Relationships like Cake: I might want to Get Married Someday

I couldn’t even explain to you how good it feels
to look up across a room and see you standing there.

— Anonymous

____

My life has been so uncharacteristically fine, that I’m not quite sure how to write about it. I’m so primed for, and accustomed to, dysfunction, that this sense of calm, completely free from the anxiety that it will end, feels simultaneously eerie and relaxing. (Eerie in the sense that—for me—it’s uncharted territory, and relaxing in the sense that, it’s nice, taking a break from the idea that everything has to be perfect in order to be meaningful.)

This sense of “fine” was only completely understood, recently, when my boyfriend said, “You’re a very kind-hearted person,” and I found myself, suddenly, and unexpectedly, in tears.

Not because I was upset, but because I was the furthest thing from it.

For once, I was happy in a way that wasn’t like sitting inside a house of cards, clinging to every single second of stability. It was something more substantial, like, a happiness that didn’t depend on my boyfriend recoginizing I was a kind-hearted person, but on the fact that, I knew, I deserved to be understood this way.

I look back on my past relationships, and see that I used to receive love like a drain. I questioned the permanence of every kind word and promise; yes, because many of my exes proved to be unstable in their word, and untrustworthy through their actions, but also because I believed instability—a kind of relationship based on constant pursuit with no resounding sense of satisfaction—was the most someone like me could ever hope for.

My lack of substantial and satisfying relationships was due in large part, to my own self-doubt and fear: Could I bear the monotony of health? Of going on dates, and making plans, and meeting someone’s mom? Of not being able to see the end?

With stable relationships, there is a sense of “the unknown” that can be more disconcerting to some than the intensity and anxiety—maybe even fear—that comes with unstable—maybe even abusive—relationships. (This is the subconscious reason I believe many women choose, and stay with, men who are totally wrong and/or bad for them. The intensity of emotional pain feels more like love than the inevitable everyday-ness, and security, of actual love and compatibility.)

A thought I considered via the inadvertent, almost reflexive, comparison of my ex and current boyfriend.

The only way I know how to describe it is this:

Being with my ex was like, eating a whole cake in one sitting. A sort of “Wow, a whole cake—just for me?!” that was great for about one or two pieces, but by the third or fourth, left me sick to my stomach, and hating myself.

Whereas my relationship with my current boyfriend, is like, eating a single piece of cake. I’m not worrying about whether or not this is the last piece of cake I’ll ever have; if, perhaps, there might be better cake elsewhere, and I’m missing out. I’m just focused on the plate in front of me, understanding that whether or not I’ll ever get to taste this particular cake again, isn’t up to me; I just need have faith that it’ll be enough.

In other words, I felt more with my ex—our relationship’s extremities were exciting and romantic—but I’m much happier with my current boyfriend.

I’ve learned that some romantic connections, however cosmically-charged and intense they might be, just aren’t substantial. They’re only good in terms of potence, and not longevity. Creating a sort of rush and crash that leaves one dizzy, and lightheaded—trapped with a recurring moral that would follow any other unbalanced diet: Too sweet to last.

C.S. Lewis wrote about this idea in the fourth chapter, “Eros”, of his essay collection on love, The Four Loves. He said: “[Eros] cannot, just as it stands, be the voice of God Himself. For Eros, speaking with that very grandeur and displaying that very transcendence of self, may urge to evil as well as to good… The love which leads to cruel and perjured unions, even to suicide pacts and murder, is not likely to be wandering lust or idle sentiment. It may well be Eros in all [its] splendour; heartbreakingly sincere; ready for every sacrifice except renunciation.”

Which is to say, romantic love in the absence of the other three loves—affection, friendship, and charity—however intense, or pure-intentioned, will inevitably and eventually turn to poison. Seeing that, romantic love—when it stands alone—is comprised of our most primal forces: lust, entitlement, jealousy, desperation, desire… The other loves need to be present in order to counteract the egomania of romantic love; to create the kind of balance that makes an intimate relationship healthy, and nontoxic.

This is probably why finding the “right” person is so difficult. When we delve into a new relationship, we can’t predict how that relationship will manifest itself. There’s no way of knowing, or calibrating, whether the four loves will be present, or else completely lacking and imbalanced—leading to nothing but destruction, or heartbreak, or boredom…

We are all so specific, and unique, that—I do believe–there are only a few people in this world who can truly satisfy our personal chemistries; who can allot just the right amount of affection, friendship, Eros, and charity—forgiveness and acceptance—to complement our individual designs.

Therefore the idea of marriage—committing to one person, taking vows, making promises until death—really is completely insane: What if someone’s heart is wrong?

I guess, the point is: my boyfriend said, “You’re a very kind-hearted person,” and I realized my feelings for him might not be all-consuming, or intense. But they dawn on me often, and—when they do—it’s like I’ve suddenly stepped into a warm and private room, where no one’s hoping I’ll be anything other than what I am. (There’s this unspoken understanding that, moments when we have nothing to say are no indication of future loss, or love gone stagnant, but a means of communicating: I feel safe with you. A sense of normalcy I was once vain enough to believe I’d been excluded from.)

I don’t want to get my hopes up. I’ve been wrong so many times before. But the difference is—I don’t care—I’m not afraid of being wrong anymore. I used to think the concept of marriage—committing oneself to another person with such totality—was pointless, and insincere: Why legally bind yourself to someone else, in front of everyone you know, when you can make that decision privately, on your own time? Are we not mature enough to make commitments without mediation? Doesn’t the gawdiness of tradition—posed pictures, buttercream icing in the shapes of roses, forcing your friends into expensive dresses, the mere desire for witnesses—automatically cheapen one’s promises?

I thought of weddings as ostentatious shows—two people standing up in front of everyone, and putting on a front, not considering the days ahead, or the fact that there is an after to “happily ever after”. But now—stripped of tradition, and capitalist influences—I’ve slowly started to see the institution’s merit.

I’ve met someone who has done nothing other than be himself, and it’s made me rethink everything.

(I consider our relationship’s most tedious facts: splitting the check; the ever changing movie list—saved, safely, in my iPhone notes; an order of loaded fries with two forks; Bud Light in plastic cups, illuminated by the sun—the fact that I even found this image touching; pointing out dogs from the third story window; our Saturday morning coffee; South Park marathons, and deep belly laughing; putting our quarters together in the pool table; how the radio sounds different in his car—compared to all the other cars; the way he eats his breakfast, standing up; how tattoos seem to suit me, but not him, and this makes no difference to either of us…

It all makes me think of something a philosophy professor said, when I was in college, about his wife, “I have fallen in and out of love with the same woman, for the greater part of my life.” And how I’ve carried that sentiment with me, ever since. This idea of growing apart, and back together, over and over again; one that draws so many people to symbols of infinity, and mimics the way trees die, and come back to life—naturally, and via some force completely beyond any human intervention.)

It’s something I’ve never experienced before: a chance to see beyond some fantasy of myself as too-cool for just one valentine, and into a place where I’m less pretty, less mysterious, and more wholly known.

To take my heart’s desire, day by day, like a piece of cake.

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A Millennial Girl’s Guide to Getting Over You

I wrote this story about four years ago. It was accepted for publication in a collection of stories about modern dating. However, being a major procrastinator, I completely forgot to turn in my edits, and I missed the deadline. Meaning, my story would not appear in the collection. (Something that was only mildly disappointing, seeing that, the editors wanted me to rewrite an ending in which the narrator expressed more regret over having given “so much to a person who was never really there”.) At that point, I think my conscience had taken over, because I didn’t want to re-write the ending. I didn’t want my narrator to express regret. (I’ve learned, none of us ever lose anything in trying to get to know someone, or love someone. Not even when we wind up heartbroken, and the other person proves himself to be kind of crumby.  If we can grow from it, and come out of it with the understanding that we did the best we could with the knowledge we had, then—in my opinion—it’s an opportunity to obtain new insight, empathy, and perspective.) Furthermore, I’m a very different person now from who I was when this was written. My happiness and self-worth used to depend, way too much, on my expectations of other people, and I allowed anger, frustration, and disappointment, to control my reactions to the world. I lacked boundaries, discernment, and proper self-care. And this had me believing I was powerless, with no control over my life, or the things that happened to me. As the years have gone on, however, I’ve slowly learned these life skills, and I am capable of conducting myself, more gracefully. Which brings me to my point: Grace is something I never would have learned had I not encountered hurtful and difficult situations; pain, failure, rejection, major breeches in judgment—all of it. This is why I’ve decided to share this story here. It’s one of my favorite pieces, and I feel like I’ve been hoarding it for too long. I hope you enjoy it!

_____

Our generation doesn’t like titles, formality, boundaries; we exist on a blurred line. You and I were not exempt from this collective preference for ambiguity; although I have to admit, I kind of wanted to be.

I said, “I just don’t know what I am to you, and at this point, I’d like some idea.”

You gave me a non-answer to deflect responsibility, even though we both knew it wasn’t my choice anymore, “I don’t know. My nature is really mysterious, and I’m a defensive person, so I’m kinda intimidated by the idea of scheduling my life around someone else.”

Mysterious.

I clung to the word as I started mentally constructing a grudge around it. I remember thinking: You work at Zumiez—the McDonalds of skate shops. You like to look at pictures of the ocean on Tumblr when you’re sad. You have the kind of hair that’s cut intentionally so you can slick it back as you light cigarettes and slam your Mustang’s door shut. I wanted to burst your bubble of ‘mystery’ with this list of facts. I wanted to say with conviction, “You’re just selfish.” But the words got caught in the filter that was my affection, and instead, I wound up saying, “I’m sorry, I know you didn’t ask for any of this.”

You said, “Thank you…Thank you so much for understanding.” And I went home, fully aware of the fact that you were never going to speak to me again.

*

Two tallboys of Lime-a-Rita later, I was joking about the guy who ‘mysteriously’ rolled away from me on his skateboard, “…and then he ollied out of my life into a sunset of his own narcissism.” This was the story I told all my friends. I didn’t need them to hug me as I cried, I just wanted them to laugh.

♥♥♥

I’m always surprised by how quickly I can turn my own pain into a joke—Oh is that the sound of my heart breaking again? No, wait, that’s just a Whoopee cushion deflating under the weight of my current disappointment. The humiliation sucks, but at least it makes a funny sound.

Here’s the thing, I have a knack for loving losers, and the fact that I know how to laugh at what makes these losers, losers, doesn’t change the fact that I love them. So whenever a loser winds up hurting me, I immediately start thinking about how I can deprecate myself in relation to said loser in an attempt to make my pain less like pain, and a little more like something people would care about.

For instance, one time, I had sex with a guy whose skin felt like it was covered in pinpoints—probably because he shaved his body hair. When everything was over, he cuddled up to me, and in an attempt to tease him, I said, “You have a body like a cactus.”

He didn’t laugh. Instead, he pushed me away with an indignant “I’m not like a cactus!”

I felt kind of sad that we could have sex but we couldn’t joke around with each other; that we were both so foreign to one another that the notion of having a cactus-like body was a serious point of contention and not just some dumb comment to laugh about.

Obviously, when I tell this story, I leave the sadness, the staring at the wall, the general disconnect, out. People like to laugh, but no one likes emotions that stagnate when they shouldn’t. No one likes the grey area that is somewhere between heartbreak and indifference. So I edit to avoid redundancy and to feign control over my own hurting.

What does any of this have to do with you?

I’d like to turn what happened between us into a joke, but I’m having a hard time doing it because, unlike a lot of the losers I’ve loved before you, I think you beat me to the punch. I can’t quite convince myself that you deserve the loser-label, and when all the laughter passes, my awareness of your existence still remains like a dull, aching cliché.

♥♥♥

I had to scrap the first draft of this essay because I realized I made you too likable. Or, I guess I should say, you are likable, and I emphasized that fact beyond deserving. It started off with the moment you sang along to Blink-182 in my ear, “Angel from my nightmare,” how you giggled like a little kid before you backtracked and said, “wait a minute, I’m getting ahead of myself.” How I chose to believe the former over the latter because the dreamy look in your eye was telling me, secretly, you meant it—but let’s be real, the giggle was just a side effect of the whiskey, and ‘angel from my nightmare’ is code for: You wear a lot of black, and I think you’re kind of pretty.

You weren’t fooling me, but you did fool me.

That night I followed you home and you pretended you wanted me to come into your room to look at a wax skull—what? Yeah. I know. I fall for the weirdest pick-up lines—Hey girl, wanna see a really cool candle?—but that’s what happened. I held the thing in my hand, and played along like we were two kids in an innocent exchange of show and tell. Right then, you scaled the bridge of my nose with your forefinger. You said, “You have a nose like one of those clay girls from the Puffs commercials.”

“That’s funny,” I said as you traced my mouth and I tried to pretend like your touch felt natural, “Someone once told me I reminded him of the Corpse Bride.”

You slid your hand up the back of my neck, twisted your fingers in my hair, and said, “She was clay, too.”

It was inevitable. Seconds later, your mouth would be on mine, and I’d drop the skull on the floor, allowing it to roll away like some horrible allusion to Snow White’s poison apple. I pulled off your white shirt as you peeled back my tights, and gathered my hair in one fist like a bouquet of flowers. You pulled me close and, the moment I said, “That kind of hurts,” you came, and the fucked up part about it is we both laughed.

♥♥♥

If I Google, Is my boyfriend a sociopath, I’m linked to checklists, and quizzes; psychological articles on defining characteristics, or blog entries with aggressive headlines like: “IT HAPPENED TO ME: I DATED A SOCIOPATH!”

The question crossed my mind with you—Is he? I think he might be. But then again, I don’t believe in using the term ‘sociopath’ lightly. I’m careful because sometimes I think it’s easier to believe that a person’s brain is broken than it is to believe that they just aren’t attracted to you; to say, Oh we’re just wired differently, especially when his wires are the ones that aren’t working.

All that being said, I still kind of thought you might be a sociopath.

So after our ‘break-up’ I consulted Google and tried to remain as unbiased as possible as I read, “all sociopaths are narcissists but not all narcissists are sociopaths,” and begrudgingly accepted that you never struck me as “too good to be true”, and had no apparent “desire for control” over anything. It became pretty clear that you probably weren’t a sociopath, so for fairness’ sake I decided to search: Am I a masochist? But all I learned about myself was that I definitely don’t enjoy it when cats scratch me, and the time I bruised my tailbone and said “It feels kind of good” wasn’t a legit enough story to prove a pain fetish, mostly because I was drunk at the time, and nobody got off after I said it.

Your brain wasn’t broken, and I didn’t have an abnormal sexual psychology. Still, I wasn’t ready to accept the truth. So I consulted Google once more–my apparent magic 8 ball for making sense of life, post-breakup.

I researched the seven stages of grief because, I have to admit, it kind of felt like you’d died. I concluded that I was still in the throes of stage two, denial, and subsequently decided to read all about your Mustang online.

I learned that your car can go from 0 to 60 in 1.5 seconds; that it has a six speed auto-select transmission; that this means you can choose between automatic and manual control at your leisure; that Ford had created a woman named Delena Henriques with computer graphics so whenever someone searches her name, all they’ll find is your car and a pair of digitally enhanced legs. I read about all of this as if knowing any of it could ever make up for all the things I never got to know about you.

♥♥♥

My initial reaction to your car was, “What is this, a Lana del Rey music video?” Then you grinned and slicked your hair back because you knew exactly what I meant.

The back of your car was loaded up with skateboards and Hurricane malt liquor. You took me to an abandoned parking ramp where I watched you Ollie, nollie, tailslide, frontslide, 50/50 railgrind. You cracked elbows and bent ankles until blood speckled your white shirt. But you were resilient; you bounced back in one fluid motion, as if the consequence of gravity was something you’d gone numb to.

I shivered, despite being wrapped in one of your hoody sweatshirts, and you looked at me from across the lot right before you gave a trick another go. Your blue eyes were always wide and ready to accept life as it is, and I longed for you in a way that I can’t explain. You were free of me in a way that I wasn’t free of you, and it filled me with jealousy and dread and an admiration that had me wondering what it was like to be the cigarettes tucked in your back pocket—what was it like being that sure of a thing to you?

That night, on the ride home, I stared out the window and tried to pretend to be less fascinated by you than I was, counting the street lamps as they passed, hoping to memorize the way the amber light flooded the gutters. I started to project the idea of you onto the overpasses, the graffiti, the neon glow of restaurants and strip mall signs. You took my hand and placed it on the gearstick.

Stupidly, I said, “I can’t drive stick.”

With your hand still covering mine, you said, “Don’t worry about it.”

Then you switched gears and all I felt was You.

♥♥♥

It’s a shame that Google can’t provide any answers to the specifics: What does it mean to be the angel from someone’s nightmare? Someone’s clay girl?

I can find step-by-step reassurance in articles that divulge the secrets to overcoming heartache for someone I was never actually dating, but that’s about as specific as Google can get. Through some blogger acknowledging that the pain is in the fact that ‘angel from my nightmare’ is just another way of referring to a romantic hiccup; to the person who bridged the gap between last break-up and next relationship; a nice way of saying: Non-girlfriend.

It’s a low blow, but it’s the truth.

Being the non-girlfriend meant everyone looked at me like I wasn’t allowed to be as upset as I was. It meant everyone questioned my questions. How could I possibly care, so damn much, about a person who was just sex? What gives me the right?

And I agreed: Yeah, what gives me the right?

But I wondered anyway.

I wondered, Was every kiss a calculation? Are you just some construct designed to get laid? Did you mean it when you said it? Do you think about the things you say? What’s it like being the cigarettes in your back pocket—what’s it like being that safe and tucked away inside yourself?

*

I promised myself that I wouldn’t address your faults with too much assertion when I began the second draft of this essay. I know break-ups are a double sided coin for any number of reasons—there’s my side and there’s your side. There’s one side tainted by anger and the other side consumed by sadness. There’s a battle between the itch to forgive and the steadfast grip of a grudge that is hesitant to let go and scratch that itch.

♥♥♥

Of course I went through all the motions of any break-up. I sent you drunken, stalker-esque “I miss you” Snapchats that were taken in the dark and only lasted two seconds. I listened to “Youth” by Daughter at least fifty times. I cried at the end of Her, and had a one night stand with a guy I met on OkCupid. I even eventually went back to your apartment while you weren’t there—your roommates invited me. We all got drunk and high and laughed; it was fun, but it wasn’t the same without you.

At one point, the door to your room was cracked, and I caught a glimpse inside. I saw your brown comforter all crumpled up on your twin bed, dresser drawers left open, empty Corona bottles, jumbled X-Box wires, holey Vans sneakers repaired with auto body putty, plates with half-eaten sandwiches. And when I drove home, I sobbed uncontrollably at the thought of it all because I just didn’t have it in me to be mad at you anymore.

I said it once, and I’ll say it again: You are likable. And, for a moment, you made me really happy. You brought the magic back into my life. You drove a shiny car that looked like it belonged on a plastic neon Hot Wheels track. You weren’t above laughing, smiling, sprinkling cinnamon on my cider, watching otters somersault, or pretending soda caps were hats for lizards.

And I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, but here’s the thing: Our generation is enchanted by the word ‘stay’. Stay with me ‘cause you’re all I need…All you had to do was stay…Stay, just stay…Kiss me before they turn the lights out! (Yes, these are all lyrics from pop songs.)

We don’t know how to let go.

We’re all confused and lonely. We don’t know where we’re going. Maybe that’s why we don’t like titles, formality; maybe that’s why we’re more comfortable on the blurred line—it’s too hard to get anyone to stay. We’ve all got shit to do, lives to lead… we just want someone to kiss before they turn the lights out.

I’m sorry.

I know it’s not that complicated: We’re two okay people who didn’t work out.

I just really wanted you to stay.

But Not You

All the double edged people and schemes
they make a mess then go home and get clean
You’re my best friend, and we’re dancing in a world alone
We’re all alone.

Lorde, “A World Alone”

***

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about reality, and whether any sound version of it exists.

It’s such a morally ambiguous time to be alive, and I’ve been struggling to discern anything from anything. (Good from bad, right from wrong, love from hate, fact from fiction, et al.) I feel as if I’m constantly falling down rabbit holes. Like I’m always being bombarded, or cornered, by biased, and unfair, realities.

I’ll perceive one thing, and then someone else will tell me that’s not how it went down. I’m wrong; I’m overreacting; I’m only seeing what I want; I’m not being “realistic”.

See, the significant amount of time I’ve spent contemplating the definition of “reality” only occurred to me, just this past weekend. After I found myself in an awkward situation, the brunt of which I had to take the blame for. Even though, from my perspective, the other person’s part was pretty deceptive

I met up with some friends, and they were sitting with this guy who, apparently, worked at the establishment. He was acquainted with someone in our group, and throughout the course of the night I decided I thought he was funny, and attractive.

He seemed to be just as interested: giving me eyes, asking me questions—just, generally, granting me added attention. So I was a little taken aback when someone in our group mentioned his having a girlfriend. Everything I’d perceived up until that point had implied the opposite. So much so, I actually assumed: That girlfriend stuff must have been a joke.

Eventually everyone left, leaving me alone with him. He said, “Do you want a tour?” I said, “Sure!” And he showed me around where he worked, not exactly backing off in the arena of flirtation. Until, finally, I just asked him flat out, “Do you really have a girlfriend?”

Without skipping a beat, he said, “Yeah.”

“Really dude?”

“What?” He said, “Just say it: what were you thinking?”

There was no way to say it without sounding narcissistic, so I just said it, “You’re attracted to me.”

He said, “I treated you the way I’d treat any customer.”

Never having been the kind of person to back off, when I believe something is true, I said it again, practically laughing, “No, you’re definitely attracted to me.”

He sort of shrugged, “Okay, yeah. Look, we’ve actually met before. And I liked you, but—whatever—you weren’t into it. And now I’m with her.”

Though I’m sure what he said was true, I had no recollection of meeting him before. Which means the interaction couldn’t have been too significant. This admission, however, had me thinking: Oh, okay, cool. So he had an agenda the moment I walked through the door.

And I just stared at him, not really knowing what to say. Trying to understand what he had to gain by creating this situation, beyond getting back at me for a rejection I couldn’t even remember giving. The sudden shift in context had me feeling really conflicted—questioning myself, my own interpretations of situations—and I resented him for putting me in that position. For acting like he had nothing to do with it.

He repeated himself, “I treated you like I’d treat any customer.”

And, for some reason, I found myself confessing, out of sheer exhaustion, “You know, I really want to meet someone. I’m at a point in my life where getting jerked around by entitled people isn’t even entertaining anymore. It’s just disappointing.”

He said, “I don’t know what to tell you. How did you want things to go? Seriously, what were you expecting?”

At which point, I felt simultaneously annoyed, and defeated. So annoyed, and defeated, I couldn’t even articulate an answer: It was pointless.

The whole interaction had been a zero-sum game, and to call him out on it; to try and get him to admit the deceit on his side, would mean to act from a place of self-righteous rage—a place I’d rather not go. (I felt like I was supposed to shake his hand, or something. Be a good sport, like: Good game, bro. You’re right. I’m just a self-centered chick who ignored you once. You get the trophy.)

I said, “I don’t know what I’m expecting anymore. I’m gonna go.” And, the moment I stepped outside, my reunion with the cold air felt like a physical manifestation of my own clarity.

What was I expecting?

I was expecting a fair shot, for my interaction with another person to not be rigged from the start.

I was expecting someone to be the person he was pretending to be: A single one.

I wish I could say this was an isolated incident, but I actually find myself in these situations a lot. Ones where I feel isolated, and like I’m being denied my own reality, out of some weird place of revenge. (Seriously, I could site other examples for hours.) But my main point is, I walk away from these situations—time after time—feeling completely objectified, and punished, for reasons no one is willing to admit, or name. To the point where it has me wondering: There cannot be this many jerks in the world, it has to be me.

I’ve even talked to a therapist about it.

He theorized, “When people meet someone who is intelligent, and attractive, and good at what they do—some will assume: this person cannot also be sincere. The foundation of who they are falls under closer scrutiny. You feel wrong, because people have often treated you as if you are wrong, and some people will see this resounding self-doubt, and they’ll hone in on it—because they want to challenge your integrity.”

For most of my life, I’ve functioned under the assumption that I’m wrong, and everyone else is right. Which has made me more open-minded, and diplomatic, but has also put me at a disadvantage in terms of identifying abusive people. Therefore, it’s taken a long time—two years of therapy—for me to internalize the reality that I am not this vapid, or delicate, little girl that some of my male peers have made me out to be.

That being said, understanding, and accepting, who I am hasn’t made getting duped by jerks any less disappointing.

And when I told my friend about the incident—with the guy over the weekend—something she said aided me in locating the source of my disappointment: “Obviously we know monogamy isn’t a perfect arrangement all the time, but then to see the situations where there’s holes in it is seriously depressing.”

Considering this, I thought: If I ever have a committed relationship, I want it to be with someone who would never lead another girl into the abyss of his workplace, hidden from the judgment of other people, to spite-flirt. I don’t want to give any part of myself to someone who’s that insecure.

Because, that’s the thing—what makes it so disappointing. The utter lack of integrity; how individuals with it seem few, and far, between. When it’s what I’m craving, more than anything else.

Someone who values sincerity.

Whose reality is as honest, and objective, as my own.

Why is that so hard to find?

Some of my favorite lyrics come from Lorde’s, “A World Alone”, off her first album, Pure Heroine. They go: “Maybe the Internet raised us / Or maybe people are jerks / But not you…” And every time, the moment “but not you” is uttered, I feel pierced through the heart. Just the mere idea of looking at another person—past all the world’s shortcomings—and saying, with clarity: “But not you.”

A reality that is as shared as it is certain, that’s what I’m expecting.

One Last Thought Before Midnight: What You Think is the Most Important Opinion

I never really noticed that I had to decide
to play someone’s game, or live my own life.

—Lana Del Rey, “Get Free”

tumblr_p1sgflppyx1v6mqeeo3_540

My favorite memory from this year happened when no one was around. It was when I was alone, in the bathtub, sobbing and eating an ice cream sandwich. (This moment of self-pity was eventually interrupted by my own laughter. I realized there should be a picture of me in the dictionary, right next to the word “self-indulgent”.)

I have always been in on the joke that is me. (Something a guy didn’t realize, two years ago, when he said, “I used to think you were a joke…” I’ll never forget how he went speechless in light of how easily I accepted his insult, “I am a joke.”) This has always been my game: Insults don’t work if you’ve already accepted their subject matter as a part of your personality.

I know what my faults are.

You won’t find me, wasting any breath, trying to dispute them—at least not anymore.

This year, I became more wholly accepting of myself. I internalized notions that I’ve understood ever since I was a teenager, but had yet to accept as a true part of who I was.

In high school, I had a counselor who deemed me a perfectionist, and—at the time—I thought her diagnosis was all wrong. I thought: I let yogurt mold in my room, I don’t like to brush my hair, I view showering as a major event, and my nail polish is chipped more often than not… When I expressed these sentiments to her, she said, “That’s not the kind of perfectionism I’m talking about.” Eventually, I’d learn what she meant: That I need to be constantly working for approval in order to feel worthy of life. That I can’t allow myself to just EXIST.

I guess the point I’m getting at is—2017 was the year I totally accepted every part of myself, good and bad. To a point where I can recognize that I’m not perfect, and still view myself as a person worthy of respect and love.

Like, yes. I am the girl who got drunk and told a Trump supporter to fuck off, and then fell out of her shoes. But I am also the girl who toiled over card stock, with an array of gel pens and sharpies spread around her. Who cut out hearts, and wrote down inside jokes, just to make a heartbroken friend smile for two seconds.

(I don’t say this to glorify myself, or to say that one good deed undoes all the times a person has fucked up. But to emphasize that one bad deed doesn’t undo all the good deeds either. And, if I’m being entirely honest, I don’t regret getting drunk and falling out of my shoes. Or telling this particular individual to fuck off. Which is a new level of self-acceptance that I can’t totally articulate, but feels positively liberating.)

Furthermore, with this new feeling of wholeness: I’ve become repulsed by the men who don’t respect me, and I find anyone who ridicules how I live my life boring.

Maybe this is narcissistic.

But the point of the matter is, I don’t care if it’s narcissistic.

I’ve realized, when you decide to live authentically—when you make it a goal—life feels, almost instantly, better.

It becomes easier to trust yourself.

I have finally internalized the notion that, all these years I’ve spent idealizing people who called me crazy, claimed I meant nothing to them, and refused to tell the truth about who I was, was really a testament to the depth of my own imagination, and internal makings, than it ever was to their superiority or power over me.

And I wish I could transplant this newfound self-worth into every girl and woman I know; not to make them more like me, but to make them more wholly themselves.

Having been trained to view our individual needs as secondary, irrelevant, trite, vain, and somehow—always—“wrong”, I think it’s really brave for any girl or woman to say: This just doesn’t work for me.

Therefore, my hope for the New Year—for myself and anyone else who struggles to do it too—is to keep saying no to things that don’t feel right, in spite of what anyone else says or thinks.

Happy New Year.

Go get drunk and fall out of your shoes.

Love is Leaving the Light On: 2017, In Retrospect

what stops things for a moment
are the words you’ve found for the last bit of light
you think there is

—Stephen Dunn, “What”

 Will the waters be rising soon?
The waters will be rising soon.
Find something or someone to cling to.

—Kim Addonizio, “Storm Catechism”

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Donald Trump was inaugurated and that’s when the countdown really started. 10. So a blonde walks into a bar… 9. A guy looks up and decides to stay… Did you know, the second day of this year 31 twisters touched down in the south? This one-day total was higher than the whole month of January 2016. Would it be fair to say that this is the most accurate way to describe 2017: Concentrated. Loaded emotion and knowledge, packed into the smallest increments of time: Moments, like DMT. Doesn’t it feel like half of us are rewinding, while the other half is trying to fast-forward? Personally, I think the film is going to rip. (I saw a picture of a house torn in half by a tornado, and thought aloud: “Isn’t it crazy how nature can cut through your living room when you least expect it?”)

Anyway—let’s not talk about politics.

He said, “Hey, I think you’re really pretty.” And I laughed, hysterically. I’m on the latter end of 25 now. Plucking away at the keyboard of a MacBook that I can tell is crashing, slowly. It creaks like a haunted house. I swear to god… I’m typing this now, and a major part of me believes the girl I was seven years ago—the girl I was when this MacBook was new—is alive and well, rolling with the back roads. It’s 3 AM and Kid Cudi is still relevant somewhere. She believed a full tank of gas, combined with the beat of something melancholy, was how modern witches flew: Is it weird that I feel so much closer to her now than whoever I was this time last year?

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Today is the oldest you’ve ever been, and the youngest you’ll ever be,” and I think about it all the time. (How youth is a warm blanket, and time is a rubber band, holding you like a hammock. The view is nothing but stars when you’re in your twenties; this brief moment in history when your reflection actually matches an idea you had of yourself.) I’m only saying this because of what a middle-aged woman told me in passing, “I still feel young. Whenever I look in the mirror, I don’t recognize myself.”

Once, for a fiction-writing assignment in college, I had to kill off one of my favorite characters. I decided to write about death as a reversal of time and the transcendence of space: Shattered vases pieced themselves back together and floated back to their allotted shelves. She looked out the kitchen window, and found her house had drowned over night. Sperm whales were floating by, casually as birds. She looked down and realized her hands were no longer knotted from arthritis. Having untwisted themselves, and flattened out their own wrinkles in the night.

When my best friend and I were teenagers, we’d talk about heaven all the time. She’d ask, “How old do you think people are in heaven?” And I’d say, “Young, probably.” She’d say, “Really? I bet they’re ageless.” And I’d think about that for a moment. How, in my head, “ageless” implied youth—at least a hint of it. It was then that I first understood “ageless” as a word for when one feels the most herself. Which varies, depending on who and what your experiences are. (The damage of trauma can leave one frozen at the age of 2.) Imagine: Navigating a majority of your life without feeling like yourself—being unable to experience joy without distrust. I asked my friend, “What’s better, wisdom or innocence?”

She said, “Wisdom.” She was certain.

But I gave innocence a little more credit: Without innocence, is wisdom even possible? Isn’t new wisdom only acquired by experiencing something, through fresh eyes—and then, somehow, managing to restore innocence? In February, new evidence was discovered supporting the theory of intermediate black holes. Though most scientists still poo-poo the idea of these masses actually existing. Mostly because, if they were to find an intermediate black hole—one that was for sure “intermediate”—it would force science to rethink the development of the universe as we’ve always understood it. (Apparently the rate at which black holes form, makes the possibility of moderately sized ones unlikely—at least on this plane of reality.)

Have you ever looked at a picture of a black hole?
It has the terrifying resemblance of a human eye. Making me wonder: What if a black hole is just a retina, taking in light and generating new memories in the mind of a beholder? “There’s a whole universe inside you!” At least, that’s what the inspirational quotes say. And isn’t that the theory behind black holes—that there’s a whole other reality on the other side. Is it possible that the earth—the entire solar system—has already been swallowed? Black holes are massive. I bet we’ve been swallowed thousands of times, and none of us even felt it. What if that’s all a new iPhone release is?

Getting swallowed by a black hole, and nobody noticing.

Domestic Violence was decriminalized in Russia this year. The bill was co-authored by two women. (Forgive me: I can’t seem to wrap my head around this idea where there’s any room for tolerance when it comes to women getting hit by men they love.) Homicide is the fourth leading cause of death in American women ages 15-24, and I can’t help but wonder how many of those women were killed by a boyfriend or father-figure. Did you know—though women are just as capable of domestic violence as men—statistically speaking, only male to female violence ends in death or serious injury? Which is another way of saying: I went to the Women’s March in Seneca Falls and cried, because it was the least hated I’d felt in a long time.

This year, I fell in love.

8. He pulled a bouquet of flowers out, from behind the couch… 7. So a blonde burst into tears, out in the parking lot… My best friend said my anxiety was only natural. “Last year was horrible for you, and you’re terrified… Being in love with a real person is terrifying.” And I thought: Why is “real” love so rude and intrusive? Like: I was perfectly happy in pseudo-relationships with guys who’d never even try to love me properly. Why’d he have to come along and wreck a good thing? Sometimes I wonder if I have that same problem Dr. Phil is always accusing anorexics of: Do I want to be alone with my disease? (A high school boyfriend once said, “I don’t get it, it’s like you enjoy being sad.”)

I didn’t know what to do! My life had turned to a Taylor Swift song in a matter of weeks. We were dancing in the kitchen to the sounds of our own voices, with the shades drawn and the TV turned off. Our cell phones were on silent—tucked away and lighting up elsewhere. Free of judgment—among the bottle caps and half-drunk coffee mugs—I found my hand floating to his forearm, without much thought. Heard myself describing him as “too good to be real”. When is it okay to let go and trust someone? (I think of my mom, over coffee, giving advice about love: “You’re never going to know for sure.”)

I had this dream where a brunette, lawyer-type, woman led me to a tunnel. The tunnel was covered in blue pool tiles, and water reflected in golden squiggles on the ceiling. It was unclear where the tunnel led. The woman explained that the ability to see things as they really are was on the other side, objectivity in its purest form. Then everything blurred and fell sideways in that vertigo-way dreams do—

Back to black holes.

What if being swallowed by a black hole is all a New Year is? The same old reality, with a few variations: A 69th moon is orbiting Jupiter; Time Crystals are a physical certainty; Another mass shooting, and another mass shooting, and another, is cemented in history; Mass extinction is deemed a possibility; A Total Solar Eclipse has come and gone; Girl Scouts can be Boy Scouts; Some stars have exploded and some people have just started existing…

I read this list of words for complex emotions on Thought Catalog. One that resonated in particular was “Sonder”, defined as: “The realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own…”

Sonder used to overwhelm me, used to make me believe I should be doing more than I was—made me hopeless with the thought that I would never be big enough. It sharpened my awareness: Everything is a mere particle to something else; an ant is to a human, as the earth is to the sun, as the sun is to the universe and everything else… But this year, I decided: Even particles can stand out. I re-thought of all my favorite artists as tiny crumbs: Lady Gaga is a fleck of silver glitter, on a piece of pink construction paper; Virginia Woolf is a water molecule in a Cumulus cloud, reincarnated as a blue eye contact… (I have often described myself as Cheeto dust, though it’d be cool if I turned out to be plain dirt. Dirt can be mud, and mud can be elephant sun block. Which, as dirt, is what I would aspire to be.)

6. Out of nowhere, he decides to fold… 5. So a blonde screams across what feels like a decade of lost love: YOU DON’T JUST LEAVE PEOPLE AT THE FIRST PANG OF DOUBT… You know, just because the earth’s dirt doesn’t mean we should treat her that way. Still: Earth Day came and went. Donald Trump decided to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement—after already signing an executive order that would revoke or negate numerous policies that dealt with climate change. (President Obama initially made the agreement with Paris and administered the revoked orders.)

Is it just me or is Donald Trump, like, insanely jealous of Obama?

I mean, whatever; humans are jealous creatures by nature. We steal from nature, out of jealousy, all the time. Ivory, tortoise shell, endless varieties of fur, the heads and tails and hides of “exotic” beasts… I Googled a picture of a harvested sea turtle, his shell was cracked with bits of sore-red peeking out. It looked how a hangnail feels—if the hangnail were hopeless and all over someone’s back. When I see stuff like that, I wish I could turn to someone and say: It’s narcissistic to assume an admirable quality belonging to something else would be of better use to you and, therefore, is yours for the taking. (This sentiment extends to everything, and jealousy constructs nothing, so I’m considering this as a resolution: To always tell the truth about the good that isn’t mine, maybe.)

Anyway, let’s keep talking about politics.

Donald Trump lifted the ban prohibiting elephant products from being imported into the U.S. This, predictably, made people upset—more upset than how he treats minorities and women… But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t almost cry. Why do humans have to own everything? My friend told me, “Elephants can get Stockholm syndrome.” She said, “When I went to Thailand, they explained it at this elephant refuge—the only way to get an elephant to do what you want is to break their spirit.” (America, I know your spirit has been wrung, and possibly broken. Please, don’t surrender to your captor; nothing rekindles hope like justified anger.) Did you know, there are reports of elephants showing compassion for other species, at considerable costs to themselves—that their care extends beyond their own kin?

Suggested Resolution: Be more like elephants.

4. He goes home to his apartment, alone… 3. So a blonde recedes, back into her imagination… Over the summer, when I was alone, I wrote about green lights. I played Lorde’s “Green Light” in a cyclical fever and read about the biology of fireflies. I revisited The Great Gatsby, the green light having always been a symbol that evaded me. (Though, I suppose, that was the whole point—it can be whatever you need it to be. Never Land… Or whatever.) The closing lines of The Great Gatsby have always been beautiful, but it took a sudden shift in awareness to fully comprehend what they mean: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

We experience time in a forward moving direction, but all we know for certain is what has already passed us by. In this way, getting older is like being in a room that’s slowly filling with water; it’s easier to live in the past, the certainty of water, than it is to live for all the open space left around you. (Right now, the water’s merely up to my shins; just enough to wade and splash in.) With age, it’ll get easier and easier to float on; to sit back and watch the world fill up with the stuff of my life. I’ve accepted that time will eventually step in and complete my imperfect aquarium…

My uncle drowned this year.

His face was right there in my mind’s eye, and I didn’t expect to—but I cried. And my grief felt like it’d been hi-jacked from somebody else, like it wasn’t my place to feel. But on car rides, between work and back, my mind kept taking an inventory of all the facts: It was sunny, but the wind was strong; he’d just sold his sail boat and wanted to take it out for one more go; he was notorious for taking risks; people heard someone crying for help…

I asked myself existential questions: What does it feel like when a body betrays the soul inside it, realizes help is not coming? Is it a slow caving? Does it break your heart? Is it okay? Does it start out cold and then get warm? Do you wake up in a house underwater and find your mother, ageless and gazing out the kitchen window… Do you stand beside her and watch the whales float by…

November 11, 2017: My sister’s baby is born.

As a writer, I have learned that things can come together just as quickly as they fall apart. And to hope that, in spite of the world falling apart at large, each individual life has found some refuge in the squares of his or her calendar year. Did you know, a couple survived the California wildfires by wading in a neighbor’s swimming pool?

(Thinking back to my dream, about the tunnel, I like to imagine a swimming pool was on the other side—a swimming pool surrounded by fire.) This is how it feels to be present—to be in love—at this point in history: The water might be freezing, but everything else is burning. Bless the wet T-shirts protecting our faces from the embers, these moments we spend above water…

I may, or may not, have felt inclined to listen to Rent throughout the month of December. And I may, or may not, have the opening song stuck in my head: “How do you measure a year?” Last year I measured in lessons, so this year I’ve measured in moments of clarity: Is there a word for the complex emotion that comes upon realizing, your heart will never break that easily again; that you’re not a silly girl anymore?

Though I’ll miss the 2 AM texts and all the conversations that led to nowhere, though there are still some toxic attachments I’ve failed to cut: All I really want when the day is over, and our government has traded us in, is pizza, wine, and him; swapping memes and watching the snow fall; net neutrality on my busted lap top—

Clarity.

It dawned on me—one night when my parents were out of town, and I came home to a darkened house—like I suddenly remembered I’d left a candle burning: Love is leaving the light on. Though it flickers and it wavers and, when I’m in it, I struggle to forgive myself. I’m just another moth to a flame, surrounding this swimming pool… 2017 has been terrifying. But when the anxiety subsided and the fire dwindled, I realized, someone left a green light on, and—I swear to god—the moment we met beneath it, we were ageless. 2. He says, “I never stopped loving you…” 1. So a blonde decides to try again…

Here’s my written midnight kiss: The second you step back to appreciate anything, it’s gone. Turn all your lights on.

In Light of Louis C.K. Admitting to Sexual Assault

We have dots so close they’re splatters melting into a stain,
but hardly anyone connects them, or names that stain…
It has to change.

–Rabecca Solnit, “The Longest War”

In light of Louis C.K.’s recent statement, admitting to sexual abuse of former female colleagues, one of my best friends posted a Facebook status sharing her experience with sexual abuse. She started the status off by citing an article on Vice, written by Megan Koester. In which the reporter shared her experience, attending a comedy festival with the intention of investigating the allegations of sexual assault against Louis C.K. (Predictably, she was treated as an enemy, was told she was only welcome as long as she asked “nice” questions, and was ultimately shamed into leaving by the show’s COO.)

After my friend cited the article, she went on to explain her conflicting feelings about the scandal; she liked Louis C.K. She admitted that a major part of her wanted the accusations to be lies. But upon reading Koester’s article, she could no longer deny that, on a base level, the Louis C.K. scandal was personal. And taking full ownership of her own experiences with sexual abuse was synonymous with no longer excusing, or denying, our culture and society’s tendency to doubt victims and sympathize with abusers.

She concluded with, “I feel like now is the time for my story to be told, because it’s clearly part of a narrative too strong and too real. We have the power to shut down powerful sexual abusers – we’ve shown this. I ask for everyone to be truly conscious of how their time and money is spent, because if you’re part of the community my abuser works in, my guess is that this already sounds familiar to you.” Making a rendering point: We all live among this culture of abuse, therefore we are responsible for how it manifests and survives–like it or not.

☁︎

Sexual abuse is an issue I dedicate a lot of thought and time to. I am the daughter of a survivor, a friend of a survivor, and a survivor myself. (Though I think this is true of all women–hence, #yesallwomen). Having personal experiences with sexual abuse, and close relationships with survivors, has put me in a position where I had no choice but to understand the nature of abusers. How it’s never a black and white issue. That to believe dealing with the traumatic aftermath should be “simple” is, ultimately, naïve. The logic of someone who obviously has never dealt with the debilitating confusion that is realizing a person–who was supposed to protect you–is consciously exploiting your inferior position to compensate for his self-worth deficit.

My friend, the one who wrote the Facebook status, was harassed and violated by her supervisor in the past year. I’ve talked with her as she’s struggled to claim the title of “victim”. She doesn’t see “victim” as an accurate part of her identity; she’s intelligent and independent. Defenseless, and taken advantage of, are not what she sees when she looks in the mirror. She struggles to accept that there was nothing she could have done to prevent the situation–that what happened to her was not the consequence of who she is, or anything she did.

She’ll even say, “I’ll admit, I wasn’t smart in the situation.”

She’ll say, “Even though I wasn’t interested in this guy, I thought I could run the world because he wanted me. So I humored it…” She’ll talk about how, as a woman, she often feels like she’s been trained to use her sexuality to get ahead and that, engaging in this behavior, seems like something she’s supposed to do. But then, inevitably, and undeniably, she always comes back to the truth, “That doesn’t mean I wanted his hand down my pants.”

When she says these things, I reassure her, “I’ve never been willing or comfortable enough to use my sexuality to get what I want… So I know. It doesn’t matter how you carry yourself. If someone is going to abuse you, they will find fault in how you carry yourself and they will attack it–one way or another. And that’s why you shouldn’t feel stupid about what happened. I’ve found myself in similar situations where I knew I wasn’t giving any signals. And still, something really bad and traumatic happened.”

In college I was always really careful to create an emotional boundary between myself and male professors. I never bridged the gap between professional and personal because I never wanted my academic success, or the level of my talent, to be equated and reduced to a man’s personal preference. I never wanted someone to be able to say, “You only get good grades because he has a crush on you.”

This method worked out fine… Until my final semester of college when I had a professor who harassed me for refusing to humor his favoritism. And although it didn’t amount to sexual abuse, there isn’t a doubt in my mind that he was punishing me for not bridging the gap between personal and professional. For my right to create boundaries and “prevent” sexual abuse from becoming a possibility. This is why, I believe, when it comes to an abuser who wants you: You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.

Those months following graduation, I had night terrors. I kept waking up and seeing the silhouette of a tall horned man watching me in my room. Eventually it was brought to my attention that dreams of this nature are often a symptom of trauma. Which meant I was probably experiencing PTSD as a result of what this professor had done to me. (Though what he put me through was “just” emotional violence, it was enough for me to realize: I can’t imagine what life would have been like if he’d been able to invade me on a more intimate level.)

I told my friend, “There is literally nothing you could have done differently.”

Still, I feel for her and the struggles–both external and internal–that she seems to be experiencing at this point in time. The harassment of a male professor was merely the catalyst that got me into therapy for a number of traumatic experiences I’d had with men who should’ve known better. (Though I don’t care to share those experiences here.) And tackling these psychic wounds and unresolved feelings of anger and resentment is not simple, nor easy.

However, if there’s one comment I have to make about what I’ve been through–what my friend has been through–it’s that these incidents aren’t isolated. That “small” incidents of abuse and harassment against women–in everyday life–add up over time and become indicative of a much bigger problem. That the abusive guy is not just that guy–over there (the blatantly weird and creepy individual, like Steve Harvey). But the one we love, who made us laugh and helped us out in crisis. Louis C.K.!

I don’t know what the future will ultimately hold for men who abuse power, and women as a result. But I am glad that Louis C.K. is experiencing consequences. (FX, Netflix, and HBO have all reportedly dropped his shows and future projects. While his publicist and management team have called it quits.) I’m glad that he issued a statement in which he admitted the extent of what he did, and apologized with thoughtful remorse that, I hope, was sincere.

This kind of direct-honesty in incidents of sexual abuse, and abuse of power, is unprecedented. And I hope it opens up a conversation about the complicated nature of abuse–especially in professional arenas where everyone should have an equal right to safety, and the ability to succeed without compromising integrity. I hope it inspires men at large, especially young men, to look at their own actions with clarity. And to no longer deny the sexism, misogyny, and violent masculinity that hurts women to a point that (statistically) should be considered a national crisis.

As for myself, if there is one solace I have gained from being so conscious of these problems, and from being on the receiving end of them, it’s that: When an abusive man targets you, it’s not because you are inherently vulnerable or weak. Often it is because you are strong, you have integrity, and there is some potential in you that is worthy of envy and desire. In light of this reality, there is no more room for shame or doubt. And there’s no longer any urgency to prove the extent of your suffering, or the truth about your abuser: You know what you know, and no one can touch that.

“Crazy” Girl: Thoughts on Healing, Wholeness, and Compassion in a Morally Divided World

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Nobody knows who the real crazy people are.

—Chuck Palhniuk, “Exodus”

I said, “It might sound sad, but it really isn’t—at least I’ll always have my own company.”

My mother said, “You were always very good at being your own friend.”

And F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Winter Dreams” popped into my head like scripture: “She had come, in self-defense, to nourish herself wholly from within.”

I thought about how he made the statement sound so damning by sticking “self-defense” in the middle of it.

I thought about the character he was referring to: Judy Jones, one of literature’s first manic-pixie-dream girls. A beautiful depressed girl who smiles at chicken liver the same way she smiles at all the men who obsess over her—allotting her that added edge of derangement. How a story about a girl like Judy could only end with her being married off to an abusive asshole, rendering her dead in the spiritual sense. Hence: Winter in “Winter Dreams”.

It’s the tired tale of Manic-Pixie-Dream Girl turned Snow Queen. These are the kinds of female characters I held close in adolescence: Alaska, from John Green’s Looking for Alaska. Effy Stonemen, from Skins seasons 1, 2, and 4. And Daisy, from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

Their plotlines, however poetic and mysterious, only serve as limiting windows of female irresponsibility and destruction. With their characters constantly acting out, as if to beg producers, and writers alike, for some semblance of normalcy—the potential to grow beyond female trauma and spiritual death.

A level of complexity they’re, unsurprisingly, never granted.

(Alaska kills herself—or does she?—right after the novel’s male protagonist decides she’s a shallow bitch. Effy hits that jealous girl Katie in the head with a rock, tries to kill herself, fails, grows up to be a dead-inside businesswoman who sleeps with her narcissistic boss and, eventually, loses everything. Meanwhile, Daisy runs down her “horrible” husband’s mistress, totally ditches “nice” guy Gatsby for said “horrible” husband, and is ultimately rendered “horrible” herself.)

“She had come, in self-defense, to nourish herself wholly from within.”

I only recently began to understand that, as individuals, we’re supposed to “nourish” ourselves “wholly from within”. That this is not a defense mechanism reserved for the jaded and two-dimensional girls of fiction.

It’s not a defense mechanism, period.

☁︎

“I was an asshole, you were crazy…”

I understood this statement as a backhanded apology and my mind flared red at “crazy”. TRIGGERED! I stopped talking to him, completely. Stifled what I wanted to say: I’M NOT CRAZY, YOU’RE JUST AN ASSHOLE!

When I got home, I saw that he’d texted me.

“I’m just trying to make peace.”

I threw it back in his face.

“No you’re not.

If you were, you’d just admit that I didn’t do anything to you.

Which I didn’t.

I liked you, and you didn’t like me back.

If you’d just admit that we’d be fine, but instead you label me ‘crazy.’

Which I’m not.”

Could I have a sent a more guilt addled string of text messages?

He said: “I’m not an asshole normally, but circumstances between us weren’t normal.”

I couldn’t let it go.

“No. I treated you, and talked to you, like a human being. And you didn’t reciprocate that courtesy. And you know it. I’m so sick of everyone trying to return to my life from this past year. I don’t want anything to do with any of you. Like, you’re only talking to me because you’re bored and you know I have a boyfriend. You don’t care about me at all… You ARE an asshole normally. You just don’t want to deal with that reality.”

Then my personal favorite, (in the style of Season 2 Snooki of Jersey Shore) I said:

“I WAS A FUCKING GOOD PERSON TO YOU!”

He said: “I didn’t reciprocate that. I treated you unfairly and that’s why I’m an asshole. To be honest, I only see you as crazy because you’d press my emotions on purpose. You knew it got to me… I really want to come to an understanding.”

Still. I couldn’t let it go.

“I don’t think there’s any understanding to come to… Whenever I came to you looking for an ‘understanding’, you talked to me like I was a piece of garbage. There’s just no space for that anymore.”

Then I waited fifteen minutes, for my “crazy” levels to fall back into equilibrium, and texted him, again, as my normal self.

“I know I’d get really angry, but that was always after I felt like I’d been so patient and understanding. Like I have a limit! I honestly did care about you, at the very least as a friend. So some of the stuff you’d say to me would blow my mind… And I know I wasn’t perfect. I know I kind of walked all over you with my moral high ground, and acted like I was perfect when—I guess—I would do some stuff on purpose to upset you.”

He said: “Thank you.”

And it was like the masks had finally come off: I did X, you did Y. Can we finally leave the alphabet behind?

We often wear the masks of black and white identities, “crazy” and “asshole”, to correct the times when we allowed ourselves to be vulnerable.

This is especially true of the millennial generation.

I recently read an article that said psychologists are seeing more instances of personality disorders among millennials than any other generation. Presumed causes being, the rise of social media and having “liberal” parents.

(It’s the same old complaint of irrational entitlement in anyone ages 18 – 35:

Latchkey kids and Fruit Rollups are ruining society!

 Trace amounts of Red Dye #5 have poisoned the personalities of our young people!

 Everyone knows participation trophies lead to moral insanity!)

 It’s all bogus to me. I think millennials are just more open to the reality of mental health than the generations that preceded them. Therefore, there’s going to be more instances of personality disorders among us. We’re open to being diagnosed in the first place. (Unlike Debra from 152 BC, who’s probably just as borderline and narcissistic as the rest of us.)

Still, I think millennials struggle with interpersonal relationships. And it probably does have a lot to do with the options that the Internet and technology have granted us. Combined with the fact that, prior generations can’t empathize with the complications that coming of age with limitless information has created in our daily lives.

No one knew how to prepare us for the kinds of problems we’d face, being so goddam available to our peers and the world at large.

Therefore, it’s a particularly painful and confusing time to be a young person in general.

If you’re a millennial woman: You are living in the age of “love yourself”, yet no one told you how difficult this journey to self-acceptance would be.

There is just as much pressure to be independent and unapologetic as there is to be “liked” and validated by men.

Gender roles are changing; the whole concept of gender itself is changing. And yet, it’s still a debate whether or not you should be granted access to birth control.

The Internet has granted everyone constant access to you and your insecurities. The audacity to harass women no longer requires a level of grandeur reserved for the pathologically entitled. Now normal, everyday-type, men can say whatever they want without even having to look you in the eye:

*unsolicited dick pics*

“Can I fuck you in the ass?”

“You’d be a l0 if you lost weight.”

“Too good to say hi?”

It’s all as easy as clicking Send.

You are told: “Purge your life of toxicity!”

“Move on!”

“No one is worth stressing about!”

But you are also expected to be empathetic and diplomatic—don’t speak of anything or anyone in condemning terms: Rape and Assault are big words.

You are told women can do, and say, and be, whatever they want. And yet, a man who admits to sexually assaulting women is more qualified to be president than a woman who has dedicated her entire life to politics—just get over it.

“Do what’s best for yourself!”

It’s the recurring message on social media.

But nobody talks about how difficult it is to decide what’s best for yourself.

That being a girl means growing up having always viewed yourself through the lens of everyone else, only to be advised to un-learn that lens.

Then, on the flipside, there’s millennial men.

My ex boyfriend is sensitive, and quiet, and reserved, by nature. But our conservative community has forced him to split his personality in two. He can’t rectify his true nature against the image of machismo he’s supposed to project.

This fills him with a rage that he doesn’t know how to talk about; he resents his being hardwired for compassion, a “feminine” quality. So he treats his own heart like a problem that needs to be constantly corrected.

Whenever I hear the word “pussy” I feel myself tense up.

How do I convey the collective trauma tied to such a simple word?

The other day my friend told me that most boys don’t learn how to properly communicate until around the age of nine, whereas girls somehow “just know” their entire lives. She said it was due to the differences in how boys and girls are encouraged to play. (Female-play is focused on forming relationships and narrative, whereas male-play aims to make things explode and die.)

The two boys who shot up Columbine in 1999 are an exaggeration for how toxic masculinity has divided millennial boys into two categories: Sociopaths, and guys who are so repressed and misunderstood they just give up trying to communicate emotion altogether.

I’m being borderline right now, talking in such black and white terms.

But that’s the point!

How else do we cope in this world of contradicting messages, evolving roles, blurred lines, muddled information…

No wonder we call each other black and white names, like “asshole” and “crazy”, in the heat of an argument where we’re just trying to cope with how wrong we’ve both been.

It’s really, really, really, hard to feel whole in this polarized world. To not cling to the first diagnosis that only vaguely describes you, or somebody else—just trying to find a cure for the emptiness of your own identity juxtaposed to everyone else’s.

I would know: You can’t limit your “crazy”-self to the weekends and expect to wake up whole on Monday.

You’ve got to integrate her into your “real”-self eventually.

☁︎

I’m used to being called “crazy”. It’s a label that’s been thrown around, behind my back and to my face. Sometimes it’s meant as a compliment, and sometimes it’s meant as an insult. I used to try and combat it, saying I preferred “eccentric” or “passionate”. I went the feminist route, saying: “Crazy’ is the label we give women who expose injustice and mistreatment.” Because, honestly, the label used to really offend me.

I took it as: Literally out of touch with reality; vindictive bitch; can’t own her shit; victim-complex… I had yet to understand this label as a relative one, its meaning depending solely on the perception of the person who uttered it. That it wasn’t necessarily true or untrue, but a snap-judgment. One that I could give power, by constantly combatting it, or simply let be, by choosing confidence in my own reactions and perceptions.

(It happened last week, as I was lying in the backyard. I was reading This is Water by David Foster Wallace. More specifically, a passage that went something like: “If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is and who and what is really important—if you want to operate on your default setting—then you, like me, probably will not consider possibilities that aren’t pointless and annoying.” And the vitamin D must have gone to my head, because I heard myself thinking: I probably am crazy. Why should I be ashamed of that?)

This epiphany probably had a lot to do with something that happened a few days prior. I woke up with a hangover on Sunday morning, only to find that I’d texted my ex-boyfriend the night before, while in a vodka-induced depression:

“DON’T YOU DARE TELL PEOPLE I TREATED YOU BADLY!”

(Okay, it wasn’t in all caps. But that’s how I read it in my head.) And when I read it, I understood: This is why people call me crazy in the negative. Then, the solution: Apologize, admit it was crazy, and controlling, and inexcusable, and move on.

Maybe it was the full ownership of what I’d done and what it meant: That I am not perfect. That I forgot I’m capable of being wrong, and this reality doesn’t add or subtract from who I am—it just is… I don’t know how something so simple seemed to heal all the internal damage of my most emotionally taxing, and humiliating, year. But it did.

I thought: My “crazy”-self has always been my best teacher, why should I deny her?

(So many nights I got drunk and slipped out of my own body. Let my “crazy”-self run rampant, allowed her to do and say whatever she wanted. And when I woke up, the next day, I denied her existence: That must have been my estranged evil twin; we don’t talk anymore.)

See, the thing about my “crazy”-self is that she’s not inherently “bad”. Sure, she’s the part of me that acts according to habit and ego; who demands apologies that don’t want to be given, who searches for feeling where there isn’t any, who chooses the cup with a crack and then cries when it’s empty… She’s not inherently “bad”. She’s just misguided! Which is why she got “bad” when I stopped taking responsibility for her. My identity was split in two, and trying to find meaning in that kind of life was like trying to feel my way out of a pitch-black maze.

☁︎

I was watching Shannon Beador of The Real Housewives of Orange County, have a nervous breakdown at the slightest mention of her nemesis: fellow housewife Vicki Gunvalson. When I realized: Shannon Beador is the perfect example of what happens when self-doubt meets trauma. Ever since Vicki made those “allegations” of physical abuse against Shannon’s husband, Shannon (an already anxious person) has become even more anxious. She’s always one second away from flinging a plate at somebody’s face.

The “ramifications” of what Vicki said triggered a reality in Shannon that she can’t totally confront or forgive.

Which isn’t to say that what Vicki said was true, or okay. But to point out that, whenever someone hurts or betrays us in a way that we can’t find any rhyme or reason for—other than selfish gain—our integrity is compromised. It’s compromised because; we can’t truly forgive someone until we’ve made sense of their behavior. And if we can’t make sense of their behavior, we’re deprived of our only power: To forgive. Which ultimately makes one wonder: What’s so wrong with me that I can’t just “get over” this?

I over empathize with Shannon—in spite of all her erratic behavior—because I understand what trauma looks like. How it transforms your character into an exposed nerve ending that you’re constantly defending. You feel stripped of any power, because you’re convinced whatever you’ve experienced has used up any good you had left; you can’t remember who you were before. And, as if that weren’t confusing enough, trauma-therapy often means coming to terms with your role in the suffering that was, essentially, forced on you. You have to admit you’ve failed yourself the same way other people have failed you, which is just as frustrating and backwards as it sounds.

I’ve read Sierra DeMulder’s chapbook We Slept Here at least a dozen times now. It’s a collection of poems about overcoming trauma and abuse. And I’ve noticed that every time I read it, I understand the overall message a little better; the same way I understand myself a little better as life goes on.

There are a few lines that I only just started to understand a few weeks ago:

“Are you afraid of how
much it looks like you?
How it has
his mouth but your eyes.”

The “it” in this sample can mean anything: abusers, traumatic experiences, repressed memories, grief… The overall message is meant to point out how fear creates boundaries that might be more damaging than healing. An “Us vs. Them” paradigm where distinctions become so rigid, compassion is stopped dead in its tracks. You start thinking in black and white terms, because you just don’t want to take on the complications of blurred lines anymore; you can’t take the risk of seeing yourself in a person who hurt you.

In the throes of incomprehensible pain, this makes sense: You don’t want to identify with your abuser! (Your bully, your “enemy”, your whatever…) You want to be as far away from that dysfunction as Shannon Beador wants to be from Vicki Gunvalson. But the paradox is: These distances have a funny way of giving the people who hurt us, even more power.

Exhibit A, Shannon freaking out on Lydia McLaughlin, over the mere mention of Vicki:

“I’m NOT like Vicki Gunvalson,” Shannon says.

And I wonder: Are you afraid of how much it looks like you?

We have the power to see ourselves in difficult people and experiences, which is a power—though we forget this when we’re busy combating the “enemy”, and our own mental problems. We forget, because we so often act according to fear. To our own limited experiences and nagging anxieties: But what if I’m used and devalued, again? What if I’m misunderstood and rejected? What if I’m wrong?

I told my therapist about this anxiety in myself, and he said:

“I’m going to advise you to keep letting people take advantage of you.”

Which sounded bat-shit crazy at the time!

So I didn’t listen. Instead I acted according to fear, for months. And I felt like such shit because, I was totally numb; I couldn’t regain a sense of connection with humanity, and it hollowed out an emptiness that made me feel nothing but frustration and anger. Like, I’d experienced depression before, but I’d never lost a sense of awe in everyday things. No matter how depressed I got, I’d always been able to look at a tree and regain a feeling of wonder—that something more was out there. But this “depression” was different. I couldn’t see myself on the other side, and I’d lost my faith in peoples’ ability to change.

For the first time in my life, I was jaded.

☁︎

My therapist said, “Two gifts you offer other people are friendship and affection.”

Then he added, “But gifts aren’t always appreciated.”

(At work the other day, an older man’s total came to a $1.21. He pulled out some change and said, “Oh! I got lucky today!” He handed me a $1.06, probably thinking the nickel was a quarter. He seemed excited about his “luck”. So I pretended like he’d handed me the correct change. On the way out, he turned back and said, “I don’t care, but just so you know—you shorted me a nickel.” Then he walked out the door in a huff. And I stood there, fuming; thinking of how I’d knowingly short changed myself to protect his good spirit, only to be accused of doing the opposite.)

I understood what my therapist meant: You can’t hold the door for other people and then get angry when they don’t say, “thank you”.

The lesson being: If you spend your life constantly expecting to get what you give, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

I didn’t used to be this way but, in recent years, I think I got tired of relating to so many people—got worn out from not feeling related to in return. Woe is me. I began to turn my personality inside out. I lashed out in moments where—previously—I would’ve felt more inclined to try and understand. Held grudges over situations I usually would’ve forgiven, or forgotten, immediately.

Exhausted from feeling duped by people I cared about, I drew bold boundaries between myself and everyone else.

You’re bad. I’m good.

Please step away from my circle.

But viewing life this way only made me feel more isolated, more stagnant in my emotional growth, and like “less” of a person.

I didn’t realize, when my therapist advised me to keep letting people take advantage of me, he was advising me to keep being myself.

See, for the longest time, I believed loving a narcissist made me a narcissist. That, as a kid, something must have been severely wrong with me for feeling sorry for the serial killer on death row—entertaining the idea of his innocence: What if this isn’t justice? Because, sometimes… I feel bad for Donald Trump. (The other night, I had a dream I was running down a collapsing staircase alongside a gradually shrinking Donald, who eventually became too small to save himself—so I picked him and carried him to safety.) Or how, when my family watched The Reader, I heard myself saying of the Nazi character, “But we don’t know what it was like in Nazi-Germany; how can anyone say with any certainty that they would have helped the Jewish people when we’re 73 years away from the situation?”

I thought even considering these taboo figures and ideas made me “bad”. That—when it came to narcs, and serial killers, and D.T., and Nazis, and my pity that said: How ugly and lonely is the human mind that only has enough space for itself—having a pang of compassion for the compassionless, somehow meant: I must be evil too.

I didn’t realize: Being able to consider the perspectives of inconsiderate, even outright condemnable, people, just means you are capable of understanding difficult truths; that you not only have the grace to empathize with friends, and family, and people like you, but to understand psychologies and perspectives, vastly different from your own.

Those months where I felt nothing but numb and empty, angry and afraid, I wondered—not from a place of moral judgment, but tender curiosity:

Is this how the people who hurt me feel, all the time?

☁︎

I’ve noticed that the initial response to particularly empathic and compassionate people is often one of suspicion, followed by confusion: How can this person possibly be so damn forgiving and sincere?

 Sincerity combined with idealism often looks and sounds phony. Mostly because: To love and appreciate, or forgive, anyone from a place of true sympathy, generally, isn’t the “cool” thing to do. Especially when we’re the ones on the receiving end of that sympathy: How can someone be so gullible as to pity a wretch like me?

We scoff at the sensitivity of others because its existence heightens an awareness in ourselves that we’re not always ready to face; makes us consider our own behavior in ways we’d rather combat than examine. This is why we, so often, speak of the open-minded and romantic individual as a mentally and emotionally fragile being.

In Chuck Palhniuk’s short-story collection Haunted, one story, “Exodus”, serves as a kind of allegory for everything I’ve just expressed. It’s about the depravity of objectification and how our (American) surrounding culture and society, normalizes this depravity. Making anyone who passionately opposes it seem like they’re going “crazy”.

The story focuses on a woman named Cora, who is an abuse advocate in her town’s police department. From the beginning, she is established as a deeply empathic person, described as a woman who “couldn’t buy just one stuffed animal”. Her house is a fortress of unwanted items, meant to emphasize her inability to abandon anyone, or anything; to “look away” from injustice and mind her own business in matters of neglect and abuse.

Initially, the other characters like Cora—at worst, they’re indifferent to her. She only begins to become a “problem” and subject of distrust when she upsets the status quo. The catalyst to all her controversy being when she accidentally orders two anatomically correct dolls (used for cases of sexual abuse, so children can recount what happened to them via demonstration) instead of anatomically detailed ones.

A.K.A. Cora accidently buys child sex-dolls.

She’s upset about her mistake from the get-go, apologizing to the director of her department and promising the dolls won’t be used. However, the director doesn’t see anything wrong with the situation and insists that the dolls are perfectly good replacements for the old, anatomically detailed, ones.

Soon after, Cora has a waiting list for the dolls. Detectives and officers begin reserving them for “off site” cases. However, it quickly becomes evident that the dolls are being reserved for sex. When Cora raises the issue to the director, she’s met with laughter and an alternate perspective, “Consider this tit for tat.” The director sites how women objectify men everyday, using them for sex and money—or as sperm donors. She says, “What do you think a dildo is?” She dismisses Cora’s concern over what grown men reserving child sex-dolls for masturbation might imply or mean. She doesn’t see it as cause for concern because the dolls aren’t real. She says, “If it helps, just think of each one as a seventy-pound condom.”

This is when Cora becomes increasingly eccentric. She does everything she can to protect the dolls from violation, cleaning them every time she gets them back and buying them new clothes. At one point, she decides to super glue all their orifices shut. When that doesn’t work, and the dolls come back with all the glue cut open, she inserts razors into their mouths and behinds. Still, nothing seems to combat the unacceptable behavior of her co-workers.

Her sanity finally reaches its tipping point when the director sits her down and insists that she just “get over” it. The director says, “It was a tough call… deciding if my entire team is crazy, or if you are… overreacting.” In this moment Cora realizes she is nothing but a 120-pound condom to the people around her. As a result, she loses it and steals a gun from the evidence room. She takes the dolls, loads her car up with shabby stuffed animals, and drives away with a Breather Betty riding shotgun. In the closing paragraphs it’s noted, “Nobody knows who the real crazy people are.”

The reason this story has resonated with me, for so long, is its main point: Cora is treated like she’s crazy because she’s the only character with a conscience. Rendering her a threat to everyone else’s hedonism, and a walking symbol for the unexamined lives of everyone around her. Extending back to what I mentioned earlier: We scoff at the sensitivity of others because its existence heightens an awareness in ourselves that we’re not always ready to face; makes us consider our own behavior in ways we’d rather combat than examine.

See, I’ve noticed that we like Cora-girls in theory but we don’t like them in practice. (The same way the pursuit of Justice is beautiful in theory, but a motherfucking bitch in practice.) No one ever tells you: If you’re going to lead a life guided by truth and justice, you’re going to be swallowing your pride constantly. You’re going to be forced to confront the darkness in yourself, over and over and over again. (Which I think goes against human nature on a certain level. It’s unnatural to choose discomfort, and that’s what makes truth and justice such a difficult pursuit.)

Recently I was reading an essay called “Tan Lines” by a Canadian Indian writer, Durga Chew-Bose. It’s an essay about why she’s always dreaded summer. Focusing on how she associates summer with racist rhetoric.

She writes: “Growing up brown in mostly white circles means learning from a very young age that language is inured to prejudicial glitches. Time and again, I have concealed my amazement. The semantics of ignorance are oddly extensive and impossible to foresee.”

She sites mothers at soccer practice and the pool, how they’d always comment on her skin as a child. How what they said was always intended as a compliment, but—for reasons she couldn’t place—made her uneasy. That, when she got older, her tanned white friends would place their arms beside hers and say with pride: “I’m darker than you now.” Sending a shock to her system, and hurting her in a way that she didn’t anticipate or understand.

As I read the essay, I thought of how many people would read about Chew-Bose’s experience and think she was “overreacting”. That she was looking “too far” into things—creating implications that weren’t there.

I remember wondering: Why isn’t a proclamation of pain enough to change people?

When we listen to another person’s experience with suffering or oppression, especially when what they’re saying contradicts the world as we’ve always understood it, it’s difficult to not react like: BUT WHAT ABOUT ME?! Making us skeptical and judgmental, rather than vulnerable and receptive enough to examine our past selves. To admit: I used to do and say some problematic shit. We close ourselves off when we question the validity of someone else’s reality as a means of protecting our own. And I think, at least most of the time, this isn’t necessarily done from a place of hatred, but fear. (Though fear and hatred are close relatives, and I’m not denying that.)

I guess I’m considering all this, now, because we’re living in a time of anxiety.

Right now, everyone is afraid. This divided political climate is the result of everyone feeling like something has, or will be, taken from them. And I believe that, as a white, cisgender, straight girl with no real history of persecution or exclusion, it’s my responsibility to not recede into self-doubt. To up my game in the arena of compassion and not fall victim to my own, ultimately vain, cynicism and despair. To, insanely enough, renew my faith in humanity…

Anne Frank wrote, “In spite of everything I still believe people are really good at heart.”

(On NPR, a few months ago, a psychologist was talking about how there’s been extensive studies on psychopathic brains, but hardly any on especially empathic ones. Which she found curious, considering everyone falls somewhere on the spectrum of feeling for humanity—between too much and not enough. What psychic qualities set empaths apart?)

I can’t help but believe Anne was so far on the end of feeling for humanity that she possessed an otherworldly spirit. That she was so full of conscience she could be deemed pathologically graceful, or gracefully insane.

She’d have to be, to believe what she wrote:

In spite of everything…

I no longer interpret “crazy” as an insult.

☁︎

I keep wondering what all my favorite female characters of my adolescence have in common—Alaska, Effy, Daisy…

I know it’s not just their paper flat personas of female “irresponsibility” and destruction.

I know it’s more than that.

But the answer doesn’t occur to me until I’m re-reading Leslie Jamison’s essay “Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain”, for the third time. An essay where Jamison divides fictional women (and real-life women) into two categories: Wounded and Post-Wounded. The former is characterized by self-indulgent self-pity, while the latter is defined by self-indulgent self-awareness. (Another way of saying “Basic” Bitches vs. “Cool” girls, essentially.)

I realized both groups were annoying in their predictability, in their resistance to not become each other.

And that’s when it clicked: The female characters of my adolescence occupy a third category.

They weren’t in pain, or in denial of pain, so much as they were trying to escape it.

I think of Alaska and her alcohol, and her walls of books, and her crashing car; of Effy hitting that jealous girl Katie in the head with a rock and running away; of Daisy crying over silk shirts and gunning down her husband’s mistress without looking back. How nobody knows for sure what any of it meant: Did Alaska crash her car on purpose? Did Effy mean to hit Katie? Was Daisy really driving?

The female escape artist is sick of being defined by the anatomy of her nervous system, from being measured by how much or little she feels. She’s the one girl in the story who decides: You’re going to turn me into whatever you want anyway, no matter how many times I prove I’m more complicated than this plot—might as well opt out and become the metaphor!

In the words of Taylor Swift: “I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative.”

I realize my life has been a constant struggle between being down-to-earth and a total space case. (With my head in the clouds, and my feet on the ground—what an age-old cliché.) I’m a realistic idealist, yearning to make people aware and forget all at once. Constantly pretending what’s happening isn’t really happen, while acutely knowing: Holy shit, this is really happening. Sincerely wanting everyone to be okay—to feel special and necessary and forgiven—while also secretly wishing everyone would get what they deserve: Karma!

I realize what Taylor Swift hasn’t: There’s no being excluded from your own narrative.

Yes, often we are innocent victims.

And we are all saviors, to someone: the “nice” guy, an un-judging friend, your sweetheart…

But we are also the sadists, and “crazy” girls, and arch nemeses.

Lady Gaga said it, “There really is no difference between the victim and the bully.”

Which is to say: Everything in this world is relative and a matter of perspective.

And that’s the only thing I know for sure, a big fat truth I’ve been struggling to balance for the past two years:

Are you afraid of how much it looks like you?

 Nobody knows who the real crazy people are.

A guy who, I feel, used to torment me, always looks at me with what I now understand as sincere sadness. And I realize I see myself in everyone and everything, and it has me all twisted up inside. Giving me so much joy and depression, filling me with such pride and shame. I have a headache and a heartache… I feel equal parts pathetic and admirable for being so affected by another person…

So, as I write this essay, I ask myself: What does healing look like, in a life where the only certainty is that everything is uncertain?

And I understand: It’s taking ownership of how you see yourself in relation to the world.

That we are not mirrors for each other, so much as we are magnifying glasses.

That I’m not crazy, some people just say I am because—let’s face it—there are times where I acted poorly and needed to recognize it. (And anyway! Isn’t the idea of “crazy” Cat so funny? Like there’s this fairytale version of me running around peoples’ brains, stealing the big toes from all her ex-lovers. I forgot some perceptions really are so ridiculous.)

It’s realizing that what you hate isn’t a person, place, or thing, but your own fear.

I’ve been so afraid of rejection, and failure, and being seen for who I am without mercy, that I forgot how to be merciful with myself. Which only made me less merciful with others. And—god—none of us are anything without mercy. How did I not see? Every rejection, and failure, and misunderstanding I’ve experienced, was a chance to remember: I don’t need acceptance, or success, or permission to feel whole.

It’s choosing to not be that scared person anymore.

I chose to see myself in the people who were less than kind to me; realized that no one was all that intimidating once I considered that, maybe, they were in just as much pain as I was, if not more. That my fault was never in being compassionate, but in believing others’ cruelty had anything to do with me.

It’s writing about the kind of magnifying glass you wish to be.

I hope I leave your world in Technicolor.

giphy2

For the Girl Who Doesn’t Listen to Herself (Eight Steps of Self-Actualization)

I am not afraid that he will happen
again, but that I inevitably will.
My biggest fear is the belief that
I am and always will be rotten, right
down to my blueprints, unworthy
of love, even one as sickly as this.
To forgive oneself is not only to
admit fault, to recognize what land
you tilled to grow here, but to
also say (and somehow believe)
I did not deserve this. Neither did he.

 —Sierra DeMulder, “And if I am to Forgive Myself”

  1. Self-Denial

In high school, you trained yourself to take your coffee black. It was a gradual process that started out with two creams and two sugars. Then one cream and one sugar. Until you were down to just cream—which eventually turned to black. You forced yourself to acquire a taste for bitterness. Not because you wanted the guise of sophistication, but because: No calories, cheap energy. You knew about the studies that said drinking coffee this way was bad for your bones, bad for your teeth. But at the time, those things weren’t important. You convinced yourself that this was what you wanted; this was how your taste buds were supposed to react.

  1. Self-Doubt

The other day you said to one of your very best friends, without much certainty, “Like, I’m pretty easygoing. Right?” And she responded without even thinking, “You’re the most easygoing person I know.” You laugh, uncomfortably. “Maybe that’s why this always happens to me.” I’ll go along with anything. Sometimes you fear your being “easygoing” is just another way of saying you can’t make distinctions. Another way of saying you don’t trust your own perceptions, so you’ll take anything at face value. That even once the bitter truth is spelled out, you’ll still try to work with it. Oh shit, this is gin and not water? Guess I’m getting drunk tonight! No situation is too much to handle because once it’s over—it doesn’t matter. Namaste. Your needs can always come later, later, later, later… Meanwhile you don’t notice that someone’s been waning you off the cream and sugar. You wonder why you feel like you’re running on empty. You wonder why you feel like you’re nothing. You wonder, you wonder…

otters-2

  1. Self-Neglect

The human brain can only prioritize x amount of things. This fact makes you anxious because—what gets lost when we prioritize the wrong things? What kind of potential is smothered when one has to prioritize mere survival, a basic sense of worth and emotional safety? Lately your mantra has been: This love doesn’t hurt. This love doesn’t hurt. This love doesn’t hurt… You forget your bills. It takes 45 minutes to muster the energy to go to work. Once a month, you just don’t go and you can’t explain why. You’ve missed all your appointments with your therapist, who you actually really liked. The boss-bitch in your head cuts through the bullshit: Do you really hate yourself this much? You shut her up, you tell her: Later! Your priorities involve getting through the day and convincing yourself you’re okay. You don’t have time for her

  1. Self-Care

Capitalism says you should buy things because it’ll bring you closer to a better version of yourself. You once spent $8—that you didn’t have—on lipstick, thinking it might transform you into the kind of girl a very specific person would love. And you resent that needy girl in you—always pining for validation—to the point of reckless abandon. How many times have you led her out into the forest of your past, like a jealous stepmother, just to leave her stranded? How many times have you sat by idly as she was enchanted by the gingerbread house, knowing exactly what kind of horrors were inside? How many times has she come back, crying? Saying, “It’s so lonely out there”? How many times did you send her right back? Demanded, “Come back when you are better”? That vulnerable, desperate, creature… You should be gentle with her. Gentle, but assertive. You should tell her “No” to the lipstick. You should explain, “You need to understand why you want the lipstick and decide whether or not it’s worth it—for yourself.” And if she cries about being lonely, you should tell her, “It’s not your fault.” You should line her eyes with glitter, and braid her hair with forget-me-nots. Make sure she finishes the grilled cheese. Crown her queen of scribbled-stars, drawn in the margins of ruled notebooks everywhere. Take her to the safety of the moon. Point back at planet Earth and explain, “You have allowed the voices of others to replace the one you were born with for too long…”

  1. Self-Reflection

Un-denying yourself means sitting down and accepting your ugliest parts. And yes, often you are ugly. Sometimes you sit around eyebrow-less, with stress-grease accumulating on your forehead. All your memories look like the party scenes in Palo Alto. You eat the grilled cheese and feel it settle in your stomach like cement. You Google the criteria for emotional abuse, at least once a week. One night the noise in your head is so loud you go out by yourself, and it feels like everyone is looking at you sideways. You look in the mirror and accept that this is the price you pay for passion: I look crazy, more often than not. You think about how in September of last year, when work was scarce and you were constantly fretting about money, your best friend from college drunk texted you to tell you that she thought you were “brave”. You felt like a total fraud. You felt like texting back, “No, I’m not. My mom is paying all my bills right now and I’m worried I’m diagnosably horrible.” You think about what society tells us is correct behavior: Be punctual. Be organized. Smile! Be selfless. We’re a team! Doesn’t it bother you that your mascara’s smeared and you’re at work? You realize what your friend meant was that the world can tell you a thousand times over that emotion is not reality, and all you’ll ever have to say to that is: And neither is ‘normality’. You don’t have time to wipe away your mascara. You’re starving for truth to the point where you’d throw everything you knew into the fire, and that’s the shit that gets your heart broken. All the flames from those bridges, burning—reflected in the tears streaming down your face. You might not feel brave, peeking out from between your fingers. But that’s not the point. Bravery comes after, when you make that blind promise to yourself: I will make all this failure worthwhile…

  1. Self-Preservation

“Women’s safety is more important than men’s feelings.” You read this and remember how he slammed the steering wheel when you started talking about sexual assault. A ploy to make you stop, for reasons you still don’t understand. Did I say something wrong? You explained, “I guess my way of coping with these things is to study what assault looks like—what abusers look like—so I can spot it. So I can help other people understand how to spot, and stop it.” He has nothing to say to that. So you smile, change the subject. Two months later, you’re crying at a Sheryl Crow concert because she just quoted Walt Whitman. She says, “If you ever feel unseen…” All the women dancing in the stage lights look ageless. You remember an interview with Lana del Rey and how the reporter said, “Your past albums often presented a claustrophobic universe made up of just you and one other person, but all of a sudden it’s like you’ve got your eyes wide open and you’re looking at the world around you.” One hour into the future, you’re riding on the back of a motorcycle and the moon is full and Lana del Rey is singing in your head: Doesn’t matter if I’m not enough / for the future or for things to come… Despite what many feminists say, you think Lana is brave. You saw her for the first time when you were 20, projected on a wall. Your universe was claustrophobic, and she understood about loving darkness when all you want is light. Two hours backward, you’re still at the Sheryl Crow concert and everyone’s singing “If it Makes You Happy” with her. You believe it’s the most enlightening sound in the world. You remember how John Mayer tried shutting Taylor Swift up when “Dear John” came out. He said it was “embarrassing”. Meanwhile stadiums of people were still singing: But I took your matches before fire could catch me… and there was nothing he could do about it. You saw a video clip of Lana del Rey, with her face leaned up against a microphone, wiping away tears as the crowd sang “Video Games” in its entirety. You imagined the man she was singing to, shrinking in the background. Watching as the whole world opened up around her. You saw in her eyes that she was crying because this was a sense of release she had always dreamed of. Women’s safety is more important than men’s feelings…

  1. Self-Worth

A number of people have expressed that they believe Thirteen Reasons Why’s Hannah Baker would’ve been “too narcissistic” to kill herself in real life. Though you agree that the show’s writers didn’t do their heavy content justice—though you found it disgusting how they used rape and harassment as a platform for teen melodrama—this common conclusion about Hannah’s character really, really, bothers you. You can’t articulate why, so you write it down on a piece of receipt paper: We often shame women for having any clarity about their experiences at all. Hannah wouldn’t have killed herself in real life because Hannah had self-worth, which usually translates as “narcissism”—especially when it comes to women. You don’t know what it is, but something about this realization causes you to internalize the notion that how you view the world is who you really are. Suddenly these months spent believing you were un-hearing, “preachy”, loveless and incapable of giving, seem so ridiculous. You remember the six-word autobiography you wrote for your first creative writing class: I found beauty in ugly places. How your message was cheesy, but sincere. And that was all that mattered to you. Admit it: You are not a mere flower, poking out from between concrete. You are a house, surrounded by wild life. You are elbows on the table and cats walking across the mantle—hydrangeas spilling over to reclaim the backyard. You are coffee splattered on the white carpet, a girl observing from a bird’s eye view, “I think the stain adds character.” Accept it: Your love is as easygoing as otters. It’s not “wrong” to float around boulders, though they serve their purposes too. Accept it: You need someone with a Gatsby-smile, who always sees people as they would like to be seen. Accept it: You need love that believes in abstract shapes. Patient and free as the snail-shaped cloud, gliding across her blue canvas…

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  1. Selflessness

You are sorry, though, for saying his best wasn’t enough. It wasn’t your most graceful moment, not even close. (A comedian on TV is making fun of women and their “massive egos”.) Your ego is not what’s preventing you from reaching out, but a learned response: Vulnerability, with him, is like an invitation to get burned… You think of that storm quote (“he just can’t handle a storm like you”) that is posted on the IG of every straight girl, from the east to west coast. You think: I am not a storm, and I don’t want to be. I don’t want to be idealized, or constantly admired; I just want to be with someone who understands himself, deeply. You miss him. You never won’t miss him because that’s who you are. You never grew tired of how he smelled like a clean aquarium filled with woodchips. And you can’t say he taught you nothing. You can’t say the certainty of his breathing didn’t restore your faith in yin and yang; how two forces, colliding, is what makes this flawed world go round. You can’t say you didn’t love every second you held your breath, trapped inside that fishbowl. It was real, and wonderful as it was terrible. You don’t blame him. You don’t blame yourself. You don’t blame anyone. It’s not that either of you deserve “more” or “better”, but that you both deserve what you need. And the whole world opens at this exit. At this private act of surrender: Wishing the most for him, in spite of all these locked doors and lost dreams…

Divided States, United Dreams, and All the Dinosaurs in Between (A Prose-Poem for What It Means to be Anti-Trump, as a Millennial and White Woman)

Out beyond ideas of

 wrongdoing and rightdoing,

 there is a field.

 I’ll meet you there.

 

—Rumitrump-13

My boyfriend says, “The Doomsday Clock is three minutes to midnight,” as I set up dinosaurs the size of Polly Pockets between Jenga blocks. “Our parents lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis—two minutes to midnight—so I try not to think about it too much.”

I pluck a yellow Brontosaurus from the coffee table. I marvel at its neck.

Our generation has been able to hold onto childhood for longer than any other. Every time our parents called us ‘special’ they were clearing out some space for us to dream. Tying our baby blankets around our necks in the style of superheroes, and introducing us to the backyard: ‘Go imagine the world in ways we couldn’t allow ourselves.’

I try placing the Brontosaurus on the rim of my boyfriend’s beer as a reminder that the world hasn’t ended, and we’re both still here.

But my hand quakes, and the dinosaur falls straight down the tab.

My boyfriend laughs, “Extinct.”

For a moment I’m reminded that, in the novel I’m reading, a fictional author writes a fictional children’s story about how the Brontosaurus never actually existed. A scientist got his dinosaur bones mixed up, and what he thought was a Brontosaurus was actually an Apatosaurus with a Camarasaurus’s skull. However, many museums never bothered to correct their placards—society was already familiar with the Apatosaurus as the Brontosaurus, and this understanding of the dinosaur was popular.

Which is to say: Society preferred the Apatosaurus when it was something that it wasn’t, so how much influence does truth actually have when it comes to popular interpretations of history?

I don’t mention any of this to my boyfriend as he dumps his beer into a glass and saves the Brontosaurus. Instead I tell him about how, before Donald Trump was elected president, I believed all my coming of age milestones had been met.

I say, “I didn’t know I had any more innocence to lose before that.”

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As Americans—we are so removed from our country’s history of imperialism. This fine line we’ve cultivated through a poo-pooing of emotional intelligence and truth in our history lessons, between innocence and ignorance.

I am twenty-five years old and Christopher Columbus still stands like a fairytale character in my imagination. Not as a rapist, not as a leader of genocide, but as some brave little soldier brimming with wanderlust and round-world theories. A Disney cartoon, essentially.

I’ve observed grown men throw mini temper tantrums over credit card machines asking for a preference: ‘English or Spanish?’

My boyfriend tells me he’s hopeful. He says, “Trump will get impeached soon, there’s too many people involved with the resistance—too many people and organizations are being vocal about not wanting this.” And for the first time in my life, I realize: I’m the cynic in this conversation.

I say, “It’s not that Donald Trump getting impeached wouldn’t fix a lot of things. It’s that our country allowed this to happen in the first place. Our qualified female candidate losing to a deluding playboy and what that means…”

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My boyfriend lights up a cigarette and I remember the time my best friend classified my “type” as “casually dressed white guys who smoke.” I wonder: Why?

I go all self-analytical.

It’s easy to deny a part of myself with the scent of cigarette smoke, like I’m just a grain of Cheeto dust lodged between two carpet fibers in a shutdown roller rink—the disco ball still spinning. A reminder of a ‘simpler’ time when people just ‘didn’t know any better’. My secondhand role in it all serving as a testament to my innocence: I’M NOT THE ONE DOING THE BAD THING!

Contemplating this strange nostalgia shifts my thoughts on American privilege to thoughts on white privilege.

One time, at a Halloween party, over chicken nuggets shaped like dinosaurs, I listened to a conversation between two guys. They were talking about Black Lives Matter, and the election. Both of them were Trump supporters, their conversation playing out like a football being passed back and forth: ‘Not all cops [this]’ and ‘Not all cops [that].’

I stared at a beheaded stegosaurus, bleeding ranch dressing, and gradually lost my appetite.

Everything felt reminiscent of ‘not all men [this]’ and ‘not all men [that]’, and the one wrinkle in my forehead deepened.

I held my breath before I spoke: ‘Just admit that racism is real and white privilege is real; just admit it. The fact that people who were born and raised here are referred to as “black American” while we get to be just “American” is enough proof that white people are the template of American society. We don’t know what it’s like to experience racism as a threat to our lives, just admit that!’

But neither of them gave what I said much thought, and the only response I got was: ‘Well, my uncle’s a cop.’

I feel silly going all lovesick for my boyfriend and his cigarette when I think of how, earlier in the day, I was watching Cristela Alonzo’s standup special, Lower Classy, on Netflix.

She had this joke about how you’ll never catch people of color reminiscing for “the good old days”. She said, “You ever notice it’s only white people saying that shit?” Then she joked about a hypothetical Lamar, and how he spends his weekends cooking and cleaning for free at his neighbor’s house, “like the good old days”. She capped the whole spiel off with, “You never see that conversation.”

Lovesick with nostalgia over my boyfriend’s cigarette, I can’t get that joke out of my head.

White privilege painted over caves used like catacombs by the KKK for lynchings. Replaced 245 years of slavery with ‘heritage’ and ‘states’ rights’. Erased our memory of segregation with poodle skirts and pastel thunderbirds. Rationalized an entire history of racism and genocide with: ‘Well, I didn’t do that.’

My boyfriend puts out his cigarette, and I understand my longing for the past is a privilege in itself. That I’m lucky my historical memories can be categorized with labels as benign and painless as “when restaurants were still divided between ‘smoking’ and ‘non”.

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Malcom X theorized that peaceful protests were only effective if the subject being protested possessed a conscience.

He said, ‘America has no conscience.’

I tell my boyfriend I’m beginning to believe empaths are like unicorns, belonging to a different plane of existence. I say, “There needs to be more emotional education in our
schools. Too many people think of empathy as a natural feeling, but it’s not. It’s an intellectual process. That’s why so many empaths appear kind of cold—they’re intellectual feelers and emotional learners. They react slow.”

The other night I had a dream I was blowing bubbles through a sniper. They shot out at a rapid pace, in smoky neon colors. They all collided into each other and, as they popped upon impact, made an explosion that took the shape of a multicolored mushroom cloud. After I looked all around me and everyone was cheering, but all I felt was depressed.

My boyfriend reacts slowly.

“Hm,” he says.

The morning after Donald Trump was elected president, I overheard my father talking to my mother in a hushed voice outside my bedroom door. ‘This country is mentally ill,’ he said. And my chest felt like it was on fire with how much I loved him for saying that; like I needed to avenge all those slow and steady tortoises who’d rather lose the race than become a tyrant—

Is there someplace safe, where they can dream?

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I confess to my boyfriend, “I feel less and less connected to reality everyday, like: Did that really just happen? Is this really real? It’s like millennials are being forced into crippling anxiety and depression because we’re being pressed between the past and the future at all times. What does it even mean to exist in the present?”

At my parent’s house, a show about the universe was on National Geographic and some scientist said that parallel universes exist. He said it in the sense that, every impossible thought is possible in some other dimension. Therefore, every dream you’ve ever dreamed, every fantasy you’ve ever had, every future that didn’t come to fruition, is actually happening someplace else.

I complain to my boyfriend about a common breadcrumb of human understanding, “So many people say if they could go back in time, they’d kill Hitler. And every time this comes up I feel like asking: What else? What else would you change?”

I was thinking of parallel universes as I watched a talk with Neil deGrasse Tyson.

He said the only evidence of time travel that he could conceive of is found in the great geniuses and artists of the past. People like Einstein, Picasso, and Newton. People who, he said, ‘had a vision of the future better than we even understand ourselves.’

I thought of Anne Frank and, without much warning, she sat down beside me on the living room couch. She told me she was a time traveller, too; that it wasn’t as hard as someone like Newton would have you believe.

She said, “Anyone can time travel.”

She said, “You just have to pull people forward somehow…”

She went on to explain that, in order to pull people forward, you don’t have to come up with a new law or theory—not necessarily.

She said, “You can do it with a feeling.”

Then she slipped out of The Now, caught a wormhole back to her better universe.

My boyfriend says, “Stalin killed more people than Hitler, a lot of people seem to forget about that.”

I Google “Stalin vs. Hitler”, and find an article titled: “Genocide: If Stalin or Mao killed more people than Hitler, why is Hitler considered the worst?”

I click on the link and I’m led to a chart of illustrated dictators with their corresponding names.

Depending on who I’m looking at, there are one or multiple red drops beneath each name.

One drop symbolizes one million people.

I don’t read the article; I just stare at the chart—taking in the drip drip drip of it all. (Our understanding of evil as an accumulation of deaths, and my knowing that it’s so much more than that.) I want to be worlds away from this psychopathy that condenses the dehumanization of millions to a drop in the ocean: It’s all in the past; It wasn’t that bad; We don’t talk about that.

I hope I’m not appropriating the anger of others, but I resent being part of a world where whole individuals are erased—drip—just like that.

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In my tiny hometown, a part of the rust belt, I’ve often felt like Van Gogh—seconds away from cutting off my own ear. Seconds away from sending it to a Trump supporting ex as a reminder of what I’d rather do than accept his president’s spineless rhetoric as truth.

There are TRUMP – PENCE signs at the ends of driveways, advertised in front windows and on the backs of pickup trucks.

Sometimes, I get the feeling that they’re watching me. That they’re creeping up on me, like some vague shape of a man I don’t know, in the night.

Talking about this feeling seems fruitless, like playing a rigged game of rock paper scissors: Capitalist Patriarchy covers White Woman and—therefore—covers everything else.

I ask my boyfriend, “What’s the term for feeling responsible and powerless all at once?”

America, I have a dream.

(Which is to say: I have contributed to a parallel universe where everything I’m about to describe is possible.)

I collect every TRUMP – PENCE sign from sea to shining sea, and walk to a field—out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing.

I color over all the names, and lay down every sign to form a template that stretches on for miles.

I take a permanent marker and, starting with the first sign, write: ‘Hillary Clinton, first female president of the United States.’

Then I move on to the next sign and write the same thing with my mother’s name, shortly followed by the names of my sisters and grandmothers—my female friends and peers.

On each sign, I write the names of every American woman I know followed by ‘first female president of the United States.’

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I do this until I can finally start writing the same thing with the names of all the American women that I don’t know, who are not like me.

I do this until every American woman is accounted for, illegal immigrant to transgender.

And, in this universe, I don’t care how flowery my efforts look; no one gets to call me vapid or unrealistic here.

I’m free to imagine better places where each sign is a reality, rendered absolutely possible
because someone wrote it down somewhere.

And once my work is finally done, I’ll lay in my bed of unrealized dreams.

With my head resting against the pillow of my name, I’ll put my hand over my heart and pledge allegiance to the sky.

Whispering, ‘United Dreams…’

Meanwhile, I set up dinosaurs between parallel universes as my boyfriend muffles the sound of the clock’s ticking.

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Nine Things I Learned in 2016: The Year of Getting Really, Really, Uncomfortable

You fall and you crawl and you break and you take what you get and you turn it into—
Honesty.

—Avril Lavigne,

Patron Saint of Girls Who Once Had Their Hair Dyed Black Underneath

12/20/2016: Reflecting on this year, it’s hard to believe I wasn’t, somehow, better at the beginning than I am now. I know this is the tricky way in which nostalgia works—it’s 90% missing how naïve and innocent you were at a given point in time. Longing to revert back to the safe and cozy place that was how little you knew, and understanding that you can never go back. (This is a feeling I’ve been experiencing on the daily, as this last month of 2016 comes to a close.)

I’m not wrong when I say it’s been an exhausting year, personally and culturally.

On a personal level: 2016 was the first year I lived in Jamestown, full time. Without school or any illusion of: I’m moving forward in life. It was the year I gave Satan a chance, tried hard drugs, and became the kind of person who uses vague and self-righteous Facebook jargon. Like, “there’s nothing wrong with deleting toxic people from your life” and “there’s nothing selfish about self-care”.

In truth: At the close of 2016, I have become my worst nightmare. Addled with anxiety and all bent out of shape, trying to make sense of how much I know now that I didn’t know then. Emotionally and mentally depleted is what I am—like it’s a fight to stay a complex individual. To not become one-dimensional and revert to merely playing a role within the senseless drama that is the young adults occupying my hometown.

(I’ve come to understand that my disconnected feelings in highly social situations can no longer be explained away with the dismal hope that most people are still working out some “high school” bull-shit that they’ll eventually grow out of. Nope. I’ve long discarded the false promise that everyone will eventually mature into diplomatic, relatively caring and freethinking individuals.)

Both a blessing, and a curse, I’ve come to the conclusion that high school is who most people are and I am not like most people.

Meanwhile, on a cultural level: Waste his time 2016 was anticlimactic—did any of us ever, in fact, waste his time? Or did we just waste our own time, trying to waste his time?

Collectively, we put our cell phones face down on the table. We stared at the wall and contemplated our guilt, having realized we’d just been two hours deep in IG. (Winding in and out of Kermit memes, revealing how unoriginal our most inner longings are. Wondering how 98,735 users could possibly relate to Kim Kardashian’s sobbing face.)

We are living in a post post-modern era. Life no longer imitates art, or even the media. Now it’s all about the Internet. (Weddings are Pinterest. Values and worldviews are Facebook statuses. Conflict is a comments section. Friendships are only as legitimate as one’s latest photo. And life? Only as interesting as the Snap Story implies. People are just glorified memes: Self-deprecation and some stolen piece of pop culture, pasted together to say something funny and sophisticated as a burp.)

I don’t want to be cynical, but: A reality TV star is our president.

Real life is so unreal; we don’t even trust what’s actually happening—right in front of us—anymore. (Example: It’s easier for a lot of people to believe that Donald Trump trolling IRL is “the media’s” fault, and not his own. Like: “the media” made him openly mock a disabled reporter and, somehow, that makes him “raw” and “real” and not a total fucking asshole.) How? How is this the world I’m living in?!?!?! Why am I not more surprised? Why do I get the sense that many people don’t grasp how real a responsibility being president is? Are we that far out of touch with the physical space in front of us? Politics might as well be Fantasy Football at this point.

Overall, 2016 was the year I looked around the room and said: What the fuck is wrong with all of you?

It was the year I fully understood that not everyone is like me. That, while diversity—on the most base level: background, race, experience, sexuality, lifestyle, ability, talent, appearance, etc.—is what makes humanity interesting and worth living for… The fundamental differences—values, emotional depth, intelligence, sense (or lack) of connectedness—are what makes humanity a total fucking nightmare.

In simpler words (specifically, the words of Instagram writer Rob Hill Sr.): “Love isn’t hard, people are just difficult.” And for the past 366 days (because it was leap year!) I’ve felt trapped in Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated”, playing on a loop:

TAKE OFF ALL YOUR PREPPY CLOTHES, GUYS!

I just do not understand the lack of honesty, and empathy, I’ve experienced this year. To put it in high school terms: Why the fuck is everyone so fake? Trying to make sense of so many other people’s inconsiderate worldviews, and actions, has been frustrating. And, admittedly, with this frustration, I’ve come to understand that what’s simple to me, might not be so simple to somebody else.

(Some people really like their preppy clothes; it’s just who they are. It doesn’t make them bad people—not necessarily. It’s what’s inside the preppy clothes that’s supposed to count! But that’s the struggle, isn’t it? To see people for who they fundamentally are, and put our own, personal, ultimately petty, biases aside.)

I guess, for me, 2016 has been about deciphering what individuals might not be someone I have all that much in common with, or totally see eye to eye with, but can still recognize as a fundamentally alright person. Versus someone I need to just straight up avoid because they’re fundamentally selfish, and hurtful to everyone. (Even the people they claim to “love”.)

So.

I guess…

With all of this in mind…

Here’s my official list of things I learned in 2016:

1.) Sometimes reacting to a situation exactly how you want to react to it—in the moment—really is the most spiritual thing you can do.

Whether it’s simply walking away, or saying “EXCUSE ME!” at the top of your lungs, or running head first into an ex fuckboy’s best friend, over and over again, like an angry bull, screaming: YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT IT IS TO SUFFER… Okay, maybe only react that way under dire circumstances. Or like, never. Maybe just invest in a punching bag… I don’t know! But the point is, it’s really, really, unhealthy to disassociate while something totally uncool and potentially damaging to your mental and / or physical wellbeing is happening. So. Sometimes you really do need to abandon the fear of being perceived as a monumental overreact-er and just totally embrace a natural response to a nonsensical situation. (Negative emotions always surface in one way or another, no matter how much you repress them. You might as well save yourself some brooding, and your loved ones the secondhand resentment, by immediately directing those emotions at the person who provoked them in the first place.) A.K.A. I had a tantrum characteristic of the one in Bridesmaids when Kristen Wiig punches through a giant cookie and tries to push over a chocolate fountain that is—clearly—bolted to the ground. (I was Kristen Wiig in the scenario; a guy was the fountain.) He did something really manipulative, knowing I’d either react in the moment—like a crazy person—or spend weeks trying to make sense of it. So, whatever. I went all “Not today, Satan! Not today!” on his ass, and screamed, “YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT IT IS TO SUFFER!” Ultimately, it felt really, really, good to address the issue head on—despite my reaction being extremely embarrassing and over the top. I’ve learned what pent up aggression, and regular disassociation (i.e. trauma), does to a person. Like, it makes you blow the fuck up out of nowhere, and in ways that are really unflattering—in ways that look mean, and hypersensitive: Crazy! So… forgo repressing your negative emotions to that point and deal with them as they happen. Then make a conscious effort to avoid the people and places that seem to provoke them. This means: Walk away from that person who has screwed you over, time after time. Don’t keep going back to that flake-y dude whose poor treatment of you has proven to be pathological. Block the shit out of a few people! Remember: No one is allowed to take away your right to leave, or say “no”, or have standards. You’re allowed to do whatever you need to do to protect those rights. Don’t worry about how it makes you “look”, because—after everything’s said and done—you’re the one who has to deal with the emotional aftermath. Not the bystanders, or anyone else who wasn’t directly involved. So, go all in: Not today, Satan! Not today!

2.) A “nice” or “fun” person isn’t always synonymous with an authentic or genuinely caring one.

Lots of people are “nice” and “fun”, but very few are sincere and loyal. In the past year, I’ve learned to be wary of excessive flattery and the kinds of people who want to be “best friends” with everyone. True, I’ve never been the most social of butterflies, and I’m very selective about my friendships. But prior to this year I was a huge advocate for giving people the benefit of the doubt—now I’m a little more cautious. I learned that some people are just nosy and will only flatter you because they want something from you; they want to be a part of your life, and they don’t care how negative of a role they play. It’s one of the bitterest doses of reality I’ve ever swallowed, but some people really will do whatever they need to do, and say whatever they need to say, to get what they want—which is constant stimulation, at any cost. It’s a really reckless and shallow way to live, but: That’s just how some people are. And a lot of the time, they are the most charismatic, “fun”, and attractive people imaginable. Because they have to be! They have to be whatever people need them to be, otherwise nobody would like them; which, in a backwards way, is really sad. That being said, pity is exactly what these kinds of people take advantage of: “I just thought you were cute and I wanted to get to know you” *pout*; “My girlfriend just broke up with me for her ex, and you seem like you’re really easy to talk to…”; “I have a really hard time making girlfriends, and I love you’re writing. We should hang out…” It’s not that I think every person who compliments me is going to eventually fuck me over. I’ve just learned that living in a small place, and standing out in any capacity—from being a feminist writer and advocate, to being “cute” and hyper-romantic—is going to attract some really opportunistic people who either want to “conquer” me, or ruin my positive outlook. And, to be blunt, you just never know where you stand with those destructive types of people. (They’ll smother you, and then abandon you; they’ll laugh with you, and then snub you; they’ll cry to you, and then blame you; they’ll comfort you, and then pull the rug out from underneath you…) It’s a relationship devoid of understanding, and I just don’t have the stamina for that incessant drama. Relationships, for me, aren’t a game of “winning and losing”—they’re an emotional connection. And I’ve learned that, with certain people, it’s impossible to have a connection. (Not a genuine one, at least.) Because they don’t want it! It’s meaningless to them. Therefore, if connection is allowed to be meaningless to someone else, the rules of “winning and losing” are allowed to be meaningless to you.

3.) Rejection, or other people’s negative and unwarranted responses to you, are rarely, if ever, a reliable indicator of your integrity and character—a.k.a. your worth as a human being.

All my life, whenever a guy I really liked became cold toward me, and decided he wanted nothing to do with me; or when a friend regularly ditched me and made me feel left out, I would immediately blame myself. I’d think: I must have said something really off-color and mean. Or: I must’ve been too cling-y, and weird. I shouldn’t have been so open about my thoughts. I’d think: I must’ve acted conceited and stuck-up; I must be really boring and shallow and unaware of it. Basically anytime someone was mean to me, or ignoring me in a way that I couldn’t find any sensible reason for, I always assumed I’d done something unforgiveable. That I had some major character flaw, and was pathologically broken. I assumed I deserved whatever neglect or shade I got. Which, yes, it’s actually good to have this mental system of checks and balances. If you walk around genuinely believing everyone should love and accept you 24/7, you probably have a personality disorder… but the point is: I was worrying about what was “wrong” with me, obsessively. To the point where I didn’t trust my own judgments of situations and other people. (Which, this kind of self-doubt is like blood to mosquitoes. It’s an attractant for the kind of person who will ignore you for no reason, and will never forgive you for not being perfect within his or her own, personal, definition of the term.) Example: A guy recently lied to me about his dad dying, in an attempt to dump me without looking like an asshole. (Yes, you read that correctly.) The conversation began with him confiding that his father had died, and then ended, the moment he got a genuine emotional response from me, with him admitting, “Okay; don’t be mad but, that stuff about my dad—I might have exaggerated a little bit…” Initially my reaction was one of confusion, like, “Why would you do that? Why would you lie to me about that?” Up until this point, I felt I had done nothing but encourage honesty in (what I thought was) our friendship; I couldn’t find any rational reason for his lie. He quickly went into vague explanations like, “I never know what you’re thinking!” and “You told me you didn’t want a boyfriend; I wanted to know for sure whether or not you cared!” and (the worst) “My friends said you would freak out if I was honest!” I walked away, my head spinning. I just didn’t know how to react. While driving home, it occurred to me that he might have done such an unforgiveable thing, thinking it was the only way to “get rid” of me. Which stung. I remember thinking: Wow, am I really so insufferable that people have to fake a family member’s death, and then admit to it, just to ensure that I’ll never speak to them again? In a last ditch effort for some common ground (after freaking out on him via text message), I surrendered the truth about how hurt I was, “I just know you’d only do something like that to get rid of me, and that feels so bad. You could have just told me the truth.” He never responded, and as the days following the incident added up, I eventually came to terms with reality: Normal, caring, content-within-themselves, people do not regularly kick the crap out of your heart, and then leave it hanging on a weak-ass pulse—especially not after you’ve told them how much it hurts. And anyone who does do that is making a statement about themselves; about their own integrity and self-worth—not yours. So. Basically. If you’re someone who regularly considers your affect on other people, if you keep positive change and emotional maturity at the forefront of your mind, then it’s safe to determine you are trying your best. And as long as you are trying your best, you deserve honesty and straight-forwardness. Not someone who lies about his dad fucking dying because that’s somehow easier than being emotionally vulnerable for the eight seconds it takes to say, “I don’t want to see you anymore.” Like, that person has some major soul searching to do, and his dishonesty and level of inconsideration says way more about his understanding of reality than it does yours. So, trust yourself. You’re not broken, or crazy, or unlovable. Someone just made you feel that way because that’s how they feel all the time.

4.) Regularly check yourself to make sure you’re not doing things you wouldn’t normally do—things that are destructive to yourself and / or others—just to avoid dealing with your own vulnerabilities, or insecurities.

I have a tendency to internalize other people’s problems, and depending on the energy of the people around me, it can make me act really insecure and defensive. When you’re constantly taking on other people’s emotions, you start to forget which ones belong to you, and which ones belong to other people. On top of being stuck in your own head, you’re stuck in the heads of others. And that can really warp your perception of reality when you’re spending a significant amount of time with deeply wounded people. (It’s the nature of toxicity—which, I don’t really like that terminology. But for the time being that’s what our culture has settled with. Toxic: Someone who is deeply hurt and no longer conscious of their pain; someone who, habitually, seeks out other people to do their healing for them; someone who wields the compassion and self-doubt of others at their leisure, and in their favor.) I’m not saying these types of people don’t deserve forgiveness, or the chance to start over. I’m just saying they’re unsettling to be around when you’re a sensitive person who struggles to respect her own boundaries. A.K.A. I’m attracted to emotionally broken—overlooked—people, because I want to heal them. I want to make them feel seen, and heard, and understood: Less alone. Which, this desire is a double-edged sword. It’s the foundation of my creativity, and I wouldn’t really “be me” without it… But, I don’t know how to explain it—I’m very insecure about it. Being this open to the suffering of others is exhausting; at times it feels very invasive to my autonomy. Sometimes I think I’d give anything to just look away. To not know, or understand, anything beyond my own perspective. To become totally immersed in that one viewpoint. But I can’t do that. Which means feeling sad and isolated a lot of the time; it means fostering the negative emotions of people I’ve loved and lost—the ones who might never reciprocate a sense of loss when it comes to me. And, not going to lie, that has me pretty butt-hurt and vindictive at times: How dare they use me as a receptacle for their unresolved pain!!! This past year, I did a lot of things I wouldn’t normally do just to shut myself off from the negativity and pain of others. Tiny acts of self-destruction seemed to lighten the sadness that came from feeling an intense, perpetually unrequited, connection to the world of other people (especially the not-so-nice ones). At the time, it seemed like—everywhere I looked—all I saw were people terrified of letting go, of finding actual happiness and love. And all I wanted to do was help them realize the big picture. How beautiful life could be if they just tweaked their perspectives, every so often, and let it be beautiful. In retrospect, I realized: It was the potential of this world, and its collective resilience to it, that hurt me so much. Sometimes I’d just take a deep breath, or stare at another person’s face for too long, and it’d make me feel something, like: “OUCH! Can I get a vodka-soda?!?!” Altered states of being, or surrounding myself with the “wrong” people, made the world hurt a little less. It softened the edges of reality and made me more okay with being selfish. It even made me more at peace with the selfishness of others! But it was a temporary fix to the resounding reality that is my loneliness. And I’m trying to become better about checking myself in this way. I’m trying to be less impulsive, and less enabling. (Especially when I feel lonely.) Basically, what I’m trying to say is: If you’re a compassionate person, then it’s important to remain a compassionate person. Don’t lose what makes you susceptible to the good in the world by trying to hide it, or destroy it, as a means of “not hurting”. That kind of attitude will always backfire, and you’ll become as “toxic” as whatever inspired you to think that way in the first place.

5.) Never allow someone to treat you as if you are an extension of themselves.

Loyalty, at least to me, is not synonymous with “you do everything I say”. I’ve watched people try and control others under the guise of “loyalty”, and that shit’s so fucked. It’s using a positive element of someone else’s character against them and, ultimately, denying their right to be a person with desires and opinions that deviate from your own. Like. Manipulation gets me so heated, to a point where I have no desire to be around those who manipulate, or those who allow manipulation to happen. I had a really good friend who sort of pushed my feelings to the wayside because she was trying to pursue a guy who was friends with my ex. (An ex who manipulated and hurt me, often.) This meant that she befriended my ex in an attempt to get closer to the guy that she liked. And it sucked. Because my ex started using her as a tool to get to me emotionally, and she totally fucking let him. She let him do it to a point where she started being mean to me too, and even seemed to enjoy how much the whole thing bothered me. Which was frustrating, because the whole time I just wanted to smack her and say, “DO YOU NOT SEE THAT YOU’RE GETTING PLAYED LIKE A FUCKING FOOL RIGHT NOW!?” But it wouldn’t have mattered. She didn’t care for, or even trust, my opinion anymore. Eventually she tried to convince me that I needed to “care more about what other people thought.” And, just being true to myself, I realized that kind of need for popularity, and approval, just isn’t in my DNA. (As Nicki Minaj once said: I give zero fucks, and I got no chill in me.) I’m going to do what I think is best for my mental health, and the big picture, no matter what. Something that ultimately means: What I think of myself will always be more important than what anyone else thinks, or says about me. Unless you’re my mom. (She is the only exception!!!!) Furthermore, I want everyone I surround myself with to be like this. I want to be around people who care about themselves, and therefore—care about others in a deep and meaningful way. My thought process being that, people who care about themselves have a strong sense of purpose—their egos aren’t fragile—and therefore, being kind and supportive comes naturally to this type of person. They don’t get hung up on jealousy and insecurity, or the approval of strangers, because they know what they have to offer. Furthermore: I have no desire to control anyone and, as a courtesy, I want to be around people who have no desire to control me. You know? We either connect, or we don’t. And with this particular friend, who I thought I really connected with at the beginning of our friendship, I eventually realized: We just don’t value the same shit. We don’t view loyalty the same way. To her, loyalty was a matter of maintaining social order. It meant sacrificing elements of one’s individuality, and some fundamental part of who you are, for the sake of the group. Which (being someone with a phobia of “groups”) didn’t vibe well with me. Like, I’ve been the shitty friend who chose coolness over genuine friendship in the past. And I’m happy to say I snipped off those toxic needs and desires, and left them at the high school. Now, I don’t care about “coolness” or inclusion and approval. I just want to be around people who can smell bullshit before it happens, and aren’t down with accepting it as ingenuity. Who are content enough within themselves to care about shit that actually matters. (Like protecting gay rights, and the quality of life for minorities, and global warming, and women’s reproductive health. You know?! Real human-shit!) People who understand: You are nobody’s pawn or prop or project. You are not an ego boost, or a joke, or a trash bag. You are nobody’s sidekick! You’re a human individual. And no matter what people say or do, they cannot change that. They can treat you like an object all they want, but you will never be an object. And that’s where the beginning of your power lies, in that one tiny realization. Once you internalize it, you won’t be able to tolerate subpar relationships, friendships, or treatment anymore. You’ll realize that you deserve to be around people who want you to pursue things that are greater than yourself, and are sincere about it. You’ll start wanting to be around people who are good for you.

6.) Never trust a guy who can’t laugh at himself.

A dude legit called my friend a cunt just because we put a snow globe Snap Chat filter over his senior photo and wrote “baby it’s cold outside”. (Ok, we also drew little devil horns on him, and put him in a little chef’s hat…) Which, if he had done that shit to me I would’ve just laughed and said, “lol you’re dumb, kay bye.” But no! To him, “baby it’s cold outside” was cunt worthy! Like! Does he not know how much time, and effort, it took for us to position the yearbook beneath the iPhone’s camera, in such a way, so that Snap Chat’s very fickle face sensors could detect his grainy-ass two dimensional features?! He should’ve been flattered!!!! But, in all seriousness, I just really like to poke fun at people when I’m first getting to know them. It’s my way of feeling out what kind of person someone is, and it’s a backwards way of saying: Hey, you can feel comfortable around me. I’ll even give you a counter example—which is also Christmas themed! Two years ago I was seeing a guy who had some pretty serious dandruff. Which, I don’t know why or how it came up. But one day, while he was driving, I said to his friend, “On Johnny’s scalp, it’s always Christmas morning.” And, for a moment, I was like: Can I not have the social filter of a six year old for like, ten seconds?!?!?! But then the dude just started laughing and said, “For real, it’s just like that!” And I realized he was able to laugh at the quirks in his appearance and character because he was a fundamentally secure person. So basically, anyone who’s illiterate in the art of self-deprecation probably also has a self-awareness level of zero. Like, a guy who can’t laugh at his minor quirks—like the fact that he likes The Real Housewives, or that he can’t keep “there”, “their”, and “they’re”, straight—is probably also severely out of touch with who he actually is. A.K.A. This is someone who can’t accept his ever being slightly dorky, or “uncool”, or fucking human. And all that just divulges down into his being incapable of admitting when he’s a wrong. (Something that will only make you feel crazy and lonely in the long run.) So do yourself a favor and always avoid the guy who can’t laugh at himself.

7) The idea that “if a boy’s mean to you, it’s because he likes you” is totally— 110%—true.

Honestly, I thought this B.S. would end after the ninth grade… but no. Being on the receiving end of catty men’s bullshit is just my lot in life—until society starts admitting it’s sexist and ceases to enable the fuckery that is erratic white boys. (Which, considering Trump’s our president, will not be happening anytime soon.) Until then, I’m just going to have to keep wading through psychos who con me into cuddling them one second, and then, the next, tell me I need to stop being such a “pussy pushover”. (Legit: A guy said that to me.) Anyway, I’m no stranger to this spontaneous male-to-female aggression that’s bizarrely sexual and envious in nature—the kind that says: Hey, I think you’re really smart, and cool, and hot, and you’re making me feel things that I can’t control; can I, like, hate-fuck you and make you question your self-worth for the next 6 to 8 weeks? Some dudes are just so emotionally stunted that, if you kindle even the slightest spark of desire in their black souls, you’ll be named enemy number one: Why can’t she just let me be dead inside?!?! What a bitch! They’re the kinds of guys who can’t help but be mean to the girls they “like”; the kinds of guys who can’t, and will probably never, have a functioning relationship because their romantic algorithms have the complexity of a Matchbox 20 song: I wanna push you down! (Well I will! Well I will!) Basically. If there’s a guy that you have some weird romantic history with, and he goes out of his way to be mean to you—in ways that are both creative and unpredictable; if, to your face, he acts like you’re just shit on his shoe, but then turns around and asks everyone about you; if he withholds closure because he knows how desperately you want it… Then, trust me, it’s because he “likes” you too much. (Which, in his world, translates as you not liking him enough: How dare she refuse to roll with my constant punches!?!?!?) It’s all ass-backwards, but this kind of guy would not take the time to torment you if he wasn’t compensating for the fact that something about you made him go all soft and squishy inside for 1.5 seconds. Like. He’s mad at you because you made him feel something in a world where men aren’t supposed to feel shit. And perhaps—something that irks him even more than that—he’s mad at you for being better than him, in any capacity. Whether you’re smarter, kinder, better looking… it doesn’t matter. He’s pissed and he hopes you feel guilty about it. Which, frankly, just isn’t your problem. Long story short: He’s mean because he “likes” you. So what? That doesn’t change the fact that he’s fucking mean to you! Don’t romanticize him. Dwell on the situation long enough to recognize it for what it is (an immature dude who can’t accept that women are more complicated than sex-toys, capable of inspiring intense feeling, etc…) and opt out of being another boring old ego boost. You’re so much more interesting than that.

8.) The things you would write about your best friend in her eulogy, say that shit to her now.

My best friend read something I wrote about her to her co-workers and, apparently, their collective response was one of astonishment. When she told me this, I said, “What? Why?” Because it wasn’t like I’d written some groundbreaking realization. She said, “I don’t know. I think they’re just not used to people saying something that nice, and deep, about another person; not unless that person is like, dead or something.” And I thought: Isn’t that horrible?!?! It’s something I’ve noticed a lot, especially while creeping on Facebook, this past year. (Is it just me, or was 2016 kind of death-heavy?) It just seemed like everywhere I looked, people were posting statuses about depression and suicide and addiction. (Those “you never know what someone else is going through” kinds of statuses.) And I remember thinking: Why the fuck do we not say this shit when people are alive; when it actually matters? (A girl commits suicide, and suddenly she’s loved beyond measure. Suddenly everyone’s saying everything she probably really needed to hear, before she killed herself. It’s kind of like how the general public treated Amy Winehouse like a fucking joke until she died. And then after? They made her a legend.) This is something I’ve always hated about our culture. We don’t appreciate what’s good when it’s sitting right in front of us; we only appreciate it when its dead and gone and reduced to an abstract concept that we can use to make ourselves feel good, or included, or enlightened… Which, I’m not saying I’m not guilty of this; I so am. I just wish we’d, collectively, be a little more mindful about it. (Like maybe you shouldn’t write a Facebook status about the loss of someone you didn’t really know, and subsequently couldn’t actually value and understand—at least not intimately. Maybe you should be a little more respectful to the friends and family who really “got” this person. Or maybe, just maybe, you should deal with your regret over having not said these things, when it counted, in silence. Recognize that another person’s death isn’t about you, or who you should’ve been while they were alive.) Thinking of all this, I’ve learned that it’s so important to appreciate the people who truly “get” us and value us—in the moment. Friendship is not guaranteed, because nothing good is guaranteed. Not even safety. (No one is exempt from abuse, or cancer, or car crashes. The same way no one deserves these life interruptions and ailments.) For this reason, friendship—a sense that someone is on your side in the world—is such an important connection to maintain, and protect, through proper care and appreciation. Never take it for granted; say thank you when your friend let’s you bitch without judgment; say sorry when you act on jealousy and insecurity, or any other selfish inclination; be honest when you don’t feel like going out, or find other plans; don’t abandon her when she’s sick, or angry, or lonely. Validate her feelings. Remind her why she’s special while it still counts. Life’s too unpredictable to treat your most loyal friends as if they’ll always be there; so be loyal back. You’ll never regret that.

9.) Forgive people.

I know this one should be obvious, but I struggle with it constantly. There are days where I forgive certain people, wholeheartedly. And then there are days where I’m like: Fuck that bitch; I wish her nothing but eternal loneliness and a cracked iPhone. In this way, forgiveness really is a garden that needs to be watered and weeded regularly. It’s the place in our souls where all the lost things go, and we have to ensure that only the good elements take over. (AKA: flowers = understanding & forgiveness; Weeds = bitterness & resentment.) Anyway, I know I’m a serial grudge holder. Something that really came to light when I ran into a guy—someone I grew up with—this past summer. I hadn’t seen him since the seventh grade, but we’d been in the same classroom—pretty much—from grades 1 to 6. In my memory, he’d registered as this mean boy who consistently called me a “stupid pancake face”. So deep-seeded feelings of rejection, tied with memories of his incessant name-calling, didn’t exactly warrant a warm reunion on my end. When he approached me like, “Cat Olson! Where have you been?!?” I leapt backward and looked at him, like: Wtf, dude! Do you not remember the time you sketched a naked woman jumping out of helicopter and told me it was me? Thus ruining my conception of nipples, for life?!?! I just couldn’t wrap my head around his being happy to see me without some underlying asshole-y agenda. Without really thinking, I went all word vomit-y and said, “Do you remember how you used to call me pancake face on a daily basis?” Which ultimately led to a conversation in which I listed off every mean thing he’d ever called me. He looked kind of shocked. His friend walked by and said something like, “Oh, I didn’t know you knew Cat!” To which he responded, “Yeah, and apparently she holds some serious grudges.” And I laughed because: For real! Like the poor guy just got interrogated after twelve years of estrangement: How many times did you call me fat, October 14th 1999?!?!? The mood lightened when I got over myself long enough to remember: People evolve past the sixth grade; he’s not going to call you fat or stupid right now. Instead he asked me the standard, “What have you been up to?” I told him about how I finished my degree in writing last Spring, and then capped the whole spiel off with, “But I’ll probably just end up being a cashier at Dollar General for eternity.” Which, much to my surprise, his response was nice. He said, “I’m so glad you’re doing that. You were always writing, and so creative—I knew you’d wind up being the girl who followed her dreams.” I looked at him like the emoji with slits for eyes, like: What’s your angle? But, deep down, I knew he was being sincere. It was just strange to hear something like that from him. (Someone who I believed never thought much of me, other than: Ew.) It’s interactions like this one that make me believe, somewhere, tucked away in a deep place, our perceived worst enemies hope to see us win. Like, clearly this guy had recognized my strengths from the time we were 12—he’d just always chosen to state my insecurities and weaknesses instead. It was reassuring to know that he’d grown into someone who could be happy for me. Actually, it was a gift. We don’t always get that validation from the people who have hurt us, or bullied us, or talked down to us. But I think it’s good to have faith in the idea that, whether or not you get validation, or a sincere apology, or closure—it’s there. Like: You just never know—for sure—what a person really thinks and feels. The mere thought of you walking around and breathing on this planet could be an absolute miracle to someone else, and still—they might never be ready to admit it. Which has to be painful. It has to be painful, never being able to express yourself fully. It has to be so painful; always having the sneaking suspicion that no one could ever love you for who you really are. To believe it, so innately, that you resent or reject all the people who can, or do, and genuinely want to. It must be so painful, it’s numbing. So don’t add to that pain by clinging to the bad memories of a person who has hurt you, or “wronged” you. Just forgive them, constantly and obsessively. This doesn’t mean you’re obligated to make that person a part of your life, but it does mean you haven’t stopped hoping that, someday, they’ll understand.

 

☁︎

01/01/2017: A little after midnight, full of Fireball and covered in glitter, I was dancing all by myself to ABBA when two large green eyes drew my one-woman party to a sudden halt. They were like two murky fishbowls, filled with some insane flavor of Kool Aid, and stuck in the head of a guy who can only be described as permanently stoked. Just looking at him, I could tell—words like “lit” and “dope” were made for him. A hopeless spazz-ball who scales strange architecture for fun, and never overthinks anything because life reads as one giant “YES!”

“I think I love you,” he said.

And for a moment I felt jolted, like: When you’re 23, 24, 25…

(Especially now, in the new millennium, as landlines are being rendered obsolete, and Mercury just went into retrograde for the eighty millionth time, and attention spans are shrinking at a rapid pace…)

You think you’re dancing all by yourself to ABBA, and then: BAM! You’re staring down the scope of reality, a total lady-killer. You’ve got to make a split second decision that could change, for better or worse, the narrative of your life. You call this process “depression”, you call it “anxiety”, and although no one doubts the legitimacy of these ailments, you start to wonder whether chronic feelings of emptiness and fear are just a natural response to being alive at this point in time. With all this pop-psych banter on sociopath “awareness”, and the empathy deficit, and “toxicity”, you start to suspect that your generation IS mental illness and disorder. That you and your peers are pathologically broken, on a collective level, from having been given a world without limits, and having not evolved enough to comprehend the enormity of that responsibility—

Suddenly your brain goes all ADD, and you remember the guy standing in front of you. You start getting all tripped up on stars aligning, and bad omens. Debating between red flags, and rash feelings. What you want *right now!* vs. how it’ll make you feel later. All the while, feeling guilty. Knowing that, no matter what, it always comes back to ~You~. A nasty thought you repress, long enough, to comprehend that a life-altering statement just came out of someone else’s mouth, flippantly as air.

You realize you’re incapable of not taking things personally: That wall, that flipped switch. How the neon light is hitting the ATM machine the same way it did in 2012, the same way it probably still will when you’re forty. How comparison of the past and future makes you wonder: “Am I happy?” Only to remind you that, with every New Year, there’s a keener sense of urgency, a more paralyzing awareness that things are always changing.

To put it crudely: Time can be a shitty friend, and Biology is a bad boyfriend, and when they started teaming up against you—it hurt your fucking feelings.

Staring into this ridiculous boy’s fishbowl eyes, I realized, at twenty-four, that I am astounded by how subtly things become an everyday part of our lives—debit cards, unlimited data and analog clocks; numbered days and license plates. How adulthood creeps up on you until, suddenly, you’re dropping your car keys on the kitchen table after a long day, trying to remember a time when you didn’t depend on them.

You can become so weighed down by responsibility that you forget to pursue your dreams. While, on the contrary, you can become so transfixed by your dreams that you forget to actually make them happen. (Sway too far in one direction, and you’re settling.) Which is another way of saying your life isn’t yours; you’re letting other people call the shots and your just going with it. Because? Whatever! It feels easier.

I think a lot of us carry around this lie that says: This is as good as it gets. So when we encounter a career opportunity, or a potential love interest, that doesn’t totally excite us but doesn’t totally repel us, we just accept it and quit searching for something better. We trick ourselves into believing we’re comfortable and happy because, for whatever reason, we’re convinced that the pain of shedding old habits, and unfulfilling relationships, is somehow worse than a mediocre life. That familiarity will magically trump personal desire as we internalize the oppressive notion that we should be content with where we are and what we have…

Well—I call bullshit on that.

I am of the mindset that you can be totally grateful without being fulfilled. And that’s where I’m at, at this point in time. (Like, the other day, I found some random girl’s IG and she had a picture of herself swimming with a fucking SHARK! Wearing nothing but a bikini, like it was no big deal!!!! And I thought: WHY AM I NOT SWIMMING WITH MORE SHARKS?!) It’s one of those feelings where, I’m happier—so much happier—than I was this time last year. (I’ve regained my solitude. I don’t feel the need to drink as much. I’m grateful for my job. I’d rather work than party. I’ve started saving money…) But I’m still not at peace with where I am.

Which is good.

It’s a good kind of discomfort that I’ve fought to feel.

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☁︎

Happy New Year, Pretty Readers.

I probably won’t post as much in 2017.

But I feel the need to directly address the random girls who hardly know me, but still take the time to approach me in bars, or to DM me on IG—

Whenever you guys tell me that something I’ve written (on my irrelevant, virtually anonymous blog) meant something to you, I could fucking sob from gratitude. I’m not a writer without any of you, and it means so much that you’d give my long-winded paragraphs, and constant mishaps, a chance. You all make it SO EASY for me to dismiss the negative, unsolicited, white-male opinions that I receive on my work (and life).

So, thank you. (TIMES A MILLION!)

I want you to know, I will always do my best to get it right for you.