My Asshole: What’s Love Got to Do With It? (Or Weddings or Romance or Fairytales and Stuff?)

“I can fall for superficial things. Sometimes I wish everything could be like a pop song, like fine, like white sugar. But it just doesn’t work that way.”
—Mary Gaitskill, “Stuff”

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Me in all my monstrous wine-loving glory.

Once upon a time, in a past relationship, I had a boyfriend who said, “You’re not romantic at all.” It was this exact moment that would ultimately make me realize he didn’t know me at all. Like, I’m a poet for fuck’s sake! I like long drives to nowhere and thinking deeply while looking at large bodies of water. Not romantic my ass, you giant turd. But there was no argument to be made. In his mind he had already decided: She’s not romantic at all.

My sister got married recently and her wedding is what initially caused me to reminisce on this pivotal moment in that relationship. This reminiscing eventually brought me back even further and had me contemplating fairytales—“relationship goals” and Expectations vs. Reality. What the general consensus is for how love is supposed to be vs. how we, as individuals, think love is supposed to be vs. how love actually is.

And conclusively I thought: My ex was right. I’m not romantic.

I mean, I guess I never really held Cinderella or The Little Mermaid near and dear to my heart. The fairytales I liked most were all about emperors in the midst of existential crises and girls who promised their first-borns to little demonic men who flew around on wooden spoons: I’m six years old and I want the cold hard shit, dammit! I want Hansel and Gretel stranded in the forest! My tiny psyche didn’t have time for all the Disney princess sing-along nonsense it was supposed to love!

But then again, I thought, What do fairytales really have to do with romance anyway? And I immediately revoked my initial conclusion.

I’m very romantic, just not in the conventional sense.

This was a major component of my character that my ex failed to understand. For example, when we went to see The Great Gatsby together I sobbed like a baby as Daisy ran away and all of Gatsby’s dreams fell apart, then I looked over at the seat beside me and saw my ex, out cold. He had slept through, arguably, one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking pieces of literature of all time, and I was the un-romantic one? It makes almost no sense to me, but over the past few years I’ve started to understand at least one thing: Our ideas of romance—his and mine—were just, different.

It was like we were drawing pictures for each other and expecting the other to use a completely different color than the one they had chosen. Like my romance was black, and all along he expected it to be pink. (This caused a lot of confusion and often made him wonder: Why isn’t this girl swooning every time I open the door for her, or buy her Victoria’s Secret underwear?) While on the flipside, I was expecting someone a little less grey and little more blue—someone who saw that the world wasn’t as simple as black and white, someone who just understood. But low and behold, I was trying to love a person who’s entire being went against this concept; all he was, everything he knew and believed, was some variation of black or white. Muted, and side-less; so indifferent that he had no absolute convictions about anything. Not even me. And this realization stung like a motherfucker for months on end.

You see, I defined romance like Death Cab for Cutie: Love is watching someone die. And his definition of it was holding hands with someone at Red Lobster.

☁︎

My older sister, Mim, the one who just got married, is a true Cinderella. Not in the sense that she finally found some prince charming to breathe meaning into her life, but in the sense that she moves up and through circumstance like magic.

Her life is one straight line of achievements; she knows what she wants and how to get it.

She graduated number three in her class from our relatively large high school. She went to Boston University for pre-med and then to medical school. She moved to Seattle (all the way across the country) for her residency, and now she’s a doctor. And just like she always knew that she wanted to be a doctor, she also always knew she wanted to get married, which was next on the list. Check, check, check.

Mim’s path to marriage was a careful experiment of trial and error that went something like a jump rope rhyme: Cinderella dressed in yella went upstairs to kiss a fella, made a mistake and kissed a snake, how many doctors did it take? 1, 2, 3, 4…Except it was more like: How many OkCupid dates did it take? Because the equation only needed one doctor, who, of course, was Mim, Doctorella—the girl who cured her own singleness by removing each snake like some kind of tumor until the one remained.

Difficulty be damned! She got exactly what she wanted again.

Now picture this Doctor-Cinderella hybrid in a beautiful designer wedding gown and compare her to me and my other sister, Julia—two women in favor of alternative lifestyles; creatives who are more intuitive and less practical; feminists who become quizzical and analytical in the face of all things traditional—trying to squeeze themselves, unsuccessfully for the most part, into bride’s maids dresses one hour before this said Doctor-Cinderella hybrid’s wedding…

“Maybe if we zip it up half way first, slip it over your head, and then Lane (Julia’s blonde-haired comedian boyfriend) zips it up real fast, we can get it! We just need somebody stronger!”

This is what my mom says, optimistically, as we are all brainstorming plans of attack to zip up Julia’s dress. It goes up most of the way and then, suddenly, Just. Won’t. Budge. Like: You’ve made it this far, Tiny Zipper. Why quit now?

But a pep talk is no use. It’s a defiant little fucker.

We try putting the dress on from all angles—backwards, forwards, over, under, with a sling shot…and finally, after my mother, my father, my Aunt, Lane, and myself have all made our collective attempt to zip that goddam zipper, it goes up.

Which, unfortunately, means it’s my turn: Will my dress zip up too or won’t it? It’s a matter of life and death in the grand scheme of this wedding, and I’m not about to be the only asshole who can’t fit into her dress.

But we try and we try, and my dress won’t zip.

I walk around with the thing hooked in the back and partially unzipped to reveal a gaping hole that everyone is trying to seal in vain. And it’s not that I feel fat, or ugly, or somehow inadequate, because my dress won’t fit. It’s all those people touching me, all those people wondering in the back of their minds if I feel fat, or ugly, or inadequate, that brings confused tears to my eyes.

How does anyone ever get married? I wonder.

And right then I have a panic attack.

Julia pulls me outside and says, “Get it together. Remember, this is Mim’s day. It’s not about you. No one is thinking what you think they’re thinking.” And I know. I know, I know, I know. I know it’s not about me. But I feel so stifled by myself, always. So confined to my own habits and inclinations that this dress has become an anti-comfort zone squeezing me together with all my mixed up feelings like a boa constrictor that’ll crush me to death: All I want to do is hide, but this gaping hole in my back is making it kind of hard.

Reluctantly, I go back inside. A girl sews me into my dress and the zipper goes up like nothing was ever wrong. Mim asks me to clip her necklace on for a photo and she smiles magnificently.

I shake my head no.

My beautiful happy sister.

 The thought of anyone or anything ever hurting her is enough to enrage me and I can’t even extend a hand to clip her necklace on?

The entire time, all I’m thinking is: I don’t belong here. I’ll ruin her pictures.

I’m thinking: She has done everything she’s supposed to do. She’s going to be a married doctor honeymooning in Cabo while her Seattle palace built from Crate and Barrel awaits. And me?

I’m just wondering how they zipped my dress up.

Where does this dress end, where do I begin?

Where do I end, where does somebody else begin?

☁︎

“You look like Aurora,” my best friend is texting me because she’s watching Disney’s Sleeping Beauty and she’s seeing a similarity between me and the starring princess. “Thanks,” I text back, because who am I to refute having animated sunshine hair and lips as red as the red-red rose? However, what I didn’t realize until recently, after I reread a more accurate version of Grimm’s “Sleeping Beauty”, is that I have more in common with the princess than hair color.

I’m no Cinderella (I never clean jack shit), but I’m definitely a Sleeping Beauty. A Sleeping Beauty in the sense that, it’s like, as a little baby, a bunch of fairies crept into my room and spewed a bunch of gifts and curses all over my cradle. This. And the fact that I’m so selfish that every time I fall asleep I expect the whole world to fall away with me. Like I’m just up in my castle, dreaming away, as all the idiots wind up tangled and bloody in the cursed thorns surrounding me.

No joke. In the tenth grade, I broke up with a boy and he told me, “You make me nauseous and I think you’re the devil.” I swear. Those were his words, verbatim: I think you’re the devil. And I’m going to sound like Mimi-Rose Howard from Girls when I say this, but I broke up with him because he was affecting my creativity—or so I thought. It was more like, all my alone time had been hijacked. I felt invaded by the fact that there was this other living, breathing, person—out there. A person carrying my name around in his head and slowly integrating himself into my life in a way that meant I would always have to consider him—even when he wasn’t around.

And finally I heard myself saying something along the lines of: You’re affecting my ability to idealize anything because you’re real and right in front of me and all I want to do is see through you, dude. Can we not do this boyfriend-girlfriend thing anymore?

Then he said it: “I think you’re the devil.”

Now, if you’ve watched the most recent season of Girls and if you know anything about Mimi-Rose Howard, you’ll know that she’s probably the sneakiest, most manipulative, little doll-faced shit on the planet. And yet, I couldn’t hate her. Not even Hannah—the girl whose boyfriend she stole—could hate her. Because I think, on some level, a lot of women relate to her in a convoluted way that says: I wish I could be more like her. Just, more detached. Detached from the opposite sex in a way that a lot of men are able to be—I know some people aren’t going to like this, but I think men are free from the wants of women in a way that women aren’t free from the wants of men. I believe that, at this point in time, this is a very obvious truth, and I think Mimi-Rose’s character was written to depict what this truth would look like if the tables were ever turned; to be immune to the wants of men on a very comic, lifeless, doe-eyed level.

Like, Mimi-Rose Howard: the girl who couldn’t see or feel beyond her own nose; a girl who could say, I got an abortion today, and never even bat an eye; a girl who sat across from her ex boyfriend as she sat next to her current boyfriend and said, I want you both, with a robotic honesty and selfishness that implied she totally expected, maybe even believed she deserved, to have her cake and eat it too.

I can be that girl sometimes!

But the difference is, I’m not detached. I’m the exact opposite of detached. I’m human, and I feel it. I know how selfish and paralyzed by pride I am, and still I feel so much potential love at the end of every nerve in my body that it’s like I’m always quietly on fire—like I’m burning and standing still so nobody knows.

Nobody can tell how much I feel—not until they touch me and find themselves bouncing backward with the reflex that comes from scorched fingers. Not until they find themselves saying something nasty like, I think you’re the devil. While, in the mean time, I’m just standing there, trying to seem vacant. Waiting to be alone so I can finally let the hot tears slide. Thinking, I told you, I told you, I told you: Love is watching someone die. If you can’t take the heat, get the fuck away from me.

How does anyone ever get married?

☁︎

At the wedding reception, sometime between drinking around 4,567,538 glasses of Riesling and barfing up Indian food, I got chocolate cake down the front of my dress like: That’ll teach you for not accommodating my body-type, you unruly piece of fabric, you. Then I ran around like a drunk puke-scented maniac with butter cream frosting smeared across my chest until I locked eyes with some poor soul on the dance floor and forced him to hold my hand through “Shake it Off”. Like: Sorry dude, I know we don’t know each other at all, and I can tell you don’t know the words to this song, but you’re stuck with me and my undying love for Taylor Swift for the next three minutes—don’t speak, these moments with me are sacred.

Little did I know, he was married, and once this information was revealed to me all I could think, was: Oh my god, his wife must have been on the sidelines like, “What kind of shit is this frosting covered broad with the busted zipper trying to pull?”

But in all seriousness, this is just one small example of how my romantic endeavors seem to go. You see, it’s not as simple as a Bad Boy vs. Nice Guy paradigm. It’s more like: What person in this room will be the most hesitant of, or resilient to, the love I’m willing to dish out? Because, him, I want him.

My favorite types are the emotionally unavailable and the emotionally inept. Unrequited love is my heart’s aesthetic, give me all of it: I AM AN EMOTIONAL MASOCHIST!!!!!! However the twist to this bad habit, and these relationship patterns is, my love is never quite unrequited. More often than not the emotionally unavailable and inept want me back because, at the end of the day, they’re just as romantically fucked up as me—only, in a different way. Star-crossed lovers I’d call it, if I didn’t believe this entire concept were code for: Two selfish assholes destined to screw each other over.

For example: In the sixth grade, I once hugged a boy and he threw my bike in a ditch. On a different day, in the style of 12-year-old flirtation, I’d steal that same boy’s hat, and he’d rip it—seriously, his own hat—to shreds in an act of defiance. But then, sure enough, every night on AIM, that same boy would be sending me kissy faces and telling me every detail of his horrible family life. (It was some real grisly, middle school, Beauty and The Beast shit.) He was determined to put on some show like he hated me when he actually trusted me a whole lot. Meanwhile I got off on harboring his secrets like a pervert browsing PornHub.

(The root of this wonky relationship dynamic can be traced all the way back to when I was eight years old and the first boy to ever proclaim his love for me also threatened to kill the entire third grade class with his mind. Like that really set the fucking tone for all my romantic endeavors: Thank you, Tiny Schizophrenic-Sociopath!)

After that, my objects of affection went something like: The nihilistic atheist pastor’s son who carved a cross into his shoulder with a hot knife—he told me he liked me right after he explained that he had an affinity for girls with eating disorders; the BMXer who—predictably—loved Catcher in the Rye and lied about everything from his age to his girlfriend; the too-involved boss determined to write out his fiancé of four years and stick me, his proclaimed “dream girl” in her place; a dually formed delusion that had us stroking each other’s egos until shit got chafed and started bleeding everywhere…

I spent my latter teenage years, trying to track down a David Foster Wallace looking artist who had the personality of Adam from Girls and the same tastes in glasses as Jeffrey Dahmer. He’d call me the golden girl one day and then he’d abruptly vanish into the abyss of the next three weeks only to reemerge in the form of a text message reading: Sup? After I’d waltz through the door of some party, my fishnets snagging on the splintered frame, ready to wreak havoc on his life, only for me and my bleeding knee to be embraced as if he’d never been absent. One time he told me: “You take beauty and the beast too literally,” and I’d stare into his David Foster Wallace face and only see all the snow storms I’d willingly trudged through, freezing in my tiny pleather jacket, trying to get to him. And now, all I can think about is that moment in Girls when Adam finally gets real with Hannah and says: “You don’t want to know me. You want to come over in the night and have me fuck the dog shit out of you and then leave and write about it in your diary.” (The first time I heard that, I thought of this David Foster Wallace looking artist and felt a major pang of guilt.) Like, we were, and are, light-years away from each other at all times, and we still somehow manage to make colossal messes of each other. I can’t explain it, but he loved me back in a way that meant he was never going to do anything about it. And what the hell does that even mean?

This is kind of how I feel about every guy who’s ever claimed to have “feelings” for me; like they just want to assign me to some compartment of their life, but they don’t want all of me, and they definitely don’t want me to want all of them.

So I don’t. A girl can compartmentalize too. Like I’ve said—I’m just up in my castle, dreaming as all the idiots wind up tangled in the cursed thorns surrounding my tower. I’m convinced that even the ones who initially reject me feel something prick as they untangle themselves to walk away—some David Foster Wallace shit like, “Everything I’ve ever let go of has claw marks on it.” The problem with this idea of romance, however, is that it has everything to do with need and want; passion, even, but it’s got nothing to do with love.

Love is watching someone die.

This sentiment is starting to hang in my head with a big fat question mark on the end.

☁︎

I read a commencement speech written by Jonathan Franzen in which he explained that one component of real love is being a bare-boned, gross, messy, old human in front of somebody else. Essentially meaning that, you have to give up your ideal-self:

“The simple fact of the matter is that trying to be perfectly likable is incompatible with loving relationships. Sooner or later, you’re going to find yourself in a hideous, screaming fight, and you’ll hear coming out of your mouth things that you yourself don’t like at all, things that shatter your self-image as a fair, kind, cool, attractive, in-control, funny, likable person…To love a specific person, and to identify with his or her struggles and joys as if they were your own, you have to surrender some of yourself.”

I read that and agreed with it, and then I started feeling strange about it. Because, the more I dwelled on it, the more I realized that the few guys I have surrendered apart of myself for always wound up doing something that proved they were unthinkably selfish—more selfish than me, even—and I can’t help but wonder what that says about me. You are what you love—is that a rule?

This time last year I absolutely adored a guy, so I took a chance by waving that white flag of surrender in his face and, ultimately, found myself sobbing at him, “I’m a really lonely person despite how funny and happy I can be. And, I really like you and I know what it’s like to get attached to someone and then to invest a lot of time in someone, and then for that person to just not be there anymore…it takes forever for someone like me to get over that. I’m tired of doing it. I know what I want at this point; I’m done playing games with people. I really like you and you have to tell me that you respect me enough to let me know if what we’ve got isn’t making you happy.”

And he responded, “I’m just really mysterious,” right before he never spoke to me again.

After I remember sitting in my dorm room, dumbfounded by heartbreak. It didn’t matter if we’d only known each other for a few months; I was absolutely heartbroken. Heartbroken that I’d cracked so catastrophically—with all the smeared eyeliner and snot and humiliating confessions—for someone who never planned to surrender anything for me. And more than anything else, I was heartbroken by how little I knew him—he was always choosing his ideal-self over me, and all along I was planning to tuck away my ideal-self for him, like: Bye Felicia. Communication error would be an understatement! And as one of Mary Gaitskill’s short story characters would say: “I didn’t give a shit about being interesting and mysterious. I wanted him to love me.”

Want. Wanted. Mine, mine, mine—be mine. I wanted you to be mine. What I felt for him was one step in the direction of love, but not quite.

☁︎

 How does anyone ever get married?

“The only conclusion I can come up with is that, we’re not meant to be monogamous. And I don’t like thinking that because everyone I’ve ever known who actually believed that was kind of……stupid. Like we’re intelligent beings! We can choose not to behave in certain ways.”

This is what my newly separated-from-her-husband friend says after I express a tailspin of doubts about tru-luv. Basically, I told her that it seemed like a lot of the married people I’d meet, or the deeply committed-to-another-person people I’d meet, were trying to fit a heart into a triangle; just rationalizing something, always rationalizing something.

Like I’ll look at two people and think they’re made for each other, and they’ll post their MCM’s and their WCW’s and some bullshit about how happy life is, and then I’ll find out he’s always messaging so and so for tit pics, and she’s always rummaging through his emails or cellphone, and after a certain point it’s like: Are we all just lying like crazy to ourselves?

It seems like there’s always some side-fantasy waiting around the corner from every “true love”; some member of the opposite sex winking behind your significant other’s back that you can’t totally reject. And this is what my friend—who knows firsthand about marriage—is saying, before she adds, “But that’s the thing, choosing not to do something doesn’t mean you don’t want to do it…and that might not be lying to your spouse but it’s definitely lying to yourself, which can still hurt whoever you’re with pretty bad. It’s not that I believe people aren’t supposed to be monogamous, but I think loving someone is a little more complicated than just being with them.”

I’m relieved that I’ve met her because she’s going to a place where a lot of people won’t go. She’s admitting that marriage isn’t just one lifelong Nicholas Sparks plotline involving a shit ton of Pinterest crafts and dying in each other’s arms.

I mean, ideally, marriage would be total surrender of our ideal-selves and our fantasies about alternate life choices and other people, but realistically humans just aren’t mentally or emotionally capable of doing that. (That really is too much to expect when there’s a cesspool of body parts and personalities and intellects out there for the picking—just swipe right!)

Therefore, in the real world, marriage must be a promise to always come home to the same person despite want and fantasy or the secret desire to crawl up your own ass and hide out for a few days—which is actually a really remarkable promise. So, whenever I watch two young people get married, I always wonder if they fully comprehend what they’re giving up…

Like I know—you gain a whole lot with marriage. I get it. But I don’t think you gain anything positive if you’re married to the wrong person. Sometimes, it seems like people my age get married solely because they think it’s the mature thing to do, or the family-oriented thing to do, or the religious thing to do, or the romantic thing to do…Or because they think something really fucked up like, they owe it to the other person. But shouldn’t actually wanting to be with this person until the day you die, from the very core of your being, be the number one priority?

So, one more time: How does anyone ever get married?

Because at the tender age of twenty-three, all I want to do is crawl up my own ass and stay there for like, ever.

☁︎

Back to me being super selfish—I’m not very good at being there for other people. In fact, let me just go all out right now and list all my known faults one by one: I’m not good at being there for other people. I break promises, often. I’m secretive—so, so, secretive. I can be brutally honest with everyone, but the people I love most: Don’t read my blog! You can’t read my essay when it’s published! No, I won’t tell you where I’m going or when I’m coming back! I hold grudges better than anyone, I’m like a grudge-happy elephant: Show me a random customer I waited on three years ago, and I’ll remember every shitty thing that customer did and said! Never forget! I’m a know-it-all. I’m a perfectionist in the sense that, I cling to my ideal-self with an iron fist and only ever let it slip for men more selfish than me, people who I know are too shallow to comprehend the significance of the act, and therefore, pose no real threat of actual love: Phew! I use silence as punishment as if hearing my own thoughts aloud were a privilege I only bestowed on the very fortunate. One time, my mother and I got into a fight, and—seriously, my own mother!—said, “Don’t you feel anything for other people? Anything?

No one of any credibility has ever applied the term narcissist to me, but I’m willing to bet a narcissist is what I am. (Okay, I’m probably not a full-fledged narcissist, but I’m definitely someone with narcissistic tendencies.) And the thing about narcissists—I learned this recently when I read The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout—is that despite the inflated sense of self-worth and the erratic behavior, and unlike the emotionally inept sociopath, narcissists still feel. They still feel loss, and disappointment, and yes—love. They understand the concept of fulfillment and the fundamental need to connect to other people—it’s just getting to a point where these things become an authentic part of their own lives, and getting past the whole depression-I’m-a-narcissist-but-I-hate-myself-paradox thing that’s difficult.

Like remember what I said earlier about quietly burning inside with potential love or whatever? Yeah, that was code for: All I want to do is crawl up my own ass and stay there, but I can’t because I’m allergic to all the shit. It’s kind of like First World Problems, but closer to home, like: I Love My Own Asshole Problems. The kind of problems that, with a lot of time and self-reflection, give the lyrics to Brand New’s, “Limousine” a whole new meaning: I love you so much. Do me a favor baby don’t reply—cause’ I can dish it out, but I can’t take it.

(“I love you so much…I can dish it out, but I can’t take it”—what a totally tortured concept, Jesse Lacey. You must be burning up inside from all the love you never showed but should’ve, too. You are what you love. Damn straight. I am every asshole I have ever loved: You and I are one in the same J.L. You too, Self-Proclaimed-Mysterious-Asshole. Sincerely, My Asshole, xoxo. P.S. We’re all assholes!)

It gets exhausting, loving and holding onto yourself so much, so tightly. Paralyzed by pride is how I’ve described it. It’s the one feeling stopping you from extending a hand and clipping a necklace around your beautiful sister’s neck; the one feeling keeping the combinations of words like “I’m sorry” and “I was wrong” out of your vocabulary; the one feeling preventing you from committing to your boyfriend in a way that doesn’t exclude him from all the secrets in your life. (Are you reading this, ex-from-the-10th-grade? I’m still the devil!)

It’s self-doubt. A fear of rejection, of not being understood, of not getting the same love back, or the response you’d hoped for like: I’m sorry, too. It’s inevitable disappointment. It’s acknowledging that you aren’t perfect. It’s reminding the world and yourself: My ideal-self is a lie, and loving you is just making this truth all the more transparent. I love you so much. Do me a favor baby, don’t reply—cause’ I can dish it out, but I can’t take it!

I look at the people I love most in the world and all I see is everything I lack.

They make me feel ordinary—the people I really truly love make me feel so goddam ordinary…

I remember a bizarre exchange I had at a bar with some guy who was from out of town. He touched my face and said, “You make me think of that movie…the one with the plastic bag: American Beauty.” And in my head I was like: You’re damn right. I am exactly like that horrible blonde girl: I don’t think there’s anything worse than being ordinary.

If you’ve ever seen American Beauty then you’ll know that the horrible blonde girl I’m quoting is probably only one notch away from the murderous homophobe in terms of being the most depraved character in that movie. I don’t think there’s anything worse than being ordinary. It’s such a foolish fucking thing to say, let alone believe. And I did! Do? I don’t know!

It’s like this: Being loved, like for-real, for-real, loved, is ordinary. Bone-crushingly—magnificently?—ordinary. So ordinary you could go numb to it: Love is watching someone die.

It’s not romantic in the conventional sense.

Or my weirdo masochistic sense.

It’s romantic in the human sense.

Barf!

It means letting someone strip back layers of your ideal-self until only you remain—free of hairspray and pleather jackets and the shimmery cream that makes your cheekbones glow. It means you’re not allowed to be alone with your secrets anymore; you can’t hide up your own ass forever, you’ve got to crawl out and be a real person sometime. Stop giving a shit about being interesting and mysterious and reveal yourself as a real person, dammit! God, what could be more mortal and ordinary than that?

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m saying it: Love is watching your ideal-self die for somebody real and that might mean holding hands with someone at Red Lobster.

☁︎

Before I wrap this thing up, I think I have to acknowledge that ideals are a two way street. We idealize other people just as much as we idealize ourselves, and we’ve got to let go of any idealizations we have of other people, the same way we have to let go of our ideal-selves, if we’re going to love them. Otherwise, things will fall apart.

My absolute favorite fairytale as a little kid was Hans Christian Anderson’s, “The Nightingale”. I reread the story when I was in the process of writing this post and now, as an adult, I realize it was probably my favorite fairytale because it’s all about the destructive nature of idealization, and the simple truth that, you can’t honestly love anyone from a place of possession or control.

Here’s my summary of the story: A spoiled Chinese emperor becomes obsessed with a songbird called the nightingale. Eventually, his servants find the nightingale, bring her to the emperor, and he orders her to sing. After hearing her song, he commands her to stay and live in his palace. She basically becomes a tiny prisoner who gets walked (how you walk a bird, I don’t know) once a day by like, fifty servant girls or some shit. Anyway, some guy eventually brings the emperor a bedazzled mechanical nightingale that sings on command, and when this happens the real nightingale escapes. However, nobody cares when the real nightingale escapes because they’re all preoccupied with the mechanical one. Ultimately, everyone agrees that the mechanical nightingale is better than the real one because it’s more “reliable” and “predictable”. Everything is hunky-dory for the emperor until the mechanical nightingale breaks and shit hits the fan. The emperor becomes ill and realizes only the song of nightingale can distract him from some crazy existential crisis he’s having. And right when he’s about to die, or be overwhelmed by some massive panic attack, the real nightingale shows up and sings to him, ultimately saving his life.

I interpret the story this way—the nightingale’s character is split in two between the mechanical version and the real version, which is just another way of saying the ideal nightingale and the real nightingale. So when the mechanical nightingale breaks, it’s one heavy-handed metaphor. It’s the equivalent of saying: Ideals break. And that’s just the thing—they do break. Dream boys and dream girls, relationship goals, Gatsby’s fantasies about Daisy, all the Prince Charmings trying to twist their way through the thorns surrounding Sleeping Beauties, they all break. They bleed and dwindle and die because whatever was on the other side of those ideals, those dreams, those fantasies—that thorn bush—was never real to begin with. And even when it is, you still can’t have it. It’s never going to be yours.

And that hurts. It hurts so badly when, like the emperor, you’re basically screaming at the object of your affection: Sing! Please sing for me! Make the world less boring and less cruel for me! You owe me! I’ve given you everything! And your pleas are just met with a static silence, and you’re left alone to stare at some broken mechanical bird with all its glorious springs popping out in a way that looks a lot like mockery.

 Ideals man, they break.

And the disappointment of this realization might be enough to kill you, but you’ve gotta get over it if you’re ever going to actually love anyone. Like, the only reason the emperor liked the mechanical nightingale more than the real one was because he could control it, and he could possess it; two extremely selfish compulsions that are the foundation of all idealization, and ultimately, the antithesis of loving relationships.

When the real nightingale returns and saves the emperors life, he begs her to stay and live with him in his palace forever and she tells him no; she says she can’t make his palace her home—bitches gotta fly. However, she promises to return and to sing to him about the “good and the evil kept hidden” around him. She promises to do this every night. She tells him, “I love your heart better than your crown, and yet, there’s a breath of something holy about the crown.” And then she makes him promise to not tell anyone that he has a little bird who tells him everything, “That will be best,” she explains. And he agrees.

That ending is so beautiful!! It’s everything I’ve been yapping about! It’s like, love doesn’t necessarily mean holding a flattering mirror up to each other and reinforcing each other’s ideals—it means being real with each other; encouraging self-reflection in each other; pointing each other in the direction of whatever it is that the other lacks, lovingly. It’s not about possession or control; it’s about watching someone thrive, and being totally at peace with it. It’s allowing someone to fly away and come back different, over and over again. Let the person you love be ideal in life and ordinary in love.

Remember the big picture: You can never know everything about the person you love and they can never know everything about you. In one way, this is a tragedy; it’s the loneliest truth in the world. And in another way, it’s the most beautiful mystery we get to keep in life.

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

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

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

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

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

Either way.

It. Was. So. Fucking. Creepy.

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

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

God dammit! I thought.

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile Science was just like: Stress.

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

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

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

☁︎

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

Or maybe it does.

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

And now I’m just quoting Lorde lyrics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It sucks because it’s lonely.

I feel like an alien.

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

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

☁︎

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’d kill myself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

☁︎

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

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

He cut me off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s not all about “who you know”.

☁︎

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course I started crying.

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

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

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

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

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