to fund your future idiocy

I’m going to preface this by saying that I’m not going to talk about the news at all, but rest assured I am freaking out about the news both International and domestic at nearly every moment of the day, but I know for me personally it really escalates my anxiety to read other laypeople speculating about the future implications of the current horrors at home and abroad, and I don’t want to inflict that on y’all since I know I’m predisposed to anxiety, paranoia, and alarmism. But rest assured I’m freaking out! So instead I’m going to do something other than refreshing google news which is talk about my life.

Last night I was drinking with some friends at one of the friends uncles apartment because the uncle is out of town. It was a very old man chic Greenpoint apartment with weird adult furniture like footrests and massive quirky collections of books and music. It was raining but we stayed outside in the backyard for a while anyway, until the rain started seeping through the patio umbrella and into our drinks. Then we went inside to sit on the weird adult furniture.

At one point someone goes “Do you ever think about what it’ll be like to look back on your youth and be like ‘wow I hung out with the New York creative scene of the twenty teens?” I refrained from saying “No because I don’t know if we’ll live that long” (I’m trying to be less fatalistic because I don’t think it’s productive or good for anyone’s anxiety.)

Then someone said “Yeah like are we going to talk about knowing XXXX way back when?!” 

Of course I interrupted here to joke, “No, you’ll be saying we knew Becca Schuh way back when,” because I’m an asshole. But it qualifies as a joke because I’ve accepted that I don’t have the mass appeal to be a famous writer because I don’t have any expertise to make it as a journalist or any universal social lessons to impart as a novelist, so I’ve settled for ‘niche appreciation’ as an achievable goal. 

Then we ate kielbasa sandwiches and finished the grapefruit rosé and switched to Tito’s, because luckily I’m only friends with fellow drinking masochists. We talked about Sleep No More for at least thirty minutes and then gossiped for an immeasurable amount of time because gossip knows no time constraints and then it was two am and I for one had to go home because ya girl still stays out till two when she has to open the stupid bar at 10:30 am the next day. 

I was happy though, so happy during that night to be ensconced in a room with people just chattering and drinking and talking shit. It’s not that I’m unhappy normally, I love hanging out alone and reading and writing and editing and whatever else I do on a daily basis, but it’s just very nice to be surrounded by humans once in a while. 

Today while at work battling my hangover I had conversations with two of the friends present at said gathering recapping conversations had the previous night, and I didn’t realize it at the time but remembered later that this is one of my favorite activities. Recapping social situations a day later is it’s own social situation, the esteemed alternative college graduate says from her pulpit. 

Other than sneaking off to the bathroom to text, work was very boring, very slow. After work I went to Central Park to meet another writer who I guess is into befriending me. I wanted to have an hour between work and hanging out with her because I get overwhelmed when I have so many hours that aren’t just me and my thoughts (work is too much outer focus to count as me and my thoughts time) but then I stuck around work drinking a beer and texting so I had to go straight to meet her and was still late.

It was nice though, other than seeing a play a few months ago I hadn’t been to Central Park since last fall, aka fucking up hardcore. It’s such a lovely place to lounge! We had a nice time but it was refreshing to be alone when I headed home. 

Thinking back, there are only a few people I’ve met since college who I’ve been able to hang out with for more than an hour or two without getting overwhelmed and stressed out. Maybe two friends from Hash. The two guys I dated, unfortunately, gross. Bri, of course. And then a few from restaurants here. I have some new writer friends who I think it would be nice to spend that much time with and I think I’d be okay but we haven’t done it yet because that’s weird, you know, if I were to be like “Hey I don’t really like hanging out with people for more than two hours but I think I’d like hanging out with YOU for more than two hours so shall we give it a go?”

I’m going to start calling these post-bac friends, people who have graduated from casual friendship and seem to be interested in the inner sanctum which is FRIENDS FOR LIFE, (like all my college pals sorry guys it’s too late to escape.) 

When I got home from the park I went grocery shopping and bought some things that a normal person might use to make meals, i.e. greens and mushrooms and frozen vegetables and eggs and shit like that. I haven’t cooked really at all since I got really depressed in San Diego while in a problematic non-relationship, and stopped preparing food as I don’t know an act of resistance to couples making food. (It was more complicated than that, obviously lol) I’ve never really got back into it but I’m going on an international trip in October, my first since I traveled in 2013, and thus I need to actually figure out how to conserve some spending.

In the interest of being transparent about money, I’d like to explain how I’m affording to go to Italy for this writing workshop (which I am very excited about and rest assured I will speak about it much once it happens.) When I decided to move to New York, I set a goal that I would save $10,000 before I departed San Diego. I was able to do this in about seven months because I was working at a very popular brunch restaurant, where I had basically limitless ability to pick up shifts. I generally worked six days a week, sometimes seven—my record was working thirteen days in a row. In California the server minimum wage is $9 an hour and I always worked over fifty hours per week. So I’d get a weekly paycheck around $200, as well as anywhere between $150-$250 per day in tips. So, on average, I was netting $1000 per week. My rent was still high (about the same as it is here) and I still did the normal stupid shit I do like drink a lot and eat bougie food, but from March to when I moved in September I saved $12000. 

When I got to New York in October, I got a job right away but it didn’t start until December, so I had a period of time where I could burn through cash knowing that money was coming in soon. I’d say in those first two months I spent about $5000 between securing apartment, rent, being new to the city, etc.

I’d just started saving again when I left High Street for mental health and insane GM reasons, so my savings account was sitting at around $7000. Which is to say, all of my savings were from the months that I worked nonstop in San Diego. It’s still insane to me that such a short period of time enabled me to jump start the life I have here and provide a backbone that made me feel like it was not a life-ending decision to leave a job like High Street.

In the past year and almost a half, I’ve been making enough money to pay rent, goon around a a bit, etc, but I'm always worrying about money and certainly not saving it. I stopped taking writing classes and buying clothes and books and well I still drink but alas going out is like the only thing that keeps me from constantly staring at the news. When I got the opportunity to go to this workshop in Italy, initially of course I said I can’t afford it—if I’m not making enough money to even afford like, twenty dollars a month in my savings account, how could I justify a trip abroad?

And then I started thinking about the whole health care fiasco pretty much nonstop. I mean, duh, what else could anyone think about all summer. And I thought wow good thing I have some meager savings in case I ever get sick!

And then I spent my days reading the terrible stories of what healthcare costs if you don’t have insurance, and I laughed at my naivety of a week prior. If I lose my insurance and get sick, not just my tiny savings account, but any assets I theoretically would have to my name as well as the assets of anyone in my immediate family would obviously be promptly liquidated. There’s nothing a fucking waitress can do to financially prepare for that nightmare scenario. 

This is probably an absurd way to make a decision, but it happened and here we are I am spending about half of my savings account to go to Italy. It’s probably a stupid decision. And yet it’s the one I’m making. 

I think often about the year and a half that I lived in San Diego. It was in so many ways sad, because I was extremely anxious and depressed. But I don’t hold any resentment in my heart for the city or the jobs I had or the friends I hung out with. I love those people more than most others in my life because they dealt with me when I was at my most cantankerous and still love me to this day and at least to my knowledge don’t begrudge me for how miserable I was. 

I think too, of what gave me my lifeboat there. And it’s the writing I was discovering on the internet that, among other things, led me to believe that I could at least attempt to live in New York.

So much of me didn’t think I could do it. I’d fantasize about an abstract life here, but there wasn’t anything concrete. I knew the myths of young female writers in the city, but nothing about how they were in reality today, instead of like, whatever, when Joan Didion did it. So I had no idea if it was something feasible for me, or if I’d move here and just sit alone in an apartment all day and never make friends (or meet anyone the line from When Harry Met Sally suppose you never meet anyone etc) 

My life isn’t anything out of the ordinary by New York standards. I work at a bar. I work on a book in my spare time and read books by writers that I admire and by writers that I think are overrated. I go to readings and events at bars and I gossip with other young idiots and I try to forget that the world is a trash hole for 1-2 hours and then I go to sleep and wake up hungover. 

But I think about sad former me in San Diego who couldn’t really make it through a day without crying or having a panic attack and who decided to leave all of her friends on one coast to try and make a little life (omg I'm sorry did I just make an A Little Life pun please drag me) based around writing in this big dumb babe of a city and I think she’d be like ‘you know what, it’s fine, spend half your savings account to go on a writing trip to Italy. This is why I’m working those 10 hour shifts slinging pancakes missy, to fund your future idiocy.’

escape hatch from the psychodrama

Last night over coconut margaritas and guacamole my coworker was telling me how she think another one of our coworkers is a pathological liar because of the stories she tells about people she's met/fucked/etc in New York.

Then another coworker walked in to meet us and I was telling him about some of my freelance writing and I made my usual quip about how xoJane is the first place I got published for an essay about my hippie roommate stabbing himself while on mushrooms. The beginning of an illustrious career!

He (the coworker) goes “Oh do you know Cat Marnell?” and I was like well, obviously not personally but I know she has a memoir out now that's getting pretty nice press considering it's insanity. And he continues that he actually does know Cat Marnell personally, she came to his apartment to buy something (I think it was, in fact, not drugs but that's obviously the implication when one says 'to buy something,' but no I just don't remember) and they've been friends ever since, this was like seven years ago.

So I turn back to the first coworker and say “This is why I don't think (potential lying coworker) is necessarily a pathological liar. We live in New York! Anything is possible.”

Maybe the third month I lived here, my sister and I were out to eat at one of those dank noodle places where you order at the counter and take it on a lunch tray to cramped picnic tables in the back and everything is the perfect level of mad spicy. We were sitting next to these two guys who were talking about parties. The taller, more bedraggled looking one says, very casually, “Oh yeah on New Year's I was at Georgia Ford's party.”

His companion drops a noodle and says, “As in Harrison Ford's daughter?”

First guy rolls his eyes. (Rachel and I are trying to listen but not look suspicious.)

“Yeah man. I've been in New York too fucking long.”

Acting like you don't give a shit about famous people is definitely a space on “I'm a hip New Yorker” bingo card. And it makes sense! Waiting on celebrities got old after maybe the third one. It's not like you can chat with them and they'll just give you money and invite you into their circle of friends, at least not if you work at the bougie uppercrust places I've found myself employed by for the entirety of my time here.

Plus there's so many genres of “famous” people here. You can run into someone who your companion thinks is hot shit and they're losing their mind, and you're like I literally have no idea who this person is, they're just like anyone else. On Saturday I waited on a Victoria's Secret 'Angel' but I didn't realize or notice until today when I was Instagram stalking her husband! (He was a total dumb babe, and obviously I could tell they were married, but I still wanted to internet stalk him to try and gauge what type of man I'm finding attractive these days. It's been a rough few months in that department.)

What I find much more fascinating than seeing famous people (again it's not like you can just casually befriend them,) is seeing people in real life who you've only seen on the internet or only interacted with online. This is mostly writers, obviously. Because meeting actual famous writers is alas, about as exciting as waiting on celebrities. Sure, they're inspiring and amazing and listening to them speak is always a treat, but then you go to get your book signed and you tell them they're the best and, that's it. Without any opportunity to create intimacy it's just kind of a fun passing thing.

But when you meet people who you already have some sort of amorphous connection with, it's like oh, here, I'm seeing these bonds that have been implied come alive, and you're able to get a social context for the thing you're experiencing. And you're able to bond faster than you do with randos – I mean it's the same with anything. When I have a new coworker who I sense will be one of my people, it's easy to create that relationship because we exist together in this context that we can comment on and analyze. Or when I meet a writer who one of my teachers thinks I'd get along with, we can just hit the ground running because we already have this history of teachers and texts and vaguely knowing the same world.

It's been so funny moving here from California because almost everyone has some school or youth connection here where they have this whole network of bizarre social connections and I'm just like a secret infiltrator who has no connection to any of it. I'm surprised it doesn't annoy me—considering that I was somewhat recently dumped for, among many reasons, not being a part of this infrastructure, (“It's just like, no, I'm really sorry, it's just so amazing that me and [redacted] have this whole history of people who know each other so when we met it felt planned and like everyone was rooting for us and like it's a whole life—“ interrupted by Becca vomiting into a bush) but rather, despite that whole fiasco, I still find it all entertaining and strange. And because I have created a nice solo baby life for myself wherein I can escape from any social microcosm I'm a part of (restaurants, writing, other writing, dating, what have you) and hide in my cave until I'm ready to experience social things again.

It's scary, you know, or it would be if this were my whole life, rather than just one version of it. Having everyone know your business (I have a suspicion that this is true of pretty much any creative industry in the city, but it's probably especially creepy with internet writers and restaurant people, aka the kings and queens and princes and princesses of gossip) is a dangerous game if you're at all trying to hide things. Luckily, I learned to accept very young (thx hippie college) that if you just accept your lot in life as a crazy person, you don't get as upset when people find out about the batshit stuff you do. Or, if you tell the embarrassing stories yourself, you're in on the joke. That's some vintage Nora Ephron wisdom. I've been having a hard time with Nora lately too though, because the aforementioned human also invoked fucking When Harry Met Sally when dumping me, less than an hour after I said it was one of my favorite movies. (“Me and her, we just have this, like, banter, just like Harry and Sally!”) Like really man? You're already breaking up with me, have some tact and don't put my second favorite movie on your list of reasons that I'm inadequate!

It's funny too, I was rereading an old blog entry while writing this one, and I was joking about how I'd blog all the time when I was dating the California ex about how scared and anxious I was, and I was like oh my god Becca I can't believe you did that, what if he'd have read it! The joke being he would never read anything, he's not the googling type. But the most recent ex totally is the googling type. He went to my website and read half my articles like three days after we hooked up for the first time! Which is fine, I obviously endorse and participate in that type of behavior, but it's just funny because if I told a guy I did that they'd probably be in Montauk by now they'd have run so fast from me.

I did have a classic moment a month or so ago, I was supposed to be meeting this guy from one of the apps, probably Tinder, and he just texts me and goes “I made a mistake. I found your Twitter.” and I laughed for a long time, because, boy do I not care. Find it now! It's much better for you fools to discover Single Slut Central (my affectionate nickname for my Twitter) now than later when you've concocted an idea of me that is, surely, false.

But you know, that's part of the whole thing. You move here, you fuck a guy who tells you that the Brooklyn dating social satire you read at the gym in San Diego is actually a parody of flesh and blood people you've met and taken classes with in Brooklyn, and you're high and start to panic because the guy you're fucking writes about the same topic as the man who the protagonist of the book is based on and you're also an oversharing internet writer like the woman you met in real life, and all you can think is this is not my fucking beautiful house this is not my fucking beautiful life.

And it is, it was, but it also isn't. Because then six months later you're back where you've always been, alone in the bed with the books writing about it all with the perspective of, one of my older lady writer friends told me last week over wine after a lecture, (she was commenting on the breakup tweets from Single Slut Central) “a victim and an expert. You get what's happening to you as it's happening. You aren't taken unawares.”

And it's true, I think, because the thing about going to the tiny college with the incestuous social ties is that you learn. You learn young and you learn quick. That you can live the life, you can meet the people and chat and gossip and fuck and get drinks and 'socially network' and you can do all of it, but you need your escape hatch. And you have to use it liberally. And in the cave where you hang out when you've used the escape hatch, you need the things that are just yours and not everyone else's. Not that other people don't do them (we all read and write in bed, I'm sure) but yours in that you do them with yourself and they aren't dependent on other people. And in the cave you have the old friends, and the new friends who are irrelevant to whatever world you're escaping, and family and burritos and a picture of the Kennedy brothers and the Frank Lloyd Wright blanket and old Hoofbeat sweatshirts.

I was trying to coach a friend through a hard hour recently and I said, “you have to always remember your core. Because people are going to fuck with you so hard.” (we'd both been recently been v steamrollered) “and it's going to get confusing what was yours and what was theirs. But that's why you need your core.”

It's a little schmaltzy but I think it's true. And at least when I'm here, in New York, trying to make this weird psychodrama work for me, my core is my time at Johnston. Where I not only learned how to life a life wherein I do what I want and am not beholden to structures that have rejected me, but also learned how to play the game a foot out the door.

I think someone is going to read this and be like "girl seems like from what you've described the dirtbag person you referred to could definitely plausibly read this.” true. I don't care. Be thankful it's on a blog that I update very rarely and not in an essay. One day. Or not. Who knows.

While working on my novel-cum-memoir-cum-autotheory-cum-whatever about Johnston last week, I dug through my email archives to find the absurd choose your own adventure esque essay that I wrote for nonfiction senior year about this guy I was into for like, half of college. (Flan! Shoutout!) It's too weirdly formatted to actually use in the book, but I wanted to get at my detailed memories, and that's where they lived. Of course, I had a little embarrassment while reading it (so much for the idea that I wrote everything good senior year of college—I now see that I've written nothing good ever) but I was also struck by the fact that I was so willing at that age to take something that other people had written off as silly and really interrogate it creatively and take myself seriously, when no one else would.

It made me think about something I've been pondering a lot lately: it all matters. As women we're constantly told that our emotions, our heartbreaks, they're little and petty and they don't deserve our time or attention, let alone other people's. Well, fuck that. It's your life. It's what's happening to you and how you react to it, viscerally and primitively. If anything, modulating those reactions is the immature thing, because you're fitting your lived experience into a proscribed narrative that has nothing to do with you.

I used to get so angry that it seems like men oftentimes don't experience the icky painful outpouring that comes after a parting of the ways. Of course, many men do experience the emotions. But now, the ones who don't—I'm not jealous. It leaves the ick inside. When you process it, feel it, it comes out, and for me especially it takes a long time, but then eventually you're free. I'm sad for the men who didn't grow up with the emotional vocabulary to learn to process these things, who had their tears policed until they stopped coming.

My emotions still scare me. Especially when they veer into the obsessive. But I'm so proud that I've found a way to live my life that makes space for both my emotions and my creative work and my money work and a social life, and, of course, the cave of solitude where I sit and recover from all of the above. People who I haven't seen in a while sometimes try to introduce me like I've accomplished a lot in adulthood (lol, she writes from bed pantsless on a Monday afternoon while procrastinating) but I always want to stop them and be like no, no, here's the accomplishment. I'm living independently in a really difficult city and haven't been ruined by my own tendency to destruct everything in my path. That's the only accomplishment.

"What would an apologetic female narrator look like? Ordering a beer and then saying sorry?"

A few weeks ago, I had the excellent fortune to attend a panel at the Strand on Bad Women. As the event description put it, “This panel of novelists and essayists will talk about the onus of likeability placed on women and whether women are allowed to be flawed, in fiction and life.” I think we call all agree that 'onus of likeability' may be the phrase of the century.

I just finished up a writing class at Catapult with Chloe Caldwell, one of the panelists, a few weeks ago, and most of my colleagues from the class and I planned to meet up at the event. I generally attend events alone so it was a fun diversion to have someone to sit with and talk about the crowd instead of sitting alone and furtively scribbling in my notebook all the weird things I overhear.

Our main observation was that the room was packed with super fashionable ladies. To the point where there were maybe like, four men in the room. I'm going to look at this from the positive angle, it reinforces my theory that rooms of women have a unique powerful energy that some men have the unfortunate tendency to mess up.

Once the huge mass of humans had flocked into the room and gotten settled (I'm not exaggerating, rare books room at the Strand was practically overflowing) and some quick housekeeping notes from Kaylen, the girl who runs events at the Strand who I am obsessed with because she is fashionable and funny and has the best job, Isaac Fitzgerald, the event's moderator, opened the panel.

He started out with a moment of silence to Prince, le cry. “We're losing a lot of our artistic weirdo geniuses and that sucks.” It sucks a lot, pour one out. But in a purple lining, being at this event on the night Prince died served as a call to put ones nose to the proverbial grindstone about making weird boundary pushing art. Of course, it's crazy that women being themselves in writing is still weird and boundary pushing, but – that brings me to the panel!

“Let's have a kickass conversation about badass women,” Fitzgerald said, and then the badassery commenced.

Other than Chloe, the panelists were Anna North, Jenny Zhang, and Emily Schultz. The event was centered around the paperback release of Schultz latest book, The Blondes. Some of the reviews of her book treated it as though it was full of bad characters, out to terrorize the town. Her response opened the discussion:

“I didn't think it had a bad woman in it. I thought it had a woman who was in her twenties.” That one certainly resonated in the room, as it was primarily peopled with women in or near their twenties.

Chloe then discussed the reviews she received for her novella, Women. It's one of my recent most fabulous reads, by the way, and should be picked up by absolutely everyone.

“Many of them said the narrator lacks apology or was unapologetic – which seems like a backhanded compliment, what should I be apologizing for? What would an apologetic female narrator look like? Ordering a beer then saying sorry?” Of course we all laughed, but it's funny because it's true. We're at a very interesting moment for women and apology, no? There's a strong cultural impetus for women to stop saying sorry, but then women who ostensibly act this out are called unapologetic. What is this magic middle ground that we're supposed to be filling in to?

She continued, “The most disconcerting thing is when you think your character is totally normal, that's what life is like, that's what my friends are like, and then you read a review saying your characters are so fucked up.”

What all the panelists continually wrangled with is that the commentary on female work is so much more judgmental and amped to a higher degree of personal attacks than any commentary on male work. How often do people even use the phrase 'male work'? Never. It's always a woman who receives the designation of gender on something she creates.

Zhang went on to draw the connection between this commentary in writer's workshops and in the world at large, drawing out possibly my favorite comment of the night: “It's like the MFA vs NYC thing – ugh so inside baseball gross.” (I really can't resist a good MFA vs NYC joke) (Or any joke that only makes sense to people in a weird subculture)

Zhang continued, “People were telling me the immorality of what I was interested in.” Do we ever do that for men? Who with 'authority' tells gross dudes to shut up?

North brought up the challenge of choosing which comments are worthwhile - “What are valuable voices I should take in?”

This reminded me of a question I've consistently debated: does it matter if some people 'don't like' your work? Of course in terms of the capitalist market it's important for some people to find value in what you make, and I also do believe that there are elements of art that need to be present to constitute something strong – I'm thinking structure, form, innovation, energy, utilizing classic techniques in creative ways. But at the same time, in a world so immersed in the culture of opinion, 'liking' is a totally subjective idea. It doesn't necessarily have anything to do with a work's merit.

Unfortunately it's impossible to discuss the creative work of women without coming up on accusations of narcissism and egocentricity. Something I love in this moment we're having with women is that some people finally seem to be saying: so what if this is 'about me'? What is wrong with that? Why the implicit insult in being focused on the self? Why is the negative association only directed at women? Nobody is telling Knausgaard to stop writing about himself.

“Clearly Chloe Caldwell's favorite subject is Chloe Caldwell,” she said, quoting a review. She went on to say how people always categorize her writing as self topical, “The topic is always stated as myself versus female friendship or bisexuality.”

Zhang countered with how this has played out for her in terms of race, and how people reacted to her work with shock because she did not fit into their stereotypes.

“It's like they're encountering that person for the first time. People would call my work daring, but I was just born and have this brain and care about what I care about.”

She went on to aptly describe a cultural tendency, for people to deride women for fucking up but also relish in that moment:

“There's this blood thirst in our culture for women to fuck up publicly, not to be good but to be interesting.”

Shulz brought the discussion of the language around women's work to the broader realm of women’s accomplishments -

“People are always asking who did she fuck / who did she know what are her connections – versus acknowledging the woman's work.”

And of course the way that men refer to women based on their age could not be avoided.

“Men who are thirty or thirty five are not called ingenues," Shulz said.

Zhang continued this thread, “Young implies that you're sloppy / irresponsible / artless / just printed out your diary.”

Though the question session began, despite a loving warning from Fitzgerald - “Please make sure it's a question and not a story about yourself,” with an awkward possibly sexist question from one of the only males that made the entire room cringe, for the most part the questions were eloquent and led to great responses from the panelists -

“Women would write thoughtful reviews and men would say 'Oh! I didn't know this was going on!'” Caldwell said regarding the differences in her reviews from men and women.

“I used the first person so much I basically strangled it with desire and affection” Zhang on her past and future writing genres.

“People are offended by the fact that there's not an easy morality.” More of Shulz analyses of the reactions to her most recent novel.

I left the panel of badass women first and foremost wanting to attend more panels of badass women. A panel is really the perfect form – you get to see people whose thoughts you love form new theories together, the total dream. But I also left it thinking – in the eyes of the general public commenting on art, women are never doing the 'right' thing. But this idea is inherently flawed, because it's acting as if there is a right thing, as if there is a 'thing' that women are supposed to aspire to, rather than being free to aspire to whatever they desire.

"I am a social maniac and a misanthrope." Heidi Julavits and Leslie Jamison at Word

Last month I saw Heidi Julavits and Leslie Jamison at Word in Greenpoint, and before I get to my fawning I must say – what a perfect little bookstore! I have never seen so many quality notebooks alongside such a well curated selection of books about and by women (surely there were books by men too, but I didn't notice.) And snuggled so well into an economical space, as one must do in Brooklyn, Manhattan, anywhere in this radius.

Of course I had to buy five books before the event started. Bluets because I hadn't read it yet and there it was, and as one would suspect the bookstore lady commented on it. The Lonely City by Olivia Laing, about the relationship between cities and art and solitude. All the Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister – anyone sensing the grand themes of my life at play? Dark Money by Jane Mayer, because one must learn and be in fear occasionally during the fun of reading. And I had to buy a paperback copy of The Folded Clock, even though I had the hardcover literally in my bag, because it came with a free notebook with the same design as the book jacket that says 'Today I...' See? Notebooks and great books by ladies.

While waiting for the reading slash discussion to start, I eavesdropped on the humans around me, all of whom seemed to know each other. This used to bother me when I went to readings in NYC, but now I don't really care. I may not know humans at every reading I go to, but I know some humans, and I even know some humans at readings. (Rare, but happens.) The knowledge that I have humans to drink wine with and meet for events and people that I'm working to befriend makes me not feel inescapably lonely in rooms where I know no one, and then I get to overhear great tidbits like -

Some humans gossiping that their friend just got into Iowa and went out for a drink with Heidi before the reading, whatever, jealous, and of course a dude. Typical, dudes getting into Iowa.

It is also somehow comforting that there is this language that I am well versed in even if I don't know the people talking. Like oh, I can probably figure out what event you're talking about at the Strand, and writing grad schools, and I can probably guess how you all know each other. It's a very interesting situation to be in – not like college where if you turned around you'd see someone who one of your friends is in a secret war with, and not like California where the only language everyone has in common is the sun. Somewhere in the middle, like a big old pasture where you all see the same trees.

And then Heidi and Leslie came out, and of course Heidi is so fucking fashionable! Wearing this crazy bold patterned wrap dress with every color you didn't know you wanted to pair together. Incredible. And then they started talking, and even her voice is majestic.

Apparently they went to lunch to talk about what they were going to discuss at the reading, and had such a good time that they just decided to repeat the conversation – or, in Heidi's words:

“So we are going to have lunch again, in front of all of you, and talk.”

Doesn't that sound fun?

She started with a passage from The Folded Clock, and stopped mid reading to laugh at herself, because she is the coolest. It was really adorable watching the two of them interact, because you could tell that they're actually becoming friends. They talked about this a lot, how hard it is to make friends in adulthood, and how time consuming. The way Heidi described it -

“It's like the economics of intimacy...” she paused, “And that is the title of my new novel.” and we all laughed and laughed.

Then she talked about how she was a waitress until she was 30, and I cried and cried, but out of happiness more than sadness. I knew this already, because I am a creep, but it never gets old to hear about writers waiting tables. (Though, as of now, I do not wait tables. I do nothing. For the next, you know, two weeks until I get paranoid and start schlepping my resume again.) Anyway, Heidi's most brilliant quote on it of the night:

“When I first started serving in New York, I was the twenty five year old matron among nineteen year olds in a nightclub, and then I moved to upscale, and I was surrounded by forty five year old alcoholics. That will make you write. That made me write.”

This spurned a discussion between her and Leslie about writing while having a day job, and Leslie said:

“You have to go to such extensive lengths to make yourself do the only thing you want to do,” discussing how hard it can be to make yourself write when you aren't at work. Sigh. So true. But also so great to know that it is not just me, and that it is also talented published teaching writer ladies. Hope springs eternal!

 

fate hi it's me i'm tempting you

I feel strange making a plaintive cry for help from the universe when I have already had so much help from the universe lately: so many aspects of my move here feel like I've gotten the appropriate nudge from fate and just followed without asking questions. Then again, I also worked v hard for everything that has happened to me in the past year, from spending six days a week at Hash House to save the money to move to New York to being the most nervous fearful human and talking to every writer lady I can see within a ten mile radius.

It's not that I feel slighted that I have to work 40+ hours a week at an exhausting job while trying to pursue writing. That's not new or special or different. Most people have to work full time while trying to build a writing life, and I've never minded it, not more than the next person. It's that – and as always I say this as carefully as I can with the knowledge that I could still be shooting myself in the foot – to maintain a writing life that has a trajectory alongside a full time job requires that many elements of both of those things (writing and paying job) be near perfect in order to allow them to exist simultaneously. When the circumstances of one (and you know which one I'm talking about) begin to actively interfere with the other, it sets off these red flags in my brain of nonononononono.

Everyone knows about this. Not everyone's thing is writing, but everyone is trying to build a life that doesn't have to do with their job, right? Even when I wasn't actively trying to pursue writing, I always dealt with this, and it was always difficult, it always gave me problems. Sometimes it was weirdly overly intertwined (trying to be a good academic and social Johnston student while working as a CA) and sometimes it literally got in the way of me even living a safe and healthy life, all creative ambitions aside (when working at that miserable camp in LA where all the horses colicked) but it's always been a thing.

Maybe I'm just especially terrible at having jobs. That wouldn't surprise me. After all, I am especially good at other parts of life, so it would make sense for me to have some consistent deficits.

But it's not like me being bad at my job is the problem here. I feel like I'm too good at my job. I'm always being asked to work extra hours, always being over scheduled, always relied upon. Maybe that doesn't mean I'm too good at my job, it just means I'm not a huge flake. (I miss being a huge flake. Those were the days.)

In order to stop myself from saying specific things about my current situation that would be unfortunate if in the wrong hands, I am going to speak about an overall qualm I have with the service industry that is directly in opposition of anyone trying to build a meaningful life outside of it while working within it.

There's this idea that waiting tables is a great job to have while trying to pursue art, and in the right circumstances, I think that can be true, but I feel like it's actually something people say out of convenience / lack of resources to find other jobs. Because the whole thing about being an artist is that you need to care so fucking deeply about the thing you are creating, and that doesn't leave much care left over for other things.

Which is like, the siren call of my life. I care about some things – not just art! (but not much else) – so much – art, human connections, weird experiences – but I really can't be bothered to care about much else. This is obscured a lot by the fact that I have such high anxiety which sometimes concentrates itself on random things that are not the above three. But I find more and more as the years go by that my response to any given event or stimuli that isn't something I care deeply about is some variation of the following: what? I don't give a shit? Who fucking cares? Whatever?

Now back to the artists in the service industry thing – the service industry is the royal family of caring about incredibly inconsequential things. Never in my life have I encountered people caring so much about things that are so irrelevant. At least at summer camps it was like ah yes these children SHOULD have a character building experience! But at a restaurant it's like wow, I actually just could not care less if some small thing happens that people are annoyed by.

And that's supposed to be the point! You're supposed to be a waitress so you can leave it behind! But the more restaurants I've worked at, the more obvious it becomes that it's really hard to find a place where no one cares, and the people who do care will spend all of their time trying to make you care, and that kind of pressure is not leaving the job at the door. I don't know who does like pressure, but I dislike it an exceptional amount, I back away from it like the plague and start acting out.

I mean the obvious problem is, there probably isn't an industry where people acknowledge the inherent meaninglessness of the things they do, so the pressure is probably always present. But lately every time I say something like 'oh I would probably hate an office job,' I'm like but wait, Becca, you haven't actually tried it, you literally haven't tried any job as an adult that isn't being a waitress. Preproclamations of hate start to seem less like actual opinions and more like fear that I am not going to be able to be paid to do anything else.

Specific reasons aside, I need to earn at least some small fraction of my income from doing something else. I have no idea how to make that happen, but I must. I understand that I'm still a while off from the dream lyfe, which is no specific schedule of anything and running around New York meeting with baller humans and building creative relationships and writing sick articles about modern society, all day every day, but I can sense that life becoming a possibility. I can also sense that if I dedicate too much of myself to a restaurant, I will lose the window of opportunity to make dream lyfe happen, and I would never forgive myself.

I need to do something that is not what I am doing. Whether that is a small change in schedule or a large change in how I am paid to do work to make rent, I have no idea. But universe, it is me, I am asking you for help – not for a job, just for a suggestion of where to turn, where to look.  

Compilation Selves

Today I was on a run, and I was contemplating how life and I have been on great terms since I moved to New York. It's been a little over a month, but already so many things are happening, and so many opportunities are presenting themselves, that just make me excited to be involved in the world and to finally be in/at a place where I can actually take concrete action to create the type of life I want.

I've known for quite a while – since the end of college – that the primary thing I want in life is not in the realm of traditional measures of success or finances or weird domestic trappings. At the core, what I want is to consistently be interacting with interesting, intelligent humans, having fascinating conversations, while concurrently consistently producing good work that I am proud of. To always be thinking and engaging, alone and with company. To have an equally rich private life of making and consuming art in tandem with a thriving social life, talking about said art and the making and consumption of it.

Now, I can feel that I am relatively close (comparatively speaking) to achieving that. At least, I'm taking the steps I should be taking to make that happen, and the days are rich with possibility and joy. But then, of course I have to reflect on the time since college that was spent, somehow or other, not doing that, even though I have known this was my goal for quite some time.

The things that happened to me directly after college certainly aren't tragic, or dramatic enough to warrant a memoir, but they are good examples of Person Not Having a Great Time and Not Being in the Correct Location. You know, quitting the summer camp when half the horses coliced, being a sad human with no friends while traveling, lots of interaction with idiots, lots of anxiety and crying alone, whatever, dumb. (And some great things, like awesome friends and interesting jobs, but whatever life mixed bag)

I don't regret anything that I did in the past two and a half years, because it got me to where I am now. If there's any 'lesson,' it's that not all environments are fertile grounds for consistent dank conversations and art making, and that once you realize an environment isn't a fertile ground for what you want, you need to take the steps to get to a new environment. 

But now I think of how I'm finally at this place in my life where I feel close to the point of being able to be my best social self, which I haven't felt since college, and it's crazy to me that all the people I've met and gotten to know and love in the past two and a half years don't even know me at my best social self, the one where I'm making weird ass connections and applying social theory to parties and taking the steps toward building literary community. The friends I made at the summer camp, the people I met while traveling, the people I worked with at IHOP, and of course, my lovely amazing coworkers who I miss SO MUCH from Hash House – they never knew this version of me. And that made me sad!

But after two minutes of being sad about that, I also thought about all the strides I've made as a person in that time frame, and how the people who knew me at my best social self, in college, did not know me at my best taking care of myself self. I used to be well known for being late, and always rushing into things at the last minute. Now, I am generally early or on time. In my second month of work at Hash House, someone called me punctual! What! I exercise regularly, I take care of myself – I actually shower these days. One of my professors from school didn't recognize me the last time I went to visit – in her words, because I looked 'so polished'- the nice way to say thin, recently showered, wearing a nice dress instead of a bandeau and booty shorts. I have a skill (a meager one, but a skill nonetheless) that enables me to go to work every day and make money to pay my own rent and pretty much whatever else I want at any given time. These are all small things, but put together they make me into a person who can accomplish what I want to do without having to worry an excessive amount about if my lackadaisical habits are going to get in the way. These things were probably necessary in the process of becoming a functional adult person.

So perhaps it isn't that I lost my best self in the past two years, but that I had to spend some time concentrating on other aspects in order to be able to move forward and be a productive adult human. And a great thing about having all that time not spent socializing, was that I spent that time doing something else – being a huge nerd and researching on the internet about writers and writing and, eventually, New-Yorky things.

I went to a writing workshop last weekend with Chloe Caldwell and Emily Gould, two badass women essayists who I am obsessed with. Of course, that was a crazy invigorating and intense day and I left with so much inspiration but also so much hope for the future and all these overwhelming emotions, and of course I listened to Welcome to New York by T Swift and started crying on the sidewalk.

My immediate reaction to my own tears was – who do I thank for this? Do I thank my professors, or my writer friends, or my family? But then I thought about it, and I thought – who told you to read Emily Gould or Chloe Caldwell? Nobody. I sat alone in my bed in San Diego and went into internet wormholes looking for great current female writers, and I found them myself. Who gave you the money to take this workshop or to move to this crazy city? Nobody. You worked six days a week at Hash House and put that money into the bank. Who sat with you while you wrote words and blog posts and essays and emails? Nobody! You sat alone that whole time, and it was lonely at first but then it was good for you, and then it became necessary, because learning how to be alone was just as necessary as learning how to charm strangers or throw a kick ass party.

And of course I'm so fucking grateful to my professors and my writer friends and my family, for so many things. I absolutely know that I would not be the person I am today if it weren't for my parents and my friends and my professors, for giving me books when I was five and teaching me how to socialize appropriately and giving me the attention and creative spaces to hone my writing (respectively, but also overlapping.) And there are people who have directly helped me with my life here already – my friend Abby who invited me to the facebook group that connected me with a bunch of these things, my sister and uncle for living here and existing, the friends who have chilled with me, the people I've met who have been so kind and welcoming. I will always be looking for ways to thank the people who have been there for me, but I also acknowledge that I owe a lot to myself, to what I've done while sitting alone.

So what I hope now, is that this is not the end of a self (the self sufficient, clean, hard working Hash House self) but the compilation of many selves, my social self and my efficient self and my creative self. All I really want is for this to be the start of that process, of learning to balance all the different aspects of my life, and not having to pay so much damn attention to each one, so they can all serve the grand purpose of making good art while having great conversations. It takes longer than I'd have imagined, but I can certainly say now that I'm on the way.  

Just me interacting with some humans I admire

Today, I took a truly excellent one day writing workshop at Catapult with Emily Gould and Chloe Caldwell. Anyone who has listened to me nerd out on contemporary women writers over the past two years can guess that this was a v meaningful experience for me, that may or may not have involved a cup full of tears while walking down 6 Av listening to Welcome to New York afterwards. But I'm going to save that particular bit of emotional absurdity for another time.

We did a bunch of short generative exercises, which was actually perfect for me right now because I keep trying to work on these large expansive essays that say so much about my experience as a college educated service industry professional and gentrification or sexual dynamics in the 21st century, which are all important topics but really hard to focus in on. Thus writing these short really focused excercises really reminded me that I can just – write. And, coincidentally, my sister and I had a hilarious time last night which just happened to translate very well into one of the prompts.

I've decided to transcribe it here, because getting back into blogging and New York times and writer times and the things that happen.

So we were writing based on our horoscope from Friday, and mine was something along the lines of - “you're inspired to connect, have an intense evening, but you shouldn't start conversations that won't end well.”

Here she is -

“My sister and I stood outside Cowgirl, on the corner of Hudson and West 10th, debating over whether to go inside.

“I mean, I think it's fine,” I said, “There probably isn't a wait and you are impatient.”

“But it looks like they're serving the food out of baskets...” she said.

Suddenly, a distinguished older woman rushed past us, looked at the restaurant, blurted “Yes!” and ran inside.

My sister and I locked eyes and immediately followed her.

Rachel and I are not normally prone to making decisions based on the choices of elegant older women, but we'd immediately recognized this particular one as Sharon Olds, who we'd just seen read at the Pushcart Prize 40th Anniversary reading.

We put our name in and took a seat at the bar, ordering one strawberry margarita and one habanero.

“It's been a while for her to be in the bathroom,” I said. “Do you think she's actually eating here?!”

“I assume so,” my sister said, gesturing to a back room just out of sight.

“Wait...do you think they're ALL here?!” I said, quickly calculating that, if this were the case, I would be in the same breathing space as Zadie Smith and Ben Marcus for the second time in one night.”

“Dude, that's what I thought when we followed her in here!” my sister replied.

We began taking turns canvassing the restaurant – pretending to look for the bathroom or being on our cell phones. I recognized with my superior creeping skills that about half the people working the event appeared to be eating in an anterior dining room, and a few more trickled in, waiting for another table.

“I want to buy them a drink but they're probably already on an expense account, so it would be pointless.” I sighed. “And I don't want to be a total creep.”

'Total Creep' around distinguished people was, however, in my repertoire. I'd befreinded all my college professors by schmoozing with them at free wine events, eventually asking them out to fancy dinners with the generous help of my best friend. We'd ended our senior year with telling one of them the details of the keg race tournament we ran for the rest of the school and possibly revealing the names and relative transgressions of underclassmen we'd had certain relations with.

As it turned out, not everyone involved with the ceremony was at the after dinner – aka, Zadie and Ben never reappeared. I speculated:

“Zadie lives in SoHo so she probably went home, and Ben splits his time between here and Maine and I mean I'd probably want to get home too if I was married to Heidi Julavits...”

My sister replied: “Yeah...it's probably good that you didn't have the opportunity to talk to them again.”

Instead, we made a strategic plan for how I'll convince my new restaurant to host after event galas for authors in our private room, thus giving me a future excuse to speak to the people I admire with a good reason: I'll be serving them food.

And plus, Zadie Smith had already given me the most affirming line of the night: when she was signing my anthology, I told her:

“I sent my ex your essays, and you're the first woman writer he's ever loved.”

She gave me a quick look, and then said in her deep, posh accent: “Well it's good that you two broke up then.”