Life After Luxury

17 11 2014

Starberries

I am writing this on a new computer. I am writing this on a new desk. I am a different person, writing.

I think we’re all pretty self-aware of our romanticisms. We day-dream about things we would like to have, places we would like to live, and the people we would someday like to become. But this is a confusing internal process. We make excuses, reason with ourselves, and attempt to justify our limitations with sudden bursts of comfort that never last long enough to matter. Sometimes, we share these secrets, hoping for encouragement to settle the dispute of insanity—rarely gathering the courage that people so often see in others, and never within themselves. To change is the ultimate journey—to let go of yourself, long enough to feel alive. I can feel it in the marrow of my bones and it’s metastasizing. It hurts and it’s uncomfortable and it’s wonderful and I hate it. When I quit my job in August, I left like I was going to die. Then suddenly, I realized I was already dead.

There was once a time, while making introductions, that I would introduce myself as a workaholic—a person that braves a 15-hour day without breaking a sweat. I indulged in the thought of slaving over my profession, and wore my disciplined dedication like a suit of armor. It was a safe and metallic suit that made me feel like I deserved more than everyone else—I deserved to be successful. And it was more exceptionally true because I wasn’t always rewarded for my effort. On paper, I had the best job in the world. However, while working for a luxury publication, my skills became stale and expected, eventually agitated and angry. One day, I decided I didn’t really like that.

But that was a difficult conclusion to draw. By all accounts, working for a luxury brand has its perks. I interviewed celebrities, went to fancy parties, and got to drive exotic cars. I traveled for free, stayed in nice hotels, and everywhere I went doors would open because I had an official press pass. The company’s brand was so strong, that I often felt like my life was becoming just like it—an illusion. There are too many tired euphemisms I could use to describe the gold and glitter. Suffice it to say, the underbelly of this dream was a sober awakening.

Slaving over work is not something to brag about. But at the time, I was surrounded by people who fed on this distinction. For a long time, I never sat down to consider how I felt about what I was doing and to what end. For a long time, I assumed that what was around me mattered a lot more than it actually did.

The truth is, I don’t want to work 15-hour days. The truth is, I want to work as little as possible.

There were logistical problems. I had no idea how to start a business, or generate income. I was not a legal entity, nor did I know how to go about becoming one. But I read some books, talked to some people, and figured all that out. The resulting education was exciting, liberating, and terrifying.

Sometimes, I go to bed and just sweat anxiety—milling over the insurmountable burden I have placed on myself. In the morning, I’m overwhelmed by the potential each new day brings. I feel bipolar. I get scared that I’m not good enough. I worry that the people I love will think I failed. I am afraid to fail.

When my family asked me what I wanted to do while I sorted out my future, I told them I wanted to pick strawberries. In hindsight, that was a fairly romantic response. I imaged the sun and the clouds. I’d wear a hat so that my face wouldn’t get burned, surrounded by people who don’t speak my language. I would listen to music on my iPhone and dance when necessary. This was my fantasy. I wanted to be alone. I wanted to be away from conversation, away from the clatter of bodies hitting the steps as they fall from the corporate ladder. I wanted to come home after a long day of using my hands and know physical exhaustion, instead of feeling mentally ill from philological warfare.

But I’m a realist. And I’m also compulsively dramatic during times of transition. So, I got a morning job at a warehouse.

My hands are cut, my manicure is ruined, and my arms are strong. After I got the hang of things, the warehouse crew gave me my blade—which is really just a box cutter, but I call it my blade. I was surprisingly humbled. They even taught me how to drive a forklift.

I don’t go to parties. I rarely wear makeup these days, and I really don’t give a s*** about San Diego socialites. Instead, I have focused my effort towards building my freelancing business, and after four months of uncertainty, self-doubt, and more rejection letters than I care to mention, I am finally ready to leave the warehouse and work full-time for myself.

Just last week, I secured the first three contracts for Butler Ink & Media, and I got notice from the San Diego Reader that my latest writing project may be an upcoming cover story. I have checks coming to my house in my businesses’ name.

I’m doing all right.

My old boss use to tell me, “There are a million girls out there that would die for your position.”

I guess I don’t feel like dying.

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A Night at the Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco

2 11 2014

The doors to the 8th floor open from the elevator. The hallway of The Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco is the color of cream, decorated with gold-framed photography and glittering sconces. A comfortable feeling of luxury is present, however, I don’t feel as though I might break something.

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I have expectations. Who doesn’t when they travel to a new city? San Francisco had been the center of my conversations for weeks. I had asked nearly everyone what I should do, where I should stay, and what I should eat. The result was an overwhelming number of personal anecdotes that took me north of Sausalito, to a hole-in-the-wall eatery above a laundry mat in China Town. Suffice it to say, after several days of traveling up the coast, I was exhausted and in no mood to entertain such friendly advice. What I really wanted was a cocktail.

“Good afternoon, Miss Butler.”

The concierge behind a desk sits handsomely in a suit. I laugh uncomfortably, unsure of how he knows my name. In jest, I ask him.

“Because I must.”

Well, aren’t you mysterious.

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It seems impossible to talk about San Francisco as a locale, a place to be, a place to visit. The City by the Bay and the stories it offers are transcendent, as though existing simultaneously betwixt millions of separate realities. The sum of San Francisco’s metaphysical equation looks like a kaleidoscope. Somewhere out there, Tony Bennet is looking for his heart, an artist paints a picture, a businessman gets ready for work—I find it all incredibly romantic, yet exhausting on my first trip here.

The Club level of The Ritz-Carlton is alternatively constant. It provides a welcome sense of order, shelter, and rejuvenation from the bustle of life just a few stories below. I wave politely as I pass the concierge and head straight for the Club Lounge doused in wonderful afternoon sun. Dozens of brilliantly crafted edibles await, a sommelier is discussing a vintage and pouring wine, a small refrigerator has several bottles of cold beer. In a city where literally anything can happen, it’s nice to know that should I need another glass of Malbec to accompany my smelly plate of fine cheese, I can surely get it, and with a smile. The food service inside this private lounge changes throughout the day: breakfast, lunch, light appetizers before dinner, and evening desserts. It’s complimentary for all Club-level guests and is a wonderful place to mingle with friends, make new acquaintances, and attempt to discuss the endless activities planned for an evening.

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Inside my room, the calming neutral tones of good taste further relax my mood. The recent renovations where done respectfully to not overshadow the history of Nob Hill, nor discourage the reputation one might expect from The Ritz. White crown molding, classic fixtures, and a deep, very deep, marble bathtub. Proof that contemporary design can coexist with tradition, if one cares to try.

Less than 50 square miles define the borders of the second-most densely populated city in the United States. The busy intersections, lengthy lines at famous attractions, and crowded nightlife can be overwhelming. Therefore, The Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco has all the facilities one might need to exercise or rejuvenate the body or soul, including a fitness center, luxury spa, and personal concierge services.

I press my little black dress, step into black stilettos, and head to the place my soul needed most: Parallel 37.

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In a city known for its epicurean cuisine, The Ritz-Carlton stands proudly behind Parallel 37 as a dining destination worth noting to travelers and locals alike. While waiting for my company, I enjoy a craft cocktail called 8th Street East. It’s prepared slowly with Hooker’s House Rye, Carpano Antica, Campari and burnt orange. I sip slowly, watching as fading light crawls through orange shades covering the windows. The day is about to end—quite deliciously.

Chef de Cuisine Michael Rotondo asks if I have any dietary restrictions before he devises a tasting menu. My response, and recommendation to anyone every in this situation, is complete abandonment. Don’t worry about carbs, gluten, or strange meats. Allow the artist and the team to work, and I swear you will be dazzled.

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The server opens a bottle of Lanson Rose Champaign to begin the meal, presented with delicate slices of tuna belly over lemon puree. It’s esthetically beautiful. My soul is at peace. The seaweed sorbet that rests over a salad of grilled octopus and garlic melts slowly as I taste Domaine Daulny Sancerre, a classic expression of Sauvignon Blanc from France. In the 4th course, and in true abandonment, I delight in my first taste of sweetbread, prepared alongside game bird from South Africa, and paired with Merry Edwards pinot noir. A final course of antelope and rustic assortment of mushroom and pickled beat is the last savory note, accompanied by Hendry cabernet sauvignon from Napa Valley.

Not to be outdone, pastry chef Andrea Correa presents a deconstructed cherry pie and pistachio crumble. The cherries are in season and burst with each bite. I contemplate the meal in its entirety—California cuisine with unexpected global notes mixed with exciting techniques used to amaze taste and presentation. I leave happy and full, rested and lively after good conversation and extremely professional service.

Outside, the white and polished exterior of the luxury hotel hints at a San Francisco I will never know—the architecture belonging to days long since passed, repurposed by the Ritz Carlton to start something brand new. An eager bellboy asks me where I’m headed. And as the door to a black Lincoln Navigator is opened for me, I remember, anything can happen.

“Take me somewhere fun.”

And off I went.





Dirty Towel

30 04 2014

blue_bath_towel_3d_model_8f9c1e4c-00a0-4578-b107-9f421c1f6559It was Saturday—cleaning day—a time I use each week to collect my thoughts through the repetitive motion of putting things in their proper place. It was time to clean my bathroom.

What does a towel say about who you are? My towels say I don’t give a s*** about who sees them. They are a mix of old, beat-up, absorbent wannabes that have no style or any inclination that they ever did. They are a mix of colors, ages, and textures; brands and sizes that range from the small useless hand towel, to the oversized and neon striped beach blanket. The short and messy of it was that my towels looked like they belonged to a man (or perhaps the cliché of one), a man who lives on the fringes of town—on the wrong side of the railroad tracks. You know, a renegades’ arsenal of terrycloth.

It was then that I realized an outsider had not seen my towels in some time. I don’t entertain much in the way of towels, and I guess I’ve never brought them to lunch with me. But there they were. Hanging in effigy as I scratched my head and wondered when I had become so shamelessly lazy.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my towels. But I was considering my boyfriend seeing them for the first time and wondering what he would think about them. In an effort to be the perfect host and girlfriend, I concluded that this just wouldn’t do. How could he possibly dry himself off with you, faded-green-blanket-of-absorbencies-past?

Then I started thinking about all the other stuff that I own that could also inflict some kind of damage. Are my sheets new enough? Do these decorative pillows accurately communicate my need for unconditional love? So what if I don’t have any matching socks. I don’t even like socks! Does any of this matter?

I stood inside Bed Bath & Beyond, contemplating the Beyond part. The towering shelves made my heart beat faster as I looked up to see items of the domicile spread out over a plane of frivolous marketing. I feared that one of them might fall on top of me—would I survive? I walked out. No need to have an anxiety attack over the simple task of purchasing new towels for my bathroom.

I walked next door to Marshalls where the shelves were more manageable. After comparing the quality of Turkish and Egyptian cottons, I settled on some no-name brand that was the proper shade of gray. A savvy shopper would never allow emotional turmoil to sway a purchase, but my mood was stuck in the middle of one of those self-realization moments, where you evaluate the black and white of things. Gray looked really good.

In some ways, confronting my towels was like closing a very long, single chapter of my life. When you’ve been single for as long as I have, you get comfortable with the idea that towels don’t matter by virtue of their privacy. I myself am an extremely private person. I like secrets. I like mystery. I like leaving a party when I feel like it simply because I’m tired. And I like not caring about my towels or my dirty laundry that too often prefers to be an area rug.

I would like to say that this introspection went deep enough—that I was able to deny the fresh cotton of department stores and my need to feel unabashed by my very, very personal space. But alas, I am only human and towels tend to come in pairs.

And so, they sit. Still folded in the bag, until I am ready.

 

-Stay Strange

 

 

 

 





WWJD? No, seriously.

4 02 2014

Apparently my soul is going to burn for all eternity in a fiery hell while my boyfriend’s soul enjoys basking in the eternal light of the golden city. I’d ask hell what’s up with that, but currently, that feels cliché.

Religion is an incredibly sensitive subject for most people, myself included. I don’t pretend to be anything other than Switzerland in most religious conversations. Any judgment I pass on a bouquet of religious doctrine is about as informed and  thoroughly thoughtful as proclaiming, with no particular authority, “Yeah, that Joel Osteen guy, he’s a big douche.” That’s where it ends for me. It gets a laugh from people who might agree and it’s dumb enough to not legitimately threaten any Christians. My views on religion are completely unsubstantiated, probably incorrect, and reinforced by a populace of wacko hypocrites. Sure, I know and respect some wonderfully religious people—Christian, Witness, Catholic and probably a few Muslim extremists—but I’ve never pretended to be a model citizen, let alone a religious martyr. Judge not yet ye be judged.

So when my boyfriend told me a few days ago that he had been saved, I was at a loss for words.

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I felt like Rex 😦

We read fantasy, enjoy discussing society, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, share a cynical view of the world and a uniquely obsessive fondness for one another. It’s disgusting, and I wouldn’t change it for anything. So how would you feel if suddenly using the F word produced a bitter taste in your lover’s mouth?

He had been going to apologetics classes and church services for a while. He’s in Afghanistan right now and I guess that makes sense. He’s one of the most intelligent people I know and while I miss him dearly, they’re lucky to have him because he’s doing a world of good out there with his boys. I don’t know exactly when his quest for truth manifested into said activates. Nor was I was ever threatened by his search until his salvation suddenly compromised my perception of our equal partnership and general appreciation for magic.

I felt left behind. I felt self-concious. It was like my best friend suddenly started speaking Latin, and I’m sure I don’t have to tell you this but I don’t know how to speak Latin.

While I’m not a religious person, I have at one time or another been so moved by beauty that I can hardly breath. I’ve tried to write about it, but like faith, it’s something that can’t be tangibly held or coveted without loosing its intrinsic excellence. I’ve given up on that idea and pay no attention to the opinion of the multitude—know thyself.

And I know that beauty and truth and love can exist in the world despite how often it seems easier to believe that humans are just another species on this planet waiting out their inevitable extinction. My relationship with him makes me believe in the good and to see him smile or make him laugh is worth any fire and brimstone that may await me on the other side. But I feared that might not be enough.

WWJD?

I didn’t pray. I steeped—in a warming concentration of the worst possible feelings known to the human experience: jealousy, anger, resentment and above all fear. This is where I become my best impersonation of Hemingway. I see everything in shades of blue and grey, lose my appetite and suppress the urge to drink scotch and chain smoke. I reminisce about The Running of the Bulls in Spain, though I have no particular recollection of ever being there. I try to pretend I’m okay when I’m not until those crazy, bovine mother***** push me to feel something I don’t want to feel.

At the time, it felt like it would be safer to steep than try to understand his choice. But safe has very little to do with relationships. More importantly, I realized that his salvation has nothing to do with me. It’s about him and his journey, not mine. I know who I am.  It’s other people that scare the s*** out of me. And when it’s your best friend, your parents, your boss or your gorgeous boyfriend that’s doing the scaring, it can be really f****** scary.

We like people to behave the way we expect them to behave, do the things they normally do and so on. It gives order to relationships and insight to guide our interactions. I was sitting at my work desk not working when I realized I was being an idiot.

If I ever want to get anywhere in relationships, I have to let people change. I should support people’s self-discovery not confine them with expectations. I was scared that our relationship would change because he was changing. How many times have you ever been in a relationship and thought to yourself, “they just wont let me be who I am”? I’m taking steps to encourage change rather it define my relationship.

I told him all of this, and like a good Christian, he explained to me that nothing I’d ever known about Christianity was correct.

I was saved.





Whitney’s Electronic Christmas Party

19 12 2013

And a happy new year.

electronic christmas copy

‘Don’t Be Afraid’ by Redshirt Theory.





Sex on the Internet

18 09 2013

internet loveOne subject I will never get tired of talking about is dating—or in my case, mostly awkward encounters that make for hilarious stories—my college professor, the military assassin, random men named John and so on. Turns out, I can get kind of sentimental betwixt all the ironic humor and dangerous innuendo. The truth of the matter is I kind of like this guy. And what’s not to like? He’s my Internet boyfriend.

 

Trust me when I say I kept this a secret.

“What’s an Internet boyfriend?” my friends joked.

“Exactly what it sounds like,” I mumbled back.

For weeks I grappled with the idea. Why do I feel this way about someone who lives so far away? FaceTime is like, real life, right?

But it’s not like real life. Nor is texting a substitute for close couch conversations or two cups of really good coffee. I felt dirty. I was spending Friday nights Skyping with a vacation fling that in my opinion had plenty of summer left to live.

This isn’t normal. And it’s not normal. It’s awesome.

What’s better than a real boyfriend? A boyfriend you can literally put in your pocket—turn silent should circumstance require.  Travel sized—I can take him anywhere, talk to him anytime, and best of all, I don’t have to pick out his clothing.

It all started five months ago—after years of travel, jobs that took us very far away; we found each other, briefly, in San Diego. The rest has been recorded in more text messages, emails, Skype sessions and FaceTime encounters than I care to admit. It’s a real emotional affair—one that has brought great joy to the end of days, a time now specially reserved for him and our bastard love-child: technology.

Trust me also when I say, I never thought I was the kind of girl—the girl who gets caught up in something so fantastic, so seductively unreasonable and so impatiently void the tangible experience of entertaining a man.

“You’re an idiot. Don’t you know he is going to cheat on you?” my friend argued.

I guess that’s a legitimate concern for most people. Having a relationship dependent on technology definitely has its disadvantages. But I’ve seen people get bent out of shape over ambiguous text messages. I’ll take my chances.

“So, you’ve had sex with him on Skype?” she asked rhetorically.

I started to feel very old-fashioned the sixth or seventh time I had to explain this to someone. This question has become so popular in-fact, that I decided to write about it. The short answer is no—I’ve never done it.

“Why not? You’ve never wanted to try?” another friend pried.

“You know how you’ve never tried heroin?” I explained. “Well, it’s kind of like that.”

My girlfriends sat up straighter around the table as though I had just offended them. “Why not? It’s fun,” asked one gal.

“He’s never even asked you to try?” added a curious boyfriend. “He must be gay!”

Apparently, the only social moray that permits having an Internet boyfriend is becoming an amateur pornstar. Ergo, long distance relationships are no longer socially acceptable unless you have sex on the Internet. Could this be true?

My brain shifted through numerous books I had read, movies and experiences I had that brought this assertion into sharp focus and heated resentment.

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This is Odysseus’s O-Face

The whole time I’m getting interrogated over how I spend my online time with this guy—who is now in Afghanistan—all I can think about is how different the world would be if Penelope, from Homer’s, “The Odyssey” was busy finger f****** herself in a letter to Odysseus who—instead of being a hero—decides to release himself onto the messenger that unfortunately happens to be a demon summoned from the underworld. Look out! Imagine  soldiers in WWII texting private parts to their lovesick wives. What would they have thought? Imagine it. I’ll bet she would have been pissed—probably wondering how the hell he has time to j*** off when Nazi’s are afoot! Just another wonderful byproduct of defeating the Germans: more time to masturbate!

Everyone complains that the word becomes increasingly less genuine as technology interferes more and more with our human interactions. Does taking naked picture of ourselves and sending them to people we care about really mean we care? What does it say about who we are?

And don’t try and turn this around on me. I won’t entertain any of that quasi-feminism-sexual-empowerment-free-love-bull-s***. This has nothing to do with whether I’m sexually empowered enough to have sex on the Internet. The better question is: am I empowered enough not to?

I’ve found that my Internet boyfriend is exactly what I need right now: someone to laugh with after a very long day of work—someone to listen and someone to miss. Not so long ago, people called this a long distance relationship—a term now so passé it requires virtual consummation. I’ve never been one for labels—or Greek mythology, really.

I prefer my Internet boyfriend.

 

For Cameron:)





Reality F***

13 05 2013

whitney-butler-funny-blog-newport-beach-film-festival-tupacI’m what you would call a realist. Walt Whitman once said, “I accept reality and dare not question it.” But I’m also an extreme escapist like my boy Tupac, who said, “Reality is wrong, dreams are for real.” I did drugs for years to elevate my state of mind, and while I’m continuously working on sobriety, from time-to-time I take cosmic leaps. What’s more, I believe reality is fundamentally linked to our perception—the way we choose to observe the world we live in. “Whatever you believe with feeling becomes reality” said Brian Tracy.

At times, reality seems as subjective as deciding on an evening cocktail—most of the time I prefer Mexican beer, but sometimes I drink my weight in champagne and things get pretty weird, pretty fast. Lately I’ve been totally consumed with reality: the reality that my friends are getting married and having children. That today, I’m closer to 30 than I was yesterday—that being a writer is dangerously unstable both financially and mentally. One the one hand, I am finally doing what I’ve always wanted to do—write…and wear whatever the hell I want to work. But on the other, less articulate left, there’s a part of me that looks for a road sign on the horizon to signal the right direction.

My perception is often experienced in waves of weird, unexplainable happenings that routinely make people laugh over casual dinner conversations. They shake their heads and say, “Wow, that’s crazy, Whitney.” And I unapologetically nod my head and agree, because I’m a realist. But then I’m off again—confusing the crazy with what’s real—if only for a moment, to escape.

SignLast weekend I escaped to Newport Beach for the Newport Beach Film festival. That seems relatively sane, right? But when I got to my five-star resort hotel, ordered my complimentary room service and sat on the balcony and looked out over Balboa Island, I couldn’t help but think how surreal the moment was.

In about 18 months, I went from unemployment to this—complimentary dinners with executive chefs, free travel, luxury accommodations, red carpets and cutting lines at social events because “I’m a writer.”

In the theater, patiently waiting for the film “Broadway Idiot” to start, a documentary about Green Day’s Junior album adapting to Broadway, I was star-struck when I saw The Real Housewives of Orange County coming down my isle—a row of seats that had the names of writers from all over the country: Esquire, Variety, the L.A. Times and then, of course, my name. I said hi to gorgeous housewife Gretchen Rossi like we were old acquaintances. She was very sweet. Gretchen asked if she and boyfriend Slade could sit in the clearly marked theater seats. I told her she could do whatever the hell she wanted. Meanwhile, Billy Joe and the Green Day crew took their seats three rows in front of me.

The PR company coordinating this press tour saw the housewives and ran over to kick them out of our seats. The perfectly dressed housewives were shocked and so was I. Smiling, I wondered which part of this weekend I would write about first.

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Later that weekend, at another theater screening, I bumped into a guy on the red carpet wearing a man-purse. I poked fun at him as he bashfully tried to explain the “necessary things” inside, like his wallet and car keys. So, I opened my purse to expose its guts and asked, “Do you have tampons too?” As the lights went down inside, I saw the guys face up on the big screen. Turns out he was the lead in the film we were about to watch. I had asked Ethan Embry if he had any tampons in his purse. The crazy had struck again.

The reality was unavoidably obvious, but my brain hadn’t caught up with what was happening around me. It is, after all, easy to get swept up in the glamour of things when someone else is paying for your dinner. On Monday I went back to work.

SpanosThis week, surrounded by a camera crew and watchful publicist eyes I interviewed AG and John Spanos, owners and managing team of the San Diego Chargers. The brothers were smiling and joking with me about sibling revelries and it hit me: Holy s***! I’m a writer!

For the first time ever in my life, I felt like I wasn’t pretending.

As the photos clicked from the photographer’s aperture, I was higher than I had ever been before—it was psychedelic. Not only was I enjoying an exclusive interview, I had just seen a road sign. With every fiber of my crazy being I knew that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.

Maybe being a writer means the lines of what’s real and what’s in my head are blurred occasionally. To quote Tim Burton, “One persons craziness is another persons reality.”

So what happens when one person’s crazy is the same persons’s reality?  I guess I should to come up with a quote for that.

 

Thug Life.

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