Coming of Age

Last night I watched the film Liberal Arts, which is written and directed by and also starring Josh Radnor from How I met your mother. I am not a huge fan of the show, but it isn’t because I don’t like Radnor, and this film is about as far from the show as you can get. It is really good.

It is considered a coming of age film, which I particularly liked because the protagonist is 35. He returns to his alma mater to farewell his ‘second favorite professor’ who is reluctantly retiring after 37 years of higher education. There are many authentic and authentically awkward moments, which made me wonder how much was scripted and how much evolved organically through improvisation while the cameras were rolling. One of the characters – a Drama major – even notes that life is not scripted; it is just one long improvisation, which may be a clue. Regardless, the acting is lovely.

While studying my own Liberal Arts degree – double major of English Literature and Theater Arts, “just to make sure I was completely unemployable”, as Radnor’s Jessie says of his own education – I was never that good at improvisation. I always preferred scripted performance to the ‘be amazingly clever and witty on the spot’ school of acting. I watched in awe as many of my classmates took the stage time and time again, scriptless, and came up with improvisational gold.

Through the awe, the gnawing nerves ate away at my stomach while I waited my turn on the stage. With a script in hand I felt invincible. With a chair and an empty stage, I got stage fright. In the film, Radnor’s Jessie oscillates between distressed and uncomfortable when he is ‘off-book’. In his personal life he relies too heavily on snippets from the classics and professionally, his trite, seemingly scripted responses have no effect on the young minds he is trying to inspire. It is only when he throws the scripts away that he has any kind of real connection with people and in being authentic, he comes of age.

So, let’s get back to me, the wary improviser. How has that played out in my own life? Well, professionally I am typically a good improviser. I store a lot of information in my head, and my brain tends to know when it is connected to other stored information. If a meeting or a lesson plan or training session goes off on an unexpected tangent, I tend to excel. I can think on my feet and make quick decisions. Professionally, I have had many milestones that have been a ‘coming of age’ and I am looking ahead to the next one.

But what about my personal life? Last night, as I walked home through my neighborhood where I have lived for the past 4 years, I asked myself about my own coming of age. “When was it?” “Has it happened yet?” I have certainly experienced some significant transformations in the past 20 years of my adulthood.

In the film, an almost unrecognizable Zac Efron pontificates about the incredible feat that is a caterpillar turning itself into a butterfly. And he is right; that is amazing if you stop to think about it. At some point I did really think about it, because I have a butterfly tattoo and I chose it for its homage to the idea of transformation. As I watched the scene I reminded myself to remind myself of that fact more often. Transformation is very, very beautiful.
So, as I further ponder my own coming of age, I realize that there have been many moments that define some form of transformation, and that I want there to be many more. Those moments, those decisions, those risks that we take that shape us into a more real, more complete and more beautiful human being, those are the times when we ‘come of age’.

The very exquisite Richard Jenkins, who portrays the reluctant retiree, responds to Jessie’s question, “Do you think of this place as a prison?” with “Every place is a prison if you never leave.” That line resonated with me, because I have an internal kinetic-ness that makes me want to go, well, everywhere. In my life, many of my coming of age moments have been around departures to somewhere new. Moving to LA, moving to London, moving to Sydney, coming here to Seattle four years ago to live with Ben – all highly significant times in my life when I stretched myself, faced my fears and went for it.

These defining moments are different for everyone, however. For me, traveling and living in different places is innate to my contentment, but Jenkins’ line about every place being prison if you don’t leave is not true for everyone.

I know 8 couples who are currently expecting a baby (7 for the first time), and I cannot express how much I admire their selflessness and courage. My sister and brother-in-law became parents for the first time about 15 months ago and I am in awe of how brilliantly they parent my (clever and beautiful) nephew. Talk about a coming of age!

So, back to my questions, “When was my coming of age?” and “Has it happened yet?” The answers are, “Many, many times before,” and “Not yet.”

The night I didn’t meet Kevin Costner

You know those lists that couples write where they name 5 famous people that they are allowed to sleep with – without any repercussions or recrimination? As if those 5 famous people would be so flattered by being on THE LIST that they would not only jump at the chance to sleep with the person, but also make themselves available to that person so that it could actually happen?

Yeah, me too. Although I have never actually handed Ben a piece of paper and said, these are my five. I have, on occasions, mentioned, ‘he’d probably be on my list,’ but have never taken that extra step of writing down the four others who would join ‘him’. I may have actually written lists in my younger days, but I didn’t keep them, and if I did they are in storage at my mum’s house along with my certificates and Duran Duran scrapbooks (don’t judge me).

So, if I cast my mind back to my mind, say circa 1989, who would be on the list that I probably wrote and possibly gave to my first real boyfriend ever, but likely didn’t keep?

  1. Sean Connery. Yes, old enough to be my grandfather, but I was a sophisticated 19-year-old, and he was People’s Sexiest Man Alive, people!
  2. Jimmy Smits. I was a mad LA Law fan and Victor Sifuentes was just yummy.
  3. Tom Cruise.  Did you see how good he looked in that suit in Rainman???
  4. Dave Gahan from Depeche Mode. Just sex on legs, really.
  5. Kevin Costner. No way out (sexiest sex scene in a limo ever). Bull Durham (sexiest sex scene in a bathtub ever). Field of Dreams (just a lovely film, really).

Flash forward 23 years. It is February and Ben and I are in NYC, celebrating us, and the fact that I have never been to New York before. We are seated in the Eugene O’Neill Theater about to watch The Book of Mormon. To say that I am excited is an understatement. The theater is packed, having been sold out for months, and there is little room to spare. My knees almost touch the seat in front of me, which is still empty even though it is only five minutes to curtain. Ben’s seat is on the aisle and I lean over to ask him if a tall man sits in front of me, will he switch seats so I can see?

“Of course, babe,” replies my lovely date. I sit back in my chair just as a very tall man, accompanied by two beautiful women arrives and pauses in the aisle right next to us. I glance up and hope like hell that of the three of them that the tall man will not sit in front of me. And then the tall man speaks. “Honey, do you want to go first and I will sit in the middle?” The middle would be right in front of me and one half of my brain sighs heavily, while the other half registers that I know that voice.

I take another look at the tall man and my eyes widen and I grip Ben’s leg as if to telegraph my realization to him without words.  The tall man is Kevin Costner. THE Kevin Costner. And he is so tall, and so handsome, and so there!

He and his gorgeous second daughter and his gorgeous second wife (who I should add is younger than me), get settled. He is sitting less than 24 inches from my face. I turn to Ben. “Do you know who that is?” I mouth silently. He smiles at me, nods and returns a silent, “Yes.”  “I LOVE him,” I mouth in reply.

Out loud Ben says, “Do you want to swap places, babe?” Nonchalantly, I reply, “No, I’m fine thanks.”

With Kevin Costner two feet away from my face, I start to watch the show. And it is brilliant. And Kevin thinks it is brilliant. I know this because for every minute I spend watching the show, I dedicate about one and a half minutes to watching Kevin Costner watch the show.

Intermission. I am desperate to use the bathroom and so is Ben. We are half-way up the aisle before the house lights come up – he goes left and I go right. I am fourth in line for the ladies’ loo and I am very impressed with their system. There is a switchback at the bottom of the stairs and a woman in a uniform directs women to stalls like a skilled NYC traffic cop. I am in and out in moments.

Back in my seat, Ben next to me, we are painfully aware that Kevin is now on his own and we silently communicate the following conversation:

“Are you going to talk to him?”


“Why not?”


“He is one of your favorite actors.”

“I don’t want to be that person. You know, all, ‘so hey, I will nonchalantly ask if you are enjoying the show, just to say I talked to you, and you are all like, ‘I hate being a famous person’.’

Shake of head and sweet smile at pathetic girlfriend.

“Plus, he is here for Whitney’s funeral. I can’t.”

We then switch to audible dialogue, where I am witty and clever, comparing my life growing up Mormon with the play, secretly hoping that Kevin will find me so fascinating that he will interrupt and join in our conversation.

He does not. Instead his wife and daughter return from the bathroom to expound on the horrors of the bathroom line.

The play continues and is brilliant. At the end we stand with the others in the audience, delighted to reward the stunning cast, and Kevin is whisked away by someone in black wearing cans so he can meet the cast.

I am now the woman who was too scared to talk to Kevin Costner.

Back in the hotel room, I am typing away on my laptop when music suddenly blares and startles Ben. “Sorry,” I say as I fumble with the volume.

“What on earth is that?” asks Ben.

“Kevin Costner dot com,” I reply, feeling even more foolish. “He is only 57, you know.”

My lovely, tolerant, sweet boyfriend just hugs me and says, “Not old enough to be your father. You know if he’s on your list you totally should have talked to him. He clearly likes younger women.”

I know when I am being teased, so I close my laptop and pretend not to know what Ben is talking about. I found out later that one of the other guys ‘on my list’ was at the play that night, too. But I only like him because he reminds me of Ben.