Welcome To My Bed

Having It All: Impossible, But I Want To Anyway

Over the course of the past several days, I have started (and stopped) writing several things to be posted here.  One of them is an essay I've been kicking around for a long time about my unbridled and slightly neurotic love of my fellow New Jersey writer, Junot Diaz.  The other is a very personal bit of matter-of-fact prose about where I was when my father died (it was not at his hospice bedside, as I'm sure a lot of people I'm acquainted with have probably assumed).  The reason you haven't seen either piece, besides the fact of my self-imposed cease-and-desist, is the fault of a complicated breed of anxiety that I've been trying to chase down an name for awhile.

Confession time: I have a really hard time with the personal politics of being a writer.  I get very wrapped up in the ugliness of rejection letters, the even-worse pangs of jealousy over the success of my peers, and the general sense that I am completely missing the "community" part of the writing community I try very hard to contribute to.  I worry about how I seem infinitly more than how I am actually doing as far as any given project is concerned.  This is the unattractive truth: I have still not gotten past constantly looking over my shoulder, wondering what other people think of what I'm up to, and that insecurity rears its head at very unfortunate times, often causing me not to attempt something for fear of publicly fucking up.

I could blame this insecurity on growing up between two very opinionated sisters who have always singled me out as the "odd" one, but in recent years they seem to delight in all of my bizarre tendancies and creative projects in a way that is the most overwhelming support I could ever ask for from people who do not do the same things I do.  I could blame a long string of codependent friendships and relationships that made me believe that the only way to feel important was for me to be a better friend or girlfriend than some other candidate, even when the person I was trying to impress was the wrong person for me in the first place.  I could blame the coded language of rejection letters that comes to me as nightmare narration--a string of vagaries about why I am not worthy written so tersely as to be impossible to parse, or my troublesome take-on-everything-and-smile-through-it personality that has me often over-booking my time so that I cannot do any of the things I take on all that well.  All of these explanations are really just excuses.

I don't want to talk about Ann-Marie Slaughter's now-infamous "having it all" article, but I think I have to get closer to the bone of what I'm talking about.  We all know that the idea of "having it all" in the first place is ridiculous.  The concept was a crutch used by the feminist movement back in the day to open a window into the workplace for my gender, and I am grateful for the autonomy it afforded my generation, but the implication that women must live multiple lives simultaneously in order to satisfy the world at large is part of what frustrates me about being a woman.  I don't think my days would be so fraught if I had a penis.  Maybe that's just an assumption.  But in talking to my male friends and my boyfriend about this, it seems like the assumption may be right.  Most of them aren't constantly concerned with who's doing what and how they can be seen as the most successful of their friends (at least not that they've admitted to).  The way they talk about it, their experience of success is measured against an internal benchmark.  More "personal best" than "best of the rest".

I wish I had the emotional acuity to ignore the influence of outside pressures, or at least to process it in a way this is actually productive.  But I'm not sure I do.  For example, the Junot essay: it's about the ways we make authors we enjoy into imaginary friends, and how that person is destroyed if ever we become familiar with that same author in the process of living his everyday life.  There are turns of it that are meant to be funny in an over-the-top kind of way that I am sure are well done when I think about them in a vacuum, but when I consider my audience, I'm not sure my speaker won't be read as obsessed, insane, and definitely very creepy.  The piece about my father is even worse to think about as something others might read, as its whole premise is wrestling with what I'm sure many people might say I should've been doing in my father's last days.  Both pieces are about teasing out the ways perception alters our experience, but I can't even bear to show them to anybody.

Which is utterly ridiculous.  Junot Diaz will probably never read what I have written about him, not because I will never publish it, but because he is busy with his own reading and writing life, which I'm pretty sure does not involve any version of me, real or imagined.  And I can think of plenty of things no one has any right to tell me how to do: topping the list is how I was meant to process and attend to my father's passing.  But my problem with the politics of these sitautions remains; at once, I know it's impossible to please everyone who might stumble across this humble blog, but I convince myself that if I don't write with pleasing an audience in mind, I might as well never show my work to anybody in the first place.

At the core of all of this is the fear that if I write only for who is reading, I will lose the integrity of my stories.  On the other hand, if I write only for myself, why publish?  Finding a balance would be the obvious solution, but I'm not quite sure how to get there.

What I think about when the world feels like it shrank in the wash.

I am no good at this adulthood thing.  It's like climbing a buttered rope hand over hand.  First off, I have no upper body strength.  And secondly, who the hell came up with buttering a climbing rope in the first place?  I have the job, the apartment, the relationship, the closet full of daily costumes, the body full of shine, the food to fill a fridge and the pans to cook it in, the places to run away to when I fell broke down and suffocated.  But no spark left at the end of the day.  Why is that?  After all the struggle of kicking my own ass through college, getting out into the big, imperfect world early and sinking my teeth into all that mess, I am still exactly where I was before.  When do I get to exhale that deep sigh, look at myself in the mirror and say this is it?

When I'm handed a forty hour work week, I am grateful for what it affords me.  But at what cost?  Why does our country, our culture, hold wealth so high on the list of things to desire that rest and good company and creation suffer?  I do not want to be rich.  I have never wanted to be rich.  I might even go so far as to say that I hate rich people because of how distant they are from their own humanity, but this is a broad generality and not targeted at people specifically so much as the symbology at play.  Money means only what we let it mean.  There are ways to live that cost less than how I choose to.  I could move to another city where the rents are lower.  I could go back to the kind of work that I feel in my body at the end of the day.  Maybe I'm dissatisfied because the only thing I feel in my body about my job is the cloying presence of industrial fluorescent lighting and the migraines I get from looking at computer screen for eight hours a day.

I saw an article on the Atlantic's website the other day that said that office workers burn the same amount of calories as hunter-gatherers.  How stunning.  Which work is more essential?

A text message from a friend showed up during my mid-afternoon slump today, and I realized I haven't seen him in nearly two years.  We live in different cities, met while I was on tour too many moons ago, but I still can't believe I've gone this long without hearing his voice.  Our meeting was so essential to the way I ushered in the new phase of my life.  This one sans the structure of college.  But what seemed so whole and holy when it was just starting out has fallen into a new structure.  I am now a slave to an alarm clock, a social schedule, the pressure to keep trotting out my writing for journals and magazines that will not have it.  What kind of goals are these?  It seems nearly impossible to have any kind of spontaneous day.  Perhaps that is the cost of stability.

Or maybe I can shake myself out of this like a snow globe, let all of the pieces fall back down and rearrange themselves in a way that makes me smile.  I don't want to cut anyone, or anything, from my life.  I love my family, my friends, my city, making art (in whatever form it arrives).  The world just feels so small and limited.  It is time to start saving up to travel, to hatch an escape plan.  I am so thankful for the fact that I can afford to survive.  But I want to do more than live paycheck to paycheck for the rest of my days.  I want the world to feel as big as I know it is, and for there to be places that seem impossible to reach so that I can drive myself hard enough to reach them.

When I finished school, my writing had never been published.  I am already so far from that person.  There is a new kind of adult I want to be, one who doesn't sacrifice hunger and wonder for the sake of satisfaction.

On The Quarter-Life Crisis, or, Why Liberal Art Schools Poison Your Expectations of Adult Life

Summer is more than half over and there's been little occassion to breathe.

I have an office job now.  It isn't the best situation on earth, but it also isn't the worst, and they've recently told me they're making me a full-time employee in the fall, which means my second raise since I started in April.  What comes with salary?  Finally beginning to chip away at my student loans, which have been languishing in deferment for the past year while I got my act together.  I, by no means, regret this deferment.  I am of the mind that working a minimum wage job for my first two years in the real world gave me a very concrete understanding of the bare minimum amount of money I need to be able to survive happily.  Now that I make almost double what I was making only a few months ago, I appreciate the wiggle room more.  I can afford to take a cab home some nights if I want.  I can buy my less-flush friends drinks.  I can go to a concert on a whim.  All luxuries I may not have seen as such had I gotten a "real" job right out of college.

I've come across a lot (or at least what seems liek a lot) of commentary on a phenomenon commonly refered to as a quarter-life crisis.  Up until this point, I'd only heard such bizarro terminology in a John Mayer song.  (No, seriously, he has a lyric where he tries to justify a non-commital attitude by saying he might be having a quarter-life crisis.)  But apparently this is a thing people my age are talking about.  Let me just say right now that this concept is UTTER BULLSHIT.  Dear twenty-somethings: you have yet to live; thusly, your life cannot be in crisis.  Just because your parents have stopped paying your bills and sending you care packages and generally holding your hand through all possible hardships does not mean that your existence is awful or oppressive.  It means that you are required to take responsibility.  You know what's excellent about being our age?  How simple it is to change direction.  Don't like your job?  Quit and start fresh.  It's not like you have a decade invested.  You can survive on less money than you think.  Wait tables.  You'll make a lot of money, feel no obligation to anybody you work for or with, and can leave at any time without ruffling anybody's feathers.  Don't like your friends?  There are a million new people waiting to be spoken to in all of the places you go on a daily basis.  Don't like your hobbies?  Stop participating in them, get new ones.

All of the problems discussed in these post-college crisis acrticles miss the point.  It's not that our lives lack meaning.  It's just that we are convinced that everything we do must be meaningful.  So that we can tweet about, make a Facebook event, compose a Kickstarter to fund out dreams, tumbl-blog pictures of our awesome life where everyone is gorgeous and nonchalant and still so impossibly talented and way more interesting than anybody else that has ever existed.  How boring have we become as a society that an exciting life is one that is defined by being able to boil down what we are most passionate about into 140 characters or less?  Dear twenty-somethings: if you think your life is over already, you are the only one who sees it that way.

I'm tired of reading about college-educated young people who are apathetic about circumstances that others might find desirable.  the problem is college.  The problem is a culture of exceptionalism.  You know those awesome jobs everyone promised you could get as long as you got your four year degree and worked an awful unpaid internship and busted your ass?  They are not handed out with the diplomas.  In the work world, you have to start at the bottom, build a skill set beyond writing papers synthesizing critical theories regarding your chosen field of study (be honest--did you really think this would be useful in any arena beyond academia?), and send out resumes whenever you see something that even remotely resembles your dream job.

Here are some true facts: working for a living sucks, being a person is too expensive, and emotional connectivity in our generation is becoming more and more impossible.  Want a remedy?  Me too.  So does everyone.  The best advice I can offer is this--if there's something about your life that is eating at you, change it now before that nagging feeling of defeat becomes the norm.  If you want to make art, make time to make art.  If you want to see friends, make time to see friends.  There may be a finite number of hours in the week, but how many of those do you spend complaining about having a pretty-okay life?

I am more than guilty of ranting and raving about everything I wish could be different, if only I had the means to make change.  But I do, and so do you.

Anyway.  Speaking of twenty-somethings working hard at being awesome instead of griping about how the scholarship for getting stoned and writing poetry ran out after four years, I'm showing my paintings in public for the first time ever at this event, the official Booze Époque launch party on September 15th, as well as reading a bit of booze-themed poetry.  If you're in the Somerville/Cambridge/Boston area, you can get on the guest list by donating $20 to the cause.  Beyond that, there are exciting prizes for your support--at the $150 dollar level, you get one of ten 8"x10" panels I've been toiling over.

Here they are in the early stages.  At the gallery, I'll also have several more small paintings for sale, as well as a few 18"x24" panels.  I am beyond excited to have people see my art somewhere other than at my apartment, where typically a canvas sits on my easel for upwards of six months without much changing.  September 15th in Central Square, Cambridge.  Save the date, donate twenty dollars, drink delicious boutique cocktails with locally-sourced ingredients, and see a bunch of music and poetry performed.  Sounds like a perfect Saturday to me.  I'd love to see you there.  So I can hug you and remind you that there is no such thing as having an easy time all the time.

3 Sorority Girls Walk Into My Cafe --or-- Rape Culture As Reported By Undeclared Feminists

I will start off by stating, unequivocally, that I am deeply prejudiced.  I immediately dislike people involved in Greek life on their campus of choice.  To me, frat-related social activities are about as appetizing (and as bland, and as devoid of value) as Kraft Mac&Cheez.  When someone within earshot mentions an affiliation with such activities, I shut off my ears so as to spare my gag reflex.  I'm not proud of this.  I'm sure plenty of nice people pledge.  It'd just not my cup of tea.

That being said, I was at work yesterday, and three preppy, willowy blondes wandered into the cafe for coffee.  They were perfectly harmless, discussing Jell-O shots and "the sloppy girls" and campus scandal. And then the campus scandal portion of the conversation took a turn from who's-hooking-up-with-whom towards the college's cover-up of a sports-team-related rape.

I didn't hear what school they went to.  Unfortunately, the details they discussed were generic enough to belong to any school that's had such a scandal.  And that's where my heart broke.  Right at the word 'generic'.  The fact that these types of situations are generic at a college level is disgusting and horrifying.  In this particular case, the rape allegations involve the basketball team.  The girls chatted about how predatory the players were when they saw them at bars near campus--how they'd sit back from everyone else and prey upon the freshman girls, specifically choosing those inexperienced and drunk enough to be manipulated.  Now, I obviously haven't seen this behavior firsthand (the closest thing my college had to sport or frat culture was an Ultimate Frisbee team called The Red Scare), but I felt like I knew what they were going to say before they even said it.  It's been in the news so much.  Promising college athlete accused of assault or rape, denies allegations or calls the girl a slut or blames her for being drunk or some combination of all of the above.  College stands by the player, not the victim.  The media twists everything.  Lives are ruined.  The end.

I expected their conversation to veer back towards the frivolous, but it remained in a place of outrage at their school.  According to one girl, their school went nine years without passing along charges of assault or rape handled by campus police to the proper officials in local law enforcement.  Even though it is their on-the-books policy to do so.  Even though it is their moral obligation to do so.  And after 9 years, somebody finally noticed this institutionalization of rape and reported it.  I wonder what kind of reprimand the school received for this transgression of human rights.  The girls spent a good deal of the following conversation making conjectures about how it might feel to be a young woman who reported her assault or rape and have the school officials take down her statement and promise to take action only to sweep the entire thing under the rug.

I had to do everything in my power not to jump into the conversation at several points.  But let me jump in now, after the fact, and say how all of this made me feel about the attitude that colleges routinely take when it comes to assault.  The horror of this, as I stated earlier, is how generic the girls' talk of a basketball team with a rape scandal is.  As woman move towards greater social equality (we've actually statistically surpassed men in terms of college enrollment), these all-too-routine exhibitions of rage, sexual aggression, and moral lapse followed by aggressive institutional cover-up appear in the discourse more and more.  And it isn't just assault of women.  Think about Joe Paterno's disgraceful actions.  Colleges are too afraid of PR nightmares to protect their communities properly.  I am sick over this.

Sexual violence is not about sex, but power.  This kind of behavior is not even invisible in this case, but rather seen, acknowledged, and actively made to disappear.  I wonder if those responsible for the nine years of non-report at this particular school have wives or daughters, or, even more chilling to think, are women themselves.  By doing nothing about assault and rape, the school is essentially condoning it.

Eavesdropping on the three girls was an essential slap in the face for me.  Women are women, regardless of who they associate with or how they choose to conduct themselves.  It is an ugly impulse to write off members of my gender for their social choices when we have the exact same concerns.  It an ugly standard that our chief concern must be rape.  Another of the girls told a story of walking across campus alone at night that contained all of the reasons why my mother hates that I walk home alone from work at night.  Who knows if these girls would call themselves feminists.  But clearly, you don't have to self-identify as a feminist the feel like a victim of rape culture.  And you certainly don't have to be a feminist to expect to feel like you are entitled to protection of your personal safety.