Postcards From the Edge

2016 was almost over.

There were only four days left, but we couldn’t even make it that far.

The cruelest thing is that she was fine. They’d just told us she was okay. I’d just thought it was safe to relax. And then I went to work the next day, and Carrie Fisher was gone.

I just . . . I’m so crushed. We needed her so much. We needed her telling us to stop asking whether she’d “aged well,” needed her sarcastic wit, needed her plain refusal to take any more bullshit. We needed her dog Gary, and her funny memoirs, and her openness about mental illness. We needed General Organa to take the fucking galaxy in hand and be the solid, powerful, in-control grownup woman role model we’d never had.

I miss her already. More than any of the others who’ve died this year, even others who were incredibly special to me, I already feel the loss of her. Partly that’s because of the immediacy of Star Wars, the cruel irony that the series had just been revived, that she was going to be in who knows how many more movies. But it’s also because she was such a presence. She’d been through so much, and she showed us how hard it was, how fucked up it all was.

And it is—it is all so fucked up.

Like Debbie Reynolds dying the next day.

Things To Do

Take kung fu, tai chi, or another martial art.

Go to ladies night at the comic book store.

Go to the last Thursday book group at Deep Vellum. 

Join the feminism and social justice book club I was just invited to.

Hang out with friends on my own; doesn’t always have to be with Mike. Hopefully he’ll start going out with G more, so I don’t have to feel like I’m leaving him alone.

Invite M and Z over for a movie, or to dinner on the weekend.

Buy more plants—because we can’t live in San Francisco, but we can try to recreate the feeling at least a little.

Use the apartment’s gym, or the rec center if necessary—just to be around other people.

Read at Starbucks.

Maybe volunteer at the Richardson library.

Thrift store shopping, especially for furniture and art, especially after we move to the new place—also garage sales.

Clean out old things: purses, clothes I don’t wear, dishes we don’t use, random knickknacks. All the things that just become clutter. Reread Marie Kondo.

Limit anime nights with my brothers to once a week. We’ve been doing this for a couple years now and I really like it, but it had become the only thing we ever do, and something that got in the way of doing anything else. We’ve been on a break since my family is moving and they’ve been busy packing, and I’m realizing that it’s a huge breath of fresh air.

When we have a house . . . A garden with cucumbers, radishes, and tomatoes. 

Take a Japanese class, and once I do, start going to the Japanese meetup again.

Watch more movies, not just television shows on Netflix. Maybe it’s silly but movies feel like an accomplishment, an intentional choice rather than just going on autopilot.

Practice knitting.

See if Glass Half Full could become our new Fillmore.

Go to H-Mart and Daiso, by myself if necessary, at least once every couple months.

See better movies. Look for international ones playing at the dollar theater.

Watch Ticketmaster, try to go to more shows.

Stop bringing home dozens of books from the library at the same time, stop doing reading challenges. Just read what I want to read—and read a lot less, as insane as that sounds to me. I don’t need to have five or six going at the same time, and I don’t need to read 200 books a year. It’s just getting ridiculous.

Try to remember how much I want to do these things, even when they inevitably get lost in the fog of depression. Think of them as crutches, ways to make life less miserable until a permanent (or at least official) solution is possible.

Looking Up Through the Leaves

I just had the most beautiful flash of a memory from childhoodthat time around sixth or seventh grade, before you’ve totally grown out of your actual child-ness and into a teenager. I was in the backyard of the house we lived in when we first moved to Texas. Our backyard was an acre, the front half just grass and a trampoline, the back half our own little forest of oak and pecan trees, and for just a little while, there was a time when we had a hammock. I remember a day in the fall, the sharp white rope digging into my skin, looking up through the leaves with a book in my hands.

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(Not fall, but you can see the hammock.)

Adults like to romanticize childhood as free from responsibility, based on the fact that kids don’t have to pay bills, but if you think about itchildhood is nothing but adults making you do things you don’t want to do. Actually, there’s a good chance I was supposed to be doing something else, probably mowing the lawn or cleaning my room with my sisters. But I wouldn’t have been thinking about that. Back then, when I read a book, I was in it. I could sit in the living room with my five siblings running around chasing each other, shouting, fighting, and watching Power Rangersbut I’d be aware of none of it. I miss that, almost as much as I miss the trees.

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(For perspective.)

I really miss those trees.

The Solution

I just had what feels like the most incredible idea ever. Fix all the problems in the world: take the entire population of the planet, mix everyone up, and redistribute equally across the globe. Old systems of oppressiongone. Old prejudicesgone.

How fast would things get fixed if we could strip white people of the ability to ignore every issue that doesn’t personally affect them?

Solitude is fine but you need someone to tell that solitude is fine.

I’m pretty sure friendship is impossible.

In the first place, I have had, in my entire life, only one deep relationship where I felt like the other person cared as much as I did. It wasn’t until I got to college that I had a best friend who also considered me her best friend. And that was a really important friendship to me, while it lasted.

My late twenties and early thirties have been increasingly dominated by feelings of isolation. I have a handful of friends who I used to be really close with, but now rarely see or talk to; and though we still have a great time when we get together, we don’t have very much in common.

I desperately need friends. I am very much an introvert, but I also need connections with other people. I need alone time, but I also need other people around, and I guess the real problem is that I need them to be really easy to access because my social anxiety almost completely cripples my ability to reach out. I grew up in a large family, and even when I moved out of the dorms in college, I still had five roommates. I went to church regularly until I was 25, and because I was Mormon, church provided a detailed structure for my entire life.

Now, I’m not in school anymore. I’m not religious anymore, and I don’t live with family. I work part-time, and I live in a state where I feel completely out of place, so it’s even more difficult to make friends. I no longer have the kind of friends who keep in touch on a daily basisthe only people who text me are members of my immediate family, and when I do see my friends, it’s once every two or three (or six or seven) months. I am so fucking lonely.

I’ve spent the past seven or eight years racking my brain, trying to think of lapsed friends I could get back in touch with. At this point, I think it’s time to acknowledge that those friendships aren’t going to happenwhich leaves me the option of making new ones. The thing is, I can’t imagine how to do it.

All the aforementioned reasons I am lonely are also reasons it is incredibly difficult for me to make new friends. I am intensely private and insecure; I was bullied all through my childhood, and I’m basically a super-minority in terms of things other people enjoy. I don’t like sports, I don’t like reading romance or thrillers, I don’t like movies about white men shooting everything. I’m a liberal in Texas, an atheist in the U.S., a feminist in patriarchy. I don’t open up to someone until they’ve shared enough with me that I feel they are safe, and unlikely to reject me once they find out who I really am. And the only way for that to happen is for me to be around people a lot, for a long time.

The thing is, also, I have a lot of quirks and weirdness that may be part of my personality, or may be related to anxiety and depression. I have a deep need to find friends who are like me, who love the same things I love and hate the same things I hate. I have friends who don’t really read, and though I like them a lot as people, there is just only so much I can feel connected to them. I have friends who are politically moderate/conservative, and though we have a ton else in common, we can’t really talk about a lot of important things. I have friends who read the same books I do, but are also super into sports, so there are several months of the year when I just roll my eyes and scroll past everything they post on Facebook. I love these friends, and I love to hang out with them. But they don’t fill the space I need filled.

I need friends for whom reading is a natural part of life, who never say the words “I wish I could find the time.” We all experience the same number of hours per day, it’s just some people do different things in them. I need people who can’t imagine books not being part of regular life.

I need friends who swear, or don’t cringe when I do. I just can’t fully take seriously an adult who complains about “language” in a book or movie. It’s how people talk, okay? They’re just words.

I need friends who don’t wear a full face of makeup, who don’t get their nails done outside of special occasions, who don’t shave or wax their legs. I need women in my life who prefer to just exist the way we exist.

I hate to say it, but I need friends who are done reading YA. I am not the kind of asshole who thinks adults should be embarrassed to read itI’m just over it myself, for right now, personally.

I need friends who are sick of movies, because why are they all about racist, sexist stereotypes and cliches? It’s been a long time since I was able to get excited about a movie, and I hate how hard it is to explain that to people.

I need friends who are or have at some point been bigger than a size 8, because (1) empathy and (2) god, sometimes you just need to be able to not see yourself directly in comparison to someone else.

I need friends who drink, because I really like drinkingbut I also need friends who can’t afford, physically or financially, to stay out until four a.m.

I need friends who are interested in things, who like to learn things, who don’t treat me like some kind of exotic alien because I do geography quizzes and watch anime and study languages and memorize the periodic table.

I need friends who aren’t pushy, who are skeptics, who don’t try to make me Think Positive or sell me on their newest Life-Changing Belief. I especially need friends who don’t ask me to push something for them. Yes, I will like your business’s Facebook page; no, I won’t share it with everyone I know. I’m not a sales person.

I need friends who are liberal, feminist, and atheistat least agnostic. These are all places I have reached through a lot of personal growth, and I can’t start back at zero with someone else. I need people who’ve already made it there.

I need friends who honestly, genuinely don’t judge people for all the shitty reasons most people judge people. I need friends who don’t make assumptions about people based on one tiny piece of information, don’t shame parents for not being super-robots, don’t mock people’s clothes or hairstyles. I know we’re not perfect, and yeah, sometimes I’m shitty, too. I need friends who are aware when they’re being shitty, instead of trying to justify it.

I don’t understand why I need such intense compatibility. It’s an INFJ thing, so I know I must not be the only one. But that doesn’t help, because even though another INFJ might understand how specific my needs are, what are the odds that they would match them?

The Possibility of Up

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It hasn’t been a great time for me lately, but if some things that it seems are going to work out will in fact work out, then I think a lot could change in the next few months. I’m not a fan of baseless optimism, but in this case, the circumstances are such that it would take an unreasonable amount of bad luck to mess it upnot that I’m a stranger to unreasonable amounts of bad luckbut that’s where the optimism comes in.

A coworker is retiring next May, and her position is the one I’ve had my eye on for the past two years. At one time it was basically guaranteed I would get the job; now I have competition, but I’m still pretty sure I’ll be the one to get it. And if I do, that will be it. That will be the thing that makes this all work.

It will be full-time, so I will be able to have health insurance againand I won’t have to take the pay cut that I did when I left for the last full-time job I had. It will mean that my employment will finally start counting toward the ten years in public service that would allow me to get any student loans I have remaining at the time waived. It will mean that I can afford to start addressing my mental health issues, which is major. And it will mean that the city will offer tuition reimbursement, so I can afford to go to school again. I’ll be able to finally finish my poor patchwork bachelor’s degree, and use that to start working on the Masters that will, theoretically, free us to move anywhere we want.

I’ve been dying to get out of Texas for years now, and if I’m honest with myself, this will mean I’m stuck here for at least another two years, if not more. There’s a part of me that really hates that. But if those two or three years can be spent actively bettering my situation (as opposed to the Purgatory the last eight years have been), especially if they can make life a little more comfortable in the meantimeI can deal with that. I’ve never been a particularly positive person, and I don’t do Positive Thinking. I need to have a reason to hope. But that’s all I needa reason. If I have that, I can put up with almost anything.

Matilda, Mara Wilson, and Me

I started out writing this as a review for my book blog, but it turned into (1) a pretty personal post that is also (2) not at all a review. I know I have severe anxiety, but I hadn’t realized how many specific things I would have in common with Wilson. Not being in a great place lately, I am much less articulate than usual, and I’ve had this draft sitting for close to two weeks while I figure out what to say; so I decided the best way to express what I felt is just to quote everything that stuck out to me while I was reading.

Thoughts would pop into my head sometimes, and I didn’t understand why. They were bad thoughts, about people getting hurt or embarrassed . . .

Out of nowhere I would think of something horrific, and it would be so intense and detailed, so much scarier than the horror movies I was too scared to watch, it would leave me shaking. These waking nightmares always seemed to be about the people I loved most.

I don’t know how far back it started, but the first time I remember sobbing alone in my bedroom because I couldn’t stop imagining my youngest brother (seven at the time) getting hit by a car was in ninth grade. I often get freaked out walking down stairs, because I’ll imagine myself falling and snapping my neck. I can’t delete even the most mundane voicemails from Mike because I worry that I wouldn’t have any recordings of his voice if he died. Etc. I am actually not a worrier, usually, and I’m a germophobe’s nightmare. This is a very specific kind of fear that should be unusual for me.

The first time I got an answer wrong on a spelling test, I started to cry, and [my teacher] pulled me aside. “You know,” she said gently, “it’s okay to make a mistake.” I nodded until the encounter was over, then shook my head. I knew it wasn’t.

I had the same encounter in fourth grade.

“You don’t need to write so hard,” [my tutor] said once, noticing I already had a writer’s callus on my middle finger at age seven.

I’ve always had one.

My friends would talk about getting songs stuck in their heads, and I knew what they meant; I had “It’s Raining Men” stuck in my head for most of my preteen years. It wasn’t just songs in mine, though: words, phrases, names, and quotes all seemed to get stuck, too . . . They didn’t bother me so much, just stuck around like background noise that would come to my attention now and then, like when you suddenly notice a clock ticking.

This is a really big one for me, and I’ve never known that this was a problem other people deal with. I react really aggressively when I hear a song that gets stuck in my head, because it is so impossibly difficult to get rid of it once it’s in there. Even just mentioning Sara Bareilles, while listening to other music as I type, I am struggling not to let my brain start hearing the song that plagued me absolutely incessantly after I heard it once on the radio. I wouldn’t even let Mike listen to the similar-sounding Katy Perry song for over a year, because the risk was just too great.

It happens with words and phrases, too. Today I checked out a book called They May Not Mean To, But They Do, and walking out to my car after work, I found myself repeating the title over and over in time with my footsteps. Words can get stuck in my head even without a tune, particularly if they have a catchy rhythm.

Possibly worst in this category is the fact that certain conversations from various points in my past are just frozen in my head, popping up randomly or whenever I think of something related to it. It’s like there are thought grooves dug in my brain, and whenever I touch one of those ideas, my thoughts can’t help but fall into the same groove. Specific childhood arguments with my parents, a particular criticism I received from a teacher, a fight I had with my sister; and no matter how many years it’s been, I feel the emotions again almost as strongly as when it happened.

A few years ago, for a slightly silly example, I told someone at workthe head of a different departmentabout how messy the library shelves were, because we’d been so busy all summer long we hadn’t had time to shelf read. She responded a little condescendingly, “That’s why you’re supposed to do it as you go.” I was still relatively new to the library at that time, and I don’t do well with even that minor level of conflict, so I didn’t say anything. But now practically every time I shelve, I replay that conversation in my head, frustrated that I hadn’t pointed out how we were severely understaffed and so far behind that it was all we could do to get books out of the workroom—or at least just said, childishly, “That’s easy for you to say.”

Weeks would pass where I felt normal, or at least as normal as I ever was, with my worries at a livable level . . . I would tap out syllables of songs or quotes on my fingers repeatedly, until the last one landed on my pinkie, but it wouldn’t make me physically uncomfortable if I couldn’t.

Ever since my keyboarding class in junior high, I’ve done a thing where I tap, in the air or on a table, whatever I’m hearing. If I’m having a conversation, I tap out the words on an invisible keyboard. If I’m listening to music, I play the tune on an invisible piano. I don’t do it on purpose, or for funit’s a subconscious thing, and the only time I really notice it is if the music doesn’t line up properly to end on my pinkie; then it bothers me and I try to redo it so it works.

In sixth grade I spent a lot of time alone, racked with panic, crying in bathroom stalls.

It was eighth grade for me, because that’s when I started having orthodontist appointments during the day. If it was early enough that I had to go back to school afterward, I couldn’t bear to walk into my classroom and have everyone look at me, so I would sit in the bathroom instead until the class ended, trying to work up the courage. I think this is different from Mara Wilson’s issue, but spending a lot of time holed up in bathroom stalls is definitely something I understand. Also, in elementary school, I was almost always late to class. I was so mortified about walking in late that I would wait outside the door until they did the pledge of allegiance, then walk in, stoop to “tie my shoe” until they were done, and then sit down with the rest of them. I tried to believe that no one noticed me doing this.

I hadn’t been a good student for years. I got distracted by my own thoughts, and gave up too readily. Being smart felt like all I had, and if I couldn’t get something right the first time, everyone would know I wasn’t. If I couldn’t do it perfectly, I didn’t see the point of doing it at all.

I actually wasn’t a good student in high school or college, though I got decent grades because I was smart. I was in Gifted and Talented programs from second grade through high school, and all my friends in high school were the “smart kids.” Math was traumatizing for me then, because we were in the same AP classes in every other subject, but when they were taking calculus, I was struggling with pre-algebra. I was mortified anytime math class came up, so embarrassed for them to know that I wasn’t as smart as they were. Being smart was the only thing I had going for me, and I had impostor syndrome hardcore.

The kind of headache that comes from crying too much can’t be helped by Advil.

I have had chronic headaches my entire life, and I found out only a few years ago that I also have migraines. I know many types of headaches, and this is one of the worst.

[Mara] means ‘of eternal beauty’ in Gaelic, but my parents named me the Hebrew one, which means ‘bitter.’ Being bitter was my birthright.

My first name is Miri, also Hebrew, also meaning “bitter.” My siblings all have Hebrew names, and theirs are lovely and significant. Bitter was my birthright, too, and I did not appreciate it.

The ones who scared me, who still scare me, are the girls who see all other girls as competition, who see themselves as the persecuted ones, the ones whom the pretty and popular girls hate. When you believe you’re persecuted, you will believe anything you do is justified.

That last line! This quote doesn’t fit with any of the others; it’s just such an astute observation that I think applies to all humanity. In the United States in particular, this is an issue, with Christians and “Men’s Rights Activists” abusing everyone who dares to suggest that they stop dominating the rest of us. It’s the same with religious fanaticism; no one is as terrifying as a person who believes God is directing them.

Hurdles, Obstacles, and Other Metaphors for How Life Sucks

It doesn’t seem like any of it should be this complicated. All I want is to live somewhere comfortable, do things I care about, and see parts of the world other than the place I grew up. I’m pretty sure this is all a lot of people want. How can it be so hard?

I went to college for five years, but I didn’t graduate. I left in 2008 not by choice, but because I could no longer get financial aid, and in fact had to pay the university back a $5000 loan that they’d rescinded retroactively after I failed my classes in the fall of 2007. As long as that was outstanding, I couldn’t register for classes or request a transcript in order to apply anywhere else (after I moved away). It took me eight years, but three weeks ago I finally made the last payment.

Now, at 31 years old, I’m trying to figure out how to get a degree. I need a Masters in Library Science to progress in the career I’ve started, and I need a bachelor’s degree before that. Here are my options:

  • Finish the degree I started working on thirteen years ago at the college I went to
  • Transfer my credits to a university near where I live now
  • Start completely over.

Option one would require moving to Utah and finding out if the university will even allow me to attend anymore, because one of the requirements is an ongoing ecclesiastical endorsement and I have no way of getting one. The LDS church isn’t hugely fond of ex-Mormons, so I suspect that my chances are not great. Best case scenario, if this option worked, I’d be looking at two years, plus a cross-country move.

Option two is the simplest choice, in theory, but I’m not sure whether I can make it work. Transfer students have to be in good standing at the university they’re leaving, and I was on academic probation when I left. None of my AP, SAT, or ACT scores would apply anymore because I took the tests more than ten years ago, so I’d have to take the state standards test before applying and then take some of the basic courses those scores exempted me from the first time around. This would be my best case scenario, if I talk to an advisor who can make some exceptions for me.

Option three . . . sucks. On the one hand, I love being in school and would love the opportunity to get a whole new degree, especially because the one I started was largely wasted on religion electives and focused toward a career in editing rather than library science. On the more practical hand, that would mean another six years before I can get my MLS. Six years before I can even start the process of looking for a full-time librarian position. At which time I will be 37 years old.

Holy shit. I hadn’t even realized that until right now. If things continue the way they are, I will be almost 40 before I can actually start the career I’ve been working toward since I was 25.

The thing is that nothing else can start until that happens. If life was tolerable in the meantime that would be one thing, but it’s already been eight years of suffocation, massive student loan debt, no health insurance, untreated anxiety and depression, sharing one car, not being able to do any of the things we dream of doing, still never having left the country, a mile-long list of Things to Buy When We Actually Have Money . . . I don’t have a degree, so I’m stuck in part-time positions making less than half of what Mike makes, which means we depend completely on his income, which means he continues to be trapped in a job he hates, a job that drains him mentally, physically, and emotionally every single day. Because he doesn’t have a degree either, and we live in north Texas with only one car, so his options are almost as limited as mine.

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Lately

I’m trying to think of something more ridiculous than having months-long writer’s block on a blog about your own life, but the only contenders are the fact that it’s taken me probably ten minutes and twice as many rewrites to compose this garbage sentence, and Donald Trump (but that was a given). God, I hate my own brain sometimes. I have not been in a good place lately, and every time I try to write about itor anything elseI become mentally paralyzed and just end up leaving the draft unfinished. I’m starting to think I might never write anything here besides these little blog quizzes that I can use as crutches. Even this one, I started a few weeks ago and kept not publishing. How is that possible? If you know, please tell me.

Lately, I am . . .

Feeling: like a human disaster
Making: a new friend, I hope
Drinking: coffee during the day, martinis at night
Reading: Skeptic, by Michael Shermer, and My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante (finally)
Watching: Matilda, because I just read Mara Wilson’s book, and re-watching Parks & Recreation because it was finally time
Anticipating: my first visit back to Utah since the last time I moved away
Listening: Hard Choices, by Hillary Rodham ClintonI just finished a day or two ago
Enjoying: cooler weather
Loving: my sweet nieces and nephew, who I miss even after seeing them yesterday
Needing: to figure out how to afford a therapist and anxiety medication
Coveting: my friends’ travel plans
Wishing: I had learned things about myself as a teenager that would have significantly changed the direction my life took (such as aforementioned need for therapy and anxiety medication)
Wearing: all my long-sleeved shirts while I can, before the heat comes back again, because it probably fucking will
Wanting: a different life than the one I have, or maybe just to be a different person; I can’t make up my mind
Aiming: to finish my degree somehow, at some point, some way