After a market-wide Kombucha recall in 2010, GT Dave’s rolled out Synergy, its “Enlightened” line, which contained a probiotic culture that was reformulated to contain less alcohol. They added in a supplement called GBI-30, essentially modifying the genetics of the culture. This was back before everyone was freaking out about GMOs, but it’s worth noting if you’re trying to steer clear of foods made in a lab.

GT’s label is also vague. The ingredients are: “100% G.T.’s Organic Raw Kombucha (Organically Produced), and 100% Pure Love!!!” This tells me nothing. The sugar content is inaccurate – it’s essentially impossible for it to have 2 grams of sugar per 8 ounces for reasons elaborated in this article.

Moreover, from a drinker’s perspective, it’s hard to palate the little brown globs of SCOBY that coagulate at the bottom.

Basically, GT’s is cool as long as you stick to the flavors that require I.D. for purchase – those are going to be raw and chock-full of probiotics.

I LOVE GT Dave’s Gingerade.  It’s beyond tasty. Also, this brand gets props for being ubiquitous – so that even in the airport I can get my fix.

The schtick: Inspirational quotes on the side of every bottle. There’s also an opportunity to “tell your story” on their website.

GT Dave’s is certified organic.

How I felt:

Exactly the same.

Grade: B+; extra points for bringing Kombucha to the masses.

  1. Reed’s – South Central

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Reed’s has a reputation for excellent natural sodas (try the ginger ale and the root beer). It makes sense, then, that they treat Kombucha as a somewhat healthy soft drink.

The schtick: Each bottle is 60 percent Kombucha and 40 percent juice, making it highly approachable for soda drinkers and Kombucha newbies. Unfortunately, it also means a higher sugar content and a lower probiotic count. There are 11 grams of sugar per serving, and 1.6 servings in a bottle. They also use juice concentrate, which means that the juice has lost most of its nutrients during pasteurization.

The result? Reed’s Kombucha tastes like a wine spritzer. It might be a good choice for someone who hates the taste of Kombucha but needs probiotics, or for someone who is trying to find an expensive alternative to soda. At any rate, this is not my cup of fermented tea.

Reed’s is certified organic.

How I felt:

No idea. Didn’t finish.

Grade: C

So there you have it, Angelenos. My hope is that this guide will help you find the perfect fermented tea to keep you cool this summer. Happy digesting!

English From the English Major

Retox

[ree-TOCKs]

Noun

Verb: retoxing

From ancient Germanic Yetochs, a solstice ritual for shotgunning beer.

Present Day Usage:

The act of polluting one’s body after doing something healthy. This may include drinking beer after yoga class, smoking cigarettes on the last day of a juice cleanse, or eating a pound of fried shrimp after the Korean spa.

Example:

Ursula: I just came from that reiki-ayurveda-smoothie workshop in Silver Lake and I’m starving.  Do you have any whiskey? Or cigarettes? Or frosting?

Sheila: No, but you can snort sugar from these pixie stix while I run to the store and pick up some beer.

Ursula: Thanks girl, I always feel nauseous if I don’t retox after my detox.

Astrology

If we’ve ever hung out, you’ve seen me get a little star-struck.

It’s probably after I’ve had a couple of drinks. You’re telling me about the latest drama in your life. Trying to be helpful, I ask for your zodiac sign. You respond with “Aries…maybe?” It turns out you’ve gone your whole life without ever doing your birth chart, so of course all of your relationships have failed and you can’t get along with your sister. How have you come this far? How can you love anyone at all?

“Listen,” I explain, trying to stay calm, “it’s not just about being an Aries. It’s about your whole entire birth chart. If we don’t know your moon AND your rising sign we can’t understand anything about your personality. Can’t you PLEASE just call your mom and find out what time you were born?”

“What? Are you serious?”

“Yes. Call your mom. Right now.”

“It’s almost midnight.”

“So? She’s a cool mom. It’ll just take her a second.”

Astrology, like Christianity and Veganism, is a misunderstood and persecuted way of life. Some people fail to understand why I believe so strongly in a system in which the cosmos predetermine our behavior and preferences – from job opportunities to sex positions – and instead assume that I am against free will, or that I’m not very bright. (To be fair, I’ve had to learn some hard lessons about when and where to ask someone for their astrological information. Parties? Appropriate. Job interviews? Less appropriate.)

“I don’t know – I’m a Taurus, I think? Do you actually believe in that stuff?”

Uh YEAH I do, and if you were smart you would too (Taurus is, by the way, one of the least likely signs to get cozy with the cosmos). As J.P. Morgan, famed railroad monopolist of the 19th century, said: “Millionaires don’t believe in astrology. Billionaires do.”

Like J.P., I’m more than just “into” astrology. I use it to transform my universe from chaos into meaning in the same way the Jews use the Torah to understand how to navigate creation. When I read a great book, I Wikipedia the author’s birthday so I can see how his astrological sign shaped the work (Murakami is a Capricorn; Didion is a Sagittarius).

I make charts in my head about which signs predominate which fields. For example, divas tend to be Aries – James Franco, Lady Gaga, Aretha Franklin. And some of the best continental philosophy was produced by Libras – Martin Heidegger, Maurice Blanchot, Friedrich Nietzsche. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Cancerians Nikolai Tesla and Elon Musk share the same June 28th birthday.

Looking for patterns in this information is a part of what I, as a Virgo, find both fun and necessary for survival. If we’ve met, I know your zodiac sign. I probably still remember it, and I’m using it to analyze your etiquette on Facebook.

Today, astrology is maligned due in part to the stereotype of 70s singles in leisure suits spitting lines about the moon in Scorpio. But actually, our cultural rejection of the zodiac goes deeper than bar-side run-ins with aging creepers – it touches the very root of binary perception that, in the West, separates the secular from the spiritual.

We often neglect the value Consciousness and Being play in the world – as if the universe was merely a collection of objects from which consciousness arose as an unexpected afterthought. Talking about the energy radiated by people, objects, or celestial bodies still, even in the Lululemon era, makes you sound like a freaker.

But to me, it makes sense that certain planets retain unique energetic vibrations and that those vibrations resonate all the way down here on Earth, so that Mercury moving into retrograde might actually affect how I’m feeling on any given day. I mean, at some point every element came from the heart of a star, including those elements that make up human bodies. If the moon impacts the tides, why can’t the stars impact our chemicals?

The barrier between our bodies and the environment is more porous than we think. Chemicals make up our moods. The environment impacts our chemicals. I mean I’m no scientist but COME ON. This theory is ironclad.

To further prove my point, I will direct you to this study in which it is observed that the seasons you spend in utero may impact the temperament you have as an adult.

Astrology is so ancient no one can put a date on its inception, though the American Federation of Astrologers estimates it developed in ancient Babylonia as a way to predict the weather for farming. Now, in the post-modern age, the role of astrology is not to predict natural disasters but to reveal our psychological landscape and catalyze personal transformation. If used properly, it offers a rare opportunity for objective self-study and positive growth.

Everyone has blind spots, or destructive patterns you aren’t necessarily aware you follow – like a tendency to sleep with strange men when bored, or eating your roommate’s snacks and pretending like you didn’t. Astrology can illuminate what some of those blind spots may be in a way that your friends (who are mired in their own psychological shit) can’t.

You’re already interested in this if you’ve ever taken the Meyers-Briggs test, checked out the Enneagram, or gotten too deep into Thought Catalogue. All of these platforms aim to help us better understand our motivations and desires so we can get the stuff we really want – “happiness,” “a grateful heart,” “celebrity friends,” or “$$$$.”

Use properly, astrology can be a tool to help you improve from the inside out. The more you understand (and love) yourself, the easier it is to get a Benz and start hanging out with Drake. Because people, including Drake, will want to be around you if you are cool and you won’t be cool if you’re being an insecure douchebag who doesn’t know himself and can’t figure out how to love.

Okay, so, let’s put all of this into practice.

Pretend we’re at some party and I’ve had at least one glass of Bulleit Bourbon and I’ve cornered you against a fridge to ask you about your zodiac sign. Maybe you came here to meet someone, maybe you just wanted to come out and eat some chips, but you’re stuck with me now buddy and you’re going to learn something.

Pretend you have your smartphone, b/c obvi you do.

Find out the time you were born. Plug it into a free online birth chart generator, like this one. Scroll down and find out your Ascending and Moon sign. Together with your Sun sign, they are the most important factors to interpreting your astrological construction. Without each of them, you’re going to keep telling me “I don’t make sense as an Aries.”

But trust. Figure out those three, read about them, and call me crying when your mind is blown.

So for illustration: I am a Virgo with a Cancer moon and an Aquarius rising – a great combo if I wanted to spend my life brooding whilst deep-cleaning blenders. But now that I know I have a tendency to overthink decisions like “getting a new job,” “moving out of my parents’ house,” or “going to Westfield mall,” I can actively work to combat my inertia.

I recognize that a lot of this seems like hippie bullshit. I am okay with that. I am also aware that one’s expectations of the world ultimately shape one’s perceptions of the world (e.g. if you tell me you are a Scorpio, I will only see parts of your persona that are particularly Scorpy). That’s okay. I think it’s preferable to try and better yourself and not get hung up on the deets – if it works for you, it works for you.

I ALSO recognize that the idea of self-improvement fits into the consumerist structure in which we are made to believe that we are never good enough and must always strive for a perfection that is ultimately impossible. However, I believe when these values are turned inward we can undermine the kyriarchical structure of capitalism by cultivating love for ourselves, imperfections included. And loving yourself is exactly what makes it hard for someone to oppress you and sell you shit you don’t need.

So figure out your Moon sign and free yourself from the chains of digital post-consumer capital.

And why not? You’ve got to believe in something.

XOXO

B

astrology6

Goals

My goal is to do something big. Like write words that change the way the world works. I want people to scream my name like I’m Alesso on the first day of Coachella.

Unfortunately, I have no idea how to do this. A big vague goal, as it turns out, can only be achieved by way of small, concrete goals. Like “write a first draft tomorrow” or “update the blog on Tuesdays.” It’s easy for me to set the vague goal. It’s almost impossible for me to recognize what the small ones need to be.

Don’t get me wrong, I totally make goals. But my goals (“this month, I will go to yoga”) never seem to that propel my life forward in any direction (as in, “this month I will start my application for law school”). This pattern hasn’t bothered me much until recently, when I realized if I don’t make some changes I might become one of those 45-year-old men who lurk in coffee shops “working” on their “novels.” The kind that monthly-auto-subscribe to a webcam service. And don’t have retirement plans. Or loved ones.

I might have what clinical psychologists call a goal-setting problem.

During my senior year of high school, my English teacher assigned us to make a list of long-term goals – what we’d want to be doing in twenty years, where we’d want to live, etc. After class I went into the girl’s bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror and thought about it.

I had completed long-term goal #1 last weekend: drink alcohol at a party before graduation without getting caught by my mother.

I thought about what goal #2 should be. Writing a Nobel-Prize winning novel? That seemed cool.

It wasn’t such a crazy idea. After all, I was good at lots of stuff. I had all A’s and the lead in the school play. Sure, I wasn’t super popular, but I did have a charming set of freckles and I was college-bound.

Plus tons of adults told me I was special, so I knew I wouldn’t have to try very hard. Someone as delightful and freckly as me just had to stand on the proverbial corner of life and wait for the big things to pull over and wink suggestively. All I would have to do was follow my heart and dream big and do what made me happy.

When I went to college, I modeled my goal-setting strategies after my intellectual heroes – the hipster seniors and juniors who slouched around campus looking beautiful and unperturbed in carefully–curated thrift store couture. They didn’t seem at all interested in long-term goals or internships or resumes. They made art. They mixed music. They lived off-campus and rode fixed gear bikes. I think one of them even had a pet snake.

That’s the kind of life I admired. I didn’t WANT to do an unpaid internship. I didn’t WANT to sit in an air-conditioned office.

I did, however, want to look mysterious at parties. And I had been taught to follow my heart.

I studied hard. I learned about Bataille and Barthes and Foucault and Jameson and the fallacy of postmodern identity. I befriended the hipsters and talked to them about contemporary art and post-colonial theory. I studied abroad. I bought a bike. Before I knew it, I was the beautiful hipster slouching around campus doling out my thoughts on post-structuralism in late-Shakespearean tragedy. I was the queen.

Right before I graduated, I met with the career counselor to discuss my plans for the future. She went over some professional options for me – things my peers in the English department were preparing for at this very moment. They included:

  1. English Professor
  2. English teacher
  3. Lawyer
  4. Publisher
  5. Librarian

Nowhere on the list did I see “hipster,” “bike mechanic,” or “snake-mom.”

I was shocked. Other students had already been thinking about this? They had planned  – maybe even for months now – to pursue careers? HARD careers? Like, immediately?

I waved the list away. I knew what I wanted: to NOT conform like all these other blind students wandering around campus, lost in the machine of postmodern capital.

Being a 9-5er was for squares. Grad school was for cogs. I wasn’t going to be a square or a cog. I was going to be a REAL person. No more ivory tower bullshit. No more dates with sons-of-doctors and pre-MBAs. I was going to meet a real man with real values – like a farmer or an artisanal beer brewer. And this was going to be the start of my very big, happy life.

I sat in my guidance counselor’s office on that warm Los Angeles morning and told her I wanted to get a job as a waitress in a city where no one knew my name. I was going to read whatever I wanted and write every day because I was destined for literary greatness and there was no way I could do that if I went to law school.

My career counselor, a wonderful and wise woman, just looked at me.

“Don’t take too long,” she said.

I skipped out of her office into my bright Kerouac-ian future. I worked on farms. I got a job in a coffee shop. I read Don Delillo. I traveled alone. I fell in love. I lived with my parents. I worried about money. I couldn’t focus. I stayed up all night on the Internet searching for my next plan. I started a million things and never finished any of them.

The panic hit. My shaky resume. My precarious bank account. My insurmountable student debt – more money than I had ever seen, more money than I could ever hope to make in a lifetime. And I still, after all that farming and traing-riding and soul searching, had no idea what kind of job I even wanted to pursue.

It’s been nearly three years since I graduated. It’s still warm in Los Angeles. I still don’t have a career path. As it turns out, I can’t just wait around for greatness to find me. Greatness comes to people who work hard and make viral YouTube videos, not to girls who keep elaborate diaries.

I’m sitting outside. It gets dark early now, and I’ve already started pouring cheap wine into my 39-cent IKEA mug. I have no idea what I’m going to do with the next year of my life. I have no idea  what I’m going to do after I finish writing this piece. It’s not a good feeling.

Maybe if I were better at setting goals I wouldn’t feel like this, but maybe it wouldn’t make a difference. I could have a high-powered job in an office with glass walls and steel furniture and I’d still feel this way – clawing, empty, nervous, un-tethered.

Maybe it’s not supposed to feel good.

Maybe not-knowing-what-I-want is the foundation for internal and external discovery. For the exploration of pain, regret, and anxiety; the exploration of the emptiness from which all meaning is made.

Maybe out of that, I can someday make something big.

Or not.

But it’s a start.