The Art of Amputation

Accept the infection that you’ve been denying.

Identify the gangrenous flesh. Take a marker and draw borders around it. Analyze the area. Notice that there are still some bits of seemingly unaffected skin. Take this as a good sign.

Grab the nearest pointed object. It is not necessary that it be straight or sharp or clean. You have let this go on. You lose some dignity in letting things fester.

Bite down. Clench your teeth. You get no anesthesia.

Let the shock sink in. Feel the betrayal sizzle on your nerve endings.

Cut off a portion. Decide that this is enough. Tell yourself you can live like this, you can make this work. The pain of this half-limb is better than its absence. Make yourself think you are recovering.

Feel worse. Notice your health plummeting.

Revisit the mutilation. Attack it. Beat it with your good fist. Deaden the remaining nerves. Lament what you know is coming, what you knew was inevitable from the first sign of decay. Envision the bad stitch job. Think of how hideous the scar will be. Wish that things could have turned out differently.

And then choose yourself. Finish the job. Cut. It. Off.

Perhaps many things inside you have been transformed; perhaps somewhere, someplace deep inside your being, you have undergone important changes while you were sad. The only sadnesses that are dangerous and unhealthy are the ones that we carry around in public in order to drown them out with the noise; like diseases that are treated superficially and foolishly, they just withdraw and after a short interval break out again all the more terribly; and gather inside us and are life, are life that is unlived, rejected, lost, life that we can die of. If only it were possible for us to see farther than our knowledge reaches, and even a little beyond the outworks of our presentiment, perhaps we would bear our sadnesses with greater trust than we have in our joys. For they are the moments when something new has entered us, something unknown; our feelings grow mute in shy embarrassment, everything in us withdraws, a silence arises, and the new experience, which no one knows, stands in the midst of it all and says nothing.
Rainer Maria Rilke, “Letters to a Young Poet #8”


Let me begin with Jack Johnson.

I’ve been ruminating for weeks trying to pin down exactly what has been contributing to this festering splinter in my mind, and what I’ve concluded is that it can all best be illustrated by my feelings for Jack Johnson.

Hear me out.

Listen to one song. Listen to another. Do you hear it? Do you hear the lyrics telling you that everything is always, perpetually, inexhaustibly fine? Do you hear the mild voice insisting that all of you worries are invalid because surfboards and pineapples exist? Occasionally when my iPod is on shuffle I’ll let one of these songs play for a bit, but generally I hit “Next” as quickly as possible. Because all of them sound exactly the same. Because that soft, passive voice grates on my nerves. Can’t you envision that guitar just shrugging at you as if to say, “So what?” I can’t stand the blandness of it. There is no edge. There is no emotion. And this pisses me off.

Lately, the state of being emotional has been getting a lot of flack. “You should be rational.” “You need to learn to control your motions.” “Positive vibes.” Look, this is all well and good. Rationality is obviously an admirable quality. Positivity is obviously something to strive for. But when I am criticized for plainly stating that things are, for lack of a better term, a suckfest right now and this makes me feel not so Jack Johnson-y, I’m sorry, but I have to call bullshit. When I am made to feel like I should be ashamed for saying that something or someone offends me because my saying so disrupts the fabricated pleasantness of the evening, sorry, but I have to call bullshit again. When I am belittled for (gasp!) becoming emotionally attached to something/someone, sorry—bullshit.

Here’s my point: this chronic chillness that is apparently so desirable is really just a means of ignoring things. Keep the music playing. Keep the wine glasses full. Keep talking, but only about certain things. Don’t say how a thousand different things just blew up at the same time and you have no idea how you’re going to make things work. Or if you must, give us the abridged version, and be sure to finish with an enthusiastic “Awesome!” But DON’T kill the vibe. Don’t disturb the peace. Because we’re all perched very precariously on this high wire of coolly and pleasantly not giving a fuck. We skate on the thin ice of neutrality. And if you start talking about things and exposing truths, well you’re liable to throw off the balance. You’re running the danger of revealing that this is all a poorly designed charade. And then what? Then we would have to actually think about things.

Ignoring your emotions is not the same as being in control of your emotions. What we mean when we say we want rationality is that we want detachment. What we mean when we say we want to be happy is that we want to be entertained, which is not synonymous. We want distraction. We want to fidget without engaging. And it seems to me that this takes exponentially more effort, even though there is an infinite supply of shallow playthings to keep us semi-occupied. Go to any bar. You’ll find any number of drinks, any number of other distraction-hungry people to drink with you, and only a slightly smaller number of those distraction-hungry people willing to go home with you and continue the diversion.

But you have to stay in constant motion to pull this off. You have to always be sniffing the air for the next fix, because the anesthesia of each drink, of each hit, of each hookup wears off quickly. Keep moving. Keep talking. Keep laughing, as loudly as possible. Should you encounter someone who is not on your level of “chill” and hurt their feelings, do not stop to apologize. Apologizing acknowledges that you have done something wrong, and this throws everything off. Keep plowing forward. Act like nothing happened. If they bring it up, tell them you have no idea what they are talking about, and why are they so worked up, and maybe they should just chill out and have a drink or take a hit or go out and get laid because they are making you anxious.

And to all of that, I simply have to say, “No, thanks.” I am interested in investing. I am interested in engaging. I am interested in ugly crying and losing my cool and feeling so full of love that the stitches of my shriveled heart will surely burst. Because there is nothing to learn from “chill.”

Muscle Memory

This is why you should start with cats and collect people later. Maybe.

I dislike how you can invest so much in a person that you would ignore or give up pieces of yourself if they only asked. I dislike that the thought of this person being upset with you can be nauseating. I dislike that you can lose sleep at night over the thought of them in the company of others, even if the others are meaningless to them and you, fool, have been made to believe that you are of some value to them.

And maybe you are. Maybe they care about you. But they do so on their terms, and the caring can easily be folded up and put in a drawer any time it threatens to get in the way of something cheap or new or easy. They care when it’s convenient, or when they happen to think of it, or when the parade of meaningless people has quieted or slowed down for a bit. And even if those times when they care are better and more intense than anything you have yet to experience, they are not consistent. They will never be.

You are indispensable to them. They no longer know how to be without you. But they are also not willing to dispense of the dispensable people and be with you. And this is a teasing, exhausting place in which to go on existing. In fact, you can’t go on existing here. It is an unsustainable environment.

I dislike the hollow, spiteful feeling that something has been fractured and, though it may heal eventually, it will leave an ugly scar. I dislike the feeling that is painted across your chest and behind your ribs, like falling and scraping your knee, but deeper. I dislike that your pride still will never quite back down and just let you say this. They ask what’s wrong and you answer “I’m fine.”

I dislike most of all, I think, how underwhelming and disappointing it is when they inevitably reveal how typical they are, how they could never really measure up to the standards that they set.

I dislike how you suddenly feel the need to snoop, to pry, to rifle through—to ask questions you already know the answers to just to prove a point. And you’re fucked regardless of what answer they give you. If they tell you you’re right, you know that something you never wanted to believe is true. If they tell you you’re wrong, you know they’re lying.

And what good does it do you anyway to read the blatant messages and the winky faces and the “R u up?”s that you knew were there? What are you actually proving? Or is it more of a seal on what you already knew? Maybe you have to rub your own nose in it as a kind of conditioning—Do not do this again.

I dislike how there’s still some feathery, residual need to say things like “I’m glad you’re back” or “I missed you.” But you just swallow them, because you’re not sure if you still mean those things of if it’s just a kind of muscle memory. It feels funny not saying them.

But you make yourself rigid. You build levees in the places where before you let the waters flow freely. You streamline the water. You tame it to keep from drowning.

You clench your teeth. You pull your lips back and smile. You go through the motions (with small alterations) until your muscles cramp up.

Or until they forget.

Mr. Quick, I am a human being. Do you know what that means? It means I set a price on myself: a high, high price. You may be surprised to know it, but I’ve got quite a lot to give. I’ve got things I’ve been saving up my whole life. Things like love and understanding and-and jokes and good times and good cooking. I’m prepared to be the Queen of Sheba for some lucky man, or at the very least the best wife that any man could hope for. Now, that’s my human history and it’s not going to be bought and sold and it’s certainly not gonna be given away to any passin’ stranger.

The Long, Hot Summer

Joanne Woodward’s character is my spirit animal.

Taking Stock

To say that things have been less than ideal lately would be a vast understatement. I won’t go into all that.

Suffice it to say that, this morning after hitting the Snooze button 3 times to put off going to work as long as possible, sending 5-7 of anxiety-fraught texts to my mom, and waiting out 15 seconds of a 4.7 earthquake, I spent a solid 127 minutes seriously contemplating packing up my car and putting 3000+ miles on it to drive back home.

It’s worth mentioning, then, that this silly little blog post is being composed in my apartment on the West Coast.

There are always going to be some totally shit times. It’s important to acknowledge them, I think. They deserve recognition, just like the awesome times. They have important things to offer.

It’s also important, though, to acknowledge the reasons why you decided not to just pack up and hit the road. You have to take stock of these things, or else you risk losing them in the shit storm.

So here is a small, quiet inventory of things that helped me dig my heels in.

  • 1 room in an apartment that has housed some of the best times of my life thus far.
  • 1 functioning car.
  • $11 on my TAP card, should the car decide to not function.
  • 1 sweet, rascally kitty.
  • 1.5 bottles of wine in the wine rack.
  • 1 coffee press and 3 bottles of varied creamers.
  • 36 minutes (give or take, depending on the traffic) between me and my best friend (which is not bad at all when your car radio works).
  • 3 horrendously ugly work shirts (this is on the list because it means I am employed and am able to survive, regardless of how much I may despise the job).
  • 1 bath tub and 1/4 bottle of bubble bath.
  • 8 eggs.
  • 32 pages of my screenplay.
  • 1 tight cluster of friends, who have helped me out more than I could ever say.
  • 1 mighty good mother who has proven her ability to withstand up to 3 days of teary phone conversations.
  • 1 city that could, at any moment, open any 1 of its innumerable doors and let me in.
I will love you as we find ourselves farther and farther from one another, where we once we were so close that we could slip the curved straw, and the long, slender spoon, between our lips and fingers respectively.
I will love you until the chances of us running into one another slip from slim to zero, and until your face is fogged by distant memory, and your memory faced by distant fog, and your fog memorized by a distant face, and your distance distanced by the memorized memory of a foggy fog.
Lemony Snicket (via man-of-prose)
(Reblogged from sadyoungliterarygirls)

Forest Fires

I think sometimes—probably most times, actually—change happens gradually and you don’t notice that you’re different until suddenly you catch yourself. You look at old pictures or old journal entries or you talk to an old friend and it’s in front of your face, then, that you’ve evolved.

Other times, though, change is forceful. It is destructive and the effects are immediate. You adapt instantly because it’s a matter of (emotional) survival. Everything that you had built up implodes and what else are you going to do? You can’t just not act. You can’t avoid making a choice.

I keep thinking of forest fires, and how they happen naturally as a way of cleansing and creating space for new growth. It’s a semi-comforting thought that that level of destruction occurs in nature. It has a purpose. There is reason behind it. Even though the burning itself is scary and the remnants are charred and ugly for a while, it clears away the dead stuff and better things grow out of it.

What’s hard about when this kind of destruction happens between people is that it forces you to realize that there was dead stuff at all. Something about how you saw things wasn’t accurate, or maybe it no longer applies, and the only way you’re going to understand that is through disaster. Catastrophe. Demolition. And then you have to sift through the ashes. Which parts were the detritus? What had you been seeing the wrong way? Have you been deluding yourself or did you buy into something false? Will the good that was there—it was there—grow back, or will something completely different take its place?

I feel older. I feel burned. I oscillate between anger and sadness. I’m forced to question things that I was so sure of before. I know that things cannot be the same again, but I will have to wait to see exactly what can and can’t survive.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s me—if I’m the element that can’t survive in this environment.

On the Flaws I Have No Intention of Amending

On the surface, I like to think of myself as a person of commitment. I’m very careful about what and who (whom?) I spend my time on. I don’t like to waste it on things I don’t really give a shit about or people I’m not really into. Maybe this is snobbish. But, on the other side of that, I don’t half-ass things. I am fiercely loyal.

I am unapologetic in my disliking of things. This is perhaps what I should have opened with. As my last post (fumblingly) explains, it is something I struggle with. I go back in forth with my friends who have sunnier dispositions. I bitch at myself in my mind for being a bitch. I seek validation from my girlfriends. “Right? But I’m right, right? She/he/it really was terrible, right? Like, it’s not just me?”

I am prone to choosing things that are unconventional, irrational, and sometimes seemingly out of reach. This is a trend in my behavior that has more than likely always existed, but something that seems to be underscoring itself recently. When I wonder at the uncertainty of my life, I have to remind myself that it is that way because I chose it. I hand picked the precariousness of it all. I stacked my own blocks in such a way that they could, at any moment, topple and crush me.

I am also prone to rephrasing and using the same metaphor multiple times in succession.

I am great at placing myself in a shared space and pointedly sitting in silence. Alternatively, I have a whole arsenal of barbed, spiteful remarks. I am bad at simply saying, “I am hurt.”

On the Surface

Here’s something that becomes increasingly apparent the longer you’re out of college: sometimes things are unpleasant. Sometimes things are unpleasant for longer than just a day. Sometimes you go through entire periods of general less-than-funness. Your job sucks. You’re broke all the time. Your black bile is acting up and you’re melancholy. Whatever.

This is all well and good, but you had better not goddamn talk about it. Ever.

To ANYONE. Because no one wants to hear about it.

From what I’ve gathered, there is a list of Acceptable Unpleastantries for Discussion and Unacceptable Pleasantries for Discussion.

The Acceptable ones are as follows:

  • It took forfucking ever to find a parking spot.
  • You have a massive, head-pounding, puke-your-guts-out, live-Tweet-it-hour-by-hour hangover.
  • The screen on your smart phone has cracked.
  • The conquest you set your eye on at the bar last night was actually less easy than expected and wouldn’t go home with you.
  • It is raining.
  • It is less than 70 degrees outside.
  • And, worst of all—your internet is slow.

Here are the Unacceptable:

  • You hate your job. Every second of every day.
  • You are perpetually broke.
  • You can not leave said hated job because of said perpetual brokeness.
  • You find most people vapid and uninspiring. Sometimes even repulsive.
  • You are frustrated with the combination of all of the aforementioned unpleasantries.
  • And anything else that may affect the state of your mood for longer than it takes to circle the block a couple of times, send in for an iPhone upgrade, your ibuprofen to kick in, etc.

I don’t like this, and what I don’t like even more is this life-on-the-surface that a lot of folks seem to think is ideal.

Why can’t we just SAY when we are in a state of discontent? Why, when we talk about the events that occurred over the course of our days, MUST the stories end in our triumph? Why are we expected to say, “Today sucked. BUT DON’T WORRY BECAUSE THEN IT WAS AWESOME”? It rained today, but that’s cool, because the sun’ll come out again tomorrow!

Why is it unacceptable to say, “Today, in a small way, I was defeated”? Because guess what? Sometimes you are. Sometimes today just sucked. Sometimes it rains for weeks.

Not that I’m an advocate for wallowing or nonstop bitching without trying to better your situation, but I’m also not an advocate for deluding myself and everyone around me into thinking that we all live in this tidy Brady Bunch world where Marcia has to be ugly and wear braces for like, a little while, but it’s all groovy because some boy still wants to go to the dance with her.

Anyway, blah blah blah, this is all frustrating in itself, but let’s go a level deeper. Can we, please? (Already some of you are like LOL FUCK THAT.)

This life-on-the-surface that I mentioned—it’s disturbing to me. It would be easy to say that it’s an issue exclusive to my generation and that it’s all caused by social media. I can’t say with any kind of authority whether or not it’s exclusive to my generation, and it’s pretty cliiche to blame everything on the #AntichristSocialMedia, but whatever, let’s keep going.

Here’s what I’ve noticed.

We don’t like to dig too deep. We want to get to know people, but not too much. We can add each other on Facebook, tweet back and forth, follow each other on every social media platform in existence, text nonstop, and maybe—maybe—have a super quick Skype sesh or phone convo. If all that goes well, we can probably definitely hook up once or twice. But let’s keep it light, shall we? Because honestly, I don’t want to know much more about you other than how adorable your cat/dog/fish/strange reptile looks in Kelvin, how hungover you are from last night’s #rager, what kind of drink you just purchased at Starbucks, and how you just ate an entire bag of chips. And if you want to throw in a few snaps of you making that classic SnapChat face, that’d be ok, too.

But unless you’re going to tell me how awesome something is/was, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DO NOT TALK ABOUT YOUR FEELINGS. Because that gets tricky. We can process the petty minutia on the Acceptable list. Those are tangible things that we can quickly move past with a dismissive “Ugh, SO annoying.” We can still touch the bottom at this end of the pool.

But if we swim out a little further to where we have to tread water, that’s different. That requires effort. Effort can be exhausting. And once you’ve exerted effort, you become more aware of the triviality of the effortless.

And let’s be real, #thatsunpleasant.

When he looks at me and smiles and breathes, I hear the notes.
"The Book Thief" by Markus Zusak

You Eat Your Eggs. You Take the Bus. You Carry On.

When I left to go back home for Christmas, the first time I had returned since coming out here, I was afraid that I would be glad to be out of LA. I thought maybe once I was out of the smog and the traffic and the seemingly endless crowds of people, the quiet of North Carolina life would call to me.

"You don’t belong there," it might have said. "That’s no place for you."

And honestly, whether or not I “belong” here is hard to say. There are times when I feel out of place. All the time I wonder what I would do without the island of UNC folks that floats around out here (cheesy-sounding or not, the Carolina family is REAL). But regardless of whether or not LA and I were made for each other, my blood has thinned and I have fallen in love.

I love the crowds and the noise and the energy. I love the relentless sunshine and the constant movement and the ever-present feeling of *something* and the uncertainty of it all.

Here’s the catch: LA is a selfish lover. It is a place that is very much aware of its own beauty and allure. It knows that you will fall in love if you only stick around long enough. It knows that you will go home but ache to come back. You will forgive its faults—the superficiality, the veneer, the dirt. But it is indifferent to you. The glamour will be here whether you are or not.

So maybe you abandon everything you ever knew. Maybe you take only what can fit in your car while still allowing you a little space to see out the back window. Maybe you leave with considerably less money in your bank account than $5000 (which, I hear, is suicide). Maybe you struggle to make ends meet. Maybe this goes on for months. Maybe longer. Does the city care? Of course not.

You’re a dime a dozen.

You’ve got to prove yourself.

And I think part of it is having to acknowledge the doubt. When you come out here without a safety net, you’ve got to know that there is a chance that everything will go horribly, damagingly wrong. You’ve got to recognize the lurking threat of failing, of being weeded out, of being chewed up and spit out by the city you love.

So you acknowledge it. You say it aloud in trusted company.

Then you get up the next morning. You eat your eggs. You take the bus. You carry on.

But I’m a turtle; it won’t work. I’ve got to stay out in the current
With my house upon my back so I can hide inside of me.
"Better Weather," Kimya Dawson

Some things are too big for words. Cheers to 2013, the best year of my life so far.