According to Urban Dictionary I’m a Swiftie: Why?

I couldn’t figure out how I felt hour to hour. Sometimes I felt like: All these things taught me something that I never could have learned in a way that didn’t hurt as much. Five minutes later, I’d feel like: That was horrible. Why did that have to happen? What am I supposed to take from this other than mass amounts of humiliation? And then five minutes later I’d think: I might be happier than I’ve ever been.

—Taylor Swift, Vogue

____

I remember being a sophomore in high school when I first became conscious of the inexplicable hatred I had for Taylor Swift. My sister was home for some holiday, and we were sitting at a stop light when “Love Story” came on the radio. Laughing, like she was embarrassed and had only just realized it, my sister said, “I actually kind of like this song.” I scoffed, “Ew, why?” (I was only into indie bands at that point in my life; determined to turn my nose up at anything remotely mainstream in that pseudo-sophisticated way artistic teens are wont to behave.) “I don’t know,” she said, “I think it’s kind of funny that she puts all those boys’ names in her songs.” And, since I regarded—basically—everything my older sister had to say as virtue, so began my more critical thoughts about Taylor Swift.

What was it that I so passionately despised about her?

In her earlier career, when I was in high school, I know I probably found her difficult to connect with: the poufy dresses, the fairytale references, her blatant misunderstanding of Shakespearean tragedies, the fact that she was a pretty blonde girl who looked like a baby fashion model… she seemed to embody all the stereotypical nonsense that teenage girls were said to desire and revere, and I was not—at least within my yet-to-have-fully-developed teenage brain—stereotypical. Furthermore, I just didn’t want to connect with her. Beyond the way she branded herself, and looked, I found her to be all the things she was/is often accused of being: petty, crazy, jealous, love-obsessed, hyper-sensitive, vapid, selfish, annoying, too autobiographical, manipulative, catty—and so on. Which was to say, not only did she externally embody everything that teenage girls were said to desire and revere, but that she also symbolized everything we—as a society and culture—hate about teenage girls. (Something I’d be willing to argue has, as Taylor Swift has grown up, evolved into everything we hate about unapologetically feminine—i.e. “basic”—women.)

Watching the music video for “Teardrops on My Guitar,” at the tender age of sixteen, I saw a forlorn Taylor Swift, with a single bedazzled eye, cradling her guitar, and I wondered: What does this hot girl have to cry about?

***

There is a podcast that I listen to every so often, hosted by a New York City food blogger (Reyna Greenburg) and comedian (Ashley Hesseltine) called Girls Gotta Eat. At the end of each episode, they’ll play a game with their guests, one of which is called: “Psycho or Power Move?” Listeners submit their stories of manipulation and revenge, which are then discussed, on air, with the goal of responding to the name of the game: Psycho or power move?

This is the kind of question I think about whenever I think about Taylor Swift, like: Is the fact that she has a framed photo, in her home, of Kanye West interrupting her at the 2009 VMAs psycho, or a power move?

I can’t decide.

I’ve googled “what’s wrong with Taylor Swift,” endlessly, in pursuit of what it is that I’m trying to articulate. And I’ve found the same point regurgitated, over and over again. The overall gist usually being: Taylor Swift is a white capitalist machine who ‘got political’ two years too late, and it all feels eerily… calculated.

I’m not above it, I feel it too.

Still—in 2019—I find myself on the opposing end of where my critical thoughts on Taylor Swift first began. Instead of asking myself why I hate her, I find myself wondering: Why do I like her? (It’s an odd little personal phenomenon, but I feel like saying, “I like Taylor Swift,” is on par with saying I like Harvey Weinstein, or Michael Jackson—two people whose work and art most definitely should not be separated from who they are/were behind closed doors.)

Though I see her flaws pretty clearly; though I understand, without difficulty, why other people don’t like her; even when I’m about to agree on the subject of her alleged fraudulence, I can’t get past the same old monkey wrench: But what if Taylor Swift gave a shit about resonating with a heteromale audience?

Part of what makes Taylor Swift, Taylor Swift, is that—if this hypothetical became reality—she wouldn’t be Taylor Swift. And this, for me, is where completely renouncing her as just another cog in a capitalistic machine, ruthlessly weaponizing white feminism for her own benefit, becomes difficult.

***

I can pinpoint a time when I realized I liked Taylor Swift the same way I can pinpoint a time when I realized I hated her.

I was at a party and in my junior year of college. I was there with my boyfriend—at the time—and his friends, and they were all pretty misogynistic people. (Misogynistic, in that, refers to the girls they hook up with as the “hoe train,” believes Germany is a “classy” place to study abroad—but not India—white frat boy kind of way.)

Anyway, there was this girl there—a petite brunette who was with one of my boyfriend’s friends. And she was sitting in the middle of the basement floor, playing a guitar and singing with a bunch of other girls all around her. I remember my boyfriend and his friends all making condescending little remarks about it. (“Why do you always have to pick girls who sing?”) But I thought she was good, and I liked whatever it was she was playing. Eventually, I got the chance to ask her, “What is that?” And she said, “It’s Taylor Swift.”

Something clicked for me, then. (At the beginning of Donald Miller’s memoir, Blue Like Jazz, he writes about how he hated jazz music, until he found someone who loved jazz music. He says, “Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.” And—whatever had clicked—it was like that.)

This girl was belting “Sparks Fly” in the middle of a frat party like she was Jerry Spinelli’s Star Girl, and she didn’t give a shit what the guys thought. She had the attention of every girl in the room, and that was enough—like the biggest “fuck you” to the male gaze ever. And I was like: Oh, okay, I think I get it.

Soon after, I began to regard Taylor Swift as the antidote for a kind of gendered fury I experienced—but couldn’t name—whenever I felt punished for being both confident and an overtly feminine woman, most poignantly. (The time a guy harassed me, all night, at a party over a minor—intended to be playful—slight, by calling me an “ugly hyena laughing bitch,” in every way he knew how, and then, once he realized I wasn’t going to cry about it, continued to harass me about other things—like my hair color—until I got so annoyed, I left; the time when, in a fiction writing class, the craft of my story was never critiqued during a workshop, because one guy decided my male character wasn’t “masculine enough”—whatever that means—and made this personal concern of his the focal point for the whole discussion; the time a boss told me I needed to “worry more” about my “reputation” because of how male patrons—outside of my control—were behaving, and so on—into oblivion.)

I’m not quite sure how it all relates, but: Thank god Taylor Swift wasn’t afraid to put all those boys’ names in her songs.

***

On YouTube, I recently found a compilation of clips derived from interviews with John Mayer, spanning from 2009 to 2010, in which he discussed his intentions with Taylor Swift—albeit cryptically—and their time together, working on music. (In most of the clips he idealized her into oblivion, saying things like: “She’s just this strange, in all the most beautiful ways, doesn’t-belong-to-this-universe, type person… she’s ageless… she’s like a child.” While, in others, his attraction to her came across as a cry for help: “It’s good to see someone who’s hugely talented and is still able to receive the pleasure in all moments because [long and thoughtful silence] I’m dead inside.”)

I find Taylor Swift and John Mayer’s relationship fascinating. Mostly because of how shamelessly he pursued her, and how delusional his expectations were—considering he was a 32-year-old man at the time, and she was just a 19-year-old girl. (Is a thirteen-year age difference creepy? No, not necessarily. But is a thirteen-year age difference creepy when the younger person’s pre-frontal cortex hasn’t fully formed yet, and the older person is an established guitarist who works in the same industry as the younger person? Mmmm… it’s suspicious, to say the least.)

It was like John Mayer just woke up one day, saw Taylor Swift on the TV, and decided he was going to live out the plotline of Elizabethtown with her. It seriously reads like it was that manic of a decision on his part.

In 2009 he sparked the beginning of their relationship by tweeting—seemingly out of nowhere—that Taylor Swift would make a good “Nicks” in contrast to his “Petty.” In the tweet he also stated that he wanted to collaborate with her on a track for his upcoming album, Battle Studies. Predictably—as a 19-year-old girl who grew up listening to John Mayer on the radio—she obliged, and the rest is history. (The two recorded John Mayer’s “Half of My Heart,” did a couple of performances together, started dating officially in the fall of 2009, and then reportedly broke up sometime in February 2010.)

All of which is to ask: John Mayer seriously expected this very young singer-songwriter, notorious for putting her exes’ names in her songs, whom he pursued and groomed into becoming his little musical protégé, and then dropped—just as quickly as he’d swept her up—to not write a song about the experience?

After Taylor Swift released “Dear John”—a song overtly directed at John Mayer—in 2010, he responded with bewilderment. In an interview with Rolling Stone, he said, “I was really caught off guard.” And then, toward the end, he added, “I will say as a songwriter that it’s kind of cheap songwriting… I know she’s the biggest thing in the world and I’m not trying to sink anybody’s ship, but I think it’s abusing your talent to rub your hands together and go, ‘Wait ‘til he gets a load of this!’ That’s bull shit!”

Ignoring the condescension of this statement, while, also, keeping that compilation of interviews—the ones where he openly raved about how talented she was—in mind, it’s hard not to think: John, you were once THE captain of that ship. Like: Did you forget? Knock your head? Dude, YOU called her the Nicks to your Petty!

Beyond the drama, and the back and forth songwriting, or even the romantic idea that these two had potentially found a karmic match in one another, what I find the most fascinating about Taylor Swift and John Mayer’s relationship is that—I’ve totally dated that guy. And I’ve had friends who have totally dated that guy, and I’m positive tons of other women and girls have totally dated that guy.

What John Mayer did in response to “Dear John” was a kind of gaslighting. A sort of: I never even really liked her that much anyway; she’s crazy; I didn’t deserve it because it wasn’t even that serious. (Even though all the evidence said otherwise.) And that’s a thing women experience, often, both in relationships and life. It’s a thing people do when someone—especially a woman—sticks up for herself or exceeds the limiting expectations some insecure person assigned to her.

To put it bluntly, I don’t think the song humiliated John Mayer because he was genuinely hurt. I think it humiliated him because he hadn’t expected to be used as a muse in the same way that he’d used many of his own exes as muses—not by a 20-year-old girl in a frilly purple dress, at least—and the experience, ultimately, provoked a sense of inadequacy that felt so unfamiliar to him, he couldn’t help but rationalize it: “I’m not trying to sink anybody’s ship, but…”

Three years after Taylor Swift released “Dear John,” John Mayer released “Paper Doll,” a track that was presumed to be about Taylor Swift as the lyrics seemed too pointed for it not to be. From what can be gathered from the song, John Mayer’s feelings about her hadn’t changed. The lyrics were just as condescending as his former statements to Rolling Stone. A few of which are, “You’re like twenty-two girls in one / And none of them know what they’re runnin’ from / Was it just too far to fall / For a little paper doll…”

It’s hard not to infer that John Mayer had been expecting someone simpler, and so he felt lied to when he realized that she wasn’t.

***

I’m currently taking a few introductory psychology courses, and, of all the lessons I’ve learned so far, the most difficult one for me to accept is how important first impressions really are to us, as a species. See, I think we like to believe we’re smarter than first impressions; that we’re more critically minded, and our judgements of others are within our control. (At least, I know I do.) But that just isn’t the case.

From what I’ve learned, once a person forms an opinion about a certain individual, there is very little that individual can do to change it—what’s done is done, so to speak. So, there’s really no point in bending over backwards, trying to change that other person’s mind—they’re going to believe what they’re going to believe, regardless of any evidence proving otherwise. Therefore, the best thing for the—potentially—misjudged individual to do is to forgive herself; move on; allow bygones to be bygones, and continue doing what’s best for herself. Which is, in a backwards way, even more difficult than dwelling on the disapproval of others.

My point: the idea that we’ll be embraced without skepticism, and respected in all the ways we deserve, so long as we, as individuals, live authentically, is a lie. And, furthermore, I’d be willing to argue, 1,000 times over, that this is especially true for women.

Often—from what I’ve experienced and observed—when a woman is who she is, it creates a wide and gaping divide that only gets wider, and even more gaping, the more authentic she becomes. People will either really love her, or really hate her, and—no matter what—the general message coming from the latter end is going to feel deeply, and painfully, personal. Because, she’ll know, from her core, that she put her best foot forward; that she wore her best shoes, and danced her best dance, and shook all the hands, and, still, some people—or maybe even most people—scoffed in response, like: Who do you think you are?

This is why I admire Taylor Swift: she doubles down when it comes to her experiences, and what they mean to her—regardless of how others feel about it.

In a recent interview for CBS’s Sunday Morning, when she was asked about her many grudges, she said, “People go on and on about how you have to forgive and forget to move past something. No you don’t. You don’t have to forgive and  you don’t have to forget to move on. You can move on without any of those things happening.”

See, she’s someone who is constantly criticized for overreacting and being “petty,” and her general response is to just lean into it, like: Sorry, not sorry. This is my truth. And I think it’s really important for young girls to observe a woman as powerful as Taylor Swift being like that.

She sends a message that says women do not have to forgive anyone for anything. They don’t have to forgive anyone who victimizes them, regardless of whether or not anyone else perceives their victimization as real—women get to define that for themselves. And, for this reason, I want to look at the bigger picture and believe in her sincerity.

I want to believe we still live in a world where not everything we see and consume is the product of some manufactured construct, created with the bottom line in mind. I want to believe that a pop icon and businesswoman—the girl-next-door turned lying-snake—can also be the same person who penned the line: “Who you are is not what you did.” I want to believe we all still live in a world where, ultimately, everyone—including an idiot like Donald Trump—is just doing their best. However disappointing, or horrifying, that may be.

Which is to, ultimately, say: Taylor Swift seems untouchable in a way that powerful men have always been untouchable—she seems to forgive herself for being complicated in ways that society has always forgiven men for being complicated. And there’s a large part of me that doesn’t care how she’s gotten away with doing that. I’m just glad she has.

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On Evolving Dreams and the Prospect of “Starting Over”

She might not look like what you pictured when you were 16. Her job might not be cool.
Her hair might not be flowing like a mermaid. And she might be really serious about something, or someone. And she might be a lot happier than you are right now.

— Katherine to Jessa, Girls

___

I briefly, and recently, worked with a girl five years my junior—fresh out of undergrad—who expressed, during one of our first shifts together, that she wanted to work with victims of sex trafficking.

She explained how she wanted to start a private company that would run investigations to recover victims and integrate them back into society. She capped this vision off with the belief that, in order to move on and lead a normal life, victims should be discouraged from telling their stories.

“It’s not good for people to talk about their trauma, over and over,” she said.

I looked at her sideways, and briefly questioned her on the effectiveness of this method. But beyond that, I didn’t really say much.

About a week or so later, I’d tell her, “I’m considering going back to school to become a therapist.” And it was her turn to look at me sideways.

“Oh,” she said, and then—not immediately after, but somewhere along the way in our conversation—“I just picture you being more nomadic and artsy.”

Some past version of me would’ve been thrilled to hear this latter response–to be perceived as nomadic, like a girl who wears bells and doesn’t believe in shirts. While current-me—the me-est me—felt mildly disappointed by her former and doubtful, “Oh.” (A response I’ve received a few times since the idea of becoming a therapist first entered my mind.)

Oh.

It’s like I’m letting people down. Like I’m admitting all the cynics who said, in response to my writing degree, What are you going to do with that?, were right. Like I’ll never pursue anything creative ever again. Like that part of my “career” is totally over—as if it ever really started to begin with.

***

About a month ago, I was accepted into an M.F.A. program for creative writing, and I was kind of surprised when the admission didn’t automatically render this other prospect—to return to school with the intent of becoming a therapist—completely irrelevant.

To “be a writer” is something I’ve always wanted. It’s something I’ve told myself I’d pursue to the bitter end, down whatever—and every—avenue. I told myself this under the pretense that I would look back and regret it if I didn’t try absolutely everything I possibly could. But then, I found myself at yet another interview, for yet another receptionist job, being asked, “In your career, what’s your biggest regret thus far?” And I thought: How many times am I going to do this? How many interviews can I sit through, half-heartedly, before I realize that—maybe my interviewing skills don’t suck? Maybe I just don’t want to be a receptionist all that much.

***

In undergrad, my favorite professor always said, “If you want to be a writer, do something else.” He didn’t say it as a discouragement from writing, but as a reminder that, in order to write well, one has to experience new things. And I took that to heart, in my own way. I told myself: Do the crappy jobs. Be the server, the cashier, the front desk girl—get shit on for a living. It’ll give you something to write about. And—yeah—that all might’ve passed for artistic pursuit in my early 20s. But, now, as I’m getting older and sealing up the cracks in my identity—have done, and will continue to do, the work of healing—I’ve started to seriously consider just how much I have always sold myself short.

All my life, I’ve said, “Writing is the only thing I’m good at.” And I allowed so much of my identity and self-worth—if not all of it—to be determined by this one talent. I honestly believed I had nothing else to offer. I put all my eggs in a single basket marked “starving artist” and did the crappy jobs. Because, I thought, that was it for me. But, over the past year and a half, my other talents have been brought to my attention. And now, in light of having been accepted into grad school, I can’t help but wonder if further education in writing would just be another way in which I sell myself short.

At the core of my desire to write, there has always been a desire to make other people feel less alone; to connect with humanity, and give people permission to keep telling their stories—however many times they need. And, even though it’s been a jagged pill, I’ve come to the understanding that my writing might never reach a wide enough audience to achieve this goal—at least not in the ways a career in mental health could. Which, might seem like my giving up on a dream—but it doesn’t feel that way to me.

If anything it feels like finally accepting, and admitting, that I am more than writing; that I can be of service to others in a way that runs deeper than counting out change and biting my tongue and blogging about it later.

It’s a chance to provide myself with a sense of purpose that “starving artist” never has, or will. Because—although there is a part of me that will always be dark and tormented and longing for something that isn’t there, my “nomadic” spirit—it’s a relief, to accept that I also have a deep seeded need for stability that deserves to be met. In spite of my past self, probably sighing in response from the depths of personal history: Oh.

I guess I find it eerie. How much I’ve changed since I first stepped out of undergrad and into the “real” world.

When my aforementioned co-worker told me—essentially—that repression was pivotal in terms of healing, I felt like telling her: You have no idea about the real world. I wanted to say: You wait. Someday you’re going to encounter someone so entitled, it’ll shake the foundation of everything you think you know.

So much of her cluelessness reminded me of who I used to be, and could never be again—not even if I tried.

***

I used to have this vision of myself—she runs away to the southernmost part of the country, and doesn’t need anything except for some dollar store paperbacks and a bikini.

She wants to be as far away from everyone as she can be, without drowning. So whatever has or hasn’t happened to her will look so far away, it won’t matter.

She might be a dream.

And I might be a lot happier than she is right now.

My Five Year Plan is Whatever: Happy New Year!

About a month ago I was at a job interview—which went well, but not great—and when I was asked, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” I didn’t have an answer.

“I—I don’t know,” I began, before adding, very stupidly, “I want a life.”

Later I told Ben—my boyfriend—about how the question had rendered me speechless.

“Millennials don’t have the luxury of a five year plan,” I texted, with a vicious tone inside my head, “Like—there’s no professional way for me to tell them that my education and talents aren’t lucrative, and I can’t afford another twelve hundred dollar migraine. I can’t even see myself with good health insurance in five years. Whatever is my plan!”

He responded, “That question is a trap. If you tell them you see yourself working for them, you seem unambitious. If you tell them you’re going to go to grad school, or find a career in your degree, they’ll act like you’re a bad investment. It’s a lazy thing to ask.”

Sometimes I wish I could just level with people: “Look, I can read and write and show up on time and do whatever you say—but no. Most of what you have to offer—this office, this store, this company—will never ever be my top priority or passion. This isn’t what I want to be doing, but I’ll do it—and I’ll do it well, regardless—because I need money. I don’t have time to worry about five years from now when I’m already worried, right now.”

But it’s not acceptable. Admitting that you don’t know what you’re doing, or are going to be doing, and that you’re still trying to figure it out.

“Yeah,” Ben said—on the subject of five year plans, once more—two weeks later, “Never answer that question honestly.”

It’s not that I’m completely out of touch with what I want, and I definitely have a better sense of that than I did—say—three years ago. However, I have no satisfactory answer for where I see myself in five years. In fact, it’s already been long and arduous enough—just getting myself to a place where I don’t worry about not having the future figured out; where I can allow myself the patience to take things day by day. (Why is a forward-thinking individual—someone who’s experiencing life as a series of checkboxes—more valid, or reliable—in the professional sense—than a present minded individual? What difference does it make, where I see myself in five years, if I’m willing and capable of doing the job now?)

I guess, what I’m trying to say is: with the new year approaching, I can get so down on myself about this year’s failures. (I didn’t get into grad school; I submitted five essays for publication and the majority were declined, with the remaining two left in limbo; I haven’t finished any of the fiction pieces I started; I’m still not making enough money to be financially independent from my parents; I’ve accrued credit card debt; I don’t have health insurance in spite of working 40+ hours a week; I lost my best friend; I didn’t get a call back after the job interview, etc.)

For the past three months, I’ve sat around, torturing myself, thinking about how I don’t try hard enough, or that I don’t do enough.

I flicked through dated issues of Nylon magazine—publication dates ranging from 2010 to 2013—and scoffed when I came to a photo of Lena Dunham—aged 23—being featured as an established writer and director. (I remember bitterly thinking in the spirit of ho-hum: “I could be a ‘director’ too—if only I had rich poet-parents who sent me to a special creative-kid middle school.”)

It came as a sort of panic, flipping through those dated magazines and seeing so many successful people that were, also, so wildly young: What have I been doing with all of my time?

It’s not that 2018 has been a bad year so much as turning 26 has been hard. (My ex boyfriend used to always say, “Something about turning 26 is really hard.” And I’d dismiss him, thinking it was a ploy to delegitimize my own experience and opinion—considering he’s only 11 months older than me. Now that I’m actually 26, I realize what he meant.)

It’s like—from ages 21 to 25—everyone is constantly reminding you how young you are, and how much time you have. And then—out of left field—26 hits and, overnight, you start gaining weight in ways you never did before, and your brow wrinkles don’t totally disappear at the completion of an expression, and all your peers start joining pyramid schemes, and your ironic T-shirts don’t look so ironic anymore, etc.

It’s the identity crisis of ages, basically. And—without as much external confirmation that there is “still time”—I’ve had to continuously ground myself: Do I really believe I’ve accomplished nothing? Or am I just judging myself based on how I’d look on paper? (My answer to the former is always no. My answer to the latter is always yes.)

I’ve had to remind myself that I, at least, applied to grad school; that I even submitted pieces for publication, in the first place; that I’ve started writing fiction, at all; that I—finally—moved out of my parent’s house; that I left a bad work environment the moment I realized it was bad; that I set a boundary, and stuck to it—remained true to a promise I made to myself, at the close of 2017.

I don’t minimize, or invalidate, my own feelings and perceptions anymore—especially not for the comfort of other people. (Something I decided I wanted to unlearn, back in 2016, after a weekend where I took a bunch of drugs and wound up at the ER with a psychiatrist in my face, like, “So, are you trying to kill yourself?”) And, through this slow unlearning, I’m finally in a place where I feel healthy enough—mentally and emotionally—to begin turning my potential energy into kinetic, regardless of whether I feel “ready” or not.

It might seem as if no time is ever going to be a “good” time, but—more often than not—I think we’re where we need to be, doing what we need to be doing, in spite of how lost we might appear.

Here’s to another year of trying, for better or worse.

Happy New Year!

(Featured Image Credit: Ambivalently Yours, 2018, @ambivalentlyyours)

Thoughts Provoked by a Cardboard New York City

I’ve learned mine can’t be filled,
only alchemized.

— Stephen Dunn, “Emptiness”

 

The other night I was at a comedy show in a church basement with walls covered by cardboard cut-outs of the New York City skyline. Little white Christmas lights were peeking out from behind, creating the illusion of twinkling windows at night.

What,” began the sarcasm of the final comic, gesturing at the cardboard skyline, “you mean none of these buildings are in Jamestown?”

And I laughed harder than I had all night.

It was a relief, to have the delusion acknowledged. It made me feel better about how I’d been staring at the whole set up, all night, wanting to throw up due to some unearned feeling of homesickness.

The twinkling Christmas lights: they reminded me of all the nights I refused to sleep as a little kid. How I’d insert cassette after cassette into my Fisher-Price boombox—the one with the microphone and color coded buttons—trying to stave off my dread of public school, and dumb-kid jokes, and being unable to read through key-rings of word-cards at what the state deemed an “appropriate” pace. (I’d often hide in the bathroom and pretend I was Sailor Moon as I tried to come up with an argument that’d convince my mother I needed to be home-schooled.)

Thinking of those lost cassettes, the Oliver and Company soundtrack came to mind.

More specifically, Huey Davis’s opening song, “Once Upon a Time in New York City”, which—having mild OCD—stayed, that night, lodged in my mind, on a loop, until bed. Where I dreamed that my little niece came to me with a picture book, flipped to the very last page, depicting New York City in different shades of blue, twinkling like Christmas Eve.

It made me consider how a lot of the novels I like to read are about suburban life and its inescapable triviality; about characters who settle and try to pretend like they’re not mentally ill, or terribly addicted, or irreversibly repressed.

In season seven of American Horror Story one character, Meadow—a very pathetic and desperate person who wears big hats—says, “I wanted to be a painter, but I was too drawn to the normalcy of a middle class lifestyle.”

And I felt that to an extent; to a point where I at least didn’t forget about it.

Every time a person says, “Come to New York!” — “You belong in New York!” A small part of me is quietly objecting: But what about cul de sacs that smell like fabric softener? Crate and Barrel? Squishy blankets? Familiar faces? Empty movie theatres? It’s not “me” exactly, but still it’s there. This dull enduring self-rejection. What do I do with it?

Of course Meadow, who should’ve been a painter, chooses to drown herself in white wine and joins a murderous cult. Is that who I am, deep down? Or am I a brave little cartoon kitten with luck on her side; fate combined with a series of mishaps that ultimately lead to all the right things: adventure, friendship, purpose, home… (What I’d like to boast about having from my apartment walls.)

I once wrote a short story in which a young woman, drawing on a paper napkin, suddenly looks up, struck by clarity, and says, “Sometimes I can’t even imagine my world as the same one where little children go missing.” And the guy she’s talking to suddenly gets an overwhelming urge to break her hand.

I am both characters, is what I’m trying to say.

My many selves are in constant conflict, as if identity were a Rubik’s cube only the very, very, self-assured can solve.

Lately, I’ve been worrying: do we ever really get over our adolescent insecurities, or are we all just some variation of our sixteen year old selves? (I’ve been admitting a lot of weird things to myself, like: Yes, Nicole Richie’s anorexic body had a lasting effect on me. Yes, I am depressed in a way that only medication can fix. No, I am never going to have a “group” of friends like St. Elmo’s Fire. Yes, I have been caught in a cycle of denying these things since adolescence.)

Answering my own question, as I am wont to do, with the words of somebody else, Joan Rivers popped into my head: “It doesn’t get better. You get better.” So, yes, maybe our adolescent insecurities never really go away—our learned anxieties and aversions; our social and interpersonal hang-ups. Maybe all one can really do is accept these things as a part of herself. Try to get better. Learn how to deal.

I read my friend a letter, which I gave to my ex best friend. In it I explained why I couldn’t be friends with her anymore; how the position I was in completely inhibited me from being a good and supportive person to her. How my initial inclination—to be fucking pissed—was totally eclipsed by the fact that I wanted her to be happy. That, I felt, the best thing for me to do was remove myself.

I finished reading, and my friend asked, “Why did you blame yourself that whole time?”

Looking back, if I could have answered her with more clarity, I’d say: Because I have this sneaking suspicion that a lot of people think I don’t blame myself enough. (There it is, that prevailing adolescent phantom: What Other People Think. I know, it doesn’t really exist—nobody really thinks about anybody that much. Not as much as they think about themselves. Harsh judgments are short and fleeting. Most people say nasty things they don’t even mean, just to make conversation. A majority of the time, they don’t even know what they’re talking about.)

But it’s a good thing I couldn’t. Because, even with my clarity-driven response, I know I’d still spiral into self-doubt. My answer would become a game of Mad Libs. (I blame myself because I am stupid; because I am annoying; because I am boring, bitter, ugly, empty. Because I deserve it. Because I can take it. Because I don’t need it. Because she can have it. Because I wanted to be egalitarian, and/or civil. Because I am terrified of all the things I cannot see, and therefore, change, about myself.)

Self doubt. What Other People Think. Two things I’ll always carry. Things that won’t get better, but require my getting better. Like a bonsai; how a tree still finds a way to be what it is, however small and subdued—

“It doesn’t feel fair,” I texted.

“Because it isn’t,” my friend texted back.

Again with Joan Rivers: “It doesn’t get better. You get better.”

If we go backward in time, twenty-one years, little-me is lying in bed with her cassette player, listening to “Once Upon a Time in New York City”. Shocked by the carelessness of other little kids; totally dreading it; wishing she didn’t have to deal with it; not knowing that she was listening to a song about a place, just as sleepless as her.

Remember. She gets better.

But, for now, the twinkling Christmas lights will have to do.

Your insides, always fighting for you, even when you aren’t, will have to do.

Remember. People often misunderstand each other because they don’t understand themselves. Some will count up all the things you don’t have, in comparison to themselves, as a means of maintaining some imagined order. It’s okay. Let them have it. They’re trying to get better too. And even if there’s a hole you’ll never fill—some lack you can’t atone for—there is the melting ice—waiting outside the church basement that is posing as someplace else—speckled from being eaten through by salt. It’ll understand you when no one else will.

A friend is a friend is a friend.

There is a city that never sleeps, just like you.

The Death of a Brontosaurus has Everything and Nothing to do with the End of a Friendship

Wait, they don’t love you like I love you.

— Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Maps”

____

Mildly disgusted with my own sentimentality, I turned my head so my boyfriend wouldn’t see me cry, as a brontosaurus swayed and tumbled to her death, after a volcanic eruption, in the new Jurassic World movie. (She was so helpless and gentle. I hated how all I could do was watch, as this CGI projection, so reminiscent of glossy pages, and pop-up books, suffered from such despair.)

Why did it make me feel as if someone had suddenly snapped all the kids books, in the world, shut?

I thought about it.

How the image of this long-necked dino exists in our collective imagination as a symbol of hope, and benevolence. (Earlier that week, watching Jurassic Park III, my boyfriend made a joke reminiscent of “not all men”. He said, “Not all dinosaurs!” as the scene cut, from vengeant raptors, to the familiar John Williams theme, playing over triumphant shots of herbivores—the brontosaurus, most notable, among them.)

When she groaned, and her knees—eventually—buckled; when she disappeared, among the dirt and ash, I had a flashback to Jay Gatsby, face down in his unused swimming pool. (This is a partial Leonardo DiCaprio reference. His face has always appeared, to me, as an unrealized dream. And, I guess, now the brontosaurus does too.)

I chose my muses, and re-imagined them as a personal trinity. (Leo D., Jay Gatsby, and the brontosaurus: What if I could climb up the tail of a brontosaurus—over its back, and onto some idyllic planet? One where Leo is more like Jay. Less womanizing, and more one-woman obsessed—but not to the point of death. Never like that. A more balanced place with a smiling brontosaurus in the sky…)

I Googled about brontosauruses.

Apparently this particular dinosaur’s existence has often been called into question, having gotten caught in the crossfire of a feud known as “The Bone Wars”. (These excavationist battles involved two paleontologists—Edward Cope and Othneil Marsh—who were so focused on one-upping each other, in terms of discovering new species of dinosaur, that they eventually forgot the importance of scientific accuracy altogether. It was believed—up until 2015—that the brontosaurus was actually just a camarasaurus wearing an apatosaurus’s skull. That the petty distraction, of Cope and Marsh’s feuding, had caused some explosive bone mix-up.)

Now, let’s just say, for my narrative’s sake, that these paleontologists started off as the best of friends. That their feud didn’t begin with dinosaur bones, but a woman. (An empty woman who was alluring the way a fixer-upper is alluring. In that “what could be” sort of way.)

Let’s say Cope saw her first. Fucked her first. (Ripped up her floorboards, and found the mold growing underneath.) Let’s say he tried to repair her—love her—first. That, every time—with every solved problem—yet another problem was revealed. Until, finally, he couldn’t take it anymore—he had to confide in someone.

Let’s say he confided in Marsh.

As they dusted the dirt off of a yet-to-be christened brontosaurus, he said, “I keep trying to make it work, but no matter what I do, it never comes together.”

Let’s say Marsh took a break from his brushing, and looked pensive. That he gave the kind of brutal honesty true friendship was wont to reveal. He said, “You’re just another tool in her shed. No woman wastes anytime thinking about a hammer until she needs one.”

Let’s say Cope wasn’t offended. In fact, let’s say he loved, and valued, Marsh, unwaveringly, for his honesty. Until—some while later—Marsh admitted that he’d been seeing this woman too. That he’d never seen any reason to stop.

Let’s say, after that, Cope couldn’t un-hear what Marsh had said. That it played, round and round, on a loop, inside his head: You’re just another tool in her shed…

Let’s say this has nothing to do with Cope and Marsh, or whether or not the brontosaurus ever existed. This is about me and a friend.

How I’d always considered her the “strong” one. So much so that, the first, and only, time I ever saw her break down, I felt shaken. (She shattered like the finest champagne glass. Her face contorted, right before she began to cry, and I felt like I’d just gazed into a mirror, right before it cracked.)

“I feel so used by him, all the time,” she said.

(And I tried to collect the pieces.)

I said, “I wish I could show you…”

But I never found the words to describe her worth. At least not adequately. And all the time, I sat on the sidelines, an idle friend. Watched as her relationship with cocaine formed, and never said a word. Just read about its effects on the body, and imagined her brain like a building with shotty wiring. Imagined the lights in her prefrontal lobe, flickering, with her will to live trapped inside—debating whether the electric bill was even worth paying.

When she told me she was sleeping with my ex—one who was unkind to me—I felt like I’d just noticed a shard of glass, stuck in the tip of my finger. (A small splinter from that day she shattered like a champagne glass; a reminder of how my friendship would always fall short, because what I wanted to give depended on something so abstract. A feeling that could only be internally realized, and never externally given: “I wish— I wish—”)

Does Leonardo DiCaprio ever get lonely?

I Googled this and the results were soul-crushing.

The first article that popped up was for Daily Mail, titled, “Leonardo DiCaprio will end up Miserable and Alone”. (Images of his alleged “misery” were presented alongside images of his womanizing—everyone seemed to presume the two existed in tandem. Like there was some eternal version of Leo, planted on a private island. Where his mega-yacht was forever docking, and long-legged blondes were slathering tanning oil on one another, all around him—perpetually. And still: He couldn’t stop scowling.)

Eventually I found a statement Leonardo DiCaprio made himself.

He admitted that, sometimes, he feels so lonely it’s like someone has just “punched” him in the gut. And I imagined—on that distant beach—the scowl of his eternal self, deepening. (That’s the trouble, with lonely people. We fail to understand loneliness as a state of mind, opposed to a state of being. Every failure at communication, every failed human connection, feels like a father’s blessing to marry the idea that one’s problems are unique.)

I keep trying to divorce this idea from myself. Because, I understand: I’m not the first person to feel betrayed by a best friend. But the way relationships seem to end, with me—it’s like a Big Bang in reverse. I recognize my inability to experience human connection in moderation. To this point where I’d just assume pulling up a towel next to Leo, on his miserable beach.

Casting my rose-tinted glasses to the wind, and replacing them with some dark shades, “Fuck him, fuck her, fuck everyone,” I’d say. And we’d share a loneliness, like only being able to comprehend the insides of our own eyelids.

Eventually, he’d try to make conversation—some small talk about the weather—and I’d say, “I wish you were Jay Gatsby.” Shut down his attempts at positive interaction because it just wasn’t meant to be that kind of beach date.

Why did the brontosaurus’s death make me so upset?

It symbolized the death of something noble—good intention run amuck. Like watching a good friend crash and burn and feeling as if you’ve always been hopelessly inadequate to stop it. Like, being Nick Carraway. The sole witness of Gatsby’s isolation. Realizing that, you were the only one who ever showed up for him. That there was always a whole system, rigged against him. And now you’re calling, and calling… Hoping he’ll pick up, and listen long enough for you to save him from—something, whatever it is.

This is about how The Great Gatsby was about friendship, just as much as it was about love.

It’s about how I recently listened to an episode of This American Life that was all about break-ups. It featured a girl who quoted Phil Collins, as her boyfriend broke up with her—on New Years Eve—because it was the only thing she could think to say at the time. And all I could think about was how I’d like to re-write mine and my ex best friend’s story to have an ending like a 90’s teen movie. (I’d chase her down—in lieu of Freddie Prinze Junior—and quote “Maps” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.)

It’s about what a shallow, best-friend-stealing, asshole “the way things are” can be.

How, the reality of the situation is this: The moment I found the words to describe her worth, I’d been disqualified as a credible source. And, I just couldn’t watch, as her priorities got fed through a siphon, the scope of which kept closing in, until there was only this: Cocaine. Like, the Daisy to her Gatsby. A promise that’d never materialize into anything other than the need for more.

It’s about how, in the meantime, I can be found watching the sunset, overlooking the water, from a lawn chair. Planted between my boyfriend, and my other best friend—twin fire signs, my two favorite Leos. Laughing at the past, and pointing out Great Blue Herons. The sounds of crickets, absolutely vivid. Realizing the emptiness I’ve carried inside, since birth, isn’t there.

And I think of her.

And, I wish—

Relationships like Cake: I might want to Get Married Someday

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

— Anonymous

____

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Not You

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

Lorde, “A World Alone”

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Really dude?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What was I expecting?

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

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

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

I’ve even talked to a therapist about it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Someone who values sincerity.

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

Why is that so hard to find?

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

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

Love is Leaving the Light On: 2017, In Retrospect

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

—Stephen Dunn, “What”

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

—Kim Addonizio, “Storm Catechism”

tumblr_p0rquvz74w1tt72wjo1_1280

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

Anyway—let’s not talk about politics.

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

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

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

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

She said, “Wisdom.” She was certain.

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

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

Getting swallowed by a black hole, and nobody noticing.

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

This year, I fell in love.

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

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

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

Back to black holes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, let’s keep talking about politics.

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

Suggested Resolution: Be more like elephants.

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

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

My uncle drowned this year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clarity.

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Self-Denial

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

  1. Self-Doubt

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

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  1. Self-Neglect

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

  1. Self-Care

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

  1. Self-Reflection

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

  1. Self-Preservation

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

  1. Self-Worth

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

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  1. Selflessness

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

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

Out beyond ideas of

 wrongdoing and rightdoing,

 there is a field.

 I’ll meet you there.

 

—Rumitrump-13

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

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

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

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

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

My boyfriend laughs, “Extinct.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I go all self-analytical.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He said, ‘America has no conscience.’

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

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

My boyfriend reacts slowly.

“Hm,” he says.

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

Is there someplace safe, where they can dream?

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

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

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

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

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

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

She said, “Anyone can time travel.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One drop symbolizes one million people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

America, I have a dream.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whispering, ‘United Dreams…’

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

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