• 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,  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.

  • 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!)

  • mental health,  nostalgia,  slice of life

    Five Times My Husband Supported Me (and One Time He Didn’t)

    One

    It was late night in the spring of 2007. I couldn’t sleep with my boyfriend in my twin bed and my brain felt like it was on fire with random post-midnight fears. I was writing at my great-grandmother’s dining table, slouched over the slowest Vizio on the planet, when my tousled and confused boyfriend came looking for me. “I’m writing,” I told him. He smiled, eyes mostly shut, and dreamily encouraged me to get good writing done before shuffling off to bed.


    Two

    We were shopping online for wedding rings. He had brought me a pretty engagement ring with a prominent diamond, and we were thinking of getting diamonds to match. We didn’t have a lot of money, and they were pricey. There was also a writing conference I wanted to attend. My husband suggested we get cheap wedding bands and use the money so I could go talk to agents. We got the cheap bands. I took my mom to the conference.


    Three

    I’d been in labor for twenty hours. I was exhausted, depleted, no longer strong enough to push. My husband grabbed my leg and held it back, his cheek pressed against my head. I’d been vomiting in my hair. When I pushed, he pushed too, in the opposite direction. Our first son finally tore free. He fell into the midwife’s hands. We were done.


    Four

    My husband was supposed to spend a few days with his cousin in another state. I stayed home with our two sons. I had a complete meltdown—what I’d later be capable of labeling a panic attack. I called him in a sobbing fury. I demanded he come home early. And he did. He’d barely just gotten up there and he came right back. The panic attack was over by the time he made the twelve-hour return, but he was only worried. Not angry. Never angry.


    Five

    It was the end of my long week in a mental hospital, and I was exhausted, twitchy, and desperate to get out. My husband was waiting for me in the lobby. He’d forgotten to bring in my shoes. I joked he’d have to carry me to the car, and he picked me up in his arms, holding me as tightly as if he worried they’d try to take me back. He angled carefully so I wouldn’t get bumped by the door on the way out. I came into sunlight and cold with him, finally free.


    Six

    My husband wanted to go to dinner with his parents, and the kids didn’t want to go. “I can make them come,” he suggested, worry in his eyes. I still often didn’t parent the kids alone because of the panic attacks. But it had been almost a year since the mental hospital. A year of medication and therapy. And my husband still wanted to support me as much as I needed. “It’s okay,” I told him. “Go to dinner.” He did. He had adult conversations with other adults while I entertained the children and put the little one to bed. He was gone. He didn’t support me. I don’t always need it anymore, because of him.


    We’re married ten years today, and I’ve never been happier.

  • 2018 Newsletter,  existential screaming,  politics

    Tweeting in the Time of Burning Screaming Apocalypse

    I don’t remember very much about my first appointment with my therapist, Colleen. It was primarily a screening, I think. She asked me all the standard questions: Do I have little interest or pleasure in doing things? Trouble concentrating? Thoughts of hurting myself?

    At the time, I hadn’t yet been held on suicide watch at a mental hospital, so I was very trusting. Every question made me spew answers because I have so much to say about my experience as a person with depression. I monologued about my life for nigh unto the full hour.

    After listening to the slurry of babble, Colleen asked only one question: “Where does your guilt come from?” she asked. “Who modeled it for you?”

    Before that first appointment, I’d never thought of myself as having a guilty conscience. As soon as she said it, I saw it everywhere. The way that I blame myself for everything. The sense of being responsible for my entire environment and also most others’ environments. The way that someone else will bump me in a crowd, and I will still be the first to say, “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry, I’m so clumsy.”

    You could call it Catholic guilt, I guess. I come from a Catholic background. Self-flagellation is the name of the game in Catholicism, and we relentlessly practice self-martyring, which feels like a dreadfully responsible thing to do. If we don’t feel guilty about the ills of the world—about our sins—then we’re definitely going to Hell.


    Like most Millennials, the first thing I do upon returning to consciousness after a night of sleep is grab my phone. As soon as Do Not Disturb comes off, the alerts come up.

    It comes through Apple News—both WaPo and Time want me to know that America is detaining migrant children. Twitter makes sure that I know it too, not just because it’s in my friends’ list, but because they now alert me to big news stories as they pass. It’s on Facebook, from my local newspaper; it’s on NPR when I ask Alexa to read me the news.

    Even though the world has only just learned about it, there are lengthy think-pieces on the matter. I take the time to read The Atlantic’s hot takes. I like The Atlantic. It’s regarded as being moderate by more liberal critics, and offensively liberal by conservative critics, which means that it’s about as balanced as you’ll get in the country.

    The Atlantic has excellent writers on staff, so reading about the way that children are detained is vivid and visceral. I’m beside myself. I can’t go to sleep that night.

    A few weeks before we learned about the detained migrant children, I had been in the mental hospital. “I think I’m only so messed up about this because I’m relating to it too much,” I tell my husband. “I’m only sympathizing because I feel like I’ve been in a similar place.” Left loudly unspoken is my self-evaluation that I’m human slime for being able to empathize with these children, who remind me of my own children, only because I have mentally centered myself in the situation.

    If I were a better person, I’d feel guilty for everything America does wrong, not just this one particularly horrifying thing.


    On Twitter, one of the brilliant women of color I follow has tweeted a lengthy thread about white supremacy. She explains how many migrant children, abducted from their families, are entering the American adoption system. People are profiting off of this separation. It’s really insightful.

    I’m horrified. I want to contribute to the conversation. I draft a reply.

    Then I think about what I’m writing.

    Nothing that I type seems to have the proper emotional gravity, despite my initial tweet beginning with the words “yeah, ugh” and a frowning emoji. I launch into an explanation of my experiences as relevant to the topic (like a time I saw something bad happening to someone else) and how the world Just Shouldn’t Be Like That.

    But the world is Like That, and my role in this world is different from hers. Her perspective is more relevant than mine—she is from a migrant family, she has a law background—and I don’t need to derail the conversation by calling attention to my irrelevant perspective. Especially not right now.

    In fact, I don’t need to reply at all.

    And I don’t that time, even though I often have in the past, blindly stumbling through conversations with my good intentions swinging wild right hooks every which way.

    Instead, I retweet. I decenter myself. I hope that the conversation, led by the original poster, will be more fruitful without me in it. And I quietly hate myself for not being one of the victims, but one of the people who has contributed to making the world worse for them.


    Decentering whiteness is a key aspect of social justice in this era. America’s built on white supremacist bones wrapped in the snuggly-wuggly flesh of something that doesn’t look like white supremacy, but has been grown on the scaffolding of it. White people can’t begin to unpack and attack our complicity until we admit that it’s there. It’s on the surface level, it’s at the core, it’s everything.

    Of course, if a white person chooses not to unpack this, there’s nothing that will force it to happen. Other white people aren’t going to make you do it. White people really like being in a happy white bubble. It’s awkward to point out how your son’s public school is reinforcing white supremacy, and we can’t have this awkwardness, that feeling of guilt forced upon us exogenously by white people breaking the patterns of white conversation that happily skirt around the rotten heart of white America. This is not civilization.

    Decentering ourselves is difficult. It’s an inherently selfless thing, and white people don’t really know how to be selfless.

    We’ve been raised on a narrative of white America fixing the world’s problems. We are fluent in it.

    In elementary school, we hear about how white colonists arrived in the Americas, made friends with the natives, and then something-something-something happens and all of a sudden, after Thanksgiving and something involving redcoats, we’ve made a country. A free country filled with religious liberty and native princess Halloween costumes and little narrow strips of land where surviving natives are graciously permitted to live, for now.

    When South American loggers perform deforestation in the rainforest, Captain Planet (surely a white guy under his metallic skin, given his mullet and high levels of intervention) rolls in with his team of carefully diverse children to fix that shit, because that’s what we do.

    Even in science fiction, cultures that are essentially Space Americans (like the United Federation of Planets, But Mostly Earth, Because Fuck Those Other Guys) rove the galaxy to seek justice and make worlds better. The Prime Directive is meant to prevent some level of interference, but it doesn’t really stop our heroic crew from intervening in what they decide are injustices, infecting planets galaxy-wide with Space American Values.

    Our culture is built around colonization. Our brains have grown in that vat.

    So when white Americans arrive in social justice spaces, we’re ready to fix it all, just the way that we’ve always “fixed” things. We want to colonize the movements started by the marginalized. We want to make it all better.

    That’s what we do.

    The fact that we think we have to use our power For the Better is part of the rot in America.

    In fact, we must cede power.

    We have to choose not to be the loudest voice in the room. We have to make ourselves less.

    When we’ve spent your entire life privileged, deliberately trying to push even the most unearned privilege away is really goddamn uncomfortable.

    No matter how uncomfortable it feels to realize I’ve spent my entire life benefiting from and feeding into a system that dehumanizes, exploits, and often actively kills people who don’t fit into a narrow privileged class, it’s less uncomfortable than being a small child taken from one’s parents and sold to an American family.


    For nights on end, I dream of peeling paint surrounding doorways blocked only by shower curtains on pins so weak that they won’t stay up for the duration of a shower, much less allow me to hang myself. I’m bored without pens, computers, shoelaces. I pace the lightless hallway on non-skid socks and note that the building is sinking. The end dormitories are several inches lower than the fore.

    I wake with panic attacks. There are children being kept in inhospitable, sometimes clinical environments. They miss their parents. They don’t know when they’ll get to see them again. I didn’t get to see my children for almost a week and spent so many hours weeping that I was a husk by the time I went home.

    Something needs to happen with those children.

    Naturally, because I pick up my phone as soon as I awaken, I’ve seen alerts for conversations about this on Twitter. I should tweet about it too. I make repeated attempts to distill the existential scream inside my soul to 280 characters. I delete about a dozen drafts.

    Then I retweet a lawyer offering a site that will donate to twelve migrant-supporting organizations at once, and then I also donate my own money.

    I try to draft a tweet about my donation.

    It sounds self-aggrandizing. I delete it.

    I’ve opened my wallet to help these children, but it doesn’t really feel like help. If I were a better person, I would be on the border finding a way to get involved. I wouldn’t be sitting on my phone in the predawn morning trying to draft tweets and hating myself for always say the wrong thing.

    At some point I’ll have to say something, won’t I? The world is burning down.


    My Twitter feed can’t always be retweets, and it can’t always be politics. At some point I stop looking at my feed. I turn off all alerts for Twitter, The Atlantic, The New York Times, and Apple News so that I can pick my phone up without remembering how much horror there is in the world.

    I think about what I’ve done today. I give myself permission to tweet about something that I know perfectly well.

    “Wow that was a poop for the history books,” I finally tweet.

    It’s true, I had a pretty great poop. It’s firmly in my wheelhouse. It’s my lived experience. I have absolute authority to talk about it, although the tastefulness is somewhat more controversial.

    I feel guilty for tweeting levity instead of the existential screaming in my soul. If I were better, I would climb onto a crucifix on behalf of those children. I’d give them all my money instead of small recurring monthly donations. I’d really do something.


    My stupid tweet gets five likes. Two of my friends talk with me. They’ve also had wonderful, historic poops this week, and I’m happy for them. I can be happy while creeping along constant low-level guilt. It’s not like our willingness to discuss poops means we’re blind to the horrors of the world. But I feel like my ability to even enjoy these moments of levity is a sign of enormous privilege—one more way that the system benefits me while grinding others into dust. Guilt and puerile joy have become bedfellows.

    “If it’s outside your control, there’s no reason to feel guilty,” Therapist Colleen told me once, to paraphrase. “Once you’ve done your best and taken care of the things in your immediate control, you have my permission to be proud of yourself.”

    She acknowledged that this was nigh impossible with anxiety, and I haven’t stopped hating myself for failing to be a great martyr.

    I will vote in a couple of months, and I’ve written several screaming letters to my legislators—less exciting than crucifixion, but slightly more sustainable. I’m not the center of the universe. I can’t fix everything singlehandedly. The world isn’t about me. Sometimes it’s better to get out of the way. Sometimes it’s better to retreat onto a website of one’s making, outside of the public discussion space, and write ironic, navel-gazing think-pieces defying the thesis of the think-piece in the first place.

    Just as there’s no ethical consumption in capitalism, there’s also no way for a white person to operate in America without benefiting from white privilege. There’s a lot to feel guilty about. There’s a lot to work on. The end game is still beyond the horizon, and the sun won’t rise there until long after I’m gone.