anxiety ; the further problem

I've been trying recently to find a therapist in San Diego, by which I mean I have been saying I'm trying while in reality not looking at all and just knowing that as each day goes by I am aiding and abetting my anxiety rearing its head at ever more inopportune moments.

The main reason I have been so not at all doing the looking for a therapist is because my therapist back in Madison was just literally the best one and probably one of the best people in the world. I wonder if it's breaking some kind of reverse doctor/patient confidentiality to say his name here. Meh. I guess I'll avoid it for his sake. It's just really hard to look for a therapist when I know that it will be pretty much impossible to find one like Dr. Franzen (get the joke, because Jonathan Franzen is my emotional life spirit guide) and that even accepting that as an inevitability, I then have to remember that all the other therapists I've seen I've either mildly disliked or downright hated or almost worse, seen as just such a boring human entity of nothingness.

I'm not going to go through and list the flaws of every therapist I've seen aside from Dr. Franzen but they can probably boil down into the same trait that I find most deplorable in the average person I meet on the street, which is being simple. I'm not going to explain this in any depth whatsoever because if you understand what I mean you already know how horrible I am, and if you don't know you're better off not knowing and keeping the illusion that I'm a good person.

It's not that I think that everyone has to be difficult and/or complicated. I just don't want to associate on a more than friendly level with anyone who isn't. I think it's at the same time too boring and too challenging. It's boring because, well. And it's not challenging in the fun way, it's challenging in the way where it takes too much damn effort for me to have to explain every single thing I say and/or do and how it relates to my greater life and personality.

And now imagine therapy, where you're talking to this person who is supposed to be helping you understand yourself, so you're telling them everything you already know about yourself and how it relates, and they try and explain it back to you in ways that you seriously wish were true because they would have made your whole life from age 7 until present (24) a heck of a lot easier, but you know they aren't true because or else you might have been able to go to traditional college instead of absurdist alternative school or ever been in a serious relationship or been able to major in something semi acceptable that would have gotten you a career path job and your main talent wouldn't be something that is pretty much synonymous with neurotic – because no matter what anyone says, nobody chooses these things if they have another choice. If I could have taken those simple paths I would have. Being complex certainly has an aura, but at the end of the day nobody would actually pick that aura over how much easier it is to relate to the world the same way normal people do, because it is hard, and it's not something you would do if it wasn't inherently who you are.

And I know that many therapists are not simple, and that given the perseverance I could certainly find one who, even if he or she is not Dr. Franzen, might suit my needs, but it's kind of like dating. If it's just fucking tiring to think of going to dinner with so many idiots, imagine my exhaustion at thinking about spending money to speak to them.

Then there's also the factor that my successes in therapy in the past haven't even fallen on the traditional scale of how a therapist helps you. I've never been on medication and don't exactly want to be, because I strongly suspect that the processes my brain goes through in formulating endless anxiety are the same ones that give me creativity and alas I am not willing to stamp down my creativity for my sanity. But even more than that, Dr. Franzen never exactly analyzed my personality, and although I do think that would be interesting, I think that the biggest takeaways I got from him are more helpful to the way I operate in the long run. But they won't sound that way when I list them. Actually I don't remember most of them.

  1. Him calling me out on some of the absurd bullshit that I have been known to pull:

  • “It's fine, Dr. Franzen, I'm not going to worry about [X] anymore, because I know that even if one day our fine friendship did progress somewhere else, I'd always be thinking about if there was like some other perfect person/soulmate out there.”

  • “That's [some nicer word for bullshit] Becca, you can't do that. You can't just decide how you'd feel in a future situation and escape from doing things because of it. You just can't. You have to live it out.”

  • Him teaching me the 'shrug,' where when people like me spiral out all the ways everything in your life could go wrong or all the possible scenarios, a practice inherent to my anxiety, he says that sometimes you just have to shrug.

  1. Accepting that all of our thoughts are just thoughts and they have little to no bearing on reality and to not be the thought police on ourselves.

  2. Being a generally sane and calming presence who made me feel okay about life and my role in it.

  3. More things that I can't remember because then I got old and moved to California and it was stupid.

(Sry about that horrible list format, I fully blame Squarespace because it was FINE in OpenOffice)

Basically what I'm trying to communicate here is this guy let me just kind of talk to him about my shit and gave me advice that felt real and relevant to my life. I know that is probably the goal of all therapists, but now I'm just imagining everyone who said they were majoring in Psychology at Redlands sitting across from me in a therapists office, and crying. Because icky and boring and simple.

But I know I need to do it, because today as I was eating two different cheeses and beet chips and the only kind of salsa I can ingest from a jar, because every other one is inferior, I realized that I haven't made a meal for myself in over a month. We can certainly blame a lot of this on the fact that I work in a restaurant where I not only eat all day but also spend far too much time around the preparation of food, but that has not stopped me in the past almost-year I've been a server from eating everything in sight.

I can't cook or eat because I'm anxious. Food literally seems unappetizing. I thought it was pregnancy for a little while, which although not entirely unrelated, turned out not to be the case. I still force myself to eat things of substance to fill my stomach, or I go out to eat because even my anxiety cannot overtake my desire for aesthetically pleasing food and the joys of eating in a restaurant, or I stand at the counter and rotate between cheese / salsa / sauerkraut / dip / etc until I feel that I'm full enough to last me until I'm back at the restaurant, but none of these things are the same as actually cooking meals or even just making a sandwich.

Why am I so anxious, you may ask? Well, various theoretical reasons, but it all boils down to the fact that pretty much all parts of my life are very uncertain right now, and uncertainty is the well from which my particular brand of anxiety springs. Most people just accept this and assume that things are going well and then are sad when they do not, but alas I am not most humans. I instead analyze every way in which things could be going wrong at any given moment and come up with every negative scenario until I've driven myself to a panic attack / crying / sleep / etc etc.

I guess I'm just very sensitive to other people / jobs / home situations. And I've been fucked over by them enough to have a laundry list of horrible things they could say to me, and it's come out of the blue enough times that I'm prone to suspect that even when things are hunky dorey, they are secretly plotting all the ways in which they hate me.

This is no good! I know! And all my friends tell me this when I do the coping mechanism that my anxiety manifests in, which is seeking reassurance from other people, and since I'm obviously too anxious to seek reassurance from the people / jobs / situations I'm anxious about, I seek it from my friends and family, which beyond the obvious flaws of annoying your loved ones by boring them with every tiny detail of your interactions with a person / job / etc is also feeding directly back into the disorder.

And seriously, I already know all this. I've read all the books. I know that to stop the anxiety you have to stop engaging in the behaviors that you engage in when you get a negative thought, which include the aforementioned seeking reassurance from friends and family as well as reading articles on the internet about whatever issue one is having.

But then it leads back to the thing that even if you stop being anxious, you still have to deal with the fact that you're trying to grow up and become an adult and know how to act when interacting with other adults, and anxiety or not you don't know how. You don't know what the right thing to do is with the person. You don't know what is okay or not okay with the job or the potential friends at the job. You don't know when the housemates are annoyed at you or when they're just being people. You don't know anything and that is literally the breeding ground for the anxiety.

And here we are back at Dr. Franzen. Because everything I know about my specific anxiety disorder I pretty much got from books/the internet. He taught me a lot more about interacting with the world in a way that acknowledges how different I am but also helps me be normal enough to have functional relationships with other people/institutions/the world. Which is precisely what I am struggling with right now.

How do I find one of those again?   

A Caricature of the Writer as a Young Idiot by Becca Schuh

It's strange how one single day in life can be so singular and yet they all end up blending together anyway to create a year slash a life. I perhaps think I had such a day today. It's not as if so many spectacular things happened, rather the space between what goes on in my brain and what happens with the humans I interact with was much closer than usual.

This probably happens to me more often than most people because I'm apt to fall prey to a suggestion as soon as it happens and yet then let the consequences emotionally affect me much quicker and at a more intense rate than they would to a normal human.

I don't know what phrase is the best one, for society or for myself, so I'll say: there is human who I met several weeks ago who I have been seeing on a relatively consistent basis for adult sleepovers and we have things in common that most people don't have in common with me re: reading and writing.

I was telling him last night how I was at my critique group. Which is a fab group of feminist baller writer ladies of different ages and circumstances who have somehow found each other to have a great writing workshop. Truly amazing. Anyway, today he asked me to send him what I wrote for the group.

Funnily enough, what I sent to the group this week was Night Mares, which is –

Basically one night in college I sat down on my couch and wrote the best essay I have ever written in twelve hours and it is centered around womanhood and beauty and shame and desire and what it means to understand yourself, but it is also at its very core an exploration of two feelings, immense beauty and disgusting terror.

And another way to describe it is 'periods sexuality entrapment discomfort exclusion fighting desire reality acceptance”

One last way to describe it is “not an essay you would ever send to someone you are sleeping with”

And so I began to go through the other options. There are a fair amount, but the challenges of adulthood set in: the essays I wrote in college are unquestionably better written.

Because I had time. They're more lyrical, more evocative, they reveal my soul in ways that I could only do when I was living my soul in daily life.

My writing now is more accessible, it tells interesting stories in ways that people can understand. But I wanted to show him the best, because I know what I am capable of.  And since you never really know how good someone else is, you need to assume they are great and send them the best you have.  So I sent him not Night Mares, but my second best essay which is also intensely personal but not so much 'periods sexuality loneliness despair' as 'things that I don't talk about on the internet re: other people's privacy.'

And so I found the old file in my email and did a decent edit, cried that I am not as good at writing as I was at age 21, penned a quippy email to go along, and hit send.

I thought I would be fine, but I also knew I wouldn't.

Reading about the environment didn't help. It already gives me panic attacks. I just saw numbers and statistics and they all went through my brain without consequence. I got hungry. I walked to the kitchen and without any external stimuli the panic attack set in.

What was I thinking?

When someone asks me for something I want to give it to them, but how could I not think of how much this would scare me?

Let me be clear – I did not care if he liked my writing. Liking is such an irrelevant emotion to art. Liking something is similar to liking a pretty flower or a friendly dog. Sure, that's great. But serious art and literature is not about the arbitrary emotion of like. (This is all majorly inspired by musero uno, J Franz, Jonathan Franzen) I don't know what exactly it's about yet, but it's not about something as asinine as whether you like something or not.

I did care, on some level, about if what I sent him was too much. But I told him from the day we met that I write personal essays. I have repeated this fact. He is adept at remembering things more than most males I have met. He asked me. He must have known.

And yet, I was still so afraid. I haven't cooked in days but I started chopping up tomatoes and peppers and mushrooms and kale and opened a bottle of wine and watched the oil start to bubble and threw the pepper into the heating pan.

And I paced around the kitchen and the panic grew.

I planned on putting the organic version of Buffalo wing sauce, Bella's, on the vegetables. Until that point in the 'recipe,' I kept pouring on salt, hoping the vegetables would char, and trying to grasp if I could taste that this was a Cabernet Franc or if it was just my imagination  that I knew anything about wine.

Of course, at this point, I could no longer talk alone to myself about this predicament. I had to start radiating my anxiety outwards to my friends.

Which, if you know me, you know I had already done before I sent the essay. I'd been discussing it with my lifeblood long before I'd hit send.

He asked me to send him the writing as I was walking to the bank. I was wearing black shorts with lace trim and a black t shirt with wolves on it. I had recently gotten off work which is the story of my life most days. Today I was supposed to be serving the cocktail tables but another waitress was having some v. serious issues and the restaurant was slow, so for the first two hours of the day I food ran and tried to make the bartender who was expoing love me and then I took over the other waitresses section and cried because if you've ever been slow and then slammed its really hard to get your shit together.

But I did great because I am an excellent server. And I think in the first two hours of the day of no tables I did some good friend making. Which has been a v. stressful topic for me of late at work.

At the end of work my checkout seemed off, it looked like I'd only made 70 off 1000 which even though our tip out is 7 percent is still off. And everyone tried to help me but sometimes its just a mistake.

And then I realized there was a 20 slipped between the 50 and 100 in the money I owed the house. A portrait of the idiot.

My boss and I laughed about it and I walked home and got ready to go to the bank.

At the bank I was depositing 2020 in cash and something like 350 in checks. I've never deposited 2020 in cash before. I wondered if the teller wanted to ask if I was a prostitute. Meh, he's probably used to it.

Then I started walking home and stopped at two bookstores because recently my father told me about how Kurt Vonnegut called sports 'grandfalloons' aka meaningless events that people gather around so I was like for sure I need some more Kurt in my life. But the first one which is always so fucking disappointing even though I always want to like it failed miserably by having no Kurt or anything else which offends my sensibility because I try to always buy something from a used bookstore. And the second one didn't have Cat's Cradle but I got Timequake and Welcome to the Monkey House and a new ish Sylvia Plath Biography.2

Which is funny because she is who man and I spoke about when we first met

Great.

And then came the times of stress at home - 

because I thought he would think it was weird that I was being so personal and run away? But how could he do that when he had been the one to ask me for an essay, I reasoned. But also he could - they always do.

And everyone kept saying to me 'he will like it.'

But I need to repeat.  I didn't care if he liked it.  Yes, as I said, serious art isn't dependent on liking.  But more than that: I know it is good.  I don't know what kind of good or what directions it will reach or how far I need to go to get to my desired destination, but I know that it is good.  I don't need his validation - if I wanted that, I would have asked him if I could send him an essay.  But I didn't.  He asked me.  I don't know if he was curious, or judging, or interested, but it doesn't matter.  

And how do I know if I trust his opinion? He hasn't sent me any of his writing. Should I just trust it because he's a man?

But here is the thing, the thing that was giving me so much anxiety was not really those things. It was this:

This is me as a person.

And you are either going to take it or leave it.

And at the end of the day it doesn't really matter which, because whichever one happens is the on that was supposed to be,

But that is a very pivotal moment.

And hence the fear

And as I said to Natasha,

“Even if he bails tomorrow, it still exists that I've never done anything like this before I've never sent a guy I'm sleeping with my writing and that I think is a good thing even if its not …. and I think I trust him a little bit but I also trust no one

And eventually he replied: "I got it it's good you're a strong writer

and I know, that's nice – but -

What are you, a professor? I didn't ask for your opinion. You asked to read one of my essays. I know I'm a strong writer. Actually, I don't even care if I'm a strong writer. I am someone who writes with raw honesty, with joy, with love and with passion. If I had wanted your or anyone elses opinion, I would have asked for it. And I do – in the aforementioned critique group, with my writing peers from college, with Leslie and Alisa and all my other fabulous professors. But me offering you this after you asked for it is a gift, not a judgment. And a positive reflection is still a judgment. And also, I know. I don't need you to tell me.

What I need is for you to accept me. Because if you are going to ask to read what I write, you need to know what you are asking for. It is such an intense and visceral part of me, that you are on some level accepting responsibility as you ask for it. I did not offer this to you. You asked. And I am a person who wants to give the things I possess away, but you need to be prepared since you asked.

And we've been talking in the hour since, and it's great, and it's fine, and it's mediocre, and it's more and less than what I expected.

But what it shows me, above all else, is that I am a person with a carriage. Everyone says baggage, but it isn't all so negative. Yes, there are complications, but it is mostly intensity and engagement with the world and emotional vulnerability and a willingness to be who I am regardless of – anything. And that's not baggage. That's a carriage, and it is heavy, but it is beautiful and it will take you on an adventure and it is what it is. You can hitch your horses and pull it along or you can pick a lighter load. 

Modern Hate: The Chronicle of the Retreating Couch Surfer

Anyway, I don't really like strangers, so I try to be friendly to the couch surfers while not engaging in a great deal of BE-friending. I don't dislike strangers because of any specific strangers sucking, rather because strangers don't have enough time to 'get' me and I'd rather not waste my energy when I already have very little time to spare on someone who is inevitably going to be confused by my presence and perhaps end up being a little bit rude.

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Brunch Girl Eats Brunch Two

Last night I went in to my new job for bar training, because praise the lorde I got a job at a brunch place that serves booze.  I guess this is what they call living the dream. They made me almost every drink on the menu to try, so obviously since my tolerance is what I don't know ZERO, I was drunk in about one minute. 

 Bloody marys, mimosas, my death 

Bloody marys, mimosas, my death 

This was all good and fun, except I also had another obligation that night...to go to a writing coaching session for my performance on Thursday! Of course this would be my life. And naturally I was assigned the same man I had last month - he's a nice man but I'm pretty sure he thinks I'm insane, which was only going to be exacerbated when I showed up at his house drunk! 

Alas, nothing could be done about this, so I got a sidecar and prepared for doom. 

I think I managed to act like an adult, but it's really hard to say. My handwriting is literally nonsense so good luck Becca revising your piece!  The irony here is that although this is pretty stereotypical of my college self, I have actually matured to the point where I no longer drink large amounts of booze before obligations. But I had to, because it was FOR MY JOB. What a joke I live. 

So when morning came round I was too hungover (those drinks all had like a million miles of sugar, plus our couch surfer and I split a bottle of wine when I got home to deal with the trauma) to make myself breakfast. So out into the world for brunch it was. 

I am currently slowly eating a portobello mushroom panini and side salad at Fig Tree Cafe. 

image.jpg

I have read maybe one page of The Most Dangerous Book because my brain can't handle words. Luckily the food is delicious and ideally it is curing me.  The portobello mushroom is well crusted, and the goat cheese on the sandwich is naturally divine. 

As usual I'm way more into the side salad than a person naturally should be. But the balsamic is just so delicious! 

I always have a great time eating at Fig Tree Cafe, and normally I would ingest one of their delicious cocktails...but alas I actually have things to accomplish today and probably can't go home and nap. 

Modern Hate: This is My Pretentious Bookshelf

Imagine the challenge of explaining the following things to someone who professes to have no knowledge of any of them in under an hour:

  1. literary theory

  2. what 'good writing' is

  3. Joan Didion

  4. how people in Ghana do not live in huts

  5. how rude people are to servers

  6. how a personal essay differs from a 'five paragraph' essay

  7. Ebola

And now imagine that you are supposed to be figuring out if you are romantically interested in this person.

Alas, an hour of my life was spent that way. Pretentious statement of the day: dating is hard when you're smarter than most people. You go in thinking you can talk and be yourself, and then quickly learn that you can't mention anything that you spend your life doing without answering 200 questions about it. You realize you don't want to be the person doing all the talking, so you ask the other person questions. They answer them in one sentence and go on asking you to explain previous things you've mentioned offhand.

Perhaps I should start telling people I majored in marketing and that my passions outside of work are cooking and watching the news.

Though I guess that my degree of madness and passion for the arts is a good first buffer for potential suitors. That shall be the lesson of the night of order at the counter sushi in Clairemont.

San Diegans beware, I've never had a good experience at a date in Clairemont. It has literally been the go to location for lame guys who don't know how to converse. Oddly though, the first one had the issue of trying to instruct and explain everything to me, while this one had the problem of knowing what nothing I said was and asking me to explain in more excruciating detail than I ever want to with someone who I theoretically am trying to see if I have chemistry with.

I credit him with paying for the 35 dollars worth of sushi, and swatting away me trying to help pay, I guess chivalry is not dead. Moreover, I enjoy a free meal. Twas delicious from Niban, but I caution anyone: don't take a girl you're meeting for the first time to a sushi restaurant where you order at the counter and then sit down. It wasn't even cheaper than a sit down place! The fluorescent lights, news in one corner of the room, and pop music blasting from the other corner don't lend themselves well to an intimate ambiance.

Here's a I'm learning about dating: the first five to ten minutes are always pretty awkward. You're trying to hit the conversational stride or find the thing that's going to turn you from two strangers sharing the cultural tradition of a meal to two people who are out together having a good time.

Honestly, that stride usually comes for me. I'm not saying every date I go on goes well, in fact most of them are stupid and I wonder why I didn't just stay home reading a book. But, I can usually get the other person talking enough to have some jive going on, or find a commonality that we can laugh about.

This was not the case on order at the counter sushi night. The guy was a fellow Midweserner, and we couldn't even manage to make that into a fun conversation. Instead, he asked

“So, you're from Wisconsin, are you a cheesehead?”

What does his mean? Can anyone tell me why this is a funny thing to say to someone from Wisconsin?

He told me about his boring job, which I did not even judge him for until realizing later that he was, in fact, a boring person. Not everyone can have a job that gives them a million stories about strangers saying you're the worst waitress in the world/asking you to move into their homes.

I tried to say that I work at a restaurant and am switching soon and leave it at that, because I hear you're not supposed to talk about work on dates. Alas, my one attempt at etiquette failed because he went on to ask me one thousand questions about what ranks among the least appealing jobs in the world. Nothing makes you feel like a more attractive date than telling someone about how often you get insulted by strangers.

Further on in the date, I had to explain ebola to him, because he stated that all he knew about it is that it was the same as the Spanish word for grandmother. First off, is it? Second, explaining ebola tops the list of grossest topics I've discussed on dates. But by this point there was really no use in trying to salvage the time, once you've gone to blood pouring out of every orifice, you're really beyond all repair.

He went on to ask me to explain literary theory, good writing, the difference between a personal essay and a five paragraph essay, and had me list writers who I deemed to be 'good.' I always thought I'd be happy talking about Joan Didion with a man. Alas. The crowning moment was when, as I tried to steer the conversation toward mutual interests, and I talked about enjoying going to the beach now that the tourists are gone and the children are back in school, he said,

“Do you think it's a good practice to correct someone when they are wrong?”

Um, sure?

“I do. If I hear someone doing something wrong, I try to correct them so that they know for the next time and can protect themselves from embarrassment.”

Right...

“So you won't be offended or get mad if I correct you on something?”

No, of course not...

“Well, you said you like going to the beach because there are less people there. Technically in that situation you should say there are fewer people there.”

For sure man, for sure. I don't care if you seize on the one moment when you have the upper hand over me to reassert your status of power as a man. Duly not noted – I'll listen to grammar lessons when they come from my writing group, not a guy who asked me to explain the difference from an essay that I would write and a five paragraph essay for school.

Obviously, this date was an outlier in some sense. Ebola, explaining what literary theory is, staring at someone in shock as they say that they've never heard of people being extremely rude at restaurants. But in another way, it's pretty much the norm – it's hard to be a good person to date when your pool is the entire population, and your personal circle is people who are smarter than most of that population.

How do you go about finding someone who you won't feel guilty around for not dumbing yourself down? Where are the men who have heard of Johnathan Franzen but aren't so pretentious that they'll ignore you because you talk fast and appreciate pop culture?  How do you not feel like a total asshole for thinking this is a legitimate problem and seeking out solutions for it?  How do you reconcile the fact that you just may be an asshole for writing about it on your blog?

Most of the men I meet aren't as absurd as the one chronicled above. But most of them do present a challenge in the cultural literacy department. I will certainly date someone who hasn't heard of every author on my bookshelf, but I don't want to have to soothe their ego after they say they haven't heard of anyone on it by saying “This is my pretentious bookshelf. Look at the one on the other side of the room.”

Because at the end of the day, Nora Ephron, Emily Gould, and Ann Patchett aren't pretentious. Books on creativity aren't pretentious, neither are anthologies. Philosophy books are a little bit pretentious, but I can't help that I want to continue my theoretical education after college. Am I alive in a cultural moment where the works that are the common knowledge of my circles are hopelessly obscure to the average person? Is that what I have to accept about not having found a mate while in school, or is there hope that I'll find someone who will say ah, yes, I also spend too much money on hardcover copies of contemporary literary fiction.  Perhaps there is, but I fear that most men who say that are languishing on the pretentious ladder a rung above me, and would not deem themselves fit to date a woman who also loves Titanic and won't walk around cooing over his intelligence or ironic glasses.  

Let Us Now Praise (the advice of) Female Writers

As I'm sure most people who studied writing with in undergrad spend a huge portion of their time doing, I think (worry) pretty constantly about how (if) I'm ever going to “make it” as a writer.

I don't even know what I mean by “make it.” I don't know what I want, and I know even less of how to get there. As far as I can see, there isn't a handbook out there for this. Most of the advice I get is “keep writing,” which isn't bad advice. It's great advice in terms of life, but it isn't step by step giving me any idea of what to do next. And alas, it isn't providing me any concrete plans for how I'm going to get the hell out of waiting tables.

It shouldn't shock anyone that being a server is frustrating. Beyond the well known difficulties of the job, it adds another layer of frustration that my specific restaurant stresses me out so much, because now that I'm out of college and in the land of the jobs, I have to spend a lot of time at work and numerous hours of my time not at work thinking about work. I really dislike that aspect of capitalism, that we're so tied to what we do to earn our money. I also dislike that I have literally no options right now for doing any kind of work in the things that I love.  I don't have any of these supposed 'networking connections' that everyone talks about. When people wax poetic about networking they seem to forget the millions of people who don't have the privilege to have anyone to network with. Oh, the hungover guy who I was hamming it up with today at work who was complaining about his contracting business? Yeah I'll ask him for some advice about making a life in the arts straightaway!

I plan on expanding this in another essay, working title - “The Bullshit of Networking.”

All I'm doing now is throwing myself in any area I can see. I write every day, I take the steps that I can to decrease my stress from work so that it doesn't ruin my ability to do my real work, of writing and painting. As the months pass, I'm realizing that I'm willing to ease up on things I used to love like going out and generally spending too much money to preserve the things that I don't just love, but that are the thing that beats inside me, the arts that I practice. I'm trying to get involved in the arts community in San Diego – it's happening slowly, but getting my piece accepted for the VAMP showcase this month was a start. I loved doing the reading, met some cool humans who I'm going to creepily email for more advice and ideas, and remembered how great I feel when reading in front of a crowd.

But still, every day, I worry that it isn't going to go anywhere. That I'll be waiting tables until my knees give out. That my livelihood will depend not on the things I know I am skilled in, but on the whim of strangers who do things like not tip me after they find a hair in their bananas foster and I comp the entire dish – when the short black hair clearly didn't come from my obviously long blond head. That the majority of my social interaction will always be with people who bark “coffee” at me when I ask them how they're doing, instead of the creative and energetic people who I know I love being around from my time in school. That the possible years of this will erode what was once optimism into what's become humorous cynicism about the human race into a true pessimism that will fundamentally change the person I know myself to be.

Tonight I was so stressed out by my job that I utilized some of the creative techniques that I've taught myself to escape anxiety – turning on playlists I made in college, the most comforting time to remember, and reading gobs of things from my writer crushes on the internet.

I know myself well, and the tactic didn't disappoint. After sending emails filled with worries about the future, I followed it up with “Oh my god you have to read this interview! I wish she was my friend! You will be able to tell all the ways it eases my stress!”

This all in reference to Emily Gould, who, if you speak with me, you know I'm obsessed.  I knew a guy I went on a date with was destined for doom when he asked what she wrote and I said "Now I'm reading a book of her essays," and he asked what a book of essays was.   

I went from the interview to Gould's blog where I read an entry that literally soothed my pounding heart. And inspired me to write this post, giving love and gratitude to the only people who can truly calm me down when I worry about this – people who I've never met, women to be specific, writers I admire who say literally the exact right thing to the youths out there who have no idea what is going on. Emily Gould, Cheryl Strayed, and Mary Karr, Anne Lamott – to name a few.

I would highly advise reading the Emily Gould blog post that almost made me cry, because I'm too afraid to quote it here because I know very little about copyright and what's okay in terms of quoting even with links. Because the nightmare would be to upset someone who I greatly admire, am I right?

The blog post is on www.emilymagazine.com , entitled “It's the Good Advice.”

http://www.emilymagazine.com/?p=914

You know the feeling when someone you respect and admire literally says the things that you repeat to yourself in your head every day, hoping to a god you don't really believe in that they're true? That's the feeling I got when I read the the post. It reiterated my thoughts about why I'm here, in San Diego, working at a restaurant and emailing strangers in the arts instead of holed up at home trying to write so I can apply to grad school – because I know, for me, going back to school right now would be hiding. (And because I'm afraid paying for another degree that won't get me a job.) I know it makes sense for some people, but not for me, not right now, not for what I want to do. I didn't ask to love narrative nonfiction writing. Given the choice, I probably would have picked something that isn't seen by men and the world as narcissistic. I probably would have picked something that would let me be content with a normal 9-5 job and normal people and a textbook life.

Except I know in an even deeper part of myself that that isn't true at all. I wouldn't change a thing about any of the things that I love, because as hard as all of this is, I could never live the alternative. I don't want to be content in the ways that that type of normalcy implies. I'm glad there are people who are, because the world can't be full of people like my friends and I (I think it would explode) but even as I sit here, alone at home on a Saturday night because I'm too stressed out by a circumstance from my work to go out, every fiber of my being tells me that I'm doing something right. That's echoed by my friends, two of whom I spent the majority of the night talking to. Finding my school and the friends I made there is the sole factor that's made any of my life make sense thus far.

The friends, and the professors, who have become friends. During my senior year, I was serving on a sophomore grad contract committee and two of my favorite professors told a student not to become a high school teacher if she wanted to be a writer.

“Then...what should I do?” she replied in a panic.

They looked back at her and said “Write. Work at a coffee shop. Do anything that gives you the mental space and time to write while paying the bills.”

Without knowing it, they literally went on to endorse the life plan that I had begun to formulate in my head that fall.

I knew I was never going to get an office job. There's still time, but I know I'm not going to get a career track full time office job in some random field – if I do, I'll temp, or something. I applied for them, sure. I also interviewed for residence life jobs and quit a horrible summer camp job two weeks before it was over. But some part of me has known for a long time that I was going to join the grand tradition of starving artist / customer service 'professional' / picker up of random jobs that give you the time and money to practice what you love without being mentally drained.

The obvious reason is, of course, because I'd be terrible at an office job.  I'm really terrible at most jobs, but I can fake waiting tables pretty well because there's a high enough charm component.  Moreover though, I knew it because I somehow knew that it was part of the path of my life. That spending so many hours in a week with my favorite cook Miguel and learning to be patient, to listen and understand the stories he tells me, was a necessary thing to happen to me. That cleaning a milk machine with a toothpick was a vital way for me to make money because even though I'm not privileged in having familial connections, I'm incredibly privileged to have gotten a mostly free undergraduate education. That my skin needed to thicken from someone who I would have never have looked at before working at a restaurant putting my job in jeopardy by complaining for 20 minutes to my manager on a day I could barely walk because I had such bad cramps.

I'm terrified that this will be the rest of my life, but when I get past the fear, I can almost believe it won't be. I have too much faith in the world to believe that. It's the same thing that I tell myself when I fear (frequently) that I will end up alone – if out of all the colleges and people in this huge ridiculous country, I could be drawn to Redlands and Johnston in ways that are so obscure and random that they literally feel like magic, finding the humans who I was meant to be friends with, the only people in the world that make it okay that I live here, if that can happen, I won't be waiting tables for the rest of my life. I don't know how or why or when it will happen, or what will happen, but I can feel it out there, this nebulous future that keeps me going when strangers are so rude to me at work that I can barely stop myself from screaming, crying, or both.

Honestly, I don't think that it's a coincidence that all this advice has come from female writers. I haven't read any words like this from a male writer, and my experiences with male writers in person are even more disheartening. An extremely famous humor writer told me I should work at Hooters. Funny, but is it? (Not really, for those of you not used to the rhetorical question IS IT?) The author of several of my favorite books was more interested when I told him about the egg mixture that breakfast places use in omelets than he was engaged when telling me to keep writing. Those are both writers who I still love, but I think that something about male privilege, especially the fancy East Coast privilege of the Ivy League and being taught by famous writers, disables you from giving deep and empathetic and honest and heart healing advice that Emily Gould or Cheryl Strayed or Mary Karr or Alisa Slaughter or Leslie Brody give.    

Caricatures in Misogyny: Modern Hate

Recently someone asked me to clarify what I meant when I said that one of the topics I write about is misogyny.

“Well, I try to bring to light the everyday instances in which men mistreat women, in such ways that are so ridiculous that they become caricatures of themselves.”

“Like what?” he asked. I also happened to be on a date with 'he,' so this was not necessarily what I wanted to be discussing. However I am not one to back down from discussing the problems of humans, so I continued.

“You know, just for example...one of my friends [me] had this really horrible time where a guy was just so cruel to her after their time together for really no reason and I wrote about that....I find it happens more often than people realize so I want to bring that to light. And also the ways men mistreat women that they don't realize are misogyny.”

“Isn't there another word for that?” he asked.

I didn't really want to get into an argument of semantics with this guy, although I should have, because he ended up being le worst. I segued the conversation to how I also write about the great stories of the men in my life who have helped me overcome my fear of men in general and how they should be celebrated. I think I did write about this. Once.

This fellow and I actually ended up having a great time on the date, or so it seemed. It started out a bit awkward, as first dates can, but we quickly found common ground and the conversation seemed to take off. I could tell he was a bit more boring than the people I usually spend my time around, but I like to give people the benefit of the doubt so I framed this as 'calm,' 'kind,' and 'attentive.' I don't know if I laughed much, but again I wanted to be forgiving since we seemed to be getting along well.

After hanging out at my house for a bit after the date, he actually agreed to go out with my friends and I, which to his credit was nice. I enjoyed not feeling like I had to be socializing with strangers at the bar, and it was fun to have someone to be my buddy.

All, it seemed, was well.

For the next few days we spoke consistently via text, basically continuing the same conversation. This hasn't happened to me in a while, (partially because I had sworn off men after the early summer fiascos,) so I found I quite liked it. I got worried that we were talking about everyday mundane things, but Amber told me that this is just what you do when you're getting to know someone, or even when they're dating them.

“That's part of the thing of dating people. If you see a really weird car, you tell them.”

Interesting, I thought, this is actually kind of fun.

Alas, it lulled me into a false sense of security, when I clearly should have been saying to myself, “BECCA SOMETHING WILL GO WRONG SO DON'T GET YOUR HOPES UP ABOUT THIS OR ANY OTHER MAN EVER”

Again alas, I did not say this to myself. We continued to speak, flirtatiously, until on Wednesday I received a text which basically said : (I would copy the real thing, but I left my phone charger in Redlands so I'm trying to save the battery until I go to bed because I've been borrowing my roommates charger but she uses it at night...anyway...)

“I've been doing some thinking and I don't think our personalities mesh the way I want. I'm sorry. You are a great person and I'm sure you will make someone else very happy.”

I will say straight away that I am not actually angry about the content of this text. I mean, it's annoying, but all in all a relatively respectful way to do what it accomplished. I said something along the lines of 'alright, I'm just curious as to why you'd text me every day for four days if that was the case...seems to not be accomplishing anything' to which he had a somehow simultaneously vague and overwrought response.

I was rather upset at first, but seeing as this was yesterday and I'm already glad that he saved me from his boring self / happy to go on living my Sex and the City themed life of dating and being adventurous, I am more interested in the other aspects of the situation.

He was probably correct on some level that our personalities don't mesh perfectly, but my question is, is that really necessary in getting to know someone? I would never argue that back to him certainly, because I would never try to fight with some rando to date me when they are already over it, but I am curious. I find that in not just dating but also friendship and workship and life, I want to get to know someone better than I can in a few hour timespan to make that kind of judgment. I find that the more I get to know someone and see their interesting aspects, the more I can find a way for them to fit in my life, whether it be romantically or in friendship or even just an interesting person to be around sometimes. Not everyone I meet or date has to be my soul mate, and in fact I'd like to date a lot of people who aren't my soul mate before I find my soul mate (if such a thing exists) so I can get the experience of sharing my life with all different kinds of people.

Perhaps this is not a common held belief. Meh. I think it will make my life much more fun and interesting.

Then, the truly sad thing that a friend brought up:

“Most guys are just looking for a pretty, probably boring girl to sit with them on the couch and cuddle while they watch TV and listen to them talk. You aren't that.”

She may be right. What a sad thing. I guess to each their own, but it's a shame to think that so many people are willing to give up an interesting life (not with me, literally with anyone) because it's so much easier to sit around watching TV with a lame companion. Le sigh, what is the word for general distaste for most humans and their motivations? Oh, misanthrope.

Perhaps you are wondering how I categorize any of this as misogyny. I don't. I actually would like to encourage more men to be up front when they don't want to date someone instead of ignoring them. The rest of the aspects of this fellow's behavior, mainly talking to me for four days straight while simultaneously brewing this little plan, is not admirable, so don't do that, but not particularly misogynistic either.

Wanting to write about this but it not fitting into my first category of man related posts brought upon a second category, a wee bit of satire, one might say. The New York Times runs a series called Modern Love, and seeing as my experiences are nothing of the sort, I've decided to call my dating trials and tribulations that are entertaining but not necessarily misogynistic Modern Hate. Funny that Hate is in the title when misogynist is woman-hating, but the joke is hating the dating in the modern world, not any genders hating each other. So stay tuned for periodic stories of the fiasco which is my life of trying to casually date in the modern era.   

 

A Portrait of the Waitress as a Young Artist: Empathy, Judgment, and no we don't serve 'green juice'

 Miguel has been sassy lately, for my last two shifts he has refused to make my breakfast – normally a morning routine – and passed the duty on to Adan, who all the servers hate for a reason probably similar to the reason I started saying only Miguel could make my breakfast, which is to say, none at all.

The daily spin of eggs with jalapenos, avocado, and peppers doesn't taste as good as usual, I can't tell if it's Adan or the egg whites I chose over my usual real eggs in fear of cholesterol – since I eat between 6 and 9 a week, working at breakfast restaurant.

The eggs/veggie combo is on of the last things I'll eat at my restaurant, the others being red potatos and discarded blueberry cheesecake waffles. Soon, it will be nothing – well, I'll probably never fully give up the discards. Miguel was really the only reason I still ate at work, having a personal chef who will make you anything you ask for was too good to pass up. Now that our flirtation has turned to everyone from bussers to other cooks asking if I like him, and him refusing to make my food, I don't have a reason to keep eating on my breaks. I'll just as soon fall even deeper into my Californism and wolf down some of my fat-free Greek yogurt or make a kale smoothie before work.

This will represent the last visible severing of ties between my life and the lives of my customers as they eat at my restaurant – not that me eating two eggs with veggies cooked inside, 'omelet style' (the cheaper way to get an omelet) bore any similarity to 90% of the menu items.

It didn't used to be like this. I didn't used to be like this. I used to go out for brunch at chains too, I used to eat out on holidays. I never went to the gym, I didn't buy or cook vegetables – I barely prepared my own food at all. I'm pretty sure my diet in college consisted solely of eating out, shitty commons sandwiches, green salsa, quesadillas, goat cheese, and beer.

Some of this is adulthood. Perhaps some of it is being a snob, but I think it must be fairly universal that waiting tables is a many months long class with daily coursework in “Who I do not want to become.”

I'm not talking about eating at chains anymore. That is convenience, and the fact that I never go out to breakfast because I'm working breakfast.

What I'm talking about now is the grander themes of the people we become while we're not paying attention.

I'm sure it's easy, with the media on child rearing the way it is, to become a parent who scowls when I say we don't have skim milk or snaps at me to not put any butter near their child's plate, but apparently has no cognizance of the fact that they're teaching their children to be rude to people of lower social classes working in the service industry. Or that they're teaching them that chain breakfast food is a fun reward, a habit they'll spend the next ten years trying to break.

I assume it's painfully simple to become a person who complains about hash browns under another table, a syrup smudge in front of you, or a piece of avocado on your waffle, but doesn't give a single thought to the factories the meat you're so happily consuming was prepared in. It's hard to research how the food you're consuming is produced, hard and scary. It's easy to complain about something meaningless that's right in front of your face, and it's easy to tell yourself that you are important because you can tell a waiter or a busser to clean it up for you.

It's hard to be a service worker and realize that you can no longer use putting other people down to justify your existence, because it's done to you so many times a day that you lose count, and all you know at the end of the day is that you never want to be that person, and you're going to have to figure out some other way to give your life meaning. But that kind of hard can't just be thrown away like a pamphlet on meat consumption, that kind of difficulty must be confronted every day when you go into work and another person tells you to “go get someone to clean this up,” and you have to turn around, go to the kitchen, grab a wet dish rag, and watch them avoid your glance as you stand in front of them, cleaning the tiny 'mess' that they presumably thought you were going to go grab someone of even lower perceived social status than yourself to deal with.

Unfortunately, waiting tables hasn't only given me perspectives that make me want to live a more intentional life. It's also made me impatient. When I'm in the weeds with two new tables and someone tells me they're ready to order and proceeds to spend ten minutes looking at the menu and saying 'hmmm' as I watch my manager glare at me from across the store, I don't feel sympathy. I resent every time in my life that I've been this person, I resent this specific person for having no awareness of their surroundings, but mostly I just want to tell them that it's basically all the same.

It's made me a worse person in some ways – I shamelessly laugh at people who ask if we have mint lemonade – “Oh yeah, let me just go pick the mint out of our in house herb garden.” Someone once asked if we had green juice. Or my personal favorite, when a woman asked if our tilapia was wild caught.

I'm afraid that it's making me more judgmental and rude, because of the way I regard these idiotic questions. At the same time, it's making me less judgmental in an entire other way. There was certainly a time in my life when I couldn't have named a single person in my day to day life for whom English was their second language. Now, the lack of him cooking my recent breakfasts nonwithstanding, I consider Miguel to be one of the pillars of my everyday life. You can laugh, go ahead, but name how many people you spend 25-30 hours of your week with. The people who you'd call screeching to them “Where were you today! I was so worried about you! I thought you were dead!” when they don't show up somewhere they're supposed to be. The people who you look forward to seeing every day, who you shoot glances at when other people are being crazy. Not only are Miguel, and all my coworkers – servers, bussers, cooks – my support system in that context, they've also taught me something incredibly important about all those words I've been throwing around – judgment, sympathy, empathy, compassion.

The reality of the service industry is that you're forced to acknowledge that every person, from 16 year old bussers to hosts going into the air force to servers with three kids to the divorced cook that you actually find yourself with a real crush on, has just as dynamic and complicated a life as your own. You don't get special privileges because you made your own degree or read five books a month or don't want kids because you hate the prioritization of the American family unit. Everyone's life and excuses for missing work and hangovers are equal, if anything yours are a little bit less equal because your problems are usually more selfish, you have parents who can bail you out in an emergency, and you have no mouths to feed but your own.

And it just may turn out that when every man you meet is a jerk and you've told some of the regulars in your life the same story three times before they remember it, Miguel asks you questions about your old roommate going crazy and your new house, things you barely remember telling him. Your coworkers remember every story of a man wronging you and curse them just as vehemently as the friends you've had for five years. You stop in to see your old manager and you wonder why you feel so great after the long talk you have, and realize it's because it's the first time you've sat and talked to someone for over and hour without the conversation halting because you're doing an activity in weeks. It makes you understand their lives and the legitimacy behind them with a love and urgency that you hope one day, you may just be able to extend to the next rude customer.

 

A Portrait of the Waitress as a Young Artist: The Fear

I get asked on a fairly regular basis why I don't have a 'real job.' (Or told to get a 'real job,' depending on the rude level of the person I'm talking to.) I'll address the use of the term 'real job' later. Their reasons have ranged from: I should get on a career path, I'll have to start at the bottom if I want to go anywhere, waiting tables will never give me benefits and/or a retirement package, I'll never be able to get a job I want if I don't start getting experience, et cetera, adult things, typical rat race mumbo jumbo, et cetera.

My responses have varied each time I've had the conversation. Sometimes I talk about the stark reality: I'm trained for nothing, I have no connections, I don't know where to start with looking/applying and nobody has been able to tell me. Other times I go with the logistical: I probably couldn't find a traditional office job where I'd make more than 10 to 12 dollars an hour, and I can't survive on that right now with my rent where it is.

I also have no particular interest in the jobs that people suggest to me. I don't want to write product descriptions or pamphlets or whatever else copywriters do.  I respect it as a profession but unfortunately I don't think I could manage it - my traditional schooling didn't go so well, so I don't think being required to write textbook words about random things would go so great either.  The only other job that people have suggested to me is random office jobs, which due to their lack of detail sounds like a not real thing anyway.  Even if they do exist, why should I do them over the job I have now? People say it could get my foot in the door somewhere, but where? What is this elusive door and where would my foot be eventually leading to?

I don't see the point of getting a job with the purpose of using it as a stepladder to this idea of a future job, when I know already that I don't want that future job at a random office or copywriting for anyone.  I'd rather figure out how to do the things I want for money than get a job that will only lead to working in an office for the man.  Sure, there might be office-y real jobs out there that I would enjoy, but a random job as an assistant or copywriter isn't going to put me on the path to those anymore than working consistently on my writing in my spare time is.

These were the reasons I always cited when having this conversation, but I knew that there was something else that made me feel it was the correct choice for me right now. I figured it out the other day: it's the fear. If I put all the energy toward getting a 'real job' that I put toward my writing, my art, and settling into my house, I'm sure that I could find one. I probably wouldn't like it, but sometimes I don't like waiting tables either. Maybe one day I would like it, or at least be content with it. That contentment is what I don't want. If I grew content with a 'real job' that paid well and seemed like it was on a socially acceptable path, I might accept that life for myself, in whatever field I ended up in. I'd have weekends off, so I'd probably spend them hanging out with my friends instead of how I spend my days off now which is generally working on writing. I'd grow used to the 'real job' and the lifestyle it offered, and I might forget how important an artistic life is to me.  I'd probably be all set up for a decent life, and I wouldn't be afraid that all my other efforts wouldn't pan out.

That's the thing. I'm terrified that I'll be waiting tables for the rest of my life. I'm terrified about turning 26 and not having health insurance, and that in ten years I'll still be where I am right now. But I need that fear. Because of that fear, I think constantly about how I'm going to get myself to the type of life I want as an artist. Because of ze fear, I spend almost as much time working when I'm not working as I spend at work. (Figure out that tongue twister.) I write, I paint, I read, I try to research how to make these things go anywhere. That research part isn't going so well, so any help there would be appreciated. I look for ways to get involved in the San Diego creative community, I've contacted strangers to ask if I can be involved in a literary magazine.  (And they said yes!  Stay tuned for future news on this.)  

If I got a 'real job,' then I'd know I wouldn't be waiting tables for the rest of my life. But it would be no guarantee that I'll eventually find a way with writing or live the artistic life I want. And in the end, that's the real fear. A 'real job' would be a nice way to placate the fear and learn to accept another life, but I don't want to do that. I want to figure out how to make it work with writing and art, and the fear that waiting tables gives me is the best way I know how to push myself every day. I don't want to get so comfortable that I forget how important this life is to me.

And that's not even touching on the fact that with this supposed 'real job,' I would probably have far less time to pursue art and writing. If in five years I'm still waiting tables but have produced a large body of work, it will have been worth it. There's a grand tradition of creative types supporting themselves in the service industry, and I'm happy to join it even if it's getting less common with the techie-rat race-longing for traditional forms of success-thing that seems to be happening now.

Lastly, fuck 'real job.' I've been using it because it's the most common term, but seriously, fuck that. I not only work hard, I also am becoming practiced in a myriad of skills that although I don't know how to list them on a resume I probably wouldn't get from this elusive office job people tell me to get: dealing with insanely rude people day in and day out, prioritizing six tasks that all basically need to be done immediately, walking and working and smiling through cramps and other forms of pain, sacrificing holidays to go to work and generally have people be assholes. Working with people from very different walks of life than myself and spending 30 hours a week with them, learning just how real this job is in their lives and getting close to them. So let's retire this phrase, yes?

A Portrait of the Waitress as a Young Artist: Labor Day, Literally

I've been stewing on the idea for a while of blogging about my life as an artist who happens to be employed as a waitress and the dynamic of that lifestyle. Here I am, making good on that plan.

It's a big topic in my life with a lot of intricacies, but I'm going to start with just a short musing on the day that will be now in 20 minutes: Labor Day.

A holiday about taking a break from the hard labor of life, you say? Not so for service industry workers. While many Americans get a break from work, we work harder to serve them while they relax. They get annoyed if our businesses are closed, so our managers keep them open to make more money. Then they get rude if service is slower than their expectations for their glorious day off. A day that should result in higher tips often ends in lower ones because people have unreasonable expectations of service workers who get slammed on a holiday.

Of course the real irony is that many of the people who have labor day off work a jobs that are much more revered and cushier than service industry positions. The people doing the most labor in the first place end up being the people who don't get a break at all, and continue to be the servants of the higher classes.

This is every holiday in the life of a service worker, but it takes on special significance with labor day. When I walk home from this coffee shop, I'll pass numerous bars where youths with better jobs than me are out celebrating that they have the day off tomorrow. I'll be heading home to sleep so that I'll have my wits about me when they're glaring at me because their food is taking too long and they're too hungover to be polite.  Not to mention the more common offenders, large families who expect you to pay attention to no one but them because they are white, privileged, and important. Don't get me wrong, I like my job. But I do wish that people thought a little bit more about how they treated their slaves, I mean, servers. And that I'd occasionally have a holiday off. Alas, that's the price one pays to get off work early and have time to pursue a creative life.   

An Ode to Robin Williams

I knew that someone had died from my Twitter feed, because it abruptly became full of links about how to get help and statements about how the funniest people seem to have the deepest darkness living inside them. At first glance, none of them said who it was. I quickly went to Google news, and didn't even have to enter a search term – it was already there, the third item down. “Actor Robin Williams found dead at 63 of apparent suicide.”

I was alone in my room at the time, but I still involuntarily shouted “No, no, no” into my unfurnished house. There's always a certain amount of sensationalist excitement when tragic news hits the media, the rushing to find out who it was, how it happened, how the world is responding to it, but you never expect it to be one of your favorite inspirations, one of the tokens of your childhood. There are so many celebrities out there, and especially in the slightly bougie crowds I run in, we don't always like to parade our attachment to them.

Thus my shock and literal screaming into the empty abyss when I saw that Monday's death was of one of my favorite actors consistently since childhood. His death feels personal, in a way that I want to talk and think and do something about it moreso than I can remember happening since Patrick Swayze died my freshman year of college and one of my good friends first impressions of me was finding me writhing on the floor in a black dress crying.

But Robin Williams feels more tragic and close to home than Patrick Swayze even, although now I'm not writhing on the floor, having become slightly less dramatic in the past five years. Robin Williiams films are the backdrop of me growing up, he has felt like a personal character in my life since I can remember.

So many of his films reside in my memory as family emblems that I immediately called my dad, who hadn't yet heard the news. He reminded me of a time that him and my mom saw Robin Williams in San Francisco, years before I was born. I texted my mom and my sister, and shortly after I got off the phone with my dad one of my friends from home called, and asked if I had heard.

“I don't know why you're the person I wanted to call, and I can't talk for long, but I'm just so sad.” She said, and I was glad that she'd chosen me and repeated what I was thinking.

Of course as an artist, the way that Robin Williams most resonated with me was through his films. I still hear lines from Mrs. Doubtfire in my head that relate to anything I'm doing and unconsciously quote it the way I do Friends or Titanic. It's one of the first movies I remember watching repeatedly just because it was funny. It was a touchstone of our family entertainment for my entire childhood.

My dad would blow up air mattresses so my sister and I could stand with them and fling ourselves down onto the floor to imitate the characters falling through the doors in a flood in Jumanji. My camp friends and I still yell JUMANJI at each other as an inside joke because of the summer that we were planning a theme night and, stricken with excitement in a moment of inspiration, I yelled it at my friends out of the blue. At work, I quoted it to my old manager to try and describe waking up early: “What year is it??” Those are just small examples of the way that movie worked its way into the fabric of my life. But Jumanji wasn't just a kids adventure film, it was also an emotionally resonant piece about family and time. That's what all my favorite Robin Williams films are to me – movies that entertain while having a strong undercurrent of the truth about life.

Like every emotional and academic teenager out there, I watched Good Will Hunting repeatedly and it changed the way I thought about the world. I think we don't give enough credit to popular movies that really emotionally resonate with people, especially young people. Once they reach a certain level of fame, we tend to discount them – for being too popular to the masses, because it's cool to make fun of things that everyone likes, for being overwrought or trite. But we forget that part of the reason these films are so popular is that they connect with people on a basic level, and in the right circumstances, like Good Will Hunting, that should be celebrated instead of scorned.

Good Will Hunting tried to teach youths and adults alike all over the world what it meant to live with courage and go forward with love. To all the scared young idiots out there, which I know I was when I saw it, it was life changing. I obviously can't connect my success in building a life I loved at college completely to repeatedly watching Good Will Hunting, but I do know that all the great art that taught me the kind of person I wanted to be had a huge part in who I am today, and Good Will Hunting, and Robin Williams part in it, was definitely part of that chorus.

And of course Dead Poet's Society was another beautiful example of that. When Good Will Hunting told me about emotions, Dead Poet's Society told me about art, and explained to me why I loved books and paintings and films so much. I haven't seen the film in years, but it has stayed close to me as a love letter to young artists to remind us of who we are and why it's important to do what we do. More importantly, why it's okay and wonderful to do what we do in a society where everyone is telling us to go to an office and get a real job and start working for some fabrication of the American Dream that we can feel in our hearts is hollow compared to the truth that the art we love shows us is out there.

What Dreams May Come strikes me as the most poignant and tragic in light of the tragedy. It's less popular than his other films, it certainly isn't a comedy. It's a beautiful and devastating story about a family whose two children are killed in a car accident, and in the midst of the parents grief the father (Williams) is eventually killed as well. In the aftermath his wife eventually commits suicide. The film shows him in an artistically rendered heaven, fighting to go to hell to bring her back to the beautiful side with him due to her manner of death.

I don't need to explain why that is so hard to swallow now.

But more than the individual films he was in, Robin Williams emanated an energy that connected the world and made me feel more okay about being a human. When I thought of him, which I did often, in the years before his death, it wasn't as any specific character in his films. Of course I didn't know him personally so I don't know what he was like, but I don't think you can fake the genuineness that made people feel so connected to him.

It shows in the way the world is reacting to his death. I've never seen so many people be genuinely sad and broken up over a celebrity death, and across so many different sectors of humanity. My friends and I have basically created a support group-text about it. On Tuesday at IHOP, one of my regulars came in and when my manager asked how she was, she replied “Oh just terrible! Aren't you?” and when the host and manager looked at her, she replied “Because of Robin Williams!” We talked about it for a while before she ate, and in addition to my sadness I was just so humbled by the idea that this man's death could create such similar reactions in a young liberal wild child waitress and an elderly military wife who reads inspirational bible books when she comes into IHOP.

One of the things that I've noticed in the outpouring of sadness and support is the proliferation of links to suicide hotlines and telling people to get help if they are considering suicide. While I think that this is an incredibly important thing to remind people who may not have access to resources about, I wish that I had an answer to additional things we could talk about in light of this specific tragedy.

The fact of the matter is, Robin Williams certainly had access to the best that mental health has to offer. Reports seem to indicate that he was utilizing the resources he had to the best of his ability. And yet what happened remains. I don't think it's enough to remind people that help is available, because the help we have to offer, unfortunately, isn't enough. It reminds me of reading about Steve Jobs death to cancer, my thought process being if Steve Jobs money couldn't get him enough updated and newfangled treatments to cure his cancer, then cancer is much more terrifying of a demon than I ever realized. (Obviously, but anyway.) The comparison isn't a perfect one, but nevertheless – the best that we have to offer in mental health still left Robin Williams with no way out of his depression. The phrase that comes to mind is from David Foster Wallace, another great genius lost to suicide -

“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”

I come from a family where mental health disorders are common, and I count myself lucky that my own mental health troubles are mostly rooted in anxiety rather than depression, although of course they are related. This quote is the thing that has helped me understand depression more than anything else I've ever read, and that terror is something that anxiety sufferers know in a different form. But my point from above is this – for the depressed person, standing at the window, the suicide hotline might draw them away this one time, but they are always going to find themselves back at that terrifying window until one day the jump is the only choice they feel they can make. The 'solutions' we are publicizing and offering are coming too late.

There needs to be more research to understand what makes the depressed person reach the agony that Wallace describes. We need to find out if it is something created intrinsically in the brain with genetics, and move from there, or if it is something that is developed or worsened in life and figure out how to change our society so that we create a healthy environment where people can forge mental health. That is what I hope comes out of this tragedy – that this horrible disease has taken someone so prominent from us will make us question what creates this mental state and what can be done to help the people who currently suffer from it as well as the countless souls in the future.

I'm not a psychologist, I'm not a brain researcher, I don't know where to begin with the societal fight against mental illness. I'm just a human, an artist who has loved and suffered from mental illness and whose life was altered by a truly great artist and gift to humanity, Robin Williams. The only thing I can think to do now is find comfort in the fact that he united so many disparate people, and be thankful that we were given the gift of him on this earth, and in his memory love each other, continue to create, and mourn.

 

Hey Former Self: This is How to Survive the First Year

I was reminded when I inadvertently made a noise in the back of my throat the other day when I read the words “April 2013” that I still have emotions about graduating college. This doesn't come as a surprise; I frequently speak with one of my college friends who also lives in my new city about the fact that we believe we will always miss it, or at least miss parts of it: the friends at constant easy access, a stimulating environment in both academia and friendship. Going to dinner with professors, hosting our own social experiment parties, skipping class to go on a walk with your best friend.

As much as I miss these things, I think about them a lot less than I used to. The images of the life I loved so much are no longer on repeat in the back of my brain, every hour of the day. I no longer find myself crying while hiding scrunched on top of a hay bale in a shed that does not qualify as a barn, and not just because I no longer live in any proximity to hay bales. For a long time after that I didn't think I would ever stop being sad every single day.

Over a year after graduating, I am doing far better than just the simple baseline of not being sad every single day. So here's what I would say to my year ago self, and to my current and future self on how to survive in this here world without all of my friends at arm's reach, without professors to tell me how to live, without a life that is so easily surrounded by art and literature:

Read books, read so many books. Read all the books you didn't have time for because you were scamming free wine from academic events, gossiping over hangover breakfast in the commons, writing scorchingly honest essays in twelve hour periods, unable to read anything but the occasional assigned essay because you passed out the moment your head hit the pillow.

Read books to catch up for all the time missed, read books to fill up the time, read books to regain emotional stability. Reread books, buy more books than you can read, buy books for the future home library, because now that you're not in a place you're afraid of leaving you can think and dream about the future again.

While you're busy missing the wonderful people you loved so much and had the privilege of being surrounded by for four years, meet people who haven't had the privilege of such incredible luck.

Some of these people will be boring backpackers who make you realize that traveling and meeting new people isn't as idealistic as people make it out to be. This will be frustrating at the time, but it will only make you feel so much more grateful for who you were given.

Some of them will be friends who carry you through one of the worst weeks of your life even though they've only known you less than two months, and you'll be thankful that Johnston made you into a person that these people would love.

Some of them will be cruel to you, and they will remind you of your luck once again because you were raised by people who trained you in the art of empathy.

One of them will be a German twenty something named David Pastorias who will talk to you for hours outside a club in Nice and show you that not every traveler is just looking to drink. One of them will be a rapper from New Jersey who will fall in love with you for three days in Budapest. Four will be distant family members you've never met in the Czech Republic who will selflessly take you into their home for a week and make the traveling feel a hundred times easier. One will be your best friend's best friend from studying abroad who will remind you that you and your friends are not the only thoughtful, engaged twenty-somethings out there. One will be a fifty year old man who you will room with for three months who will teach you how to clean a kitchen and give you great dating advice and have you test out his hangover bars made of spirulina.

And ten or so of them will be your coworkers, who will shepherd you into the world of adult employment and teach you that not only is waiting tables a real job, it is a more real job than many of the 'real jobs' you fantasize about because it is held by people who are chiefly concerned with making a living in a way that you and many of your college comrades have never understood. They will put up with every mistake you make in your first two months, they will say they love your humor and sing You Can Call Me Al with you when it comes on the stereo. But most importantly, they will teach you just how privileged you have been to have a mostly-free education in things you loved fiercely, and that the world owes you nothing. You will become close friends with these people who you'd have never encountered if you'd stayed in the sheltered world, and they will make you realize things that will make you hate the unfairness of the world but also laugh at the beauty of it. You will come to love people who are your opposite: a recent high school graduate republican going into the Air Force, a 40 year old Mexican cook who makes you eggs every morning and who you will defend with ardor when the new waitress says he's 'mean,' a man whose husband is in the army and is working his way through nursing school.

I know that you are afraid of never seeing the friends who you cherish, but you will. You will spend a glorious week with two of them in Palau, you will ring in the new year in Seattle with two others. You will lie in bed with one of them and 'play Tinder' and laugh until you can't breathe. They will send you messages about how they know they shouldn't still miss school but they do, and you will say me too, me too. You will see them less, and you will not be surrounded by them, but when you do see them you will pick right up where you left off. That doesn't mean you shouldn't mourn that you will not be surrounded by them anymore, this is a great loss and it should be treated as such, denying that it is a loss will only hurt more in the long run.

You will reunite with a large majority of them at renewal, and it will be more beautiful and more terrible than you could have imagined in only the way that Johnston knows how. It will remind you of why you are alive and it will also tear you apart. You will sit in a dark room with fifteen people who seem like versions of yourself in other bodies and you will laugh and speak nonsense that somehow you all understand and you will lie with all your body parts entangled with theirs and wonder how the hell you are going to survive without them.

But you will.

Don't compare yourself to any other recent graduates, any soon to be graduates, or any adult in the history of the world. Everyone's journey is different, and you have no idea what privilege or horror someone has had to get them where they are. Anyone who seems happy all the time is either lying or insane. When you admit your weaknesses you will find that your true friends admit that they spend just as much time being miserable and not knowing what the fuck is going on as you do, no matter if they are in relationships or have great jobs or any other seemingly great situation. Everyone is confused and trying to find their way through the thicket of shit. You will be closest with the people who acknowledge this and embrace it, and together you will build a long distance raft which will help you navigate the churning sea of this thing they call 'adulthood.'

You and the other on your raft will connect with the rafts that set sail before you, and learn just how dumb you were while an undergrad and how ungrateful, and it will come as a small consolation prize that you now get to join the adult club of real life. You will find a strange camaraderie with that Paramore song about being on your own in the real world. When people still in college tell you about all the ways they're going to do it differently than you and your friends when they graduate, you will smile, nod, and think in your head, “tick, tock, tick, tock,” and wait for them to join the club.

You will wonder countless times how the hell it is possible to live as an artist and an intellectual while you're working at a cheap breakfast restaurant. And you will learn that the answer is both more simple and more challenging than you would have expected. The simple answer is that you do. You live. You do it. You manage. The challenging answer is that it's a lot harder to live and define yourself as an artist while working for minimum wage plus tips than it was when you were in college. You no longer have the luxury of lying in bed until five pm with a hangover, or skipping obligations to take a bath with your best friend, or having ten people who will faithfully read your forty page experimental essay. You certainly won't have three days you can disappear from the world for to write said forty page experimental essay.

Instead, you have to go to work. You cannot skip work, so you learn to get up at six or seven am and go. And when you are not at work, you learn that you have to go back to work, because this is how you live as an artist who is also a waitress. Your day off waitressing is your day on writing and painting and reading. You learn that you must read and write every day, and save your tip money for oil painting supplies and used books instead of new dresses and craft beer. (Okay, oil painting supplies and used books AS WELL AS new dresses and craft beer.) You learn that you are the only person who can define whether or not you are an artist, and that to live up to that definition for yourself you must write and read instead of sleeping in and watching television and drinking on weekdays. There is no immediate pay off for this other than the fact that it makes you feel alive.

Every morning when you get up to go to work which you cannot skip, you will regret every single time that you skipped a class, because you love learning and you do not love waiting on strangers. You must learn to forgive yourself for this, for no other reason than you were happy and free while in college and you never want to bemoan yourself for having relished that freedom which you no longer have.

As much as you hate going to work every morning, you will love going to work every morning because it gives you a purpose. Being settled in a routine will make you feel calmer than you have felt in years. This is the first sign that although you still miss college, you are perhaps healthier without it.

On the subject of health, your diet will stop consisting of commons food, leftover commons food, Cuca's burritos, Tecate, and hot plate quesadillas. For a long time your diet will consist of the food one eats while traveling, but once you settle you will realize that you actually do enjoy cooking for yourself and eating vegetables. This may not be worth as much to you as going to Hangar with different sets of friends two times a week, but your body will thank you for it later. You will learn to not 100% hate exercise, instead to only slightly dislike it and treat it like an entertaining but slightly unruly classmate. You will feel better about life while doing Zumba than you do while sitting around complaining, and for now, that is enough.

Another gift that life out of college will give you is time. In college, you felt that there was never enough. You were always worrying about how many/few weeks were left before the next break/the end of the year. You were trying to fit in every new friend and every party and it all left you with a frequent sense of high strung anxiety that there just wasn't enough time.

Now, all you have is time, which will prove to be a blessing. Use this time to find new music, which you haven't done in years. You'll hear songs that help you understand exactly what you are feeling about the past and how you want to feel in the future. You'll have enough time to make a balance of your life that feels correct rather than jamming in every possible thing that fits. With this time, get enough sleep and learn to cook and balance a social life and a creative life and a working life. You will have time to do laundry, but you somehow miraculously will still not find the time to clean. Go on dates with all weird kinds of men, discover new bars and wonder how everyone got so hip. Find a favorite stall at the farmers market, where the man always slips you an extra bunch of kale. Learn to like kale and actually discover which way you want your meat cooked and which types of beer you like best other than 'an IPA.' In other words, you will start to become an adult.

But the most important thing about time is that you will no longer feel like your life is a race against the clock. As much as you miss every day of your life being a grand adventure with another party to plan and another professor to go to dinner with, you understand that this is an exchange for your long term mental health.

Of course, there will be moments in this year that you will still cry, and not every moment, not even close, will be one of enlightenment about the beauty of the world and the shine of the future. Thoughts like these will threaten to cripple you:

“The only constant of the rest of the life is that I will always be missing my friends.”

“Every year that passes, every day that passes, I will be farther from the place that I loved.”

Sometimes you will be falling asleep and songs that you listened to in that last month will come on and you will have to rouse yourself to turn them off because it hurts too much to feel like you are falling asleep in your old room. At the same time, you hope that you have moments like this for the rest of your life.

Every day you will wonder if it will all work out. If you will eventually get into grad school. If you will be a waitress for the rest of your life. If you will ever have a place in the creative world. You will wonder if any of the boys will ever not suck, and if you'll ever find people who you love as much as your friends. You won't find the answer to any of these questions, not in the first year. But every day it gets easier to live with the uncertainty. And for now, that is enough.

So the short answer to how to live? You do. You make things. You talk to old friends who are far away and create a new life with the friends who are nearby. You find yourself talking about college less with the near friends and instead talking about your jobs and what you're doing this weekend and the boys you meet. You have new inside jokes. You come up with a hundred ideas a week about what to do with your life and you research ten of them and you accomplish one of them, and all of it counts towards something.

Last year, you were terrified of the fact that you didn't know where you'd be in a year. Now, you still have no idea, but it's a joyful sense of wonder, like when you got a geode split open for you at the cave you took one of your best friends from college to in your home state, and the rock that started out as a brown dirty mass split into five sections of crystal, shining in the still air, with countless tiny pieces falling down to the ground. 

May 2013: On Leaving and all that surrounds it

(Written in the month after my college graduation when I was still basically in college; aka a traumatic hour)

Last night I got tired early, as I usually do.  I was on complex and could have very easily made it to my bed but I decided to sleep on a couch in the Jimmie Room, most likely for the last time.  So many lasts that I will forget, I may as well have a few that are intentional.  I also needed to be up early and nothing like fear of a professor seeing you passed out will wake you up in the morning.

I had a dream that one of my friends and neighbors from home was holding a graduation party for a friend that I’ve only recently gotten to know here.  I had to be late and home friend told me it might be over by the time I got there but it wasn’t, and I spent time with my friend and I talked to the homeowner and I looked at a painting and when I woke up I was so inextricably sad.

I tried to figure it out.  Maybe it is the pervasive sense of sadness, again not a bad sadness, but a terrible love, a loss, a sorrow, that hits me when I wake up in the wee hours every morning.  But it was different, maybe it was that I have known this new friend and so many of them for so short and how do you hold that when you know you can’t make it be any longer.  What I finally settled on, which twists and makes sense but I’m sure it was more, is that the old friend from home and the new friend from here will likely never meet and certainly never know one another well enough to have graduation parties for each other.  Now I know, life is long, we’re all connected, but that isn’t the point, not really.  That particular point is that at this age these people will never know each other, but what it points to is that we will never be this young again.

I don’t know what I will miss.  In so many ways I feel ready to leave, although there is no where that I want to go.  I don’t want to stay but I feel no imminent pleasure coming from any of my future destinations.  And yet.

And yet, I cried this morning as I looked out at the campus from the Bekins steps.

And yet.

And yet, this room is a trap, I don’t know how I’m in it right now.

And yet the heat pervades everything I do.  I still managed to find people to question in these last two weeks.  I fall asleep when there are other things I could be doing because I know I cannot stay awake.  All the places are laden with meaning.  Is there a spot on this campus that I cannot garner a memory for?  At the same time, I cannot fathom that I’ve lived in this hall for four years, and on this same floor three years ago.  I remember it but I don’t feel it.  I don’t know why.

I know that on the scale there are far grander tragedies, even on my scale.  But you know what, on my scale I don’t know if there are.  What is the scale, anyway?  I don’t know if I have ever felt a sorrow that is so pure and deep and yet so undramatic.  I don’t want to stay but I don’t know how to leave.  I don’t know how to end something that I have loved so deeply.

I thought that Hoofbeat would be the greatest thing life had to offer me.  I thought that that place saved me.  And in so many ways it did.  But the pure fact that I found another place, one who I feel gifted me everything about the person I am, is scarier, because it means that I will probably love something else this much.  I do not want to forget this.  I can remember everything that Hoofbeat meant to me in theory but I can no longer feel it.  I want to always be able to feel this place on me.  I know there will come a time when that is not what I want, but that is what scares me.  I don’t want to lose it.

I would say that this could be the last place that will change me so much but aren’t we always becoming?  I am young but I don’t think we ever stop being able to change.  Who will I be in three months, in half a year, in a year, in five, in a dozen, in twenty?

I’ve been knowing this in small increments for much of this year, but a big chunk hit me last night, or yesterday morning, or something: not everything will come to pass.  We will not throw all the parties, we will not cross everything off the bucket list, we will not become better friends with everyone.  We will not have repeats of all of the best nights.  There are people we will never kill or kiss.  We will miss things and never make up for it.  Not all the promises will be kept.

The only thing that made it make sense was reading Goodbye to All That, but I’ve read it so much recently that I can’t read it through anymore, although of course when I go to the browser it is always open, but I can only hear the very most relevant lines on a record repeat in my head:

But where is the schoolgirl who used to be me and late at night I used to wonder that

Was anyone ever so young

In retrospect it seems to me that the days before I knew the names of the bridges were happier than the ones that came later

But perhaps you will see that as we go along

I could make promises to myself and all the other people and I had all the time in the world to keep them

I could stay up all night and make mistakes, and none of them would count

Colonials in a far country

I was not then guilt ridden about spending my afternoons that way because I still had all the afternoons in the world

It is distinctly possible to stay too long at the fair

 That was certainly an unnecessarily long list of repeat phrases, but I do not care.  To order them and explain them all individually would lose the fact that as I said before, or I used the word at least, it is all inextricably tied.  I already referred to most of it anyway.

I think it is an especially curious position for those of us who came from the Midwest.  People from similar areas always have something small in common, and to come from a place that is so not  laden with meaning to one that is rife with it, that is part of the crux.  And it is just so far.  I have no family on this coast.  I want to stay here, I will stay here, but I am not in a position to do it safely.  And there is no way I can go back.  I don’t judge anyone going home, because I would if I could, but I cannot.  I will hear it all, I am sure: unrealistic, the economy, everyone goes home, but everyone also went to the University of Wisconsin.  I have come to understand that life is a series of not just financial payments but other payments as well and what I’d have to pay mentally to return is almost certainly far greater than anything I will lose here, on this coast.

But what I am trying to explain is that distance is far in physical and mental spaces, and the life I lead here is one that does not make sense back home and there are certain directions that you cannot reverse.  I don’t think I began talking about this at all, but here we are.  The East coast and the South are both places, but the Midwest comes with no special twinge like those two and the West have.  I wish it was just because I’m from there but after three years of consternation I’m relatively sure that if there were a special feel to it somebody would have mentioned it to me.

Every time someone asks me and I begin to explain, my voice breaks.  There are many ways to say it, but it is this: if you live in a fog and come into the light, for a day, for a week, or for four years, and since it was four years you know it is somewhat sustainable, you cannot return willingly into the fog.  To return when there is any amount of choice in the matter is unthinkable.  Nobody voluntarily returns to the darkness.

I don’t ever want to buy another Northface jacket and that is the last I will say on the matter.

I suppose because that was already such a jump, with no bunjee cords or lifeboats, from there to here, that is why I am so bemused by the common tendency of what seems like everyone to attach to another person right now.  Whatever level of comfort it offers seems that it would only hide, for me, the truth of the matter which I must get to before it is too late and I can no longer remember.  Or it is just part of the complex system of interactions that it seems I missed learning and I am too late for that already.

During the day I am always fine.  I live the day through and I am with my friends and I am doing the things that make me happy which is the way to spend the day.  It comes again at night but always in a haze, and in the morning is the only time when I can think about it with clarity.  As I said last time, I prefer it this way, I want to deal with it early in the day so I can enjoy the rest of it, intentionality with my time.

I have heard tell that people are disappointed with this May.  To each their own, but I am not.  I want to be with my friends, I don’t need or want to be at a giant party every night or every day.  That seems lonelier at this point than anything.  And everything is a memory.  I convinced all my friends to watch Bedknobs and Broomsticks on Saturday, that seems more precious to me now than attending or throwing the biggest rager.

Keywords: precious, core, gift, clarity,

To realize that all the humor and all the stories are so tied to the people and the place is hard.  I don’t know yet but I predict that none of it will translate.  Who could understand why I refer to all my friends as the lesbians?  The stories that seem so funny when we’ve had the time to repurpose them only seem disturbing when I imagine telling them to a stranger.  The way we joke, the sinister level to which we can take serious stories, the way that nine people in a tiny room can all understand just why something is funny and not offensive, I don't think I'll be able to find it again for a long time.  But aren’t I lucky that these people know me well enough to understand?

Where again will we have this ability to say things such as

Would you rather be cheated on by a loanshark or own a slave?

I know I already have so many friends who are gone and that it is fine because I know they will always be my friends and they still are and I don’t miss them every second but it hurts to know that everyone here will be that soon.

The air conditioner in this room doesn’t even work, it seems to be circulating air but it is all just stagnant.

Which I cannot be.

Another one of the truths.  When I wanted to stay here it made sense.  But it no longer does.  I don’t think flakiness is the right word, although I can be a flake.  I think what it is is that this is a time of change and I am changing very quickly and what does make sense one day does not make sense the next.  All I know is that three months here when busy takes long enough.  Three months without everything would be a year, and not a happy one.  I will already be here long enough that I will be watching everyone leave.  To stay here after that is unimaginable.  Any house I stay in or don’t stay in, thinking I can go find the people who live anywhere and realizing that everyone is gone is more painful than leaving.  All the things I haven’t used enough of – there are local grocery stores in every city.  There are hikes everywhere.  I’m strong enough to know what will save me from crumbling but I am not strong enough to watch anyone else crumble.  Joan talked about how the people who were new faces were never knew, but here there is not even a promise of new faces.  Nobody even tries to make that lie.

And even when I hear that someone else will be here who I like, I am no longer sad.  Because when you are in an unhealthy place anyone can turn boring or tiresome.  Everyone is wonderful and horrible but I know which would show through when I am being stagnant.

And that is the thing I cannot be.  There are so many choices to be made and many things that should be prioritized and done but at a time like this it all boils down.  It boils down to what is at the very core the very most important.  And for me now, it comes down to the phrase that Sherman Alexie ended his speech with here:

Be kinetic, don’t be stagnant. 

April 2013: On Honoring What has Happened Here

(Written in the month before graduating college)

I think about leaving this all the time, in so many facets, but it's not always in a depressing way.  Obviously I get depressed sometimes - par for the course when you're leaving behind the best thing you've ever held -  but I think that for me personally its important to keep cognizant of the things.  Today that means writing them down.  How little I’ve written in college, in terms of writing down what was happening, has been a point of contention with myself for a long time.  Obviously as a writing emphasis I've written literally thousands of pages, but I did very little day to day recording of the wonder I constantly find myself surrounded by.  But as I’m sure you can gather I wrote so little recording my days because I was busy living them. 

And as I was living them, I was thinking about them.  I don’t know when this started, it might have been always, but it definitely came into very sharp relief when I was living in Ghana and it never stopped, but I think very intentionally about life as it happens.  I think this is partially because I think so much that I am unable to push things out of my brain in the way that other people can.  It’s a blessing and a curse.  It makes me deal with my shit because it weighs so heavily on my mind that running from it hurts more than dealing with it.  This brings me to the point of this first here leaving-esque blog entry, although I’m sure it will go on many tangents. 

The concept of honoring what has happened here. 

When I feel upset about leaving: leaving the friends I have, leaving the place, leaving the world we have created, I don’t let myself push it away.  This isn’t even a cognizant thing anymore.  I don’t say ‘better not push this away, better deal with it now,’ I just must do it within a very short amount of time.  For a while I wondered how I could stop feeling the sadness, because when it happened, although the bouts wouldn’t last, it was so painful, and then I came to the realization:

It should hurt.  I should not shy away from a good old five minute sob when I need one.  I should call the people I want to see and I should cry when a sad song comes on and the moment fills me up.  I should do these things because in any of these actions I am doing something important: I am honoring what has happened here. 

This was beautiful.  The good, the bad, and the ugly.  Everything was beautiful, and important, and I loved all these people.  To not let myself cry and sob and feel the pain would be a disservice to all that has taken place here.  It deserves my attention because it mattered.  No, I should not sit around all day moping about it, and there’s the crux: I don’t.  When the sadness hits, I feel it, and I let it happen, and then, very soon, it leaves me because I have acknowledged it and worked through it.  It may come again in a different form, but until then, I will be basking in doing what I’ve learned best over the past four years: embracing the living moment. 

To those who are still wary, consider the contrary.  The sadness begins to hit.  I avoid it, but that does not mean it goes away.  I play cornhole, I go to the commons, I sit outside, and the sadness is at the edge.  Those hours are not spent in full happiness because the sadness is creeping in.  I am overcompensating by faking my happiness and playing a role that isn’t real. The sadness begins to build up in a back reservoir, where, the more sadness builds up, the closer the dam comes to breaking.  Eventually, next week, in a few months, in a year, the dam breaks and that onslaught is drowning and incapacitating in the way that working through it when it happens does not.  How does one work through a flood?  It is far healthier to work through a shower.  Or, as I noted on the bottom of this to say later, “five minutes adds up with another five minutes until eventually its five years” referring to how dealing with the five minutes now one at a time is good so they don’t add up to a long five year reconciliation. 

Now please understand that I’m not telling everyone to live the way I live.  Some people probably don’t even get sad.  But for me, I need to honor it.  I need to do that, and I need to do it now.  I need to honor these people while they are still here to hold. 

Bill has always fondly remembered my Taylor Swift reference in Books that Make you Want to Read.  I listen to Taylor Swift far less now than I did freshman year, and have through my studies become aware of her anti-feminist tendencies, but now that I’ve acknowledged it, I’m still going to shoutout to Taylor and one of her new songs, Holy Ground.  This place was holy ground and it deserves to be honored.  Whatever it takes to honor it, do it.  Honor it in tears and honor it in laughter and joy.  Honor it whatever way you know how. 

To me, that means not shying away from the hard stuff.  Oh, and great lyric from the Taylor song: “Tonight I’m gonna dance for all that we’ve been through.”  There it is. 

January 2013: An Ode to Ben and Elland

(Written January 2013 after receiving an arts grant from the Johnston Center for Integrative Studies at the University of Redlands)

Today I went to Dick Blick, a giant treasure trove of an art store in L.A., to start shopping for my spring art show.  It was A.) the best thing ever, because I got to spend grant money on whatever I wanted art wise and it really got me reinvigorated about my art and excited for my show, but also B.) made me realize just how much I owe to my old art teachers.

How much is that, you ask?

I owe Ben and Elland everything.  Not in life, that would be strange.  But in art, they did everything for me.  Part of me hopes one day they read this, they deserve to know how much they affected my life and doubtless many others, but part of me hopes they do not because I'm a creep.  I think back on before Elland taught me how to draw and Ben taught and inspired me to paint, and I just wouldn’t be doing art.  Not even I wouldn’t be as skilled as I am now but I don’t think I would have continued with it beyond the initial interest.

This thought first struck me when I was buying canvas and stretcher bars.  I picked the kind of canvas I wanted, I started pulling out the sizes of stretcher bars.  I looked around at all the pre-stretched canvasses.  Without Ben, I’d have been buying those flimsy, slipshod quality nightmares.  If I wanted to make my own canvasses, I’d have had no idea how.  I wouldn’t have known to buy heavy stretcher bars instead of light ones.  I wouldn’t have known how to put them together.  I wouldn’t have known how tight to stretch them or to use a staple gun or how to fold or about gesso. 

I don’t know if I could have self taught.  I guess eventually I could have learned from someone else, but here at Redlands that wouldn’t have happened.  And it wasn’t just the technical details.  He taught me why stretching your own canvasses is important, about owning the whole of your craft.

I went on to buy paint.  Where would my painting be without the oil paints that Ben taught me to work with?  Nowhere.  Acrylic sucks, not sorry to say it.  Oils are where my style came from. 

And the mixing medium!  And the base layer!  Ah! 

Then I wandered around the store finding more things to buy and make into art.  I stumbled on Prismacolors and realized I can finally buy a new set!  I have the money! 

And then I thought of Elland.  Hardly anybody knows about Prismacolors, even artists I meet now.  The vivid pictures they create are always questioned, what can do that?  But Elland taught me how to use them, he taught me how to draw faces, often the skill I’m most praised for.  I learned about lots of materials from Elland, but I also got my first art community, my first real passion for it.  I wouldn’t have continued art without Elland, and I wouldn’t have embraced it in college without Ben.

I haven’t really done art since last May in Ben’s drawing class, I spent most of the fall on literary theory and my writing.  But I can't wait to begin again.  I have four sets of stretcher bars, yards of canvas, oil paints, gesso, new brushes, soft pastels, mi tientes paper, black pastel paper, and NEW PRISMACOLORS.  I’m so excited to show my appreciation for my mentors and get back to my passion with this art show.

Of course, I can’t say this without mentioning Johnston’s role.  My grant for all these supplies is the Director’s Discretionary Grant from Johnston.  You enabler, you.  But if I start talking about the importance of Johnston in my life here I’ll be up all night.

How to Remove a Possum from the Closet, Humanely

One night, not too long ago, in fact so recently that it was last night, I was with my two best friends attempting to relax after a camping trip.  One of said friends is soon departing our dear California for the other coast, and we took a farewell camping trip to the lovely Deep Creek Hot Springs, which I highly suggest anyone looking for a relaxing hot spring time followed by a semi difficult but not intolerable hike check out.  We were back at her house that night, tired and ready to sleep, when she jumped off her desk chair and ran out of the room.

A rat!  A rat!  Victoria screamed, pointing into the closet.  Stephanie and I looked at each other in alarm.  Where?  What?  How?  We inched towards the closet, in fear but also in apprehension.  Was there really a rat in the closet?  We stood as far back as we could and still see in.  Stephanie bravely leapt forward to turn on the light and try to scare the creature out of hiding.  And indeed, we saw a head poke out of the corner and then quickly retreat.  But it was not a rat. 

It was a possum. 

How does a possum get into a second floor bedroom, let alone a closet?  When has a possum ever been in a house?  Who has even seen possums roaming around California?  Were the questions that reeled through our minds.  But most importantly of course, how to get rid of said possum. 

As Stephanie began to theorize, I took out the trusty cell phone and looked up 'how to get rid of a possum' and various other iterations of said question.  But I came upon a problem very quickly:  every article was based on how to get rid of possums if you suspect that they are in your house, or how to prevent possums from entering the home, or other useless articles when there is literally a possum hiding in the corner of the closet of the bedroom that you are supposed to be sleeping in imminently. 

We were not dissuaded, aka we were not willing to sleep in the room with the creature.  As follows is the account of how we humanely put the possum out of the household, to serve future generations of people who need to get a possum out of the house and don't know if you can call animal control at 10 pm / don't know if they can afford animal control, ever. 

Most of this credit goes to the one Stephanie Ritter, queen of humane woodland creature control. 

1.  Create a blockade around the area in which the pest is located.  A semicircle around a door is the example here.  Possible materials include but not limited to: a tent in a bag, piles of books, a shower caddy full of old shampoo, sleeping bags in stuff sacks, backpacks laden down with books and other papers. 

2. Put on shoes.  Hiking boots ideal, anything with large sole second place, barefoot not ideal. 

3. Send one person to the kitchen to retrieve three large bowls, and two knives.  The knives are not meant to be used in the humane scenario, but nobody wants rabies.  Knives are emergency scenario if the woodland creature somehow knows how to jump or attack.  See other places on the internet for which woodland creatures know how to jump and/or attack. 

4. Once outfitted with shoes, bowls, and knives, send most prepared person into area to remove all foreign objects thus creating an open space where a bowl can be dropped on the creature.  Make sure person has quick reflexes and escape abilities. 

5. Remove all foreign objects, place heavy ones among the barricade. 

6. Find a fence:  not a fence as in an outdoor barricade or a member of a large scale art thief operation, but an item that can be used to fence in the possum.  Possible material: large piece of cardboard.  Improvise with available materials. 

7.  Human 1 holds the fence in one hand and a bowl in the other and fences the creature into a small area.  Humans 2 and 3 hold a bowl in one hand and an emergency knife in the other. 

8. Humans 1 2 and 3 freak out when the possum backs itself up against the wall and looks ready to attack.

9. Human 2 looks up if creature is blind.  Possums, as it turns out, are not.

10.  Humans 1 2 and 3 attempt to calm down and not make noise so possum will walk across the floor into a trappable spot.  Possum begins to ascend from the wall back onto the floor.  Many harried looks are exchanged waiting for the moment.  Human 1, in our case the champion Stephanie, drops the largest bowl on the possum.  Humans 2 and 3 shriek in shock and delight. 

11. Place books on top of bowl to hold possum in place.

12. Slide fence under bowl.  This method is similar to the method used to humanely get spiders out of a household with a cup and paper, except a possum is way gianter than a spider. 

13. Retrieve duct tape.  Duct tape bowl to fence so that possum cannot escape and bite humans while carrying outside.

14. Grab now attached fence and bowl while trying not to freak out.  Human 3 leads the way down the stairs and opens all doors while Humans 1 and 2 struggle to balance possum upright and not have it flinging around, inhumanely.  Humans 1 and 2 exit front door with possum while Human 3 closes front door after them to ensure that no other possums or other creatures enter house during absence. 

15.  Humans carry the possum down the street and lay the contraption on the sidewalk.  Human 3 takes emergency knife and cuts away the duct tape.  Human 3 retreats.

16.  Human 1 walks up to contraption, swiftly kicks bowl up and away from possum.  Human 1 retreats quickly. 

17.  All Humans watch from safe distance.  First, humans are worried that the humane method has failed and that the possum has perished.  But rejoice!  The possum looks around and runs away. 

18.  Humans are happy that they have eradicated the possum humanely, but still freaked out at the experience as a whole. 

There you have it, how to eradicate a possum from a bedroom without killing it.  The internet is a complete place once again.