an illogical letter

Nine months ago I went to the Met Breuer alone on a weekday and saw an exhibit about absurdity in art in times of political turmoil. It was a time when I was worrying a lot about politics and not about the state of my personal life. I stopped listening to political podcasts a month later. 

The only thing I remember from this exhibit nine months ago is a small painting or maybe it was a print, it looked like nonsense cursive, the size of a normal piece of paper. It’s title was something along the lines of “It’s impossible to write a logical letter to a general.”

I found this poignant because I was very paranoid about North Korea and was thinking often about names like Mattis and McMaster.

That week as weeks do has taken on a lot of extra significance in the intervening months. I know, logically speaking, that I had not yet met the person who would throw my life off course. And yet, when I remember standing at the Met Breuer in my billowing pink pants and a strappy black top that really shows my chest, I remember it as though I’d already met him. Time is stupid and not real and a trick.

Two or three weeks ago, so still May, my best friend from college was in town en route to a wedding. We also went to the Met Breuer. A month before that I went to the regular Met with another college friend when he was visiting on the five year anniversary of our college graduation which is also 4/20. Before those two Met visits I hadn’t been to a museum since I was in France in the fall.

Outside the Musee Orangerie I was trying to take a seflie and this man started following me and trying to talk to me so I walked faster and faster and I got into the museum and paid my admission and I saw him waiting by the doors. It’s a small museum. There’s a gallery in the basement but the main attraction is two large rooms with Monet paintings lining the walls on the ground level. Half of me was trying to fall into the paintings of water and half of me was calculating if I’d been inside long enough that the man by the door had probably left.

I relayed this tale to another man, how a creep followed me into a museum, playing it off as the classic combination of hi I was in danger and also well look I’m hot and it’s so hard to travel as a woman and look this is really fucked up and don’t you wish you had been there with me and hey aren’t you catching on here’s the scheme the man I confided in was and is absolutely more dangerous than the man who followed me into the museum though he was dangerous also.

When I returned to the Met Breuer with my best friend from college three weeks ago, we went to Flora in the basement first and I ordered and absurd anchovy appetizer and she got a citrus salad and then we split the halibut. I got the halibut nine months ago too. It was a little different. Secret: fancy restaurants keep the same proteins but change the accompaniments.

Then we went upstairs and watched an open rehearsal for a dance exhibit. We marveled at how young the dancers seemed. “They must be just out of college, and already preparing for a performance at the Met.”

The main exhibit was about bodies.

Someday I will write about the past nine months. Wait, I already have. I wrote an essay. I got it workshopped in Hudson four weeks ago. I forgot that I knew how to write an essay. But the women who I’d never met understood what I was saying. They were surprised that I’d written the essay in two days. They wrote annotations that are the same as the annotations I usually write in the margins of essays I read by other women: “I hate him.” They also wrote annotations that I won’t bore you with, about plot devices and interpersonal psychology and carefully placed details. See, like Ali Smith said, How to Be Both.

Some of my friends are fucking thrilled that I wrote that essay which yes I will eventually try to publish. Other people, (ah, yeah, which ones do you think,) said, “I hear you wrote an essay.”

I said exactly the response someone like me would have but which is also true: “I’m an artist, and this is how I process what happened to me. Look, don’t be nervous, it’s more about me than it is about him. Don’t worry. You come off fine. Don’t worry! I’m going to make sure that everyone who could be affected reads it before I consider publishing it.”

God, I love to spend time placating friends of abusive men that they personally will not suffer from being friends with abusive men.

This weekend I guess there’s another panel about freedom of the press. Oh did I mention, that’s the other thing that happened the week of the Met Breuer and the letter to a general. A panel on freedom of the press. I don’t want to say that’s where it began because I know now that things do not begin in discrete moments, but.

I started to wonder if there was a rip in the space time continuum. Did the past nine months not happen. Am I living in a scratchy film loop of bad men and the Met Breuer and panels where progressive men pontificate and then turn around and

And then I remembered a therapist (a male one!) who I had during the summers between college who to be honest is the person who most taught me what mental health means and how when I’d go on my long rants (ha, see my offset of Longreads, Longrants,) about dramatic friendship issues, he’d say, sometimes all you can do is shrug.

I’m simplifying how good he was. But this one thing was simple and true. Instead of searching for the meaning of the panels and the museums and the coincidences—well, it fucking happened, time is a flat circle.

You can't write a logical letter to a general.

You can't have a logical conversation with a sociopath. Good thing I saw that exhibit, I guess.

I always loved books but no one told me how much of my life I’d spend trying to rewrite horrific narratives into something acceptable. I didn’t know that something as simple as ‘enjoying an experience’ would contort in my memory into tar, because I’d realize that what I saw as an equal interaction was just a man manipulating me as an activity. 

Sometimes I remember men who I went on one or two dates with who were maybe decent and I think why did I drop that? Why did I run away? Was it really that bad? And then I’m at a bar and a decently attractive man wearing a shirt patterned with poinsettias is telling me how women just need to ignore men and create their own art and I nod and smile and think yes wow what a genius solution.

And then walking home slowly in wedge heels I recall exactly why I could not physically force myself to text any of the men back.

Despite what happened, this time, or any of the other times, I’ve been so fucking lucky.

If I didn’t preserve the cave I’ve been given by running away from people who threaten the small things I hold—

I’d be a fucking fool.

 

fate hi it's me i'm tempting you

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Compilation Selves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

General Existential Malaise

My facebook every day likes to stealthily remind me that I haven't posted anything from my blog in 35 days. Some days I'm like fuck you I work everyday, other days I'm like who reads the things I say anyway, but most days I'm just exhausted (see: working every day) and can't think of anything to say other than: “I'm bored and depressed and nothing particularly sad is happening to me but a lot of sad things are happening to people around me and it is bringing me down, yo.”

I've been working so much that most days I'm not even clear headed enough to think about how I really feel beyond the word tired. Various ways I have described my brain on these days: cottage cheese, jelly, a void, mashed potatoes. (Coincidentally, the food I eat almost every day at work.) In theory, I like working a lot, because it helps keep my anxiety low and then I am in the flush re: finances, but lately it's been so much that I can't write. Obviously that's not a sacrifice I can make forever, and realizing that has been important, but it doesn't help me get anything done.

And of course there's the inescapable fact that it's not just working a lot, it's also a very potent cocktail of boredom and general existential malaise and anxiety and – whatever else the problems that I hear are endemic to this age are.

The thing I want to pinpoint out of all of those is the boredom. I'm slowly accepting that I really do not react well to being bored. I think of this like a dog left alone at home all day who then destroys everything, or a horse who chews wood and makes himself sick. This isn't altogether shocking, but I think that I did not correctly estimate my own threshold for boredom. I thought that I could be happy going to work every day, coming home, reading, writing, seeing friends occasionally, and that things like the beach and the sun and whatnot could contribute to a general feeling of contentment.

The time is coming where I have no choice but to admit that that isn't true. I'm not content, I'm bored, and before I realized that boredom was my problem it drove me to attach ferociously to things in my life that did not want or deserve ferocious attachment, and then to make those things into problems that eventually led to feeling rather miserable a lot of the time.

Although it feels somewhat good to recognize this as part of the problem, it's not much of a route to a solution. Because I should be content and not bored with what I have. I have a great job with amazing coworkers that keeps me up and energetic all day; I don't have to sit behind a desk and zone out. I make enough money that I can afford the new books I want to read and the clothes I want to wear and the rent on a nice place.

But I can't deny that it's not enough for me. Perhaps it's a shame that I had such a good time in college that I am not content with less. But I'm not talking about the things that everyone has in college – the friends constantly around, how easy it is, how much time you can spend doing what you want. I miss all those things, but I understand that you can't have that when you're an adult. The part of college that's missing from my life now to the point where it's driving me insane is intellectual stimulation outside of my own brain. Because books are always going to be there, and I'm always going to read them, but if books are the only thing I have, I start to not be able to read them. I get so bored and sad and caught up in my own head that I can't sit down and read anymore.

I need people to talk to about the books. I need people to talk to about the observations and the life issues and the dumb shit I think about all day. But I need more than that too – I need to be able to go to events that take me out of my solitude. Being alone more than I was in college is fine, and probably the only way I'll ever get anything done, but being alone and without stimulation and engagement as much as I have been lately isn't good for my brain.

I feel like there's this undercurrent of American thought that's like just deal with it homie you're never going to be intellectually stimulated this is life get over it. But I don't think I'm ready to accept that yet. I loved my writing group before it disbanded, and I enjoyed my time speaking frequently with a human who also liked books. I know there is hope out there, I'm just starting to think I may not be in the right place for it.

Because I've gone to art openings here, I've been in readings, I've been to dance shows and the like – but none of it made me feel the way that I did after I saw Ira Glass with Victoria, or after I read Emily Gould's writing for the first time, or even after I saw Birdman.

I want energy and I want art and I want stimulation and discussion, and I just don't know if I'm in the right place to find it. But when do you keep searching in the same place and when do you accept that it's not working and move on?

The thing is, I'm pretty sure I already know the answers to those questions. They're hard to swallow but I am training myself every day to accept them. The harder thing for me, on a daily basis, is how to deal with the short term boredom, not the long term. I know what I have to do in the long run – and it's hard but I can deal with it. What I'm having serious trouble dealing with is each individual day. How to keep myself out of boredom induced depression so that I do more with my day than lie in bed and cry. How I push out of the fog that feels like it's taken over my brain every day to write anything, even if it's something stupid or useless. How I accept that there are things in my life that I had such hope for that just aren't going to work out.   

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: 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.  

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?

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.