all information is good information

I’ve been thinking lately about how restaurant industry people have a terrible reputation, both in terms of general attitude and propensity to party. I have been thinking about it because every time I tell my bar coworkers stories about my ‘creative’ friends, they’re like ….what the actual fuck. Who are these people. 

After the retelling of a particularly harrowing interpersonal tale, my old British bartender Phil just looks at me and says: “That guy is crazy.” He said more but I’ll refrain so you will have no idea which of the men I interact with my beloved bartender referred to as crazy. It was funny in the moment, but it was also a little shocking—not because calling someone crazy is such an egregious insult, of course it isn’t, it’s just that he was so quickly able to read a situation that I’d been through and yet was still having trouble parsing. I don’t even know that I think the situation or person in question IS crazy, at least more so than I myself am insane. 

I appreciate the cold reads that my industry people have on all the other people I know, because I’m not so good at assessing people clinically. I think about how I feel around them, I think about what we talk about and what they say to me and I analyze the way they interact with the world, but I generally don’t get judgmental until someone has crossed a certain threshold of poor behavior. That threshold is, uh, a bit farther along on the spectrum than is perhaps healthy for me. 

I’ve been worried lately that I’m not really getting anything out of therapy, and every time I have that thought I end up in a conversation with a friend who tells me something that is more insightful and better advice than my therapist has ever given me. But I love my therapist! But back to friends:

“I know this means fundamentally changing who you are as a person, but I need you to get better at protecting yourself.” 

I can’t disagree. There’s a time in my life when I would have gone on a discourse about how being open and vulnerable is good and tenderness and the way of grace, but I don’t want to do that anymore. It’s not that I necessarily think it’s false, I just don’t know and I don’t want to invest my energy in having a specific systemic belief about how best to interact with people and the world. 

She’s a better person than me, my friend. When I tell her stories of people who upset me, she’s sympathetic but she tries to get me to understand their side of the story in a way that is illuminating without negating my pain. She tries to get me away from the people who are forces for destruction. And she’s mean! I love it. A few months ago she said to me, “My opinion of you lowers every time you talk about him, to see you so hung up on someone who doesn’t deserve your respect makes me question the person I believe you to be.” It was so harsh but it was so important. I get so caught up, I need someone to tell me what it looks like from the outside.

I was complaining yesterday about how annoying it is to have so many friends who pay attention to my social media shitposting, particularly on twitter, because it makes me censor myself in a way that I never had to bother to do on that particular platform, or when writing in a personal blog. Trying to write about your life knowing that others will read it can bring a transcendent level of understanding to a situation, but I've had to accept in the past, say, two years, that there are hard limits that I won't, can't cross. I value loyalty more than transparency. But still, I think about the way I wrote about my interactions with Californian, what, three years ago? Knowing he would never google me, and knowing that writing about my feelings towards him had no impact on his life. I miss that freedom. 

Theoretically I could say his name now, there’s no way anyone will ever find him. He’s so incredibly offline, which is strange for me now that everyone I interact with is so very very logged on—but it was strange at the time too. I’m going to refrain from making any sort of commentary on whether it’s ‘good’ or ‘bad’ that there’s this meta-universe of social media now, because it just exists. I never want to hear another diatribe on it, it’s just pointless. 

But yes, it felt odd even at the time that he was so untethered to anything I could trace. That being said, I’ll still refer to him as the Californian—I respect his privacy of course, and it’s a fun Jonathan Franzen joke, and it’s the past. It’s relevant in that it’s my history, but I no longer think of him as a named recurring character. That gun has gone off too many times. There’s a point where you have to accept that the enrichment someone offered your life, and vice versa, is over. The way we dragged it out was not necessarily damaging, it just reached the point where it was silly. I’d be snapping him pictures of my boobs while working on a book review. He’d ask me to retell things that happened two fucking years ago. There are only so many stories. 

I remember earlier this year when I first started really hanging out with other writers frequently, I would get anxious at the outset, but once I started talking to people it was always very easy and I wouldn’t get stressed, it was just like a parade of potential. I always wanted to feel more comfortable and know more than say, one face in a room, but now that I know many faces in many rooms it comes with it’s own set of difficulties.

It’s the context that builds when you see the same people everywhere, I guess. And I love that context, it’s the stone of any social experience, but it’s hard. There’s so many things to be mindful of, and I don’t want to be paying attention constantly.

And yet insofar as I complain about the emotional toll of the context, the prospect of entanglements, romantic or platonic, without any context becomes increasingly meaningless and boring to me. There’s a guy who I was seeing for a little while in the summer who’s attempting to reappear, texting me a few times a week seeing if I’m around, and I have no ill will against him, I’ll probably put aside my malaise and get it together to see him soon, but the fact that he just exists as an amoeba with no connection to the rest of my life makes him seem boring, not attractive. 

I think my younger self would laugh in my face at the way I complain about the men who pursue me. She had been pursued never so didn’t have any conception of how it can be so meaningless and frustrating when it’s not coming from a source that you value. I still have so much sympathy for young me since her and I still share so many of the same questions about the habits of the general population, which I still feel very separate from. 

I was at a friend’s house the other night after we were out at the bars and she brought a guy I’ve expressed interest in before. There weren’t many of us there, and he and I paired off fairly quickly with the usual flirty touching and whatever, eye contact. It was so easy, and not stressful. I used to spend so much time questioning whether or not men were attracted to me, and it’s strange to not really have to do that anymore. Of course, in that problem’s place all the other problems with trying to create intimate connection between two lives full of their own context arise. And back again to: problems one can’t write about publicly. 

Last year around this time I was joking with one of my old professor homies because she posted an article about a certain area of study and I sent her one on the same area of study by someone I was sleeping with. I told her as much—people always think it’s weird when i say things like this, but my professors were, are, my friends. And c’mon, it’s funny! When I said “too much information?” She said, “All information is good information.”

The more time that passes the more I believe this. You’re entitled to having a base of knowledge about a situation before you involve yourself in it, so you can decide if you want to proceed. As a not very private person I know it could seem irrelevant or self serving for me to say that, but I think it’s actually a separate issue to your own standards of modesty. If you’re asking other people to be even minority involved in your life, they deserve the basic knowledge of what that does or doesn’t mean. The only way to attain an equal playing field is through the transmission of information. 

So yes, I personally believe that means freely offering the information that people you're choosing to interact with need in order to make decisions. Women have been trained to shield so much about ourselves, and the women’s work I love the most is the work that removes that shield and works to display the context that makes up a story and a life artfully and with grace, no matter what the content itself is. 

Sometimes when I read a book like this I end up so engaged that I start to feel in the mindset of the author, and have to remind myself of the differences. I just read How to Murder Your Life, and Cat Marnell is such a beautiful shitshow, and everything is just a mess and I’d stop reading and think like oh yes I totally get this, I’m a mess too!

I make a lot of jokes on soc meds and in real life about not having my shit together, and I think those jokes are funny so I will probably continue to make them, but as soon as I’d be like hell yeah Cat, shitshow sisters, I’d step back and look at my life and think, wow, my shit is pretty much together. I make good money from several steady sources, I’m responsible in my jobs and my personal life. My art is on the exact path that I want it to be on, to the point where I don’t really even get anxious about it anymore, which is huge. I rarely feel like I’m at risk of truly fucking anything up. I worry about the effect that the mad outer world will have on my ability to sustain a stable life, of course, but if it were left up to only me I would not be worried at all. 

If anything, I think that the restaurant industry has shown me how deep my ability to be a dedicated and responsible person is. At the type of jobs I have, there is no room whatsoever for fucking up. There is no leniency. I’ve had to train myself to be dedicated to something that is, in terms of belief, so irrelevant to me as to almost be antithetical. And then I think, imagine what I could do with that level of dedication and structure, instead of giving it to a system that I generally abhor but utilize for it’s financial stability, imagine if I could give that to a person, to a life with a person. It would be beautiful. 

 

sever all/some/no ties

Yesterday when I got off work I walked in the almost-rain to the ferry and rode it to DUMBO for a book launch. On the ferry I bought ‘snacking chocolate’ (it’s like, chocolate with pretzels in it and it does say snacking chocolate on the bag) and a beer in a plastic cup with a straw. I tried to go on the open top of the ferry but it was closed re: impending rain. So I sat by the window and ate my chocolate and drank my beer and looked at Manhattan and thought, as I often do, this is pretty cool. ‘This' being the everyday things one ends up doing in New York that are actually remarkable in their own quiet way when you take a moment to think about them.

I got off the ferry and it wasn’t time for the book launch so I went for a cocktail at Atrium, where one of my old coworkers apparently waited on Ivanka Trump. Ew. The cocktail was delicious though and I succumbed to dollar oysters. I’ve been avoiding them lately because finances but six once in a while can’t terribly damage the already broken bank. I read Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan, it comes out in October—I probably won’t review it because I don’t think I have anything particularly noteworthy to add to the conversation, and I think that clogging the already underread review market with “this book by a famous author is pretty good” takes only serves to make it less interesting to outsiders, but, the book is very good. Very different from goon squad, much less experimental in form, but very engaging and of course well told.

At the book launch I immediately found people I knew which is an exciting development for me in book launches, where I’m used to knowing no one or only seeing people who I know vaguely and thus being awkward. Instead I had humans to talk to the whole time! The conversation between the two writers was so funny and I imagine it’s because they’re friends in real life. I support this. I love literary events, obviously, I go to them multiple times a week, but they can easily veer into boring. When it’s people who know each other laughing and gooning, it is not boring, it is fun.

I got through the event without buying any books. I already had a review copy of the book being launched and the only other book I’ve been looking for is How to Murder Your Life, but they didn’t have it! Tragic. I’ve been wanting to read it because I’ve recently become obsessed with Gawker and I read that A.J. Daulerio used to date Cat Marnell, so I figured her book probably has a good amount of gossip from that era to help in my obsession. 

My Gawker fascination started not ten years ago but actually just last week. I was at a gathering of humans drinking pina coladas and gossiping about the shitty New York Times opinion page, and someone brought up that one of our friends plays a not-minor role in the Gawker documentary, Nobody Speak. I haven’t watched said documentary but then we got to talking about Gawker and I said that I wanted to read a history of it and someone suggested Brian Abram’s Oral History, and I said why would I read an Oral History that sounds like something you listen to. But apparently this is an internet genre, the oral history. 

I read the Oral History and it is everything a person who loves gossip and New York media and gossip about New York media could possibly want. I’ve been thinking a lot with friends and on my own about the nature of gossip lately. It gets such a bad rap (in no small part I’m sure because it’s associated with women,) but gossip is what allows women to build a social analysis of the men around them and keep an oral record (an oral history if you will) of the shitty things they do, and protect themselves from future creepiness and or shiftiness at the hands of those men. Gossip also allows people to process painful social scenarios and analyze them in ways that enable them to build a better existence or at the very least move forward with all kinds of shitty interpersonal pain. It’s like therapy but without spending $250. 

Recently I had a somewhat disturbing conversation, but I haven’t been able to discuss it with anyone in New York because the core of the conversation was something that I can’t repeat. The thing that’s a secret is not particularly relevant, but the way that the person tried to involve me in the situation was unsettling. Since I haven’t been able to talk about it, as the days have gone on I’ve found myself fixating on the ways I felt the way this was targeted at me were inappropriate, and how the burden placed on me in the situation was not only unfair but made me feel trashy, used, and scapegoated. Normally I’d process this with my friends and move forward relatively quickly, but due to the lines that I can’t in good conscience cross, it’s been eaten away at my personal and social psyche.

I don’t think this person had the specific intention of hurting me, or that they realized how damning the conversation felt to me, but regardless of the intention, I felt and continue to residually feel like shit and like I’ve made mistakes with regard to setting boundaries in my life and making myself available as an emotional outlet to people when I'm not necessarily an appropriate outlet in the given scenario.

At least since college but probably for most of my life one of my harbored beliefs has been that all relationships are significant and deserve to be treated on an equal plane, friendships, professional relationships, lovers, etc, and that relationships should be able to cross boundaries that society has put in place to keep them segregated. This is of course in opposition to the idea that romantic relationships are held up above all other kinds of relationships, and the idea that there is something ‘inappropriate’ in relationships that fall outside of the traditional boundaries.

I still agree with this, obviously. But as I spend more time in the world, I notice two things: one, obviously, it gets harder to maintain, but I’ll get back to that. Two, the way that people value and respect romantic relationships over any other sort of bond has become not just eye roll worthy and annoying, but cruel and insidious. It’s somehow socially acceptable to treat people like shit who you aren’t in an agreed upon relationship with, but a huge human felony to treat people like shit whom you’re dating. Um, they’re all people! 

Honestly, I don’t even think that treating people like shit in the general sense is the worst cardinal sin in the book. I’ve worked through my life to develop a thicker skin and that when I think back on the sleights of my youth, I am more in the ‘whatever’ camp than the ‘still angry, omg it fucked up my life’ camp. What I’m more protesting here is the idea that casual dating and friendship and socializing are some kind of free for all in being an asshole where there’s no accountability while the only people who deserve to be treated well consistently are those who are well practiced enough in the social graces of dating that someone has deemed them worthy of a 'serious relationship.’ The idea that there’s more social pity for a woman who has been cheated on than a woman who spends every week getting shit on and socially trampled by dudes she isn't dating is fucking insane. Someone only deserves our empathy if a man deigned her worthy of dating in the first place? Okay. The shitty things a guy did to a woman (or vice versa blah blah) are permissible because he didn’t think of her as enough of a ‘serious dating candidate’ to treat well? ALRIGHT. 

I still believe that people should not follow the traditional boundaries of relationship/friendship/coworker and should feel comfortable talking about/doing whatever with anyone as long as it’s agreed upon by both parties, and there’s a somewhat equal exchange of whatever it be, information, intimacy, emotional support, but I now realize that I’ve done a poor job of protecting myself in the process of letting my social life be a wild west no man’s land. I want the no man’s land to still exist, but I think I need to start keeping tabs on the ways in which these boundary-less bonds tax on me emotionally. 

In college we had this running joke about severing all ties. My friends and I in my small alternative program would regularly have run ins with either student government or the frats and inevitably in the fall out someone would say ‘Johnston has severed all ties with [x part of the greater university.]’ It’s not like the people who said it were in on the joke! It was just, for whatever reason, their go-to way of expressing their disdain that we nonsense students of the integrative were free agents who could do things that fucked with the power structure. So we took it on as a mantle and would chant it at meetings and would gamely sever ties with anyone who crossed our paths.

The thing is, and was, though, that looking back, I personally never really severed all the ties with anyone. I wrote a satirical play about hazing in Greek life that gained me the vitriol of the entire Panhellenic council, and sure I got screamed at by drunk girls and kicked out of parties, but I still organized keg races with frat boys. (And slept with them.) I was, on the one hand, all for the severing of institutional ties, but on the other hand, I was too lazy, too bored, too social, too drunk, to sever the casual ties that were the underpinning of my social universe: my ability to leave my dorm room wasted on a Thursday night and go anywhere I wanted on campus, be welcomed into any house, take shots with any acquaintance, repeat any benign piece of gossip to anyone I ran into at a party. 

To have the type of social landscape that I enjoy, I think to almost equal degrees you need to not have too many boundaries and not truly sever ties. But, as with most youthful aspirations, I can concede that some amendments need to be made to protect oneself from unnecessary emotional trauma.

escape hatch from the psychodrama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doesn't that sound fun?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.  

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.