Words Wednesday

I promised I would do a weekly post and here I am doing a weekly post, goddamnit! I wrote this in the fog of a panic attack back in December, so TW mental illness and suicidal ideation. I feel like a different person today. I hardly recognize this person. That’s the thing about mental illness—it disfigures your self-conception. I hope that anyone reading this who suffers from mental illness feels a little less alone today.

The Time I Had a Full Panic Attack Because I Couldn’t Finish the New York Times Crossword

As I write this, dear reader, that “time” is today. It is a Sunday in December 2018. This morning, around 9:00 am, I did what I routinely do on a Sunday morning. I awoke, checked Twitter from bed, got up, made myself a cold brew with oat milk, and sat down to do the New York Times crossword under a cozy blanket on my living room couch. Our living room couch is a faux-leather sectional that I acquired just prior to my wedding. It’s covered in tiny tears from my cat’s claws and worn spots where my husband often falls asleep instead of going to his studio to work. When I ordered the couch from Bob’s Discount Furniture, I chose the model with the L-shape on the right side, so that it would be on my side, and I could treat it like a Victorian fainting couch. Every day I get to sit with my legs up, stretched out in extreme comfort while my husband sits upright, which I justify by reminding myself that white, heterosexual men have enough in this world.

On this particular Sunday, I took my medication on time instead of forgetting about it until the late afternoon, as I am wont to do. I threw in a probiotic for good measure. Things were looking up. That is, until I opened my MacBook and the Google Chrome browser to the New York Times crossword section, which is my homepage. I am, you see, what absolutely no one calls a cruciverbalist. Crossword puzzles are my lodestar in a chaotic and dark world. When I worked in an office during my graduate school internship, I often spent my entire shift trying to solve every Monday and Tuesday puzzle in the entire archive, including the one from the day I was born (a Monday, at 3:11 pm, with the sun in Leo and the moon in Sagittarius). I wowed my young coworkers with my talent, for you see, the children of today do not read, and thus do not possess the vast store of utterly useless knowledge of a person who grew up before computers were an affordable household necessity. At the time of this writing, I have completed 411 puzzles.

But on this day, I was challenged. Will Shortz, longtime editor of the crossword, and Luke Vaughn, its creator, mocked me from my screen. Such clues as “2003 Economics Nobelist Robert” and “Traveling from coast to coast, maybe” seemed opaque, unsolvable. As I look at the long list of clues now, they seem fairly obvious, and some were. “Aladdin villain?” Jafar. Any millennial would know that. “Barbara and Jenna, to Jeb?” Anyone alive during the Bush administration remembers the First Daughters, the nieces of the then-governor of Florida, who may or may not be responsible for Al Gore, winner of the popular vote, not moving himself and Tipper into the White House in January 2001. Fun fact about Jeb Bush—he was the 43rd governor of Florida while his brother was the 43rd President of the United States. His wife’s name is Columba. Remember what I said about useless knowledge?

The answer to “Zoroastrianism’s sacred text” was a vital answer. It would unlock the bottom middle section, but how was I to know this? Norwood Public Schools taught ancient history for one year, sixth grade, and I don’t recall the Zoroastrians coming up. “Waterloo’s home?” A fool would know that Waterloo is in Belgium. Who hadn’t studied Napoleon’s infamous battle? But only four letters was I given. About a third of the way into the puzzle, I began to feel a shortness of breath. My chest began to heave. I stared blankly at the screen, a sea of white squares, waiting to be filled. I started questioning my very existence. The Sunday puzzle is typically the most difficult of the week, though I find that the Times pulls some nasty tricks on Thursdays, and occasionally Saturdays. I cursed myself. How could I not remember that Amy Tan wrote The Joy Luck Club? Sure, I hadn’t read The Joy Luck Club, but I recall it being around during my childhood. I may have even had a copy at one point, purchased at one of my local library’s many semi-annual book sales. 

Tears welled up in my eyes. I felt useless, incompetent. Why had I gone to graduate school? What good was a Master’s Degree if I couldn’t solve a crossword puzzle? I’d grown up playing the 1981 version Genus Edition of Trivial Pursuit, created years before the Berlin Wall fell. I did the Boston Globe crossword, in pen, on the T with my father. All of those years of driving truly trivial knowledge into my formative brain were for naught. I decided to cut my losses and look up about five of the 242 answers so that I could fill in the puzzle. Its completion status would soothe me. I screwed up the last clue, misspelling Bissau, the “West African capital” in question, but it didn’t matter. I corrected myself, closed out of the puzzle, and tried to soothe my worry that I was experiencing early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease.

I decided to open the Saturday puzzle, which I’d skipped the day before. Perhaps a slightly easier puzzle would ease my suffering. It now stands incomplete with only 13 clues solved. With tears in my eyes, the panic rising, I turned to the Friday. I made even less progress. The only answer I knew with absolute certainty was that Noth was the Chris from The Good Wife. Further devastated, I opened the Thursday, which I hadn’t completed. The clues all looked like gibberish. I closed the browser entirely and set the computer aside, afraid that in my rage I might snap it in two. I opened my phone, fired off a few angry tweets about the Sunday puzzle, as my friend Katie, sole champion of my Twitter account, was a crossword enthusiast herself, and might understand my distress. Moments later, I decided to write this very essay, in the hopes it might be cathartic. 

But this essay is not about crosswords. It is about triggers. It is about the internalization of inadequacy, fear, and self-loathing. It is a fable about living with bipolar disorder—the mood swings loom. At the first sign of an obstacle, I break down. There was a synonym for “obstacle” that I wanted to use in the previous sentence, but in my mental exhaustion, I can’t find it in the recesses of my mind. I am certain that my tenuous emotional state is responsible for my utter inability to solve this week’s earlier puzzles. My whole life, I have been a ticking time bomb of irrational reactions to quotidian life. When I was in middle school, I misplaced my Go-Gos CD (Beauty and the Beat, obvs), and, failing to uncover it in my bedroom, spent an hour on the floor, sobbing uncontrollably. Not because I needed to listen to the Go-Gos (though “Lust to Love” was my absolute jam), but because I was a failure. I had failed to keep my room organized. I was worthless. I couldn’t keep track of my own belongings. If I couldn’t locate something as mundane as a CD, how could I graduate high school? How could I ever find love, or employment? 

Fifteen years later, as recently as last June, I’d spend nearly an hour on the phone with a dear friend, in hysterics, because I felt that a phone interview had gone poorly. If I couldn’t get hired at Starbucks, how could I ever hope to earn a stable living? How could I ever have a child if I couldn’t lift myself above the poverty line? How could I ever be independent? I threatened to kill myself between sobs and gulps of air. I wanted out of this world because I was incapable of succeeding. It almost torpedoed the friendship. My husband later found me on the bathroom floor, retching into the toilet, and had to physically lift me up. My legs trembled as I slowly walked to the living room, red-faced and tear-stained. The worst part of this whole story is that I got hired (though in a slightly lower position), less than a week later. 

A few weeks ago, I called the suicide hotline for the first time. It had been after a particularly tough shift at work, at a job I hated with every fiber of my being, despite loving all of my coworkers. I had been up since 3:30 am to make it to work by 4:30. At the very end of my shift, an incredibly blunt and assertive coworker pulled me aside to criticize something I had done. I don’t even remember what she said. The day had been relentlessly busy. I had been having a low-grade panic attack for hours. Upon hearing her words, I burst into tears. I don’t even remember leaving, or the first 10 minutes of my commute home. I sobbed and sobbed, and the suicidal ideation crept back into my mind. I contemplated admitting myself into the emergency room, feeling I needed a babysitter to ensure that I wouldn’t harm myself. I frantically called my husband at work and asked for his advice. He told me to drive to his parents’ house, but I insisted that I didn’t want them to see me in such a state. Knowing that, regardless, I’d need to drive at least 20 minutes to get to the ER, I looked up the number for the LifeLine, while driving, and called. 

I was patched to the Boston Samaritans, which I mistook for the Good Samaritan hospital not far from my house. In between sobs, I asked her what would happen if I admitted myself. Would they keep me overnight? Would they confiscate my phone? I had to open my store the next morning. I couldn’t let my team down. Their success was more important to me than my own life. The sweet girl with the soothing voice on the other end of the phone didn’t have an answer for me, but she listened and offered her support. She implored me to pull over, thinking it unsafe for me to be driving in such a state. I pulled into the Stop N Shop parking lot in Stoughton and talked to her until I regained my normal breathing pace and my tears had subsided into more gentle sniffling and sobs. I promised her that my house was minutes down the road, and that I wouldn’t do anything to harm myself on the way or once I arrived. She arranged a check-up phone call for later that night, which was a brilliant tactic. The call was an obligation, a plan, something I needed to be around for. I made it home, sat on my couch, and watched Schitt’s Creek, a perfect television show, until my husband came home. I think I ate Cheez-Its. 

I am pleased to say that, despite my panic attack this morning, I have not considered killing myself even once. Today. Even though I’m crying writing about this, it all feels like progress. L’appel du vide still lives and breathes in the back of my mind, but it floats through my mind in ephemeral wisps, instead of planting, its roots spreading through me, poisoning my thoughts. Perhaps the call of death has subsided because I found a new (low-paying, but stable) job in an office environment. Something I can be proud of. I quit my service job as soon as I got the offer from the new one, and the week off allowed me to finish my last paper of graduate school, a twenty-page opus on Jewish comedy and the series Difficult People, the two most precious things in my world. In a week, I went from fantasizing about driving my car off of a highway overpass to earning a Master’s Degree and splurging on a new business-casual wardrobe from Madewell, J. Crew, and Everlane. My best friend came home for the holidays and we saw The Favourite before drinking way too much rosé, talking about sex toys, and crying about love. For the first time in my life, despite the fact that my car payment is now ten days overdue, I feel like an adult. Or something approximating one. But with my condition, that could change at any moment, and it terrifies me. 

I still plan on doing tomorrow’s puzzle. The Monday is always the easiest (my best time is five minutes and seven seconds). When the upbeat piano riff plays, a sense of accomplishment will wash over me, because I will have achieved something small, but meaningful. And honestly, until the medication I’m taking truly takes effect, if indeed it does, small victories like washing and folding my laundry on the same day, or finishing a particularly challenging crossword, will have to be enough to sustain me.

P.S. The word for “obstacle” that I had wanted to use was “adversity.” The fog does clear eventually.

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Words Wednesday

Because y’all asked for another weekly feature, right? Every Wednesday, I’m going to share a piece of creative writing—raw and unedited, unless otherwise specified.

This week’s piece is “Carey,” a short story (vignette? sketch?) I wrote a little over a year ago while I was in grad school. It’s just the bones of an idea, but the point of sharing is to keep myself accountable and keep myself writing, even if what I share is full-on trash. Story time!

Carey

The cuckoo clock that Carey had so lovingly restored during a longer stint of sobriety ticked and tocked with distracting purpose. Mae had vivid fantasies of ripping it from the wall and dismantling it in a field, like the scene in Office Space, but she knew that Carey needed the reminder of his potential. Every tick was a second further from the most recent nightmare.

He was sober now, a month, and Mae regretted how easily irritated she became in his constant presence. Not that she preferred his expensive, cocaine-fueled dalliances with other women, but at least then she’d had some alone time to write. The bastard was effusive and charming after a few drinks, but sober Carey tended to be sullen and serious. Fucking became lovemaking, toying around with his guitars became the grave act of composition instead of a diversion. He was, at that moment, in the parlor with his nylon-string acoustic, composing something that sounded identical to Van Halen’s “Spanish Fly,” but Mae didn’t dare tell him. He abhorred what he called “cock rock,” preferring the soulfulness of obscure, esoteric, experimental bands. Mae liked Van Halen—in fact, her guilty pleasure was listening to Top 40 on the radio whenever she wasn’t chauffeuring Carey around, being subjected to his postmodernist jazz, or whatever.

“Do you want me to make dinner?” she asked, hoping the suggestion would persuade him to eat something and put some weight on his increasingly gaunt frame.

“Uh, yeah. Whatever’s fine,” he mumbled back, uninterested. “I’m not super hungry.”

“Just pick a…a food genre,” she replied, frustrated. “An ingredient. Something.”

“How about…stir-fry?” he offered, not looking up to meet her gaze.

“Sure,” Mae sighed, relieved he’d answered at all. “Stir-fry. I’ll get right on that.” She washed the skillet she’d left dirty by the kitchen sink before drying it with a dishcloth one of Carey’s relatives had given them after their wedding.

The warm water streaming from the faucet felt luxurious on her worn hands. She caught her reflection in the kitchen window, and suppressed a small smile. She looked quite beautiful—she always looked most beautiful when she was tired. Exhaustion softened her severe features and smoothed the lines around her eyes. Her nude lipstick looked faint, as though it had been kissed off, and thick black-rimmed glasses magnified her large, storm-grey eyes. Her hair, which typically hung with the weight of a funeral shroud, was swept back by a kerchief to cascade down her back. In these rare moments she felt like a match for Carey.

Carey had the sort of magnetic charm that made him irresistible in the face of his faults. Even as he lied, cheated, absconded with her money, the chipped front tooth of his crooked smile was apology enough. He was a scrawny six feet, and every inch of him was dear to her. She’d been cautioned by friends and family not to marry him, especially so young, but she had a sick fascination with his deviant nature; she was unshakably attracted to the dirty, disheveled, dishwater hair that framed his face, the patches of unkempt stubble that adorned his strong jaw. He spoke softly, in a voice almost sweetly feminine, that had begun to grow gravelly from years of smoking. His bony appendages were covered in tattoos, but her favorite would always be the cluster of mayflowers above his heart, a tribute to her he’d had inked when they were barely more than children. He’d always called her “Mayflower,” and that pet name, unlike their bodies, had not yet begun to grow old.

Carey was 33 now, but looked younger. He had the unaffected manner of someone who’d never committed to anything long enough to gain expertise. Well, anything but her. The only trustworthy thing he’d ever said was that he loved her, and she believed him without a single lingering doubt. The dysfunction between them was intoxicating—a therapist might have urged that they separate, but their bond was a foregone conclusion. They both got high on the misery they inflicted upon each other. He wrote songs about it. She wrote stories. He went off the wagon, cleaned up his act, and did something excessively grand, like build her an armoire. She’d resolve to kick him out, or kill him, but one look into his smoldering dark eyes, and she’d fall into his arms, then he, to his knees.

They’d been living off a modest trust that Carey’s deceased parents had left him, though its funds were dwindling after years of relative indolence. Mae, for her part, had gone to school and always kept a job; Carey had barely scraped through with an undergraduate degree in Psychology, which he’d promptly abandoned as readily as he resolved to skip graduation. Carey was smart—smart enough to get by on looks, charm, and the nine lives he’d apparently been granted by good works in a past life. He had Mae, sometimes a servant, sometimes a concubine, always his wife—conservative in her daily activities, Mae came completely unhinged in the bedroom, performing whatever fit his whim. Even sober sex with him was incredible, despite the lack of levity. In the old days, when they’d get whiskey drunk and fuck, they could be heard laughing down the hall as they tumbled across the bed and onto the floor. It was no surprise that Carey had gotten her pregnant twice—they were as responsible as they were gainfully employed.

When the ingredients for dinner were chopped and rinsed, Mae wiped the counter down with the dishcloth, staining it with the juice of the red bell pepper. She considered, over the cast-iron pan of stir-fry, if she should turn off the flame and seduce him now. He was in an insufferable mood—perhaps that might cheer him up. But it could backfire—it could make him so dreadfully intense. He might speechify his professions of love for hours, and Mae had an early morning. He had always been grandiose, but his increasing familiarity with each and every of the twelve steps lent his words a messianic tenor. She pictured herself, 21-year-old bride in a cheap lace sundress, standing on the American side of Niagara Falls, the most romantic spot their young minds could conjure, and briefly imagined what she might have made of her life if she’d run screaming the first time he relapsed.

The first year of their marriage had been relatively placid—bolstered by their defiance, they had endeavored to enact an idyllic scene of young love and had succeeded. Even her parents eventually began to soften to Carey, though they’d never abandon their dislike of him entirely. They’d never understood how she could tolerate his capriciousness; they, of course, suspected his addictions. Mae was not naive, but Carey was her pet, and when she was young, she thought that proper love and nurturing could relieve his suffering and make him whole. It wasn’t long into their marriage before he relapsed after two years of relative sobriety—devastating then, she remembered it as almost quaint in comparison to what would come later. He admitted to having slept with a college classmate in a blackout and Mae had tried to be upset by it. Not long after their first reconciliation, they found the third-floor apartment where they still lived. The landlord, Rex, was a former junkie who had a soft spot for Carey’s troubles; he never bothered them when the rent was late, as long as they paid eventually. They’d been in the creaky old apartment for ten years that April.

She turned the knob on the gas range off and tossed the dishcloth from her hands as she devised a game for them to play. She walked into the parlor, lifted his chin with her right index finger, and used their wedded telepathy to impel him to the bedroom. He placed his guitar gently onto the sofa and followed her eagerly. Once they’d reached the bed, he flung her down with uncommon force and began biting into her flesh like a starved animal. She loved this Carey, possessed by his animal instincts. This was her favorite iteration of him, and her earlier feelings of irritation vanished as bruises appeared on her skin. Their years together had made their lovemaking efficient—Carey took Mae from behind and angled her just so, allowing her to finish before him, as he always did.

She nestled herself in Carey’s arms, inhaling his earthy scent, tracing her fingers along the patterns left by the beads of sweat on his chest. She began to ask what he was thinking, but stopped herself; it was better she didn’t know. In ignorance, she could imagine that he lay there daydreaming of her—the deep curve of her waist, the high arch in her foot, the taste of her. His soft gaze was aimed at the ceiling, which was yellowed here and there from decades of water damage. His breathing was deep and even. She ran her thumb over his bottom lip, slightly protruding, swollen from its time between her teeth. He turned to face her, smiled, and whispered “Mayflower” as he grazed her brow with a kiss. Carey’s wedding band caught the light of the street lamps outside and glowed yellow as his hand rested on her cheek.The weight of it soothed her—his calloused fingertips felt so soft on her face; they’d been so rough only moments before. Mae kissed the palm of his hand; a barely perceptible smile flickered across his lips as his eyes closed to rest. It didn’t take long for him to fall asleep, and she soon followed. The flames didn’t wake either of them until they began lapping at the bedroom door.

Oh, The Pain

I am a deeply pain-averse person. I generally go to great lengths to avoid feeling discomfort of any sort, including but not limited to having my husband fetch me glasses of water so I don’t have to remove myself from our couch after a long day’s work. But there are some experiences of pain that I have walked into willingly, with clear eyes and full hearts, assuming I could not possibly lose. Since I was eighteen, I have submitted willingly to the needle—that is, I’ve gotten pierced and tattooed countless times.

Off the top of my head, I can say that I’ve had my earlobes pierced 5 times (each), my left tragus, rook, and conch (twice), my right anti-tragus, my right cartilage and industrial, and my left cartilage, both sides of my nose (the left twice), my navel, and my Monroe done on the left. That’s 24 needles, at least, that I have gleefully allowed gruff, tattooed men (and one wonderful woman) to plunge into my skin, for no medical purpose. Tattoos are much the same. I only have six, all of which are fairly small, but typically within 30 minutes of leaving the parlor, I’m ready for more ink. Ten years into this behavior, I still couldn’t tell you why any of this still interests me. Why I’d risk infection and scarring to adorn myself in surgical steel.

I imagine I’ll feel much the same way about childbirth as I do about piercings. In the moment, when a burly dude is shoving a piece of metal into an open wound, one thinks, “Why have I chosen this path? Could the end result possibly be worth the agony of being ripped apart by pliers?” I’m not 100% sure it is, but it sure looks cute.

A friend and I had planned to go to Lucky’s in Cambridge (the offshoot of a favorite Northampton parlor) today after work, but since work of any kind was not in the cards for me today, I took it upon myself to get pierced prior to our lunch date (pho!) I ended up at Body Xtremes in Quincy, which doubles as a museum for bizarre skulls and snakes in jars and shit. The owner used to travel the world, bringing back jungle artifacts. I can’t say I entirely recommend the experience (I was having my conch repierced and something kept slipping out, prolonging what should have been a 5-minute job), but I have to say that I admire a person who stands so strong in his aesthetic. I mean, I stand pretty strong in my aesthetic, but my aesthetic is “lifestyle blogger with an active Pinterest account,” so it’s considerably less of a statement.

I have to wonder if my fascination with these minor pains, this willingness to occasionally be pricked and scraped, has anything to do with my big pains—the pains of mental illness. Thursday night, I very nearly ended up in the hospital. I started writing down the phone numbers of my closest friends so that I’d have them in the ward when they took my phone away. I got a Hail Mary call from my psychiatrist that rerouted my course to the ER, but that sort of treatment remains a possibility in the future. We’re trying a new mood stabilizer with an as-needed anxiety medication to supplement. I’m feeling optimistic for the first time in a while. But the spectre of hospitalization, “the darkness,” looms large.

So Friday I stayed home from work. I slept a solid eight hours for the first time in…months? My life? I relaxed and watched my favorite show, Catastrophe. I went to the psychiatrist and started the new mood stabilizer. I’m feeling optimistic. Today, I’m going to yoga. Working out is a discomfort I typically like to avoid, but if I’ll let a man shove steel through my literal ear, I think I can sweat a little bit today.

“Turn on, tune in, drop out,” or, A [Decade] of Fakers

I (very deliberately) don’t remember a ton about my childhood, but one thing I do remember with painful and decade-eliminating clarity is that when I was little I wrote stories and people praised me for it. I doubt the praise was the result of a preternatural and precocious talent for writing; rather, I’m sure that, on the eve of the digital age, adults were just astonished that I actively sought to read books and use my imagination in my spare time. This sounds like a brag. It’s not. I’m grateful for my youthful yen for the literary, but there’s nothing magical about it. It didn’t serve me. If anything, it amplified l’appel du vide to a deafening decibel level. In 2014, Gwyneth Paltrow notoriously called her separation with Chris Martin a “conscious uncoupling;” perhaps this turn of phrase deserved the scorn it received, but I find it enormously apt to describe my own relationship with reality. I spent so much of my youth interacting with stories, in books, on screen, in my mind, that I, at some point, just decided to stop interacting with my own life. To this day, I have trouble making friends and being social—not because I’m shy or nerdy*, but because life, real life, is disappointing. No conversation with an acquaintance could ever match the witty banter of Stars Hollow, no speech the gravitas of Westeros. Reality is…boring. Why not opt out?

This “opt out” mentality is, in my opinion, why many people with pOTenTiAL [see Spongebob meme] underperform. When school is boring, when friends are boring, when family is excruciatingly boring, what incentive does a child have to engage? It’s very nice of you, seventh grade teacher, to tell me that I’m smart and talented, but I’m a kid! I don’t know how to parlay that into something meaningful! When you’re Gifted and Talented, you kind of just expect things to happen. No one would watch a movie about someone working really diligently for ten years before they found success. Entertainment is all about chance encounters, lucky breaks, high drama! There’s no blueprint for achieving success in a reasonable way. It is an immense privilege to have the resources to do so. A loving, supportive family, therapy, SAT tutors, money—these are the trappings of privilege. It never occurred to me that, of my own accord, I could go to a college I actually wanted to go to, that I could audition for the plays I so desperately wanted to be in, that I could get the fuck out of the Boston suburbs and make something of my wretched life. Instead, I just waited for something to happen, ignoring the parts of my brain that were sick, sabotaging me at every turn. I’m, honestly, still waiting.

Eventually, despite the praise of teachers re: my writing, I just stopped altogether. The act of writing, the act of creation, was an acknowledgment that I had to create at all. That the dismal conditions of life necessitated invention and amendment. It made me sad. It makes me sad. What are you supposed to do with your life when the thing you’re good at doing upsets you? Here’s what I did:

Halt all creative effort and stagnate for over a decade as you become increasingly bitter and resentful of those around you building lives for themselves. You take demeaning service jobs that drain you physically and emotionally because you don’t think you deserve better. After all, it never happened for you. It’s not going to happen for you. You go back to college, and then on to grad school (even though you can’t afford either), because that’s what you’re supposed to do, right? And anyway, try as you might to deny this particular allure, it keeps you reading and writing. And thinking. School forces you to be in that sad space constantly. And to fight it you drink, you act out. You endanger friendships, your relationship, yourself, because you never learned how to exist in the sad space. When you leave, you ache with longing for it because even if it tortured you, it made you feel alive. You disgust yourself, a straight-sized, able-bodied, white cis-woman complaining into the void that is the internet.

It would be pretty easy to die on the hill that, because you didn’t grow up with a lot of money and your family life was garbage, you never made anything of your life. It would be even easier to blame your mental illness (spoiler alert: it’s severe!) for your underperformance. But both of those hollow justifications for the fact that you’re in your late 20s and deeply unfulfilled miss the sickest part of all of it: you love it! You love feeling like you’re in on the joke, that you’re somehow hovering above everyone else scurrying through their lives like lab mice, unaware of anything greater. Being sarcastic is easier than being vulnerable, certainly—tuning out is so much easier than trying and failing.

So now, here you are, nearly 28 years old, with absolutely nothing to show for your life except a barely-deserved Master’s degree in English. In a suburb a stone’s throw from the shitty one where you grew up, where you opted out of participating in your own life. While your friends are getting promoted, having babies, attending conferences—you have to try to find your way back to writing stories. You have to convince your sick brain that the words that come out of it aren’t despicable wretches of things, too weird to live. And hardest of all, you have to face the fact that you…kind of** suck. You’re not ugly, unlovable, unintelligent, untalented. You’re just lazy and afraid. At every turn, you could have asked the questions, made the efforts, shot the shots, but you didn’t, because simmering in a stew of diseased, misplaced resentment was easy. Dismissing the successes of others by jealously sneering at them is easy. You have to start all over again, because you were too busy being an imperious cunt when starting was more appropriate, when you could do it without back pain and with a functioning metabolism. Welcome to your life, all 28 years of it: it’s about fucking time you made its acquaintance.

It’s amazing, the impulse to seek attention and praise. We will, time and time again, peel back layers of our own skin, expose our darkest parts, all in the hopes that someone will tell us we matter. That we not only write stories, but that we’re good at it. All I’ve ever wanted is attention (the good kind), but I’ve settled for conflict (the bad kind), internally, externally. All press is good press—any attention is better than none at all.

There’s a solid chance that, even though I undressed myself here and laid bare my dysfunction, that I may never write a good story. There is an oppressive, overwhelming likelihood that no one of sound mind will ever pay me to write a story, that I’ll never get up on a stage and tell a story, that I’ll remain in this bizarre, tortured stasis for the rest of my life. But, I fucking hope not. You, dear reader, you who know so well the nature of my soul, have had the displeasure of reading this—imagine living inside this mind. It’s no way to live at all. We all know the idiom, “Familiarity breeds contempt:” Reader, I am intimately familiar with myself, and the climate is contemptuous at best. It’s clear by now that my lazy attempts at avoiding failure by avoiding living haven’t panned out.

I guess today marks day one of a kind of sobriety—I’m trying to kick the habit of, well, disassociating from reality. Of not living. I’ve been high as a kite for twenty years. I’m sure the comedown will be a bitch, but if twenty years of rolling around in my own mental and emotional filth has taught me anything, it’s that I have the ability to tolerate a world of pain. If I really am as smart as I’d love to give myself credit for being, the actual world has nothing on the pain I can inflict upon myself. I’m going to finally try, and if I do indeed die trying, please make sure my tombstone reads: Here lies Chelsea. She died as she lived, straining to be pithy and adorable for the pleasure of exactly no one but herself. And play Beyoncé at my funeral.

 

 

 

*I do cop to be insufferable—exhibit A: this piece.

**extremely

Shout Out Sunday

Another week in the books! Enjoy this week’s faves!

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this makes me die with laughter every time i see it
  1. Sex Education on Netflix is the most wonderfully charming show. I can’t stop watching! The young actors are absolutely brilliant and the cast is insanely diverse. One wonderful thing about the show is that it is completely inclusive of LGBT sexuality and relationships, which gets nearly as much representation as straight ones. A perfect, perfect show.
  2. Melissa Villaseñor’s Lady Gaga impression is the best thing I’ve ever seen.
  3. I wrote a post a while ago about *feminine products* and trying a menstrual cup and never posted an update! I’ve been using exclusively a cup for a few months now and I’m obsessed. I’ll never go back to tampons and pads! I still keep some on hand for emergencies, but I’m a cup girl for life. The cup I use is not available anymore (it’s Hesta Organic), but I’m interested in trying other brands, like Lunette.
  4. Not to be a dorky dad, but I just checked my credit report on creditkarma and you should too. It’s super important to be aware of your financial health!
  5. This Twitter thread about a college professor assigning his students to make memes is solid gold.
  6. One of you has to buy this because I’m on the Spending Fast and can’t. IT’S PERFECT.
  7. I’m thinking of trying to do Whole30. Have you ever tried it? My best friend did and loved it—and she looks freaking fabulous to boot.
  8. This hash brown recipe looks amazing.
  9. And on that brunch note…Rosé Raspberry Sorbet Mimosas, dude.
  10. This next one is NSFW, so open at your own discretion—I’m a huge, huge fan of this little guy. I’ve been really reticent about this sort of thing, but I’ve been trying to be more open-minded!
  11. Bonus Content: The Head and the Heart covers “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and I am deeply, madly obsessed.

Thanks for reading! Hope you enjoyed some of this #content. As always, follow me on all the socials @highwaytochel, and check out my Poshmark store @highwaytochel. Sayonara!

Shout Out Sunday

Think I’m gonna get right down to business today, guys! Here’s my week in a nutshell:

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  1. I’m actually doing it, fam! I’m doing the Spending Fast. We’re shooting for a year, but it’s based on need. If I can pay my consumer debt down faster (I have a couple of ways I could do this, but they’re both pending/not guaranteed), we might not need to keep going until 2020, but honestly, the experience has been so empowering that I don’t think I’ll want to stop! I’m rereading Anna’s book, and Katy Goodman’s Insta stories have been super inspiring (she has a No Buy highlight). Just with little tweaks, my grocery bill has started to come down, I’m using cash for purchases, and we cancelled cable (finally!). Student loans go into repayment next month, so things will be really tight—I’m working on starting a side hustle job (more on that later). It feels so good to rid yourself of all the stuff in your life that’s weighing you down! P.S. Anna’s book (Kindle version) is on sale for $1.99 right now, so snatch it up!
  2. Catastrophe series 4 is streaming on Amazon starting March 15th and I couldn’t be more excited. It’s one of my favorite pieces of media ever made. Sharon and Rob are geniuses beyond measure. I think I’m going to cancel my Amazon Prime subscription after I watch it, which is kind of a big step for me! I’ll have to buy the season of Marvelous Mrs. Maisel next year, but a one-time $12-ish purchase is better than $49-$99 a year to support a company that sucks!
  3. Since I’m not spending money right now, I’ve been bringing my own lunch to work every day. Sometimes, that means the Trader Joe’s microwave meals that we still have from before the No-Buy, but mostly it’s meant leftovers and jar salads. I stan a jar salad. They are my favorite thing on the planet. People at work think I’m nuts rolling up to the breakroom with a quart Mason jar of lettuce but they don’t even know. You can put literally anything in a jar salad. My last one was champagne-pear salad dressing, snow peas, beet sauerkraut, mixed greens, and vegan cashew parm. Delicious!
  4. I’m psyched to make this soup recipe. I make a mean tomato basil, but subbing cashews in for cream is genius! My belief about food is that, if you can make it vegan with little to no effort, do that shit.
  5. I started using the iBotta app, which gives you cash back for buying certain items and submitting your receipts. It’s like coupons, but 2019. I think apps like this can be a slippery slope and convince people to buy products they don’t need, but I go through and find only things that are already on my grocery list, and choose the most cost effective brand. For instance, there was a $1 back bonus on Health-Ade Kombucha, which made it, effectively, cheaper than even the store brand. I’ve made $13 so far, off of only 2 shopping trips.
  6. Do you read New Darlings? They’re sharing their pregnancy journey right now and it’s so sweet I could scream. I can’t wait until that’s me!
  7. Dogs aren’t actually smart. Sorry not sorry to break this to you.
  8. I saw Neko Case when I was in Tallahassee and holy fucking shit was she amazing. If you haven’t listened to her new album, shame on you.
  9. On that note, Jenny Lewis has two new songs out: “Red Bull and Hennessy” and “Heads Gonna Roll
  10. Don Cheadle’s shirt choices on SNL last night were NEXT LEVEL.
  11. Saved the best for last: RUSSIAN DOLL. RUSSIAN DOLLLLLL! You’ve gotta watch this show. Drop what you’re doing and immediately log in to Netflix. It’s only February but this is definitely the best show of the year. Natasha Lyonne is breathtaking. We just finished last night and I am already yearning for a new season. A perfect, perfect show.

Shout Out Sunday

Greetings, people of earth!  In personal news, I’m still adjusting to having a real job. It’s weird…people with “real jobs” work soooo much lesssss than people with service industry jobs. I actually feel guilty! Well, I’d feel guilty if I were making more money. I’m making starter wages for a 21-year-old, hardly (read: not) enough to be financially solvent.

I actually started this post two whole weeks ago, but somehow, time got away from me. I’ve just been working, cooking, spending as much time with my husband as possible, and getting ready for my week-long trip to Florida! We’re doing an overnight in St. Pete and seeing Neko Case in concert! Oh, and the night before I leave, I’m seeing Dawes at the Wang Center! Feeling very blessed these days.

Alright, without further ado, I present my favorites from the past couple of weeks).

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please enjoy this incredible picture of my cat
  1. New season of Schitt’s Creek started!!
  2. I started using DuoLingo and I can’t stop! I’m brushing up on my French, primarily, but I also started courses in Spanish, Italian, German, Swedish, Welsh, Portuguese, and Russian. I tested into a decent level of Spanish, which is surprising since I’ve never taken a class in it. I can’t believe how much Italian I’ve forgotten—I studied it for over a year in high school. Swedish, however, is by far my favorite. It’s such a cool and logical language. I highly recommend this service to anyone who has an interest in flexing their foreign language skills.
  3. Kevin T. Porter comin’ thru with the updated Marvelous Mrs. Maisel soundtrack playlist!
  4. I know I was sleeping on this, but Lizzo’s new single “Juice” is everything. Also, check out “Scuse Me” which is just a perfect song.
  5. I started meal prepping for the week and it’s honestly changed my life. My digestion has been better, and I have wholesome, healthy breakfasts and lunches prepared every day for work. I was really inspired by McKel at Nutrition Stripped. She recently launched a free e-course on meal planning and it was such a great jumping off point. Gimme all the jar salads and nourish bowls! I have to tell you, jar salads have been a game-changer for office lunch! It’s so much easier to say no to take out when you have a big serving of all your favorite legumes, grains, and veggies waiting for you in the office fridge.
  6. Rob Sheffield wrote an article about Britney Spears’s first album and it is personally so vindicating for me. Fun fact: he’s my 10th grade chemistry teacher’s brother!
  7. I just found out about Unroll.me and I am obsessed! Subscription e-mails are the bane of my existence and this service is my new favorite thing on earth.
  8. Madewell sale is 40% off right now. I got glitter statement earrings because of course I did.
  9. I just bought a tiny humidifier for my cubicle because I am 100 years old.
  10. Can’t get enough of La Neige‘s Water Sleeping Mask and Lip Mask.
  11. I really want to try Purple Carrot but it’s not really in my budget at the moment. I think it would be such a help in getting us to eat exclusively vegan meals.
  12. I’m catching up on back episodes of podcasts and this conversation between Roxane Gay and Cameron Esposito is powerful AF.
  13. I’ve been eating almost exclusively plant-based lately and I’m loving it! I still have the occasional egg and some of my meals include a little bit of cheese, but that’s been it. It’s made my cooking so much more creative. I think I’m going to start posting recipes again, since that was the whole point of this blog in the first place.
  14. Jaboukie Young-White is guesting on Pete Holmes’s Crashing and he’s amazing. I’ve been following him on Twitter forever!
  15. Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming, which I’m listening to on audiobook, is so deeply moving that I cry almost every time I listen. It’s somehow even better than I thought it would be. 10/10 recommend.
  16. The Shutdown is (temporarily) over! My heart goes out to the government workers who have been furloughed (without pay) or forced to work without pay. This shutdown was about 15 days longer than any other in history, and the administration should be ashamed of themselves for exploiting workers and neglecting basic services and essential government functions, but they won’t be because they are all chaotic evil. Each and every one of the 800,000 people immediately affected are such heroes.