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.

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.