HOW TO LIVE IN IT

(amateur poet's amateur personal essays)

Bomb Threats (guest post)

by Peter Webb

RETROSPECTIVE REGARDING 2012 UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH BOMB THREATS

BACKGROUND

Two years ago, I lived in the Lothrop dorm at Pitt for my second consecutive year. Because of the bomb threats, we were evacuated twice to the Peterson Events Center, both times in the early morning. The evacuation crew provided snacks, cots, and t-shirts.

The threats lasted for about three months, starting at about this time and lasting through finals. I had a good time during this period. Many of my classes were canceled, several tests and even finals were moved online, and with everyone I saw, I had something to talk about. Every day at Pitt I am surrounded with people I will never meet. With the bomb threats, I had already met everyone. I remember people talking in the Market Central stairwell about security, I remember discussing without fear the issue with perfect strangers, I remember everyone having an opinion about what was going on, what the university should do, whether or not we were in danger, I remember a shared excitement between students and faculty alike.

The whole thing was so abstract. I think it was understood that there were no bombs; but because of security, every threat had to be responded to. At least after the first few threats, I think everyone understood that a farce was taking place, the university was following a kind of protocol that would end with the capture of some kid who would receive at least a decade in jail.

Everyone was considering the $50,000 reward for information leading to the culprit, with varying degrees of seriousness. I remember some authority telling me how no friendship was strong enough to stand up to $50,000. In a kind of disassociated way, I began finding ways to blame myself for the threats. I began worrying that I was going to make a threat.

The “threateners” wrote in and asked that the reward be taken down. Pitt chose not to negotiate with terrorists. Later, when the same offer is was made again, Pitt decided to take down the reward. This is how the threats stopped. Pitt also investigated a former teaching fellow who is crazy, a trans couple that had a previous grievance with Pitt Johnstown, and Adam Busby, a Scottish separatist, who I believe was indicted.

SAFETY FIRST

Relying on the idea that any threat is practical at any time was Pitt’s vulnerability to the bomb threats. This, I believe, is a universal policy among institutions. I guess I’m not sure why there are not more of incidents like these, especially in an age where it is possible to make threats which are almost impossible to track.

SENSE OF COMMUNITY IN WAKE OF A DISASTER

I saw the threats as a disaster-like scenario without the disaster itself. No student was harmed, although many were rudely awoken, and many may have missed academic opportunities. To my eye, there was a sense of excitement; it was like a series of days of heavy snow, wherein everyone must adjust their life to some external force, and in that adjustment, something of the human arises.

PITT FOOTS THE BILL; AND HOW I FEEL ABOUT THIS

Having to pay for everything, and possibly losing credibility, Pitt essentially was at its knees. Normally I feel a halfhearted existential anger towards Pitt, because I so often see it as manipulative, so during this period I was content for this to be the case. I felt was not my responsibility to care, I felt like a unit in a factory machine which had a wedge thrown in. I feel guilt or a sense of danger for admitting this.

FINAL CONCLUSION

I don’t advocate for more threats; this is important to say, I think, even for this blog. I think I do sometimes want a sort of guilt free way out of the whole edifice of class commitments and huge sums of money which constitutes my perspective of Pitt. But I think this desire is the result of a naivete as regards my position to Pitt. It is perhaps easy to view college without a proper understanding of the weight or complexity of the forces involved; maybe the threats were a chance to see some particular piece of internal logic, descriptive of the whole.

What I’m saying: normally what I see of Pitt is very clad in the colors that the institution has chosen for it: academic excellence, athletic spirit, cheerfulness. During the threats, Pitt in my eyes seemed to partially drop this cladding, and beneath it was visible a complex and maybe morally ambiguous construction, something very strange and led by rules not familiar to the personal realm.

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PETER WEBB is an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh. His major is English Poetry Writing and he is the head editor of Collision Magazine. He can be contacted at peterbowensewebb@gmail.com and maintains a poetry blog.

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Life F**king Lessons

Guys, I have a confession. I have this gigantic, family-sized crush on the Osbournes. I was raised on pre-Dio Black Sabbath, and so it’s obvious I would have an affinity for Ozzy – but Sharon and Kelly and Jack all have a place in my heart too. Here are some things I learned from the Osbournes:

  1. Every once in a while, you just gotta throw a ham at your neighbor. I don’t mean literally (unless that’s your thing), I mean like – sometimes you’ve just had enough of someone’s shit. In the first season, the Osbournes had an ongoing feud with their neighbors, who one night were singing “He’s Got The Whole World” at the top of their lungs. The Osbournes played competing metal music first, and then Sharon resorted to gigglingly throwing a ham over the fence between their houses. It was hilarious and therapeutic. Sure, the cops came, and said “Don’t throw bagels at ‘em, don’t throw ham at ‘em,” but it all ended up okay.

  2. Don’t fucking do heroin. It’s the one drug even Ozzy wouldn’t touch.

  3. Your family will horrify and embarrass you. Obviously. Just watch literally any moment of the show where Kelly talks to literally any member of her family.

  4. You gotta do what you gotta do. Sharon’s dad, Don Arden, was once Sabbath’s manager. He was generally a douchefuck, and eventually Sharon told him to piss off. When Black Sabbath ditched Ozzy, she took over his management. She has since managed Motorhead, Lita Ford, and The Smashing Pumpkins. She also turned down offers from Fred Durst, Guns N’ Roses, and Courtney Love.

  5. Misunderstandings happen. This is okay.

  6. Hope isn’t just for airheaded twats. The family has been through so much: Ozzy’s addiction and Parkin syndrome, Jack’s MS, Sharon’s colon cancer and proactive double mastectomy… They are a family of survivors and they are continuing to succeed. Fuck illness in its stupid little face.

  7. Don’t make assumptions about someone’s intelligence. Ozzy is severely dyslexic, and in his autobiography he talks about how he would have rare moments of clarity and suddenly be able to read – he would read as many books as he could before the dyslexia would creep back in. Oh, also, Ozzy wrote an autobiography and it’s brilliant.

  8. Swearing is really, truly not the end of the world. Their Christmas episode has a total of 78 bleeped-out swears.

  9. Have a heart and share everything you can. In the early oughts, the Osbournes took in a teenaged friend of the family named Robert Mercado. Robert’s mother died of the same type of cancer Sharon battled. They not only took Robert in but also sent him to college, endorsing his dream of drama school.

 

note: I took out one of these about Kelly’s weight loss because it was disingenuous and reductive and I didn’t like it.

Standupiversary (guest post)

by Ryan Thompson

This week marks my two year Standupiversary: two years since the first time I went on stage with a prepared list of “jokes” and told them in front of strangers. This seems like a good time to look back at where I started, where I am now, and the time in between. Here are a few stories, observations, and reflections – thrown together, much like one of my sets, in a half-thought-out order.

In the past 2 years, I have been on a stage (of some sort) with a microphone (in front of varying numbers of people) 95 times. I know there are people who have been doing this for shorter periods of time who have been on stage a lot more than me. Living where I do poses a challenge: the closest all-comedy open mics are 1.5 hours away, in Pittsburgh. When I’m home, I’m relegated to mixed mics, which happen in bars and coffee shops, sometimes without a PA system. These consist of acoustic cover songs (I’ve heard Wagon Wheel and Free Fallin’ more times than any human should), the occasional poet, and my standup (sometimes along with my hilarious friend Jimi). These open mics serve as almost background noise for the patrons of these small college bars. If they hear a song that they drunkenly recognize, they half-sing along as they continue to eat their half priced chicken wings (which are, admittedly, quite good).

Sitting at the bar with an Angry Orchard, I nervously jot down phrases on a notecard to help remember the jokes I want these strangers to enjoy that night:

Shaken Baby
Abortion
Triscuit
Bigfoot
Dog Years

When I walk onto the stage, people become confused. The person who was just on stage tries to hand me the guitar.

“No, I’m going to tell jokes”

“Oh. (pause) So, you don’t need the guitar?”

As I take to the stage, I take a moment to look at the crowd, preparing myself for my time. I loudly proclaim my name and my mission statement, hoping not to startle them, but rather to ease them into my world for the next 10 minutes. It fails, and they continue to eat their food and converse with their potential one-night stands. I stand under the hot stage lights of the otherwise dimly lit back room of Toby Hill. Even though their attention is never fully on me, I tough it out and tell my jokes. Occasionally, one table will pay attention and I’ll get laughs.

This is where I started doing comedy: not under the best circumstances, but I needed to be on stage.

My first trip outside of a 30 mile radius to joke was exciting. I was on TWO shows in one night: one at a skatepark, and the other at a slam poetry event.

I prepare my set almost 2 weeks in advance and practice it relentlessly. I dress up for this. I wear nice pants, a button down shirt, tie, and a sweater vest – even though it’s a lot of degrees outside. I arrive at the skatepark and ride around for a while on the various ramps until the show starts. I’m on first, and there is no host, so I just kind of have to walk up and start. The mic keeps cutting in and out. Thankfully, my experience back home had taught me how to deal with this, and I ditch the microphone completely. After delivering my last punchline, I speed off to the next show.

This one feels a little more… put-together. Four slam poets go on stage before me, spilling their hearts out, emotions and feelings and truth. Then me. Then I get on stage and tell well-rehearsed jokes about Triscuits and Bigfoot for fifteen minutes. This goes surprisingly well. It’s a much needed break from the stories the poets are telling, full of abuse and unrequited loves. It’s a good experience, but I still feel a little uncomfortable, out of place, one of only 2 comedians on a show of 12 slam poets.

Not all of my shows were shoddily thrown together hodgepodges; some were real comedy shows in comedy clubs with people who paid money on a Saturday night to see a show. I haven’t done many club shows in the past two years, but the few I’ve done have been some of my best. The most recent of these shows was in Buffalo this past December. I’ve become friends with my favorite comedian ever, Kyle Kinane, and am lucky enough to be able to do shows with him occasionally.

Sitting in the green room as the host is on stage, I’m told I’m expected to do eight minutes instead of the five I was originally told. This may not seem like a lot, but I’ve got a five-minute set prepared and so I have to scramble to figure out where to put different jokes to fill time. I look like the governor just called to explain that my execution has been moved to five minutes from now and I’m hastily writing my final words.

“Relax,” Kyle says to me from the comfy green room couch. “It’s just jokes. You’ll do great.”

I finish my set list right as the host is supposed to call me to the stage, but he has a forgetful moment, and he brings up the feature act first. I’m super relieved that I have an extra 20 minutes to look over my set. Finally, my name is called, and I walk on stage. Just like the back room of Toby Hill, I stand for a moment and scan the crowd; I can barely see anyone because of the lights. I tell my first joke, and unlike Toby Hill, I hear the crowd and realize everyone is actually paying attention – they’re all laughing. I get offstage and completely forget about the anxiety of having to change my set just minutes before.

“That was awesome, man.” Kinane says to me as I re-enter the green room. He has a beer in hand. He’s ready to get on stage and captivate the audience for the next 45 minutes.

I’m relieved. I’m comfortable. I’m happy. I think, “this is really what I want to do.”

I’m not claiming to be an expert on comedy. I’m not claiming to be funny all the time, though I do try hard to be. I have traveled hundreds and hundreds of miles to get on stage and try to make strangers laugh. It sounds weird when I say it like that, but this is what I’m choosing to do. It’s only been two years, but I’m a comedian, and I don’t plan on stopping.

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Photo by Ashley Crowley.

Ryan Thompson is a comedian from Northwestern PA. Leave it to Ryan to show me up on my own blog by writing 1200 words. Ryan’s comedy lives in the space between honesty and absurdity. His whimsy is balanced by a plainspoken delivery and flavored with a dash of cynicism and self-deprecation. Ryan’s comedy smirks and watches you retrace the steps it has already taken.

Find him on Twitter: zerohacker.

The Rough Ones

Holy shit, did this week suck. I haven’t felt like myself all week. I’ve been so exhausted.

I wanted to try and write something deeper than what I’ve written the past few weeks. This is gonna be personal. I’m not sure how good or valuable it’s going to be.

I was talking to my therapist on Wednesday, about the situations and people I sometimes struggle with, and how the frustrating stuff for me tends to be black-and-white thinking situations. He pointed out that a lot of people who come in for therapy need help to think less simply and to see the shades of grey in between. He also pointed out, half-chuckling, that I most certainly do not struggle with shades of grey. We agreed that, if anything, I get too caught up in them. Sometimes I feel a lot of internal pressure to understand things in the most nuanced way possible, and in doing so, I get overwhelmed. I doubt a situation which leads me to doubt my feelings which leads me to doubt my motivation which leads me to doubt my identity (ugh).

He also pointed out that the one thing I do seem to see in black-and-white terms is myself. At the core of it, I don’t believe I’m a valuable person. People can tell me otherwise (and have) time and time again, but I sit closest to my faults, so any evidence otherwise feels disingenuous at worst and uninformed at best. It makes sense when you arrive at this conclusion through my doubt cycle. Anxiety and doubt are handy this way; if I’m told it’s 99.9% likely that something isn’t my fault, I cling to the 0.01% like a liferaft. The only person whose nuances I can possibly understand entirely are my own, so I pace their halls like I’m locked in.

In the session before this one, he pulled out the DSM and read to me the clinical symptoms for diagnosing a major depressive episode. I was told in high school I had dysthymia, which is in some ways minor depression, but I also always felt like there was some vague dark thing lurking inside me, making me worth less than other people, making me “broken.” When my therapist read me the symptoms used to diagnose major depression, and I identified with the requisite amount (and a few more were questionably true of me), I felt a little peaceful. We talked about how this is just a list of symptoms, which explain what’s “going on” right now; it’s not what’s wrong with me, it’s one of the things I am struggling with right now.

As I was about to finish my session this week, my therapist and I agreed that we were leaving off at a pretty bad point. He asked me to please take a half hour to an hour to care for myself, to read a book, make myself some coffee, listen to some music. We have agreed that therapy homework is not an appropriate way for me to make progress, so this is the first time he has ever asked anything specific of me. But I didn’t do it. I had two or three relatively time-sensitive things I felt I needed to do, and I thought I could do them and then collapse at the end. I felt like I didn’t deserve a break when there were other things, things that weren’t flawed like me, and thus deserved to be done. I decided I didn’t deserve a break for just feeling bad, that in black-and-white terms I would be selfish if I needed a break. There is a more complex thought process somewhere in there, but I’m struggling to express it.

It made me feel worse, much worse, to not give myself a break. The past few days have felt scary and awful. I couldn’t get out of bed, and when I did, I felt like I was on autopilot. I don’t feel like myself, whatever that means, and I’m going to have to work pretty hard to figure out how to reason myself into giving myself a break sometimes.

Ugh.

Things I Know

Things I know:

  1. Whatever it is, if it’s important right now, write it down.

  2. LL Bean will accept any return. Seriously, anything that has at one time been purchased at an LL Bean is returnable.

  3. If you can learn to bake, it’s significantly easier to win people over.

  4. On that note, easy peanut butter cookies: 1 egg, 1 cup peanut butter, 1 ⅓ cups sugar; flatten with a fork in a # shaped pattern, sprinkle with extra sugar, bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes; take out of oven and leave on pan until cool enough that you can stand to eat them.

  5. It is helpful to know someone, be they a friend or partner, who gives good hugs.

  6. Be wary of people who flat-out dislike dogs.

  7. Be equally wary of people who dislike cooking competition shows.

  8. Therapy can be both incredibly helpful and incredibly painful, but overall it has been worth it so far.

  9. If you think you have something figured out, there is a 99.99% chance you do not.

  10. If something’s got you worked up, express it as soon as you find the courage.

  11. There is a blog post that will prove your point and a blog post that will entirely refute it. I will still, every time, think that I am wrong on account of the refuting post.

Things I still don’t know:

  1. How to sit down and get work done on my own time without rushing at the last minute.

  2. How to respond to “What’s good?”

  3. How to make my comedian acquaintances like me.

  4. How to not be scared of almost everything.

  5. How not to send Ryan 10 texts at a time like a crazy person.

  6. How much half-and-half is the tastiest amount to put in my coffee.

  7. How to get onstage and tell jokes.

  8. How to have an appropriate amount of food at a party.

  9. How to say what I mean and provide valuable feedback in poetry workshop period, let alone on a poem I don’t quite like.

  10. How to do laundry proactively, such that there are no clothes-related emergencies on laundry day.

  11. How to write a good, not contrived, not too low-effort, still funny, but not too funny, likeable, but not pandering… follow-up to my most-trafficked post so far.

On Dating a Comedian

It’s time for something I’ve been trying to write for a bunch of months now.

At some point before Ryan and I were together, I googled “Dating a comedian.” I guess I just wondered what the internet had to say on that matter, or something? Shhhh, don’t worry about it.

Turns out, (almost) nothing nice.

First, let’s be real, it’s not just women that date comedians. Sarah Silverman, for example, has definitely had boyfriends. Also there are gay male comics. Also a whole brilliant spectrum of queerness!

Second, I have so much to say on this that you can consider this post a “Part 1,” to be continued.

Look, here’s what I know about Dating a Comedian, or at least, the one I’m dating. He’s as good as I am, if not better, at gauging how I’m feeling. He gets so, so excited when he can make me laugh. At shows, I get to see his jokes land well and watch him at his most proud. He makes me laugh after I come down from a sobbing fit. I get to help him think about his jokes and his path in comedy. I get to pretend I’m his Jeannie Gaffigan, his Jessica Seinfeld. He knows when a joke “works” or doesn’t, so he is capable of adjusting with feedback from me about my comfort zones and needs. He’s incredibly communicative. We have the same taste in comedy (most of the time, sorry Weird Al.) So far I’m only in one joke of his, and certainly not an integral part (It’s an autocorrect joke, I’m the one he was texting.) I’m so fucking proud of him as a comedian and as a person.

I don’t get why someone would write off all comedians as potential partners.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I’m some relationship guru. I’m not saying my relationship is perfect for anyone, maybe not even me. I am saying, though, that I think I know how to effectively communicate and how to maintain expectations in my relationship. If Ryan and I don’t work out, I’m not going to write some scathing personal essay about how comedians are terrible people and I’m not going to go back and communicate the things I wasn’t happy with in the past in some new, connected light based on a fundamental aspect of my partner’s personal identity.

There are people who act douchey. There are comedian douchebags, there are writer douchebags, there are unemployed douchebags, there are corporate lawyer douchebags. I’m sorry if you dated someone who treated you douchily. I know that sucks, I truly do. It makes you act like a different person, it makes you scared, and it sometimes worms its way into your brain pretty permanently. I have all the sympathy in the world for people who have been used in mean-spirited jokes against their will.

If you don’t like comedy, or if you know there are topics you’re iffy on (we all have them, whether they’re political issues or personal experiences you’re triggered by), or if you don’t want to be around comedy all the time – don’t date a comedian. But don’t forget that it’s nobody’s fault you’re not compatible with a person.

But here’s the thing – I love comedy. I hear about pretty much every comedy related news story, I go to so many open mics I can confidently tell you 75% of some of my friends’ material. I could certainly tell you 99% of Ryan’s. (Tell you, not perform. Haven’t got that performing thing down yet.) I think my boyfriend is hilarious.

If you like comedy, but someone has made a cruel or mean-spirited joke about you onstage – tell them that was shitty. Explain to them precisely why it was shitty. Tell them that supporting their comedy is important to you (unless that’s a lie, then see that other “if you don’t like comedy” paragraph) but not more important than your relationship. Talk about what the joke meant to your partner, whether they truly feel what they’re saying, what the joke means to you, and whether it matters to you if the joke is “true” if they’re still going to tell it. Talk talk talk, figure things out, and if their responses are sub-par, you’re not compatible with them.

If they knowingly hurt you again, then the relationship was bad. Comedy’s not at fault for an inconsiderate person.

Ryan made a joke that hurt me yesterday morning. It wasn’t in front of anyone, it was just between the two of us. He was trying to scare me, and after saying “boo” to no avail, he said “the fuuuuuuture.” It should be noted that I now actually think this is very funny, but in the moment I was in a li’l baby rotten mood, I hadn’t had coffee yet, and it hurt. I semi-calmly explained that I didn’t find that joke funny. Ryan felt bad. I felt bad for coming across as humorless, like I take myself too seriously to be with a comedian. (It was “just a joke,” after all.) We both felt bad and we both explained why. When I later talked to my therapist about the whole thing, he pointed out that it’s okay for there to be a moment when a joke that would “normally” be kosher doesn’t pass.

It’s okay feel shitty about something your partner did or said, and it’s okay to ditch someone for disrespecting your boundaries. It’s not okay, though, to stay silent and resent who they are as a person because they don’t change their behavior.

And hey, look at that, I used my partner in an essay. Never date a writer.

What Pisses You Off?

In talking with my therapist, my next project is to better learn to sit with and work through anger. I tend to seize up and refuse to get angry, because I feel like I shouldn’t get angry or like things aren’t worth getting angry about, but that’s not how a feeling works.

Here is a list of things that piss me off.

  • When I go to empty the dishwasher and the stuff inside isn’t dry yet.
  • When someone close to me makes a shitty, sexist comment and I can’t say anything about it because I’d be “overreacting.”
  • When a grocery store bagger is obviously not trying to group like things together. Milk and bread but then another bag with (cold) juice and cereal? Really?
  • The multitouch scroll function on my new computer is really shaky and imprecise.
  • When I go to a coffeeshop to get some work done and the internet doesn’t work there.
  • When I have a discussion on the internet and the other person will not even consider what I’m saying.
  • Argumentum ad hominem. There’s absolutely no use in insulting the person you’re trying to argue with. What’s an argument for if not to settle something?
  • When people use honesty as an excuse to be needlessly disparaging or condescending.
  • How the character on Girls I most resonate with is Hannah, ugh.
  • When I’m cooking and I know I screwed something up but I’m not done cooking and I have to finish what I’m cooking knowing it’s not going to be as good as it could.
  • When people at work throw their money down on the register in front of me without looking at my outstretched hand.
  • When I think about the fact that, more likely than not, I am going to miss a week of blogging this year and I won’t have properly met my goal.
  • When someone tells me a poem of mine is “overwritten.”
  • When people at work feel the need to explain why they want their groceries double-bagged (I’m taking a bus, I have to go up a flight of stairs, last week I got cans too and the bag broke, I use them for my cat, I use them for recycling) instead of just asking for it. It’s not a reserved, preferential treatment.
  • When people at work do anything, really.

What (inexplicably or explicably) pisses you off?

On Lightness

Last week’s post was cathartic. A handful of different people reached out to me to say very sweet things – both identifying with how I’ve been feeling and reminding me they’ll be around if I need them. That was wonderful, thanks to all of you.

It’s been another rough week, and this time I’m going to write some lightness.

On my first real date with Ryan, we both traveled separately to Cleveland for a comedy show. I took a 6AM megabus and spent the morning in Cleveland by myself, and he left work a few hours early to drive out to meet me that afternoon. I remember hopping into his car and trying so hard to make my “Hi” as breezy as possible, even though I was running on empty and had lied that I was exploring all morning while really I had found a coffeeshop and sat there for hours upon hours almost dozing off. We walked around the block where the show was, holding hands, me mostly watching him shop for records. He kissed me in a toy store, between racks of Star Wars action figures and a glass case of lego vehicles.

The comedian we traveled to see was Pete Holmes. It’s a little bullshit to say a relationship was built on one specific thing, a little chintzy, but if there was one thing that drew Ryan and I to each other at first, it was our mutual love of Ole’ Petey Pants (self-applied nickname).

The second time I ever hung out with Ryan was when Pete’s new special, “Nice Try, The Devil” was released. He went to a comedy show in town and then stopped by my house to watch the special with me. We sat together on a loveseat in the living room, with my roommates on another couch just nearby, and with each laugh I let myself fall a little closer to leaning on him. It was delightfully innocent and awkward.

Pete Holmes was given a show on TBS last October. When it first started up, Ryan and I both held off watching it so we could watch it all at once together. On the Saturday morning after the show started, we woke up and watched the week’s episodes all in one chunk. Even then, Ryan knew things had been hard for me lately; as he’s the only person I’m really comfortable crying in front of, he gets a lot of my ugly. But while we were watching TPHS together and laughing, I couldn’t help but to look at him and explain how genuinely happy I was. Laughing and cozy and enjoying something we both unequivocally love.

Pete has a remarkable ability to illuminate the possibility to find small moments of lightness in the world. He marvels and wonders openly. I hope more and more as time goes on to be like him, to be able to appreciate the “cosmic joke” of life. Check out this bit (admittedly an old one) if you want to understand a little.

A Wonderful Life

When I was a very small child, my father sat me down to watch It’s A Wonderful Life. One among several Jimmy Stewart movies he shared with me, this in particular stood to teach me about life’s intrinsic value. Essentially, the film is about touching the lives of others and the butterfly effect of these small touches. I’ve watched It’s A Wonderful Life around Christmastime since before I can remember. At some point, it became my own tradition and not my father’s.

This year, as Ryan and I sat down to watch the film over a New Year’s Eve spaghetti dinner, George Bailey grew into an especially deep, elbow-skinning place in my chest. He is a hopeful man stuck in a small town. He says, “I’m shakin’ the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I’m gonna see the world. Italy, Greece, the Parthenon, the Colosseum. Then, I’m comin’ back here to go to college and see what they know. And then I’m gonna build things. I’m gonna build airfields, I’m gonna build skyscrapers a hundred stories high, I’m gonna build bridges a mile long…” However, by the film’s climax, George is on a bridge in a blizzard, contemplating suicide after discovering that he is “worth more dead than alive.” George Bailey’s salvation comes in the form of the people he has cared for his whole life, the people his father’s “beautiful old Building and Loan” has helped over the years. George realizes that he has impacted the world positively at almost every turn.

December 14th, noon. I’m sitting on my bed, eyes swelling with tears, Ryan’s hand on my back. Last night was my birthday party, my house filled to the brim with people who love and support and care about me. Today, a nitty-gritty snowstorm that’s making me nervous about work. It’s the end of the neverending list that was finals week. In retrospect it makes sense that I’m this overwhelmed, but in the moment… forest, trees, etc. I call work, explain that the storm is worrying me, that I don’t want to get stuck there if I make it in, since my commute is one of the longest. My manager says not to worry, that they’ll make sure I get home. I’m taken by surprise, I say okay and hang up. This is the beginning of the defining low point of my year. For several hours, I am a sobbing and inconsolable mass of dark goo.

The reason I’m writing this post is that I feel very George Bailey this year. It feels like every turn is a dead end, I feel like I’m going about most things wrong. I’m scared in my relationships that I’m not necessary or even beneficial, that people might be better off without the ordeal of a person I can be. I felt for a split second the terrifying feeling that I imagine George felt staring out at the river below him, stranded in the snow, lip bleeding. I have felt bad before, but never this bad. I tend to downplay the darkness because I know not every bad feeling is a disorder, and I know there’s no use for hopelessness. But now it feels as though what I thought was darkness was torchlight and that torch was just extinguished. For all the gesturing at brokenness I’ve done in my life, for all the talking about how worthless I am, this dark felt truest. I am okay and safe, and I am not going anywhere, I’m not going to do anything dangerous. I promise. It’s just – this was the first time I’ve ever wished I would do something definitively hospitalizable.

It’s a Wonderful Life has been uplifting each time I watch it, has convinced me that life truly is wonderful. This year, though, as the tradition moved from a family event to a journey of personal necessity on which I dragged Ryan – this year, it doesn’t feel right. This year, I had a room full of friends with me just 12 hours before the darkest I’ve ever felt. I have a wonderful boyfriend who cares immensely for me and treats me like I’m worth the entire world and then some. In the next few months, I await a new and better job, a writing internship, and a position as a TA. I have the trappings that made George’s life Wonderful. But it doesn’t feel like things are getting better inside.

And so as I go into another January, I am  ready to shed my dark December skin. But to do that fully, I need to own how difficult the year ahead of me will be. It might be more difficult than 2013 was. I might find myself wishing for that hopeless December moment in the same way that I wish for my naïve high school self-loathing. But I’m going to put in the work and speak candidly about my experience, in therapy and outside of it, with anxiety and depression.

Maybe this was too much blood drawn for a first real blog post. I will write about other, lighter things. I will have happy moments. But talking about this dark goo feels important to me, and I’m learning to just let things be important.

2014 Goals.

  1. Devote some time every week to just Ryan, no distractions.
  2. Write a 300+ word personal blog post at least once a week.
  3. Fill yellow journal before graduation.
  4. Devote 5 sit-down-and-work hours to Megabits every Wednesday and 1-5 hours every Monday.
  5. Thursday dinnertime is makeshift TA office hours for Intro to Creative Writing.
  6. Devote at least 1 hour every day to either schoolwork or productive housework (cleaning etc.)
  7. Run once a week and do some other form of extra physical activity twice a week.
  8. Buy varied and healthy groceries & stay under $50 for food in any given week.
  9. Continue my work in group and individual therapy.
  10. Make family plans for graduation.
  11. Find a satisfactory living situation with Elise (new roommate or new place).
  12. Get up a little earlier and try to write for at least 10 minutes.
  13. Weekly health journal updates every Monday.
  14. Clean room and do laundry every Monday.