To shave or not to shave: I'm not really asking

I stopped shaving about a month ago.

I know, *gasp*, how radical, how odd, how... kind of not a huge deal. Or is it a huge deal? It certainly doesn't feel like one in my daily life, especially when so far the weather has been cold enough that no one can tell if I'm a cleanly shaven woman under several coats or a woolly mammoth on it's hind legs. The only practical difference is that I save a few minutes in the shower.

Choosing to banish the razor from my shower may not have much of an impact on my daily life, but there's definitely been an impact in how I feel about myself. It's easy to understand in theory that your body is your body, that it's you, and that all the rules we make for it are invented, not inherent. But few things have made me feel like I actually am my body - instead of a consciousness who begrudgingly lugs around a meat sack - like giving myself a break from the expectation that I be hairless from the neck down. It's like discovering what I look like for the first time. I'm not aware of the hair on my body as a problem that needs to be fixed, I'm just... aware of it. There's so much I never actually noticed before: the pattern body hair grows in, its texture and length, what it feels like against sheets or clothing. Ironically, allowing myself to have more body hair has made me hate it less. And, for the record, I smell just as fabulous as I always have. I haven't run into a single hygiene-related problem.

But the reality is that most women in the western world shave, and choosing not to participate in that makes a statement. I don't exist in a vacuum; how I choose to exist in the world matters. Shaving - or not shaving - has no moral weight to it. We shave because that's what we decided was normal for us, and that's great. Shaving is fantastic. It makes your skin feel all smooth and you can rub your legs against clean sheets and it feels wonderful. But when you feel like you need to shave, not because you want to but because you have to, you're losing a little bit of control over yourself. When I choose not to shave, I am saying that no one else gets to decide how I exist. I do not have to modify myself in any way in order to be acceptable. I don't have to earn the right to exist, because it's already mine.

It's seventy degrees outside today. Soon I'll be in tank tops and dresses, and I'll have to decide if I'm willing to make this statement every day. Most people don't really care about a stranger's body hair, so I'm trying not to make this decision a big deal, but I can't shake that last little bit of anxiety that someone will stare or make a comment. Maybe that shouldn't matter to me, but it's hard not to care about that sort of thing.

My body is my body. No apologies.

Like an existential crisis but way more fun.

I've been telling myself to write something - anything at all, for any purpose - for several months, and I haven't. There are lots of reasons - I moved five times in six months, I finished my first semester of grad school, I'm just the type of person who puts things off - but they're all either boring or kind of irrelevant now so let's just move on and pretend I didn't disappear for six months and squish a few different topics into one post.

Hi.

I shaved half my head and got a new tattoo.

I'm a month into my second semester of grad school now, and I think it's going well for the most part. I've discovered I actually really like anthropology and kind of hate a lot of aspects of academia, which is a little concerning considering I'm in a psychology program and am on a career path that would have me embedded in academia the rest of my life, but fear not, it turns out none of that is really that much of a problem. I'm attempting to transfer to a different program that's much more flexible and would allow me to combine anthropology with psychology, which is what I really want to do.

Attempting to bridge two fields in academia feels a lot like willingly running headfirst into a wall over and over and hoping you eventually break through to the other side. Except even if you break through the wall, the other side doesn't really want you either, so you just have to stand in the middle of all the rubble waving your arms around shouting "I'm valid! I'm valid!"

I've spent the last six months pretty much constantly reeling from personal revelations. I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to study in grad school; then I started grad school, and suddenly things came into focus in ways I completely did not expect. And they just keep getting clearer, which is great, but it means I'm adjusting long term plans and life goals on a near monthly basis. And then there's the rest of my life.

I don't know if you've noticed, but the US is going through a bit of political turmoil at the moment. It seems like not a single day goes by without a new cause for concern. I avoid conflict so incredibly thoroughly, I'm not sure how to explain to you how anxious it makes me to disagree with any of the people in my life. But now I've found myself in a situation where my real, genuine opinions could be at odds with a lot of people. I went to the Women's March in DC last month, and it was an amazing experience, but my heart almost pounded out of my chest when I posted to social media that I was going to attend. I attended a LGBTQ+ rights rally a couple weeks ago, and almost felt sick at the thought of posting any photos, in case I got any backlash for attending. But the one thing I've realized throughout these experiences is this: it matters how I choose to exist in the world. When I attend a march or a rally, my presence counts exactly as much as the presence of the person next to me. It matters whether or not I choose to conform to popular beauty standards, and whether or not I defend the rights of other women to do the same. It matters which companies I give my money to. My voice counts, even when it's shaking.

But wait, there are more revelatory moments to come. I moved from Montana to New York City six months ago, and it's amazing. I want New York to be home base forever. This is where I'll come back to. And one of the most amazing things to have come out of this move is this: I made friends. I realize that's kind of a middle school thing to say, but I don't care. I've never been the type of person to have a lot of friends at once, and a lot of the friendships I do end up with being somewhat short-lived. I'm generally pretty okay with that, because I don't really need a whole lot of friends. But one of the magical things about living in a place with so many people is that you meet a lot of people, thereby automatically raising your chances of meeting people you might like and have something in common with. This is especially convenient at this particular moment in my life because I'm a semi-nomadic 25 year old graduate student; I move around a lot and I don't know anything. If I hadn't made the type of friends willing to help me stay not-homeless/alive on a near constant basis, I would have been in trouble. I haven't been super comfortable with this. I really, really don't like feeling like I need other people's help. So it's been a struggle between feeling anxious about how much I'm relying on people, and feeling kind of amazed and giddy that I have these people in my life. It's made me kind of a mess, but like a mostly happy mess.

What all of this adds up to is this: I feel like my world shifts every five minutes. Things are changing so fast that I am actually dizzy. It's like someone keeps snapping a rubber band against the skin of the universe and I have to ride out the shock waves. What I really need is five minutes with no revelations so I can just sit down and breathe. A day outside the city, with trees that weren't planted in between cement blocks, and no one bumping into me on the subway. But as overwhelmed as I sometimes feel, at least part of me just keeps saying, "Let's just go a little bit further. Let's just see what happens next."

I moved to New York and things have gone shockingly well ever since.

So I moved to New York City 2.5 weeks ago.

I know, right? Crazy. When I got on the first of several flights that would take me from Missoula, Montana to the La Guardia airport, I was expecting to feel something like, "Really? I'm moving to New York City? Like to live? This is really happening right now? Is this real? Am I real?" But I didn't. Instead it was more like some version of myself that had been chilling out, eating potato chips at the back of my brain for my entire life had just stood up and said, "Finally. Let's do this." And that girl seemed to know what she was doing, so I just went with it. 

I took a cab from the airport to the south Bronx, where I'm living (because apparently I just don't do anything halfway), and the next morning I met up with my sister, who happened to be in town. We got on the subway (which I highly recommend, it's fast and convenient and surprisingly easy to navigate) and popped back up at Columbus Circle. The first thing I saw in Manhattan was the globe. I saw New York City, which its shiny skyscrapers and businessmen and tourists and little old ladies with hand carts, and I looked up at the silver skeleton of the globe and felt as if the whole world was spinning around that one spot in the universe.

I spent the first couple of days wandering around and figuring out where things were and which trains went where. I went to student orientation and met my advisor and got really excited about my thesis. Then on Saturday I went to a concert in Coney Island. I had gotten a free ticket after mentioning online that I really wanted to go to the concert but I was moving to the city three days before and couldn't really afford it, and a kind stranger offered me his extra ticket. This ended up being the impetus for several awesome things.

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I met my benefactor the morning of the concert and we ended up seeing Times Square and Central Park together. (Don't worry, mom, I was completely safe the whole time.)

So now a free concert ticket had led to a random new friendship. We went to Coney Island and met up with several other people going to the concert, and I made a few more friends. Then somebody introduced me to somebody else who also lives in the Bronx, and we went with a group of people to the boardwalk. Coney Island is awesome, by the way. So now moving to New York had led to a free concert ticket had led to a new friend had led to several new friends had led to a friend who lives in the same area as me.

Waiting in line to get into the concert venue was sort of an event unto itself. There was a busker who performed for us, and a girl went down the line offering glitter to everyone, of which I partook and got a streak of purple glitter on each cheek. Once we got into the venue, the person I was with suddenly stopped, wide-eyed, and said, "That's Amanda." (It was an Amanda Palmer concert, did I mention that?) Amanda was in her signature pre-show kimono and was headed across the venue toward the stage. My concert companion said "Let's go meet her," and then strode toward her while I trailed behind, wondering what to do or say. My friend introduced herself and hugged Amanda, and then I hugged her while squeaking out "Sorry to bother you!" (Smooth, Jackie.) 

Amanda just said "Oh, you're not bothering me," and then I scurried away and she continued toward the stage.

At this point I was really starting to get weirded out by the way the universe kept aligning for me. Moving to New York led to a free concert ticket led to a new friend led to several new friends led to a friend from the Bronx led to kind-of-meeting Amanda Palmer. 

The concert itself was, of course, amazing. I love concerts. They are by far my favorite experience in the world. I love how everyone in the audience gets to have the same basic experience, but within their own little universe. We are separately experiencing something, together. It's awesome.

Afterwards, we hung out for a while and waited until everyone sharing a ride had congregated in one place. I had planned on taking the subway home, but had made a friend who had room in her car and offered me a ride. (Moving to NYC had led to a free concert ticket had led to a new friend had led to several new friends had led to a friend in the Bronx had led to sort-of-meeting Amanda Palmer had led to finding a ride home, if you're following along at home.)

The following days involved starting my classes, exploring more of the city, and making a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It turns out my attention span is about three hours; I only got through the second floor of the museum, so I'll have to go back to see the first floor. My classes are great, and I'm actually kind of fond of the Bronx. It's a completely different experience from Manhattan. Manhattan is great too, and I still get a sort of thrill every time I exit the subway at Columbus Circle for my class at the downtown campus, but the Bronx is so alive and chaotic and thrilling in its own way. Totally underrated.

I'm moving out of my Airbnb tomorrow and into a room I'm renting from someone I met at the concert. So moving to New York led to a free concert ticket led to a new friend led to... well, you get it.

Let's see what happens next.

So This One Time in Tanzania...

This one time, I went to Tanzania for three and a half weeks with eleven other people, and it was kind of awful, but I also loved it. Let me tell you about it.

I've been wanting to write this post for a long time - pretty much since I got back from the trip, which was in January of 2014. While I really wanted to write about it, I hesitated until now, because I have such mixed feelings about the experience and I worry that I won't be able to explain what this trip was like for me. I worry that you won't understand, or will think I'm pathetic or weird. But I've decided to write about it anyway, because I'm angry. I am so, so angry that I was treated this way, and I can't stand to blame myself for it for one more day. So this is me, officially saying: it was not my fault. I can't control how other people treat me, and I can't always control how I feel. But I can sure as hell control how I respond. Here is my response. 

I traveled to Tanzania as part of a service-learning class through my university. The class spent the semester before the trip studying the psychological effects of poverty within the United States, and then applied what we'd learned to the more abject poverty we witnessed in east Africa. The academic portion of this trip was awesome. I learned a ton about social psychology, and compassion, and the subtle but powerful ways in which we dehumanize those around us. 

So I was pretty psyched for this trip, and I was almost equally excited for all the preparation the group would do in the semester beforehand. On the first day of the prep course, which all of the people traveling were required to take, I walked into the classroom, sat down, and realized pretty quickly that none of these people wanted to talk to me. A sizable handful seemed to know each other, and my attempts to get to know anybody within that group always ended in a smirk and a poorly disguised eye roll from whomever I was trying to get to know. It was humiliating. 

The other sign of trouble during the prep course was the relative apathy the majority of those in the travel group showed toward the academic aspects of the trip. I'm sure some of them cared a lot, and probably loved the research components as much as I did, but they were overshadowed by a handful of individuals who really seemed like they couldn't care less. They participated in the class, they completed assignments, but they always had a smirk on their faces, and were always rolling their eyes or whispering to their equally unimpressed friends. It drove me crazy, and it made the prep class its own special kind of hell. I was bad at learning Swahili, which was pretty much the entirety of the course. I was really, really bad. And being terrible at a new language in a roomful of people who think you're a weird loser is not pleasant.

So I was pretty nervous about this trip before it even started. I had never traveled outside of North America, and I was about to do so with an entire crowd of people who really didn't like me very much. And I wasn't allowed to be away from them. That was one of the rules - no going anywhere by yourself. This is a fine rule in theory, and I understand that it was intended to keep everyone safe. It's just unfortunate that this rule existed for me, in my specific terrible situation. 

It took many, many hours to get from Spokane, Washington to Bagomoyo, Tanzania. I think the flight from Seattle to Dubai was fourteen hours long. I started the trip extremely nervous, but once we were on the first flight, something kind of magical happened - I stopped being nervous about the trip. Apprehension is always so much worse for me than the actual event I was worried about. I realized almost immediately that I really like traveling. I already kind of knew this, but had never had the opportunity to really test it out on a trip of any significant distance or length. This was one of the very best things I took away from the trip. I am unafraid of getting on a plane and going somewhere I've never been before.

Unfortunately, I was tethered to eleven other humans. Walking through airports and strange cities, I didn't feel intimidated at all. I saw this constant stream of strangers who didn't know me and who I'd never see again, and I felt awesome. I wanted to keep doing it forever. But the people I was with? Those people terrified me. We had been put in semi-unofficial pairs in terms of airplane seating and hotel rooming for the first couple days, and I'm pretty sure I saw the person I was paired with lamenting that she was stuck with me to one of the crueler members of the group. So I spent the duration of this initial travel period feeling torn between the awesome freedom of travel, which I loved so much, and the feelings of shame and embarrassment that were being visited upon me by my travel companions. It made me antsy and awkward and shy and embarrassed and weird. I didn't know how to act. And the more awkward I felt, the more these awful, awful people seemed to shove me away. I would have loved to just walk away from them, but I couldn't. We were stuck together for the next three weeks. And the worst part was, everyone interpreted my nervousness as a product of the trip, as if traveling was what I was afraid of. And they acted like that made me pathetic.

Do you remember third grade? Do you remember the mean kids in your third grade class? The ones whose smiles seemed mocking and whose whispers could destroy you and your entire social life? Yeah, I was on a plane with those third graders. At one point during the trip, one of the other girls got mango all over her hands, and I offered her a hand wipe. She took it, thanked me, then walked over to one of the other girls and began whispering and laughing while "subtly" pointing at me. As if I had done something bizarre by offering her a wet wipe. That is the type of person I was stuck with.

It's important to me that you understand that I did my best. I tried, at first, to get these people to act a little nicer toward me. I tried being friendlier, I tried being more aloof, I tried being louder and quieter and more helpful and less intrusive and more than anything else, I tried not to care. I tried so, so hard not to care what anyone thought. But it was like their third-grade level bullying had trigger my own inner third-grader, and that girl was a loser. A loser with very poor emotion regulation who really, really cared what everyone thought of her. I was a mess.

Things got marginally better as the trip wore on. The first week was spent at a really, really great orphanage outside of Bagamoyo called the Baobab Home. It's run by a woman from the States and her husband, who's a native Tanzanian. They were amazing, and the kids were sweet and fun and such a huge respite from the people I was traveling with. Of course, nothing on this trip could remain unsullied. When I tried to spent time with the kids, one of my travelling companions was always there to verbally shove me away. They would talk over me, direct the kid's attention away from me, or just "suggest" I go do something else. This happened constantly.

At this point in the trip, I felt so torn. I was emotionally wrecked, while also feeling liberated and exhilarated by the new places and people and experiences. I felt like a small child with no friends on the playground, but was also gathering valuable information to use in my research paper. I was an independent adult being treated like a needy child and I felt pathetic for letting it bother me. I blamed myself for the way I was being treated. No one gets picked on like a child unless they somehow put themselves in that position, right? 

No. Some people choose to be mean. Some people are probably perfectly nice usually but get carried along by the more dominant personalities in a group. I've thought about this a lot since the trip, and I'm really sad that I didn't get to know a handful of these people individually under different circumstances. We probably would have gotten along fine. I've also thought a lot about how much I'd still like to slap some of the individuals who took pleasure in making my life hell for three and a half weeks.

Tanzania was breathtaking. The warm, humid air smelled sweet, and the sky was a color I'd never seen before. Everything was red sand and towering, spiked plants. It was so, so beautiful. Plus, I felt physically healthier than I ever had before. I have migraines and back pain and horrendous allergies to everything that grows, but in Tanzania, I had none of that. I was allergic to nothing. I didn't have a single headache. My back felt amazing, especially considering I spent the first week of the trip sleeping in a tent on the ground. I don't know if it was the low altitude, the humidity, or if some weird placebo effect was responsible, but it was awesome.

And to add to my sudden physical health, my anxiety levels about anything that wasn't related to my traveling group were at an all-time low. I've always been a nervous person, but suddenly, the only thing I was nervous about was being judged by the jerks I was surrounded by. I wasn't afraid to try speaking Swahili, or to ask one of the workers at the orphanage for help with something, or to dive into the Indian Ocean. It was like living as two people, one who was a socially-awkward nine-year-old with no friends, and one was a fearless adult. The few minutes I could get alone were amazing. 

After leaving the orphanage, we moved into a hotel near the beach in Bagamoyo. Bagamoyo is an awesome town. We walked to the beach most days, and I loved sitting on the shore by myself, forgetting the people I was with. I waded into the water without fear - despite my inability to swim - and tread water without a second thought. The water was warm and sandy and I could feel it rubbing against my skin like velvet. Always before, when I was in the ocean, I couldn't shake the fear that something was under me, or in the sand, and was about to jump out and bit me or pull me under. But that fear was completely gone, and I loved it. I know this was probably just a product of directing all my nervous energy toward the people I was with, and there was no anxiety left over to devote to anything else. But I'd like to think it was just the magic of travel. Being a stranger in a faraway place is so freeing. I didn't have to be the same person I was in Spokane, or Montana. No one knew me, so I could be anyone. And why not be someone who's unafraid of the ocean?

I slowly started to gain a little more self-assurance. I had realized by this point that my situation was not entirely my fault; I just happened to be traveling with a group of awful people, and that was unfortunate, but I certainly didn't need them to like me. It still really, really sucked, because rejection always sucks. (For me, anyway. Maybe you're some sort of superhuman who is never bothered by such petty things.) And I was rejected over and over, in little ways. No one talked to me. No one asked if I wanted to do anything. No one ever saved me a seat, or even remembered I existed. And they always seemed vaguely annoyed by my presence. Some days were really really bad. One day in particular, we were supposed to be doing a volunteer project that involved cleaning the garbage off a beach, and people kept taking things out of my hands and telling me to go elsewhere. I ended up just sitting on the beach for most of it, because I couldn't even get anyone to let me hold a garbage bag. But I was starting to tune all of that out in favor of the warm sun, and kind, interesting people, and the most delicious pineapple in the entire world. I was still an awkward, emotional mess, I just wasn't quite as bothered by that anymore.

So I spent our week in Bagamoyo sitting on the beach, and walking through town, and trying new things and meeting new people. We went to an open-air art market, where I saw amazing paintings and carvings and paid far, far less for the ones I bought than what they should have been worth. (Side note, turns out I'm terrible at haggling, but I didn't really mind. The artists still deserved more than I paid.) We took a bus tour of the city, and went to a nearby museum, and saw the remnants of a settlement from hundreds of years ago. I did my best to pretend that I was alone, and when I really, truly couldn't take it anymore, I broke the don't-go-alone rule. Just once. I went with another girl in the group to the internet cafe near the hotel, and then promptly left her there and went to the beach alone for maybe fifteen or twenty minutes. It was glorious. The beach was nearly abandoned because the tide was in, and I sat on the stone wall that held back the crashing waves, and wished I could stay there forever. Then I got up and went back to my travel buddy. It was maybe a vaguely irresponsible thing for me to do, but I assure you, it was necessary. I think even if I had loved the people I had traveled with, twelve people in a group would have been too much for me. I'm a solo traveler at heart.

The next leg of the journey was spent in Stone Town, Zanzibar. Zanzibar is an island off the coast of Tanzania, and Stone Town is a very old, originally European settlement, so it looks like something out of "old world" Europe. The streets are narrow, everything is made from stone, and laundry lines hang over alleys. It looked like something out of a movie, and I loved it so, so much. It's also crowded with tourists and people trying to sell souvenirs to tourists - very aggressively. I learned quickly that avoiding eye contact and walking quickly, with purpose, was the best way to avoid getting caught up in a sales pitch. And then there were the cats. Zanzibar is full of stray cats. They're scrappy and sick and skittish, but I loved them. There was a young cat who liked to wander into our hotel lobby and say hello to people. I named her Samahani - "excuse me" in Swahili. 

The other people in my group mostly just wanted to shop in Stone Town. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but it did irk me a little bit. They had whined and complained through the past two weeks about having to do class activities and things related to our research on poverty. They had rolled their eyes and muttered annoyances behind the professor's back at every opportunity. They had ignored the purpose of the trip - studying poverty - and now they were spending hundreds of dollars and many, many hours on souvenir shopping. (Side note - do you know how hard it is to spend hundreds of American dollars in Tanzania? The exchange rate is insane.) It felt like perhaps the purpose of the trip had eluded them. 

My status as a social outcast was marginally improved during this portion of the trip. There were a couple of people who, when away from the others in the group, were fairly kind to me, and I ended up rooming with them in the hotel in Zanzibar. I had also begun to truly despise the crueler members of the group, and that somehow made me feel a little better. It's easier to brush off the biting comments of someone you hate. 

The last part of the trip was the "vacation" portion. We traveled to the Selous Game Reserve - a trip which took several hours in large vans - and stayed at a resort for a couple of nights. It felt like a miniature culture shock to suddenly be staying in a nice resort, run by European people, and with European food and amenities. It was also a little bit of a relief, because I was really and truly exhausted by this point. 

While at the resort, we spent a day visiting a fairly isolated local village and the local school. We visited with the younger classes before they were sent home for the day, and then walked over to the nearby building where the older classes met. The younger children, freed from school for the day, walked with us to the upper school. They didn't speak English and none of us really spoke Swahili - me especially - so it was mostly smiling and waving and giggling rather than conversation. One girl in particular had the largest, brightest smile I had ever seen. She did nothing but grin, and then she skipped up and slipper her hand into mind. I grinned back, and asked in my broken Swahili what her name was. I'm positive I got the words right, but she just looked shyly down at her feet and kept grinning. So we just walked together, and swung our hands, and smiled, and forgot all about our names. I got someone to take our picture, and of course, that split second that it took to snap a photo was the one second in which she wasn't smiling. Oh well. 

That afternoon, we crossed the wide, muddy river to an island inhabited by a semi-nomadic tribe. They lived on the island during the warm season, and the mainland during the cold season, when the river swelled up too deep to cross anymore. They didn't speak a word of English, but they were used to tourists visiting from the resort. They were unfazed by our arrival, and simply led us over to a shady spot, where they laid down grass mats and motioned for us to sit. One of the women grabbed my hands and pulled me over to where a pile of long, dried reeds had been set. She sat me down, put the reeds in my hands, and started moving my fingers back and forth. I realized she was teaching me how to weave a grass mat. She said something to our translator, and he told me that all young women must learn how to weave a mat before they can marry. Watch out, eligible bachelors - I'm marriage material now.

I caught on to the weaving pattern pretty quickly. It was so calm and meditative, and so nice to be communicating in this way with someone I couldn't even speak to. We wove the grass together for a few minutes, the woman eventually dropping her hands but continuing to lean over me, watching me with hawk eyes and tapping my wrist when I messed up. After a while, I glanced up, and realized the entire village had gathered around to watch as this funny white girl learned to weave. They were commenting and pointing and nodding to each other, and it was such a surreal moment. But the funniest part of the whole experience was the tiny baby strapped to my teacher's back. The woman's baby couldn't see me when she sat up, but each time she leaned forward, the baby would catch sight of me and scream, sending the entire village into a fit of laughter.

I eventually got a decent length of mat woven, and the woman told our translator something that made him laugh. He turned to me and told me she said that I should stay with the tribe and help with the weaving because I was good at it. I laughed with them, and shoved down the little part of me that wished I really could stay on this island forever. 

By now I was truly beginning to love Tanzania, and the thought of leaving in a few days made me ache. I wished that the rest of my party would just go on without me and leave me to melt into the Tanzanian culture. I felt like if I just had a little more time, preferably without the wilting comments of the others in my party, I could really get into the culture and start to learn the language. It killed me that we had to leave just as I started to feel comfortable. 

As an ending to our trip, we went on a safari and saw giraffes and elephants and chimps and hyenas and lions, and it was so amazing, but my favorite part was standing in the big, open jeep as it sped through the game reserve with bee-eater birds swooping like blue and orange ribbons around us, snapping at the insects that flew out of our way. I could feel the other people in the car, how they turned away from me and whispered about me, but it was easier not to care.

Our last night was spent in a boat on the sprawling river that gurgles by the resort. We watched the deep orange sun set over the strange landscape, and I felt overwhelmed with happiness and longing. I was hurt and angry about all the rejection I had faced over the course of the trip, but I also felt liberated, because now I knew I could do this. I could travel, and not be afraid. And I knew for certain that as soon as I was able, I'd be back on an airplane headed to somewhere new. But next time, I'd go alone.

I have VERY BIG NEWS.

I'm moving to New York!

Yup. Read that again. It's true. I am moving to New York this fall. I've been accepted to Fordham University in the Bronx, in the clinical research methods program. I am very, very excited. On a related note, if you know anybody in the Fordham area who wouldn't mind me crashing on their couch for a couple of weeks while I find an apartment, feel free to let me know.

I've wanted to try living in New York City for several years, and I've wanted to at least visit for even longer. This is a perfect opportunity to try it out for a couple of years. My life is ready for a good shaking up. I'm hoping to drive there from Montana, but I may also sell my car before I go. Who knows, really. I've wanted to do a longer road trip for a while. I really enjoy traveling alone, so this seems like a good chance to do so. I may need to part with the car in order to have sufficient funds, though. 

I'm excited to move again. Over the last few years I've fallen into a pattern of moving every six to twelve months, and I've found I kind of prefer it to staying someplace long term. I've been shedding as many unneeded possessions as possible each time, and this move to New York gives me a good reason to cut down even more.

It's been so long since I've posted anything that there are a dozen other things I could talk about - driving to Denver last month to interview at another school, for example - but it all seems kind of moot at this point. I'm going to New York! Teenage dreams have been realized! I'm still half convinced this is a weird fever dream and they didn't actually accept me! Everything is very exciting and unbelievable!

Aaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh!!!!

Pro: No rent. Con: I have to wear pants.

Hello. I live with my parents now.

It's actually fine, I live rent-free and there's a lot more interesting stuff to do here than what I was doing in Spokane. (Nothing. I was doing nothing.) I do miss living alone, though - the not wearing pants and being able to sing in the shower at 2am without bothering anyone was awesome. 

I wasn't a big fan of 2015. Glad that's over with. However, it did occur to me that I made a lot of stuff in 2015. I wrote a lot, and wrote in genres and for purposes that were new for me. I'm self-employed now, which kind of feels like having made something. I made some new paintings. So in terms of creative productivity I'd say 2015 was a boon. Sort of terrible in every other way. I suppose we can chalk it up as a learning experience.

Anyway, I actually feel pretty hopeful for 2016. I have lots of grad school applications in and I'm really excited about the programs I chose, so I'm feeling pretty hopeful that one of those will work out. And living with my parents for a few months will give me a good opportunity to gather some savings, which will either go toward grad school or something else awesome, like a trip to Europe or a move to New York. So let's hear it for 2016, the year I haven't messed up yet. Let's not blow it, everyone.

I've really missed playing music ever since moving home. I missed it before too, but I think being here, where I used to play the piano so much has stirred up some muscle memory or something, and now I feel an itch. I do own a guitar I could be learning to play, so maybe I'll try that again. That would be fun. I mean it would be fun to know how to play it; my past attempts at learning the guitar were simultaneously boring and very difficult, not fun at all. But I suppose I will give it another try.

So I'm not sure if there's a theme or something to this post, I just thought I should post something to say hello. Hello! And now goodbye.

This is not what I intended.

I have spent the last several months fighting against the reality that I need to move back in with my parents. My chronic job-hopping, combined with the only job I've really liked so far paying very poorly, has put me in a position where I just need not to pay rent for a while. I believe the clinical term for this condition is "flat broke".

My feelings on this subject are mixed. There's all the expected embarrassment and shame of basically failing at being a financially-independent adult and fulfilling various millennial stereotypes, but that entire line of thinking seems like a moot point to me. Maybe I screwed up my first attempt at independence, or maybe life circumstances got in the way, or maybe it was both, or neither. But it's kind of a boring conversation, isn't it? In my limited experience, how other people view my life choices and circumstances has little or nothing to do with me, and everything to do with them. My choices for dealing with this new development are to a) feel terrible and blame myself, or b) adopt an "I meant to do that" attitude and act as if I'm making a responsible financial decision, rather than having literally no other option but to fall on my parents' good graces. Both of those choices seem needlessly defensive to me, and I lack both the time and effort to defend myself to random people. 

So I'm attempting to skip ahead in the conversation. Let's just not do the part where I defend and rationalize and explain, and everyone else either judges or understands or attempts to make me feel better. I vote we start from the point where everyone's accepted the situation and I can move on to the interesting part: now what?

I'm not cool enough to hate my own art.

So I've been meaning to upload my paintings to Society6 for months and months, and I finally did it! It's very exciting. Somebody order a print and tell me how it turns out.

I feel a little bit embarrassed about it, actually. I'm not a real artist, and I'm nowhere near as good as some people I know who would never try to sell their stuff. But I think that's a mistake, and I think it's a symptom of something odd that seems to be specific to creative jobs. We're supposed to hate our stuff. It's kind of uncool not to hate your own stuff. Thinking your finished product isn't good enough is a sign of a Serious Artist; posting your finished product online and trying to hock prints of it is not something a Serious Artist does until they've reached Professional Artist status. 

I totally understand the impulse to add a self-loathing post-script to creative endeavors. It saves you potential embarrassment and shame, because if it turns out you really do suck, you can back-peddle. If you point out all the mistakes and rough spots before anybody else has a chance, nobody can tear you down. I do this constantly with all kinds of things, including writing and academics. There's nothing I wrote more than six months ago that I'm not embarrassed by now. But I have honestly never felt much of that self-protective impulse regarding art. I guess because I've never taken it very seriously; I really, really like it, but I've never had any intention of doing it for any reason other than enjoyment. This frees me to do dumb things like post it online and say "Look what I made!", like a small child holding up a coloring book, because I've got nothing to lose. You don't like my painting? That's great, I don't really care.

It's really fun having this one area of my life where I feel proud of the stuff I make, without too much fear of judgment. But I do worry about what the Serious Artists think of me. Maybe a real artist will see my painting and smirk and roll their eyes and wonder why I thought that was worth posting online, and dismiss me as someone who has no idea what they're doing. Which is kind of true. What was my point again?

I'm really proud of my art, and I love making it. And overall I'm glad I'm not a Serious Artist, because let's face it, I can't handle that kind of pressure. But judgment is always scary. So I hope those people who do know what they're doing don't judge me too harshly for wanting to share my paintings. I'm just a kid with a coloring book who wants to show you what she made.

 

Cool People Give Me Faith

I went out the other night.

You read that right. I, who never ever "go out", went out. Maybe not in the way that sitcom characters do, with the barhopping and staying out unreasonably late, but I did leave my house in nice clothes and go to a bar to meet a friend. It was fun! Weird.

A woman I know a bit from school invited me to see Rachel Zylstra perform at a local bar. Rachel is a singer who's been traveling the country doing solo shows; she is easily one of the coolest people I've met, so I'm glad I went out. I almost didn't because of Front Door Syndrome.

I think most of us experience Front Door Syndrome. You've been invited somewhere and you want to go, but first you have to get past your front door. There are a lot of barriers to making it that far: you have to put on pants, you have to squash all of your fears and anxieties about the terrible things that could happen in public, you have to open the door and walk through it. The good news is that it's pretty easy to keep going once you've got some momentum. If I can get past just getting dressed in something presentable, I can probably make it the rest of the way.

So I found this bar, and I found my friend, and I met Rachel, and it turned out to be a really fun and very relaxed evening. I didn't even have to stay that long. I was out for like two hours. The music was awesome and amazing, and I drank a beer, and I played checkers with my friend. (The bar had a checkers theme. I won.) 

So here's to beating Front Door Syndrome more often. I had a nice evening and felt inspired to do more social and creative things in the future. More of that would be good.

Rachel Zylstra has a website and you should definitely check it out: http://www.rachelzylstra.com/ 

I drove into the dark like an idiot.

It has occurred to me that I might be an optimistic person.

Either that, or I just don't excel in the area of risk assessment. I drove out of the city last night in an attempt to view the meteor shower but I ended up just making a giant loop and going back home because I was in an unfamiliar area and was too scared to stop the car by myself in the dark, even in near complete isolation. It's possible I didn't think my plan through very well before getting in the car. But I shrugged and drove out anyway because I want to be the kind of person who attempts to view meteor showers, regardless of my success rate.

When I first planned my most recent move, from a two-bedroom apartment in the top floor of an old house to a one-bedroom apartment in a brand new ten-building apartment complex across town, I knew it wouldn't be like my nine previous moves. Moving from your parents' house to a college dorm, and then to a different dorm, and then another, and another, and then your parents' house, then the same dorm that you just left, then to a house off campus, then to the basement of a different house, and then to an apartment, can give you certain ideas about moving. Like the idea that all of your things can fit in your car, as long as you make multiple trips. 

But now I own a futon. I own other things too, like a mattress and a bed frame and a desk, but they are cheap and therefore small and light. A six-year-old could fold my mattress in half. But that futon. I bought it because my living room was empty after my last roommate moved out and I wanted somewhere to sit. Futons are cheap and easily transported, as compared to an actual couch, or any furniture not made of aluminum and balsa wood. But it doesn't fit in my car. And so I rented a moving truck, looked at the impossible distance between the ground and the loading deck, the size and weight of the futon, shrugged, and attempted to shove the futon up and onto the truck.

I quit two jobs in the past year and I left the last one without having a new one lined up. I was vaguely worried but not panicked. A couple of weeks passed, a few misfortunes worsened my situation, and I got more worried. Then more unfortunate things happened, I ran out of money, no one would hire me and I really became miserable. My life is currently a series of small disasters. I am so stressed and so tired and so broke. It's worth noting that I am no longer unemployed and fully expect these small disasters to stop happening any day now, but as of now they are still happening.

A couple of weeks ago I was telling someone over the phone about the latest disaster; I've actually forgotten exactly what it was but I'm sure it was money related. "Don't worry," I said. "Even the worst-case scenario isn't that bad." I meant that I wasn't going to die. That even if my life really did fall apart this time, I would still be breathing, the earth would still be turning, and things could still get better.

"Jackie, this is serious," they said. "This is a real problem."

I wanted to get angry, or sarcastic, or defensive, because of course it's a real problem. I'm living the real problem. I've spent the last several months dealing with almost exclusively real problems. But it occurred to me that my self-calming mantra of "this can't technically kill me" probably sounded blasé to anyone else, as if I was just shrugging my shoulders and ignoring the terribleness of it all. 

I'd like to take this moment to assure everyone that I am fully aware of the terribleness of it all.

Getting the futon onto the truck actually turned out to be the easy part. It was dragging it up the stairs to the new apartment that I wasn't prepared for. I had moved all my furniture by myself and it had taken all day. I was more tired than I had been in a very long time. And now it was the hottest part of the evening, and I had to drag a 100 pound, all-in-one, can't-take-it-apart-without-a-screwdriver futon with a built-in frame up a flight of narrow stairs. I was pretty sure I wasn't going to be able to do it, because it didn't look physically possible. The laws of physics wouldn't allow for one person to complete this task. So I shrugged, grabbed the end of the futon, and started dragging. The feet caught on the stairs. I pulled harder and got one leg over the bottom step. Another yank, another leg. I did this for twenty minutes until I was halfway up the stairs. I could do it by myself. But it occurred to me that I didn't particularly want to do it by myself. 

A car drove slowly by. The car reversed and stopped. A window rolled down and a woman asked if she could help. I threw my hands up like she was the angel Gabriel and said yes, if she had the time, I could use the help. And so together we dragged and shoved the futon the rest of the way.

"Thank you thank you thank you," I said. "You don't know how much that helped."

"Don't worry about it," the woman said. "I'm packing up my apartment all by myself, so I know how it feels."

And she did! She did know how I felt, or at least I believed her when she said she did. Because when bad things won't stop happening, it makes a huge difference to know somebody understands how hopeless you feel. Everyone I talk to has an opinion on exactly how much of this misfortune is my fault; I shouldn't have quit that job (even though they don't know my situation), I should get a roommate (even though they're not the one who would actually have to live with said roommate), I spend too much money on xyz (even though they have no idea what I do or do not spend). Everyone wants to reassure me that in some way, I must deserve this, because believing that I am in control must mean that they, too, are in control. They can stop those bad things from happening to them.

And so I shrug, and let the condescending and critical comments slide, and I deal with whatever disaster is in front of me. Because I'd rather be the idiot trying to drag a futon up a flight of stairs, who drives out into the dark without a plan, than curl up in a ball and hate myself while I wait for my life to finally fall apart. Because while it isn't fair to blame every bad thing that happens on my personal choices, I'm still not helpless. And sometimes someone stops and offers to help.

Welcome to Nightvale is Less Weird in Person, Which Just Boggles the Mind.

The lip stain looked exactly like blood as I smeared it over my bottom lip, carefully drawing a sharp edge and evening out the tone. After compulsively checking the maps app on my phone for convenient parking near the venue, I drove downtown. The sun was low and scorching. My bare legs glowed. I admonished myself for staying indoors so often, dooming my skin to its paleness. The streets were quiet and puffs of hot air swayed the skirt of my dress. It was a Monday evening; the only humans around were a group of inebriated young men outside a pub. I passed through without so much as a glance.

As I neared the Bing Crosby Theater, I began to cross paths with small groups of people being drawn toward the entrance. The merch table was set up right inside the doors of the theater and was still calm enough that an actual line had formed. Sensing that this would be my only feasible chance to buy anything, I went to the end of the line.

Glancing around, I took in the sight of my fellow attendees. I had entered at the same time as a pack of young people; they were loud and happy and excitement emanated from them. They called to one another across the foyer, existing within their own social bubble, as if transplanted from a high school cafeteria table. Adults ranging in age trickled in past them, in smaller groups and with calmer dispositions. The merch line waned rather than marching forward; the group of kids seemed only half aware that they were even in front of the table and it was impossible to tell who was waiting to make a purchase and who was simply caught up in the throng. I thought-screamed "form an orderly queue" while making my way toward the poster I wanted to buy. I was half flustered and half amused by the anxious flurry of energy swirling through this group of teenagers so enthusiastic about their shared experience.

The theater was beginning to fill up, and the rustling crowd pulsed like a heartbeat, their joy washing over the room. It was the perfect size of audience. So small that it's impossible to feel lost, and just big enough that I could feel as though I was blending in. I tugged at the hem of my dress and resisted the urge to chew my lip as I found my seat. My body began to relax into the cushion as I settled into the quiet, observing mind that is unique to live shows.

I love shared experiences. Not participatory experiences; those are awful. I love concerts and shows and museums and movies. A group of people individually enjoying the same thing, at the same time, in the same place. And so I began to smile and closed my eyes, feeling the energy this particular experience was generating. The lights dimmed, the spotlights flickered on, and the crowd shrieked. 

Mary Epworth, a musician imported from the UK, opened the show with electric, soul-swelling rock. The bass washed over the crowd and soaked into our skin. I let my body sway and my head bob, and I relished in the magic of live music. Cecil came on stage to roaring applause. I had never seen Cecil; Welcome to Nightvale is a podcast, and I'm relatively new to it. I hadn't done anything more than listen to the first twenty or so episodes of the show. But now, an observer among many, a participant in the cheering of the crowd, I was glad to find that the extent of my fan-ness was moot. The show was weird and funny and so strange that only a passing knowledge of the plot leading to this point was necessary.

Putting faces to voices, having facial expressions to go with lines, the easy give and take of audience and performers transformed the experience of the story. Listening to Welcome to Nightvale while alone in my apartment always felt like a fever dream, an isolated experience between me and the writers. This was a spider's web, each person in the room holding a single thread. And so, somehow, the bizarre nature of the story began to wash away. The fun was in collectively reacting to the story, and those shared reactions made even Nightvale seem normal. Hooded figures and vortexes and alternate universes? Yes, we said, while nodding to each other. Of course. 

And so it was. Our agreement made it real and gave it life, and for one evening, Nightvale was more than words. 

 

There was a crazy cat lady on my train and it wasn't as cute as one might hope.

The train that runs east to west through Washington passes through Spokane at 2:25am every day. The Spokane train station is not impressive and is hard to find in the dark. My stomach was burning with anxiety as I hastily parked and walked inside to ask about long term parking. The ticket agent sighed when I asked him, and said that everyone had been using the lot out front and just paying for however many days they needed. He asked where I was going, and then told me my train was boarding when I said I had a ticket to Seattle. There was no time to worry about the parking situation. It was 2am and my train was boarding early.  

I walked out the gate and was directed to the appropriate car by the conductor, who I was delighted to find was wearing the type of uniform you might see in an old movie. I took the first empty seat on the train. The woman in front of me had a baby carrier; it took me about five minutes to figure out that there was no baby. There was a cat. 

I had planned on using this time in transit to sleep, and to reflect on the last six months and the changes my career was about to go through. I was an executive assistant, and I had just quit my job. I haven't mentioned this to anyone prior to this blog post, because it sounds irresponsible and childlike. I don't have another job lined up. I was good at being an executive assistant, and at first I had enjoyed it, but it had very quickly become apparent that I wasn't a good match with my employer. They wanted 110% of my life to be dedicated to the job. Mistakes were grounds for an intervention-like meeting with my supervisor. I was constantly told to be more aggressive. It had finally reached a point where both my supervisor and I were fed up with each other, and I had quit.  

This sudden upset in my life has left me confused and overwhelmed. I wasn't just physically exhausted when I sat down on the train; I desperately needed a quiet moment to process what the next few months will look like. But it was not to be.  

The woman in the seat in front of mine was discussing with those around her the ordeal she had gone through to get her "service" animal on the train. I remind you that the animal was a cat. Twenty minutes in, this woman had not once stopped talking. Not for a second. And then her cat peed in its baby carrier and filled the train car with the scent of urine. I had by now pieced together that her cat was likely an emotional support animal, not a registered service animal. Public transit generally doesn't allow emotional support animals; I have no idea how this woman convinced them to let her on. I also have no idea why I didn't change seats when I realized I was seated behind a woman who clearly wasn't going to stop talking at any point during the eight hour trip. I tend to shut down when anxious. I just never found the sliver of confidence required to relocate.  

I spent that eight hours screaming internally while sneezing externally. I thought about how to later explain why I hadn't changed seats. I'm not sure how to articulate how I felt. I felt conspicuous and on edge. I didn't want to bring attention to myself. I felt guilty for being uncomfortable, and for not more thoroughly vetting those around me before choosing a seat.  

I wasn't born the type of person that can claim space. I'm left with a vague sense of guilt about every uncomfortable situation. I was still stewing in the guilt of quitting my job. Maybe I was just lazy. Or unintelligent. Or selfish. Maybe my supervisor was right and I should have just worked harder.  

But in spite of all that doubt and guilt and anxiety, I'm still proud of myself for quitting a job that made me unhappy, and that I felt didn't respect me and my strengths. I'm applying to remote jobs in writing and editing and research, and I feel confident that I'll find somewhere I can use the skills I'm proud of and be happy doing it.   

And the next time I sit behind a cat lady on a train, I'll stand up and walk to a different car.  

I went to the ER and it was more entertaining than it maybe should have been.

I went to the ER on Monday night because I had a migraine I couldn't get rid of. I've been to the emergency room exactly twice before this, once when I was four and smashed my hand in a door, and when I had appendicitis at seventeen. So I had never before actually had to walk into the ER by myself and explain to someone why I was there. 

If you've ever been in an ER, you probably know that the people-watching is the best you can find anywhere, but my experiences were limited enough that I was constantly surprised throughout the 2.5 hours I waited to be seen. I sat sheepishly in a dark corner of the waiting room, feeling self-conscious about being there for a headache. I mean, I was shaking and sweating and couldn't see properly and thought I'd throw up at any moment, but it's amazing how the minute you have to rationalize your complaint of pain, you begin to start doubting its validity. So I sat curled up in a chair, taking deep breaths, surveying the room through the fingers of one hand. I knew I wouldn't be very high on the priority list, so I wanted to distract myself. It was a blessedly easy task.

There was a very elderly man who had come in right ahead of me, and he was sitting just a few chairs away with a young woman. I was attempting to decipher their relationship. The woman looked nothing like him, but old people tend to all look the same (you know it's true) so it was hard to tell. They certainly didn't look like relatives though. The man was trying to start a conversation with her but was failing rather dramatically. She did not look pleased to be there, and really did not want to seem to talk. The man made a comment about how clear her cell reception was (as old people do), and got no response. Then he asked, "So how much do you make an hour?"

The woman gave him a blank look and responded, "Excuse me?"

"For your service," the man said, then smiled in a way that made me cringe.

That was the moment when their relationship clicked in my head. Was this ancient little man in the ER with a hooker? To be fair, I had no real proof of this, but it explained the long string of unusual events so perfectly. It was clear they didn't know each other, despite her having brought the man in, and that last comment just seemed so suggestive.

To her credit, the woman did keep a fairly blank expression, but it was clear she was pissed. She didn't say a single word. I had heard the entire exchange and was frozen in my chair, staring at a spot on the wall, hoping she wouldn't realize I had heard. I wasn't sure if she was so angry because he thought she was a hooker and she was not (in which case I desperately wish I knew the backstory to that misunderstanding), or she was angry at his complete lack of tact. She didn't look like the escorts from television shows, which is all I had to go off of. The man was eventually called in to see the triage nurse, at which point the maybe-an-angry-hooker told him she'd wait for him. He seemed a bit crushed that she wouldn't be escorting him (pun intended, ha) into the examination room. I half expected her to bail on him, but she waited until he was discharged, which I think was very nice of her. I know she waited because he was discharged before I was even seen; there really didn't seem to be anything wrong with him. If I'm right, going to the ER with a hooker when you're perfectly healthy is probably the most desperate plea for attention I've ever seen. Someone get that poor little man a puppy.

About an hour into my wait, a girl was wheeled in by a nurse from the parking lot. The nurse announced that the girl had been hit by a car. This got the attention of everyone in the waiting area, because how often do you see someone who was just hit by a car? It was like suddenly being in the middle of a medical drama show. There was no blood and gore, for which I was thankful. The girl was speaking impossibly loudly, which made everything from my toenails to my teeth ache, but I forgave her because she was just hit by a car, and I assume the pain was what caused her unreasonably high volume. Between gasps, she told the intake nurse that she had been clipped by another car while exiting her own, and had already filed a police report and gone home when she started to feel the pain. Girl had driven herself to the hospital. She talked loud and fast and I tried very hard not to be annoyed by her, but she wasn't making it easy. She literally never stopped talking the entire time she was in the waiting room. She repeatedly told the nurse how she had driven herself there and it had taken her ten minutes to walk halfway across the parking lot, which is where he had found her and escorted her in. I really did feel terrible for her, but I just wanted her to shut up. Pain makes us all terrible people and I was running low on empathy.

I was eventually seen by the triage nurse, who seemed to feel a bit bad when he realized how long I had been in the waiting room (two and a half hours), and was then escorted back into the hospital and given one of those tiny ER rooms that can barely hold all of the medical equipment. I was asked a series of questions, then finally saw an actual doctor, who was really very nice. He even turned the lights off and spoke quietly so as not to make my headache worse, which no one else had thought to do. Then another nurse came in and took four vials of blood, which I didn't even realize was happening until it was over; he was that good. God bless good nurses. Also, did you know they have these cartoonishly large syringes they use to take large amounts of blood? I did not know that.

Finally, they hooked me up to an IV and gave me the good drugs. One of the drugs they injected made the entire surface of my body feel like it was on fire, which was unpleasant, but the blessed nurse followed it up immediately with IV fluids to dilute it, which helped. I dozed for a couple of hours, in between having blood drawn and giving a urine sample. They kept doing more tests because my white blood cell count was slightly elevated and they wanted to make sure I didn't have meningitis (I didn't have meningitis). Eventually they told me I could go, which should have made me happy, but I was so tired and I was in a place where people asked how I was feeling and gave me really good drugs and pumped fluids directly into my bloodstream. I would have been glad to take a couple days vacation there.

So I drove home at 4am and blearily crawled into bed, leaving a trail of belongings and clothing between my front door and my bedroom. I should have fallen asleep immediately, but I always feel strangely awake right after a migraine ends. So I laid in bed for a while, thinking, "was that little old man really in the ER with a hooker?"

I Feel Like a Narcissist but That Hasn't Stopped Me

I spent the entirety of last night in my bathroom due to some sort of virus that is still at this moment trying to kill me, so I stayed home from work until noon. But now, here I am at my desk, taking a break from feeling angry and resentful at my supervisor for constantly setting me up for failure and blaming things on me that I have no control over, because I want to get this stupid newsletter published already.

Ugh. Anyway, what I wanted to talk about was the terror and embarrassment involved in pitching articles to editors, particularly personal essays. It doesn't really matter how funny or relevant or well-written a personal essay is, it still feels stupid and self-centered to try to convince someone else to pay you money for it. I'd like to share a conversation I had via text with a friend regarding this topic:

Friend: What are you up to after work today?

Me: I'm going to try to write. I have to pitch more articles. I need something to be published.

Friend: What will you write about?

Me: I don't know. My obsession with crime fighting. My fear of over-sharing in my writing. My feelings about the upcoming movie adaptation of my favorite book. Maybe I'll write the essay about my tattoo that I told a professor I'd write six months ago.

Friend: Write it all.

Me: The problem is the pitch. Most websites want you to basically describe the article to them rather than writing it first and sending it in. Then if they like the idea they'll make an agreement with you about payment and deadlines. I can do that for things like social commentary or book reviews but I'm not sure how to do it for things like personal essays.

Me: I feel self-obsessed enough writing them, convincing someone to pay me to write them seems overly narcissistic.

Friend: Have you read any Anne Lamott?

Me: Yeah! You gave me one of her books. I loved it. I love memoirs. I spend all day reading personal essays. But it's such a tricky thing to write about yourself, but not FOR yourself. You have to write in a way that's honest but not self-indulgent. You have to keep the reader in mind.

Me: I guess I just worry that I won't convey that clearly enough and I'll come across as needy.

So you see my dilemma. Every pitch feels like a huge gamble because I could potentially lead an editor to believe that I'm nothing but a self-obsessed source of annoyance. Which is a rather self-obsessed thought to have anyway. What was my point again?

I don't have a solution to this, I'm just sending it out into the internet as a persistent thought that I'm tired of having. I suppose I'll just continue on pitching all sorts of articles, personal essays included, and see what happens.

 

Please give me money in exchange for the words I wrote so I can quit my perfectly respectable office job.

You know how various media sources have said that "millennials" are self-absorbed and entitled and lazy or whatever? It's mostly not true, although there does seem to be an overabundance of people around my age (I'm in my early twenties, for context) who mistakenly believe I care about their opinions. I think what others are seeing and are interpreting as laziness and entitlement is that people from the millennial generation know when they're being treated poorly in an unfair situation, and they tend to get angry about it.

There are a ton of articles out there explaining how different the job market, economy, etc. are today and how that affects the behavior of millennials and how that in turn affects how they're perceived, so I'll trust you, dear reader, to go and find one for yourself if you're so inclined. What I want to talk about is me.

I am bored out of my mind at my stable, cushy desk job. I hate working in an office. I hate the dress code, the awful lighting, the lack of privacy, the continuous interaction with people I have nothing in common with and no desire to talk to. You name it, I probably hate it. And I know this is probably because I've been fortunate enough to have a string of fairly cushy jobs (I did have a couple of crappy jobs too, but they've been the minority) and therefore don't appreciate exactly how fortunate I am, blah, blah, blah. But I don't care. I hate working in an office. The problem is that I also don't want to work in any other environment, because work is usually just meaningless tasks that offer no fulfillment and are a lot harder than what seems worth doing considering what you're not getting out of it. I, like a good millennial, want one of those jobs with the ridiculous office that doesn't even look like an office because people just do whatever the hell they want, and there's free food and laundry service. I want to work when it's convenient for me or when I have a great idea, and I want to work mostly from home. How great would that be? Wouldn't it be awesome to do something you actually liked, at times that worked for you, in places where you actually felt productive? That, my friends, is the new "American dream".

I pitch articles during my lunch break at work in the hopes that someone, someday, will be willing to exchange money for something I wrote. Nothing is as exciting to me as that possibility. I don't actually have much of a life, so my source material is really a bit scant. I'm hoping I can churn out a few humorously self-deprecating articles before anybody realizes that's literally all I have to write about and they lose interest. I want to "be a writer" so bad. It is so much fun. Imagine writing something and having someone else think it's worth money. Imagine getting to write all the time from wherever the hell you want.

On a related note, I think I need to leave the house more.

The Story of my Rat Children

So I really, really love animals. I imagine a lot of people feel the same way. The difference, however, is that I require contact with a fuzzy four-legged friend. All throughout college I felt like layers of my soul were succumbing to the gangrenous lack of pets I experienced and sloughing off, a trail of dead-soul guck left behind me. Someone once brought a box of kittens to my dorm for some playtime, and I can honestly say that I was more excited about that than any other event during my college years. The unfortunate part was that I'm allergic to cats and was one giant sniffling hive for the next 24 hours.

While I love cats dearly, they do seem to usher me toward a quick anaphylactic death. My favorite pets are dogs; highly intelligent, and yet somehow still stupid enough to love and adore humans with intensity. When I graduated from college and my choice of living spaces expanded, I was dead set on finding an apartment that would allow dogs. The problem with that plan was that I was basically broke and couldn't afford to be picky about where I lived. Thus, I ended up moving into an apartment with a strict "no pets" policy. After several months of strained, miserable co-habitation, my roommate moved out, which is probably the best thing to ever happen. I now had twice the amount of space and could feasibly fit a dog into the apartment.

The first step was to send a letter to my landlord offering as much money as I could afford as a non-refundable pet deposit. I wasn't messing around. He could have asked me for my first-born child and I probably would have shrugged and signed the contract. When this elicited no response, I called him. I hate calling my landlord; he is the most condescending and stubborn man I have yet been forced to correspond with. But I did it, for my dog. The dog I had already picked out online on multiple occasions, as each of my picks was adopted. I wanted that dog(s).

The phone call led to an in-person meeting during which my landlord rambled on about various unrelated and unhelpful topics, but which ended with him saying he felt confident his answer would be yes, and he would get back to me by the end of the week. I was ecstatic. It took all of my willpower not to race to the nearest pet store and stock up on organic dog food and a dog bed that costs more than my own mattress.

I spent the next couple of days staring at my phone until I couldn't wait any longer and called the landlord. It was at this point that this man moved to the number one slot on my list of people who are dead to me.

He said no.

No explanation, just that he had decided not to add a pet agreement to my lease. No acknowledgment of the fact that he had all but agreed to it just two days earlier. I still think he let me get my hopes up just so he could enjoy crushing them later on.

After a mourning period, I decided to get creative. I knew I couldn't hide a dog in the apartment, and my cat allergy prevented me from taking that easier pet-hiding route. So after some very momentary deliberation, I drove to PetSmart and bought a rat "starter kit". It included a multi-level cage, a food dish, bedding, a toy, etc. I added another handful of toys and some higher quality bedding. I prepared for the arrival of my rat children and then returned to the pet store to retrieve them. I had a choice between two rats that were a dark brown and really a bit scary looking, or two young, female rats with black spots on white bodies. The sales associated slid open the cage and I scooped up each one. Their fur was soft, their little feet were a bit creepy, and their tails were less disgusting than I expected. Ten minutes later, I walked out with my rat children in a box.

The first week or so didn't see much bonding happen, but I sat in front of the open cage door anyway, with treats in my open palm. The rats would hide until I had been still for a while, then resume their playing. Lilith, the bigger of the two, is highly motivated by food but is not particularly bright. She kept piling bedding onto their flying saucer wheel, and didn't understand the function of the hammock, so she decided to just destroy it. It took her a matter of days to sever one of the tethers holding up the hammock.

Lorelai, on the other hand, is extremely intelligent and curious, but would rather explore than receive treats, making her a bit more of a liability when I take her out of the cage. She figured out the exercise wheel right away, and then immediately became bored with its intended purpose and now prefers to attempt to balance on top of it. I recently noticed that the plastic mechanism that attaches the wheel to the base is cracked; I couldn't imagine how it had happened until I saw Lorelai take a running leap from one of the upper levels onto the wheel, making it spin haphazardly.

Lorelai has lost all skittishness now and will gnaw at the door of the cage whenever I'm in the room as indication that she would like to please be let out. When I play with her, she'll press her paws against my leg and stare at me until I lower my hand and let her climb aboard, at which point she climbs up my arm and onto my shoulder. I mostly serve as a vantage point for her, but she will on occasion nestle into my hair and give my ear a little lick. It makes me shiver and feels extremely weird, but I let her do it because we're bonding, and if that's how she wants to show affection, I'll take it.

Lilith is more stubborn and less amenable to being handled, but we're working on it. I can put a couple of treats on my hand and hold it out to her, and she'll take all of the treats at once, shoving them into her little cheeks, then grab my finger and lift it up, like she's checking for more. I love that dim-witted little rat child.

I still have every intention of getting a dog in a few months when my current lease runs out and I move somewhere with a landlord who isn't soulless. But I want to make it clear to my rat children that I don't love them any less, just because we're adding a new family member.

The Best Revenge is to Write

I didn't get into my top choice of graduate schools.

As previously noted, this was actually my only choice of graduate schools because I make reckless life choices. I am really, really sad. I love that program. I know I'd do well there, and it would be so cool to get back into research and be surrounded by people who geek out about the same things as me. I'm kind of heartbroken.

I also feel stupid and embarrassed and would really prefer to crawl into a hole and hide for the next few months, until everyone forgets I applied in the first place. I'm imagining the people I went to school with shaking their heads and smiling knowingly because they knew I wouldn't get in. I realize that it is likely those people don't actually exist and I have invented this social rejection all on my own, but just in case those people really are out there thinking their mean thoughts, I have a message for them: you're tacky and I hate you.

You'll notice that just one post down from this one I was claiming to be absolutely fine with whatever outcome because my backup plan is totally awesome and I can always go to graduate school later. This all remains true. But rejection really, really sucks, and I'm mourning the loss of the invented future I've been daydreaming about for months, so I'm sure you'll understand if I'd like to curl up in the fetal position and cry noisily for a while. Then I am going to start writing. I'm going to write all the time. I'll write so much that something will come out that will be worth money to someone. I'll pitch so many articles that the editors of all of my favorite websites will print my work just to shut me up. I'll quit my office job and write full time, fulfilling the dreams of my four-year-old self and freeing myself to work from anywhere at any time. I'll work while I'm sitting on trains travelling to Seattle or San Francisco or Munich. And then, six months from now, I'll apply to graduate school again.

It's gonna be great.

If you doubt your gut feeling, I encourage you to make rude hand gestures and scream profanities until you realize everyone else is inconsequential.

A year ago I was determined to get into grad school straight out of college. Then I took a year off, but was determined to go back to school right away. Now I'm waiting to hear from a single graduate program, and I'm honestly not feeling too apprehensive about it.

There's this undercurrent of judgment and comparison that floods everyone in higher education, and that pressure only grows with post-graduation plans. I went to school with very nice people- almost aggressively nice, really- and I'm sure none of them judged me for the decisions I made. But I obsessed over it anyway, just as I know they obsessed over their own choices and what they expected others to think about them. That hurricane of self-imposed anxiety is difficult to escape. The only way I found to escape it was to realize I had created it, and just refuse to participate any further.

I was extremely relieved to take a year off, but at the same time I was overwhelmed with anxiety whenever I tried to tell anyone. I felt like I was backing out of something. If I had said I was going to grad school, and now I said I was waiting a year, wasn't that like saying that I had been wrong? That I just couldn't handle it? Or that I wasn't a good enough student, good enough person? I realize now that some of that was actually true; I couldn't handle grad school applications at the time, let alone grad school. The obviously false conclusion is that it's somehow a reflection of my moral character. And I had changed my mind; people change their minds all the time, especially 22-year-old soon-to-be college graduates. I'm not sure at which point we started shaming young people for feeling uncertain, but it's stupid and damaging and it's time to stop.

The one thing that let me feel like something less than a complete failure during that last semester of college was the knowledge that it would only be one year. I would take some time, save some money, get "real-world experience" for my resume, and apply to graduate programs the following year. I imagined it as a sort of time out to catch my breath before returning to school. This is completely ridiculous and I can't believe I was that naive. Anyone who thinks spending a year working a full-time entry-level job is somehow a "break" from the really difficult work of academics is a sheltered jerk.

And so now, months later, I find myself at the tail-end of application season. I started with a list of five masters programs and three PhD programs. This list was hilariously short; I had been told more than once that if I wanted even a chance at admission I'd have to apply to something like a dozen programs. And I tried going that route, but I just did not care about any of them. The programs bored me, the research sounded mundane. I enjoy the freedom of making life choices based on intuition and gut instinct. This has so far worked very well, probably because I'm 23 and so have had a minimal number of chances to burn my life to the ground. I can't stand to do anything I don't feel is the right choice, not on a logical level, but an emotional one. And for me, the right choice was to apply to those few programs and see what happened.

I never heard a whisper from most of the schools I applied to. I was offered an interview in Indiana and turned it down, because I felt dread instead of excitement. Most of those very few programs were backups, and I didn't realize how little interest I had in them until they started looming on the horizon of reality. I realize that at this point it doesn't sound like I particularly want to go to grad school. And that's partially true- I don't want to go back to school just for the sake of having done it. After my second choice didn't give me an interview, and the only school that expressed interest was one I didn't want to go to, I had to make a decision. I could stick with that decision I made a year ago and prove to all those people I imagined cared about my life choices that I hadn't been wrong a second time, and go to any school at all just for the sake of going to school. Or, I could pursue those choices that felt right. I don't know if it will feel right a year from now; I arguably have a pretty terrible track record. But I choose my intuition. Every time. And I don't regret it.

I'm waiting to receive my admission decision from my top choice of schools. I didn't even bother finish the applications to the last couple of masters programs. If I don't make it into this school, I'm going to wait another year. I've wanted to be a writer since I was four. I've wanted to travel more ever since I spent three weeks in Tanzania. This seems like the right time to start following those particular sparks of intuition. A year from now I'll either be conducting research and writing papers, or writing a blog post from east Africa. I'm pretty stoked about both of those possibilities.

Onion Ring Toss

I was a freshman in college when I accidentally tossed an onion ring at my favorite professor.

This isn't an oops-I-though-you-were-someone-else story, this is an oops-I-just-threw-an-onion-ring-and-I'm-not-even-sure-how-it-happened story. It's a story of anxiety-induced phantom hand syndrome, and of never-ending embarrassment.

The event transpired in the on-campus cafe. The instructor of my freshman seminar had assigned the task of having coffee with a professor, as a way of helping us transition into college life a little more smoothly. This was a fine idea, and had lead to a coffee date with two other students, myself, and this same professor, some weeks before this meeting. That interaction had gone smoothly enough; however, I am compulsively drawn toward self-doubt and self-consciousness. I decided that the best thing to do would be to invite the professor to lunch, so that I could give a better second impression than my first. 

And so we found ourselves here, in the campus cafe, a boat of onion rings in front of me and some long-forgotten, ultimately less embarrassing food in front of this poor professor. She was doing her absolute best to inspire conversation. I was failing dramatically. the problem was a simple one; I hadn't experienced this level of social anxiety since I was seventeen and sang a solo in the district music festival. Thus, my heart was not beating so much as vibrating, my mind had lost the will to string thoughts together, and, most importantly, my fine motor control had gone completely haywire. I don't mean that I had lost fine motor control; I mean that it had taken on a mind of its own.

We were a few minutes into this excruciating social interaction when I reached for an onion ring. I successfully managed to grab hold of the greasy morsel, but it unfortunately did not remain in my hand for very long.

Have you ever gone to pick up a pen, and by some mystery of physics, the pen is tossed across the room from your own hand? Imagine that, but with an onion ring, an anxiety attack, and a professor directly in front of you. The ring made a graceful arc across the small table, landing directly in front of the professor. It was as if God had taken the food from my hand and placed it in front of my lunch companion. There was half a beat of silence and staring. She then said, with a smile, "Is that for me?" To this day I have no idea if that was a joke, or if she was truly trying to figure out what had just happened.

There are many responses I could have given in this moment that would have smoothed over the faux pas of launching food at a college professor. I gave none of them. In response to her question, I said, "Nooo..." and slowly dragged the onion ring back toward myself. I can't be sure, but I think the lunch ended shortly thereafter.