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My friend Pham challenged me to do a thing. This is the beginning of that thing.

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Retrospective.

I love beginnings. I’ve talked about that a lot in the nearly five years that I’ve been writing here.

I like rituals surrounding beginnings. However arbitrary the new year might be as a time for that, it’s cathartic. It’s a marker. Reflecting on a year’s worth of partial life-documenting has become one of those rituals for me.

On long road trips, state lines are key points of achievement. I love heading south and west when the mile markers are counting down, letting you know how far you are from your next accomplishment. The first couple state lines don’t actually make much difference on a 24 hour road trip, but they’re celebratory all the same. I like to pass the time by doing mental math and working out what speeds I’d have to travel to reach the state line at certain times.

Maintaining this blog – when I take the time to do it – is a similar exercise in some ways. It’s a place to mark the achievements, which include even my low moments because by the time I decide I’m ready to say, “I fucked up,” or “This fucked up thing happened,” in so public a manner, I’ve gotten somewhere. Achievements come in all shapes and sizes.

2014 was a reminder of that.

Writing like this, of course, differs dramatically from my mile marker math because there is no end goal. There is no finish line.

Not technically, at least. Last year, though, I made one up. I started the year with a theme and a list of major goals – some minor ones too – and in the end I think I did a damn good job. Fortunately, I’m the only judge in this competition.

The theme process felt really personal to me. I was squeamish about sharing it with anyone, partially because part of me finds it a little embarrassing. It’s easier to pretend there are absolutes and brush away the challenges of arriving at some semblance of whole, fully formed human being.

My theme for the year was illuminate. The word just clicked with me in a way that I couldn’t articulate. It meant two things to me (1) that I wanted to have a clearer sense of what things lit me up, what inspired me -and- (2) that I wanted to light a way forward for myself.

I was in a horrible place this time last year and above all else, I wanted to come into 2015 not feeling that way and also feeling like I had things to look forward to. Major mission: totally fucking accomplished. Pats on the back, high fives, the whole bit. I did it! Woo!

In some ways, the very act of planning things for 2014 is part of what helped me get better. It took some help to get me there, but at the time I dearly needed the reminder that there was a future to look forward to.

I started last year reflecting on one loss, and then being torn open all over again. It was a time when I was exceedingly grateful to have this blog – even if it also made things harder for a little while. It enabled me to actually support my sister in the way she most wanted it. And from that anger, I wrote a few of my favorite posts.

But then things started to pick up. I was rebuilding.

I look back on my list and feel like I hit the things that mattered. I wanted to be out of Missouri or, at the very least, have a concrete exit plan in place by the end of the year. Check. I wanted to finish my thesis, complete my MA. Check.

I had a ton of small goals related to honesty and openness, most of which I accomplished. This blog is responsible for most of the successes. Aside from that: I went to see a therapist in January. It was a fucking nightmare, but much like the act of planning to go forward, knowing that I did it – that I got up and put one foot in front of the other and made the thing happen – worked wonders. I wrote a very difficult blog post about the nightmare of 2013, whose shadow I was still struggling out of when the new year began.

I briefly traveled alone. I traveled with family and with friends. I drank lots of wine with one of my best friends in Paris while also successfully completing VEDA. I got to be part of big, exciting celebrations. We got Snark Squad just enough income to make it self-sufficient, which was a glorious achievement. I journaled almost every single day. I moved. I started a new job and an important new chapter in my life.

There are some things that I did not do. I did not not read 50 books. I did not move abroad. I did not establish a consistent blogging schedule or go on a single OKCupid date.

And all of that is fine too. The journaling fell off just as the year was ending, because it got lost in the shuffle of moving. I was upset when I realized I had blown my glorious 750 words streak, but I got over it almost immediately because I realized that the ritual was no longer necessary – at least not in the same way. That’s not to say that I no longer think daily writing is valuable, but that the problem I set that goal to fix was no longer there. On the day in December when I realized that I had inadvertently skipped a day (I don’t think I was even doing moving things – I think I had been playing board games all day) I also realized that my December 2014 self was in a very different place than the 2013 self who needed and mandated that activity. I missed a day. Life carried on.

In much the same way, none of the other goals that went unmet leave me feeling any amount of regret. Last year I wrote down a big list of things and it was a little like drunkenly throwing darts at the wall, praying that something would stick and, you know, hoping that nobody would get hurt. A lot can change in a year, and in that time, I gradually saw that not all of those things served me. I’m glad I wrote it all down – obviously I’m a sucker for that kind of documentation and record-keeping – but I’m content to let all of those things just be goals I once had.

I spent 2014 figuring out what things made me feel whole and happy and complete. Sometimes that meant doing grueling, slightly miserable things. (The terrible therapist told me that I should give up on my thesis and find Jesus and throw myself into my co-dependent relationship with my sister. He was a real winner. I’m proud of myself for the fact that however fragile I was, I was just whole enough to recognize that advice as pure bullshit.)

I haven’t decided on a theme for 2015 yet, in part because I can’t think of anything that will fulfill that totem-like function that last year’s word did. It was never something that came into play in my decision-making – I never really sat down and thought, “Better make sure I’m acting in accordance with my theme!” Rather, it was this thing that gave me reassurance when I was feeling shaky. It was a reminder to myself that I could actually trust my own judgement – something that I had forgotten for a little while.

And maybe I just need to find a different way to approach it now. I’m not sure. I’ll have to take some time to sit with it and see.

Whatever happens, I am excited about this new year. I am excited not just to watch 2015 unfold, but to make this year whatever it will be. To be present for all of its twists and turns. Maybe I just found my theme.

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Boxes

When I was leaving for LA I had this grand existential crisis surrounding whether I would go there and stay. When I talked about it then, it was the sort of half-truth I sometimes tell when I’m afraid of who’s listening.

I voiced, out loud, that I wasn’t sure if I was ready to settle down anywhere and that I was afraid that the lure of being back in the place that has always felt the most like home would be enough to make me stick somewhere. What I said, openly, was that maybe this could be a good thing!

Because what I wasn’t saying was that I was convinced it would a terrible thing. I was terrified of the idea of going to a place and staying. I was terrified that I was going to settle. Part of me felt like the fact that this was a place I once lived would make returning there somehow the same as everyone who never left our small town in Missouri.

I was trying to convince myself of something. And then it turned out to be irrelevant, because it didn’t stick. Not because of anything inherent to the place, but because of a combination of factors, not the least of which being that I wasn’t ready to go somewhere and stay. Even as I struggled with all the things that made me leave LA, I was also incredibly relieved.

In that sense, things never got settled. I moved to LA and lived on a couch for most of that time and then in my car in the final weeks.

I returned to Missouri for a year and half, which was a lot longer than I expected. In spite of being seemingly settled – I wasn’t moving around, all my stuff was generally in one place, etc. – being there was an inherently unsettled arrangement because I knew I would never stay. There’s a psychological piece that was missing. There’s all the baggage tied to that place, a fact which always made it unlikely that I would ever want to stay there.

I stayed put in my parents house, mostly because I didn’t want to go again until I knew I could stay gone. I didn’t want to start something else I didn’t know I could see through. Over the course of that year and a half, my feelings on planting roots shifted.

The comings and goings turned into their own kind of routine. I have put my life into boxes annually for the last 8 years. Since graduating from high school, not a year has gone by where I didn’t pack up my life at least once. That number is, if anything, rounding down.

It depends how we’re counting, but I figured there were about 15 moves in that time. In 8 years I have lived in at least 2 houses, 3 dorm rooms, 6 apartments, and a car. A handful of extended stay hotels and other transition spaces (the place in Morocco? The friends who let me invade their tiny homes so I’d have a place to sleep?) not counted. I’ve spanned 3 continents and now that I’m in Montana, I’ve officially crossed off all four time zones of the lower 48 – just in the last 8 years.

Packing up my life yet again, it hit me that for the first time I am anticipating that the boxes will stay unpacked, at least for a little while. At least for a lot longer than they’re used to. 2015 might be the first year in a long time that they stay unpacked. That’s what I’m expecting to happen and I’m really excited about the idea.

I packed differently. In the past, I’ve always left the project incomplete. At a certain point I would just lose steam. I have boxes that I didn’t get to in some move or another because I got bored or frustrated. And the more times you do this half-assed thing, the harder it becomes the next time around. These boxes turn out to be little time capsules. Here are the books I was using when I had that apartment in DC. Here are some clothes I wore all the time in LA. Worse yet – a small box of books that smell like smoke from a house fire 15 years ago, a box left untouched through some combination of procrastination and pain-avoidance.

I took the time to go through everything. Sort it all. Lots of things were donated or thrown away. I let go of most of the little scraps I used as handholds for former versions of myself. Things I could reach for if I switched course. The safety net. The part that builds “maybe this won’t work out” into the plan from the beginning.

(As an aside, my minimalist friends will be so proud of me: I had a firm “if I won’t sort it, then I have to get rid of it” policy on these endless boxes.)

The last time I left I was afraid of staying put. Now I find myself actively hoping that this one will take – and I suspect that this thought, in and of itself, is the shift that could make the difference.

This feeling is new. I didn’t feel this way about landing even as recently as spring. When I was still finishing my thesis and everything seemed so up in the air, I didn’t feel ready. I felt like there were too many things I couldn’t pin down and if I couldn’t pin it all down, then the best thing to do was to throw myself into the wind and enjoy the ride.

And then this summer happened. Two more weddings of beloved people. I spent time with my family in Italy. With old friends in Paris. And through it all, I started to realize that I was a little jealous of these people who seemed so steady on their feet. People who didn’t need to hop from one foot to the other, shifting their weight to keep from collapsing.

My plan had been to keep building this little business that I started mostly by accident so that I could move down to Costa Rica. When I first chose Costa Rica, back in the spring, I envisioned it as a stopover. I’d go there and hang out for a bit and then keep moving south. Keep moving until I found something to sit still for, I suppose. Keep moving until I stopped needing a bucket list to give me a sense of purpose.

This isn’t to say that I’m over traveling. Part of me still wants to see everything. But somewhere along the line, the idea of constant! motion! started to sound less exciting and more exhausting, not the least because the blur makes it hard to actually see anything. (Another thing I discovered this summer, as I realized I would never want to retrace the go-go-go backpacking adventure I had with my brother.)

What’s changed is this feeling that I’d like to have some sort of foundation from which to start. I’d like to be able to actually see everything. The emphasis has shifted.

I have also grown tired of hesitating on decisions because I’m not quite sure where I’ll be living in four months. This consideration – “Where will I be then?” – affected a thousand choices, big and small. I used to think that kept me nimble enough to be open to everything. For a time, that was true. At some point, though, that state of indecision likely began to cost me more opportunities than it gave me. I watch as my far-flung friends build lives and futures with people in their immediate presence. I feel this looming anxiety of drifting away with nothing comparable to gravitate toward; it’s hard to establish those kinds of relationships when you keep your bags half-packed at all times.

The way I think about it has everything to do with what happens next. Nothing stuck before because I deliberately wasn’t building things to last. I lived in Paris without really learning French. I lived in LA in the most early-twenties-just-out-of-college fashion imaginable. (But if you’ve ever seen the backseat of a 2006 Mustang, you know that I am not fucking around when I say that I can sleep anywhere.) I started writing those endings from the start.

While packing I found relics of these former selves. As I put them wherever they belong – donate, trash, pack, storage – I also started seeing the ways in which they represent someone else. Someone who helped make me as I now am, but someone who is decidedly not me as I now am. I am finding an ease with myself that these former iterations never possessed. Into one box goes a photo, into another goes a mirror.

I am looking forward to being done with these boxes. I’m looking forward to letting the story unfold as it will. It’s a lot more exciting to live in a story with an unknown ending.

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Objects in motion

The drive here was long, but mostly uneventful. I’m on this new Adulthood Level Up grind so rather than my usual nap-in-a-rest-area-that-looks-like-prime-horror-movie-material routine, I spent the night in a hotel in Rapid City, South Dakota. Bask in the glow of my adulthood!

I crossed into Montana and it almost immediately proved to be both gorgeous and treacherous. I had gone north of the wall and nature was no longer fucking around. The night is dark and full of terrors and also the day because snow.

But, you know, inspired by new role as Adult™ I slowed down. Cars passed me. I’m not used to cars passing me, but this is the beginning of a crazy new life. Who knows who I’ll be in my crazy new life. Maybe I’m now the kind of person who chills in the slow lane. I’m the kind of person who gets passed by other cars on the highway! In my new life I go to bed before midnight, have a workout routine, and drive slowly enough to get passed by other cars on the highway.

I slowed down all the way up until I, um, didn’t.

About 15 miles shy of my exit, I got a little cocky. I had successfully passed a couple people (still going well under the speed limit, mind you) and tried to pass another while coming around a bend.

What happened next is one of several events in my first week in Missoula that I can’t articulate in a way that makes sense. I fishtailed, spun out into the big grass median and bounced back out of it on the eastbound side. The bounce had to have been pretty hard because once I stopped I could tell that the space was deep enough that if I had stopped down there, the roof of my car would have been below the road.

I didn’t flip, thankfully, and the semi coming up the hill was far enough away that I didn’t get hit. I got myself straightened out and moving. I listened as my navigator told me to get off the highway in 4 miles, figuring that I could go there and then survey the damage. Almost immediately I could feel that things weren’t quite right with my tires, but before I could dwell on that I noticed that my car was overheating. I would not be making it to that exit. I pulled over onto the shoulder and began the tortuous series of phone calls. My parents, a tow truck, the police, the insurance company.

My parents in between all of these calls because I didn’t pre-enroll in Adult™ and so the car and insurance are still in their name. Nobody could talk to me without an intermediary step of confirming with my parents, who were 1500 miles away from the car, that they were allowed to talk to me. You know, the person actually present with the car.

While I was waiting, I got out to go see the mile marker sign, but I decided it was farther than I felt like walking in that cold. Once out of my car I could see that in addition to the one tire that had almost completely lost its tread, both of my bumpers were falling off and things underneath the car were sticking out in ways they were not meant to. Back inside my car, it only took a few minutes for my battery and everything else to die a slow, sputtering death.

15 miles. I was 15 miles from my exit. After two days of driving, I got that close and fucked it up.

When I wasn’t making those phone calls, I spent a good chunk of that hour wallowing. There are two kinds of skills that are useful to have in crisis situations: the first set is all about how you handle it in the immediate. How quickly can you come up with solutions to the problem in front of you? On this front, I typically excel. I can usually keep my shit just together enough to get myself out of messy situations. (This is a necessary skill for anyone who has ever traveled alone.)

There’s a second set of skills, though, which is all about patience. Can you patiently accept the things you can’t change and move on? This is the one I suck at. The time I had to spend waiting, the time where I couldn’t be doing something to fix the problem? That time sucked. That was time to wallow. I’m a super good wallower. A+ wallowing skills.

On Friday night after I left, my family went ice skating. My dad fell and broke his shoulder. Over the phone, my usually game-for-anything mother explained to me that she had felt so silly and stupid hovering close to the edge, but she knew she didn’t have it in her to get out on the ice like she used to. I was thinking about that as I drove through most of Montana. Cars were passing me as I creepy crawled along with my hazards on because I couldn’t see anything and I was about equally as terrified of getting hit as of hitting someone else.

And when I started passing cars it occurred to me that I was doing the opposite. Not more than a minute before I lost control I was thinking, “This is exactly what you’re not supposed to be doing. Going 30mph would be better than going 0, Nicole.”

But that’s just not how it happened.

So now I wait. After my car got passed around until the insurance company could find someone in town who was actually interested in taking the insurance company’s money (an unexpected challenge) repairs finally got underway. The good news is that it’s not totaled, which I genuinely feared. The bad news is that my car and I will ultimately separated for a grand total of 19 sad, lonely days.

And, you know, sleeping helped end the wallowing. Starting a job and moving into a new apartment has given me plenty of other things to do in the intervening time. Keeping in motion.

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(Un)remarkable

November is the first month in over a year that I allowed to go unremarked upon here. It was a crazy month that had a lot of looming questions. They are the kinds of questions I would like to be able to look back on asking myself but were also the kinds of questions that I couldn’t exactly sift through in so public a venue. A thing I find myself saying a little more often than I would like.

Here, then, for my own benefit is a quick summary: in October I applied for a job. It’s the only job I’ve applied for in about a year, which is to say that I wasn’t really looking, but also desperately wanted this job. VA life wasn’t always great for a variety of reasons, but it was good enough that I was only going to leave it for something I dearly wanted. At the end of October I was called for a Skype interview, which happened in the middle of November. It was probably the only work-from-home day that month in which I put on real pants. I drank too much coffee and nervous laughed my way through most of it.

I sent my bestie and human resources wizard a panicked email about the interview taking less time than I expected. They said 30-45. It only took a little over 20. Clearly this is evidence that they hated me and wanted to end this call as quickly as humanly possible and that’s the only explanation.

A few days later I was offered a job as Assistant Editor at Crash Course, which I accepted without hesitation. I don’t really remember the content of the call, quite so much as standing around the kitchen at my very part-time not-at-home job, looking out the window. And I remember being the peppiest damn facilitator the world had ever seen for the rest of that day. Just two weeks after that phone call, on the day after Thanksgiving, I was putting the last of my stuff in my car and heading off to my new home in Montana.

So, you know. a crazy month.

For all the things I didn’t discuss in the entire month of November, there’s even more to say about my first week in Montana. In short: it has been a weird week.

My 23 hour drive was largely uneventful until I entered Montana and the sky was all, “LOL, girl, you don’t know what you’re doing.” I clutched the steering wheel as I crept along icy highways and watched my ETA get later and later, but I was getting here.

 

Welcome to Montana.

A photo posted by @sweeneysays on

And then I spun out, just 15 miles shy of my exit. After getting so frighteningly close, I lost control with the end in sight. That’s really why it happened, to be honest. I got a little more eager and a little less cautious. More on that another day. The good news is that I was so close. I got towed to my hotel and got a rental car in the morning.

I spent most of Sunday getting to know some of my new coworkers, still a little overwhelmed. Drained from the drive and the car and the exhausting, all-consuming activity of “desperately needing to be liked.” On Monday I started my new job and it was a great day aside from the part where I had another epic debacle in which the quick errand to sign my lease turned into a 3+ hour nightmare of standing in different lines. It’s the worst kind of torture because on top of being utterly miserable, there’s not even a worthwhile story to tell at the end of it.

All of that is to say that things are good at my shiny new (to me) desk. Questionable things happen away from it. Also: I’m never moving again because moving is the worst.

But I have an apartment and this job that I adore. On Friday I went out and explored my new home with some of these fantastic new coworkers and ended the night by winning a rigged game of bingo and then a race in which I was a horse’s ass. Or, rather, a unicorn’s ass.

The last year and a half has seen some turbulence and I mentioned over the summer that in the middle of all of that I think it’s really important to stop and appreciate those upswings. I’d also like to get better at being honest when it’s shitty, but just documenting, “Here is where things were wonderful,” is – for me, at least – an important record-keeping exercise. It’s useful to have done that in those times when they are not wonderful. I think of it as a personal road map – a means of finding my way back.

I’m carless for another week and a half and I spent the last of the money I had to get up here on sorting out my vehicular drama, but I still feel as though things are going incredibly well. I’m happier at my office than away from it. I’m finally in a position where my job is actually something that I deeply enjoy instead of just “a way to facilitate things that I enjoy.” That’s a novelty I wasn’t entirely sure was possible.

A lot of what I wasn’t writing about in November was thinking about that. On the one hand, if I hadn’t gotten this job, I suppose it wouldn’t have been the end of the world. I could have kept doing what I was doing: Working mostly from home. Saving money. Preparing to move anywhere just because I could. I was stalling, though, because I wanted to know that I could leave for good, and I was still feeling very uncertain about that element of my plan. The hardest part would have been reconciling the seed this job planted: the idea that I could actually love the job part as much as the things it enables me to do. I’m not sure I would have been able to keep on just as I had been.

And thankfully, I don’t have to find out. After a month of mulling that over, I couldn’t be happier with the end result. (OK, fine, maybe a little happier if I had my car – but for a day or two there I was convinced it was going to be totaled, so HEY, it’s all relative.)

November was a quiet month in appearance only. It was the beginning of some very good things. Some very good things I wasn’t sure I could talk about because it had this vague feeling of delicacy – that if I got too close I’d drop it and it would all fall apart.

But it hasn’t. Life is good. X marks the spot.

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HALLOWEEN FOREVER.

I was tagged by Kirsti to answer a bunch of questions about one of my favorite holidays and it’s possible that I maybe went a tiny bit overboard in accepting this task. It’s possible. Investigation pending.

 

Links and things!
Tagging:
http://www.youtube.com/spirantize
http://www.youtube.com/nenalyzed
http://www.youtube.com/phampants

Tagged by
http://www.youtube.com/melbourneonmymind

The full list of questions:
https://annavslife.wordpress.com/2014/10/14/halloween-tag-questions/
http://www.youtube.com/annavslife

music: Kevin MacLeod – “Bump in the Night”

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#SaferCommunityPledge

Recently, YouCoalition launched a campaign called The Safer Community Pledge. This topic is of considerable importance to me – I’ve been blogging about rape culture both here and on Snark Squad for a couple years now – and I think this pledge is an valuable contribution to the discourse. I wanted to practice what I preach by taking the pledge.

This video was inspired by some very YouTube specific events. Often, when I know a video is only relevant to my YouTuber friends, I won’t bother with cross-posting. In this case, however, I tried to keep the wording as broad as possible, because this campaign is relevant to everyone, regardless of whether you’re familiar of the specific context from which it was created.

It’s up to all of us to make a commitment to demonstrating the kind of behavior that we will accept, condone, and support in our communities. When we are vocal about that, we disenfranchise those that would seek to harm our communities while empowering all of its members, especially those most vulnerable (and by extension, most in need of our support.)

Important links:

Title/end music: “Montmartre” – Jahzzar

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Girls Who Write Their Feelings

There are a lot of ways to move forward, but I feel both a strong urge and a sense of responsibility to move forward by talking about how I moved forward. That’s how I roll.

An alarming percentage of this blog’s content is meta discussion of how I use this blog. (LIKE SO!) As such, it’s not news that much of the utility of this blog is in keeping myself honest. The times where I find it most fulfilling are those times when I use it to acknowledge uncomfortable truths, which has the almost opposing but somehow complementary functions of holding me accountable while also freeing me from certain things.

That said, this blog is the public exercise. It’s the part where I say, “This is how much I will share.” It’s also, more often than not, the part where I say, “These are the fun anecdotes worth sharing – the stuff that might be interesting.” These considerations sway back and forth in ways largely dependent on how I’m feeling – when there’s something to withhold, the first point becomes the key issue. When things are good, it’s easier to concentrate on the second category of stories.

I am almost always writing out both versions. I write out the big and the small. Most of it is pure word vomit, but I write it anyway. I’m a devout journaler. I am firm believer in the benefits of that kind of expression.

Almost always. I am almost always writing and there is a strong correlation between the times that I am not consistently writing and the low periods in my life. (I just went through my archives and noticed that I have a post here at least once a month since I started the blog, save for several blank months last year.)

Growing up, I was all about handwritten journals. I kept them in stops and starts. I wasn’t especially organized so there are only a couple that were kept consistently. Otherwise I have stacks and stacks of notebooks with the pages half filled.

These days I have gone digital. I still hand write occasionally. I have an all-purpose notebook that I use for everything from to-do lists and meeting notes to doodles of tattoo ideas and journal entries. I label these notebooks and save them chronologically, because that makes sense to my brain. “I worked on that project last fall,” I might think, and I’ll know roughly where to find it.

But my daily journal writing takes place over at 750words.com, because that’s the way I have found most effective to keep myself doing it consistently. I have found that the simple act of carving out 20-30 minutes a day to sit and write does wonders for my overall mental and emotional well being. Once a day, I have to sit and check in and assess where I’m at.

In case you haven’t heard about 750words, it’s an amazing daily writing tool and the way it is structured works incredibly well for me. It’s got a super stripped down interface so all you see is a big wall of white with a word count at the bottom. Once you sign in, you can’t save your entry until you hit 750 words – so you’re committing to some minimum time and effort. The site awards you points for each day that you write, with significantly more points earned for building up a streak – writing for consecutive days. It also keeps track of your on-site activity to note if you were inactive (i.e., you clicked away to Facebook stalk that girl you sat next to in third grade). Like any good gamified website, there are all sorts of badges for different milestones (100 day streak! Typing very quickly! No distractions! Early bird writing! etc., etc.)

It also analyzes your writing and produces a lot of really interesting data. In addition to tracking the sheer fact of your writing (word counts, speed, distractions) it also produces fun charts of your tone, subject matter, tense usage, and sentence subjects (it makes me painfully aware of how self-centered I am). There are even word clouds! Who doesn’t love a good word cloud? It’s the best kind of self-indulgent data porn and even though I’ve been using it for years, I’m still obsessed with it.

750-words-graph-1

Here’s what this post looks like, graphed as a 750words entry.

The gamified nature of the site helps make me do it. I have to get points! And I can’t stop writing during the time I set aside because it will flag that as a DISTRACTION, and that will affect my perfect 0 Distractions record! (This machine is quite possibly the only thing in my life that will congratulate me for my focusing ability.)

Granted, the pitfall of this system is that a lot of my entries are pure bullshit. I have typed, “I don’t know what to say right now,” more times than I’d like to admit. On anxious days I find myself writing to-do lists and then elaborate explanations of what will go into the completion of these to-do lists.

My point here is that there’s a reason I’m writing 1500+ words a day (the arbitrary number I have given myself, in the inevitable escalation in a journal exercise so wholly reliant on gamification) about my life/thoughts/feels and only post here a few times a month. Nobody needs to see my to-do list.

But even when I’m writing that, I find that there are few things more useful than taking the time to say, “Hey, this is how I feel, and this is what’s going on,” even it’s deeply uninteresting content.

While I’m talking about this: I mentioned back in January that I was given free access to Cake for Breakfast in exchange for a review. Having these prompts has been enormously useful on those, “I don’t know what to say,” days. The prompts have been even better at combating the myopic view-from-my-desk stuff that tends to come out. At least once a week I take the time to ask myself bigger questions about where I’m at and what I want.

There have been a thousand little things that brought me to the much better place I’m in now than I was a year ago, and this was definitely one of those thousand little things. I only had to write about Cake for Breakfast once as part of the terms of that sponsored post, so this is something I am writing now, of my own free just-because-I-think-it’s-great will.

Ashley’s offering Cake for Breakfast at a discounted $52 (it’s normally $97) for this week only and I highly recommend you check it out. Last winter when I was grasping desperately at anything the internet could shove at me, I spent money I didn’t have on a variety of different things like this and I can’t stress enough that $52 for a year’s worth of this stuff is a great deal. There’s a little bit of advice and, “Here’s why I’m asking you this question,” intro to the prompts, but at the end of the day, she’s asking you to take stock of your life. It’s a fantastic set-up.

There’s one final thing I wanted to mention on this list of Ways I Wrote Myself Out Of A Pit (and OH MY GOD am I embarrassed by the frequency with which this “in a pit” metaphor appeared in my journal entries. A lot, you guys. A whole hell of a lot. I have a whole expanded universe surrounding my metaphorical pit, complete with sand dunes and desert crossings. I was not fucking around with my metaphorical pit.) FutureMe.org is also amazing. Somewhere around the time I began to develop a better concept of Future Me’s probable existence, I also came across this site for the first time. I’ve used it to send myself stupid, “Hey have you done [INSERT GOAL] yet?” emails but it’s also good for the feelsy stuff.

This is another thing I used to do in the pen & paper world. I started writing myself letters in middle school. I collected them all in a shoebox so that I could read them when I graduated from high school, because there was a time in my life when 18 seemed like an age at which I should be old and accomplished. Fortunately, I learned at the young (!) age of 18 to keep that shit in perspective, so I don’t make quite the same grand proclamations. (WHY DIDN’T YOU BECOME AN 18 YEAR OLD MILLIONAIRE, GIRL?) Still, it’s a great exercise in the present and future. You get to imagine both versions of yourself, when writing and reading, which is itself an important lesson in perspective.

I know 750words used to be free, but I have this vague feeling that I read somewhere that new accounts are no longer free. If you’re serious about writing daily but have found it hard to make yourself stick to it, I’d recommend forking over whatever few dollars a month they’re asking of you. Same goes with Cake for Breakfast, of course. And if you’re really cheap and skeptical of everything I’m saying, at least head over to Future Me and write yourself an email.

Dear Future Me,

Today I listened to Sweeney. I hope you’ve gotten over that phase of your life and learned to take the recommendations of wiser people. People who don’t openly tell you that they suck at advice-giving before giving you advice.

Sincerely,
Past Me.

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Exhale

Last summer I very seriously planned to kill myself. I spent nearly all of 2013 and the early months of 2014 struggling with depression, but last summer was the worst of it. It feels like I’ve been holding my breath, and when I hit “publish” I will finally start breathing normally again.

Over the last 14 or so months I have trashed countless dozens of drafts on this. For most of that time, I trashed those drafts because I wasn’t ready to talk about it while I was living it. I didn’t want anyone to stop what they were doing to pay attention to it.

I can now comfortably say that I am not still living it, but the fact that I still haven’t found a way to give it voice makes it impossible for me to give proper voice to anything else I want to say. This has its feet firmly planted in front of anything else, mercilessly knocking over any other thoughts and ideas.

I can’t seem to write this thing without spinning it into some out-of-control 5,000 word beast of a post. It hit me last night that I’ve been missing the point. I have been trying to tell a story, when that’s not what this is. I keep concentrating on a narrative, a sequence of events that has key moments that I can single out as turning points, but they all obscure the larger point that I spent a little over a year struggling to connect my thoughts and feelings with reality.

So this isn’t about a sequence of events. There is no plot. Only a string of crippling emotions I could not entirely understand.

I spent a staggering portion of last summer on the floor in the fetal position trying to will myself out of existence. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to die as that I wanted to not exist. This distinction somehow mattered for a little while. And then it didn’t, resigned as I was to the impossibility of my wish.

I resolved to kill myself, choosing a date based primarily on when I felt it might go least noticed and be least disruptive to the people in my life, as if such a date could exist.

On top of everything, it was frustrating to be acutely aware that my thinking was broken. In better moments I spent a lot of time telling myself, “Just go do a thing! That’s all you have to do. Get up. Do it. One foot in front of the other,” but nothing I could say to myself made it any more possible for me. I felt helpless and it only made things worse.

When I tried to write out a sequence of events, I kept coming back to shame. I think shame was the cart I rolled into this pit on. I think it was also the thing that kept me down there, because I didn’t know how to ask for help even when I knew I needed it. Knowing that I couldn’t put any of it into words that made sense made it impossible for me to speak up. I couldn’t stand the thought of hearing those same frustrated voices echoed by people that I loved.

For a time, the moments where I was able to pull myself together and feign functionality were largely propelled by the vaguely comforting knowledge of having given myself an expiration date. When it became clear, around the end of the summer, that I would not do it – partially because of my sister but also because I simply could not – some things got worse before they got better. When I was walking around waiting to die, I felt a little lighter for it – a little anesthetized to life. When I knew that I was going to have to find a way to live, things hurt in a fresh new way. For a short time, there was a new sense of hopelessness.

But slowly, things got better. There are a lot of people to whom I owe a great deal for that. Friends, who were patient with me when I was truly the worst as friends go. Family, who had been down a similar road with me before and held my hand even though I refused to admit to needing it. Even my thesis adviser, whose job turned into babysitting via email and Skype, micromanaging me far more than his job called for. I needed a whole lot of help that I didn’t know how to seek out. Even without me finding the words to ask, people in my life offered it. I will be forever grateful for that.

My epic story versions of this post have mostly served as personal attempts to make it make more sense. To say, “This is where it started,” and, far more importantly, “This is how it ended.” I want to be able to put it into words so that I can know, “This is the solution,” because some part of me is in perpetual fear of going back to that place. I want to be able to tuck a note in my pocket with the answer. (Bread crumbs, I said last year, when I thought I might have one possible answer to the problem I refused to name.)

There was no singular catalyst for falling and neither was there any single thing that got me out. The closest thing I can come up with, though, is all that freely offered help. It’s not much in the way of a magic incantation to leave myself with, but if I can identify one primary answer, it was the collection of truly lovely people I have been fortunate enough to know.

And so maybe the magic word is still just, “Please.” “Please, help me. I am not OK and I need you to help me.

That, like the story-versions, feels a little too tidy, though. It was never that simple. Part of my problem was that I was frustrated with my own inability to help myself. Another part of my problem was my fear of burdening others with problems they could not fix. I was afraid that my inability to just be better would, if expressed to someone else, mean I was letting them down.

After months of struggling I did attempt to get professional help and that was an absolute fucking disaster. I spent an hour talking to a man who, in the end, told me to find Jesus and throw myself into my most co-dependent tendencies. It was an early morning appointment, too. Not exactly the best way to start my day.

In retrospect, I wish I would have tried therapy sooner and I wish I would have tried again after that first effort was such a failure, but I didn’t. Mostly, I wish that I would have found people to talk to during the worst of it. When I did finally start clawing my way out last fall, it was partially by dropping the occasional verbal bomb on people I could trust to not pick it up or touch it until I was ready. “How have you been I love that dress your new job sounds great I’ve been contemplating suicide for months what do you think of House of Cards?” Each time I said the words, I felt a little stronger and freer for it.

And that I suppose is the reason I need to do this, so that if I do find myself down there again, maybe it’ll be easier to talk about it. And, furthermore, if you are in that place: (a) Know that you are not alone and that no matter how happy and functional everyone around you seems, some of them are faking it and they probably think they are every bit as bad at faking it as you feel. -and- (b) I am always here to listen. I don’t think I’m a particularly good dispenser of advice, but I can be counted on to listen

Speaking purely for myself – because that’s what this is about – it is both terrifying and an enormous relief to feel like I have now said it to everyone. The way with the blog, of course, is that I’m saying it to everyone and no one, but the second I hit publish on something, regardless of who reads, it’s no longer a secret. Secrets, I have found, are suffocating, and I’m done. (With this one, at least.)

I have said it and hopefully set myself free in the process. I can stop holding my breath, finally.

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Now/Next

I was either going to title my last post “Achievement Unlocked” or “Successful Completion.” I went with the latter because I had the sneaking suspicion I had already used the former title, but was too lazy to verify. (I had not.)

In any event, about an hour after I hit publish, the doorbell rang because I had a fancy signature-required piece of mail: my MA diploma.

Successful completion. Achievement unlocked.

Finality is strange. Right now, I am definitively “not a student.” It took a lot longer than it should have, but it’s done. In addition to throwing pointless extra money out the window in extension fees, the hyper delayed completion of my thesis also had the consequence of extending my student status. I wasn’t necessarily doing student-things for much of the extension time, but I was enrolled a little longer. I was officially a graduate student for three years.

After I finished undergrad, there was a period of about five months between graduation and my decision to go take the GRE and start applying for graduate schools. I enrolled in Media Bistro’s copy editing certificate program even before I made that decision. I’d estimate that my time off amounted to “the summer” before I found my way back to school.

I have been an officially recognized, enrolled student my entire life and it is surreal to realize that I am not one now. Something that has always been part of my identity suddenly isn’t.

Somewhere in the confused haze of the year between finishing undergrad and starting graduate school, I spent some time as a substitute teacher. (I also started this blog.) I was so awkward and uncomfortable as I walked through the halls of my high school with my teacher badge. On more than one occasion, I was chastised by faculty for being in the halls during my off period because they mistook me for a student. I had a hard time not carrying myself like one.

But now I’m not. I have always wanted to go all the way through and get my PhD, but everything about last year has me questioning that resolve. I was a student on paper for all of 2013, but I accomplished nothing. I think about the desperate crawl to the finish line and I’m not sure I’m capable of continuing.

That thought kills me. If I could say that after all of this I just changed my mind and realized it’s not what I wanted, it would be different. I’m a firm believer in giving yourself the freedom to change your mind. I’m sometimes reticent to share big plans because it feels too much like firm commitment to something that I can’t be sure my future self is still going to want. You don’t always know what future!you is going to want and that’s OK. Stuff changes – that’s life.

But to find myself unable to continue not because I’ve changed my mind, but because I no longer feel capable? That cuts deep. That invites some big, “Who the fuck am I, then?” questions.

Right now I don’t really have answers. Not yet, at least.

What I do know, right now, is that there are a lot of other good things happening. I know that right now I am confused and uncertain about my future. I know that not having answers to big questions about what I want to “do” with my life is a source of genuine anxiety for me. I also know, though, that what I’m doing right now is just fine right now. I’m happy right now.

And for right now I have to learn to let that be enough.

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