Do Not Attempt

I hate yoga like I hate eggs. You may think there’s little in common between the two, but you would be wrong. Sure, one is edible and the other is guided stretching in comfy pants; but when I confess my dislike of either, I am met with the exact same skepticism.

“But it’s really, really good for you.”

“You just haven’t tried it this way.”

“Ugh, you’re wrong! This is the best way to start a morning.”

“Hate is a strong word.”

I’m not kidding. If I had a dollar for every time someone tried to convince me I didn’t really hate yoga (or eggs), I could take a week off work and fly to Bermuda and get a hot summer tan. It’s always the instructor’s fault, or the style of the class, or the  aura of the location. Hating yoga (or eggs) just isn’t a thing people understand, but trust me. There’s something about stretching and then holding it as long as I can that makes me want to run away screaming. There’s something about being quiet and breathing intentionally that (ironically) makes me want to hyperventilate. I’ve tried yoga in the woods, by the lake, in a gym, at the art museum, in classes, with mom in the basement…

I hate yoga.

But I’ve also had a stressful few weeks. On top of starting a new job, working double shifts, trying to feed myself, and remembering to get gas, I’ve also had trouble sleeping. My mind just won’t stop working. It’s like someone took the nice, neat compartments I’d made for my thoughts and bombed them to smithereens. My responsibilities used to be predictable and routine. Now there’s a mess of mental rubble–memories, stress dreams, creative ideas, and endless to-do lists.

“How can I fix this?” I wondered a few nights ago, suddenly questioning my long-held bias against yoga.

I briefly reviewed the reasons I hate yoga: it makes me fart; my butt feels vulnerable up in the air; my clothes aren’t stylish enough; it’s too quiet so everyone can hear me fart; I can’t touch my toes; conspicuous wedgies…

“Still,” I mused, alone in the gloaming, “what if I tried?”

With the entire Interworld at my fingertips, I did a quick search for the top ten easy yoga poses. As I typed, I imagined myself attempting the poses and my problems falling gracefully to the wayside. My hair came out of the rubber band in cute little wisps and my shirt draped romantically over my shoulders. My face was serene, my mind relaxed. The following is what really happened:

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I skipped the nostril breathing. According to one practitioner, three slow breaths from their left nostril was enough to put them to sleep each night. No, thank you! Good for you; not for me!

Without the aid of my left nostril, I went straight into what is called the “Easy Pose.” (I should mention that I will not be using any “asana” names during this post because I definitely would not call what I did correct or authentic in any way.) I won’t lie. I only held this long enough to take a picture.

Verdict: comfy.

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I moved on to something familiar. I’ve been doing Child’s Pose since I was a kid and mom dragged me to her yoga class. Sure, I can curl up in a ball. I can even pretend I can feel this stretching my thighs and ankles and back. But there is a limit to how long I can stare directly at the ground before I start to feel strange. One practitioner online commented that this was the cutest pose ever because they felt like a little biscuit.

Proposal: Rename this the Little Biscuit Pose.

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Now here’s a yoga pose I can get behind. The Corpse Pose is not only simple, it is also how I spent 90% of my day off on Sunday. Psshhh, yoga is easy.

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Things got a little dicey when I moved onto the Cobra Pose. This was another familiar pose, introduced to me in dance class after ab work outs, but that didn’t make it feel any less awkward as I tried to remember where to put my hands. Turns out, there’s a Cobra Pose for Dummies website. Maybe I should have consulted that first.

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Life didn’t get much easier for me as I tried out The Bridge and The Happy Baby poses. No need for commentary. I think my face says it all.

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I redeemed myself ever-so-slightly with the Camel Pose, though (trust me), it was not without some audible groaning. It took me way longer than necessary to find my heels, too. The generic, stock-photo women doing this pose on the website looked so serene as they bent over backwards. Me? I was never more aware of how much I hate yoga as when I was doing this pose.

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Undeterred, I pushed on, following with a gravely impassioned Warrior and an absurdly giddy Tree. To be fair, I was confusing the Tree with the Baby. Or, maybe I was confusing yoga with Bob Ross. Looking back, it doesn’t make sense that a tree would be happy. But then again, yoga doesn’t make sense to me. Whatever. Hindsight is 20/20.

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Things got weird when I tried to make a triangle with my body with my butt to the camera. I don’t know exactly what I was thinking, but it had something to do with wanting to imitate the woman on the website, and her butt was to the camera, too. This pose was a pretty decent stretch, but it definitely did a better job showcasing my burgeoning wedgie. We can’t all be perfect…

It was at this moment that I decided to attempt my Everest. Some people struggle with handstands, others with finding the perfect scenic location to record themselves being fabulous. I can’t touch my toes. (Yes, even after all those dance lessons mom paid for.) I took a deep breath and began to fold myself in half, imagining that I was doing it vertebrae by vertebrae, just like a yoga instructor would advise.

And then I hit a wall, but don’t take my word for it. In good faith, I documented everything.

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Nope. No matter frequently I exhaled–no matter how desperately my arms flailed looking for something more toe-like to grab–I flat out failed. Toe touches just aren’t in my wheelhouse. Sorry, mom.

After that disappointment, I couldn’t go on. My tolerance for uncomfortably pushing my board-stiff muscles to new heights was waning, and I was feeling more and more ridiculous by the minute. Don’t get me wrong, though! Some of my friends feel and look powerful when they do yoga. Some of my friends find a peaceful quietude that helps them organize their lives and conquer their demons. I don’t doubt the benefits of comfy pants, mindful breathing, and body contortions for other people. That doesn’t change the fact that I hate it.

I may be worse than a novice…I may have only looked at pictures to do these poses…I may have been too caught up in what exactly constitutes half a fish lord…I may have thrown in the towel without really trying…But I do have to hand it to yoga: it was so awkward, I stopped worrying about work.

Disclaimer: DO NOT GOOGLE YOGA AND ATTEMPT YOGA. YOGA REQUIRES PRACTICE AND BASIC INSTRUCTION. I AM A MORON.

 

First Day Report

Many of you know: today was my first day at a new part-time job. Most of you can’t know how absolutely ready I was, how absolutely terrified.

Rewind.

Almost two years ago, I moved from my college town to a new city, hoping to connect with what many of my peers seemed to have experienced after graduation. Career opportunities, friendships, relationships, success, and pride: that’s what I hoped to find. Whether I was chasing a pipe dream or not, I don’t think it would surprise you to hear that moving to a new city was not an insta-cure for the quarter-centenarian malaise. Some 80 weeks later, I was still feeling isolated, discouraged, stuck, and hopeless. The feelings of shame and worthlessness persisted, but my network of support and mentors had drastically shrunk. I was (as Lord Elrond once described the race of men) “scattered, divided, leaderless.” I was (as John Adams once described James Otis Jr.) “a ship without a helm.”

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Rewind.

In college, I took a bowling class. The coach had a policy against negative thought patterns. If we weren’t mastering a skill quickly enough or if our scores were disappointing, he wanted us to hit the brain breaks and reorganize the route. If we were particularly bad at optimism, he suggested we actually say “STOP” out loud, followed by a sentence that could turn our thoughts around. For example, if you miss a spare and you feel like you’ll never get it right: “STOP. You’ve done such great work, I bet you’ll get the next one.”

You can probably guess who took this skill out of the lanes and to the next level. (Spoiler alert: it was me.) I was having a particularly difficult year writing my thesis, and I ended up walking around campus, muttering “stop” every fifteen minutes or so. It was one of the few things keeping me from crumpling under anxiety and feelings of inadequacy. I sounded insane, but it worked. I finished my thesis. Even now, after a few hundred tries, I can usually spin straw situations into gold if I just remember to STOP.

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“Thank you, Chris. You’re welcome, Chris. I sound insane. I’m going to go talk to my therapist.”

Fast-forward.

I think this past February was the hardest month in my life so far. To kick it all off, I caught a knife with the palm of my hand, which resulted in a trip to urgent care and my first stitches. For a week, I couldn’t braid my hair, tie my shoes, scrape snow off my car, or even fasten my own belt. I was impotent and useless in ways I’d never experienced, and all my dissatisfaction with life came rushing forward. I could no longer temper the ennui with hours of Netflix and cups of tea. I felt overworked, undervalued, bored, and stagnant…

…And then I remembered to STOP.

I made it my mission to shake up my life. As soon as my stitches were removed, I took a long shower, brushed my hair, and cleaned my apartment.”New or challenging” became the mandate for all after-work activities. I went to concerts instead of binge-watching shows I’d already seen. I journaled in coffee shops instead of scrolling through Facebook. I went on runs through the woods; I practiced viola; I started and finished books. For the first time in over a year, I updated my resume and started scouring the Internet for jobs. Even the smallest breaks in routine boosted my energy and joie de vivre, and the tangible results came quickly.

Less than a month after my injury healed, I scheduled my first job interview. Interview followed interview. I had made a change and now the ball was rolling, rolling. It was almost frightening how quickly my own agency was confirmed. All this time I felt blown around by the winds of chance, and suddenly I was in charge. Positive action had reaped positive consequence, and the only thing to do was keep driving…

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Fast-forward.

“Starting a new job is always emotional,” said my training manager today in the biggest understatement of the year.

As I sat through the endless hours of training to prepare me for success in my new job, I oscillated between homesickness for my museum and overwhelming excitement for my future, both of which nearly brought me to tears. I was dressed in a sad attempt at business casual: my pinstriped eighth-grade-orchestra pants and a white lace free box crop top hidden under a hand-me-down blazer. I felt young and inexperienced as I entered the boardroom and tried to make small talk with strangers. I thought back on my last days at the natural history museum, tried to remember what it felt like to be sure, and repeated the congratulations of my coworkers over and over in my head.

Good luck.

I’m glad you got a position you wanted.

You’ll do great.

We’ll miss you.

This new job was never in my plans, but something about it feels good. Years of hard work have been validated by a 100% increase in hourly wage, more creative responsibility, and entry into a workplace that (according to these training sessions) is reserved for only the best candidates. I feel nervous, excited, overwhelmed, overjoyed, and empowered. I made a choice to make a change, and now I’m here, standing on the precipice of possibility. You’ll have to stay tuned to find out what happens next.

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“Congratulations, [redacted]!”

hello blackbird / hello starling / winter’s over / be my darling

It’s been a whirlwind long time since my last update, and I’ll do my best to slowly catch you up to where my life has gone since the end of January. (Don’t worry. It’s not too far.) I have been feeling incredibly creative lately, but I have also been struggling with focus and productivity. My thoughts come in quick bursts, as mandated by my hectic schedule. I’m lucky if they organize themselves into a complete sentence, and luckier still if a piece of paper happens to be nearby. Usually, I’m on my way to a band rehearsal, symposium, public presentation, job interview, art modeling gig, or regular shift at work, and there’s no time to record my eloquence for the ages.

(Apologies if my writing is a little rusty. Language is a muscle, etc…)

The last time I remember being able to press pause was the end of February. I managed to secure two days off work in order to see Josh Ritter & the Royal City Band perform live at the Taft Theatre in Cincinnati. In much the same way I weaseled into courses that were already full in college, I used candy as bribes, texted and e-mailed constant reminders, and even issued ultimatums. I needed to go to this concert, and it may seem an exaggeration to think of a musical performance as a mental health panacea, but trust me: there is nothing quite like a Josh Ritter concert.

I arrived in Cincinnati to meet with my friend, Joe*, who would be my concert buddy for the night. We killed some time (pun intended) by strolling through an old cemetery near his house, and I geeked out over funerary monuments with flying buttresses and German epitaphs. Once we were hungry enough for dinner, we got some deliciously greasy grub and headed to the concert.

(*not his real name)

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As we walked into the theater, I became increasingly nervous. Josh Ritter is so dear to me, and I was sharing his music with a good friend in a much more intimate way than a casual Dropbox file. I do nearly everything on my own these days, and social anxieties are often amplified 1,000x when I’m out with others. I was worried that something would go wrong, that Joe would have a miserable time, that his car would get towed, that the date was printed wrong on my tickets, that none of the instruments would be in tune, that the crowd would be weird… From the moment we entered the venue, my anxious little mind was chugging along at full speed.

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I was not, however, too distracted to accurately date the theater based only on the art deco designs around the stage. A win for history nerds everywhere!

I think part of the reason Josh Ritter’s music is so important to me is the fact that it is one of the few things I can know for sure is mine. I am a chameleon. I will change my clothes, my music, my vocabulary–my entire everything!–to be what I imagine others want me to be at any given moment. I am so good at this that I can change practically by the minute. It’s certainly a skill, but it doesn’t leave one with a very strong sense of self.

Josh Ritter is different. I fell in love with his music before I fell in love with any boys. None of my friends knew who he was, and his wasn’t one of the many CDs my parents handed me hoping it would distract me from N*SYNC. His music has been with me for years, and it has shaped, clarified, and ameliorated so many of the struggles of my nascent adulthood that I have lost count. His lyrics are magical and excite my imagination. When I close my eyes, I can see the stories play out with vivid characters and mystical landscapes. His music is warm, comforting and nostalgic. I am never so much myself as when I am listening to Josh Ritter sing…which may be the reason I always find it so hard to share him with others. He is such an intrinsic part of myself that it feels like a personal attack when someone doesn’t dig his music.

(One time a boy I thought I loved told me Josh Ritter was for old men, so I stopped listening for three whole months, and it felt like losing a piece of my soul.)

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All nerves aside, the concert was amazing. The venue was a beautiful art deco theater in the heart of downtown Cincinnati. The opening band, Barnstar, was brilliant and hilarious. As the lights dimmed to signal the end of the break, Josh Ritter opened with a truly moving acoustic rendition of Idaho that left me in literal tears. If you have not yet heard that haunting melody, go and listen to it right now, and imagine, while you do, sitting not 20 feet away from the man as he softly croons the tune bathed in a cool, blue light...

That alone is what all my dreams are made of, not to mention the rest of the set, which had me oscillating between that intoxicating mix of weepy nostalgia and unbridled joy. I stopped worrying almost immediately. To paraphrase some of his lyrics: it was hard to think a smile could bring springtime, but it did. He is truly one of the happiest performers I have ever seen. I am notoriously pessimistic, but I cannot be sad in front of Josh Ritter. His energy on stage and high spirits carried the evening and set my heart free.

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After the concert, sweet, patient Joe waited with me by the side door of the theater for the performers to exit. The group ahead of us in line turned into a tale from the Book of Virtues when they were thrown out for trying to sneak backstage, which left Joe and I first in line. I don’t remember much of what happened next, because, before I knew it, Josh Ritter had wrapped me in such a warm, familiar, and genuine hug that my mind went completely blank. I know we talked about Oberlin and history and museums. I was lucid enough to ask if we could take a picture but not enough to tell the woman taking it how to use my camera. There were more hugs–at least four!–that made me feel so loved. He told us to drive safe with such sincerity he could have been my brother or cousin or best friend. But he was a complete stranger. As we walked back to the car, I kept reminding myself that he was a complete stranger, but the recent memory of so many consecutive hugs overruled any logic. For the first time in forever, I was unselfconsciously giddy. My entire body was vibrating with happiness. I could have run a marathon. I barely slept that night.

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The next day, Joe and I spent a solid 3 hours at the amazing Cincinnati Museum Center, got some ice cream, and then I dropped in to say hello to my grandma before I headed back to Columbus to finish my laundry. I visited my parents, hugged the cat, and then finished the northward haul to Cleveland.

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A really awesome exhibit in the history museum at the Cincinnati Museum Center

I hit the ground running as soon I returned to Cleveland, arriving on time for a work shift before I even saw my apartment. It’s been the same ever since. I barely have space to breathe, but I’m hoping to update this blog soon with every important milestone I’ve achieved since my last post. (Hoping, not promising.) These include such gems as: the Mary Church Terrell symposium at Oberlin College in February, cutting my hand open in an hilarious-in-retrospect kitchen emergency, the perils of phone interviews, and voting in Tuesday’s primary election.

Until then, I wish you all the happiness of seeing Josh Ritter performing live.

Soothsayer.

Beware the Ides of March! – Soothsayer 44BC (allegedly)

It has been a few months since I’ve written a real, long-form entry about my life. While I love the ease and pithy hilarity of lists, I do sort of miss paragraphs. I had wanted to write a review of my past year, to take a step back and analyze recent events, but all my efforts dissolved into madness. At first, I found I had no words, and then I found I had too many, and then everything felt meaningless, yet also, somehow, meaningful. In the end, to avoid any conflict between the apparent nothing and the actual everything that happened in 2015, I decided to skip the hindsight in 2016 and focus on moving forward instead.

On January 23rd, I had my fortune told via a late night tarot card reading at an event hosted by my museum. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t pay much attention in 10th-grade English, but I watch a lot of TV, and I was a little cautious of strange figures in togas, crying Beware! I’m no Roman emperor, but I was still afraid the cards would tell me my career was hopeless, my life was the pits, and every decision I had ever made in my entire life was wrong.

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As she shuffled the cards, Zostra* (*not her real name) put me at ease and told me not to panic if I saw any typically negative cards. She explained that she would interpret the cards as they fell, and that I was free to independently apply that interpretation to my life as I saw fit. I nodded. So the cards were not going to spell out the names of my last five hook-ups for all the world to see. I could live with that.

When she was finished shuffling the cards herself, Zostra handed the deck over to me. “Do whatever you want to the cards,” she instructed, gently. There was no judgment in her voice, but my brain was running laps anyway. What does one do to a deck? Am I supposed to perform some interesting and complicated ritual? Should I knock it off the table like a capricious feline? What if I tossed all the cards in the air, licked each one, and then sat back down as though nothing strange had transpired? What about nothing? Is there an option to do nothing?

In the end, I balked. Like the slice of white bread covered in mayonnaise that I am, I reached hesitantly towards the cards and simply cut the deck.

“Alright,” Zostra said, unconcerned as she continued her work. She arranged the cards in what is called a Celtic Cross and began her interpretation. What follows is an abridged and incredibly amateur account of Zostra’s reading:

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The Page of Pentacles was at the heart of the spread, representing me as a person. The Page is a young card, but a competent card. It is the patron of emerging professionals everywhere and could signify someone chasing a dream job or pursuing a goal. Despite its youth, the Page can be passionate and dedicated because the Page understands exactly how much its job or project benefits the community.

I took this as verification that I work a lot, but that I love what I do. I put everything I have into my research and my teaching, and I show up ready to do a good job, because I believe in my work. I have seen how history can encourage growth and inspire people to get involved with their communities. I know museums can produce understanding across cultures and generations. I love that, and I’m glad to be a part of it.

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There were actually an overwhelming amount of Pentacles in my cards. This is not a bad thing, as Pentacles are generally associated with wealth and career stability. These ten were laid across the Page, and she said this basically means I have a lot of money and success coming my way.

I’ll believe it when I see it, but maybe it means that nagging feeling that I’ll never amount to anything more than a part-time drone is just noise. I can (and will) meet my potential eventually.

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The King of Wands was in my past. Being a young woman, speaking to a young woman, Zostra told me this could be an ex-boyfriend. I did not take the time to explain that I have no ex-boyfriends. The King of Wands is a creative type, good at what they do, but often at the expense of others. They pursue their art single-mindedly at times, without stopping to consider how they are treating their friends. They can be flaky, immature, and have trouble maintaining relationships. “Don’t worry,” she assured me. “The placement here says you’re over it.”

When Zostra started waxing poetic about former relationships and broken hearts, I almost scoffed. I am notoriously single and have been my entire life. I was about to give up all hope in the credibility of tarot cards and consign the art to a dramatic TV trope when I realized: she was right. Technically, I have no ex-boyfriends, but that hasn’t kept me from having my heart broken. There was an artist-type who dominated my energy and brain space for longer than necessary. For many years, I made him a top priority, yet I’ve thought about him so little in the past year that I could barely recall his memory when confronted with it face to face. Although it was shocking to see him appear in a tarot reading, the placement of the card was fairly affirming. Goodbye, King of Wands. Hello, empowered single lady.

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The Ten of Swords is a pretty morbid card once you realize that the swords are sticking out of a human man turned into a pincushion. This was one of those cards that Zostra warned me about, and she tied it to the King of Wands and my love life in general. She noted that it was probably signalling some level of disappointment in my prospects, likely due to the modern dating malaise afflicting so many of our generation. But she was also quick to point out that, after you freak out about the pincushiony swords, there’s a sun rising over the mountains, which is a pretty nice thought.

This card was a no-brainer. Whether in my career or my social life, I am no stranger to disappointment. But you know what they say: “Optimism is a muscle–if you don’t use it, you lose it.” So, as an exercise in positivity, I’m going to say this card is validating my strength through adversity. The sun is rising, after all. (But the man is still dead?)

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The Ten of Swords wasn’t the only horrifying card in my spread. The first thing I saw in this card were the five Pentacles in the window, and I became excited again. Yes, I thought, tell me more about how I am good at my job. Well, then I noticed the snow…and then I noticed the poor people in the snow. How fitting that this should represent my fears. Zostra explained that this card doesn’t always signify poverty in a literal sense, which was a relief, because I don’t consider money a key motivation in life. It mainly signifies a dearth of something you, personally, consider valuable.

This card really hit home in many ways, especially where it was situated in the spread as a fear. There are a lot of things I am lacking in my new home: a core group of friends, family, connection to the natural world, and any sense of heritage. As far-away friends start more serious careers or relationships, I’ve started losing contact with them, as well. There are a lot of times, now, when I don’t know who I can talk to, and it can be hard to push forward without the safety  of familiarity. If I leave myself alone to think too hard, I worry that this state of solitude will become permanent, which is a pretty terrifying thought, especially when you look at the next card…

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It just keeps getting better, doesn’t it? The Hermit card was a little ambiguous where it was situated, so Zostra drew a few more cards for clarification. What resulted was this:

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Apparently, the Two of Swords pointing between The Hermit and the Ace of Cups indicated that I am often faced with a decision between whether I want to stay in and focus on me and my own goals, or if I want to venture outside the walls of my introspection and hang out with friends.

This was eerily accurate to my current situation. I am fiercely dedicated to my work and to bettering myself, often to the point of isolation. But I am also committed to the idea of becoming a more social and less prickly person around my peers. Sadly, I can’t seem to find a balance. I can’t perform research on the side while teaching preschoolers and being a security guard and reading for fun so that I can hold more interesting conversations and participating in protests and relearning German and teaching myself how to play the viola again and winning dance competitions and writing stories and making presents for all my friends’ birthdays and going to parties and joining bowling leagues &c. &c. & c. I can’t be everything I want to be all at once, and so I’m feel I’m becoming nothing. It’s Sylvia Plath’s fig metaphor right there in my tarot cards, and it’s something I’ve struggled with for a long time.

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But what about my future? The future is what I’m supposedly focusing on, so it is where I will bring this (no doubt) riveting recap of my tarot reading to a close. There is another King in my future,but this time he’s a Pentacle. (Did I mention I had, maybe, five dozen Pentacles in this spread?) Anyway, Zostra said this probably means I’m going to meet a new man. This time, I won’t be wasting my energy on a creative but incompatible human. I’m going to find someone in my field, who is mature and put together. We will share interests. The feelings will be mutual. He may even be a bit older than me. It might not be what I expect, but it’s going to work a heck of a lot better than the King of Wands.

Suuuuuuuuure…..

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Zostra drew this card to clarify one I can’t quite remember, but the Ace of Pentacles stuck in my brain because it was near the end, and she said it had to do with a decision I was trying to make…also known as the next step in my career. She said that I may have been sitting on it for a while, but that this was a good sign. The Ace of Pentacles was telling me to go for it. Whatever I was thinking of doing, it was a step in the right direction and would bring me the success I was hoping for.

There’s really only one thing this could be about. For too many years, I’ve been waffling back and forth on the issue of grad school, flaking out on taking the GRE, and making excuses, despite knowing for quite some time that it is probably where I belong. If nothing else, I know I don’t belong where I am now. Last year, I came close to having a plan, but I bailed, because that’s what I do best. I thought dramatic, providential signs only happened in movies, but I think this is good enough proof that the time is ripe to follow through. 

To conclude, I will say it was a surprisingly moving and validating experience to have Zostra read my tarot cards. Having only seen tarot decks on supernatural TV shows, I think I underestimated the cards’ ability to productively turn my thoughts inward and assess aspects of my life I wouldn’t have ordinarily. The organization of the spread guided my introspection in really helpful ways and allowed me come to more concrete conclusions than usual. I feel like I can see my path a little more clearly now, and I’d say that is a pretty powerful experience for a confused 25-year-old in a quickly changing world.

(Also, I’m pretty obsessed with the word “pentacle” now.)

Good night!

The 5 Stages of Losing Your Heat

I. Denial

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Imagine you wake with a start in the middle of the night. It takes you a few bleary seconds to realize you are in your bed and not competing in a dance competition against penguins in the middle of your office. The noise continues and instantly your stomach begins to churn. You realize the noise is your heater. Your heater is literally screaming like some demonic banshee harbinger of the winter blast soon to come. There’s only one thing to do: switch it off and pretend like it never happened.

I rolled over as soon as the noise stopped and blinked frightfully in the dark. My heater can’t be broken, I thought. It’s probably just tired. I’ll give it a rest and turn it on again in a few hours. Everything will be fine, I repeated, over and over, as I slowly drifted back to sleep. Everything will be fine…

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!rrrhmmmpprrrrmmmmmmmmmmmmm….

There, I congratulated myself when I woke up again and cautiously switched the furnace back on. See? It’s fine. Everything is fine.

I didn’t have time to think much, anyway, because I had missed my alarm and was running late for work. For good measure, I switched the heat off again before heading out the door. Just in case, I told myself, but everything is fine. Everything is fine…

II. Panic

NOTHING IS FINE.

Despite having turned off the heater on my way out, the fan blower was still whirring away at warp speed. How long has it been doing this? I wondered in a panic. How long until it loses control and explodes, throwing me unconscious into the snow with a particularly thorny case of amnesia? My stomach ache was back.

With shaking hands, I pulled my phone from my pocket and sent off an insane, rapid-fire series of texts to my landlord that looked a little like this:

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Sorry, Jeff.

What if this was karma? I asked myself. Nothing had been going right since I had Rick’rolled my friends on Snapchat the evening before. But it was so clever! And I looked so cute! And my lip singing was on point! Was this revenge for my vanity and poor sense of humor? Had I inadvertently cursed myself for eternity all for a bad joke?

I took a deep breath and tried to convince myself that I could survive anything, which was a terrible mistake, because, as the subsequent exhale hung visible on the air, I knew it would only get worse.

Oh, my God, I thought. I’m really going to die.

III. Depression

I waited for Landlord Jeff* (*not his real name) for a half an hour before I gave in to the inevitable. David Bowie had died and so had my heater and soon so would I. I sat cross-legged in front of my broken furnace and began to sob.

At my job, I hear a lot of crying children. They don’t worry about who can hear them or how trivial their problems are. They wanted to see the dinosaurs and the dinosaurs were closed. Mom is taking too long to buy tickets to the Planetarium show. Dad is more interested in the old cars than their Elsa doll. They wanted to be carried, but not like that, and if Sister is going to carry them like that, well, then Sister might as well just put them back on the floor, but she better not put them down there

The point is, I see a lot of kids crying, and I’d been wondering what (if anything) could get me to cry so indiscreetly again. I no longer wonder. A broken heater on the coldest day of the year will just about do the trick.

I walked to the kitchen window and stared out mournfully at the snowy street below as tears streamed down my cheeks. When my face got cold, I collapsed on my bed and cried into a pillow. I even sobbed on the toilet, for good measure, before making another melancholic lap of my apartment.

As I was snuffling on my bed, the phone rang, and I sat up, slowly. This was it. Time to be an adult.

IV. Independence

It was Landlord Jeff calling to check in on me. He would call someone once he looked up the number. He had a guy. In the meantime, hit this breaker to cut electricity to the fan. Everything was going to be fine.

“Everything is going to be fine,” I repeated to no one, despite believing the exact opposite.

I went through my phone contacts and sent a message to everyone in a 10 mile radius of my apartment asking if they had a space heater I could borrow. No acquaintance was too small. While I waited for the responses to stream in, I hit the furnace breaker. I also turned on the oven and began to boil water. Instantly, I felt warmer.

“I’m so independent,” I validated myself, and, although I still felt shaky, I was beginning to believe it.

I made a warm dinner and drank some tea.

I borrowed some space heaters and declined some couch offers* from the most generous friends a girl could ask for. (*I’d had a bad day at work and was feeling unpleasant. Crashing on someone else’s couch generally requires one to be pleasant.)

I showered, drank some more tea, put on my long underwear, and began to plan for sleep.

Everything was going to be fine…

V. Silver Linings

Once you have accepted the fact that you will be chained to one small corner of your apartment for as long as this ordeal lasts, that the space heater takes precedence to your computer cord and if the breaker trips one more time, you will just have to let the PC die… Once you accept that, then you begin to spin silver linings for the situation.

For example, I could be disappointed that the luxuriously high ceilings of my apartment make space heaters extremely ineffective. Instead, I gathered all the chairs and furniture I could easily move into my bedroom and built a blanket fort around my bed. The heaters situated just outside the walls (safety first!) blew hot air inside, making my bed exceptionally cozy. I actually was too hot inside my fort, can you believe it?

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I could let the stress of working non-stop on top of all this trouble eat away at me. Instead, I’m rejoicing! For the next five days, I get to spend 8-14 hours in a warm building. A grueling work schedule never sounded better!

I could complain that I have to sleep in at least three layers and a scarf and a hat. Instead, I’m so thankful I finally have a reason to wear my wool sweater from Ireland. (It is always ever too windy or too warm for it. What’s up with that, Ohio?)

Plus, look at all the friends I realized I have! Don’t we all secretly wish (at some point or another in our darker moments) to test which people will come through for us in an emergency like the flu or a broken arm (or a misbehaving furnace)? Every single person I texted last night responded with concern, rescue offers, and encouraging words. Which only proves the mantra that I often scribble in my journal: You are never as alone as you feel…

So, there you have it, folks. If your heater ever dies on the coldest day of the year, just remember that after you try to pretend it isn’t happening, after you embarrassingly text your landlord, after you sob everywhere but the kitchen sink, you can build a blanket fort and everything will be fine.

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Christmas Gifts from a Broke Millennial

 

1) A cameo in a stress dream. It might go a bit like this: You were driving a mini van, and I was riding my brother’s old bike from elementary school. You picked me up in the middle of a cemetery and took me to the museum, which was a prison. My supervisor was the warden. He played the guitar and made us sit cross legged by the dinosaur skeleton and share our feelings. And then the roof collapsed in a dramatic waterfall. You had a boat and rescued me.

2) A Facebook message, just to say “hey,” but also a reminder that, three years ago, the last time we chatted, I asked you to bring me a bagel at work, and you forgot.

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3) An emotional declaration of my undying love for you and our memories together. An A.S.P.C.A. commercial may have just interrupted my video streaming experience, and it’s possible I will be crying, so I will text it to you. There will be heart emojis and probably pictures of dogs.

4) A few dozen cookies that I didn’t bake (but somehow acquired) that I can’t finish alone.

5) A disturbing historic holiday card, featuring two all-too-cherubic children sneaking around in the dark and a suggestive caption, which will arrive four days late (at the earliest).

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6) A parody of a Taylor Swift song I know you would appreciate, altered to be about the job application process, saved as a Word document on my hard drive, but sent as a Google Doc just in case my computer crashes tomorrow. (This is the most important thing I’ve written in years.)

7) Ten validating similes about you as a person. Example: You are like a majestic desert stallion, galloping into a fiery Southwest sunset. Or, perhaps: Your eyes sparkle like the scales of a diamond-encrusted fish swimming at the surface of the sea on a sunny afternoon. Believe it. I do.

8) A shout out on Instagram with a picture of us from college (#tbt), when our cheeks were still dewy with youth and our eyes full of hope.

9) A bottle of cheap wine we can pour into mugs or empty jam jars while we sit on my floor after I get off work and listen to girl punk albums on YouTube.

10) A promise made at 2am that I will come visit soon.

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Bernie in the CLE

On Monday, November 16, I went to a Bernie Sanders rally in Cleveland. Now, I’m not a line person. I can’t think of any time I ever felt strongly enough about something to wait hours and hours for the satisfaction of having it. Growing up, I never purchased a Harry Potter book near its release date, and I never went to a midnight showing. I never camped outside the art museum in college for the chance at hanging a Picasso in my dorm room. Even bathrooms…I would sooner use the men’s room or squat behind a tree than wait for a dozen or more women to do their business.

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Nope.

It’s not as though I don’t like Harry Potter or fine art or all that. My default setting just happens to be ‘misanthrope,’ and I don’t wait well with others. So, when I found myself joining 6,000+ people outside the Wolstein Center to see Bernie Sanders, I was pretty sure I was out of my mind. It was a chilly Monday evening, and I had just finished a long shift at the museum. I was hungry and tired. I felt frumpy in my work uniform in a crowd of well-groomed, stylish millennials. More than once, I wondered what on earth I was doing there, but there was no turning back. Not really. My friend had dropped me off on his way home, and my only escape was on the RTA.

It honestly wasn’t that bad once I committed to it. I ended up running into a museum volunteer in the line, and I finally registered to vote at my new address. I only ended up waiting about twenty minutes before the doors opened, and another thirty for it all to kick off after I found my seat. Besides, I was pretty excited. It’s not every day you get to hear a presidential candidate speak four miles from your apartment…

I will apologize in advance, because I’m not going to speak much to Senator Sanders’ politics in this post. You can read articles written by much smarter people if you’re curious. Obviously, I agree with most of his platform, but I haven’t had time to really figure out how I feel. What follows, instead, is my account of what transpired as I attended my first political rally. My memory of events is based off a series of text messages sent to myself, so, obviously, it is very credible…

At 6pm, the doors to the arena opened wide, and I followed the herd inside. I briefly considered spending my bus fare (the only money I had) on a snack, but, seeing more dismal lines forming at the concessions counter, decided to find a seat instead. As I pushed back the dark green curtains and looked around, I quickly realized I was on the wrong side. The giant floodlights centered on the podium were blinding, and I didn’t feel like squinting at the Senator’s back for two hours.

Frantically, I pushed my way to the opposite side of the venue and took the first seat I could find with a decent view. Almost immediately, two men sat on either side of me and began manspreading into my bubble. Ignoring their weirdly encroaching thighs, I busied myself with eavesdropping.

(“Ohmygosh!” a young woman behind me exclaimed, pointing over my shoulder to the seats across the arena. “We could be on TV if we sit there!”

“Nah,” her companion responded, noncommittally.)

With half an hour still to go, I felt like a majestic eagle on a cliff as I watched everything fall into place. Eager young bodies packed into the standing section like sardines, despite the abundant space on the floor behind them, each hoping to get as close to the podium as possible. Campaign volunteers passed out official shirts and signs in the rows seated behind where Bernie Sanders would speak in order to present a more united front when the event was broadcast on television. I briefly wondered if the apparent sartorial unity at every political rally was staged.

At 6:30pm, a group of labor activists led an unsuccessful attempt to warm up the crowd with a slow clap.

(“What are we going to do?” the woman behind me asked. “Clap for thirty minutes?”)

At approximately 6:35pm, the labor activists abandoned the clapping and tried The Wave.

At 6:50pm, I wondered whether the music was so loud to compensate for the awkward sections of empty seats. I certainly wasn’t expecting so much unfilled space, but I would later learn that the crowd for Bernie Sanders on Monday was comparable to the crowd for Barack Obama in 2010. Apparently, watching a rally on the tunnel-vision of television is much different from watching it “wide-screen” and in person.

Senator Nina Turner took the stage at 7pm to introduce her cohort and potential candidate. She was inspiring. Her voice was clear and strong as she proclaimed her support for Bernie Sanders. “Enough is enough is enough!” she repeated as she gave a brief summary of what we all knew Senator Sanders would bring up in his speech. She closed to the sound of applause as she spoke of her grandmother, who used to say: “You only need three bones to get you through life: a wishbone (for hope), a jaw bone (to speak out for justice), and a backbone (for courage when all else fails).”

(“Turner turns up!!!!!!!!” I texted myself as I stood and cheered for her eloquence and power.)

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My reaction to Senator Sanders’ speech was overwhelmingly positive. His choice to raise funds from small donations rather than large corporations is commendable. His devotion to the working class, to families, to social justice is like a dream. At 7:36pm, he said, “It’s not about electing a president. It’s about starting a political revolution,” and my eyes filled with tears. He was straightforward and direct as he spoke. There was no hemming and hawing about the brother of an uncle of his father who had once worked on the Transcontinental Railroad. He didn’t provide an extensive biography of his wife and kids. The issues were the stars, and he refused to waste time with gimmicks and fluff.

He also refused to waste time waiting for folks to cheer. Unlike an orchestra concert, where you know not to clap between movements, it was difficult to tell when applause was appropriate. It seemed like nearly every point was punctuated with loud approval. “WE LOVE YOU, BERNIE,” was a shrill and constant echo across the venue. Corporations elicited hearty ‘boo’s and dismantling the prison industrial complex met with vigorous ‘whooo’s. Yet, no amount of shouting could phase Senator Sanders. Despite the repetitive chanting of his name (to which the woman behind me always joined five seconds too late), he rarely paused to acknowledge it. No one cared. They shouted anyway.

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“If they’re too big to fail, they’re too big to exist!”

Despite feeling so deeply the truths Bernie Sanders illuminated on the podium, I did feel just a little torn. At the same time that Sanders seemed so familiar with our nation as a whole, there were moments when I questioned his familiarity with individual states like my own. Despite a neat shout out to Marcy Kaptur in the middle of his speech, things got a little weird when, at 7:54pm, he tried to make a joke about The University of Ohio.

(There is no University of Ohio.)

More importantly, I felt decidedly unknown as an Ohioan when he spoke of racism and police brutality. Don’t get me wrong. He knew the names and the stories many victims of institutional violence. “Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Michael Brown…” I held my breath and waited. Please, I thought. Please don’t forget him. A few other names, and then he said it: Tamir Rice. I sighed with relief, but I still felt uneasy. Perhaps it was because he was speaking in Cleveland, where I live, and where the life of that 12-year-old boy was needlessly taken by police one year ago (almost to date). I appreciate with all my heart that Bernie Sanders is listening to Black Lives Matter organizers and that he is updating his platform as he considers their concerns. I am thankful that he has made these issues a part of his campaign. But, at the moment, what I took away was that Tamir Rice’s name was mentioned last, when, in our city, it should have been first.

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On a less serious note, I put a sticker on a stuffed animal.

Around 8:30pm, despite Senator Sanders’ captivating speech, I found myself distracted by an adorable baby, such that I even texted myself a reminder for my records. Her mother was walking her around the empty space in the standing section. The security guards were bending to make faces, even the media put their cameras aside to wave to her. I could hear her giggles from where I was sitting far above the fray. Every time the crowd would cheer, she would clap her hands and shout along, but she had no idea when to stop. I started to laugh and realized that nearly the entire arena was laughing with me. We were all distracted.

(“Sorry, Mr. Sanders. You just can’t win against a happy baby.”) 

The baby went away with her mother right before Bernie Sanders began his inspirational conclusion, and I was a rapt spectator once more. As he professed his confidence and pride in the United States, he refused to put limits on our capabilities as a nation. “Don’t tell me we have to have high rates of childhood poverty,” he rallied. “Don’t tell me we have to smother our young people in debt.” The more he spoke, the more inspired I became. I let go of many of my misgivings, and I even forgot how much I hate his hashtag. I forgot how worried I was that my coworkers would make fun of me for going, or that I might somehow alienate my more conservative friends. I walked out into the night, chased down my bus, and, for the first time in a long time, I was proud and confident in the United States, too.

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