• existential screaming,  the worst timeline,  twitter wreckage

    Expectations vs Reality

    There has been talk about how the Trump administration is gaslighting us with misinformation, but to tell you the truth, 2016 onward is the first time I haven’t felt gaslit by America.

    I’ve felt something was wrong with my country since Bush II vs Gore but didn’t know what.

    Raised as a child of the working class, in a military family, meant being insulated from a lot of what was wrong with America all along. It meant always hearing everything was okay. That America’s spots of badness were exceptions to the rule.

    It meant hearing that Bad Things Would Never Happen Here, even though Bad Things clearly were and did. And it was very confusing.

    But now everything is aired out, and all those wretched dots I couldn’t connect make sense.

    It’s not nice, making sense of the picture. But it was never nice. The problems that this admin take advantage of to dismantle, privatize, and make profit have always been there. And it’s always been wielded against some Americans.

    I’ve been having a lot of horrible flashbacks to Bush II. The healthcare I couldn’t get, the way that my rights as a queer person were up for debate, the social services that simply didn’t exist and leave people to suffer.

    America isn’t the progressive nation that America likes to call itself. American exceptionalism was always a lie. We have been vulnerable and fragmented for a very long time.

    And a shrinking subset of people have the luxury of believing those lies.

  • cheers queers,  Diaries,  resembles nonfiction,  twitter wreckage

    Genderfuzz

    Gender is such a strange, complex, beautiful thing when you open yourself to the possibilities.

    It’s funny. I’m pretty sure I’m not a woman. Being called a woman usually makes me stop and think, “No?” But I prefer being perceived as female and like she/her pronouns.

    I feel gender euphoria at some expressions of femininity. It’s like I want to be Team Woman, even though I know that internally, it’s Not Quite Right. It’s something I like to wear externally, but internally, I’m something else.

    There are times I feel qualities, sensations, parts of myself that I identify as distinctively masculine. And I love them too. I feel like being feminine is skillful camouflage for all the masculine or non-gendered parts of me inside.

    I like that I can have this ambiguous internal concept of gender, but feel like I make the conscious decision to present as Woman. When I am identified as Team Woman, I feel satisfaction, like a role well-performed.

    Gender is something wholly inside of me. It’s mine.

    Strangely, I feel most masculine around men. I usually forget I’m Performing Femme and will slip easily into a more masculine mindset. I talk to men like I am a straight man. On the inside, it is what I feel. And I’m jarred then to be perceived as Woman.

    I’ve always easily slotted myself into jobs, hobbies, and habits that are regarded by my culture as masculine. I’m attracted to them. I expect men to treat me like other men. I feel dysphoria most distinctly when I’m made aware that I Am Not Seen Like That.

    I spent a while as a teenager wondering, “Am I a trans man?” I was immersed in a mostly male friend group. We did TTRPGs and belched out the stink of Bawls. I cut my hair so short I was often mistaken for a boy by strangers. But that felt dysphoric too.

    I feel most firmly myself, as though I have found my kindred, among men who are femme (cis or trans, but presenting femme). I also relate strongly to trans women. Something about them feels Right to me, comfortable, although I am neither.

    I used to joke to myself, privately, “I’m pretty sure I’m a femme gay guy.” And in some way, that resonates with me still. But it’s also not right. Nothing is really Quite Right.

    It turns out it doesn’t have to be. I don’t really need a label.

    My gender is mine, lovely and unique to me, like my fingerprint.

    The pronouns folks use are the ones that should make them feel right, comfortable. But I am not excessively concerned about those, personally. I am seen as She and I’m fine with She.

    It took me a long time to refine an external presentation of a feminine style that felt comfortable. I’m happier with how I am now than ever. I am often androgynous and I like that too.

    Gender fluid, maybe? Nonbinary? I dunno. I am Just Sara. I like it that way.

    If I didn’t know that it was an option – if I weren’t closely related to trans people, embraced in my queer community – I would be much more uncomfortable, slotted as Woman by expectations. But I do know I have options. I get to explore the depths of myself, with myself.

    I wish that everyone had the freedom to do this internal journey – which hasn’t ended, honestly. Some days I’m like “fuck it, yeah, I’m a woman, whatever.” But many days I find my internal gender an indescribable wonderland, with new corners discovered all the time.

    Even now, writing it out, it feels like a largely meaningless distinction. It is effectively meaningless to the external world. I like that too. I don’t gotta be able to explain it to know what’s going on inside.

    This is just for me. It’s lovely.

  • existential screaming,  featured,  slice of life,  the worst timeline

    The World is Outside

    Days after it begins, I find myself missing Disneyland. I sit in a chair in front of my television, longer in diagonal than it is tall, and I don a headset. It is a heavy thing that covers my eyes and bands my head. I adjust its fit with dials until a television floats in front of me in the void, clear as though I sat in an empty cinema. I haven’t been to a cinema in a while. I’m not sure if I’ll ever go again.

    Speakers ring my room, seven-dot-one of them, and when I select a video on my console, sound engulfs me from all of them. Within the headset, the TV has yielded to a lifelike environment. A 360 video where I can turn my head and the sounds will follow. I stand on a quiet street of Disneyland, on the way to critter country, in the blue early morning when most would avoid Splash Mountain.

    From my chair, I walk up the line. I look up, down, left, right. I’m aware I’m not in control, but I feel like a passenger along with someone else, and we take the line briskly. It’s warm in my house but I remember how cool the air flows in the line for Splash. I have walked past those lights in reality, in the before times, when queues were packed and I could be drowned in an ocean of overheard conversation.

    My home theater smells faintly of popcorn; with the scent memory comes along churros, turkey legs, hot pavement. I’m really sitting in the log ride now. I’m going on the flume. The ride sings and sways around me, and even though I don’t get wet on the final drop, my heart thrills in anticipation.

    The video ends there, when we’re climbing off the log at the end. Taking off my headset is disappointing the way it’s disappointing to step off a ride. You have done the good part. You waited in line 35 minutes for a 4-minute thrill. The headset slides away and I remember I’m still in my dim home theater, with neither churro nor Mickey. My Echo dot rim shines orange. Another delivery from Amazon. Everything is deliveries now. Everything comes to me here, in my fortress.

    ***

    Later, my children wear the headset for the ride. They giggle and shriek through it. To the imaginative child, it is all real. I hold my five year old in my lap, nose pressed to his hair, and I imagine that I’m really in Disneyland with my kids, that everything is fine, that humanity is connected.

    ***

    I needed more nicotine, so I prepared to go outside. I would ride my hoverboard today. It extends the trip, turning ten minutes there-and-back into an hour, and will give me priceless exposure to sunlight.

    To leave, I prepare. I remove my face mask from the cloth bag where it’s sat for the last week, airing out. I tie the top straps above my ponytail to relieve my ears of the pressure. I tie the other one low, and the mask it long enough that it conforms to my chin. I tuck the upper hem under the rim of my glasses.

    Atop that, I wear a hat. And then there is sunscreen. My backpack. My boots. I leave.

    I soar over the sidewalk through a mile of quiet suburb. When I see people coming, I get onto the street to offer space. Some of them are wearing masks. Some aren’t. People jog, walk their dogs, walk their children. The parents look exhausted. The retirees look angry.

    My second mile parallels an arterial road feeding the golf resort. It’s quiet too. Handfuls of cars pass, each as distant from each other as though their pickups are afraid to inhale each other’s fumes. When I wait at stoplights, I do little circles on my hoverboard, swirling in place. I press the crosswalk button with my knuckle and scrub the skin furiously on my shorts.

    It’s one step onto the hoverboard at the beginning of my trip and one step off at the gas station. I use my cell phone to lock the hoverboard and leave it tucked behind the bench. Even now, this neighborhood is low on property crime.

    I get a bottle of wine, candy for my children, a Gatorade. I wait in line for the register on one of the floor’s blue marks, indicating every six feet. When it’s my turn to pay, I request refills for my electronic cigarette, and show my government ID through a plastic sheet to the cashier. She’s not wearing any protection. Her eyes are bruised.

    With my backpack loaded, I step back onto the hoverboard. It’s quiet on the way back home, along a mile of artery and a mile of suburb. I step off at home. I leave it by the front door. I remove my shoes before coming inside. I take everything out of its packaging and hang my backpack by the front door. I wash my hands, thoroughly, while singing Mr. Brightside under my breath. A strawberry plant hangs over me at the kitchen sink, shriveling from lack of sunlight.

    Then I refill my electronic cigarette and inhale the taste of Virginia tobacco, stinging on my tongue, exhaling in plumes.

    ***

    I’m lying on the bed in my home loft. I recline against a beanbag chair, my legs propped up by a pillow. A detective show is cast upon the white wall next to me. The image is so large that the people are real-sized. I’m sitting just beneath them, a silent observer to their investigation, in a time and place where the streets were crowded and people only wore gloves at crime scenes.

    The room is dark besides; I’ve put a  blanket over one window and tucked a jacket under the blinds of the other. The projector hums quietly, puffing warm air into a warm room. The ceiling fan sketches lazy loops on the ceiling in shadow. My only company is my cat. She purrs against my hip.

    In my hands, a game console. While murders are solved above me, I harvest fruit in a digital world. I shake it from trees and pick it up from the ground. The graphics are sterile. There’s no dirt under my nails, there are no spots on the fruit, and they never fall rotten. There is value to the stylized act of digging and picking and building in this game. Every little task is monetized. It feels productive.

    When my five-year-old climbs onto the bed, I realize it’s gotten dark and I’ve had a migraine unnoticed for hours. My head is heavy. The child wants to snuggle. I gather him against my body, abandon the console, abandon the detectives, and slither between the covers of my bed with him.

    He sings while he falls asleep. When he’s limp, I engulf myself in a bathrobe and step out onto the balcony. The lights of suburbia spread below me. The horizon’s still a tiny bit orange-blue where twilight surrenders to nighttime black. The artificial stream in my back yard gurgles cheerfully, and the real frogs croak loudly. They briefly silence when I press the button on my plasma lighter to light my pipe. The buzz of its arc disturbs them.

    ***

    I’ve already been at my computer for hours when my nine-year-old wakes in the morning. I stare at two monitors: one shows a news feed updating me on statistics, deaths, responses across the country; the other showing a game of Frostpunk, where I struggle to keep two hundred-some survivors alive in an apocalyptic blizzard.

    “I’m cold,” my child complains.

    I shuck my robe and wrap them in it. We stand beside my open window, hugging each other sleepily, without words. I’m so tired. I can’t sleep because I’ve had too much nicotine and caffeine. My body won’t calm down. But there is a measure of rest in holding and being held.

    The birds are especially loud in the mornings these days. I don’t think they’ve always been so loud. I think they like how fewer cars there are, how the world’s intensity has been turned down a few degrees. Still, there are sounds of human activity; the spring breeze carries the grumble of car engines and lawnmowers to us.

    “Don’t you love how the morning sounds?” I asked my child, who is so tall that I can rest my cheek upon their head.

    “No,” they said. “Because it reminds me the world is still out there.”

    I don’t like those reminders either. I was anxious to leave the world, but became even more anxious to return to it. There are more cars starting than there were a month ago. Businesses are beginning to open. People have to work. It’s safer inside, it’s safer away, but the world is still out there.

  • Diaries,  existential screaming,  mental health

    Self-Care is an Active Effort

    Eating Disorder Diary

    Please note: This is really an excerpt from my diary, ergo the bad numbering, change in POV, and TMI detail. Trigger warnings for all things eating disorders: weighing myself, exercise, loaded language, disordered diet habits, substance use.

    February 2020

    SO YOU WEIGHED YOURSELF AND WERE HORRIFIED BY THE RESULTS.

    About a month ago, you weighed yourself at the gym. You were wearing shoes, holding your phone, and clad in leggings/shirt. The scale said you were 164 lbs. It’s not far from where you were before eating disorder treatment, so that’s not too bad.

    Today, you weighed yourself at the gym. You were wearing shoes, holding your phone, and clad in leggings/shirt. The scale said you’re at least 172 lbs. You’ve gained eight pounds in a month, which your brain wants to round to ten pounds, and a ten pound gain in a month-ish is one of the most horrifying nightmare scenarios you can imagine.

    Here’s why you’re not going to panic and hurt yourself over this.

    1. You don’t want to. Putting MyFitnessPal back on your phone instilled you with a sense of grim dread; that’s a cycle you’ve been on, and it works for many, but not for you. It doesn’t really change your behavior. Not anymore. Did it ever? What as the cost when it did? It was your hobby, your obsession, and one that made you feel shitty. It’s a fraught place filled with despair, for you, and you’re not far enough from that time to use MFP healthily. So you don’t want to. And you won’t.
    2. You’re still attractive. Others are still recognizing you as attractive; they dive out of the way when you reach a door, they are charmed when you compliment their hair, they give you the sexual credit seemingly due to you.
    3. But even if you weren’t still attractive, that’s subjective, situational, and usually temporary. It’s okay to stop being attractive. Or not be attractive every day.
    4. If you don’t find yourself attractive, that’s a different problem. Your weight is not a metric that tells you how well you’re allowed to dress, care for yourself, and do your hair. To feel attractive, you should go home and shower, you should trim your hair, you should find a cute outfit that fits and wear it. But you should also just love yourself. And if you’re not feeling attractive, that doesn’t mean that you have to hurt yourself over it. Attractive isn’t something you have to be in order to have value, be loved, and love yourself.
    5. You’re not going to suddenly balloon to 200+ lbs. Gaining that weight quickly has a lot of reasons. You just quit smoking, and stimulants increase your metabolic rate; being on nicotine gave you the terrible feeling of being one giant jitter, always anxious, sleeping poorly. You have been eating more, but you haven’t been having to think about it nearly as hard, either. The time you used to spend fretting over food hurting you are now spent enjoying the food you eat. And you won’t enjoy relentless binging.
    6. You’re a weight lifter. Though people overestimate how much “denser” muscle is than fat, you do have muscle, and that’s a good thing. You have to feed your muscles to grow and keep them. You can see how much stronger you are when you’re in the gym; 95lbs squat feels comfortable, like nothing, and isn’t that wonderful? It used to be effort. You can do more than that too. Quite a bit more. You’re so strong. A lot of that is because your muscles have everything they need to work, and then some, and that’s okay.
    7. You’re eating in a culturally normal way. Look at your family. Look at how they eat. Look at how they’re shaped. You can do this, because you’re actually eating with them now. You’re spending time together. You need to get closer to them and their eating habits, not further away; this isn’t just an important part of socializing, but a way that you can help your family heal their relationship with food too. They’ve never eaten as much salad since you started doing it. You’ve never sat down to talk and laugh with them this much, this regularly.

    That said, it doesn’t hurt to check in with yourself and make sure you’re not overeating. You don’t feel good when you overeat, either. And you won’t feel good with too much extra weight—though the line from “extra weight” to “too much extra weight” is difficult to locate.

    1. Are you mindfully eating? I’m trying, but I think I’m privileging the enjoyment of the food over the feelings in my stomach. And that’s because…
    2. My stomach has been hurting a lot. Which totally fucks with my hunger signals. It’s gotten better these past couple of days and I’m optimistic it’ll stay that way, allowing me to have more contact with my hunger again.
    3. Can you eat slower? You’ve done well portioning your foods lately, I think. You’ve been eating half sandwiches so you can have more bulk in the form of salads and whatnot. The varied diet is great. If you eat slower, you might find that you’ll eat less…or not.
    4. Are you finishing food when you don’t need to? You almost ate an extra mini naan because there was just one left. You’ve got this weird thing about finishing. It’s okay to put things away for later, put it back in the bag (if it’s something that’s appropriate for), or just throw it out. Also your dogs love it when you don’t finish food.
    5. I’m having cannabis. A lot on the weekends, probably still too much in the evenings. I think I need to evaluate my relationship with cannabis. I haven’t been in a hurry to drop it because I also dropped nicotine recently, and I’m still craving that to an extent.
      1. I think it’s okay if I’m still doing this one thing FOR NOW. Maybe. I don’t have to be all or nothing. That’s also a mindset I have to continue working on.
    6. I’m not moving as much. When was the last time I walked the dogs? I’ve reached peak winter sludge mode.
      1.  I think that’s okay too. I mean, I think it’s inevitable, and temporary. The weather will improve. I’ll want to move again.
    7. Can you eat out less? You know from your History that food from outside is more calorically dense.
    8. Can you eat with more variety? You’re really enjoying bread a LOT right now. And that’s okay! But maybe you could limit your bread…like one bread a day. Bagel OR sandwich OR pita OR dinner roll.
      1. Maybe instead of going “ONE BREAD A DAY,” you should just make sure you’re getting one non-bread grain a day to start: rice or oats (not in cookies, lol) being the easiest. Frankly you don’t have a lot of “grains” in your diet that are super normal so it will probably be effort enough to address that. If you don’t have oats for breakfast, have rice with dinner. That’s easy, right?

    The bottom line is that you’re not helpless, nor are you doing anything Wrong. You’re doing your best to heal. Right now, that healing—which is not just physical, but social and emotional—has the side-effect of weight gain. But as long as you stay on top of yourself and continue to fight for mindfulness, go slowly, and eat with others when possible, you can make sure you don’t gain excessively.

    What is excessively? I will feel I’ve gained too much if I can’t do the physical things I enjoy (and that’s definitely not a problem right now!) and if I’m seeing ill health effects, like more blood sugar problems. For now, Y O U A R E O K A Y, do not panic spiral, do not hurt yourself, do not use MFP. Be patient. You’re beautiful and powerful and also your hips are cool.

    March 2020

    Well, things have changed a lot, haven’t they? You’re on nicotine again. You’re probably still gaining weight, but you’re not weighing yourself. And priorities now are…different.

    Welcome to the corona virus, self. You don’t have it yet, although you’ve convinced yourself several times daily that you do. And maybe you do! But either symptoms are mild or you haven’t developed the bad ones yet. If you’re going to develop terrible symptoms, you’ll need your energy to cope with those when they come. So don’t waste time coping with pain that hasn’t arrived.

    Looking forward into the future, guessing outcomes, and spending all this time fretting is only aggravating your eating disorder. Just because the world is offering perspective on what it means to suffer doesn’t mean that you’re Suddenly Not Mentally Ill. It means you have to be more on top of it, not less.

    But it also means you’ve got to be kinder to yourself. You’re getting forked by reality a lot. Seldom do a handful of hours pass without the wall of dread striking again, reminding you of what’s happened and what’s (probably) to come.

    So let’s talk about what you’re doing really well right now, and what we could do to improve things.

    1. You’re not weighing yourself. That’s cool. Continue NOT DOING THAT. Attaching a number to the way your body is growing out of your clothes will help literally nothing.
    2. You got some new clothes that fit. You feel pretty fucking sexy in these clothes.
    3. You still have way too many clothes that don’t fit. Get rid of them. The stuffed sausage feeling is horrible, you don’t look attractive, there is no point in subjecting yourself to this.
      1. You should get new clothes! It’s harder to fit stuff online, but you can do it. You can’t let your fashion slide during the apocalypse any more than you can during pregnancy (a personal apocalypse) because you know from experience that you will feel like garbage. It’s okay to spend some of the money you’re not putting toward outside-the-house entertainment toward feeling good in your body.
    1. You’re not much of a weight lifter right now. Your metabolism has slowed, muscle will relax, fat will be generated from all that comfort food you’re eating. AND THAT IS OKAY. You’re not inactive. You’re still taking care to use lighter weights at home, and move your body, and that’s what you need to be healthy. You don’t need more rigorous exercise to be healthy – particularly not at a time like this. Focus on doing what you need to feel good and let the rest go. Conditioning is currently the least of your worries.
    2. Let’s talk about the nicotine. So you’re doing that again, even though it made you feel anxious, hurt your throat, and was generally so unpleasant by the end. You’re already beating yourself up about it, a lot, so you may as well not beat yourself up more. Look at the bright side: you’re staying under 1 pod/day of Juul, usually closer to 1/2 pod. (Remember how you used to clear 2 pods/day? 1/3rd of that is what we call progress.) Yesterday, you noticed your throat hurting a bit, and stopped vaping. You’re not vaping to excess and causing bad symptoms. This much nicotine still isn’t good for you, but you’ve shown moderation, and you’ll take care of yourself as best you can.
    3. You’re eating a lot of take-out and junk food. But welcome to the apocalypse, wherein all your childhood food insecurity comes roaring back as trauma. Remember how you were just hospitalized for an eating disorder earlier this year too? Jeez, you’re getting all the food-related trauma triggers for 2020. That sucks. This doesn’t have to be rationalized away. But sincerely, you’re eating take-out to keep your pantry fuller longer, support local restaurants (the Chinese food place is grateful for your business!), and keep the family happy. Keeping the whole family happy with comfort food right now is a big deal. And YOU are part of that family, so if eating a couple Oreos a day and a snack of chips is making you feel happy, THAT IS OKAY.
    4. But you’re also eating a ton of salads! When you panic-shopped, you panic-shopped for…salad and bananas. If you’re gonna be eating a crapton of junk food, stuffing the extra space in your body with salad could be a lot worse. Let’s be real.
    5. ALSO, you’re definitely having a lot of cannabis right now. You pushed yourself into the tolerance black zone where you can pop 30mg of THC and still function without a pleasant buzz. Nice job, self. Moderation is harder here. Being home all day, nowhere to drive, husband always available, and enormous crush of existential fear… No wonder. At some point you’ve gotta accept being not-stoned in this apocalypse as reality. I don’t think you’re ready for it. I wish I had guidance for myself in this area.
    6. Your stomach has been hurting less than when you wrote the last post. And that’s awesome. You’re taking care of yourself! (Fewer carbonated waters will help, sweetie.)
    7. You’re drinking alcohol again. But so far, in moderation. One drink in a day, two or three times a week, and only with your husband. This is probably still a bad idea for your stomach, if not for your emotional cope. You know what problems to watch for. You can’t get more alcohol without help right now. Stick a pin in this one – you might need to address it if it changes, but it’s not an immediate worry.

    So here we are now, working our way through the quiet suspenseful part where apocalypse begins, doing our best to care for ourself with a lot of uncertainty.

    What matters right now? Literally, staying healthy to avoid the medical system, and keep my family as happy as possible. You’re doing that, mostly. Limiting alcohol and continuing to move will help. Everything else is kind of a mess. But so is the world.

    Practice mindfulness. You haven’t been doing that, and you’re paying the price. More mindfulness – staying in this moment rather than predicting the future – should help you handle your emotions that have your behaviors haywire. Give yourself more spoons so you can handle things better. Live in the moment.

    And give yourself a fucking hug because this timeline sucks.

  • Diaries,  slice of life

    Seven Ways to be Stoned

    One.

    You’re in New York City for the first time. Your friend’s walk-up is cluttered and cozy, as homey as it should be, and it smells like weed. She smokes a lot. She eats even more. You haven’t done much before, but she offers a bowl to you, so you clumsily navigate lighter and pipe.

    Truthfully, you’re scared to have a lighter that close to your face. But you’re in your twenties, your friend is in her thirties, she’s like your big sister. You want to look like you know what you’re doing. So you light it–flick–and your nose gets warm while you touch the flame to a corner of the herb. You inhale as it smolders. You get a little smoke. You think.

    You go out on her balcony, which is small and made of wood so wobbly you’re not sure it can hold your weight, much less a charcoal barbecue. Neither of you know how to use a charcoal barbecue. You laugh a lot trying to get it to light in the wind. You keep a fire extinguisher on hand just in case.

    You feel the warmth after another hit on the pipe. The vegetables you grilled with your best friend taste better. You laugh a little louder.

     

    Two.

    It’s cold outside, but you don’t want to smoke inside. You put on a balaclava. You wrap yourself in a bathrobe. You put on slipper socks. You huddle under a blanket on your balcony and light your bong, hands cupped around the pipe to shelter it from the wind. It still won’t light and your fingers are getting stiff. Grab the plasma lighter. It’s not as good, somehow, but it will make your herb burn even when the wind is blasting.

    You take a couple deep hits that make you cough plumes into the chilly night, and the smoke is sucked away to disperse against the crystalline starlight. The harsh hits are bad for your lungs. You go inside, take a shot of Pepto to soothe your throat, puff on the inhaler to open your lungs. You settle into bed with a cold nose, cold fingers, and a dizziness that makes the room sway in the wind with you comfortable in its womb.

     

    Three.

    You’ve gotten good at baking with cannabis. People like your cookies–some of them say you can’t taste the weed on it, which isn’t true, because your husband cringes to nibble. But many people like the skunky taste. You like the skunky taste.

    You’re careful with the cookies. You can’t have children getting into them, so you entomb them in a bag, carefully label it with contents and date, and stash it in the very back of the deep freezer. Since you’ve filled it with almond slivers, oats, and raisins, your kids won’t eat them even if they find them. But you want to be sure. You want to be responsible.

    You’re so responsible that you don’t try the dough or the cookies. The butter must be infused, and the cookies baked, cooled, and stored, before your kids come home from school. You don’t want to be stoned when they get here.

    Once they’re safe, you clean the skillet where you made cannabis ghee and prepare an omelet. It doesn’t taste like weed. Only when you’re sprawled on the couch in awe of the music melting through your muscles do you realize you didn’t clean the pan enough, and now you’re very, very stoned despite your naive efforts. On the bright side, while your cookies do taste like weed, your omelet did not.

     

    Four.

    It’s a cold, windy night on the Pacific coast. It’s so dark that the beach and the ocean are indistinguishable from each other. You’re in love with the woman at your side, sneaking onto the boardwalk amid the dunes. You haven’t told her about this big warm secret coiled in your belly. Your bodies hold warmth between them while you shelter the pipe. It’s the second pipe you bought on this vacation. The first one wasn’t properly drilled with holes, and it weighs down your pocket. It’s pressing against her thigh. She smells like coconut oil and she’s beaming at you when flickering lighter shines gold on her face.

    You both inhale. You take all the smoke inside of you and breathe with each other, seated on the sandy steps. The ocean roars slower than your breath. There’s a dark shape on the shore. You can’t be sure if it’s a signpost or a man coming to bust you for getting stoned on the beach in the middle of the night. It’s scary. But being scared is funny.

    Her skin is so soft, so smooth. You don’t know it yet but six months later, you won’t be talking. This moment that makes you giddy with the joy and desire will be only a memory. The shape on the beach is a signpost. Nobody cares you’re smoking in the dunes. You’ll still have the pipe without a hole drilled properly, and sometimes you’ll hold it in your hand and remember how her braids felt against your lips.

     

    Five.

    This morning, your cat died. She was in your arms, swaddled in a towel, while a gentle veterinarian injected the medicine to stop her heart. You carried your kitty to the car so she could be cremated. You set her in the back seat on the towel. That pile of fluff is all that remains of a life you loved and cherished and tended your entire adult life. When the car drives away, she’s gone.

    There are cannabis cookies in the freezer, carefully labeled and stored out of reach. Each one has about fifteen milligrams of THC, you estimate based on how they make you feel. You eat two, three, four. You keep eating them until you feel nothing but dizzy warmth. Until your eyes are too dry to cry. It’s not healthy, you’re not coping, but maybe you don’t have to cope right now.

    A couple of days later, your baby is brought back in an urn. You hold her. She weighs nothing. She no longer purrs and rolls over to get belly rubs. She doesn’t put a paw on your arm while you’re using the computer mouse. You make a shrine to her because she’s so big inside you, some of that feeling has to be set down somewhere else.

    Two more cookies, three more, four. The months pass and you’re always stoned. But by the end of it, you can hold her urn and cry. You stop taking so much weed. The emotions come back and you live in a life without your cat. Somehow you handle it. You have to. Grief doesn’t feel better when you’re stoned, not the way that love and music do.

     

    Six.

    It’s an afternoon on the weekend. Your kids want to play LEGO. You popped a chocolate earlier, so you’re mellow, and life’s stresses have faded away. The house needs to be cleaned. The yard’s a mess. You haven’t showered. But now you’re on the couch, cozy and floating, so it’s easy to give yourself permission to fuck off and play LEGO.

    Your son gives you the broken minifig without arms. He plays the one with long hair. You climb walls and jump off with silly cries and your children laugh and laugh and laugh. It feels good and simple, the way childhood felt. Anything can happen. The couch can become canyons. The pillows are trampolines. When your kids bounce, you bounce too, and their kisses feel like going to heaven. If only they could always be this happy. If only you could always let yourself be this happy.

     

    Seven.

    It’s raining. It doesn’t do that much around there. You grab the papers, the grinder, the funnel, a lighter. You settle under a blanket on the couch in your gazebo. Rain dribbles off the edges while you pack a joint.

    Life’s been hard, and you’re tempted demolish that joint in one go. Suck it down until there’s nothing but a roach too annoying to smoke.

    But you take it slow. A couple good hits and you stub it out. Then you lay back on the couch, close your eyes, and listen to the rain, knowing that there’s nothing to do today. The rain is like music. It feels good when you hear it. Sometimes the wind blows drops against your cheek. Your husband is with the children, your dogs are warm on your legs, and there’s nothing but you and a few puffs of smoke on a wet gray day.

  • featured,  resembles nonfiction,  writing,  writing advice

    NaNo Eve

    October 31st is, in many circles, Halloween or All Hallow’s Eve or Samhain or what have you. And don’t get me wrong, I’m in the United States, so I definitely dress up and eat candy. But October as a whole is more of the Halloween celebration, and October 31st is the transition from that season to another.

    That’s right. For me, the last day of October is National Novel Writing Month Eve.

    For those of you unfamiliar, NaNoWriMo (referred to in the rest of the post as “NaNo” because I can’t pronounce “NaNoWriMo” out loud to my personal satisfaction) challenges the participant to write 50,000 words of a story in the month of November. I have won NaNo a total of fourteen times and participated in the November event* sixteen times before 2019. The stories aren’t anything to talk about – frankly, I’d drop them at the bottom of the ocean if I could keep personal access to them and still hide them away from the world – but NaNo hasn’t ever been about the destination. It’s all about the journey.

    (*The nonprofit behind NaNo also runs an event called Camp NaNoWriMo twice at other parts of the year, and they used to run an event called Script Frenzy. I’ve dipped my toe in both on my multiple occasions.)

    As someone who has undergone the journey regularly in my adulthood (and once under the age of eighteen), and made it to 50,000 on most occasions, here are some of my tips to muddle through to the finish line. What this isn’t: a way to write a decent book during that time. Rough drafts aren’t decent by nature, and I’m still figuring out how to have one that I can take through edits on my own. This post is about the sheer mechanics of cranking out words and sentences and paragraphs over the course of thirty days.

     

    What is your goal?

    One of the benefits to NaNo is its formal structure. You have thirty days to write 50,000 words on one story, which means there’s some outside deadline if you can’t set ones on your own (one of my classic foibles), and that’s what you submit to get the winner certificate on the site. But my golden rule of writing – of doing anything, really – is this: there are no universal rules, and as such, there aren’t universal goals, either. The habit book I read recently, Atomic Habits, had a similar idea in mind when they touted the formula to getting better at anything: repetitive practice just hard enough to be a challenge, but not so hard that you can’t do it.

    Obviously, NaNo is within this sphere for me, at least where cranking out word count is concerned. It isn’t for a lot of people. I use a computer all the time even if I’m not formally writing, so I type almost as quickly as I think. If you’re going for the “write the same amount every day” method (more on that in a minute), you write 1667 words, and if I have specific story ideas in mind, I can usually do that in a little over an hour. Even if I don’t, I can make something up within two hours and move on with my day. That’s not possible for everyone, whether because their words-per-minute is low or because it’s hard to think in story form or a million other reasons.

    Have you ever thought, “Well, guess NaNo isn’t for me”? That doesn’t have to be true! It’s part of the NaNo culture to approach it in your own way; I can’t remember a time when the NaNo forums didn’t have a NaNo Rebels section entirely devoted to people doing it outside the greater structure. This can include:

    • Picking a reachable word count.
    • Writing a bunch of shorter stories throughout the month and using that for your formal word count.
    • Picking up an already-started story and continuing it for as many words as you can.
    • Cowriting a story. (I’m not actually sure if this is NaNo rebellious or not, but it’s not the image of the lone writer bleeding onto the keyboard I have in mind, at least.)

    Official NaNo isn’t a competition against other people, despite some low-level competitive elements. It’s a personal challenge. It’s trite to say “just showing up is a victory”, but that’s because it’s true. One word during NaNo is a word you didn’t have before.

     

    How do you work?

    NaNo can be just as much a personal exploration as a story exploration. Your life needs to fit writing where it possibly didn’t before, and even if you were writing already, there’s still the fact that every day starts with a bunch of writing you haven’t done. Knowing what that looks like to you, and how you address it, is key to reaching your goal.

    There are more ways to write than people writing, which I anecdotally know because of myself and other writers in my life having multiple ways to write. There are locations: home office, coffee shop, library, park. There are methods: computer, notebook, dictation. There are times: on a regular schedule on any potential part of the day/night, whenever you can squeeze in a couple words, a mix of the two. There’s sprint length: 5 minutes, pomodoro, an hour. There’s daily word count goal: the even 1667, double 1667, more words at the beginning and less at the end, vice versa. I have my ways to work: brainstorming by hand, outlining as much as possible, writing on a computer wherever I have the opportunity that day, sprinting when I can but always a fan of midnight sprints, writing a lot when I first have all my ideas and then less as I run out of steam and need breaks.

    Make it as easy for yourself as you can. What easy looks like for you might not be what easy looks like for me, and it might not even be the same thing two days in a row.

     

    Who can you talk to?

    NaNo is fun because it’s a personal challenge. But it’s also fun because it takes what is often a very isolating and lonely experience and makes it communal. If you want to gripe about how far behind your word count is, but you don’t want to change out of your pajamas, you can go on the NaNo forums or social media and find other participants going through the same things as you. Maybe you have family or friends that are also doing NaNo, and you can turn regular hangouts or communication into NaNo write-ins. Barring that, many areas – worldwide! – have in-person meet-ups where you can write as a group in public. I’m one of the most agoraphobic people on the planet, and I’ve still gone to write-ins where I knew absolutely no one. Even if you do none of these things, there can be comfort in knowing that, as unique as the challenge is to you personally, there’s someone else somewhere who is feeling the same things as you.

     

    The pep-talk portion of the post

    One of NaNo’s traditions is to post pep talks by published authors all through the month of November, encouraging you through all points of your journey. (The second- and third-week pep talks, where I feel my lowest and the other authors understand, tend to be my favorites.) The post as a whole is my version of a pep talk, but pep talks are (often) less mechanical and more motivational. So here’s the ra-ra section.

    You can write this. Even if you’re reading this a week into November, thinking “this sounds fun, but it’s too late and I have no ideas”? You can write! You can find writing prompts online, you can think through cause and effect chains, and you can get to 50,000 words. You can enter December with a printed winner calendar and a manuscript document on your computer (and an external saving device, and the cloud – always backup your writing!). You can tackle an idea that’s smaller in scope but no less of a challenge for you. You can do any of it!

    And I’ll be right there next to you this November, as I am most Novembers.

  • featured,  mental health,  resembles nonfiction,  writing

    Headspace

    Some years ago, I had major depression explained to me in terms of rivers trickling down a hillside. The rivers are feelings. Your brain is the hill. Wherever those rivers run, they’ll dig furrows over the years, and become so entrenched that rerouting them is difficult. When you’re depressed, those your river-thoughts dig horrible trenches, black and deep, and the longer it runs, the deeper it cuts. Therapy means more than taking pills to improve the water quality; it also means learning to fill in the old trenches and dig new ones. The work is difficult. It’s dirty. It never ends.


    I spent a lot of time writing as a child. I hit upon feverish obsession in elementary school, drafting lengthy stories about the things that interested me. When I was twelve, I wrote a 105,000-word epic fantasy tome that was slightly worse than Eragon, narrowly, and realized this would be my life. I had plans. I’d have published novels by the time I was eighteen, like my idol Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, and never need another job. My life would exist in the space between myself and the blinking cursor.

    Writing remained a retreat through my teenage years. I moved from high fantasy to horror to science fiction, then urban fantasy when Anita Blake started raising zombies in my brain. My second original novel–and most of the next sixty-plus novels–would remain urban fantasy, and the first of them were written when I was in high school. I wrote and rewrote those books, painfully aware they didn’t yet meet standards. I relentlessly hunted agents. I joined critique groups to pick apart my style and learned what it feels like to bleed over fiction.

    Sometimes I didn’t go to school because I wanted to write. At school, I was lonely. I felt like a lazy fool because I couldn’t track deadlines, organize my binders, backpack, or locker, and I made as much effort to survive as it took to be a straight-C student. Writing at home was different. I sat in a dark room with my heels up on a desk, just me and a glowing CRT monitor, and I wrote stories about tough women who killed evil.


    I don’t think I was ever actually diagnosed with depression. The word floated around because my mother and sibling were diagnosed with it, so I knew what it looked like, and eventually I went into doctors’ appointments, informed them I had depression, and requested a prescription. They assented. If I wanted a dose change, I told them and got it. My depression was self-managed for years.

    My survival through that time is impressive, looking back. I had a total failure of executive dysfunction and seldom got off the couch. Cleaning was a non-starter. Yet I always had clothes and bus fare, I kept a job, and I never had a major breakdown at work.

    I must have written my first dozen published novels at that job. I worked at an isolated desk on a computer room floor, and my job was primarily monitoring, so there was nothing to do unless something broke. As a lightly supervised young adult with vague job requirements, I wrote, and wrote, and wrote. I never saw sunlight. I worked weird shifts. I couldn’t keep friendships.

    But I had the books.


    Perception is reality to the mind. Without enough serotonin, the world is terrible, has always been terrible, and always will be terrible. With too much cortisol, we’re all going to die and it will definitely be sooner than we hope. With a boost of dopamine, we’re in love with life, eternally perfect, always happy.

    For most people, these chemicals are stable enough to function with normal life. There are emotions, but you’re not consumed by them in perpetuity. When it rains, the rivers of your feelings will flow down the hillside, sometimes spilling into sadness or worry or joy. They’re always moving, though. Eventually it melds into the lake of your long-term memory.

    For the depressed mind, more feelings means more rivers going down dark trenches. It means the water floods, trapped within the deepest holes.

    You’re living in the bottom of that hole. You can drown in two inches of water. And people often do, if the trenches are deep enough or if it rains too much.


    My waking hours are consumed by writing, even now. If not the act of writing, then planning my books. I’ve developed myriad ways to imitate a normal life while living in my fantasy world. I listen to playlists when I drive so I can daydream creative ways to murder innocents. I’ll talk about the plots with my dog on our walks. Every time I watch a movie, I’m thinking about how I’d improve on it, or how I could tell the same story except with demons.

    When I go to bars for a few drinks, because I can’t stand being sober, I strike up conversations with people to get inspired for characters. I’m sexually harassed in reality and kill another man in my books. When I’m in the hospital, I make an inventory of sensations, smells, sounds. I get discharged and go home to write a character gravely wounded.

    I dwell on it, I wallow. Even the brightest days can be shadowed by threat of infernal apocalypse at the back of my mind, reminding me I have more to write.

    One time I wrote the death of a three-year-old while I was on vacation at a lagoon, gazing out at a perfect sunset. I had a three-year-old. I was pregnant. It hurt to write, like slipping razors over my tenderest skin, but I wrote it, wondering why all the while.

    Somehow, writing doesn’t feel like an escape. It feels urgent. Like I *have* to be writing, or thinking about writing, all the time. If I don’t, then I have to live in reality. I have to be myself, in my body, in my brain, in this world.


    Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a whole-life approach to treating depression, among other things. The idea is that you must get chemical support in the form of medications and then adjust your life to avoid deepening the trenches. You go to talk therapy. You learn to identify your emotions as you experience them: This is sadness, this is anger, this is fear. You desensitize to traumatic memories. Sometimes it means getting away from abusers, exercising more, or eating differently.

    Ideally, the result is that medication gets you out of the trenches of ill mental health so they can fill in. The rain forms new, different rivers, following easier paths. You have learned to argue without yelling. You take a walk once a day so the sunlight can purify you. You sleep more, talk about your feelings more, and stop dwelling in darkness. After a while, the dark places just aren’t as dark. You get to see the sunlight whenever there’s a break in the rain.


    I started taking antidepressants when my first son was a baby, eight years ago. I didn’t cry as much when left alone with him. That was good. I took them until my second pregnancy, then began again afterward. My medication remained managed by my general practitioner. One helpful GP changed my medication when I complained of low libido, and the experimental antidepressant threw me into wild panic attacks. I spent a week in a mental hospital.

    Since then, my medication has been managed by a psychiatrist, and things have been generally more stable. I’m more functional, anyway. Sometimes I get out of my hole to play with the kids, drive to appointments, and go to the gym. I clean the house occasionally. I’m raising a puppy, which requires a daily commitment to wearing pants and going on walks. Though I was fired by my last therapist for being argumentative, I did do several years of therapy, and my communication has vastly improved along with my understanding of self.

    Still, there are holes, and they are dark as ever. My eating disorder struggle reached a special level this year. I’m still seldom sober. I started using nicotine. My books are getting darker too. I’m trying to traditionally publish dark psychological suspense, with graphic depictions of abuse unlike any I’ve written before. And when I’m doing it, I feel that razor feeling again. The one that’s bad but good and irresistible. Perception is reality. It hurts right to write like this. But it also hurt right to starve myself, to bite my fingers until they bled, to drink until blacking out in public spaces.

    I attribute some of this to the nonlinear path of managing a chronic illness. Diabetics can stay on top of their insulin and still have problems. I have major depression even if I’m on bupropion, escitalopram, and alprazolam to manage it.

    Yet perception is reality. My reality remains between my body and the blinking cursor. When I write, I’m immersed in it, convinced on some primal level that these things are real. Old books feel like memories to me now, they’re so vivid, but faded. Some years of my life, I can only really remember what happened in my books. I’ve chosen to populate those memories with demons, hellfire, and death.

    Will I remember this year by the rapes I’ve written? Or will I remember going to the gym two or three times a week, walking my dog, and building LEGO with my children? Am I filling trenches with medication while digging deeper with my writing?

    I don’t know. I don’t know when I’ll find out, either. As I finish writing this, I’m already drifting to the problem I have to fix in my current manuscript, wondering how I can worsen my heroine’s life in a low-impact scene. There are wildfires in my head. I am filled with smoke. And I don’t know if I’ll ever quite find peace like this, or what life on the surface looks like if I do.

  • Diaries,  slice of life

    The Gauntlet of Beauty

     I am 31.5 years old, and with the onset of the thirties comes relentless reminders that I’m aging. I’ve accepted my crow’s feet because they look sexy, and the general firmness lacking from my skin is unavoidable, so I don’t stress it.

    Unfortunately, with the onset of the thirties also comes a certain surrender to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as vaping nicotine. I started doing it this year. I don’t recommend it. (Prior to this, my only nicotine exposure was occasional social hookah, as you do in your glowing twenties.)

    Nicotine is a vasoconstrictor, meaning it basically dries you up like a big walking corpse. Perhaps you can get away with being shriveled by poison in your youth (I wouldn’t know, I waited until a responsible age to start destroying myself) but in your thirties, it makes fine lines rather promptly. In the last ~6 months since I started vaping nicotine, my mouth has developed pucker lines. They are small but noticeable to me.

    Sooooo I am quitting nicotine because suffering vanity is much more obvious than whatever hellstorm I’m making in my throat/lungs. I need another coping mechanism that won’t make me look like Aunt Bertha who lives at your neighborhood bar. But still, I have these lines, the beginning of them, and now I can’t see anything else in the mirror.

    Being that I am a clever, dogged, calculated Aunt Bertha, I immediately researched What The Fuck To Do About This, assuming the answer is Botox. It turns out that Botox is ONE answer, but there are cheaper, less botulismy methods to remedy this as well. 

    I got an inexpensive high frequency device and a micro derma roller. The science on whether or not these actually DO what they claim is still out, as far as I can tell, because a cursory Googling yielded only clickbait and no scientific papers. My assumption is that they’re utter hogwash, but maybe if I believe hard enough, the placebo effect will plump my skin.

    The high frequency device looks like a phallus where you insert a delicate glass wand and then poke yourself in the face. Did you ever play with those plasma balls, where you touch the glass and it lights up? It’s like that but for your face. You can turn the frequency high enough (what frequency is it talking about anyway?) that it feels like constant static electricity. Apparently this does something. Like it microwaves under your skin to terrify your body into making more collagen. Yes you put this on your face.

    The other thing is the micro derma roller, which is like a handheld iron maiden, also for your face. It’s a ball covered in spikes and you rub it on your face. It feels the way you would expect it feels to rub spikes on your face. Then you follow up with a soothing acid treatment, which can now penetrate deeper because you cut holes. Into your face.

    I’ve now done both of these rituals once, and I suppose I plan to do them again, and at least once or twice a week for a few months. Whether or not they work, I’m optimistic that 31.5 years old is young enough that I’ll produce more collagen and fill out these lines to a small degree with time anyway, as long as I stop filling my lungs with nicotine clouds. The effect of the devices may be strictly placebo but time is not.

    Some resentful cave-feminist within me is nonstop irate with this, running some high frequency wand over my lips and then jabbing myself in the face with needles. It doesn’t escape my notice that they both hurt. You can feasibly jab yourself with the needles hard enough to bleed, which may or may not be a desired effect. (Kardashians bleed from micro derma rolling but Kardashians also marry people like Kanye so I live a less extreme life.)

    There’s something to be said about beauty rituals raging against the inexorable march of time and the consequences of our bad decisions being so painful. On one hand, it feels like the beauty industry is laughing at the stupid things people will pay to do to themselves. On the other hand, it feels like an illusory gauntlet through which many of us pass on our way to accepting middle age; it hurts, so it must be doing something, it must be changing me.

    Sometimes I look at getting plastic surgery done. Or even just Botox. I look at the websites, I look at the prices, I read about healing difficulties. I could probably do it. Then I remember that learning to love myself has zero cost and zero recovery time, and we’re all aging at the same speed anyway. So I won’t do that, probably. But I will spend forty dollars for the privilege of scraping my face with tiny needles and then dripping hyaluronic into my cavernous pores, bleeding my fear of aging in fine red lines down either side of my mouth.

  • arguably humorous,  writing advice

    Productivity tools for the discerning writer

    Do you write? The answer is probably no, even (especially) if you consider yourself a writer. Why write when you could do your dishes or wash the floors? Well, it’s time to neglect your house because in our age, there are fewer excuses to ignore the blank page than ever before. Here are some of the best aids to the storytellers out there.
    A good pen. Start with the basics, right? You can go as simple or fancy as you want. Quill and ink is a classic for a reason, just as the evolved and less messy versions have appeared for their own reasons. Having a writing implement at hand is the easiest way to make sure you can get those ideas down when you have them. You can’t use the excuse that you don’t remember when you can scribble on whatever’s handy!
    A good notebook. And why use loose-leaf paper if you don’t have to? Bound books keep it all together in one place, both so you can travel with your notes and so you’ll have them all in one place! Just make sure not to get too many or the notebook you’re looking for will be buried under a pile of half-filled copies, and cleaning away from your workspace will look a whole lot more appealing than writing.
    A page marker. Save time by using a bit of ribbon or paper to show yourself where you left off. You can get creative with this, too; some leaves work for this really well and have fun differences in texture. Watch the passage of time as your bookmark goes from fresh and vital and green to brown and well-loved to crumbling to dust. Feel the passage of time as you hibernate in the winter and await a fresh crop of leaves. Try to avoid thinking about how you’ll be part of the ground you walk on before too long.
    A good carrying bag. Crafters can do wonders with a bit of fabric and imagination. Your pen and journal probably doesn’t need more than a pouch with a couple of straps, but you can go as big as you need. Bags of holding are very popular in the writing community for the portable workspace – very helpful when you’re traveling, as it can double as a bedchamber if you tuck it out of view just right – but make sure you don’t get one used and uncleansed. The whispers in your head will let you know if it’s new or not, and if you need to see someone to clear your dreams again.
    A reliable scrying tool. Sometimes, the ideas in your head aren’t enough. There are a variety of options to commune with the spiritual force of your choice. If you’re traveling light, a good set of cards or a coin might do the trick. If you need more complicated help, a ball or mirror, supplemented with the herbs and spells of choice, can bring a full advisor to bounce that difficult plot point off of. Just cast a circle if you don’t have a direct line to your god or spirit; you never know who else might be listening.
    A ritual knife. When you’re really in a tricky spot, blood must be spilt. Your own can do in a pinch – make sure to not drag the blade across one of your palms, or it’ll make writing harder – but small vermin is usually ideal for both its accessibility and utility, if your mouser isn’t keeping up. A big plot tangle might need more of a hunting trip, but use your knife to slit the buck’s throat before you take the antlers for your purpose.
    A flask. Sometimes, you can’t use the blood you’ve gathered right away. You don’t need a fancy tool to paint the blood on yourself – fingers always do – but a crystal vial or a forged tin is necessary to keep blood for later, especially if you’re on the move. Infused flasks can give the blood power to destroy your enemies…or make your manuscripts more visible to seeking editors.
    A good attitude. Whether you live in the bogs where the dead never rest, or the deserts where the wind will leach your soul at first opportunity, having a can-do mindset will get you far! (Just don’t go too far, especially at the turn of the day and night, or you might not come back.)
  • Diaries,  mental health

    How I Didn’t Spend My Summer Vacation

    Idea #1: Going to Disneyland. Checking out Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge would have been part of it, mostly in the forms of getting a lightsaber and riding the Millennium Falcon attraction. Most of it would have been getting to laze in Disneyland in my favorite ways in the summer: fastpasses to the water rides, Pirates and Ariel in midday when it’s hottest and I’m about to go to the hotel to take an afternoon nap, seeing what new Marvel face characters are around that I like and haven’t taken pictures with yet. Maybe my dream of being on Space Mountain when it goes down, and getting to see what it looks like when the lights go up, might finally come true. And if I went down there, I could venture out of Anaheim and go to places in Los Angeles I’ve always wanted to visit, like the Ripped Bodice.

    Variation: Going to a non-Disneyland Disney park. Maybe Disney World, except…Florida in the summer? Maybe not. The dream would be either Disneyland Paris, which I could pair with other French touristing because I’ve never been to Europe at all, or Tokyo Disneyland, which I have been to but not since I was a kindergartener, and they have DisneySea there now. (Also, visiting Japan as an adult!)

    Why it’s okay I didn’t go: I’ve been to Disneyland a fair amount, and I prefer going in October or January. This is probably even more true with a new, very popular section of the park; the combination of summer heat (and a lot more humidity than my home turf) with on-season crowds are no joke even without Galaxy’s Edge open. And I’ve been having less fun on water rides lately. (Not that I ever rode Splash Mountain for anything other than the drops. That ride. Oof.) Plus, traffic down there is never exactly fun, especially if you are going into Los Angeles itself.

    Idea #2: Las Vegas. Frankly, all I would have to have is an AirBNB with a pool (or a hotel with a pool that isn’t also a club, I guess), but I enjoy so much about hopping on- and off-Strip. Maybe I finally would have done the New York, New York roller coaster that I’ve always thought about. I’ve also always wanted to see a big artist’s residency there, although I don’t have anyone particular in mind at the moment. The Super Rich Person’s Dream would be to do designer shopping, particularly at somewhere like Alexander McQueen. A more modest dream would be a helicopter ride, probably over the Strip, but hopping somewhere like the Grand Canyon would be fun, too.

    Why it’s okay I didn’t go: I’ve been in Las Vegas in August before. Ovens are more comfortable. (Late September has been a great time to go in the past, by the way. Like, Life is Beautiful time period, although I’ve never gone there specifically.)

    Idea #3: San Francisco, possibly during Pride weekend. It’s a big dream of mine to do a gay tour of the city; I’ve been there a few times, but I’ve never ventured anywhere near the Castro, for instance. There’s also more generic touristy stuff I haven’t done, like go to Alcatraz or art museums. I could sneer at the gentrification and tech bros that have ruined a lot of the city while also eating great food and pretending I’m in a less soapy version of Tales of the City (2019). And if I felt like venturing out of the city, I could walk amongst the redwoods, which I’ve never done, and visit Monterey again.

    Why it’s okay I didn’t go: Did I mention the gentrification and tech bros? I really do want to do gay things in San Francisco in the not-too-distant future, though.

    Idea #4: Seattle. I almost applied to Clarion West this year, and I’m really hoping I get an application together and accepted in the next five years. I’ve never been to Seattle, but I have some online mutuals there that I might meet up with, and even if I didn’t, I could get suggestions of fun things to do from them online. I don’t know that I have a lot of interest in things like the Space Needle, but I would definitely swing by the first Starbucks and the Museum of Pop Culture (to name just one museum—can you tell I like museums?). And yes, potentially pretend I’m in 10 Things I Hate About You. If I didn’t want to just stay in Seattle, I would absolutely cross over into Canada, and if I drove there and back, I could also go to Portland and meet up with some friends there.

    Why it’s okay I didn’t go: I don’t have a super overpowering urge to go to Seattle specifically, although visiting a new-to-me big city would be swell.

    Idea #5: New York City. Romance Writers of America is having their yearly convention there as I write this, and even if I didn’t go to the conference itself, I would love to meet up with online mutuals who are there for it (and other online mutuals who aren’t). There’s way too much in the NYC area that I would love to do to list; just the Broadway musicals I would try to see could be its own post. One thing I would definitely do, if possible, is Sleep No More. Immersive Macbeth! There would almost definitely be a concert I would want to see while I was there, and you’d better believe I’d go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and dream of Harry Styles as I walked through the Camp: Notes on Fashion exhibit.

    Why it’s okay I didn’t go: I follow enough NYC-based people online to know what a clusterfluff the subways are right now. I suspect everything I’d want to do would be super spread out, and I tend to like to go on vacation and stay in a closeish radius to my hotel, which would probably be even more true if the trains weren’t a super-viable option.

    So what have I done this summer? Go to a concert in Sacramento, mostly. Go to a movie and eat a giant soft pretzel. A lot of struggling to sleep in my own bed and failing. A lot of looking at the front door and shaking at the thought of stepping outside. Navigating breakups, both in terms of medical professionals in my life and the fallout of other people’s falling outs. Enjoying the cool summer evenings and the thunderstorm we had. Cuddling with a pit bull puppy and missing the cat who I used to cuddle with who died in the spring. Playing the Spider-Man game and seeing the sights of a fictional Manhattan. Playing the Sims 4 and pretending I could be a mermaid in a Hawaii-like place. Trying to regain the pieces of a life poor mental health likes to steal from me again and again.

    Why this is okay: I’m tired. God, I’m tired. Time to close my laptop and go back to sleep.

    (Big thanks to my Patrons for sponsoring this essay!)