I. My parents instilled in me this underlying belief that things would always work out. During periods of depression, I watch this conviction recede from my horizon. The version of myself who stops feeling this, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, is a version with something amiss. But it’s not strictly innate; it is a conviction that requires some external assistance.
II. Graduating from college caught me off guard. In the most basic sense, I had always known it was coming. I just never gave much thought to what it would mean.
I assumed it would sort itself out.
It should surprise no one (though it always surprises me) that sometimes things don’t just work out. Sometimes there’s a long hard period of figuring shit out.
III. I spent the summer after college bouncing back and forth between Missouri and LA, applying for jobs and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Every job I applied for was my DREAM. JOB. that I just hadn’t heard of yet.
I never got asked for an interview on a single one of those jobs because I was grossly under qualified for all of them.
IV. When I began that summer, newly graduated and realizing that suddenly my life was supposed to start and I didn’t understand what that meant, I decided to write about it.
I had experienced my adolescence in online diaries; in 2010, there was nothing more logical in the world for my 22-year-old self to do than to start a personal blog.
IV. I am very guarded with my feelings. In the context of this space, I can see how that claim seems ridiculous. But there it is. I have no emotional poker face, so when I feel a thing, you will probably see it on my face, but that doesn’t mean that I am also ready or able or willing to talk about it. If something is bothering me, I’m probably not ready or able or willing to talk about it until I’ve gotten some distance from the feeling.
I feel all the feelings and sharing them feels big and scary but sometimes also cathartic and necessary. I made a lot of Not Good decisions around the time I graduated from college. Starting this blog was definitely not among those Not Good decisions.
V. One day, without noticing it, I stopped bouncing. I settled into my parents’ house until I could make a decision. I hate decisions. I’m not good at decisions because I am easily consumed by an awareness that I am terminating all of the other possibilities the second I commit to one thing. Sometimes I miss the beauty of a choice because all I can see are the thousand lives I’ll never live.
VI. I started substitute teaching. Without the gifts of time and distance, I felt like a failure. I had graduated and now I was just floundering. Treading water. Those thousand lives were exterminated just as easily by my inaction.
I began to fear that things would not, in fact, work out.
VII. I look back on that time and think, “Girl, you’re 22. Calm down.” At the time I thought, “What am I even doing? I’M ALREADY 22.”
Time and age are fun that way. I remind myself of this often.
Someday I will look back at the weight of decisions made at 27 and see all the ways time would have moved on just as easily if I’d done something else. But that doesn’t change the way they feel now.
VIII. Around the time I stopped bouncing, I found an online community of other 20-something personal bloggers. I spent a lot of time in that chat room, mostly making weird jokes about boners and nipples or playing internet charades.
Sometimes someone a couple years older would tell me that they remembered feeling that anxiety at 22 and for a little while I could calm the voices and the world felt OK again.
Things were going to work out.
IX. Still, life in the town where I went to high school was suffocating. I wasn’t supposed to be back there, as evidenced by the fact that everyone I cared about had stayed gone. One day I was added, by my new internet friends, to an email chain. I spent the bulk of my free periods at work reading and replying to those emails.
They quickly became the friends I talked to more than anyone. They are still the friends I associate most strongly with that year or so of my life.
X. Not long after, two of those friends asked me to start a project with them. I was going to dedicate a-previously-not-understood amount of time to re-reading my Baby-Sitters Club books and talking to the internet about it.
Because age and time are funny, I had no way of understanding then what it would come to mean to me later.
XI. That summer I went to New York and acquired a styrofoam head that I traveled around with for a while. We named her Yvonne. She got passed around to different friends until she eventually disappeared, as styrofoam is not, sadly, forever.
Its memories are, though.
XII. I went to graduate school in Paris.
The last message I sent before I physically left the country was a panicked email to my internet friends. I had just boarded flight number two of four and suddenly feared that things could not possibly work themselves out. This was a doomed mission.
The last message I received was a friend reminding me that I was brave. The bravest girl she knew. I have a suspicion that I tell this story too often, but it’s only because I still think of it when I need that extra encouragement. It’s a small thing that is also possibly the most important compliment I have ever received.
XIII. Graduate school abroad is a little like summer camp. I didn’t go to summer camp, so I’m making this up from the romantic cinematic understanding I always had of the summer camp life I never got to live. Friendships formed in a way that was quick and intense and mostly I loved it, but sometimes it was jarring and terrifying.
I had a blogger friend in Paris. When the weird insular community of pseudo-expats and the anxiety of graduate school imposter syndrome overwhelmed me, I had this friend from another life and context. Someone who I knew before and who therefore felt safer and better. Someone who understood things nobody else quite did.
XIV. I joined a class trip to London and had a minor existential crisis. We toured advertising and branding and PR agencies and everyone in my program was overjoyed about their exciting futures in advertising and branding and PR.
My susceptibility to contagious enthusiasm is both a thing I like about myself and also a thing that makes me a little much to be around. And yet, here I was in London, surrounded by all this glee while also thinking, “I fucking hate this.”
Specifically, nearly everybody we met seemed smarmy and left me feeling like they were the worst people I had ever met and also like I desperately needed a shower.
After a weird, confusing day, I made plans to meet up with a blogger friend. We had hung out in New York. We started another project together and on this miserable fucking day, sitting with her over coffee and then majestic pancakes was the soul cure I didn’t realize I needed until it was happening.
How could things be anything but OK when you have pancakes?
XV. A little less than a year after I finished my graduate coursework I found myself floundering again, but this time it was worse. Treading water sounded awful nice when I found myself breathing it in instead.
For a while, that thing that I had been making with some of my very best friends was my lifeline. Most days it was the only activity I could will myself to do. It kept me connected to people and the world and a vague sense of purpose.
Is it overly dramatic to say it saved my life?
Melodrama is a personal blog’s prerogative; it saved my life.
XVI. I joined two of my friends in Dallas. None of us lived there — it just seemed somehow geographically convenient as a spot for us to meet up. When we were planning this trip, I was still in a very bad place and it felt a little surreal. Like I was planning an imaginary trip. A person who didn’t exist. Or maybe who wouldn’t exist.
When it happened, I had already decided that I wasn’t going to end my life but I was still not clear on how exactly I planned to live my life.
A conversation about books in the bar above a strange pop culture themed restaurant stands out as a moment when I started to figure out the answer. It was a key moment in time spent laughing with two people who still feel like my people, who I managed to find and know, even though the random chance assignments of geography and other circumstances wouldn’t have otherwise made it so.
These are friends who remind me every day that I get to make my life what it is and will be.
XVII. Writing my graduate thesis was emotionally challenging in ways I never could have anticipated.
While poking around the internet procrastinating more important things, I found this post describing a personal hell for each of the MBTI types. The INFP version was something to the effect of sharing your most deeply held feelings and thoughts with a room full of people who subsequently mock and scorn you.
Some version of that is a threat that loomed large over much of the process. It was solitary in its production, while relying entirely on external validation for completion. A bizarre and unsettling combination.
I had three “internet friends” who had all gone through it before and were essential resources for everything from proofreading, recommending sources, and preparing me for my defense to providing the vital reminder that I could and would get through it.
XVII. My favorite vacation that I have ever taken was last summer. It was long and glorious and fueled by the adrenaline surge of having closed a difficult chapter and exuberantly started a new one.
I got to experience that with someone who held my hand from afar through much of the struggle that had come before. We drank wine and ate cheese and explored beautiful old architecture and it felt like the ultimate exhale, because I was with one of the only people who had half a clue why I was exhaling.
XIX. I have met nearly every person I’ve referenced so far in offline settings. In graduate school I spent a lot of time in theory classes talking about the internet and developed a deep loathing for the phrase “in real life” because while I won’t discredit the importance of those times I received a much-needed hug, much of that moral support came through the 1s and 0s. It was no less real to me.
It was no less real to me when a group of friends and strangers alike reached out to me on Twitter while going through one of the most bizarre and terrifying things I’ve experienced. It was no less real when it got me a job which feels, with that retrospective narrative-building lens of hindsight, like a job that was essential in the domino effect of jobs that led me here.
Many people much smarter than me have had more insightful things to say on this subject, but this post would not be complete without this foot-stomping exclamation that the phrase “in real life” is a bunch of bullshit.
XX. Some of these stories relate to people I have not spoken to in a very long time. One of those relationships dissipated on uglier terms than the others. Sometimes I check up on these people, just to see how they are doing. Just to see if life is treating them well, because we no longer have the kind of friendship that calls for a friendly email. Some people Facebook stalk their exes; I stalk the ghosts of once treasured friendships.
On the off chance that any of them ever sees this: thank you.
Thank you also to everyone else who I don’t say it to often enough. But yes, extra specially to the people who I don’t know how else to say it to. I’m saying it here, where I say all the things I don’t know how else to give voice to.
XXI. When my tiny corner of the internet whipped itself into a frenzy at the closing of 20sb, I had this weird feeling of guilt and regret. My first thought wasn’t even the sadness of a home I was losing, but the feeling that I had let it slip by.
There are countless other stories I could tell now. There’s the time I drove to a town in the middle of the Illinois corn fields and spent the weekend watching The Real World and crashing bachelorette parties while all of these well-adjusted people side-eyed our internet friendship. There’s the members of our community who are no longer with us. There’s the Summit in Chicago. There’s a thousand other group memes born in the chat and on the forums.
But somehow it feels like a different life. The life I have is fuller and better because of this thing that is disappearing, but my life will also go largely unaffected by this disappearance. That knowledge is deeply bittersweet.
I’m glad it existed when it did. I am selfishly grateful for what I received from it.
Thank you for helping to make things be OK.
And thank you for your many contributing author credits on all the stories which remain to be continued.
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