Shrinking.

It feels like some kind of sick cosmic punishment for being the girl who refuses to be afraid of walking home at night, the girl who travels alone and will have none of your questions about whether or not she should. It feels as though some wretched higher power saw the defiance on my face and saw fit to put a heel to it.

Or, more accurately, a rock.

I’m not telling you this so that you can tell me it’s not my fault. I’m telling you how it feels.

I’m telling you how it feels because that is the best thing I can do to cope. I’m telling you how how it feels because my first inclination is to say nothing. It is in my nature to avoid uncomfortable conversations and the possibility that my feelings will be shunned as attention-seeking. But I’ve also learned how toxic it is to let that shit fester.

Silence seems like a kind of emptiness until you’ve watched the way it can grow and multiply and fill all the space in your life. I want to decide how to fill the space in my life.

I want to know why this happened. I want a reason.

I’ve got this loop going in my head of the minutes between when I first saw him in the cul-de-sac to the moment he changed his mind and ran away.

I keep wondering if he was trying to rob me or rape me. Or if he just wanted to know what it would feel like to smash someone’s head with a rock. What it was that made him decide I was the person to rob/rape/smash-with-a-rock. As if an answer to that would make it all make sense.

I keep scrolling through the map of my run. Here is where I first saw him, right after I decided to turn around and head back into the park because it was raining and I wanted to protect my stupid new phone. Here is where I was running. The very first time I ran through there I tripped because the path is narrow and covered in twigs and rocks. Here is where he was probably following me all along, but I couldn’t hear because I had my headphones in, oblivious. Here is where the rock hit me and I fell to the ground.

Recorded for posterity. Timestamped and geotagged.

Not documented: Screaming. Kicking. His running away.

It’s hard for me to even sort out what happened in that altercation. The map isn’t particularly clear either, because it works on averages. There’s a bit of guesswork in pinpointing where I stopped. I can see where I ran away, racing to get out of the trees and back to the bike path. I can see where I saw the two kind strangers who walked me out of the park. I can see the point where my pace slowed to a walk as they convinced me to call the cops.

I love that park. It’s a lovely park with high trees and a picturesque bridge crossing over the creek. It’s filled with friendly dog walkers in the mornings. They smile and nod as I pass. When I first started running there, seeing other people stressed me out and made me self-conscious about my weight and being slow and all the other dumb shit I’m self-conscious about. But then I saw the same faces again and again and they become comfortable and familiar. The smile-and-nod reminds me of moving to Missouri. It reminds me of my parents. The park itself reminds me of running through the trees during a surprise rainstorm on spring break in grad school.

And I don’t know if I can get up and go back there on Monday morning.

I hate that. I truly fucking hate that.

I am afraid to be alone and I hate that too. Being helpless and dependent is the stuff my nightmares are made of. Yesterday I cried most during the long periods I spent waiting in the hospital. I did not like having to answer questions or talk, in general, but it was so much worse when I was by myself.

I still feel that way — like I don’t want to talk but I also don’t want to be alone.

Last night I was kept awake by fits of tears and panic. Finally I turned on the lights and watched Chitty Chitty Bang Bang until my eyes wouldn’t stay open. And when I woke up a little later to put my laptop away and turn off the lights, I saw his stupid fucking face one more time as I was falling asleep.

And even as I tell you all of this, I think about how much worse things could have been. I think about all the terrible things that have happened to people that I love. I think about how lucky I am that it ended as quickly as it did. How fucking lucky.

I am trying so hard to speak to myself the way I would speak to my friends. I keep trying to pretend that someone else is telling me this story so that I can imagine what I would tell them. That this is terrible. That I am allowed to feel terrible. That suffering is not a contest and there is no point in making comparisons like that. That I am allowed to be angry and sad and whatever else. That it’s OK to make jokes about it one minute and cry again the next.

But I can’t shake the feeling that this just feels so fucking typical. Of course this happened to me, who makes such irresponsible decisions, who comes from a family plagued by all the problems that accompany never learning to be appropriately afraid of everything that’s out there.

I can already hear sighing on the other end. I can hear that muttered, “Here we go again.

It wouldn’t bother me quite so much if I weren’t also thinking that maybe this time it worked. That maybe this scared me enough.

And even as I want to thank the kindly strangers and the even kinder paramedics or the cop or my amazing roommate, it also feels like a lie to pretend that all of this provides some sort of balance to the equation.

When I finally made it home and got a chance to shower off the sweat and dirt and blood, I could feel my world getting a little smaller. I hate that most of all.

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Twenty Something

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.

So there.

 

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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Catching Up

Missing months on the blog kill me. Not because I’m worried that anyone’s wondering what’s happened to me or that anyone is anxiously awaiting my next deeply moving essay on clumsiness or whatever other bullshit I fill this space with.

It breaks my heart because of how important it is to me to have this record of where I’ve been. Of who I’ve been. There’s this great TED talk on how people underestimate how much they’ll change in the future — even though they recognize how much they’ve changed in the past.

I suffer from many judgment errors, but this is the one place where I tend to see fairly clearly. I have no delusions about how in flux I am.

And I just want to be able to remember everything. Every stupid little thing.

But the pieces are everywhere. I am a resident of a new state. I have a series of regular-ish social outings. I have this whole new life and building it has been exciting and sometimes overwhelming and I hate that pieces of it might slip away.

I’m just not sure what there is to say. Family and friends ask me questions about how I’m doing and I can say that I’m doing well, but somehow life just sort of becomes life and so much of what makes it up gets lost somewhere.

So to my future self, I’m sorry that I have been such a poor documentarian. I have been busy finding my way around this job I adore, learning to play complicated games that I am still very bad at, going to this one bar with such frequency that the bartender knows our group’s collective order, exploring this town that keeps surprising me with how much I like it, and making a truly fantastic group of friends.

I am sorry that I have not documented Crock Pot Pot Lucks, the Seven Day Going Out Challenge, or the ever-changing list of mysterious problems with The Badlander’s pool table. I have neglected to mention the thousand new things I learn at work each week or how I started running again or the cool lady I bought a candle from one First Friday.

There are a thousand other little vignettes of what my life is now that will likely vanish as they are replaced by other, newer memories. I can only hope you’ll remember enough to be content.

If not, there’s also this:

(This is also my way of saying that I’m doing VEDA again and I’ve got a whole playlist of this VEDA stuff if you’re into that sort of thing.)

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[ archived ]

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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