(amateur poet's amateur personal essays)

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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.




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.



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.

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.