Carly: An Ode to Home

I hate California. I want to go to the east coast. I want to go where culture is, like New York, or Connecticut or New Hampshire.” – Lady Bird” – Carly Berke

Although I am not from Sacramento, Lady Bird’s residence of origin, nor am I even from Northern California itself, I could not have written a better line to encapsulate my senior year experience. I had pledged to flee Southern California at the beginning of my freshman year of high school. I was convinced that I wanted to travel as far away from California as possible and immerse myself in “East Coast culture” (i.e. seasons, snowfall, preppy elitists). So I left. I came to Boston, Massachusetts, one of the furthest possible locations from Los Angeles I could have chosen, save Vermont or Maine.

I was convinced that leaving home would “save me”, and I would blossom into the New Englander (or, alternatively, New Yorker) that I was born to be.

Truthfully, I was really only under the impression (as so many angsty teenagers are) that my family was the bane of my existence, and I felt stifled. In hindsight, a lot of my adolescent experience was tainted by mental illness, which is a story for another time. But nonetheless, my relationship with my family was challenging, and as a result I was eager to send a message by moving so far away. Moreover, the relentless heat in Los Angeles irked me. I was growing increasingly appalled by the Youtube/Vine/Social Media Influencer community that was growing in the city, and I convinced myself that I would never fit in anywhere (disclaimer: this is B.S. There is a place in L.A. for everyone).

Thus when college came, I tried to start over on the other side of the country. At first, I loved it. I loved meeting kids who had grown up in Mass and Jersey and Connecticut and New York, and I loved watching the seasons change. I loved engaging in a “Dunkin vs. Starbucks” debate and I loved wearing heavy winter clothing. I liked that Boston was so incredibly detached from my life at home. I liked that I felt like I was living a double life, with my old life growing increasingly faint.

But then it started to get harder. During my second year, the cold weather affected me more than it had the year prior. I was having trouble connecting with some people and felt more lost than I had on the first day of freshman year. I had a career crisis and was forced to contemplate the fact that a career I thought I wanted my entire life was no longer a path I wanted to follow. This discomfort, loneliness, and unease manifested itself in a general resentment toward Boston and the East Coast, at least for a short period of time.

Don’t get me wrong – I love Boston, and I love the relative ease with which you can travel along the East Coast. I will be looking for jobs in New York and D.C. after graduation, and my heart still very much belongs out here.

But starting my sophomore year, every time I returned home to visit, it became increasingly harder to leave. I’ve grown much closer with my family, no doubt because of the proper treatment I’ve finally sought out for my mental health. But I learned to start appreciating little niches of home – like Malibu canyon, the miles of canyon road that I spent hours exploring in high school, or East Los Angeles, where I worked this summer and got to experience a diverse melting pot of Angeleno culture that I hadn’t been exposed to before. I developed a new appreciation for the community in which I had grown up, one I had previously scorned for its wealth and privilege.

Returning home for breaks and vacations quickly turned into what felt like an illustrious love affair, with me falling a little bit more in love each time I visited. Boston enabled me to finally hang up my tough-chick-home-rebel act and find comfort and solace in my family and my home community.

Two weeks ago, an ex-marine opened fire at the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks, California, killing 11. Borderline is about 15 minutes away from my house. I grew up playing softball in Thousand Oaks for my entire life. My brother performed in several shows at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Center.

But before the implications of the shooting began to truly register, intense wildfires erupted across Northern and Southern California. Within hours, the fire was nearing my home and incinerating the neighborhoods of my friends and family. My parents lost power, and I was out of touch with them for four and a half hours. I didn’t know where they were or if they had evacuated.

Those ~48  hours are hazy. I crossed campus unaware of my surroundings and unable to be present in the moment. All I wanted was to be at home with my family and friends, even if my home was completely devastated. I longed for the company of someone from my community, anyone who could even remotely relate to what I was experiencing.

This past weekend, I visited my my brother in Baltimore to see him perform in the National Tour of Fiddler on the Roof, the show he first performed in as a kid that introduced him to theater and what would ultimately become his entire career. About a month and a half ago, we lost our Bubbie, who had been fighting a vicious battle against Alzheimer’s in the 3-4 years prior to her passing. We had grown up with her living right down the street, and she played an integral role in my childhood. She always fostered my brother’s love for theater and performing, and she supported us in every single endeavor. I felt her at the show with me.

Between the mass shooting, the fire, my grandmother’s passing, and my brother’s performance, I left Baltimore completely awash in intense emotion. I missed home more than I ever had before, and I was filled with an intense longing to return. I wanted to hold my parents tightly and take a walk through my neighborhood at twilight and drive along the coastline (which unfortunately will be incinerated when I return). For one of the first times since coming to college, I was truly, completely homesick.

How foolish I was to have scorned California. No one comes from a perfect home, nor a perfect childhood nor a perfect family, but I had found enough love at home to satisfy me for a lifetime. And it was only driving through Baltimore at twilight, the sky tinged with pink as night descended over the city, Ravens’ fans flooding the streets after a Sunday football victory, did I realize how immature I was to insist on leaving with such forcefulness. I might not live there anymore, and I might not be on a path that leads me back to Los Angeles, but I know I will always hold my home and my family very close to my heart. And for that, I am thankful.

Carly: The Death and Rebirth of the Romantic Comedy (Relative to my Own Experiences)

I’m sure I speak to many film majors (and non-film major movie buffs) when I discuss the air of authority kids assume when they first discover the art of film.

When I first fell in love with movies, I became a Wes Anderson junkie. I spoke constantly of his organic storytelling and unique aesthetics, and I shamed my friends for being shallow when they insisted on seeing Divergent instead of Grand Budapest Hotel (yes, I was that much of a film snob). As a result, the more I expanded my film knowledge and discovered a community of other cinephiles, I began to scorn the conventional romantic comedy. I scoffed at girls who loved movies I believed contained no depth, and I saw myself as superior because I didn't waste time watching "feel-good movies".

There were some exceptions over the years, including Crazy, Stupid Love, Amelie, and She’s The Man. But for whatever reason, the only movies I insisted on seeing and watching had to be either dark and pervasive, quirky and experimental, or deep and provocative.

And the beginning of last year, I suddenly found myself pining for a good dose of romance. I wanted to watch two people fall in love and I wanted to watch two lovers share an emotional connection.

And thus began my secret binge - it started with trailers for rom-coms both old and new; then I found myself actually queuing up rom-coms on my own time. What was I doing, wasting my time watching What If?, a 2011 rom-com that lost close to three million dollars and starred Daniel Radcliffe and a pre-The Big Sick Zoe Kazan? Why did I repeatedly watch the trailer for Before We Go, Chris Evans’ 2014 directorial debut that received a whopping 21% on Rotten Tomatoes? Because these movies made me feel things. Even if they made me feel more lonely, even if they enabled me to quietly pine for a character in my own life (for whom, yes, I am still secretly pining), they still enveloped me in feeling. I couldn’t get enough. I rewatched classics, and I searched long and hard for indies.

All the while, however, I kept my new interest private. I didn’t feel comfortable enough asking my friends to binge rom-coms with me (how stupid and pretentious is that?), and I felt weak if I admitted in my film classes that the most recent movies that had made me cry were Moonrise Kingdom and/or Wall-E, or even worse, that I cried just watching the trailer for Mamma Mia.

But now it appears as if I wasn’t the only one who missed romantic comedies. As it turns out, quite virtually everyone wanted them back, a development that surfaced with the widespread popularity of Crazy Rich Asians.

Of course, I don’t mean to discount the fact that Crazy Rich Asians primarily served as an important piece of representation for the Asian-American community, and that it will no doubt pave the way for non-white actors who deserve to land roles other than the stereotypical best friend or sidekick. But I also think the movie was a success because it was such a damn good love story. It was so SATISFYING. It made me CRY. It made my FATHER cry. It was so enjoyable, and heartwarming, and it felt good knowing everyone around me similarly loved it.

The revival continues as well with To All The Boys I’ve Ever Loved Before, a Netflix rom-com featuring budding stars Lana Condor and Noah Centineo. I absolutely lost my mind over To All The Boys; I fell madly in love with both male characters and I never wanted Lara Jean to leave the screen. I loved the story and its characters and quirkiness and I loved watching the tale unfold (and yes, I now exclusively refer to Noah Centineo as Peter Kavinsky, and I assume he’ll live on as that character for a good majority of his career).

Yes, romantic comedies can be cheesy, and corny, and unrealistic, and they definitely hit an all-time low in the 2000s, when studios used big ticket stars to generate income on an awful script (i.e. How Do You Know circa 2010, or All About Steve circa 2009). But I finally think the industry is learning how to make them work -- with equal representation and diverse stories, and well-developed characters and plot lines, no doubt.

I’ve come to the conclusion that, as a society, we need rom-coms. We need to believe in the idea of love, and watching others experience the trials and tribulations of falling in love is a method of catharsis. We need to leave our own realities for brief periods of time to fall in line along characters as they reach their happy endings, if not for our own satisfaction then at least to hold on to the slight chance that we too might find such a love in our own lifetime. We need to share the laughs and the tears and the emotions with our friends and family, and we need universal love stories to help connect with strangers, with acquaintances, with budding friends. Rom-coms might just be the comedic relief our own society needs in order to survive this incredibly intense and upsetting time in the world. And so I eagerly saw Mamma Mia 2 its opening weekend, and I felt no shame in listening to its soundtrack for a week straight afterward. And yes, I cried after Love, Simon and The Big Sick. I saw La La Land four times. And I have tickets to see Juliet, Naked next weekend. Because I love rom-coms. I really do.

And now, I leave you with Vanity Fair’s most recent list of top 25 Rom-Coms. Invite your friends over. Bake some brownies. Enjoy.