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)

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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.

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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