My anxiety has been ba-a-ad lately, in particularly mundane ways. Riding in the passenger seat Saturday night, I imagined oncoming traffic swerving into us, hitting us head-on, killing me instantly. I was up until Sunday morning’s ungodly hours fretting about the cat pee in the carpet in the second bedroom, imagining thousands of dollars charged by the rental office.
I used to think studying abroad three years ago was my first brush with anxiety. The acute nature of that anxiety was certainly new to me—every moment I thought I was going to die—but I was wrong to think anxiety was new to me altogether.
As a child I would lie awake imagining our house catching fire. I, however, made no contingency plans to enact in the event that my walls met flames. My only defense against this invisible blaze was my hands slapped together, my eyes closed, praying in whispers to a god I wasn’t even sure was up there. For all I knew, my prayers stopped at my ceiling. But adults told me he existed, so it had to be true.
I was a staunch rule follower. My mom used to tell me that she always knew when I was misbehaving—that mothers had a sense for their children’s wrongdoings—and though I knew this was scientifically impossible, some part of me believed her. I feared disappointment, so I was the best kid possible, always, whether or not adults were around.
Like, the first time I tried alcohol, I was 14. My best friend and I snuck vodka from the cabinet above her fridge and mixed it with ice-cold apple juice in small ceramic mugs. Her parents both asleep. We took our drinks on the roof, careful not to spill them as we crawled out her bedroom window. I had two sips and couldn’t drink any more. I was certain my mother would find out merely by osmosis the next time I was near her. My best friend finished my drink and neither of us got drunk.
I was always certain I was being monitored, somehow. Watched but not protected. When my grandmother died, family members consoled each other by saying she would be looking after us from above. But I imagined it one step further. For years, well into adolescence, I imagined my dead grandmother up in heaven, her transparent ghost-form standing on a cloud, not just looking down but watching me and reading my mind, reading all the filthy dirty impure reprehensible things I thought about. I imagined her crossing her arms and scoffing, daily, at my disappointment.
I guess this is to say that I finished So Sad Today and it both consoled me and terrified me. It consoled me because I related to it so much and it terrified me because I related to it so much. It's all about sadness and anxiety (she also regularly imagined her house catching on fire as a child, only she made plans to escape) and sex and self and self-hatred. I don't feel better but I feel less alone. Sometimes that's all you can ask for.
Most days, I’m not sure which is closest to the surface: my sadness or my anxiety. Both adored this book. It’s weird and magic and exactly what I needed.
It’s hot as fuck in Portland today. My phone says 93, which means I shouldn’t complain, really, because my phone also says that in New York it’s 91 but feels like 102.
We have a small air conditioner that keeps the apartment reasonable, even though we’re on the third floor. It’s a nice surprise; the last time we lived on the third floor, two years ago, our apartment was horribly insulated, and our AC could hardly keep up.
I’ve not been sleeping well. Or, rather, the sleep itself is fine, but I’m not getting enough of it. My eyes wake up at 7:30 and my body follows suit about an hour later, but my brain doesn’t catch up until around 10.
The same was true today, though it’s Saturday. After a hefty cup of coffee and a cup of jasmine tea, I still felt hazy and part-dead. So I took a short walk around our neighborhood, just long enough for my head to sweat and my legs to feel tired when I ran, light-footed, back up the stairs to our apartment.
On my walk, I passed a juvenile detention center. I didn’t know it was there, but the three fences and the barbed wire and the lack of windows gave it away as some kind of prison. Google told me juvy.
Two blocks away, a sign attached to a lightpost read: “Drive safely! Kids at play!”
Oh the things we take for granted.
I’ve been in a horrible reading (and writing) slump lately. The biggest problem with this reading (and writing) slump is my inability to work myself out of it. I pick up a book (or a pen) and my body releases anxiety from deep in my stomach, like my body is saying, Hey, why are you trying, you’re just going to fail again.
So in an attempt to get out of this, I’ve been seeking out short books, mostly diary-like graphic novels, so I can feel accomplished by finishing something.
Last weekend, I read two graphic travelogues by Lucy Knisley: An Age of License and Displacement.
And today, I read Journal by Julie Delporte.
Reading this kind of work—work that is personal, introspective, and interested in presenting reality as it is—puts me in a contemplative headspace. It helps me get into my own work and get into my own writer-brain, whether that day’s work is deeply personal or not.
I recently took Emily Gould’s Skillshare class on creating a journaling habit. The course is largely inspired by Heidi Julavits’s The Folded Clock; the course’s project is to write for ten to fifteen minutes daily for ten days with each entry starting with the phrase “Today I noticed” (Julavits starts every section in her book with “Today I”). Naturally, I haven’t succeeded in doing this daily, but the days I have done it, I’ve worked better. In the class, Gould talks about how she often mines her own journal entries for small details or ideas that she can revisit and tweak and place in her fiction. I like this idea, but I’ve found that the practice is more useful for me to simply get me in the seat, to get my brain in that place where it wants to create.
About six months ago, I attended the Tin House Winter Workshop and studied with Dorothy Allison. As a parting assignment, she asked us to think about the things that make us write. Not lofty, self-serving, statement-of-purpose-y things (like revenge or validation or success or reflection) but actual, tangible things that we encounter that make us sit in the seat and get shit done. Things like: albums, poems, books, foods, sexual encounters, films, walks, etc.
I still haven’t sent her my list, all these months later (this is me publicly shaming myself; I will do it, eventually), but I think about the assignment, and the idea behind it, just about every day. I think about it mostly because there are so few tangible things that actually make me stop mindlessly scrolling the internet and write, and, this year especially, there have been so many things that have kept me from writing.
So. This blog. I’m not going to force myself to craft big-idea pieces on here. I simply want a space to get into the ideas for my big-idea pieces, to update progress on those, to hold myself accountable, to talk about what I'm reading and watching and listening to, to write whatever bullshit is happening.
If I’m going to write, I need to write. This—getting words out even if they’re nonsense—is what works for me.
I need to fight like hell for what I want. This is me fighting.