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We were too busy to shout “Happy New Year,” so the DJ calmly expressed his well-wishing as we clasped the arms of the people closest to us and pressed our bodies together. The second floor of the club, splattered with layer upon layer of graffiti that commemorated a thousand separate memories, crowded us together between several pillars on a flimsy dance floor that shuddered under our bouncing weight. Once midnight hit, our friend had been pounced by an old fling of hers whose eyes were wide and sparkling, rolling on molly, and they were entangled in the middle of the room in a kiss.

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My partner and I had moved to this city inspired largely by her, but once we arrived her life fell apart. She lost her wife, she found someone new, and then she lost her too. The overwhelming density of her strife meant we had also lost her. She lived down the street but she was adrift in her endless preoccupations, not answering our messages and canceling plans. I was irritated, yet empathetic, and through my annoyance I continued to comment on all her photos and reach out to her, even if she didn’t respond.

And now, once she parted from her most recent lover and stumbled away, she came to our arms and we hugged her and told her we loved her and were inspired endlessly by her.

The three of us left the narrow old building that housed the club, standing on the sidewalk with goosebumps crawling up our arms and Uber vehicles crowding along the side of the road. Our friend’s tryst stood in the doorway, her body alight, her wild eyes trained on us, insisting we enter her vehicle and come downtown to Black Mass with her, dance away the rest of the night with her even though they would soon be unable to legally serve alcohol. We weren’t alive with uppers, however, and had multiple bottles worth of depressant drenching our organs, so we slid into a van to head back to our friend’s apartment.

Around the time I entered the Uber, my hair slick with sweat and my damp shirt slipping down over my shoulder, 200 miles away in another state, my father’s heart muscles struggled to receive a supply of oxygen. He laid down in bed, squeezing his eyes shut and thinking that if he died, at least the pain would stop.

But he woke up the next morning. He went to the hospital and they slithered a wire through his veins and put a stent into his heart with a balloon catheter.

My little brother contacted me the following morning, our lives so different yet his brain so much like mine, doing neurotic circles, a game show reel spun out of control and every prize actually a possible demise. He had recently had his first child and he held his newborn, contemplating worst case scenarios. When I called my father’s cell phone, my mother was a manic scribble as well.

My own neuroticism was firing off and so I recalled the progress I had made, the progress I had reflected on while drunk and silly in the graffiti’d club bathroom the night before, fluffing my hair in the mirror and staring into the drunken spiral of my eyes, observing the purple half-circles of perpetual illness standing out crass against my pale skin. I rubbed my face to bring some color and, as the New Year’s occasion called for, reflected on my personal progress of the past year.

I assume that others, during the whir of drama and chaos and inebriation, stare at themselves in the mirror and demand the truth. My soul procured what I most desired in that moment, which was pride — in myself. For what? What good had I done in this past year? I had barely made enough money to get by, many bills going unanswered and mostly unnoticed; I had worked pitifully small jobs and hardly lived up to my full potential, failing to inspire during job interviews; my relationship had completely fallen apart and I had managed to slap it back together with skill and grace. So much failure, but that last one — the latter conflict — had put me on a path of realization.

It hasn’t been that long since my last meltdown, my last time checking into a crisis service center and begging them to help me sleep. A year and a half, not even. Since then, I had put forth a considerable effort to help myself, or, to try to build up some defenses and thought patterns that would prevent myself from shutting down again. I read articles and books that were not necessarily always about self-help but had the sort of content I could use to infuse myself with good ways of thinking that I could practice.

I had practiced changing my thoughts. Swiveling away from the anxiety and neuroticism to more constructive ways of thinking. I flexed my brain cells, attempted to build a reflex toward reason. I read many articles on, simply, how to breathe. I felt silly reading them, but still — I caught myself not breathing when I stressed out. I found myself remembering to take good breaths.

I also found myself asking this question that had been repeated to me over and over again by therapists, who I had ignored: What can I take care of right now, in this moment? I began to seriously ask myself this. Often, the answer was nothing. Often, I found myself jotting down a time in which I would take action toward solving a problem, which wasn’t at that current moment. I had trained myself into a habit. This question had been meaningless to me for so long, until I managed to prescribe it with my own personal, intimate meaning of self-improvement. Maybe one day it will be meaningless again to me and I will need to find a new question to infuse with intimate personal power.

Standing in the club bathroom, surrounded by graffiti about hot, wet pussy and colorful tags, I stared myself down and acknowledged that a year had passed and the work I had put into myself was noteworthy and fruitful. Though continuously plagued with insecurity, I felt pride bubbling up in my chest. A sense that these thoughts, habits, friendships, myself… were not worthless.

I could hold my pettiness in my hand and then gently swat it away, just like any normal, pained human being. After this continued reflection of the night before, I held my phone in my hand, thinking of the neurotic triad of my mother, brother and myself. We had all influenced each other, touched by conflicts and trauma that traced far back into the past. It would be a long story to tell, if I were ever so inclined to write it down, but I knew where my anxiety came from. I knew who I shared it with. I knew, also, that I was capable of handling anything, that I had proven that to myself.

I spoke to my dad after speaking with them. After his dazzling heroism had worn off years ago, I had spent the majority of my adult life being angry with him, for his bad politics and prejudices. But this evaporated into a petty cloud of smoke in the conversation in which he told me his thoughts about believing that he was going to die.

Only one memory pushed to the forefront of my mind then. I was five, vulnerably small in my large bedroom, my bed pushed up against the window over the driveway and the apple tree so I could see the comings and goings of the outside world instead of the tall shadows of my cavernous room. I lay in bed with my nose pressed up against the windowpane and watched my dad’s car crunch up the driveway to rest under the tree. I was supposed to be sleeping, so I pulled the covers up around myself and pretended. My dad came up the stairs and set something next to my head, kneeling over me for a minute before leaving.

When he was gone, I rolled over. There was a book. He had brought me a book.

My entire childhood, my dad gave me books. It is because of him that I love to read. It wasn’t something that just happened, I didn’t just find books and devour them. He summarized books for me, sparking my interest, then put them in my hands. This became an integral part of my identity, leading me up to the point where I am today.

In the midst of conflict, anxiety, despair, I have managed to hold the good in my hand and ruminate over it with a calm heart. I have curled into myself in the bathroom, my chest crushed and holding back sobs that threatened to rip me apart, and I stood up afterward and recovered. This did not just happen. I wasn’t able to immediately use my legs properly after being shoved so forcefully to the ground.

But with effort, it happened.

I mull over these new realizations, habits, and histories on my drive into work, now that I’m working consistently again every day, driving a half hour to a school that offers me the best experience possible, even if without insurance benefits. I think about myself, about the politics blasting from my speakers and shaking my flimsy car; I think about the friends who both push and pull, disappear under their grief only to hold me tightly in an embrace the next time we meet. The patience I forward to my friends is worth it, despite the frustrations.

January has brought cold, icy rain that slicks up the roads and makes everything gray. I swish along the hissing water on the highway every morning, the sky blanketed with black clouds, navigating myself using the golden halo from the street lamps overhead. The sound and smell of constant winter rain is the backdrop to my thoughts on this place inside myself I’ve slowly discovered, this infinite ocean of patience that swells and moves, that is colored by my mood and kept undisturbed and endless through simple and sheer willpower. Underneath the anxiety bursts, the paranoia, the self-doubt and insecurity, it’s still there. Underneath the troublesome clouds of despair, it’s there. It’s somewhere at my center, infinite in all directions.

Acknowledging its presence doesn’t make the chemicals in my brain flux correctly however. This ocean isn’t a panacea, it’s just there and accessible. I still have my bad habits, such as washing my poor brain with all sorts of drugs to modulate my experience.

On Friday, one of the few friends I’ve made in this city returned from Saudi Arabia — having visited her family over her school’s break — and she returned wanting to do two things for her upcoming birthday. She wanted to go to her first concert ever and she wanted to take LSD while she did it. We had taken acid together before after a tryst we had the previous year, so there was nothing objectionable about this situation. I was hoping the acid could help me clear some of the depressive gunk in my brain, something that was far more difficult to rid with healthy thought patterns because it just calcified to my personality and ebbed and rose in mass throughout the month.

After the show, I burst out into the night, holding her and my partner in an embrace and breathing in cold air and tasting it, tasting the colors of the lights, tasting red and blue on my tongue. The following day, sunshine radiated through my brain and the shadows disappeared. But my energy was zapped and my heart was beating too fast.

Another week begins, my mood is high though I’m exhausted and no amount of sleep after Friday has been good enough. I want to be wide awake and I want to sleep forever. I caught myself not breathing this morning, my heart thudding in my chest, holding my breath for no reason other than anxiety rearing its face at the change in my daily schedule, however small. I’m struggling at both being awake and receiving the appropriate amount of sleep, knowing that mixed up in my desires is the need for balance in order to actively maintain good habits.

And underneath this flux of daily routines, too much sleep or not enough, distant friends and needy friends, the eternal complications of love, unexpected troubles and matters of life and death, I am aware of that infinite ocean of patience. I may lose sight of it again one day, but it’s there. It’s always there.

On our first date, we sat at a counter in a local restaurant, facing the windows that stretched from the floor to the ceiling. They displayed the television show that was main street. There was a smattering of hard clumps of snow on the ground and yellow Christmas lights wrapped around the trees by the roadside. I was too nervous to eat and I watched the endless stream of people passing by while he unfolded his taco and regaled me with stories that were doing an excellent job at convincing me that he was interesting and adventurous.

“On our way to San Diego, we got into a pretty bad car accident. It was on the highway. We were just riding along – I was asleep, he was driving – and then out of nowhere,” He slapped his hands together. “We were flying! Someone coming from an on-ramp merged into our lane from the left without seeing us, struck us from the side, and my car went flipping across several lanes of traffic. I was still trying to figure out what had happened when he yelled for me to get out of the car, and we did. My car was completely totaled!”

“Were you hurt?”

He pulled out his phone and flipped through his photos. He still had the pictures they took at the hospital afterward. “Here I am,” he said, showing me an image of himself where he looked younger, with longer hair, yellow bruises on his face. Other than that, no real injuries.

I tried to imagine being in a car as it flipped across the road. I couldn’t. I had been in several minor car accidents at this point in my life, but they were nothing more than fender benders. Anxiety bloomed in my chest just thinking about it.

My first experience with a car accident occurred when I was twelve years old. My friend’s mother was driving and my friend Casey and I were in the backseat, her little brother sitting in between us, his face a dense map of freckles and his nose running. We were driving to an amusement park on an island, vibrating with excitement. We bickered with her little brother, who whined about our presence as her mother swore and sighed loudly at the wheel.

“Stop touching me,” I snapped at the little boy. I had known him since he was two years old and felt as if he were my own little brother. “Why are you such a brat?”

“You smell! It’s not my fault, you smell!”

Suddenly all of our heads snapped forward. I hit the seat in front of me and let out a loud exhalation of air. Casey grabbed her brother and her mother screamed, “Fuck!” She then leaned the front of her body into the backseat and began patting around at us, asking us if we were alright. We were fine, just confused. I looked around, only seeing a gas station through the small windows in the back.

A young woman in a Chevrolet in front of us had slammed on her breaks in front of the gas station. The back bumper of her car was smooshed inward. Our car, on the other hand, was completely fine, for all I could tell. Casey’s mother ordered us to stay in the backseat and left the car door open while she went to talk to the young woman. We waited in the backseat for what felt like a long time, watching all the cars on the road passing slowly and staring over at us.

“Stop staring! Who do they think they are?” Casey huffed.

“Yeah, what do they think is happening here? Look away, losers! Bye!” I said.

We made faces at everyone spectating.

Eventually a young police officer showed up, and he stuck his head into the backseat. He looked incredibly large looming over us. He asked each one of us a series of questions that seemed unimportant and unrelated to what had happened, interviewing Casey’s little brother last. He asked him for his home address multiple times, but the little boy just stared at him blankly, the quietest I had seen him that day.

“He’s five,” Casey told him testily, laughing. “He doesn’t know his address.”

The police officer stared at her, then disappeared without saying a word.

After more than an hour, we were finally free to finish our journey to the amusement park, since there was nothing wrong with our vehicle. We drove away, leaving the miserable-looking young woman behind. The day proceeded from that point as it was meant to and we grew sunburnt and content underneath the crisscrossed shadow of wooden rollercoasters.

I didn’t experience another car accident until I was nineteen years old. At this time, I was working at home for the summer and staying with my parents to shorten the commute. One night, my boyfriend at the time managed to finagle away his grandfather’s car and came to pick me up so we could spend the night drinking in a nearby suburb with his scruffy neckbeard friends. His grandfather was a solid blob of a human being, melting into his recliner, never speaking a word, making this a rare opportunity.

My boyfriend decided to take me home around 2AM and we began our drive through the inky darkness of the countryside. My parents lived deep in the woods, where the streetlights were rare and glowed eerily under a blanket of insects. We could see little of the road in front of us, the asphalt continuously spawning with a ghost-like haze, the sailing vehicle surrounded by darkness on both sides. I had my window open as I leaned against the door and let the cool wind whip at my face.

Then a figure loped into the road, a brown comet soaring out of the blackness. It passed quickly in front of the car and nearly cleared its passage when —

CRACK. The sound exploded as if a bullwhip had come crashing down next to my ear. The doe’s head struck the right side mirror and rolled wildly on its neck. My face was just a foot away. I watched her glowing eyes spin as she ran, leaping back into the endless black.

I screamed, I screamed. My boyfriend pulled the car onto the gravel shoulder and began shouting, “Fuck! Fucking deer!” He turned to face the abyss beyond the ditch. “I hope you’re dead! I hope you’re fucking dead!”

He ran along the side of the ditch looking for the animal, but she was gone. He said that maybe she had only been slightly injured since she had been able to run off. I remembered the hideously loud crack. “I doubt that.”

The right side mirror was dangling from a single vein. My boyfriend was yelling and swearing as he tried to snap it back into place, mortified that he had damaged his grandfather’s car. We fiddled with the mirror for a while, then gave up and drove to my parents’ house as I held the mirror on the ledge of the door.

I didn’t want my parents to discover we had hit a deer, so I crept into my house and searched the supply room for gorilla glue — or something. My little brother, still in high school at this time, appeared in the kitchen doorway, his eyes squinty from sleep. “What are you doing?”

“Do we have some sort of — strong glue?” I whispered, then told him about the deer.

“No.” He laughed, shaking his head, his long hair sweeping in front of his face.

I found some duct tape and held it up victoriously.

He shook his head even more vigorously. “You’re an idiot.”

I glared at him, then glanced out the front door at my boyfriend sitting in the car. Maybe I was an idiot.

It would take me another two years to affirm that I was indeed an idiot.

Meanwhile, my next car accident would happen the following summer. At this point I had saved up enough money to buy my own car, a blue ’99 Chevrolet Cavalier that I called Bathsheba. One day I drove several towns over to pick up the same dopey deer-killing boyfriend and took some backroads as I brought him back to my parents’, where I was staying while I had my car inspected by someone we knew.

Despite having chosen the backroads as a short cut, I was feeling incredibly impatient and couldn’t fly through the woods fast enough. The roads were long and straight, with small rounded hills that sent my car flying into the air as I struck them going 90mph. I felt exhilarated and my blood roared in my ears. My GPS had given me an estimated arrival time and I had managed to shave five minutes off of it. I was incredibly impressed with myself.

“We’re almost there!” I shouted, my car lifting off the road and seamlessly rolling back down. I realized my turn was coming up soon, quicker than I had expected, and I spun my wheel to catch it.

As I rounded the corner I tapped my brakes to slow down but felt the back of my car continue to drift. Alarmed by the way this felt, I slammed down harder on the brakes. Bad idea. The vehicle was far beyond my control at this point. My boyfriend grabbed the handle on the ceiling as we spun across the intersection, the car turning sharply to the right and veering straight into a deep ditch.

I hyperventilated for a moment in the front seat, still fairly new to this sort of thing. Finally, I stepped out of my car, walked through the weeds in the ditch and looked down at my poor automobile sticking up at an acute angle. It looked like someone had chucked my car down there from the sky and made a bulls’ eye.

I called my mother, who was just down the street. “M-m-mom?” As I held the phone up to my ear I saw some damp spots on the road from water. It had rained earlier. “I — hydroplaned.” Yes, I’d been taught about this once. The lie was effortless and removed some of the guilt from driving recklessly. “I hydroplaned on the wet road and my car is stuck in the ditch.”

She groaned, her instinct most likely tuning her into my lie. Naturally as well, I grew annoyed that she didn’t believe me.

A tow truck showed up eventually and struggled to yank my car out of where it was stuck in the ditch. The first heavy duty, beastly-looking chain snapped. The second chain did the trick. My car was fine, despite the mud and weeds crammed up into the grill.

I received a reprieve then in my life from smashing my car into things, such as other cars, ditches and deer. I was doing fairly well, actually, until I was around twenty-four and working at a charter school downtown as an English teacher. On my way to work one day I found myself smacking into the back of someone’s car in a rather uneventful fender bender, startling an old hippie who was just as desperate to get to work on time as I was. He waved it off and slid back into his car, which was crammed full of boxes of paperwork.

I continued my jaunt to work and arrived late. The gym teacher found out that I had been in a car accident that morning as I stood around the faculty room, sipping at a coffee, and she grabbed my hands and stared down into my eyes.

“Go home, sweetie. Go home.”

This made me incredibly nervous. “N-no, I’m fine. Everything’s fine! I need the money anyway.” I had a contract with no paid sick days.

She continued to stare at me unblinkingly. “Go home. I’ll pay you. I’ll pay you right now to go home.”

I pulled away from her and told her I couldn’t accept that. This woman had a skeletal look about her and routinely took off work to go in to donate her platelets. They looked like they had sucked the meat off her bones in the process. She quit later that year.

Stress from work forever rendering me a shaky and manic creature, I had fender benders in my stars. I had only recently learned to not fly over the road like a madwoman and that was after being forced to take a class for “At-Risk Drivers” that was supposed to reform me. A year later, I bought a newer car — not new, newer — also blue — and named her Esmeralda.

I had Esmeralda for only around three months when one day I was driving home from work, wracked with stress over a new after-class program my charter school had me in charge of with a few other teachers. The program was called Study Hall (not a traditional study hall) and was after last period. Since the middle schoolers weren’t allowed to walk home or catch a city bus, every single one had to file up to the cafeteria after their class period and be subjected to this regimented work period. Near 200 adolescents would file into the cafeteria, screaming from the maddening flux of hormones coursing through their bodies and exhausted from the school day, unwilling to take another pointless direction. Eventually we would organize this chaos a little better and develop ways to lessen the traffic, create group activities and bring in guest speakers. At the beginning of the school year, however, the administrators had thought very little of this out and also not given us time to plan for it.

Four teachers struggled to figure out how to contain the storm of pre-teens. We were miserable, we hated it. Eventually we figured out how to keep 200 children moderately quiet, but this hadn’t happened yet.

My hands were trembling on the steering wheel, my nerves frayed in all different directions from the hour of unorganized madness I had just endured. I drove down the wide road that cut the city into two, waves crashing through my brain: How can we group the students with so little space, the tables so close together? My feet hurt. Red light. How can we lower the noise level? What do we do about the stairwells? Is Class Dojo even worth it? Green light. What worksheets and activities are worthwhile and even possible with so many kids? How can I make sure they do their homework? My feet hurt. Why was Isaiah so rude to me? I thought I had been rather nice to him. Red light.

Green light. I sped up. A wave crashed and I saw an errant movement out of the corner of my eye. Several cars ahead, a vehicle moving forward had suddenly braked and turned left without signaling. This resulted in a series of cars slamming on their brakes.

HIT THE BRAKES!

I was too slow. I watched as the bumper of the car in front of me came hurdling toward me, my car sliding forward despite the effort of the brakes. I watched our bumpers collide and my head snapped forward, my chest smacking the wheel, bruising my ribs. I sat stunned. Cars simply drove around us.

I pulled out my phone and texted my co-worker: “I crashed my car because of Study Hall.”

The driver in the other car didn’t get out. I climbed out and approached only to find an ancient woman, shriveled into a mantis-looking creature, clinging to her steering wheel and looking confused. She turned toward me, her neck trembling and making her head wobble. Her wrinkles had hardened into narrow mazes without an exit point. She wore glasses that magnified her eyes to the size of walnuts.

“What do we do?” she asked.

“Pull over,” I instructed her. “We need to exchange insurance information.”

She spent five minutes carefully writing out her information on a piece of paper, each letter formed with noodled lines. Eventually a police officer showed up, looking massive with a cowlick dampened with product. He told us to get moving in a monotone voice and I sat on the corner to watch liquid leaking out of the front of my car. My hood had buckled and would no longer close. He raised his voice and told us we needed to go. I snapped at him, “Aren’t you supposed to help?”

I ended up needing to bolt my hood down with pins in order to keep it from flapping around menacingly on the highway.

At this point, whenever I drove I began to see the image of a bumper rushing toward me, faster than I could react. While on the highway my imagination would paint vivid pictures of the car in front of me suddenly braking, racing toward me as my car pummeled forward, my brakes ineffective as the metal crunched. I imagined that familiar jolt as I hit the steering wheel and my neck snapped forward. I dreamed about car accidents, waking up from the force of the impact.

I began to think that surely that image of a car backside rushing toward me would be my manner of death. One day my car finally would flip and it would be the end of me. The more I drove, the greater the chances.

If you ask me now how I think I’ll go, I will still affirm — a car accident. A real one. All these shocks and fender benders were just training for something bigger. So I could recognize what was happening in the moment and really understand my fate.

Last year I hit a patch of ice on a bridge and spun, smacking my bumper on the side of the bridge. I had been driving slowly — carefully — dreading — so there was merely a crack in the plastic. I looked at the crack, at the cars driving around me, and I just got back into my car and moved on.

These things happen. Accidents happen.

Let’s turn doing almost nothing into something to talk about.

I’m exploring my options by doing almost nothing for once. Or at least, I’m not driving to an office and sitting in between the office walls and letting fluorescent lights beam down into my eyes every day. I’m not plagued by constant dull headaches. I’m not sitting at a desk this summer.

Instead, I’ve elected to float below the surface, not quite staying afloat but also not sinking. I’m not hiding, I’m here, I’m just peering up through the surface.

The summer has developed a soupy consistency, all days are equally hot and humid. The air is moist and clings to the skin. From above, it weighs down on our brows and sends beads of sweat dripping down the backs of our necks. This summer, we are living in a fishbowl.

There’s no air conditioning in the car, so it’s a hot and heavy and necessary death trap. To travel anywhere in this vehicle is to volunteer to smother a warm pillow over our face. When the windows are rolled down all the way, the air whips by fast enough that there is some cooling effect. But this city is a knot of traffic, and most of the time spent in the car is baking into the cloth seats, oppressive clouds of air wafting in through the windows and hanging under the roof of the car. What an amazing machine, it can take us anywhere on this continent, we certainly could find the money to feed it gas, but surely it will kill us, or burst into flames. Touching the dashboard burns our fingers. Do not touch the seatbelts

But I don’t have the car this summer during the day. So this isn’t a transportation option for me in this time frame. I live in a cave, luckily, on the top floor of an apartment building built into a hill. The apartment is small, condensed, and the large windows in the back of the main living room open up to the trees sloping upward, blocking us from the view of the other apartments on the top of the hill. In order to fight the beating, violent heat from the other large windows facing out to the bare blue sky, I covered them with a vivid green tapestry with flowers and leaves curling around all throughout the design. During the day, the sun struggles to beam through these designs, illuminating the room in a light yellowish green.

I lock the door. I slide the golden chain into place. The other apartments are empty now, the fools in the office raised rent and no one wants them, and I can hear maintenance men clopping around in the building.

Most importantly, the old air conditioner runs all day long, swathed in the green tapestry and constantly filling the small space with a nice refreshing chill and droning hum. Since I’m well-aware this is racking up the electric bill, I keep all the other lights in the apartment off and the bedroom and bathroom door shut. The dark apartment, with light beaming in through the tapestry and the air cool, make the place feel like a cave.

We are living in a cave in a fishbowl this summer.

The days are so long that even when I wake up at 5:30AM there is light in the window. I’ve been sliding out of bed and we drink coffee in the morning, sitting in the same spots every day with our mugs, blessing the universe for routine, beautiful routine, gorgeous and amazing routine. Feeling scheduled brings us together, we can drag our bodies to where we know we are meant to be and put as little effort into our existence as possible. We can both buzz side by side, aware of each other, which is all we really need.

I just can’t stay in this cave forever. I need to escape occasionally and remember the world. In the middle of July, we slung some backpacks into the death box and drove up to New York for the weekend. We drove later at night, to escape some of the heat, at least. The sun was setting and the thick air composed a vibrant purple and pink sky, clouds stretching from the horizon and reaching for the center of the sky. In New York, we slept on several couches in cool apartments swathed with curtains.

We drove to the beach, walking through the molten sand dunes, heat radiating through us from all sides. The sand was clean and glimmering gold though. We fanned out the towels and lay down on a flat stretch, playing with the rocks and piling the sand up onto our bodies. The water was a blend of cool and warm, and we bounced along the sliding sand bars until we were far into the lake and everything looked small except the consistent endless blue above us.

We rolled a joint and walked back into the woods, where there was a wide creek and dunes so tall you could sit on the peak under a tree and stare straight down into the water, a solid emerald green. The emerald was so brilliant it almost seems strange, I asked, how can the water be this green? Chugging beers and passing the joint, we stood in the cold sand under the trees, a breeze teasing through the branches and through our wet hair.

But we had to return to the cave. The cave is our home. I crawled back into the icy reaches of our little apartment at the bottom of the hill, at the bottom of the fishbowl.

I’ve been working online. Pattering away at the keyboard at record speeds, selling products and making listicles for small fees, focusing on word count for hours and hours on end, playlists looping in the background and the brilliance of day trying to reach through the tapestry.

When the cool air of the apartment dries my sinuses and makes me pace, I make a cup of tea and turn on some resonant ambient music that floods the apartment. All this time, all this down time, allows me to toss over brittle old questions, prod them from a detached and neutral point of view. Where does my depression come from? What about my anxiety? I’m neurotypical, prone to anxiety, and when I fail to control it, which happens, my stress levels rise and perhaps there’s an autoimmune response. Perhaps when I’m clinging to the floor and imagining crushing my head under a cement block, it’s symptomatic of an illness, my poor lethargic body attacked by stress and my immune system doing only what it knows best and kicking into gear so hard that it leaves me a sick dog crawling on the floor.

Maybe my brain is inflamed.

I toss this question around under the ambient sounds and the buzz of the air conditioner until my mind is blank. After hours of taking huge purposeful breaths, I become empty and whole simultaneously. I am okay. This uneventful alone time involves me sharpening my knives, to fend off bad thoughts in the future. I am equipping myself to help myself. It may appear like I am doing nothing, but my mind is never inactive.

In fact, my mind has developed its own insistent little non-sensible tune about how this city is evil. Realistically I know positive framing will do me better than giving into weird fancies, and I tell myself that just because this city is squished into the hills with blankets of heat slapped over it, and even though it takes hours to even leave the evil circumference surrounding the rivers, this city cannot be evil.

There’s really no such thing.

I am safe inside a cave inside a fishbowl. I don’t need to properly emerge until September.

fishbowl

In Sartre’s essay Being and Nothingness, he devotes a chapter to the idea of Bad Faith. He uses the description of a waiter to convey this self-deception: a young man, darting quickly around a café, eager to please his customers, obviously play-acting at being a perfect automaton fulfilling his assigned role. The waiter knows what he is doing. He knows he is free, but deprives himself of this freedom in his bad faith. He knows himself, but chooses to act as something other than himself. He uses his freedom to deprive himself of his own freedom.

I read this essay when I was 19 for a phenomenology class. I was struck by the waiter character and the whole idea of Bad Faith in such a way that this chapter will still periodically burst into my thoughts. “Am I the waiter?” I’ll ask myself, frantic. The anxiety and question are similar to the repetitious, frantic question from the movie I Heart Huckabees (2004): “How am I not myself?” Except I know the answer.

Two years ago, I walked out of the charter school where I taught, through the city and up the parking garage, and stood looking at my 1999 Chevy Cavalier beater crammed in between the larger, sparkling vehicles. My work clothes were sharp, my cardigan matched my dress pants, I wore heels to make myself look taller. Shouldn’t my professional appearance extend to the car I drove to work? My similarly sharp co-workers walked past me to their vehicles, not expensive and new but far newer and cleaner than mine. I felt… embarrassed. I decided I needed to buy a newer car, a flawless, attractive thing that I wouldn’t sprint away from in the parking lot when I attended job interviews.

I wanted to exit my vehicle in sun glasses, and when people saw me and my charge, they would think: “That woman has her shit together.”

However, I was still relatively poor, making less money than my co-workers and a pittance in the grand scheme of things. Stringently, I saved up money, but in the end my budget limited me to a 2004 Ford Taurus. What mattered to me, though, was that an old woman had owned it, had barely used it, so it was shiny and practically untouched, beautiful, dent-less, sparkling, clean. Professional.

I was proud. I drove to interviews in my shiny car, in my work clothes, with my work purse. All of this was very different than the haphazard art, punky clothes and colorful, bizarre purses I preferred at home in my apartment. I had two sets of everything: for work, for me.

Two years later, my car embarrasses me again—now moreso than even the Chevy. Driving through hectic city traffic and chaos, I’ve slid on ice and found myself in fender benders. My hood dented in such a way that I couldn’t close it, so I bolted it shut. Ideally I would have purchased a new hood, but that was far more than I could afford. I cracked the front bumper. Then someone hit my back bumper in the parking garage and cracked it. On a foggy day, I backed up into a hidden pipe and cracked the other side. I purchased a roll of duct tape and sealed all these cracks with a heavy layer of blue tape.

My car is bolted shut and taped together. I work in a new school in a different state now, still making very little money compared to my co-workers, and my car looks ridiculous near their gleaming vehicles. I felt ashamed for a while, thinking that I couldn’t manage to avoid wrecking a car, and what would that old woman think about what I’ve done? I’ve tried to look professional and shiny and new, like everyone else I see regularly, but in reality I can’t afford things, I drive all over the place, work several supplemental income jobs, and have more on my plate than I can handle. The things I have just fall apart.

My attempts to be like my co-workers, who watch sports and have children, discuss popular television shows over tupperware and have never moved away from their hometown, who have close-knit families and free time and job security, have failed. I’m slap-dash, I just cannot compare. I’m weird and smoke too much weed and go to raves and concerts where hair gets ripped out and ears get bitten off, I drink beer with my line cook friends and shout at anime. I’m unstable and find myself checking into emergency mental health facilities overnight. I just cannot put on the same mask, it doesn’t fit.

I cover all my tattoos, afraid to let them show at work. I pick out clothes specifically to conceal them. I can’t let people know who I’ve actually chosen to be. Lately, I’ve been agonizing over a pathetic personal conflict involving my nose stud. When I had spent years working at the charter school, I had grown comfortable enough there to wear a nose ring and show my tattoos. This comfort vanished when I was back attending interviews and shimmying in skirts and high heels to stand in front of people in suits. I took out my ring and put in a tiny little stud.

I hate the stud. I feel like it’s not me, and I want to put the ring back in so badly. But—interviews. I’ve been cleaning up my image to attend interview after interview, failing every time, but still working hard to present myself as a sharp, professional woman who has her shit together.

I feel like two different people. There’s the professional façade, and then punky little me. I can’t effectively merge the two. I don’t know if this is something that takes time and perfection, or if I should just be myself and hope for the best. But the world of careers and enough money to get by—it seems to involve the automaton motions of the waiter. The concealment of the things that make me who I am.

I am the waiter. Except my movements aren’t so smooth, not so quick. You can hear the squeak and whine of my automaton limbs. My smile is too fake. The play-acting is less successful.

I know how I’m not myself. Perhaps it’s time to throw away my ideas of success and failure—and just be myself.

I have my mother’s chin and cheekbones—my dad’s eyes and pomposity. I need to worry about diabetes, as it runs on both sides of my family. My mother’s side of the family is riddled with mental illness, and so I have inherited that load. My mother modeled depression and anxiety for me, and from her I learned the art of worrying without cease. As I watched my dad’s bitterness develop, I inherited that as well, though I channeled it through different venues.

My grandmother—my mother’s mother—modeled the same things for my mother and her sisters and brothers. My dad is too insecure to reveal the source of his bitterness, but I imagine he learned that from somewhere as well. Maybe it was merely the fact of growing up in a poor rust-belt community, working hard at a mindless job for little pay, that did him in. I am an expert now, on bitterness, and often it emanates from me. Although I’m not having children, I speak with children daily and sometimes I find myself instructing them with the best intentions, but with advice stemming from deep-rooted acidity.

The sadness and grievances experienced by our parents do not stop with them. We inherit their problems, their poverty, their fears, their beliefs, their sadness. These things move, like a cancerous mass, through the generations. These things don’t dissipate through time. Inequality works this way as well, “a cultural force, insinuating itself into family life and classrooms and replicating across generations.” The effects of inequality are sometimes not seen until the following generation. One of the things that impressed upon me in Toni Morrison’s work was how she showed that while slavery ended, the effects of slavery did not, and that trauma is passed down.

A Swedish study shows that children with parents who are experiencing depression score lower grades in school. Grades are not the be all end all, but this does show an effect on focus and motivation, factors involving stress. The data shows an impression on a social, academic and professional life venue. I certainly remember sitting on my stairs at the age of sixteen, my mother laying motionless in bed several rooms away, refusing to speak with me. I didn’t quite understand what she was going through then, but I certainly do now. But that is the thing, here—I didn’t understand, yet the experience diffused through my developing character.

I just wish a few more words had been spoken, from some source, to help nurture an understanding. Perhaps certain things would have been different for me, if only slightly. Perhaps I could have more to give now, to those I speak to and influence.

It’s very easy to be silent and cover up the issues involving our inherited grief. But, as with most things, attention and acceptance and the brutal power of honesty can help ease the burden of what moves through every family. What have we inherited? What problems do we pass on? What can possibly be helped, alleviated, soothed?

What can we do, about this sadness that moves through our families’ generations?

Today I was reading a Brain Pickings article entitled Harvard Social Psychologist Amy Cuddy on Mastering the Antidote to Anxiety, Self-Consciousness, and Impostor Syndrome and the titular syndrome struck a note with me. I had never heard of it before, or at least it flew under my radar with the abundance of “syndromes” so commonly name dropped on the internet. However, in the description I recognized something that I do to myself near constantly. Wikipedia describes the thought process as an “inability to internalize… accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as ‘fraud'” in high-achieving individuals. Cuddy paints the picture that “[b]efore we even show up at the doorstep of an opportunity, we are teeming with dread and anxiety, borrowing trouble from a future that hasn’t yet unfolded.”

Now, to say “I suffer from this syndrome” is far too dramatic, but there is certainly something to the research in that I can actually describe and pinpoint a chronic problem in thought patterns, a huge benefit in the ongoing process of tackling my day-to-day anxiety. I’ve briefly (haha) talked about my generalized anxiety before, but what’s really important is that this is something that so many people deal with all the time, even at a far smaller scope than some of these articles describe. Many of them name celebrities and historical geniuses, but really we all have our successes and our achievements, and some of us cannot accept them.

I instinctively recoil at the idea of calling myself a “high-achieving individual,” but in absolute honesty, for the young person that I am, I have had a fair amount of success alongside the trials. I’ve always been a good worker, driven to academic achievement by Type A energy, obtaining extremely high grades throughout the entirety of my schooling. I’ve almost always had a job, and worked myself hard at my jobs. On a professional level, I have always received great teacher evaluations and feedback. I’ve managed to live in nice places, exactly where I wanted. I have strong and supportive long-term relationships.

I feel bad writing that stuff out. Every day, my brain tells me that I am not very intelligent, I don’t know anything really. I’m not a good writer or thinker. The jobs I’ve had are pathetic—I quit my somewhat decent teaching job to become a substitute teacher, the opposite order in which this should work. I am barraged constantly with the thought that I am not a good teacher, that I am a quack, a fake, and I’m shocked no one has called me out on my many professional failures. When people tell me I don’t look like a teacher (I’m short, young), I interpret this as them seeing through my facade. I think people don’t like me, that I’m annoying, intolerable. These constant doubts, anxieties, do affect me. I can’t recount the number of times I’ve faltered in a situation, lost my nerve because of them.

In short, I always feel like a faker—I am not successful, and it’s wrong for me to ever even think this. Others will know.

I’m self-aware enough to recognize my strengths and shortcomings, the reality of the situation (obviously I can always improve in every way), the false thoughts my brain comes up with. The problem is the internalization. No matter how sensible I can be when I am, say, writing, my constantly ticking mind is never at ease, spinning out criticism after criticism, insecurity after the next, and these do affect my life severely.

I dig holes. One thought leads to another, and before I know it, I’m miserable at the bottom of the hole chewing on my lip. I have a good morning the next day, but then fall into another hole.

So how do we internalize our success? Allow ourselves to own our successes, whatever type they may be?

The Brain Pickings article states:  “At the heart of Cuddy’s research is the idea that the opposite of powerlessness, that ultimate fuel of impostor syndrome, isn’t power but what she terms presence — the ability to inhabit and trust the integrity of one’s own values, feelings, and capabilities.” A Forbes article on the problem says: “But just as we must take responsibility for our failures in life, we must also take responsibility for our successes. Minimizing them serves no-one.”

Whatever may help, the key to accomplish an overcoming of this impostor feeling must be practice and cultivation. Every time I think I am a fraud, I must also remember that in my own way, in my own life, I am a success. It’s not the same cookie cutter success that I see in others, or expected for myself, but success nonetheless.

If I can remember that, think that more often, then maybe I can become the type of person I want to be. I’m beginning to accept that simple agonizing phrase “fake it ’til you make it,” though there are far more layers to it, aren’t there?

anais_debbie1

As far as I can tell, I am alive. I paid rent yesterday—that must mean something. I don’t think you do that when you’re dead. Unless the hole in the ground isn’t a one time payment. Somebody needs to pay for your corpse to go somewhere, and no one has done that for me yet because I definitely paid rent for an apartment with one bedroom above ground and the door not nailed shut. And my mom hasn’t had anything to say about it, so even though my breathing has been terrible I think the breaths I’m managing aren’t death rattles.

This must be limbo then. I grew up Roman Catholic, so I can totally see myself winding up in some made up shitty limbo. Can I be happy here? Can I be happy there? Can I be happy anywhere—or nowhere? The results are up in the air. So I’m sort of feeling dead, at least mentally.

I was substitute teaching today, which went really well unlike some other hellish placements I’ve had in the past that wrecked my self-confidence, and I had to talk to a bunch of twelve-year-olds about values. Someone mentioned that you needed to value love, so I said, “Yeah, I suppose if you never loved anything you might feel a little dead inside” (great thing to say to a 12 year old, Bec). This little blonde girl turned to her friends then and scoffed, saying with as much snotty stuffy brattiness that a girl her age could muster, “Even though that can’t actually happen.”

I asked her, “What? What can’t actually happen?”

She sneered: “You can’t be dead inside.”

 

 

 

 

WRONG, LITTLE GIRL. YOU ARE WRONG.

When you haven’t really been sleeping, or not sleeping well, your emotions sort of just thin out until they’re flat and they sit at the bottom of your head, completely useless. They’re like mental dandruff.

I spend a lot of time under a comforter in my fortress of a bed, pleading with myself or twirling around like a hot dog. My brain is liquid tossing around inside my skull, a mix of 5mg Melatonin, 1mg Ativan, NyQuil, chamomile tea, and brain matter. If I manage to get no sleep, then I’ll be delirious to the point of stripping naked and running down the hill (I honestly can’t take many more nights staring around for hours and hours). If I get a few hours of sleep, then the next day I will have momentary crises where I will wonder if my heart is going to explode, with a NyQuil-Melatonin-Ativan hangover.

This is my life right now, so all those nights I spent staring into purple darkness has made me question whether it’s very lifey or if I’m like a soul zombie that will scare everyone away with the bags under my eyes.

What is the secret to sleep anyway?

Anyway, besides working and staring into the horror of night, I have been doing other things that are potential evidence that I am alive. It’s October, which means I need to watch a scary movie every day if I can, and that’s a pathetic goal I can stand behind. I need to watch one today, I guess, once I’m done pouring my liquid brain out into my wireless internet. Usually I would make a list after doing extensive research, downloading the movies illegally ahead of time, but now I just…. maybe…. ugh…. I’ll crawl over to Netflix and go rando.

I also decided to waste money and buy Xenogears, because maybe a video game will peel my eyes away from everything that is scaring the shit out of me in my own pseudo-life. If I’m thinking about Fei and how he needs to just SAVE PEOPLE and stop feeling bad about accidentally vaporizing the woman he loves, then I won’t be thinking about all of the other things I could be anxious about. No, I need to focus on my Gears, and getting new characters, and saving up my money until I get to Nisan because I heard that’s where the good shit is.

I’ve also been decoupaging. Living human beings have hobbies, right? Yes. I believe so. Perhaps. Decoupaging is, like, a hobby. So I bought a cheap skull for a dollar at the Family Dollar and I’ve been gluing shit to it in an attempt to make it look cool. I also did this to a magnet. If anyone can think of another hobby besides drinking and gluing paper to shit (and writing horrible…. blogs… and tweets) then maybe tell me.

I walk down a hill every morning, tripping on stones, in this new place that sorta sucks like the last place. Weird people have witnessed my presence. Is this enough to convince you I’m alive and not caught in some never-ending wakeful dream? Where I lay down and my brain moves through darkness and then into a false reality? I’m totally real and alive. A little bit.

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