New post on the age-old debate over on It’s Just Brunch. Featuring one of my favorite movies of all time: Girl, Interrupted.
Check it out!
New post on the age-old debate over on It’s Just Brunch. Featuring one of my favorite movies of all time: Girl, Interrupted.
Check it out!
Click on over to It’s Just Brunch and tell me about your favorite words!
It’s been six months since my wife left. And while I’ve tried to deal with my feelings about it outside of social media–as much as a social media addict like me can manage–I keep landing on this same concept again and again, and it bears writing.
Relationships are like antidepressants.
I don’t mean this in the hyper-saccharine sense of “they make people happy.” So let me explain.
I used to take antidepressants. Lexapro, to be precise. My mind was a mess in high school (as I imagine most seventeen-year-old, newly gay girls’ minds would be), so I went to therapy. Therapy was great. My psychologist was just the kind I needed: straightforward, tenacious, didn’t take my shitty, cop-out answers and made me dig deeper. As we dug and pieced me together again, or maybe for the first time, she suggested I take a low dose of an SSRI like Lexapro to give me a little more brain-space, a little more balance, until I found my footing.
At first, the drug was just what I needed. For years, I had been split open over and over by the extremes of my emotions: intense happiness, intense sadness, intense anger, intense love. When the drug kicked in, it was as if someone had seen me twirling faster and faster, stepped in, and grabbed me by the shoulders. My mind went quiet; the world stopped spinning. I could think, and work, and sleep.
I kept going for my regular check-ups, and the psychiatrist kept jotting off the script, certain I still needed them and they were still doing the trick. I don’t know when the drug stopped working; it was habit to take it. And the change was so gradual that it wasn’t until I could barely get out of bed that I noticed anything was different. I was lethargic. I was numb. Everything felt the same: like nothing at all. So I stopped taking them.
That “nothing” was good, at first. I needed a breath from the soaring highs and desperate lows. But after a while, you realize that it all kind of feels the same in the middle. And you start to miss the crazy a little.
Relationships are this middle for my heart, the way Lexapro was the middle for my brain.
This is something I can see only now that I have been alone for half a year. Before that, I was in a serious relationship from the time I was twenty. I thought I knew what happiness was; I thought I knew what sadness was. But nothing I felt during those seven-and-a-half years compares to the death-defying climbs and plummets I’ve taken since October. I feel exhilarated by the freedom, and devastated by the loneliness. I feel full-up from the love that comes from all corners, and profoundly empty from the yearning for something as simple as a slow dance. I miss her, and I hate her. And this is all before getting out of bed.
I can honestly say I haven’t felt this good or this bad before in my adult life. Relationships buff out the extremes and leave measured, predictable happiness and sadness. Is a life of more-manageable despair worth the loss of the highest highs? My answer changes with the wind.
It’s six months later, and I’m still trying to find center without the drug of a relationship. So if you ask “how are you?” and I say “I’m good,” it’s simply because by the time you finish asking, I have felt all the things and don’t rightly know how to respond.
It’s official: I am incapable of keeping any kind of New Year’s resolution.
However, I have been insanely productive in pretty much every other way in the past three months. The most exciting thing that’s happened, the reason I’m back to blogging here, is that my friends and I have started a new website for writers! It’s called It’s Just Brunch, and we just went live today!
The point of It’s Just Brunch is to give writers a space to talk in a laid-back kind of atmosphere…like brunch! During the week, we post blogs about different aspects of the writing life; the three of us come from different places and have different interests, so you can expect a pretty wide variety of stuff! And every Sunday, it’s brunch: a short video from the three of us, chatting about writing and other ridiculousness over mimosas. We’ll have special guests dropping in and guest bloggers, too!
I’m so excited to share this new project with you guys. If you like what you see here on my blog, you’re going to LOVE It’s Just Brunch. And if you’ve got requests for a blog or brunch topic that we can cover, let me know in the comments and we will put them on the menu! (Get it?)
Thanks for reading,
I got my mind soundly blown yesterday.
It was Alumni Day for my MFA program, a day for graduates like me to invade the residency in progress and get our semiannual fix of high-level literary exchange (and cheap wine and friends).
I almost didn’t go. I was driving north on 95, toward the little island where the residencies take place, and I almost just kept driving: out of Connecticut, into Rhode Island, and back to the dark silence of my apartment, now cat- and wife-free. It had been a long week for me, and so much of me just wanted to collapse in on myself and not think, or talk, for a while. The thought of having to tell a new audience how “okay” I was in spite of everything, after doing that non-stop with friends and family over the holidays, drained me before I even took the exit.
But I had to go. Because Baron Wormser was going to talk about Emerson.
(If you don’t know Baron Wormser, you’re doing it wrong. And by “it” I mean reading, and living in general. His creative works are rich and introspective and fresh and can be so damn funny. He reads a passage of poetry or prose aloud and a new, deeper meaning slides into place. I had seen him give a seminar in the past on James Baldwin and ran out and bought Notes of a Native Son. In short: read everything Wormser has written, and then see him in person if you can.)
I can’t capture everything Wormser said about Emerson and put it here for you; even if I could, I wouldn’t. But what I can tell you is that I am still thinking about the seminar twenty-four hours later. I am still thinking about freedom.
In the passages of Emerson that Wormser presented and analyzed, the idea of freedom was always in the foreground: the freedom to know one’s true self, the freedom that comes with genius, the freedom of writing what others are scared to say. In America, the word freedom has been manipulated commercialized to the point where it’s hard to know what it means to be truly free anymore. But to Emerson, it was simple: freedom is the opposite of security. Freedom is fear.
We’ve put a premium on security. We surround ourselves with stuff: tangible, material goods that make us feel prosperous, important, safe. Feel real. But if Emerson is right, and I think he is, all this stuff that we touch and hold is a wall we build between us and the knowledge that reality lies in the intangible and the abstract. And that’s scary.
Maybe I’m way off. Maybe this isn’t what Emerson meant at all. But as Baron read his words aloud and as people around me weighed in, I sat quietly and wrote only this, because it buzzed in my head and wouldn’t stop until it was down: what you fear most is the only thing you can know for sure.
I am afraid of many things right now. Nothing is stable; nothing is certain. But in Emersonian fashion, I’m letting myself feel the fear and the instability. Security rushed out, and I’m not filling the vacuum with stuff or meaningless relationships; not this time. I’m sitting with the uncertainty, and with my fear. I am face-to-face with this very human terror, but it’s as if I am outside of myself, above myself, able to acknowledge that I am scared, able to experience the fear, but it doesn’t consume me. I am leaving the void open, and rushing into it is a deeper understanding of not only myself but also the nature of fear. And I am freer than ever before.
The terror we feel about the unknown is more real than anything we can hold in our hands. Security is an illusion that shackles, stunts, suffocates life and creativity. Embrace fear, embrace the void, and you are free.
If you’ve been reading my Facebook or Twitter feeds lately, I’d like to start with an apology. I’m sorry for all the vague and melancholy posts. In just over a month, everything in my life has changed. I don’t mean that in some overblown, hyperbolic sense; nothing, not one thing, is as it was on October 1. But now I’m ready to really write about what’s happening, and I hope putting it down here will stem the social-media pity party for one.
You see, my wife left me.
(I’m not going to get into the Why of it; in the end, divorce must be mutual, since both people stop fighting to save whatever they had once held so dearly. And while the Why seems very important to me today, it won’t years from now, and it isn’t the point of this post, so I’m not going to spend time on it here.)
I’ve spent seven years believing, without question, that my wife and I were the real-life equivalent of Lily and Marshall. Together forever: the model of a loving, long-term relationship with its ups and downs that would always weather the storm. Then the bottom dropped out, and, looking around, I realized how imperfect we had always been, how we were never even close.
As I always do in my hour of need, I turned to How I Met Your Mother for comfort. While I mourned everything I lost, watching my favorite TV couple move forward and closer together, something else happened.
I was watching Season 4: the season when Ted is left at the altar by Stella. Toward the end (Episode 23), he runs into her, the woman with whom he imagined spending his life, forever. Their interaction rang something in me that it had never rung before.
TED: Okay, I’m gonna say something out loud that I’ve been doing a pretty good job not saying out loud lately. What you and Tony have, what I thought for a second you and I had, what I know that Marshall and Lily have: I want that. I do. I keep waiting for it to happen, and…I guess I’m just…I’m tired of waiting. And that is all I’m going to say on that subject.
STELLA: …You know that once I talked my way out of a speeding ticket?
STELLA: I was heading upstate to my parents’ house and was doing, like, 90 on a country road and got pulled over. So the cop gets out of his car and he kinda swaggers over and he’s all: “Young lady, I have been waiting for you all day.” So I looked up at him and I said: “I’m so sorry, officer. I got here as fast as I could.”
TED: For real?
STELLA: Nah. It’s an old joke. I know that you are tired of waiting, and you may have to wait a little while more, but she’s on her way, Ted. And she’s getting here as fast as she can.
In that moment, I realized I have always been Ted, never Lily. Whoever “the one” is for me, she’s on her way, and this had to happen to set the course in motion.
Maybe it’s ridiculous to look to TV characters for cues on life and love. Maybe Marshall and Lily made me delusional about my own relationship, because I wanted that kind of love so deeply (and still do). And maybe Ted’s unflinchingly romantic heart and the fact that it all pays off in the end gives me unrealistic expectations about finding a soul-mate and the kind of love I will someday feel for, and from, that person. But these fictional characters sprang forth from humans, didn’t they? Bays and Thomas and the writers craft their words and actions: the heartfelt confessions of love; the sweeping, romantic gestures. Perhaps the moments aren’t realistic, but real people created them. In those grand moments of love on How I Met Your Mother, I see the incredibly real, incredibly human longing for the same thing.
Knowing this—that big, beating hearts exist in chests besides my own—gives me hope that I will someday find her. Perhaps the hope is misplaced and will screw me in the end, as I search for the kind of love I see on TV. But I’m 27: the age Ted is when his story begins. The story of my greatest love is on its way, even if I can’t see it yet.
Don’t call me Ahab.
Remember LiveJournal? I feel like all I did on there was complain my way through middle and high school (and, I admit, college): nobody loves me, nobody cares about me, nobody filled out my seventy-question survey. What a tremendous and melancholy bore I was.
I’m trying really hard not to turn this blog into another emo-shame-spiral of posts, but sometimes being a writer sucks, and it’s just so much more fun to write about sucky things.
I got rejected twice yesterday: in the morning by an awesome job and in the evening by an awesome residency program. Nice bookends to a Tuesday, right? Since I haven’t printed them out yet to add to the pile of rejection letters that any self-respecting/masochistic writer has on her desk, I might as well include them here, in the interest of being green (and my forgetfulness and procrastination):
This is a note to say that we made an offer for the “social media job,” and filled it. We’ll be announcing it soon on the blog, but I wanted to give you a heads-up first, as someone who completed the questions.Honestly, almost everyone who applied could have done the job, and most would probably have been excellent. The applicant pool was simply wonderful. The applicants represented many different directions we could take the company. It was hard choosing and–now that it’s done–it feels terrible to “say goodbye” to so many “possibilites” [sic] and so many great people. But we think we made a great choice–two smart and energetic people with diverse experiences. We wish we could hire you all, but two was one more than we thought we’d hire.Thank you again for appling [sic] for the job, and for completing those questions so thoughtfully. One of the first tasks of our new employees is to read many of our favorite answers.Best,Tim
For some reason, the glaring typos soften the blow.
Thank you for submitting a Winter/Spring 2014 Fellowship Residency application to Playa. Our review panel found it difficult to select residents from among the many worthy applicants, and I must unfortunately report that you were not among those chosen for a residency at this time.
We are grateful for the time you invested in this process, and truly wish we could offer residencies to everyone that applied. Unless you advise us otherwise, your name and information will be retained so that we can send you news and updates about programs at Playa
I wish you all the best in your creative endeavors.
Residency Director at Playa
Again: that missing period at the end of Paragraph Two makes me glad I won’t be associating with such heathens this winter. It’s the little things.
Naturally, I was pretty blue by the time the second rejection rolled in around 5:00. But I didn’t beat myself up or feel like I was worthless (which is maybe how I’ve handled these in the past). Instead, all I kept thinking was: when it’s a Yes, it’s going to feel earned, and right.
Because at some point, a decision will come down to me and another person who is equally good, and who knows what minuscule criteria will separate us? And one day, those fickle margins will skew in my favor. And there’s something more than earned or right about that; it’s magical. No wonder writers put themselves through hell. The Yes is intoxicating, addicting, and worth the self-imposed hell. (Or, at least, I hope it is because I don’t really have a backup plan.)
Regarding my last few posts: I think rejection makes me a writer way more than simply “wanting it” does. Because wanting is passive; rejection is the byproduct of action, of risk. These letters aren’t in a pile on my desk to discourage me. They are proof that I tried.
The Yes is my White Whale, and I will keep flailing and failing until I finally get one.
And then I’ll start the whole thing over.
“Of course, what the case-worker didn’t understand was that Margaret Mary was an adjunct professor, meaning that, unlike a well-paid tenured professor, Margaret Mary worked on a contract basis from semester to semester, with no job security, no benefits and with a salary of between $3,000 and just over $3,500 per three-credit course. Adjuncts now make up well over 50 percent of the faculty at colleges and universities.”
And this is what I was talking about yesterday. If we do what we love and we do it well, we should expect the most basic remuneration: a living wage and human dignity. And universities and other institutions take advantage of the economic situation, letting us beg for scraps and take what we’re given.
Thanks to Sonya Huber for sharing this.
This post didn’t start out negative. I swear.
A writer friend of mine recently shared this slideshow that offers tidbits from the collection Why We Write: 20 Acclaimed Authors on How and Why They Do What They Do. In the slideshow were several pearls of wisdom, but Susan Orlean’s quote is what I’d like to address today:
“Wanting to be a writer is a huge percentage of what makes you be one. You have to want to do it really badly. You have to feel that’s what you’re supposed to be doing.”
That’s sure easy for a published author and New Yorker staff writer to say.
I originally thought this post was going to be about how reassured I felt by Orlean’s words—how I know now that I’m really a writer, because I want it so badly. I thought I was going to talk about how we can’t base our success on how much someone pays for our work.
And then I realized: that’s bullshit. Bullshit that I keep saying, because others keep saying it. So, one poor writer to another, let’s dispense with hollow platitudes for a moment.
Wanting it isn’t enough sometimes.
The Orlean quote reminded me of a Saturday Night Live sketch from the 2008 election season, when Hillary was officially out of the running and Palin was the VP nominee for the GOP.
FEY AS PALIN: It just goes to show that anyone can be President. …All you have to do is want it.
POEHLER AS CLINTON: (LAUGHS) Yeah, you know, Sarah, looking back, if I could change one thing, I should have wanted it more.
The idea that “all you have to do is want to be a writer and you are one” falls in the same category as “anyone can succeed in America” and “you’re guaranteed a job with a college degree.” They are delusions that people with money keep perpetuating, to the continued frustration of hardworking have-nots: are we not trying hard enough? Do we not want it bad enough?
I know Orlean isn’t saying that “if you want it enough, you’ll be a successful writer and make a boatload of cash.” She’s saying, “if you want it, you already are a writer.” But this means next to nothing in the land of capitalism, household bills, and student loans.
There was a time when writers could make a living for themselves on their talents alone; they didn’t live like royalty, but they got by. But this age of freelancing and adjuncting and the ever-shrinking list of periodicals that publish and pay for original work, especially from emerging writers without a platform, makes that whole “I write for a living” thing seem pretty impossible. Very few places are able (read: willing) to pay writers a living wage, leaving us to piece together a full-time, zero-benefits schedule between community colleges and jobs off Craigslist. And who has the desire to do anything but sleep at the end of that kind of day?
I’m not going to feed you a line of bull that this life is easy or that it even feels worth the trouble every day. Sure, it’s important to believe in yourself. And, yes, even without any viable prospect for a life in which my writing pays for itself, I will continue to write and continue to try. But the longer we deny that money matters, that being well compensated for our work is as important as the act of creating it is, I don’t see the landscape changing in our favor.
…And in honor of the Ladies of SNL theme: This post was brought to you by Debbie Downer. Womp womp.