I’m Not You & That Academy Award Isn’t Yours

It takes hard work to say, “This is how I am,” in a calm voice, without anxiously addressing how you should be. It takes work to shift your focus from the smudges on the window to the view outside. It requires conscious effort not to waste your life swimming furiously against the tide, toward some imaginary future that will never make you happy anyway.

— Heather Havrilesky, What If This Were Enough?

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Not too long ago, I had a bizarre conversation with a middle-aged man while I was at work. It started off normal, but then the fact that I have a B.A. in creative writing came up, and—out of nowhere—he started name dropping. (He told me he knew someone who’d won an academy award; that he’d recently met an eighteen-year-old who was making 165K a year; about how some female relation of his had just been accepted into multiple ivy league universities, etc.)

What any of this had to do with my creative writing degree—I have no clue. Though, buried beneath what he was saying, whether it was being implied, or whether I was inferring it all myself, the message seemed to be loud and clear: I’m not doing enough.

I don’t know what it is but, in the past year and a half, I’ve felt more judged than ever in terms of where I’m at in life. I’ve felt—however mildly—combative in the face of questions and comments, like: Why haven’t you moved to a bigger city? (As if that’s anyone else’s business.) What are you going to do though—like, for money? (As if I don’t have a full-time job that is—clearly—paying my bills.) She lived with her parents until she was 26! ~gasps~ (As if that isn’t the circumstance of many millennials who came of age post recession.)

Maybe I wouldn’t feel so prickly about all of this if I wasn’t also bombarded with similar, passive-aggressive, “boss babe” rhetoric every time I opened up the Instagram app. (Some examples: “There are only two options: Make progress or make excuses.” // “If you have time to scroll through social media, you have time to join my team.” // “AVERAGE people give shit advice. If you want to make money, listen to MILLIONAIRES.”)

It’s everywhere. All around us and in the air! Just like that silly Christmas song at the beginning of Love Actually: I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes. I feel absolutely bombarded by the message that nothing anyone does is good enough. And then, on top of all that—it seems—to admit some variation of this sentiment—aloud—wouldn’t even warrant an empathetic response. (If anything it’d just cue some psycho, wearing LuLaRue leggings, to crawl out of the woodwork, saying with all the canned optimism of a Wal-Mart smiley face: “Maybe you feel that way because you should! Make the change today!”)

Work more. Smile more. Love yourself more. Buy this, or you’re not loving yourself enough.

Like, damn—average people might “give shit advice,” but when did it become such a personal failure to be content with being average? To want to just sit and reflect on what’s actually right in front of you—and maybe even find the audacity to enjoy it? (No side hustles. No gains. No self-imposed deadlines, or promotions.)

Clearly, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Mostly because, over the past few years, I’ve been forced to reckon with how I’ve never really experienced myself as enough—sometimes to a point where I considered myself non-existent. (Sometimes I still sift through painful memories, trying to find the source for this chronic sense of not enough-ness—like how dismissive my family could often be when it came to my thoughts and opinions; or how my grade school teachers often pushed me into the fringes of their classrooms, under the assumption that I’d never be intellectually capable of keeping up with the “normal” kids; or how a majority of the guys I’ve ever felt close to all eventually called me crazy, and minimized the extent of their relationships with me, etc. And none of it has ever added up to anything particularly unusual, or life changing.)

I guess, my point is: when you experience rejection so intensely and consistently, and you finally realize you’ve never felt like enough (for yourself) as a result, you’re suddenly faced with the very difficult task of re-writing your own narrative in a way that doesn’t echo all the negative criticism you’ve internalized about yourself. (This is exactly what I’ve been trying to do in recent months, and—in doing so—have started to consider that, maybe, this general not-enough feeling is more cultural and social than it is personal.)

When that man came at me with all those acquaintances of his, who had such concrete markers of success (an academy award, a 165K salary at eighteen, multiple ivy league acceptances), I’d be lying to you if I said those accolades meant nothing to me. I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t feel a tinge of resentment, or that I didn’t resist the urge to snap at him like: Why are you telling me this? (It’s not as if reconsidering how we measure success, or trying to remain compassionate toward my own limits, has suddenly rendered me completely immune to desire or envy.)

However, I will say, before I could judge myself—based on whatever it was he seemed to be implying, or whatever my old narrative of rejection was trying to infer—I took a deep breath and reminded myself: None of these accomplishments are his. And I listened without judging him, or myself, to the best of my ability.

The modern world is always calling us to prove ourselves and—as a result—we ask everyone around us—both consciously and unconsciously—to prove themselves too. We project our own standards onto others, and then feel gypped, or perhaps a little jealous, when we see someone at ease; someone who doesn’t appear to feel so personally or professionally obligated to sacrifice x in order to accomplish y; who doesn’t seem to be affected by this intense pressure—all around us—to maintain some image of ambition and control; who is happy, without validation or witnesses.

Yes, I’ve felt combative in the face of questions, like: “Why haven’t you moved to a bigger city?” But, more and more, I hear myself drawing a boundary when these kinds of conversations arise. (The kind in which the pressure the other person is putting on me is more about the pressure they are putting on themselves.) I hear myself saying, with more and more certainty: “I’m not you.” And, every time, it’s so empowering. Every time, I feel a little more at ease.

Maybe, someday, I’ll get out of here. Maybe, someday, I’ll publish something big and realize my dream of being a writer in the most official sense. Or maybe I won’t. But, either way, that man’s voice—reading from his list of things I don’t have—is going to keep on going in one ear and out the other.

I’m done comparing myself to someone else’s highlight reel.

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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.

Come Over, I’m Dreaming: My New Year’s Resolution is to Never Stop Looking for Meaning Even Though I’m Always Depressed and kind of Mad

So all the cups got broke
Shards beneath our feet
But it wasn’t my fault.
And everyone’s competing
For a love they won’t receive
‘Cause what this palace wants
Is release

—Lorde, “Team”

12/31/2015: I keep forgetting about the approaching New Year. At work, customers keep saying it, “Happy New Year!” and every time I regard the polite gesture like a slap in the face. I say, “Wait, what?” instead of the only appropriate response, “You too!”

Just, what even happened in 2015?! Who am I?! Where have the days gone?! I feel like I just woke up from a year long bender, like, the only evidence of 2015 is the crusty sleep sticking to the corners of my eyes as I roll over and interrogate, “Where am I? Who are you? What happened?!?”

I’ve just been so indifferent. I feel nothing about the New Year except: I want to drink.

See, for me, a nice dull state of depression has set in like the weird humid fog that has embraced Western New York in a semi-warm temperature that isn’t characteristic of the holiday season. Like, I think I’ve given up on feelings the same way the climate has given up on winter…

This is nothing new though. I have a habit of mentally checking out for weeks at time. I’ve been this way ever since the first grade when all my teachers told my parents I was mentally challenged because I spaced out a lot and never spoke to anyone. Obviously, however, I was not mentally challenged. I was just bored. You know. I was busy—busy dreaming of a world where people didn’t just assume I was mentally challenged…

Anyway, that’s how December has felt: like a sad dream birthed from dissatisfaction and boredom. Sleeping has become a highlight and avoiding everyone is an effortless pursuit. All I’ve wanted to do these past few weeks is stare into the fridge and eat nothing, read essays by up and coming angry white dudes, day dream at my job that I’m way overqualified for, and drive my car around listening to Lorde’s album on repeat as I feel nostalgic for shit that’s never even happened.

God.

I am so fucking bored—I feel in want of nothing. Nothing pains me; nothing excites me…I just want to be alone and detached, to float past anger and disappointment as if none of these things were ever mine at all…

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! *kazoo!*

So, this morning—New Years Eve—when I woke up from a dream about hiding from an angry mob in a snow castle with a has-been pro hockey player named Chester, I thought: Maybe I should try interpreting this dream, or doing something, anything, remotely out of the ordinary. So I Googled—because I have the journalistic skills of a monkey—“dreams about snow”. And the first explanation I got was, “snow means you are feeling indifferent, alone, and neglected” to which I thought: Okay, no shit. Then I searched an online dream dictionary for “castle” and read, “this dream indicates your desire to escape from life’s daily problems…to live in a castle represents your extreme need for security and protection to the point where you may be isolating yourself from others.” And the gullible part of me that reads horoscopes and takes every word to heart was like: Truuuuuuue. Until, finally, I looked up “hockey” and got a simple interpretation, “hockey is analogous to how you are achieving and protecting your goals. It also suggests that you may have dealt with a lot of hard blows in your life.” After which I deflected: Damn, poor Chester.

Final analysis: I should probably stop hiding in the metaphorical snow castles of my subconscious—this weird state of indifference—and actually start pursuing the next chapter of my life because, you know, years fly by and one day you wake up and shit—you’re a has-been like Chester, or, even worse, you’re MARRIED to fucking Chester. So, armed with this analysis, I started to actually contemplate 2015. I started recounting everything that happened, in retrospect: What happened at the beginning, and what happened at the end? How do I feel about it? What do I want? What does the future hold? Do I have any control? Then I began to form, for the first time ever, a resolution that I think I’ll actually be able to keep.

☁︎

2015 started like this: The ball dropped and, with no one to kiss, Emily and I hugged like the world was ending. For that second, 2015 was beautiful—Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt, goddamit!—but then some onlooker, a guy, said, “MAKE OUT WITH EACH OTHER!” and the moment was ruined. Welcome back to reality, ladies. It’s 2015, and you’re still in this slimy bar with these slimy dudes. *one more time, kazooooooo!*

The night that followed involved me accidentally shooting whiskey out my nose and offending a guy because I told him that he had a “body like a cactus.” Who am I even? Another guy put his hand on my leg when I said something about feminism and I felt the incoming of a chastising thought: That’s what I get for wearing fishnets. Then me and Emily made out with the same dude. Happy New Year! I’m gross and so are you!

I remember thinking: It takes years to change, not one night, not one week leading up to that one night. We should reflect on our choices and the course of our lives for more than just the one designated day in the year that makes us feel obligated to reflect in the first place…this is why I have never liked making resolutions. It’s why I’ve never taken New Years seriously. When the clock strikes midnight, we’ll still get drunk. We’ll still make mistakes. We’ll go back to our lives, not much different than the way they were the day before. Real change takes time. Not just this one week; not just this one night, this one time of year. Let’s have fun now. Worry about it tomorrow. Or don’t. Who cares.

“You have a body like a cactus.”

Get over it, or do something about it. Either way, stop taking yourself so seriously.

☁︎

12/31/2015: All the Christmas gifts I received from my friends this year seemed to share a common theme: Laziness. No joke. Every single gift I got from my friends emphasized a different component of my newly developed I’m-Indifferent-To-Life complex. The first one being: Social Laziness. I ripped the tissue paper off a wine glass that said, “I will never be drunk enough to like you.” Then, the second one: Professional Laziness. I uncovered a T-shirt that said, “I hate my job.” (My friend would defend this purchase by saying, “You know, you like writing. But you always hate your actual job…that’s why I got it. Don’t hate me.”) And finally, the third: Hygienic Laziness. Another T-shirt that said, “Straight ‘Outta Bed”, in the style of “Straight ‘Outta Compton”…

I remember sitting there, in a pile of I-could-care-less-about-everything-and-you paraphernalia and wondering: Wow, is my lethargy THAT obvious? I really thought I was doing a good job at faking an interest in being a functioning adult…

Which only led to more self-conscious thoughts like: Maybe this is the year I finally cross over and become a full-fledged nihilist. I sleep next to a crusty bowl of yogurt every night. So. Yeah. I’m preeeeetty hedonistic…

Brief hiatus: Recently, at work, a customer mocked me to my face.

I was just trying to explain why her dumb ass gift-wrap was ringing up a dollar fifty instead of fifty cents—I know, right? God forbid she pay one fucking dollar more than what she initially expected. But anyway, I simply said, in a monotone voice, “This wrapping paper was originally three dollars, so like, you’re still getting the fifty percent off sale. It just wasn’t one of the dollar rolls. That’s why it’s ringing up this way.”

And I shit you not, she closed her eyes half-way, swayed her head around like she was trying to keep her balance, and made this weird monotone stoned-person voice as she restated what I’d said, “So like, you’re still getting the fifty percent off sale…Who’s your manager? Where’s a real worker?”

My jaw actually dropped. It took everything in me to not say: You presumptuous cunt—YES, SHE DESERVES EVERY CONSONANT AND VOWEL!—forgive my lack of enthusiasm. I’m not exactly happy about being overqualified, underpaid, and then constantly shit on because of trite crap, like your dying dream of getting gift-wrap for free. But I didn’t. I clenched my teeth. I hissed out a smile and directed her to a “real” worker, “The store manager is over there. Have a nice day.” *poop and sparkle emoji, bitch* (I now wear my “I hate my job” T-shirt underneath all my work clothes. I delude myself into believing that a world exists where I can rip off my work polo like superman and reveal who I truly am: I hate my job; I quit. Thank you for the gift of semi-liberation, Emily.)

Anyway, the whole point is, on top of my apathy—I. Am. So. Angry. At all times. I honestly believe my conscious effort to maintain a state of indifference is actually just my only alternative to not being in a constant state of rage. So yeah. 2016? Suck my dick. I don’t have the time or energy to contemplate resolutions, new beginnings, “looking forward” to a glittering something. Because, right now, my main focus is maintaining a certain level of cool—not ripping the first person to rub me the wrong way a new one, every second, of every day. Like: Don’t explode—be cool—don’t explode…

Well-meaning customers say, “Happy New Year!”

And I think,

I hope the sun explodes so I don’t have to.

Right before I smile and lie,

“You too!”

☁︎

2015 ended like this: Life sucks, guess I’ll wear a giant bow. I put the gaudy thing on my head and felt satisfied with myself for a whole two seconds. I strapped a sparkly pink purse shaped like a unicorn to my body and thought something insane like: Now I’m ready. I’m ready to be happy. Emily and I pre-gamed and watched Pippi Longstocking as we got nostalgic for A Little Princess. “Oh my god I loved that movie more than anything,” she said, “I think I’d cry if I watched it now.” And I said, “Dude, I was that girl. I daydreamed and made up stories all the time because the world felt so boring until I had time to rearrange it all inside my head.” Coincidentally, I said this as Pippi Longstocking punched the shit out of a dunce cap and, eventually, flew away from all her problems.

Later, at the bar, an acquaintance sat down next to me and asked, “How’ve you been Cat?” and with my social-filter worn thin by vodka I said, “You know. The standard. 100% indifferent to everything.” He said, “Same.” Then we giggled over Nihilist Arby’s tweets like: “Dildos, Arby’s, and the finality of death”, and “Your life will be forgotten, enjoy Arby’s”, and “Come to Arby’s and contemplate how old you’ve become”, and, finally, my personal favorite, “Pretend you’re not dying. There is no God, from Arby’s”. After that one, still laughing, I said, “What if that was how people capped off casual everyday statements? Like: Happy New Year, there is no God…Why is it so funny?! How did roast beef find nihilism?!” He laughs and I’m so glad he gets the joke. I’m so glad he’s got sleepy blue eyes that understand why I need this pillow-y dream called depression. I’m so glad that something about him reminds me of a Dalmatian Ty Beanie Baby…But—you can only be comfortably drunk and enjoying the company of a guy who actually appreciates you for so long before your vices sense your newfound fun and decide to disrupt everything via text:

Where are you?

The whole time I was thinking: Do not text back. It’s a trap. It’s always a trap.

But a knot in my gut—a reckless hope that maybe he was finally ready to be normal—had taken control of my thumbs and, suddenly, I’d started typing against my will: I’m at location A. Where are you?

Location B, he typed, About to go to location C. Who you with?

And drunk-me texted back, a little passive-aggressively: The world.

Which was a joke. Like, I was drunk—just being stupid. There was nothing to get. The whole conversation didn’t have to crumble because my drunk-self sent one text that didn’t make any sense…

What? He asked.

Do you want me to come to location C? I sent back.

Nope. He said.

And with that final ping-sounding rejection, I felt it coming. I was about to explode.

Why even text me? That’s idiotic. I sent.

And with every minute that went by without a response I was thinking: Be cool. Don’t explode. Do not explode. Be cool, be cool, be cool…But no, I violated the number one rule when communicating with unrequited crushes. I double, triple, quadruple, texted:

Why are you so mean to me?

What’s even the point?

*middle finger emoji*

☁︎

2016 started like this: I let forty-five minutes pass without an explanation, and during this time, I contemplated every awkward situation, every weird and confusing position, this guy has put me in. All the times he’s told me to do one thing, and then just as quickly said, Wait no, don’t. Literally. One time he texted me verbatim: Come over, I’m sleeping. Which is practically the equivalent of saying: Come over, I’m not home. Like, I don’t know what you want from me dude. You’re going to have to be a little more explicit. Or. Just. You know. Don’t contact me at all…

I recounted all the times I flat out asked him to just give it to me straight, to say something cut and dry, like: I just don’t like you that way. How he refused to do it, because surely, I was an ego boost that felt really good whenever he was alone—Why give that up if you don’t have to? I count the times I’ve told him, “If you don’t really want anything to do with me, seriously, just leave me alone.” Like, honestly. Don’t contact me. Please. I’m begging you: IGNORE ME HARDER. But he won’t. Instead he continues to ruin my fun, through his fucking cellphone.

How selfish. How calculated. How fucking mean. And I know you can’t control people. I know there’s nothing you can do to change them. But fuck, I thought, so what if he’s emotionally impenetrable, so what if it won’t change anything—It’ll feel so good—for me—to say what I think…

And suddenly, I had one resolution: Explode on this motherfucker.

I put it into action. I typed it all out:

I’m trying to figure out all the ways to tell you to fuck off, but seriously, fuck off. Do not talk to me. At all. For any reason. I don’t like you at all as a person, and you are exactly who I thought you were. So. Just leave me alone. Fuck off.

And the moment I hit send, I smiled like a maniac because: I was so relieved.

Don’t get me wrong; I was still miserable as fuck for the rest of the night. One poor guy almost got caught in the crossfire. He approached me, moments after the big send-off, saying, “You’re too beautiful to be so sad.” Which, lucky for him, my friend noticed my head spinning around like the exorcist and intervened before I got the chance to rip his face off. “No…that’s okay. We’re good,” she said.

Another person said, “Don’t worry, you’ll find someone.” And I know this consolation was supposed to be a nice gesture, but I couldn’t help but totally bristle at it. Because, like, I really couldn’t give a flying fuck whether or not I “find someone”. I just want evasive jerks to leave me alone. Or, you know, for someone to match my sincerity instead of taking advantage of it for a change. *resting bitch face*

I was relieved, but I was also exhausted.

All I wanted was to be alone…

And then I heard that un-holy ping of my phone. Apparently my “fuck off” explosion had provoked a response, the message said: Come to location C. Please.

“Is this a joke?”

I responded: No.

⭐︎

When I finally got home, I looked in the mirror and checked the symmetry of my face to make sure it was still there: Too beautiful to be so sad. I thought in response: Yeah, that’s what they all say: “Too beautiful, too beautiful…” What the fuck is my life? Am I Effy Stonem on a bad trip in the woods? Am I that sick in the head? That desperate? Startling the nearest “nice guy” awake by screaming, “Hit me! I want to feel something!”? Getting reprimanded like: “Too pretty for your own good, that’s why you destroy everything you touch”? Ugh. Fuck off. Quit bringing peoples’ faces into this. It doesn’t matter how beautiful you are, people still treat you like shit. You’re still always going to be enchanted by the one person who refuses to see you…

I crawled into bed, my makeup still on and already irritating my skin—but I didn’t care. My mind was finally shutting up and all I can remember is the last thing I heard, right before drifting off to sleep for the first time in 2016…All I remember hearing is Lana Del Rey’s sad-siren voice, brainwashing me: You’re my cult leader / I love you forever / I love you forever…

☁︎

I feel really out of control when it comes to pretty much everything in my life. Can’t you tell? Isn’t it obvious? Good. I’m over pretending. I’m over smiling and saying, “Have a nice day.” Because it’s not nice at all, it’s actually like this: There is no God. Enjoy your roast beef sandwich.

Just kidding.

Sort of.

I don’t know.

I’m just so sick of being treated like I’m light and silly.

Like I’m air:

Where’s a real worker?

Do you want to see me?

Nope.

Every single external aspect of me is a conscious effort to not be perceived as light and silly. Armor against my reality: I am naturally inclined to see you before me; one of those girls who says her pain’s a two when it’s actually a ten, because—I don’t want to discredit whatever level yours might be. In a word, I am Vulnerable. Extremely susceptible to the whims and charms of anyone who lacks a moral compass that only comes by being acutely self-aware.

Therefore I wear black to seem more intimidating—boots and high top sneakers to disrupt my obvious femininity. I try to be as thin as my health will allow because bone visibility implies that I am not afraid to go without: Hold me around the middle and comment on how small I am. See? I don’t want anything from you. You make no difference to me. I keep quiet in numbers—around anyone I don’t know intimately. Playing stoic is my go-to defense because the moment I open my mouth, I blush or I stutter. I apologize. I punctuate every statement with, “It’s stupid. I know it’s so stupid.” Everyone will find out that I’m scared shitless of what they think.

Ugh.

Constantly I’m wondering how I can think so much and still have nothing to say…still feel as if I have nothing to offer…

Yes. Parts of me are light and silly: I try not to take myself so seriously. I try to laugh everything off because: It’s okay. If it’s okay for me, then maybe it’ll be okay for you. And when I let go enough to reveal this part of me it means I trust you; it means I’m going to try my hardest to only see the best in you. But what you don’t seem to understand is that, my doing this is not an invitation to take me for granted; to rationalize my existence as being less real than your own. It’s not an invitation to trap me in a box marked “EASY”—to force me into something that is all yours for the taking and leaving…

I’m light and silly, but there’s depth to me too.

Quit trapping me in boxes…never mind, fuck it, I’ll do it to myself.

I have no control over anything.

Box me up.

☁︎

New Years Day: I met a self-described “mystical” gay man who could tell I had a tilted uterus just by looking into my eyes. (This is not a joke. I am not making this up. This happened. Nobody believes me! But this shit happened.) He looked at me and said, “Honey, you have a bad uterus.”

I quickly shielded my pelvis from his third eye, “Excuse me?! What?!” Which is actually a really polite response considering he was a bug-eyed stranger making bold statements about my reproductive system.

You’re uterus,” he emphasized, keeping a straight face without losing the sass, “Is tilted.”

I glanced around the room to make sure no one was around to watch me take him seriously. “Are you psychic or something?” I asked, inching in closer, “Because—I do, I do have a tilted uterus.” (I know this because my gynecologist can never find it, which is awkward as fuck…)

“Yes,” he said, “I am.”

So matter of fact.

Like dude, you can’t just walk around telling women their uteruses suck! Control yourself! Unless, of course, the woman you’re talking to is me, in which case…

“Tell me more!”

I pulled up a stool and he made me look into his eyes, which, I know—I totally know—he was so fucking with me. He was totally going to speak in absolutes and trick me into believing that he was unraveling my “special” fate and not just some variation of everyone’s shitty reality; a series of verbal placebos…But I couldn’t help myself. I needed to feel as if I had some semblance of a grasp on my future—no matter how phony—and he knew it.

So.

Tell me more.

“The person you’ve been thinking about,” he said, “You don’t want him. You think you do, but you don’t.”

“Oh my god, I fucking hope not,” I said, a little too quickly, right before I consciously shut up. I reigned myself back in. I didn’t want to reveal too much by mistake; I wanted to test how good this guy was at his whole pseudo-psychic-messes-with-a-gullible-girl front. So I collected myself, “Good—I mean—I could have told you that. But good. I know I don’t want him.”

“But you do want him,” he said, rolling his eyes, “At least you think you do.”

“Well, I figured I’d just wait it out. So—so what? You can want something but also know you don’t really want it. I’m just waiting it out. Does it really matter if I ‘think’ I want him?”

“Yes because you think you can handle any man—you’re very tame in the sense that, when you’re done, you’re done…but him, you can’t handle. Trust me. You’re not going to see it coming…”

Um is it just me, or did shit just get dark?

“What do you mean by that?” I asked.

“You think you can tell what a lot of people are going to do before they do it, and most of the time you can. So you put your intuition on hold in favor of experiencing new things and understanding people who aren’t like you, but…you can’t do that with him. Trust your gut; everything you’ve been wondering about him is correct. If you want proof, you’re not dumb, do your research.

When he said “do your research” he did that sassy dismissive thing, like snapping your fingers in someone’s face without actually making them snap. Then he took a very satisfied sip from his drink as if life were a meme and he was Kermit, drinking Truth Tea: That guy you crushin’ on is Satan…it’s none of my business though…

“You’re going to have to be more specific,” I said, “Like…what is it that I’ve been wondering about him that’s true?”

“That…” He took a minute to gaze into my “soul” before he continued, “He has a lot of rage, and…” he trailed off as if he were trying to think of the right word, but then he just kind of settled. With the energy of a deflating balloon he finished his thought, “Sadness.”

Vague. But. Okay.

“Yeah, well, everyone has their shit,” I said, trying not to make eye contact.

“But you don’t!” He said, “You see and appreciate more than a lot of people; you have depth but you’re not angry about it…he’s not what you want. It makes sense that you’d want to lose yourself in an opposite, but, at the same time, you’re good and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

My eyes averted like: Who is this strange man sipping Grey Goose and spewing deep truths in downtown Jamestown? Like: No. Go home. You are fucking with me. Why does this always happen? Why am I so receptive and gullible? Now I’m going to analyze this conversation for days. I’m going to wonder, on and on; all because some guy took a chance and used a statistic he found on Google—Fun fact: 30% of women have tilted uteruses—to his advantage. I’m going to keep asking myself over and over: Why do my feelings never match up with what I think or what I want?

My eyes moved to the floor, I didn’t want to give away my obvious state of confliction, that I’d heard some truth in what he’d said. I was about to say: Thank you for confirming that I’m as out of control of my own life as I think I am—Happy New Year.

But before I could, he changed the whole game. He quickly added, “It’s your choice though. Everything’s your choice.”

☁︎

After that whole weird exchange, I kept contemplating clichés about lightness and darkness: You can put the light in the dark but you can’t put the dark in the light. I typed out melodramatic prose with the notepad on my iPhone: “Being with you is like being trapped in a dark box; I don’t know whether left is right or right is left. I can’t climb my way out; there are four walls and nothing to grab onto; there’s nothing to look at and there’s no easy way out. All I can do is keep clawing at the first wall I make contact with, keep clawing until shit gets so worn out that something’s either got to give or…”

I gave up typing.

I didn’t know who or what I was writing about and that’s the whole problem. It’s the inverse of “like a moth to a flame”—How do I describe it? Does that image exist? It’s not the light—some concrete thing—that I’m being drawn to. It’s the dark-nothing I’m being forced into. The best image I can come up with is a black hole, or a sinkhole. Just, everything suddenly caving in beneath my feet; slipping into dark other-worlds and cutting real-life like cutting college classes; some real soul-sucking loopholes: Alcohol? The evasive jerk of the week? The four collaged walls of my childhood bedroom?

I don’t know what I want.

This is always when the trouble starts.

When I don’t know what I want, I start setting my mind’s phasers to: SELF-DESTRUCT. When there’s nothing to want, nothing real to be drawn to, I allow myself to get all sucked up in the exact opposite of what I need. I make prisons out of people and places and things. Like, I must be wildly unhappy with myself. Otherwise I wouldn’t be so complacent with being forced into this thing that’s not even a thing. But, god, it’s so G.D. comfortable at the bottom of a sinkhole where there’s nothing to lose; where everything’s always going deeper and deeper, and getting darker and darker, and you can pretend the whole world’s in your orbit. Where dreams can circle round your head and you don’t have to sacrifice any of them because—they’re not tangible. You haven’t even tried traveling to them yet. You can put the light in the dark but you can’t put the dark in the light: Fuck, I love the dark so much. I could quietly burn away in it forever, until natural causes snuffed me out…

But. 

I don’t want to live a life like that!

Not really!

I don’t want to be boxed away forever! 

I’ve got to claw my way out. But knowing this doesn’t change the fact that getting out is going to be painful as hell. It doesn’t change the fact that whatever’s on the other side might not be any better than all the nothing I’m leaving behind…

“It’s your choice…everything’s your choice.”

Goddam you, Psychic!!! I was so happy being indifferent and engaging in 0 self-reflection before you guessed the correct position of my uterus.

See, I forget all the time that we can change—that we have some control over our futures. I forget that it’s easy to point at some trite list of misfortunes and say, This is why I can’t do A, B, C, D… It’s easy to do that, and it’s hard to actually bite the bullet, to wake up and do things that might actually make a difference.

All the time I hear myself saying: I can’t leave this place that I hate, filled with people I don’t respect, where I don’t fit in, because I’m over my head in student debt and I’m poor. I say: I’ll never get paid to write what I want because I’m not affluent, so, who would want me? What grad school, what publisher, what credible platform with any real literary pull, would ever want borderline anonymous Catherine Olson from Jamestown, New York? Sounds like a liability. I’d rather drive in circles. I’d rather keep singing along: “It’s so easy in this blue where everything is good…”

I know the resolution’s simple.

We can change.

It’s our choice.

But…

But what?!

What do I want?

☁︎

01/07/2016: I really suck at writing endings lately because the first ending I wrote for this post read like a fucking sitcom—which just isn’t me. See, I don’t believe in fate, but I’d like to say, “everything happens for a reason”, and “I feel so lucky to have a heart that can be broken”, and “my resolution is to finally start wanting what’s good for me” but—that would just be one long string of bullshit, and I wouldn’t feel good writing any of it.

Some stuff happens and it’s just shitty for no reason. Actually, all bad things that happen are absolutely pointless and accidental; a sick joke. Or, in another sick twisted way, they’re not accidental at all. Sometimes you stick your toe in a sinkhole that you totally saw coming and say, “Whoopsi!” as you fall. Like you weren’t totally planning to make a cozy prison out of the bottom, like you weren’t totally waiting for some opportune trauma to come along and distract you from figuring out what’s actually hurting you and holding you back in the first place.

And what’s holding me back?

The fact that I love this rundown place that is my home: I love these roads where the houses don’t change. I love how the other night I was at a college-kid apartment with a drawer full of plastic forks. How we ate Kraft mac ‘n cheese mixed with pepper jack and drank peach whiskey straight from the bottle as my could-have-been high school sweetheart swatted at an overhanging wire like a giant kitten. How water-damaged joker cards littered the coffee table like an ill-fated tarot reading. How all the guys here have dirt or oil beneath their fingernails, how they’re all masculine to the point of toxicity; callous rage-filled types who drive big trucks and think I’m pretty but will never be well-read enough to love me back. How easy it is to be detached here, how easy it is because real life is always happening elsewhere, how this makes us all act frozen and manifests a kind of grittiness that we can’t seem to wash off no matter where we go. How it makes me feel like I’m trapped in a frayed box that was used and kicked to the curb by the real world one too many times…

My cozy dark prison is my home and I know it’s never going to love me back. All the potholes—the dead hard ground—the kitchen floors boasting detritus…none of it’s ever going to love me back, because, it’s fucking detritus—it can’t feel for shit. But god, these ordinary things break my heart in a way that leaves me nuzzling them at all of the rough spots. This place is mental illness and I’m nothing but a lovesick bitch for it, consciously avoiding it and telling it to fuck off a thousand times over. Always running right back to it the moment it starts calling at three in the morning…

Come over, I’m dreaming.

I guess my resolution is to never stop taking the ugly—painfully ordinary—things that happen to me and turning them into something meaningful, to never stop rearranging them in a way that looks beautiful and worthwhile. To never stop making sense of this life that I believe is utterly senseless; a big dumb joke in which I just roll with the punches and mock everything in a way that only a poet can…

As for what I want? I’d like to say that I want to start wanting what’s good for me. But. What’s good for me? I can’t tell. I just know I want 2016 to be a year of actually doing something—no more dreaming! I want 2016 to be a year of saying, “fuck off” to this place for the last time, and then, maybe, finally, actually, clawing my way out…

 

Confessions of a Voluntary Misfit: High School and Friendship and that “Left Out” Shit

high school angst2“In adolescents, the need to break away from the past is as powerful as the drive to reproduce the species.” –Joyce Carol Oates, “What Sin to Me Unknown”

I’ve been itching to write about high school and friendship because the signs that say: This. Essay. Needs. To. Happen. Seem to be cropping up everywhere—Poems written by Thirteen-Year-Old-Me have surfaced. Last year, a childhood friend simultaneously complimented and insulted me. A few months ago, the guy I pined for my entire freshman year pulled my hair. This time last week, a bitch waved at me…See, I’ve been avoiding this topic because I know it’s going to get ugly—as dealings of the teenage heart often do—and I don’t want to offend anyone. I don’t want to rehash old wounds and put a damper on anyone’s newfound “maturity”. I want to be what the real housewives call the “bigger” person. I want to rationalize everyone’s shitty behavior and say: It probably wasn’t as bad as I remembered. *phony laughter* We’re so grown up now! Let’s talk like we’re 40 even though we’re actually 23! Let’s pretend like high school wasn’t five minutes ago! *rainbows, butterflies, poop emoji*

But then I came across that poem written by Thirteen-Year-Old-Me, titled, “Mom, I’m Fine. Just Leave Alone in My Room to Die.” and I had a rude awakening—it was definitely as bad as I remembered.

The poem was about being alone in my room on a Friday night while everyone else was accumulating the inside jokes that would eventually decorate their AIM profiles and leave me with that nauseating “left out” feeling. At first, Now-Me found the whole thing hilarious. Like: That title is melodramatic as fuck and those closing lines are just tragic. (I wish I was joking, but the closing lines went: “Lie on my bedroom floor / sing to the cat / yeah my life is basically kind of like that.”) However, after laughing, I got this horrible sinking feeling for Thirteen-Year-Old-Me because Now-Me realized that her memories of being left out were real—the evidence was in my hands, straight from the shitty poem writing horse’s pen, circa 2005.

I shoved the notebook back into the dusty bookshelf from whence it came and tried to forget about it.

But I couldn’t forget about it.

All I could think about was high school and friendship and that “left out” shit—imaginary social divisions and random acts of teenage cruelty. Then all these unwanted interactions with people I hoped I would never see again happened, and I thought about it all even more: Leaving dances early, switching lunch tables, faking sick four times a month, loyalty as an endangered principle, critical thinking as the greatest threat, frequency of text messages as validation, everyone deriving false confidence from the misguided certainty that they know more about you than you…I don’t want to put a damper on anyone’s newfound “maturity” but I’m going to.

I’m going to write about high school and friendship. I’m going to rehash old wounds, and if that makes me the “lesser” person, so be it. I don’t care. The number one rule for writing personal essays—don’t be the hero—says I should be the lesser person anyway. So fuck it. This is my chance to be the exact opposite of the hero, the anti-hero. I’m the Walter White of this essay and I don’t care because what I’m really trying to say is: I don’t forgive you.

☁︎

“You’re really pretty now.” Someone I knew from high school said that shit to my face. And. I. Just. Froze. Like: Excuse me? Now? It’s the kind of compliment that leaves you feeling mugged. One that brings back all the insecurity you felt in the years leading up to it. You ask yourself: If what she said is supposed to be nice then why do I feel like punching her in the face? Oh, because it was actually a really rude thing to say, and this person wasn’t always very nice to you—especially when it came to your appearance and clothes. That’s why.

“You’re really pretty now.”

I smile and say thank you through clenched teeth because I’m as twofaced as everyone said I was in middle school—I can’t wait to turn around and complain about this to my real friends.

Then she says something mildly surprising, “You know, I feel kind of bad whenever I see you…” I’m about to renew my faith in humanity if the next thing to come out of her mouth is an apology, but it’s not. It’s this:

“I feel kind of bad whenever I see you because everything is so different in high school. You know. There’s just this way of thinking in high school that says: This person is this way, and that person is that way…”

It’s a non-apology just like the first thing she said to me was a non-compliment. It’s saying sorry without actually saying sorry, like being nice without actually being nice. She thinks she’s leveling out the playing field. She’s saying because I was different from her in high school she was never obligated to be decent to me. She’s not saying sorry. She’s saying: That’s just the way things were. No hard feelings, right?

 And. It. Makes. Me. Livid.

I resist the urge to say: No. I don’t know what you’re talking about. I resist the urge to ask: Am I really pretty now? Or were you just never looking at me correctly? Have you ever considered that maybe your view of the world has always been majorly fucked up? Have you ever considered any perspective beyond your own? Maybe it’s not your place to decide what beauty is and isn’t. Maybe I don’t need to hear that you think I’m pretty now.

I resist the urge to say anything. I just smile and nod knowingly. I play dumb like I always do. We hug and she walks away with a clear conscience. I let her have that reassurance because I know something that she doesn’t know—How beautiful it is to be misunderstood. Like: Thank you for contributing to the social anxiety that has made me the steadfast, self-aware, and perceptive person that I am. I wish you well, but I don’t forgive you.

☁︎

There’s an episode of HBO’s Girls where Adam takes off into the woods for an impromptu hike and in response Hannah just flops on the ground and says, “It’s really liberating to say no to shit you hate. So you go ahead. You live your truth. I’ll be here, living my truth.” I love that scene because, even though it’s just one more example of Hannah’s unwavering laziness, it emphasizes a power that everyone seems to become conscious of in their twenties: The ability to say no to shit you hate.

Want to work a double tonight? Nope. Would you like an Adderall? Not really. Want to engage in a stimulating conversation about music with hipsters? Trick question: Nah. Netflix and chill? [No response.] Are you going to wave back to that girl who was supposed to be your friend but then put your sex life on blast in her AIM profile when you were in 10th grade and, apparently, has the nerve to act like it never happened? Fuck. No.

I see you waving and all I see is, Go suck another fat kid’s dick, written in tiny black Arial font and highlighted in aqua. You’re waving at me and saying my name in a voice that’s one too many octaves above natural. Go suck another fat kid’s dick. I wasn’t a role model, and I never claimed to be one. I wasn’t some blank template for you and everyone else to project their weird ideals of virtue onto. I wasn’t even a hypocrite. Go suck another fat kid’s dick. I was a teenager, just like you—eager, impulsive, confused, human. I was a girl who didn’t deserve what happened because none of us did, or do, and you know it. Go suck another fat kid’s dick. That’s all I see when I see you.

You’re waving at me and saying my name in a voice that’s one too many octaves above natural. You’re trying to pretend like you didn’t urge anyone to ostracize me six years ago. You’re trying to pretend like we were always friends and it never made you happy to watch me fuck up—like you weren’t always rooting for me to fail.

I see you and I don’t have the energy to wave back to you, not anymore. You have to understand that there are some wounds that are too deep. Too real. A big smile and a friendly wave won’t mend them. It’s as simple as this: I’m sad because you hurt me. I’m angry because you’re trying to act like my pain and what you did to inflict it was never real. I don’t understand your sudden and aggressive acts of kindness, and I won’t respond to them.

I see you waving and I’m going to walk right past you.

It’s really liberating to say no to shit you hate.

☁︎

About a week after my college graduation, I went to drink with some guy-friends from high school. The group was small and everyone there was someone that I still consider a friend—people I care about and genuinely like—with the exception of one person…

“Cat Olson?! Where the fuck have you been?”

My brain panicked as it scanned his face and gathered the details: He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, 1st Asshole you ever liked, sat at your lunch table freshman year, picked apart your physical characteristics daily, once feigned affection for you just to prove you had a crush on him, constantly used you to make other girls jealous, always smelled really good; thank god his hairline’s receding…

I thought: I can do this. I can be civil. It’s okay. Just don’t smell him.

But it was not okay because twenty minutes later he pulled my hair, like full on grabbed my messy bun and tugged the shit out of it. He pulled so hard I had no choice but to lurch backward. He did it just because. Toddler’s logic, like: I see something I want to touch and not only am I going to touch it, I’m going to wreck it. And I don’t know if it was the beer, or feminism, or the infantile stupidity of his action, but like a reflex I stood up and screamed: “YOU DON’T GET TO TOUCH ME NOW!”

And the look of shock on his face somehow made me angrier, like: Doesn’t this dude understand that when you pull someone’s hair, that shit hurts? Didn’t any of us realize in high school that there are people, just as real as ourselves, on the other end of our actions—on the other end of our cell phones and computers and fingers and words? Did anyone realize this before the age of 20?! Because that look of shock on people’s faces whenever somebody gets upset has me wondering if nobody did, and some people never do.

When you pull someone’s hair, that shit hurts.

Now face it motherfucker.

☁︎

I should probably say that I was severely depressed in high school—the real kind, the diagnosed kind. And I know it’s unfair to blame that on anyone, or even to say: I just wish someone had noticed. Especially when I didn’t even know I was depressed—at least not until my senior year. It’s unfair. I know it’s so unfair. And I know my anger seems so trite like: Why the fuck are you holding onto this shit? But it’s just—I really wanted and needed friends. Girlfriends. Real friends. The kind that just wanted to do dumb shit and laugh about it; the kind that said I love you and I’m sorry and were sincere.

I didn’t have that.

I didn’t have some band of girlfriends that I’d known since I was twelve validating my existence and reinforcing my every choice and opinion, or even wanting to compare schedules with me. For the most part, I took on everyday alone—my likes and dislikes, my interests, my classes, music, fashion, makeup, boys, heartbreak…I trudged and waded through all that bullshit and figured out who I was on my own.

And on some level, this is my fault: I’m a misfit who chose to be a misfit. But on another level, I also know, I was very earnest in high school—very willing to forgive and love and apologize to anyone who demonstrated some semblance of respect for me.

I have to stand my ground and say: I know I’m not perfect, but I’m a really decent person at heart.

I don’t think my memories of being mistreated are inaccurate.

I don’t think my anger is misguided.

I’m tired of rationalizing everyone else’s shitty behavior.

☁︎

When I was thirteen I wrote: “There’s nothing but outdated earth behind me.” And I find it kind of hilarious, like: Who the fuck did I think I was, Thoreau? But I also find it surprising. I find it surprising that, at that age, I understood that there’s so much more to life than this—Jamestown and its weird social hierarchies, its prejudices and aversions to anything new or honest or real.

Like goddam, life isn’t high school!

Just because you’re in what everyone likes to call “dumb” classes, doesn’t mean you’re not intelligent. Just because people make snide comments about your clothes, doesn’t mean you don’t look good. Just because you’re quiet and mousey, doesn’t mean you’re not listening, that you’re not there! People can talk all they want but They. Don’t. Know. They don’t know more about you than you. If they don’t “get” you one day, that doesn’t mean they won’t absolutely want to someday. And when that day comes, don’t kill them with kindness; just totally annihilate them with the truth. You’ll be so far ahead that it won’t even matter, there’ll be nothing to lose, like: Nobody can touch me now…

Confession: I was listening to a lot of My Chemical Romance when I wrote this.

I looked up the music video for “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” and felt the rage. There’s just something about Gerard Way wailing I’M NOT OKAY!!!!!! in, what appears to be, a steadily increasing fever that makes you want to go back in time and walk the fuck out on every math teacher that had the nerve to publicly underestimate you. (Mr. Salvaggio, what’s good?!) I seriously think, in retrospect, that the greasy kids who shoved paper clips through their earlobes and got kicked out of class constantly were doing something right—God bless them, every single one.

But my point is: Where would all the voluntary misfit girls of the 2000’s be without My Chemical Romance’s honesty?!?! I was fourteen when Gerard Way first said, “I’m not okay,” And. It. Was. So. Vindicating. Enough of that I’m okay bullshit, I’m not okay. I’m not O-fucking-kay. You wear me ouuuuuuuuuut…He said it, and he looked it, and it was awesome. We needed that! Then MCR’s single “Sing” came out in 2010 and I realized that I’m a major sucker for artists who root for the underdog because one of the song’s lyrics are: Girl, you’ve got to be what tomorrow needs, and it’s lame, and I’m corny, but I find that shit so inspiring. Be what tomorrow needs.

The voluntary misfit girls of tomorrow don’t need our good vibes-bigger person-I’m so mature now-bullshit. They need the truth. They need what’s real, and what’s weird, and what hurts. They need all that with a little bit of hope at the end. Because when I was 13, 14, 15, 16, 17… I needed My Chemical Romance. I needed Harry Potter and Sloane Crosley and Lady Gaga and The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath. I needed Taylor Swift to embarrass the fuck out of John Mayer by putting his name in a song. I needed someone to be honest—I’m not okay. I’m not o-fucking-kay. These things and their creators, they were what tomorrow needed! So just:

Sing it for the boys
Sing it for the girls
Every time that you lose it sing it for the world
Sing it from the heart
Sing it til’ you’re nuts
Sing it out for the ones that’ll hate your guts
Sing it for the deaf
Sing it for the blind
Sing about everyone that you left behind…

Bottom line: If you have the guts to go above and beyond what Today expects, some people just aren’t going to understand you. Some people are even going to hate you. But that’s okay. All it means is that you’re doing something right. Like Emerson said—To be great is to be misunderstood—you’re doing what it takes to be great.

☁︎

A few days ago I ran into a girl I knew from middle school and high school. This girl and I were never really friends. I mean, we just never knew each other very well. She ran with a clique that wasn’t always the nicest or most inclusive, so I could kind of feel myself approaching the conversation with a level of passive-aggression that I’m not entirely proud of. But whatever.

She was talking about how she’d studied abroad when she said something along the lines of, “You know, I was kind of nervous about going away. About being out of the loop here, for that long.”

And I just shrugged my shoulders and said, “Well, I mean, I don’t know. I was never really in the loop, so I don’t know what it’s like to worry about that. Like, honestly, I never really felt like I fit in.”

I didn’t mean it maliciously. Of all the run-ins with people from high school that I’ve described, this was the first one where I didn’t mean for anything to be malicious. I said what I said as a matter of fact. I said it because it felt good to say.

“See,” she said, “that’s so sad.”

And in my dream-like, vodka-induced, state I could practically feel the stars aligning in my eyes as I said, “Actually, it’s not. I feel kind of lucky.” *sparkles, glitter, Britney Spears*

I just realized in that moment that this girl is nostalgic for high school in a way that I will never be, and maybe that’s not such a bad thing. I mean, I think I already knew this. I think I already knew I would never be nostalgic for high school because when I was in high school I was constantly nostalgic for…something more, something else:

I wish I could explain myself.
I wanted to melt into school walls
rather than shed tears on my silk dresses.
I wanted to be a part of your shiny floors
but I liked corners
and feeling nostalgic for the life of someone else.
I count on you all way too much.

Go away.

I wrote that shortly after high school graduation, and it’s pretty clear that I had this dire need to get the fuck out. High school, this place, these people, it was all holding me back from something more. And weirdly, I still wanted so badly to be a part of it: I wanted to melt into school walls…I wanted to be a part of your shiny floors. But it all went completely against my nature—I liked corners, dammit! Gimme that dunce cap and I’ll rock it like a crown. This is my space now, go away. I don’t forgive you!

No. Nostalgia for high school is a nostalgia I’ll never experience because I think, in high school, I was always nostalgic for the life that I’m leading, and the person that I am, right now. I’ve got a healthy sense of humor. I dress like the bad bitch I always knew I was. I have girlfriends who I love because they like to laugh and fuck up and then laugh some more—they give no shits about what anyone thinks and they never laugh behind my back. I have a boyfriend who reads as much as I do and never makes me feel as if my eccentricities are something to be ashamed of—not even my random feminist outbursts. I might not be rich, but I’m getting by. And no matter what happens, I’m going to be fine because I’ll always have writing to come home to. I’ll always have an endless imagination to get me through dark times because, even though I know what it’s like to be hopeless and angry, even though I’m hardwired for depression, at my core there is so much joy.

HASHTAG BLESSED MOTHERBITCHES!

I Got Attacked By a Demon in My Sleep (a.k.a. I’m an artsy millennial with a dream and a degree and no money and I hate corporate America and it’s all really stressing me out but #YOLO)

About a month ago, I woke up around 3 AM to find that I couldn’t breathe or move and one of ram man2-3my arms had gone completely numb. The whole thing felt like some crazy attack with no source—I was being attacked by nothing. However, that didn’t make the situation any less terrifying, and the entire time I had this desperate feeling like getting out of my room was my only chance of survival. Which—I know—makes 0 sense. No one dies from choking on air.

But regardless, with what felt like a last ditch effort, I somehow managed to drag my lifeless body from my bed. Then, I stood in total darkness, swaying for a good two minutes with my one numb arm flopping around and trying to catch my breath. (I imagine from a surveillance camera eye’s view this probably looked like some kind of attack from the other side. Like, I was that chick Katie from Paranormal Activity and this was the beginning stage of my possession—the one right before I start inexplicably watching my parents sleep for 3 hours every night in a trancelike state. This is all hypothetical, of course.)

Once I realized my lungs were working, still in my half-asleep state, I clawed my way through the house, switching on every light as I went, and made myself a bowl of Greek yogurt because…the subconscious wants what it wants after a long night of simulated near death experiences? I have no fucking clue.

But, after that, I went back to bed, and right before I fell completely asleep again I dreamt (hallucinated?) that I could see the silhouette of a large bulky man with the head of a ram staring at me sideways from across the room—like he was curious about me, or waiting for me…

Either way.

It. Was. So. Fucking. Creepy.

So the next day I decided to Google: Is it normal to wake up gasping for air?

The first link to pop up directed me to a question forum like Yahoo Answers, but sketchier, and I read a response that was like: OMG! I STARTED WAKING UP NOT ABLE TO BREATHE OR MOVE AND I’D HAVE THIS WEIRD DREAM ABOUT A SCARY DEMON THING CRUSHING MY CHEST. I DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT INCUBUS ATTACKS UNTIL THIS HAPPENED BUT THEY ARE REAL!!!!! I SEARCHED THEM AND ALL THE IMAGES THAT CAME UP LOOK JUST LIKE THE THING I SAW ON MY CHEST! OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!

God dammit! I thought.

Like, I just wanted to know if I should go see a doctor. But then my curiosity became unbearable, so I Googled: Incubus Attacks, and clicked on, Images. And I’ll admit, it was kind of jarring to find tons of depictions from different cultures, religions, and time periods, that all showed the exact same ram-man as the one in my dream.

I had always assumed that my “Ram-Man” nightmares had to do with being raised Christian and, from a psychological standpoint, were just a manifestation of my own, personal, childhood fears. I never once thought that this was a nightmare that thousands of people across time and space, from secular to various religious upbringings, had experienced. But after surfing the Internet, I found myself in a state of Google-induced paranoia that had me believing the Ram-Man was embedded in the human collective subconscious. I couldn’t decide if this made me feel better or worse, so I proceeded to educate myself in the ridiculous subject that is “Incubus Attacks” in hopes of finding a more practical explanation for my sleeping problems.

Apparently an Incubus Attack is when a person wakes up to find that they are being held down and sexually assaulted by a demon—this is my lazy, amateur, explanation, but—for real though—people actually believe in this shit.

One article I read was like: Ghost Sex: Could aliens be responsible? While another article went in a less speculative direction and was more reprimanding, saying verbatim: “If you’re reading this, you probably clicked on this link looking to learn more about Incubus Attacks for impure reasons. (You must stop making contact with the devil!) If you are one of these people, somebody sent you here—a TV show, a book, a singing sorcerer…” I promptly spit out my coffee—a singing sorcerer. Seems legit. And finally, one article went as far as slut-shaming my brain by saying: “Basically if a person has a loose mind, one prone to fantasize and lacking in self-discipline, then that person [deserves to be raped by a demon in her sleep.]”

Seriously? A loose mind. Like sorry I’m not boring, bitch.

Meanwhile Science was just like: Stress.

Stress, anxiety, mental illness, repressed memories…these are the real culprits behind sleep paralysis, otherwise known as “Incubus Attacks”, and the two groups most susceptible to these culprits are people in their twenties and the elderly—two stages in life when humans are most directly confronted with the unknown. Therefore it would make sense that sometimes, our waking minds, so overwhelmed with the reality of our impending futures or impending deaths, would conjure up a physical manifestation of everything we can’t explain—at least not yet.

The truth might be underwhelming, and infinitely less fantastical, but I went to college. I got a degree in Shakespeare and defamiliarization and carefully crafted sentences. I understand literary theory. I can’t watch a movie or read a book or even have a basic human interaction without turning it into some kind of analysis. I spent the past five years obtaining a $60,000 brain that I can’t afford and, who am I now?

A clumsy waitress at a yacht club for the overly privileged and mostly delusional; for all the pretend commodores of imaginary ships—people who would gladly have me thrown out to sea because, god forbid they receive one complimentary dessert instead of two. No wonder I wake up in the middle of the night completely convinced that I’m drowning. This cannot be your destiny. That is what the Ram-Man is trying to tell me. Wake up! He says. Do something! But I can’t move because he’s the unknown and he’s in the room and I don’t know what to make of him or anything.

☁︎

When did the future switch from being a promise to being a threat? Seth of Chuck Palaniuk’s Invisible Monsters writes this thought on a shabby post card and sends it sailing through Seattle to nowhere in particular. And now I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s such a simple sentiment, but I can’t stop wondering: When did the future become a threat? It’s like I spent my entire childhood and adolescence promising myself: Someday, Someday… And now, Someday is To-day, and I’m still trying to figure out a game plan. Like, I haven’t even gotten to the putting-plans-into-action part yet, and it’s making me reckless in my decisions. Shit, everyone knows that recklessness rarely ever leads to success.

Or maybe it does.

I don’t know. It’s like this: Someday has become Today, and with Today I have this anxiety that, at any moment, it’ll turn into Yesterday. Yesterday meaning that, I blew it. Nothing turned out the way I’d hoped and I’m a total failure. So in some ways, I’m just like: I might as well be reckless. Why waste time building a bridge when I can just jump off one or, even better, burn one? I want the applause, the approval, of things that make me go…

And now I’m just quoting Lorde lyrics.

But I’ll get to the point. This is how I hope things turn out, this is the summary of my dream—Someday I make a living writing whatever I want. No one tells me what to do, at least not in terms of what to think or how to be. Nothing would ever be a demand, only a suggestion. People would trust and respect my opinion because my books, or whatever, would be good enough to entitle me to that kind of power…

Do you have any idea how bat shit crazy this “dream” is?

I’m pretty sure only 1% of the population ever actually gets lucky in terms of making a living solely from their art, and who knows what percent of that 1% is comprised of writers. (Even less than one percent, that’s for sure.) Meanwhile, I’m just a speck in the 99% that is my competition.

And despite all that, I still keep promising myself: Someday, someday, because writing is the only good thing I’ve got.

At times, it feels awesome. Like I have this secret weapon—I can turn anyone who ever hurt me into a story or a joke or a lesson. I can say everything I’ve ever wanted to say, with tact. Nobody can interrupt me. Nobody can put me down half way through. It feels awesome. It feels so, so, awesome—sometimes.

But most times, it just feels like some kind of affliction. Like I’ll never not write. I’ll never not think so much that I need to get it out of my head before it’s gone. I’ll never stop hoping what I write will matter someday while also understanding that nothing really matters and it’s selfish to hope to matter anyway. Simultaneously narcissistic and self-aware. Hopelessly hopeful. Idealistic to the point of delusion and self-loathing and everyone-else-loathing—This is what it means to be a writer.

It sucks because it’s lonely.

I feel like an alien.

I feel like the oldest girl in the world to still believe in magic.

Doesn’t anyone else feel that, or am I really the ridiculous person I pretend to believe I am?

☁︎

Is now a good time to say that I hate corporate America? Ever since I got my writing degree I’ve learned to hate capitalism more and more everyday because of what it does to people like me—Artsy kids who don’t come from rich families. I think Bret Easton Ellis created a kind of allegory for what happens to artsy-kids-with-no-money in his novel, American Psycho, when Patrick Batemen—a character embodiment of all things capitalist and money hungry—says this:

“I have no patience for revelations, for new beginnings, for things that take place beyond the realm of my immediate vision. A young girl, a freshman, I met in a bar in Cambridge my junior year at Harvard told me early one fall that ‘Life is full of endless possibilities.’ I tried valiantly not to choke on the beer nuts I was chewing while she gushed this kidney stone of wisdom, and I calmly washed them down with the rest of a Heineken, smiled and concentrated on the dart game that was going on in the corner. Needless to say, she did not live to see her sophomore year. That winter, her body was found floating in the Charles River, decapitated, her head hung from a tree on the bank, her hair knotted around a low hanging branch, three miles away.”

It took me 240 pages before I finally understood why I found American Psycho so unsettling, but then I came to this passage and I got it. I found the book unsettling because I’m the hopeful girl who winds up metaphorically dead and dismembered. I’m the one who talks about possibilities and what the world can be; I’m the girl who devotes her life to ideas instead of money, and winds up only ever being humored—washed down with a Heineken and confined to a 9 to 5, somewhere. Who cares. Money, money, money. Die. The world never gets better because the masses don’t really give a shit about what it’ll look like for our surviving generations.

For an idealistic girl like me, total realization of this truth feels like decapitation; like my body was just found headless in some river, never really experiencing life, just floating—just getting by—and not by choice.

Uuuuuuuuugh, I can’t help but worry my future is going to be some horrible corporate-devoted nightmare because, at this point in time, working for a corporation feels like my only option, like the only way I can ever make enough money to pay off my student loans. But settling for offices, call centers, break rooms, assembly lines…the redundancy, the blank walls, the cubicles, the recruiting propaganda that lies: This company is community and family oriented! Just makes me nauseous. It all makes me want to resign to a life spent living out of my car or off the grid. Is it too late to be raised by wolves?

I mean, I’ll admit, I used to think corporations weren’t so bad. I assumed anyone who had strong negative feelings about them was just kind of lazy and didn’t understand the concept of: Life isn’t fair. But recently I interviewed for a job at a major insurance company, and the more the interview went on, the less I wanted the job.

First of all, I’m convinced the HR person interviewing me was a cyborg; like I’m positive [insert major insurance company name here] just plugs her into a wall every night and downloads different policies and protocol into her system because she was fluent in business jargon and political correctness at a robotic level. Also, she never stopped smiling, which was disconcerting because it was obvious half way through the interview that I didn’t want the job and she wasn’t going to give it to me.

I put in less effort with every question and answer because it felt like everything I said had the potential to be, and inevitably would be, used against me. At one point, I made the mistake of saying that I didn’t mind constructive criticism and, as you can guess, the cyborg immediately pounced on this statement:

“Tell me,” she said, “About a time when your employer criticized you constructively.”

I remember pretending to think real hard before I said, “Gosh! You know! I can’t think of anything!” Then I thought: Can I go home now?

But after that, the cyborg went on to explain that [insert major insurance company] was a goal and performance based environment, “If you saw your name at the bottom of the results chart,” she said, “How would you handle that?”

And I said, “I would try to do better at my job…I’d ask my supervisor for tips on how to improve, and I’d make improvement a goal. I’d ensure that my results were better next time.”

When I finished talking, she looked kind of taken aback—like I’d just come out of a tourettes attack—and all I could think was: Shit-fuck! What do you want me to say?!?!

I’d kill myself.

If I saw my name at the bottom of the results chart I’d kill myself. I’d shoot myself right in front of it and repay the insurance gods by spewing chunks of my $60,000 brain all over the chart graphing my personal failure. Happy, Cyborg?!?!—Later I told my boyfriend this dramatic internal monologue, verbatim, and being the rational levelheaded person that he is, he said, “You could have just told her that your name would never end up at the bottom of the results chart.”

And all I could do was bury my face in a pillow and loathe him for being right. I should have just given her some bull-shit-too-good-to-be-honest response because that’s what job interviews, and corporations, are all about—bullshit.

For example, I have this ex-boyfriend who is a bullshit genius. Like one second he could be the corporate cyborg, saying things like, “The company, and the company. Here’s my action plan. Now let’s go air this thing out, come to an agreeance. I think we can hack it. Did I mention the company?” Then he could turn around and be a real person again, like, “What company? Oh. That’s just where I make bank off being good at bullshit.”

He’s going to be a millionaire someday. Isn’t that infuriating?

Well no. It’s not. I actually think the world, to a degree, needs people like that. Good bullshitters make the world go round. But my real issue is that, A.) It’s much, much, easier for this ok-with-bullshit type of person to be successful opposed to anyone else, and B.) I’m definitely not an ok-with-bullshit type of person. Like I just don’t think I could ever be so passionate about money that I’d be willing to spew bullshit for it. I’m too honest. I could never actually look that cyborg of [insert major insurance company] in the eye and say, “My name would never appear at the bottom of the results chart.” Because it’s a lie. I’m a shit salesperson! I’m a shit salesperson like I’m a shit bullshitter.

At the end of my interview with [insert major insurance company] the cyborg asked, “So, do you have any questions for me?”

And as she stared at me, expectantly, with her unblinking black hole blue eyes, all I wanted to ask was, “What happened to your soul?”

☁︎

“It’s all about who you know,” says the aspiring rap artist giving me unsolicited advice on creative writing at the bar. This is after I’ve told him that I have a degree in the exact thing he’s trying to school me in, so I’m impatient with his false confidence.

I say, “It’s also about talent and ambition, you know. I’ve been writing everyday since I was twelve…I got a degree in writing knowing it wouldn’t make me any money but at least I would have an incentive to write—which is the only way you get better…knowing the ‘right’ people can’t inspire a person to be that ambitious or naturally inclined to…”

He cut me off.

He doesn’t get what I mean because he’s not a real writer—he’s just a bored dude talking out his ass in a vain attempt to seem interesting because he’s got nothing to lose, and I don’t feel like a bitch saying that. I can tell the difference between someone who just wrote a cool sentence one day when they were high and a real artist—writing is the only thing I reserve my right to be this cocky about. The only subject in the world I feel comfortable interrupting people on and saying: I probably know more about this than you. I mean, I’mma let you finish but…

I swear I had a majority of this post already written before Kanye West gave his Video Vanguard Award acceptance speech at the VMAs. I had already written that I wanted to lead a life motivated by ideas instead of money, despite how “practical” other modes of being might seem, before he said,

“I will die for the arts, for what I believe in, and the art ain’t always going to be polite… I don’t know what’s going to happen tonight. I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow…But all I can say to my artists, my fellow artists: Just worry how you feel at the time…Just worry about how you feel… I’m confident. I believe in myself. We the millennials… This is a new mentality. We not going to control our kids with brands. We’re not going to teach low self-esteem and hate to our kids. We gonna teach our kids that they can be something. We’re going to teach our kids that they can stand up for themselves. We’re going to teach our kids to believe in themselves… I don’t know what I stand to lose after this. It don’t matter, though, because it ain’t about me, it’s about ideas… New ideas. People with ideas, people who believe in truth.”

And regardless of how rambling or confusing or weird his speech might have been, he meant something real by it, and it was refreshing to watch someone with such a diverse and massive platform be so unapologetically idealistic about the future of our generation; for someone of that caliber to express the same frustrations and sentiments I’ve been feeling and thinking for the past few months.

I’ll admit he lost me the moment he said he would be running for president—unless he wasn’t being serious, who knows—but up until that point, he had me.

It was admirable how he tried to explain himself, what was going through his mind when he interrupted Taylor Swift at the VMAs six years ago. How all he was trying to say was that he didn’t want to be a bullshitter. He just wanted to be honest. He was trying to say that art is about more than awards and competition and getting the most votes, about more than popularity and making money. That it’s about ideas, and how much an artist is willing to sacrifice in order to remain true to their ideas, even at the expense of popularity and success; about being a visionary first, and a good businessman second.

It’s not all about “who you know”.

☁︎

My favorite writing professor constantly told us, “You have to be ruthless.” Like: Don’t kid yourself. Be brutally honest. Always choose writing over anything else. Don’t apologize for believing you have a shot at this. Don’t be afraid to burn bridges for the only thing you’ve ever really wanted in life—to say something that will be taken seriously.

It’s a lot of pressure, actually having the nerve to believe in yourself—that lame bullshit cliché that millennials are so often accused of believing in too much.

But I can’t help it. I believe in it. All the time. To the point where, to actually tell people what I hope for—out loud—feels like admitting I still believe in magic. Like I’m seriously delusional, like: Hey, I’m twenty-three and I’m still walking around with this lame ass thing called a dream, and because I believe in my lame ass dream so much I will never, ever, allow myself be passionate about a corporate agenda, or brand names, or all-inclusive vacations, or starting a family, or even paying my student loans on time…fuuuuuuck!!!!!!!

 How am I ever going to be truly, fundamentally, happy if this one thing that I want never happens?

That’s the question waking me up in the middle of the night; that’s the pressure on my chest at 3AM; that’s the Ram-Man—the unknown—appearing by moonlight to jolt me awake and say: Get up! Do something—the future is switching from a promise to a threat!

And the more the future, my unknown, weighs down, the less certainty I have in who I am and what I’m here for. And when stress-induced sleep paralysis won’t let me rest in peace and I start to feel that ominous presence, that simulated attacker in the room, I just remind myself over and over: It’s a lie. It’s a lie. Then I think of my dad, who, on the days when I look defeated after serving shifts or failed interviews, takes a moment to say, “You’re an artist…Don’t settle for anything. Someday it’ll happen for you.”

And finally I fall back into my dreams because I’m a self-indulgent millennial and I believe what he says is true.

Down the Rabbit Hole (a.k.a. I Just Graduated)

Every time I come home it’s like I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole; like I’ve fallen down past the radio towers emitting frequencies of “Shake It Off” on a loop; down past misplaced confederate flags, abandoned swing sets, and Halloween decorations in June; down to a place where romance is: Do you remember that time we made out in the CVS parking lot?

Jamestown is a pretty hopeless place. My first semester away at college I wrote an essay about the city, and the premise of it was basically like: If you’re not on crack then you’re doing OK and Lucille Ball is our savior. Everything I wrote was true, and most of my classmates said: No way. They couldn’t believe such a hellhole existed. I even remember my professor saying, “You know, some of the images you’ve created are things you’d see in a third world country.” And in response I said, “Yeah, exactly.”

The very first day of that same semester, another professor, whose class I would drop immediately, asked where I was from and I answered, “Jamestown.” Then he said, “Congratulations!” And I said, “What?” Because it’s not a word you’re supposed to hear the very first day of college. Then he explained, “You got out.”

And now I’m laughing hysterically because I’m back—again—and if we’re being completely honest, I never really ‘got out’.

This time around, a long island iced tea with my best friend is on the other side of the rabbit hole; sitting on the same stools, in the same bar, and directly across from a group of long island-13guys—one of which I’ve probably hooked up with—all wearing the same plaid shirt, creating one annoying optical-illusion-y zebra affect of douche-bag: Is that a hot guy I see? Oh, no, that’s just a cloud of Axe body spray.

My best friend, who I’ll refer to as A, is talking about her new job. The conversation quickly transitions into how she went to some rich guy’s mansion, and how his property was covered in mating frogs: “I tried to touch one and it bit me,” she says, “I didn’t know frogs could bite!” Then she tells me Rich Guy found out about the frog bite and decided to grab his shotgun: “He shot every frog he saw, and they, like, hopped, and back flipped, and then exploded!” I suck down half of my long island in one gulp, and look at her like the emoji with the eyes that bug out before she says, “It was kind of sad, but then I got drunk and after that it was kind of funny.”

Apparently Rich Guy concluded the frog massacre with: “Nobody bites my house guest.”

For the most part I don’t realize how bizarre this conversation is. Living here has given me a high threshold for nonsense and a solid indifference to general human depravity. However, luckily, what I do realize is this: Not a whole lot has changed since I’ve left other than A got a job and there are a few less frogs in the world.

I go home and fall asleep on a bed of sheep pillows until 1 PM. Then I roll over and watch The Real World: Skeletons on Hulu for four hours straight. I’m just about to get self-conscious about the fact that I’m 23 and have never been a cast member on The Real World when my dad walks by the TV and says, “Don’t these people know there’s a war going on?” In which case, I get weirdly defensive about the millennial generation, as if I don’t totally agree with the assumption that we’re all a bunch of hedonistic pigs with dreams of getting drunk for a living. In retaliation, I say, “Do you know there’s a war going on?” Because, seriously, does any American navigate their daily life like they know a war is going on?

I shut the TV off in a huff and stomp to my room pre-teen style where I lie in a bed of kitty cats and compare Jamestown to a black hole—wait—a rabbit hole!

The thought inspires me to retrieve my copy of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland from a pile of dust and glitter. I open the book to a random page, like I’m back at church camp and bible dipping for a sign that ensures I’m not going to hell. The page says: “If you drink much from a bottle marked ‘poison,’ it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later.”

This was clearly a sign that I deserved a beer. So I went to the fridge and awarded myself with exactly that.

My final semester of college wasn’t my best. Prior to it, I was an A student who somehow managed to maintain an excellent status despite the fact that I used my bra as a pillow every weekend. But then, during the last few months of school, the work hard / play hard lifestyle caught up to me, and my body and my mind were like: Enough of this shit. It’s alcohol or academia.

My brain pleaded: Academia! But my physiology demanded: Alcohol! And my 3.9 GPA was history.

I walked the stage and received my bachelor’s degree with two gold chords around my neck and felt like a total phony. Then, my fellow writing majors would confront me, saying something along the lines of: Cat, we saw your Snapchat story. You were drinking beer from a dirty broom ball trophy; we’re worried about you. And my only excuse was: “Sorry guys, I’m moving back to Jamestown so…”

Anyway, my final semester was difficult for more reasons than just laziness and an extreme case of senioritis. I had a professor who was doing some pretty slimy things to me, things that were bordering on harassment. Either way, what he was doing was enough to inspire me to Google the criteria for emotional abuse.

He was making me question the integrity of my character and the validity of everything I had accomplished simply because I missed more than six of his classes. He was trying to make me believe, on this premise alone, that I didn’t deserve to graduate magna cum laude or obtain two degrees. And it sucked. It sucked because my academic accomplishments are a major component of my identity, and I internalize negative criticism very, very, easily.

For the next few days I wasn’t eating or sleeping because my stomach felt like it had twisted itself into a pretzel, and I was too busy questioning my ability to get shit done: Would I pass all my classes? Am I that lazy? Would I be able to crank out over 30 pages of writing in a week? Maybe I’m not as smart as I thought. But soon it occurred to me that it was utterly ridiculous for me to be questioning my ability to do these things because they were all things that I had been doing, and doing well, for the past four years.

After this realization, I made the mistake of meeting with this professor with the intention of defending myself because, for whatever reason, some strange part of me really wanted his approval and respect.

I went to his office, and the moment I walked through the door it was like he was already mad at me. I said, “Can we talk?” and he said, “I thought we already did that.” And from that point on it just got worse.

I told him I felt misunderstood and that I believed I deserved a higher grade than the one he intended to give me. He responded with, “Technically I could fail you at this point.” Then he accused me of asking for favoritism and added, “I feel like you think I have something special against you.” At which point, I started getting angry, I said, “Because you do. You do have something special against me—I don’t see you pulling any of the other students out in the hallway in the middle of class to chastise them like some naughty high schooler.” (He did that! He pulled me out of class one day in front of everyone to scold me about attendance and to essentially flat out state that he preferred my presence to any of my classmates’.)

After I brought this up, his eyes darkened and his mouth tightened. He had a look on his face like he wanted to lurch across his desk and choke me. But he didn’t. Instead he responded, “See this is why I can’t have a conversation with you. You just freak out. You completely overreact and I can’t take you seriously.”

At this point I remember getting tunnel vision—a side effect of the messy combination that is disappointment and rage.

This was a man who had no problem showing me favoritism based on the quality of my first essay, and every essay after; this was a man who had shown me favoritism until he started taking my absences personally; until his ego got hurt. Then he ripped the rug out from underneath me and tried to frame me as a narcissist. He wanted to punish me for being a woman who had the nerve to believe she deserved more than what he was willing to give her; to be respected. His disapproval for me had nothing to do with who I was as a student, and everything to do with who I am.

Of course I started crying.

Then he decided to throw some salt in the wound; he said, “You’re supposed to get out of Jamestown—not go back.” And I realized that this asshole was the same professor who congratulated me for ‘getting out’ my very first day of classes. Now here we were, in the final weeks of my college career, and while I thought I was climbing up in the world, I had been walking in circles.

I’m not unhappy about being home, I’m just misty-eyed and restless and a little lost. I re-read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland a few days ago and interpreted it as one long metaphor for how it feels to navigate your twenties. Seriously. Alice totally embodies the problems of any twenty-something.

She falls down the rabbit hole thinking she knows everything, only to find out that she knows nothing; a logical child thrust into an illogical world of interruptions, uncertainties, and difficult beings. She progresses and then regresses—up and down, back and forth. Sometimes she drowns in her own tears, and on more than one occasion she finds herself wishing she hadn’t drank so much. Then she meets some smoking asshole caterpillar who creates a conversation that keeps going in circles, and challenges her entire being with a simple question: “Who are you?”

If there’s anything that I’ve learned in these past few months (and what I’m sure I’ll continue to learn for years to come) it’s this: Being in your twenties is a confusing and terrifying time for everyone, and there’s always going to be some conniving caterpillar of a person blowing smoke in your face and trying to throw you off track; hoping that you’ll doubt yourself and won’t become the great person that you’re capable of becoming.

When this happens, it’s important that you don’t listen. Remember it’s not true; it’s just smoke. And if the person rooting for you to fail has some kind of authority over you—start looking for loopholes. It doesn’t matter how you get to where you want to go, it doesn’t even matter if you know where you want to go. All that matters is that you eventually become someone better than the person you were the day before; that you continue to learn and grow. Sometimes this means going home for a while, other times, it means going someplace new, for many people, it means doing both. Either way, there’s no right or wrong way to do it, as long as you do it—like what John Mayer (that asshole!) said: There’s no such thing as the real world, just a lie you’ve got to rise above.