HOW TO LIVE IN IT

(amateur poet's amateur personal essays)

Invasive Is A Spectrum

Last week, my mother had her final weekly chemotherapy treatment. She was diagnosed with DCIS — a “stage-zero,” non-invasive breast cancer — last winter. In typical cancer fashion, things got gut-sinkingly complicated.

I remember in November she first told me about the DCIS, and I barely held back tears, and she reassured me she was going to be okay, that even the doctor called it “the thing to have, if you have to have something.” Then I painted her toenails with this new bubblegum pink nail polish she’d bought.

I remember when I found out that her first surgery, the lumpectomy, didn’t go exactly as planned. I was at the grocery store, looking at fresh pineapple chunks, wondering whether they were really worth $5. My phone vibrated. My head felt swollen and heavy. I started this weird nervous habit where I clench and unclench my fists over and over. I developed psychosomatic chest pains, and went to student health over and over and over to make sure I wasn’t dying.

I remember in March, Ryan and I visited her in the hospital after her double mastectomy. She was drowsy, she ate pot roast and chocolate cake, and she had these noisy pneumatic boots that made sure her blood was still circulating in and out of her feet. The plastic surgeon in charge of her reconstruction came by, chillingly handsome and in full Army gear. He was happy with the surgery, and so was she.

I graduated in April. My mother wasn’t recovered enough to fly, so we planned to delay her visit by a few weeks. Then she told me that the doctors had found cancerous cells in her lymph node, that she would start chemotherapy almost immediately, and our plan, among many others, fell to the wayside. I masochistically read blog post after blog post, all devoid of scientific evidence but ripe with emotional rhetoric, about how chemotherapy is a conspiracy and how it destroys our bodies instead of healing them. I walked around constantly scared to eat or use hygiene products, because if I absorbed the wrong stuff I was convinced my body would break down.

I finally saw my mom again in June, when I went home for my brother’s high school graduation. She picked me up at the airport. She’d shaved her head, but her wig looked almost exactly the same as her old hair. I could barely tell the difference, even after a lifetime of watching her color, cut, and style her hair. When we got back to the car, she took off her wig and let me touch what she called her “hedgehog ‘do.” She said she took a fraction of the time to get ready now that she didn’t have to style her hair anymore.

This whole time, I kept expecting my relationship with my mom to change. I never knew what to say, because I didn’t want to burden her with stuff objectively less important than her fight. I kept expecting her to get hopeless or angry or resentful. She has done none of these things. She has remained staunchly positive, still recommending me books, still listening to my rants about my friend-squabbles, my frantic job search, my worries about my relationships.

When my mom drove me to the airport after my brother’s graduation, we stopped at Target first. She bought me a pair of shoes for job interviews. On our way out, I grabbed coffee and she grabbed some Pizza Hut breadsticks. In the car we talked about our relationships, our lives, and our futures. We ate Bit O’ Honeys and waxed poetic about how awesome and fresh they were.

Cancer rips lives apart, changes people from the inside out, oozes out saccharine sentiment or soporific bleakness. But soon my mom’s hair will start to grow back. She will start in with a weaker chemotherapy, one that she will get every three weeks. For all the things that have changed, and all the things that could have destroyed us, I remain most grateful for our growing sameness.

 

 

But It’s Satire!

Hold on to your hats, this is a long one.

I accidentally started a pretty heinous argument on Facebook a while back. The conversation itself was started in the comments of a friend’s post linking this article. A man commented that it’s unfair to assume that any person who laughs at a “sexist joke” is perpetuating negative stereotypes about women. He went on to say that there has to be a better way to tackle sexism than to “banish people who have an inkling toward offending others.”

I’m partly afraid to talk about this argument, as the man in question has shown himself to be an expert ~~~~*internet arguer * ~~~* ~ with no interest in much other than confirming his own bias and learning just enough to placate me and come out on the “right side of history.” He sent several private messages to me and a friend trying to explain his perspective, and he became very frustrated when we weren’t particularly interested in hearing that perspective. “But I’m LISTENING!” he would say, and then argue his same point, slightly nuanced by some out-of-context part of whatever new information we had provided.

Listen, and listen closely: I can almost guarantee that the comedy you so proudly call “offensive” and defend as satire is more complicated than you imagine it. I am a woman comedy-obsessed, a woman who has spent a good chunk of time in my local comedy scene. I am a woman who has taken a college course in comedy’s history, composition, and context. Allow me to explain, internet sir, just how wrong you were.

In the oldest etymological sense, comedy is derived from the Greek κωμῳδία kōmōidía, which meant either village-singing or village-revel. But hey, you have Wikipedia too. The Greeks and Romans restricted the meaning of comedy to a stage-play with a happy ending. Again, you have Wikipedia. Any event after which a group of people could rejoice (in the form of laughter, singing, or other emotional release) was comedic.

Comedy, as it grew from its Greco-Roman origin, has been concerned with any of three primary goals: characters overcoming powerful circumstance (i.e. romantic comedy), reconciling disgust with a hurtful social behavior (i.e. satire), or demonstrating inexplicable absurdity (i.e. farce). Farce tends not to create much offense, because it is absurd and by necessity divorces itself from any lived reality. Farce basically only generates concern with regards to the “lowbrow” nature of its sometimes slapstick physicality – fart jokes, body horror, and the like. Romantic comedy gets heat for being inherently sexist, but this is based largely on modern tropes and not by necessity on the “comedy” part, but rather the “romantic” part. I’m saving any conversation on romantic comedy for another post.

The comedic offense that most will lay down their life to defend is that of satire, of your Stephen Colbert, your Family Guy, your Onion. Satire, forgetting momentarily one more time that you have Wikipedia, is comedy where “vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule.” All well and good. The part where shit gets complicated is the part where satire is intrinsically and inextricably linked with irony and sarcasm. Satire often heaps sarcastic praise upon something that it means to criticize, often dresses in ironic lion’s clothing for the sake of sheep. Irony and sarcasm are excellent tools, but their shortcoming is that they are by necessity a mask, which brings in the potential for misunderstanding. It is perfectly possible to completely miss that something is meant to be ironic or sarcastic. Other than this tiny, negligible flaw, irony and sarcasm have never, not once, caused anyone a single problem, ever.

Did you catch that? My sarcasm? Probably. You probably, then, also “get” shows like the Colbert Report, where Stephen Colbert takes on the persona of a modern conservative, and takes conservative ideals to mocking extremes in the name of social commentary. Colbert is widely revered, and between his show and the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, many people get their news from entirely satirical sources. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, and it provides a wonderful ironic distance from the downright bleak landscape of modern life. Laughing at things that otherwise might leave you despondent – that’s definitely the good side of the satire coin.

However, there are indeed times when satirical news reporting goes awry. Take Colbert’s recent controversial joke. Yes, that joke. Basically, Colbert said that he was starting an organization called the “Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.” He made this joke to point out the hypocrisy of Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, who instead of changing his team’s fairly racist name, started a corollary foundation called the “Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation.” Shortly after his broadcast, an official Colbert Report Twitter account posted just Colbert’s anti-Asian organization name, without the explanatory context. Twitter took arms, under the head of activist Suey Park, against Colbert, arguing (here phrased simplistically) that racist language is always hurtful, regardless of context.

This incident was the first example my internet arguer friend brought up when trying to explain just how people overreact to “so-called offensive” jokes.

Generally, in farce or in romantic comedy, the laugh reflex is a form of emotional release. We see body horror and we laugh, and somewhere deep down we suspect that the cause of the laughter is the absurdity of life and existence itself. We see something downright nonsensical and absurd, something we don’t understand, and we laugh as a way of signaling to others that it is not dangerous. This is one of the evolutionary attempts at explaining laughter – a sign that things are safe, that everybody is on the same page. In romantic comedy, the laugh (the village-revelry) is a more elaborate version of this release which comes only once the horrible circumstance keeping the lovers apart has been overcome or undone. Again, everybody is on the same page.

However, laughter in satire is meant to mock the “butt” of the joke into social compliance. The satirist is an evolved playground bully. They notice an unacceptable behavior, and under an ironic or sarcastic guise points that behavior out to their society, sometimes exaggerating it. Their society laughs, and the transgressors now see how their behavior is unacceptable (insert Supernanny impression) and know that to fit within their society, they should cut that behavior out.

Of course, as I’m sure you’re aching to tell me, there are problems with playground bullies. It’s a messy and tangled web to extricate what behaviors “should” be socially shunned, but a good starting place is harm and intentionality. If the “weird” kid on the playground is not hurting anybody with their behavior, and does not intend to hurt anybody, the bully is probably in the wrong, or at least wasting their energy. Some good examples of social correctives are when the person being mocked is someone who engages in an intentionally harmful, like assault or hate speech. Pointing out that the person is intentionally hurting people can shame them into reexamining their behavior and intentions.

Of course, modern comedy (and let’s be realistic, even ancient comedy) is rarely an isolated example of one type of comedy. There is no romantic comedy without a little satire (blocking characters, much?), no satire without a touch of farce, etcetera.  And this is precisely the problem.

As satire and farce become more linked, there is what I see as a new form of comedy emerging. Born in the observational comedy boom (think Seinfeld, early Gaffigan, Louis CK) was a form of referential humor. Pointing to something absurd in life that we all have just accepted. This referential humor asks the listener to think about the thing referenced in a new light, but doesn’t always necessitate social change. Seinfeld mocks airline food, and you laugh and say “you’re right, it’s terrible, I’m so glad someone finally said it.” A relief laugh. Louis CK mocks smartphone culture, and you laugh and say “Oh god, he’s so right. I have to get my nose out of my smartphone from time to time.” A relief laugh, with a minor change effected. The line becomes blurred, and sometimes the muddy laugh elicited is more recognition than social corrective.

Take another look at the Colbert example – he donned the clothes of Dan Snyder, and mocked the charity-cum-racism of the so-called Original Americans Foundation. He dragged Asian cultures through the mud for the sake of this joke, and whether that was necessary or not I don’t quite care to argue. This is fairly textbook satire, but I think in some small part Suey wasn’t reacting wrongly. Colbert’s joke had two “butts,” so to speak. He brought up a stereotype of Asian people, specifically referencing widely-known poor impressions of the way that they sound when they speak, in order to mock Dan Snyder. There are layers of responsibility that are very difficult to untangle – yes, it was socially corrective to mock Snyder. He seems like an asswipe. But no, it wasn’t socially corrective to reference this stereotype of Asian people on the way there. So is Colbert responsible to the Asian people, or does his social corrective satire take precedent? I’m not here to argue either way, but I am here to argue that it’s wrong to get mad at people who say his joke was offensive. People laughed at the joke, and in doing so they socially endorsed both the corrective satire and the non-corrective stereotype referenced.

The million-dollar question, then, is what is Colbert’s responsibility as a satirist? When I try to “talk shop” about the comic’s responsibility, comics are quick to remind me that anything that “gets a laugh” from an audience is comedy. This is not untrue (see: village-revel etymology.)

I do, though, believe that the modern die-hard satirist, by so vehemently taking on and defending the mantle of satire, is at least responsible for eliciting more socially corrective laughs than laughs of recognition. If you will defend your joke as satire, you owe your comedy the work of actually making sure the joke is satirical, i.e. that it “holds vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings up to ridicule.”

And hey – this makes neither the satirist nor the audience inherently bad. It just makes modern satire more complicated. When somebody tells you your joke reinforces stereotypes, instead of jumping down their “PC Police” throat, or defending your joke, consider the laugh that joke gets. Is it laughter at you as the vehicle for this socially transgressive stereotype, or is it laughter that acknowledges and takes the social transgression away from that stereotype? Imagine yourself telling your “offensive” (and I’m sure wonderfully multifaceted) joke in a room full of people who truly and honestly believe the stereotype you’ve mentioned is true. Would you enjoy earning their laughter with this joke?

If your answer is yes, we have a more complex conversation to have about you as a person, a conversation that will altogether set your comedy aside for a while.

If your answer is no, and you’re still being told your joke is offensive or hurtful, think briefly about your joke. Firstly, is there anything more to your joke than just reminding the audience of this stereotype? Is there a way to un-muddy the laugh a bit, place more apparent blame on the social transgressor? Is the person you’re mocking truly a social transgressor at all (are they hurting anybody)?

Consider the following quote by Rene Descartes: “Any community that gets its laughs by pretending to be idiots will eventually be flooded by actual idiots who mistakenly believe they’re in good company.” Work to limit the possibility of these “idiots” feeling comfortable around your comedy.

And yes, sometimes people are just looking for something to get worked up by. Sometimes that thing is an unintentional bit of prejudice, sometimes that thing is outcry against what you see as “just comedy.” But if somebody is taking the time to tell you that you overstepped a boundary, you owe it to yourself and that person, as human beings, to examine, if only momentarily, that boundary. Remember again my bully analogy: it is socially corrective to ostracize someone for hurting others, but it is not socially corrective to ostracize someone for actions that do not harm others.

After my little internet argument, I googled “offensive jokes.” Among the first results: “What’s the difference between a joke and two dicks? You can’t take a joke.”

Joke’s on you, I can take both.

Just kidding, I have no proof that I can take a joke.

Er, I mean, I have no proof that I can take two dicks.

 

Onlies & Justs

If only I can get through this rough month, then I’ll write a good blog post again. I just have to make it to next week and then I can start properly nourishing my body. I would work on my blog if only I wasn’t so exhausted from working and job interviews and job applications this week. If only I can get a better job, then I’ll be okay. If I can just get my room clean. If I can only finally see Ryan, if we can just get to Cleveland for our anniversary –

etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

I haven’t written something here that I truly love in what, a few months? I’m embarrassed and part of me doesn’t want to ever bring attention to this blog again. But another part of me knows I need to learn that falling off a wagon doesn’t mean I can’t jump on another, similar but slightly different wagon. Maybe this new wagon is headed in a different direction, which could be scary, but let’s be real, if I’m going somewhere in a wagon, did I ever really know what my endgame was?

All (most) humor aside, anxiety and depression have been at an all-time high. I had one appointment with a new therapist, but it was a pretty poor fit and I’m a little demoralized at the thought of actively seeking a good fit, especially when I finally felt so comfortable with Jack. I’ve been applying for “big girl jobs,” and no matter how much I hate that phrase, that’s really what I’m looking for. So, you know, I can pay rent and stuff. I’ve been feverishly applying for better part- and full-time jobs, but it’s not the kind of economy where I can just wake up with 5 job offers in my lap. I’ve been trying to write poetry and blog posts and even fiction, but nothing good comes out, and writing horseshit (unfortunately) makes me want to stop writing altogether. I haven’t seen Ryan for a while, and I still have a week until I will again. I know plenty of you who see your partners far, far less often, but I’m not going to pretend it’s not frustrating that he can’t just be here with me all the time.

I’ve been spending a lot of time laying in bed listening to Frightened Rabbit.

But my point is this: no more mental onlies and justs, because if onlies and justs were candies and nuts, then every day would be Erntedankfest. At least, that’s what Dwight Schrute would say.

I’m going to try to write a bunch of the posts I’ve been mulling over, about comedy, and my troubling relationship with food, and my brother’s graduation, and about my grandfather, and waking up with a swollen eye from pre- and mid-sleep crying, and the relationship between femininity and sex and food. I’m going to try to challenge myself to actually do things, rather than promise to do them when I’m “in a better way.”

But there’s no way I’m giving up that whole in-bed Frightened Rabbit thing just yet.

Deal? Deal.

See You Tomorrow

“I’ll write a blog post every week for a whole year,” she says! “It will be great for me and I’ll never miss a week,” she says! Oops. Hi guys. I’ve apologized a few times so far for my absence, but about a week ago my schedule opened up considerably. So here’s the real update, for real, really this time, I really mean it.

I graduated from Pitt a week and a half ago, and it’s been a real struggle. I imagine I’m supposed to be proud of myself for graduating. I imagine I’m supposed to be excited to start this next, big part of my life. I imagine I wasn’t supposed to break down and get into fights with Ryan every thirty seconds on my graduation day. I imagine I’m not supposed to stop eating for days at a time because I’m scared of my body breaking down if I eat the wrong chemicals.

I had to stop seeing my therapist of a year because I graduated. I was already taking advantage of the counseling center a little, as they’re meant to see you for a maximum of 6 appointments and then refer you to outside help as necessary. Because Jack knew I didn’t have money, I think he kept seeing me a bit longer than he was supposed to, and I completely shouldn’t be blindsided that I had to stop going sometime. And I’m not. But it still sucks to lose that one person who was supposed to be unambiguously on my team. It’s not like graduation is a notoriously difficult, confusing time for liberal arts graduates, it’s not like I need more help now than ever before. There are some other personal things I don’t feel comfortable talking about here, partly because they’re not exactly mine to talk about, that are weighing me down.

It just sucks. And I’m doing what I can, I’m applying for jobs and I’m looking at volunteer experiences and I’m continuing to work at Giant Eagle. I’m parceling out my poems for submission and I’m even thinking about submitting my 48-page manuscript to some contests. I’m trying to eat better, to exercise a couple times a week. I’m seeing Ryan this weekend, and as of this moment I have no plans to fight with him. I’m also going to try to write here more regularly and more honestly.

In my last appointment with Jack, I didn’t say any of the right things. He said we’d made a good team, and he was proud of the work we’d done. But I barely talked. I kept thinking about all the stuff I couldn’t even bring up because I can’t keep working with him anymore. And most of all I kept picturing the episode of The Office when Jim and Michael finally say goodbye to each other, and instead of actually saying goodbye, they say “see you at lunch tomorrow,” because that hurts less.

 

April Purgatory

So, I graduated college yesterday.

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The last few months have hurt like hell. I haven’t had time to assess how I’m feeling in months. I’ve been eating so poorly (and some days so little) that my body feels horrible. I haven’t been sleeping right. I almost passed out at work – feeling my vision blur and time slow down and feeling the instinct to run and hide was a wake-up call.

I haven’t felt like myself, and if I’m honest, that started even before this semester.

When I first moved off-campus last summer, I never quite settled in my new home. I didn’t have a dresser, so my clothes mostly lived on my floor and on this stupid wire shelf that is totally unsuited to holding clothes. What might seem like a little stupid detail was actually really hard – I felt unsettled, but I knew I couldn’t afford the nice clothes and furniture that would make me feel settled. It felt like a whole year of living between parents’ houses, out of a duffel bag, all over again. I was too busy with school to work enough to make comfortable money, so just as I have been expected to become a “real adult” on my own, I have felt more helpless than ever before.

And I’m in April purgatory now. Doing all the stuff I haven’t had time to do. Applying for “real person” jobs, moving to a smaller apartment, learning to work customer service at Giant Eagle. Stuff is weird and sometimes I don’t know if I can keep doing it. I feel so un-ready.

We took a bunch of pictures yesterday, of me in my un-ironed, not-fitting, put-on-all-wrong graduation gear. With my friends, by myself. And the only thing I could think all day was “I’m not enjoying this like I’m supposed to.” I was on the verge of tears the whole time, but not like some beautiful “I did it” moment, more like, “everyone thinks I’m an idiot because I don’t know how to put on my graduation hood like a normal human,” and “everyone thinks I’m a cunt because I’m not happy today.”

This is not uncommon for me – to have a “bad thought” and just treat it like it’s true, regardless of evidence to the contrary. Because obviously I ruined everything, and everything is awful, and everybody knows it’s my fault, and they all hate me. Obviously. And obviously getting mad to Ryan is the smart thing to do.

But at least I have something to work on in therapy now.

Oh, and I inherited a dresser from Steph and Alex.

They’ll Get To Ya’

I haven’t written in two weeks. Not just here, but poetry too. Ryan and I got back from our road trip and I tried to meld back into “real life,” but, uh. It sucks. I’m trying.

The Sunday after our trip, after 9 full days together, Ryan dropped me off at work and headed home. Ryan and I don’t often see each other for more than 2 days at a time, during which I typically work. The trip was great (I’ll actually write about the second half soon), but going back to work knowing it was over was… less great.

A customer came through my line with her two teenaged daughters. One of them had a cast on her arm. The woman stayed at the far end of my lane and her daughters unloaded the groceries onto the belt, and then loaded the cart back up as I bagged.

The daughter in the cast moaned about how heavy one of the bags (the cans) was to the other daughter. Their exchange:

Daughter #1: These bags are too heavy.
Daughter #2 (laughing): Maybe it’s because you only have one arm.
Daughter #1: No, it isn’t, it’s making me angry.

Neither of them looked at me or talked to me or asked for me to separate the bags. Granted, sometimes I offer, but I didn’t, because it was a shit day and I’m predisposed to hate whiny teenagers.

By the last bag of their order, three medium-sized chip bags, the mother had reached the PIN pad. I handed her the last bag and read her total aloud. She looked me firmly in the eye and said, “Do you like chips, or do you like chip crumbs?”

I said what I tend to say when I didn’t hear or understand someone: “I’m sorry?”

She went on to tell me all about how poorly I had bagged, that she was watching me bag, and she used to work at GetGo so she knows that they should have taught me to bag. It wasn’t just the chips, it was the whole order.

I said “I’m sorry, did you want me to split up the bags some?” Her daughters were laughing at me. She continued to explain how poorly I had bagged her whole order, and she reached over the bagging structures to try and re-bag her chips for me. She continued to explain just how horrible I was.

I said, “I’m sorry, you’re being very rude, and you could have asked for a separate bag.”

“How about another cashier?”

I was stunned for a second, but I walked away and got my coordinator, explained to her (somewhat frantically) that I had apparently bagged her order so poorly she wanted another cashier. I told my coordinator my login code and asked her to finish the order. She told me to go in the back, and that it was okay.

I went in the back and started sobbing uncontrollably.

My coworkers were very sweet and understanding, maybe on the virtue that nothing like that has ever happened to me. They all gave me their staircase wit, told me they didn’t know how I was as calm about it as I was. Marion told me not to “let ‘em get to me,” because “they will.”

I wonder about that woman. I wonder if she was having a shitty day. I wonder if her chips had genuinely broken into crumbs. I wonder if she thought back to those days when she used to work at GetGo. I wonder how much food you ever actually have to bag at GetGo. I wonder why her daughters laughed at me, and I wonder why and how they so perfectly reflected my self-consciousness. I wonder if I was being rude on the virtue of her daughters being teenagers, and not just any teenagers, but pretty teenagers, like the ones who made me feel so small 5 years ago. I wonder whether she felt small then or now. I felt small.

 

 

Road Trip 1

Hello out there! Ryan and I are presently in Manchester, New Hampshire with two lovely friends, Will and Lauren. The first half of our road trip is complete, and we’ve just started the return home.

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We left Pittsburgh at 3AM on Saturday and drove straight through to Plymouth, Mass. We listened to a bunch of Eminem albums to get our energy up, and then we listened to Moshe Kasher’s “You Made It Weird,” and then I made him listen to some music he really didn’t like much, and then we listened to some podcasts I don’t usually listen to.

We stopped along the way at a bunch of rest stops, and we (sorta) maintained our goal to buy a scratch ticket in each state we go through. We won a few times, but overall we’re down about a dollar. Still the world’s cheapest road trip souvenirs.

In Plymouth, we stayed with my aunt Michaela, uncle Dave, and cousin Chaela. They were, as always, incredibly hospitable. Ryan took a nap before dinner, which gave my aunt and I time to gossip about Ryan (I mean, talk very politely and vaguely and say nothing awkward whatsoever.) My uncle cooked an amazing fish/chaurice soup for dinner and my aunt supplied wine, salad, and mint chocolate mousse cake.

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In the morning (ish), after the traditional Plymouth Hood breakfast, we stopped by the ever-disappointing Plymouth Rock and Mayflower II. We were poking around the Mayflower’s entrance and Ryan was musing on the $2M fundraiser for restoration of the ship. He said (very loudly) “You know what you could buy with $2 million? A better boat!” I laughed and said “Well, now, that’s not the point exactly,” and then I looked up at the ticket window and there was a man inside. Ryan ran away and left me standing there trying to explain why two obvious tourists were staring at the closed Mayflower.

Then we headed home to my mother’s house in Fairfield, ME.

Since Fairfield is my home turf, we did a bunch. We visited both of my parents, my brother, my maternal grandparents, aunt/uncle, another cousin, and my dog Kimmik. I took him to Big G’s, which is a deli that sells huuuuuuuge sandwiches – you’re silly if you order a whole sandwich. I got a strawberry and brown sugar crepe and a side of home fries. Lindsay wasn’t around for me to scavenge her home fries, so I had to get my own. Ryan ordered the Lloyd Bridges, and, of course, ordered it whole. Apparently I didn’t sufficiently warn him. Doubtful.

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On the way out of Maine, we stopped in Portland for the International Cryptozoology Museum and in Ogunquit for lobster rolls. More on that in the second post!

Planning a Road Trip

These guest posts have been really cool, and I have a lot of awesome people lined up to talk about a bunch of stuff. I’m really excited that my blog can host stuff I would have no feasible way of writing. Part of what I’m so proud of in my own life (one of few things) is my ability to surround myself with awesome people, so I’m hoping that by slowly luring them all into writing for my blog I can make them all internet-permanent.

Is it just me, or does EVERYONE need a break? I really need to take a second to do some stuff that’s not class-home-class-work-home-other work-MegaBits-home.

Next week, Ryan and I will be driving from Pittsburgh to Maine. I’m trying to figure out how to best document this trip for blogness – that is, without getting obsessive about documenting it but still allowing myself room to make an awesome post. I’m sure I’ll be talking about stuff as it happens on Twitter, so I think I’ll make just two posts here, one about the trip home and one about the trip back.

I’m very excited. I’m making some borderline obsessive itineraries. It has oscillated between really fun and really stressful doing all this planning. We’re gonna fit so much cool stuff into the next week. I really need a break.

We’ll be going to both of my parents’ houses in Maine, and back. We’ll stop along the way to see some of my family and some of both of our friends. Ryan hasn’t met any of my family yet, so that’s going to be exciting (and kinda strange). We’re gonna go to the Cryptozoology Museum, and we’re gonna try to go to Ogunquit in the cold. We’re gonna go to Big G’s. I might make him go to the LC Bates up the street from my dad’s. I might make him visit my old high school so I can see a few rad old teachers. We might even stay at a cheap, terrifying motel. Also, any ridiculous roadside attractions, obviously. I’ve never brought someone back to see my origin story before. Ryan, you’re a lucky man. Or something.

This has been “Kaeli’s strange attempt at a teaser trailer for her spring break,” thanks for tuning in.

A Body (guest post)

by Abbigail Baldys

i don’t know how to write a blog or have a body

since i’m borrowing (perverting?) kaeli’s blogspace, i suppose it’s mildly appropriate that i begin with kaeli herself. i met kaeli—following fashion of all my favorite beings—in a poetry class in undergrad at UPitt. i admired her talent, intelligence, brilliant t-shirts, & self-haircuts (please tell me again how you manage that, darling). & as i’ve read her blog, i’ve noticed something more to admire. kaeli is brave in all the vulnerable spaces. & it makes sense to me—what good is a cowardly sensitivity? & maybe it’s some cultural fallacy i’m following when i write that emotional transparency is brave, but i imagine that fallacy has made legitimate too many poets, authors, & artists for it to matter.

despite my rampant (& somewhat insane) support of transparency, i’ve been a public- emotion coward. most notably, my cowardice nestled in the poetry i wrote (& write—old habits fuck hard—wait—no–): i created cryptic syntax. i redacted lines. & while i’m not a proponent of radical transparency, (some things still should remain sacred—the secrets held in bodies don’t always need to write themselves out), i am on the side of good-intentioned personal honesty. &, in this space, kaeli has inspired me to be honest.

i’ve had body dysmorphia since i can remember. i didn’t obsess over it, & i never even identified it until high school was tucked neatly into retrospect. i attribute my late-onset to the gift of distraction: from 5-22 years old, i purposed my body through athletics. my collegiate soccer experience forced me to accept a forfeit of my body independence—i was to understand that my body needed to perform certain functions at certain times; i must gain mass; i must have a low percentage body fat; i must eat only what maximizes performance. & in calling all this attention to my fat & muscle & skin & bone, i suppose collegiate athletics tipped me further into body consciousness.

& as much as i’d love to completely blame my disorder on collegiate soccer (which is some odd form of prostitution, to be honest), i’ll admit that my genetics don’t boast the prettiest tendencies for mental stability, so i’m always kind of walking the craggy edge of fuckery/sanity—although, really, there’s not much of a dividing line.

after i retired from soccer, my body owned—bit by bit—more of my consciousness. by the time i graduated college & touched down in Berkeley for a summer writing program, food & body became obsessions. & as much as i wish i could pin-point what went wrong & how & when & exactly what mildly fucked up things i couldn’t entirely process from my childhood & from what in particular my body-obsession was distracting myself & whatever whatever (obviously i made it to therapy), i feel like my body un-doing was more of a slow unravel. i won’t catalogue what happened in Berkeley because my body is more than what i’ve suffered. if what they say is true—that we’re made of the same stuff as stars—then i’m much more concerned with our radiance & triumph than void.

i arrived back on the east coast weighing roughly twenty pounds underweight. i was constantly lightheaded, i couldn’t walk two miles without feeling like i was going to pass out, & i spent most of my time in bed. i started going to therapy. i got a puppy. i began eating again. i gained weight. i still had a secret scale & weighed myself a lot & mostly cried. but things got better. i could run again. i could think about things that weren’t food & my body-disgust, & i could write much more coherently. i gained more weight. i got a shitty job in retail. i wrote letters & marveled thunderstorms & moved to Richmond.

i’ve been here almost 4 months & haven’t weighed myself in almost that much time—thanks to a note on the scale from my particularly fantastic boyfriend (something along the lines of “you weigh gorgeous pounds and beautiful ounces; don’t let a number dictate how you feel”). i don’t own a full-length mirror. i cook & bake cookies & work in a florist (i know too much about flowers & how they mold) & most days i’m still genuinely fucked with my body perception. & part of what i’ve learned about sensitive minds is that they’re often their own undoing— & although i’m sure we’ve heard this all before too too too many times, it never hurts to say it again—our most scathing critics are often ourselves, & as keepers of our realities, that makes life pretty fucking hard.

& while i’ve been able to meditate a lot on bodies & their functions & interpretations (no boring, odd theoretical lecture ahead), i think what i’d like to share most about my disorder is this:

1. being disordered isn’t pretty. you feel like shit, you look like shit. [& people told me this & provoked more body shame (thanks, fuckheads), but the scariest thing is that some people told me i looked good. & i’d like to raise a giant middle finger to all the people who said ‘wow, you look amazing’]. & i owe too many apologies for tarnished relationships, & i struggle now to be stable with my current boyfriend—but when you find someone who really loves you, they stay.

2. & staying brings me to this—you’re never alone. when you allow those you love to help you (especially those with four paws & wet noses), the world begins to feel gentle again.

3. you’re not your enemy. to paraphrase my therapist—“there’s nothing wrong with you. there’s nothing you need to change about yourself. there are just parts of you calling for your attention, & they’re asking you to listen to what they’re saying. it’s hard. but when you listen, you can learn how to answer back.”

i’d like this little written profession to be an invitation for & celebration of honesty. our struggles are tailored to ourselves, but maybe part of my recovery will be a stitch in someone else’s—and wouldn’t that be nice—if perhaps we’re all sewn in one big ball of beautifully fucked up minds—i don’t know.  maybe the fault lines in our palms are really logograms for the poetry of our skin—perhaps everything we touch becomes poetry—perhaps bodies are the most immediate way of experiencing art & that’s why we have them—& maybe you & i should revere ourselves in the most incredibly gentle ways. we’re stars, after all. we feel so much. we explode so fine.

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abbigail baldys lives in RVA with her german shepherd, blaze. she’s an unknown poet, tea-cup collector, simple songwriter, & half-artist. you can write her a letter or send your teeth addressed to: 3122 W Clay Street Apt#10 / Richmond, VA 23230

An Apology

Guys, I fucked up. I didn’t write a post last week.

Look, I’ve been genuinely, truly overwhelmed. A lot is going on for me right now, and much of it is definitively not mine to talk about. What I am comfortable talking about is the fact that I’m working two jobs (which still isn’t enough money) and taking a 12-credit courseload, of which 3 credits are a 10-plus-hour-per-week internship and 3 credits are TAing an Intro to Creative Writing class. I’ve made myself intensely available to my students and to MegaBits, and while I don’t regret that, it has made me incredibly distractible and spacey on TOP of busy. I’m in a relatively new and serious relationship, which often makes me feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m trying to overcome (or realistically manage) depression, anxiety, and disordered eating through individual and group therapy every week and other week respectively. I’m in my poetry senior seminar and I have never felt more pressured to produce valuable work (at times I feel qualified to do so, and at other times vastly unqualified.)

Excuses, excuses. I can rattle off why precisely I’m busy or ailing, but I should still be a functional human being. And there are glimmering moments of that. But overall it’s been really difficult to see a pattern at all, let alone a positive one. Sure, I make jokes on Twitter about my brain, like it’s a little sibling that only I get to make fun of. But I am my brain, and my brain is sub-par right now. I don’t want to indict anyone for this, and it feels dangerous to even suggest, but sometimes it feels like I’m trained as a self-hate monk, and the world is my cloister.

It’s all too much. It also is entirely not enough. I’m so tired, and I’m so sorry about that shitty fucking pun just now.