On Thanksgiving, Excitedly

This year will be the first year in a long time I’m not in Denver for Thanksgiving. (Not counting 2010, when Mike and I were in Africa.) Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. It’s not as stressful as other holidays; there aren’t any gifts; it’s more about food than it is anything else. Since I’m not one who eagerly anticipates the shopping season, I have nothing to do that day and the next except lounge around and eat leftovers.

Thanksgiving leftovers are the best leftovers. (Cranberries! Stuffing! Gravy!)

This year is a big year. I’m going to Mississippi with boyfriend. I’m going to meet part of his family and go hunting. Oh god. Me hunting deer? I’m most excited about a road trip. I drive. He sleeps. Clears the mind.

I think I’m most nervous about deer hunting. What if I’m bored? Sitting still isn’t my strong suit. Sitting still and being quiet definitely aren’t things at which I excel. What if I actually kill one? Not likely. I told him I’d most likely either cry or be super into it.

I met his grandfather last week. We went to a hockey game and then had dinner the next night. I’m a huge fan – I love families and his grandpa had some great stories. I’m less nervous about the family liking me now that I’ve met him.

Still, I’ve never been to the South. I’ve already made the silent promise to myself not to say anything until after we’ve left. I want to take it all in and experience as much as possible. It’s going to be a very new adventure, but it’s also going to be a very necessary week off of work for me, which I’m looking very forward to.

In other news: I’m now the assistant manager at my store (officially, since I’ve been the assistant manager in all but name for quite some time now). I’ll be assisting with the revamping of the store as well as the training of the three new kids we hired. But more exciting than that is the prospect of some marketing and office work. The owner and I have yet to sit down and actually hash out all of the specific duties, but I’m thrilled about the opportunity to do more of what the marketing and administrative stuff while still being able to keep up my cake decorating and customer service.

Things are looking up, which is good. Finally a nice break for me and the chance for more positive opportunities and career growth, which are things that I’m looking forward to taking advantage of.

On Silence, Quietly

I slipped away from my blog this summer, which is something I’ve never done before.

I started blogging when I was fifteen or sixteen – back then it was a different, now nearly defunct platform – after my father made the egregious parental error of photocopying my handwritten journal and hauling me in to the pediatrician to discuss the contents, which consisted of nothing but typical fifteen-year old drivel.

I have been keeping journals since I was five. I still have all of them, in a box. I drag them with me every time I move, and I will continue dragging them with me as long as I live. Writing is my way of reflecting, relieving stress, processing events and emotions. Writing is my absolute favorite thing in the world.

This summer, I lost the will to write. I’ve misplaced it before, but I’ve never truly lost it. This summer I nearly lost the will to live, and with it went my words. To be overwhelmed by the horrible pendulum of emotion, swinging from the furthest reaches of numbness to the limits of rage and anguish, is a peculiar and horrifying state of existence.

I have been searching for the answers. I have questioned everything I believe in. I have wondered if resilience is possible, and I have shed enough tears to fill seven salty bathtubs.

I woke up one day, and shortly thereafter, during one of my now frequent random onset crying spells, I decided I was done. Done with all of it. I had to force myself to be light that day. I had to force the smiles, the cheeriness, the radiating of joy. I forced the fuck out of it. That day, I made almost $20 in tips.

That day was the start of the end. I’m not out yet, but instead of free-falling, I’m starting to kick. “Your dreams are not what you thought they’d be,” she said. (One of my all-time favorite quotes, coming from the much-criticized Girls on HBO.) And they’re not. They’re nothing like I thought they’d be.

The silence has been horrible. I wonder, will I have anything to say? Will I still make sense? I still wonder that. But I’m done with the hiding. I’m done caring what anyone thinks about anything, whether it’s what I do for a living, where I’m working, why I’m not happy all the time, or why I have made the decisions I made.

I’ve spent the silence thinking. Thoughts are absolutely terrifying. They are heavy, overwhelming, upsetting. I’ve thought more about the world and the people living in it than I ever thought I would. I’ve thought about the future and the past. I’ve been trying to think about the present, and to actively be present for it. I’ve been embracing the routines I’ve created. I’ve been floating from day-to-day, trying to embrace the weightlessness that is now.

I’ve concluded that everything has an equally relevant opposite. That working for our society’s version of success is no more important than working for happiness. That rude, terrible people can be balanced out by the graceful, hopeful ones. That for all the light in this world, there is much that can never be light. (This, of course, is where super villains find their beginnings – the loss of hope turns to hardened hatred, the bitterness seeps into the deepest recesses of their hearts, and suddenly, they are no longer capable of seeing the light through the dark.)

I’ve spent the past few months removed from most things. I can’t afford to go out anymore – not to eat, not to dance, not to play. Austerity measures have kicked in. I forgot how good I can be on a ridiculously lean budget. I’ve been putting the pieces of my life back together. I joined a gym. I exercise until I don’t feel quite so angry, so sad, so helpless. I’ve gained eight very necessary pounds. I’ve been getting regular sleep.

The boy makes me feel safe. I have a solid, positive relationship with my bosses. I am well-liked, and more importantly, well-respected where I work. I am freelancing for a small publication. I am actively searching for a full-time job that doesn’t involve anything to do with ice cream. I am still a fantastic cat mother. I recently assisted with the coordination of my stepsister’s wedding, and I did better than anyone (even myself) could have anticipated.

I am not what I do. I am more than hourly soft serve. I am going to be okay. I am not going to be silent any more. Even if this year is lost to “emotional pain” tags and miserable posts, I am not going to stop. Because this, much like every journal I’ve ever owned, belongs to me, and no one can take that away (unless of corse I don’t pay my domain registration, or I’m hacked, or…).

The silence was necessary, but it’s over.

On “Smooth Transitions,” Anything But Smoothly

They say that after a traumatic experience, you begin to describe yourself and your life as being “before” and “after.” I finally understand that. 

The me that existed before January 29 was a very different person than the one that exists now. Of course, I’m still me. There are some things that will never change. There are some things the can never change. And there are the things that will never be the same. 

I shut down after I was sexually assaulted. I lost myself. I wandered around for two months, trying as hard as I could to pretend it wasn’t real, to pretend that I was fine. But in the end, I lost. It bubbled up and boiled over, in an instant, and I was caught unaware. I lost a lot when it happened – I lost my first love (my naiveté); I lost much of the ground I’d gained – my self-confidence, my self-esteem, my belief in myself as human being; I lost my  ability to feel happiness. When I let it bubble over, I lost my composure, the one thing I’d worked so hard to keep. 

Strength isn’t something that you can actively seek. It exists inside of you, and it exists in the bonds that you’ve formed with the people who you care about. When you lose your inner strength, you have to rely on the strength of the love you’ve cultivated. Thank god I’d cultivated some strong friendships. I cried on, and relied on, the people who I love the most. They saved me. 

One silly piece of advice I got, the silly piece of advice that has propelled me through the darkest nights and loneliest hours, was that you have to live for your pets. That’s dumb, and I realize that. But honestly, thinking about Carlos was the one thing that pulled me through some nasty spells of despair. Who would feed him wet food if I wasn’t here? Who would he sleep next to? Who would feel that pitter-patter in their heart when they saw him? Only me. There could be no one else. 

When I gave my three weeks notice at work, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief. After that day, I didn’t think about New York all the time. My waking moments were no longer consumed with rumination about it: the not knowing, the bitterness, the rage, the sadness, the hopelessness. Instead, I felt nothing. Sometimes feeling nothing is better than feeling everything, all the time. It’s exhausting. 

I was cautioned that this is a roller coaster. I was told that there would be moments of elation, of pure ecstatic joy, of rage, of sadness, of pain, of heartbreak, of grief. 

I forget that sometimes. I am blindsided, still, by the emotions. They overtake me when I least expect it, when I think I am safe. But you’re never safe, not from something that haunts you. That’s the horror story here — you can’t run. I know, because I thought about it. I thought about packing a single bag (I know, I know, a single bag for a new start? In actuality, it would be more like four bags, and the cat. Of course the cat gets to come. He’s the strange salvation) and running. Driving forever, until I ran out of money and ended up anywhere. But you can’t run, because it follows you. And you can’t run out of money, because without money, you are nothing. 

And now, I stand ruined. I doubt I’ll be receiving references based on the two and half years of my life I gave to the company. Instead, I imagine it will be a curt discussion of my failures. And that’s funny, because even though I didn’t manage to come through in the end, I gave them my all when I was breaking down, the seven hours that day spent crying in April to finish a proposal that “he” was responsible for ended in a lucrative contract. And to me, that hurts almost more than all of it. I did that. I packaged it. I prepared it. I shipped it. And he gets the commission. He gets to go home to his wife and children with a huge paycheck, and I have nothing but the job I held in high school, a last resort, a refuge from the constant reminder that I am vulnerable and weak.

“You’re not being fired, but you’re free to leave,” they told me, when the HR investigation came back “inconclusive.” Of course there was no proof. When it happened, I was so worried about my job (the irony here stings) that I didn’t go to the hospital. Instead, I sat there and wondered how I’d afford a plane ticket home. “You’re not the first woman who didn’t know she had options,” said one of my doctors, when I’d spilled the story to her in a fit of word vomit that I couldn’t contain. 

My boss told me several times throughout the course of the investigation that at worst, it would be a smooth transition, where I would stay there until I found a new job. I choked on those words. Smooth transition, my ass. This is not a smooth transition. This is the part where I live on fucking chili cheese dogs because they’re free. This is the part where I fuck up and don’t finish the last of my semi-contract work. This is the part where I finally break, where my body gives out and my spirit follows. 

This is the part where I realize that there is a cost far greater than you ever imagine. The traumatic experience was not just the assault itself, it was everything that followed. I know I have to go forward, but where do I go from here?

I’m working full time at my high school job. I’ve just started applying for new jobs. I’m paralyzed by the fear that my references will be held over me, my actual work lost in the downward spiral that was the end. 

Here’s to the existential crisis I hoped I’d never find myself in. Here’s to digging myself out of that deep, dark hole. Here’s to the future, in the hopes that there is something left of it. Here’s to the hope that somewhere there is a light that will lead me out of this desolate place. Here’s hoping…..

On Looking Forward, Hesitantly

Time is elusive, something you long for more of, but something you can never quite grab onto, or even really control.  The future seems endless, like today will somehow stretch on forever and next week will never come. Before you know it, all of those tomorrows are yesterdays, and all the things you swore you’d do are yet left undone.

I mowed the front lawn the other day, something that remains an overwhelming task for me. What may be drudgery for some fills the core of my bones with a ringing sense of accomplishment, of certainty, of satisfaction. I even did the strange little hilly part that leads to our neighbor’s driveway. (He’s new – I don’t think he knows it’s his job yet. I guess I could leave it untended and let him figure it out, but I’m concerned that he might not due to the scraggly overgrowth that tends to be comprise my lawn at any given point in time.)

I tackled a few other household chores, but I still have a long list of things that must be handled, dealt with, checked off. They’re not showstoppers, but I will feel more settled once I’ve said good riddance to the mental checklist. (I do know that there is no real end to the lists. I know that as soon as one thing passes out of the conscious concern, another will pop up to take its place.)

I’ve been working, still. Trading one sixty hour week for another. I imagined I would have time to seek the calm I’ve been craving, but alas, that was not to be the case. All I can see is today, this week, the schedules dictated by the Sunday release of the Dairy Queen schedule, all plans left in flux until the message arrives bearing a picture of the week’s schedule. It’s an interesting way to view the world. Months, seemingly endless, are suddenly broken down into seven-day segments, both more manageable and repetitive, unchangingly inflexible without meaning to be.

I’ve been spending time with an old boyfriend, the ever-present romantic antagonist of my mid-twenties. We’ve fallen back into our routine. There are errands (my favorite!), dinners (his attempts to woo me with his culinary prowess delight me), and the quiet hours, where he’s decided that I must learn how to play video games.

After days of wondering why he’d try to teach me – a task far more daunting than he had anticipated – I have finally realized that he’d like to get to the point where we can play together as teammates. I find the notion oddly romantic. And you should know by now how much I hate to lose, therefore this challenge is one I’m not taking lightly.

Seriously though, video games terrify me. I’ve never been one to play them (we weren’t allowed to have them in our house until we were nearly teenagers, and by then my attention drifted elsewhere). I’ve no knowledge of the mastery of strategy, but far more difficult than that is finding my damn character on the screen. And so my character dies. Repeatedly. “I didn’t even see where I was!” I exclaim, before surrendering to laughter at how pathetic I must look. The boys can’t believe it.

Even worse than the finding my character is moving the screen so I can see where my character is in relation to the battles. I’ve been instructed to work on smooth movement instead of just tapping the arrow keys sadly. I’ve been sent home with a tiny Game Boy for homework.

He’s a patient teacher, mostly. I think he’s excited that I’m showing interest in joining him, rather than just watching him play. I think I’m too stubborn to back down. I am determined, but amazed at how difficult this is.

***

By the way, today is Miracle Treat Day at Dairy Queen. $1.50 of your Blizzard purchase goes to the Children’s Miracle Network that supports children’s hospitals across the country. Your donation goes directly to the children’s hospital closest to you. It’s a gloomy day in Denver, so I hope that doesn’t hurt our sales. (I’ll be at my location from 4 until close, so come say hi if you’re craving a Blizzard.)

Yesterday, my first customer asked me if I was full-time or part-time. I gave him a brief overview of my current situation, full-time ice cream queen, part-time legal software marketer, and he was supportive, appreciative, and fantastic. He told me that my cheerfulness was exactly what he’d needed.

But of course, bright things can only linger for so long in this world. A bit later, a man came in and told us that the reason that we work at Dairy Queen is because we voted for Obama. Offended (as I usually am by people who assume I’m unintelligent), I continued the conversation very stiffly and politely. He told me that I had no knowledge of how government works (to which I bit my tongue in order to stem the tide rising inside me), and then proceeded to patronize me. At one point, he told Evan that Dairy Queen is a good job, because he “has a woman” — me — and that my desire to have a career is what’s killing our future as a Christian nation. (Ah, yes. To which I responded that the reason I long for a career is because I fear that the alternative is relegation to domestic tasks for which I am clearly unsuited.)

He concluded with a thought about how the end of marriage and religion were going to be the downfall of our nation. Finally, I’d had enough. I countered, “What I think you’re neglecting, sir, is this question: is it possible to be a good, moral person without religion?” I gave him a brief overview of my belief that it is not religion that drives people to be good, and that community will continue to exist by nature of the human species rather than by the driving force of religion alone. Therefore, I concluded, religion and the end of marriage are not what will doom our society, but rather, our lack of cooperation. He didn’t have a response. I didn’t imagine that he would. He left us a tip and thanked us before he left.

Never a dull moment, I assure you.

On Big News, Relievedly

The words were gone again, the constant bubbling up of ideas temporarily ceased. I started typing draft after draft, but each one was pushed aside in disgust as I stared at the pathetic words on the screen.

Tomorrow, I kept whispering. I’ll try again tomorrow. Before I knew it, many tomorrows had turned into weeks. My apologies for the extended absence.

I have spent the past few weeks dreaming the most vividly intense dreams I’ve ever dreamt. The images are surreal, telling signs of the subconscious dwelling deep within, stirring, demanding attention. The questions seem as though they will remain unanswered for some time, if they are ever answered at all.

There is only muddled clarity, which I imagine is the worst kind, other than total obfuscation. However, it is with the utmost certainty that I can say that I am about to start on a new path, one that I hope will take me swiftly away from the things I wish to leave behind. It may not be clear, but it is (“is” as a state of being and existence) because it must be.

I handed in my three weeks’ notice today. I told them that my last day will be July 31st.

I have not yet found another job. I will continue to work at my other part-time jobs while applying for new jobs in the marketing field, and I will hopefully be able to cover my expenses without draining too much of my precious, carefully hoarded savings. (Seriously, I’m like Gollum when it comes to my savings. You can re-read that sentence and hiss “precious” if you like. I just did.)

I am terrified, of course. This is my first time really embracing the job hunt. I hope to be able to find something that pays me enough that I will only have to work one job. I hope to do more writing. I hope for many things, but mostly I hope for new opportunities. I’m excited to expand my skill sets and to embrace the challenges that come with new employment.

I know that this is not the usual order of things, but I believe this is the best choice. Which is why I made it.

On AAA, Shamingly

I heard a commercial for AAA on the radio the other day. The voice of a woman details all of the times that AAA has been there for her while her husband was too busy watching sports to come to her aid. This commercial offended me.

I know, I know, we’re too sensitive and jumpy and can get offended about anything. But you’d think that in a culture such a this, too sensitive and jumpy and easily offended, the team of advertisers tasked with the creation of such a commercial would be wary of their content and mindful of public opinion.

Apparently not.

Ostensibly, someone sat down a team of ad people and said, Sell AAA memberships to women. Remember, they’re helpless and scared, so we need to remind them that AAA is everything their man is not: responsible, reliable, prepared.

So the ad people probably said, Fish in a barrel! This one’s easy – let’s be quick about it so we can have an early lunch.

And then they created this sad excuse for a sales pitch.

Now, I must explain a few things. First, I love AAA. I have been a huge fan of AAA since the very first time I locked my keys in a running car at 16 (you’ll note that I said “very first time.” Yes, with my first car, the Green Bean, it happened often since the doors locked automatically 3 seconds after you started the car, which is just enough time to say, “I forgot _____!” and get out of the car). They were there for me in Chicago, when my roommate left my headlights on and drained my battery.

They were also there for me when I got a flat tire. That’s the experience most closely associated with this radio spot, and the experience most likely to get my blood boiling.

I was driving to Boulder one afternoon last summer to see my boyfriend at the time. I was just getting off highway 36 when I heard a sound like an angry rattlesnake. Sure enough, I had just gotten my first flat tire. I drove along in traffic until I could safely pull onto a side street. I parked. I got out and inspected the car. Sure enough, the rear left tire was flat. Gone. Donezo. (If you were to spell “donezo,” is that how you’d do it?)

So, being the resourceful independent woman I am, I opened my trunk, shoved a million things aside, and pulled out my jack and spare tire, prepared to change the damn thing myself. (I’d never changed a tire, but we covered how to do it in driver’s ed and I wasn’t overly concerned.)

I used the tool (the name escapes me, I was to say tire iron but that’s so incorrect) to remove the lug nuts. Except they wouldn’t loosen. I jacked the car up anyway, hoping I’d be able to loosen them then. I couldn’t. So I jumped on the tool. That didn’t work either. A guy on a bike stopped and offered to help. I was stubborn, but after realizing that my full body weight wasn’t going to do much, I accepted his help. He couldn’t loosen them either.

So I gave up, had my boyfriend come pick me up, and decided I’d deal with it in the morning. In the morning, my boyfriend, such a great guy that he was, left me at my car so that he could drive to Denver. I called AAA. And then I waited.

The AAA guy got there to change my tire and said, “Where’s your boyfriend?” I bristled. My internal voice was yelling, “What, just because I’m a woman I can’t change a tire?!” But my external facade was composed as I explained that I had been unable to loosen the lug nuts and had been forced to call AAA as a last resort.

Then he tried to loosen the lug nuts, cocky and masculine in his approach. He couldn’t. I saw his posture change. My internal self cheered, a smug smile on her face. He looked back at me and I just raised my eyebrow at him as if to say, “Where’s YOUR boyfriend?”

“Not as easy as you thought it’d be?” I asked, sweetly. He was sour. He loosened them eventually, put on the spare, and I drove to the Discount Tire where I got two new tires.

I was upset. AAA has always been wonderful. In Chicago, the dead battery happened on a Sunday. I was so grateful to the man who came to jump my car, and he was so gracious about the whole thing. I told him that I was terribly sorry that he had to come out on a Sunday and he was so kind and wonderful and funny.

But this Boulder man? Everything that frustrates me about people existed in him. Grumpy demeanor, sexist, superior, and so on.

That’s why hearing this AAA ad annoyed me so damn much. It’s not hard to say, “We’ll be there when you need us.” or “We’ll make you feel more comfortable when your teen starts to drive.” or “Everyone needs a backup plan.” I don’t know — I’m not the ad guy, but I feel as though they could have gotten their message across a million other ways instead of having the rely on the oh-so familiar tropes of the sports-obsessed, neglectful husband and the weak, incapable wife.

(I get that in my own rendition of the “I’m a powerless woman and I need you, AAA!” story, my own boyfriend fell into the same trope, but he wouldn’t have been able to fix the tire anyway, so it’s a moot point.)

Shame on you, AAA. You get what you pay for and I suggest you get a better ad agency. You’re a valuable service that I find so worth the money, but if you can’t sell yourselves, how are you supposed to sell your services?

On Quarter-Life Crises, Existentially

It’s happened like clockwork. Every five or six months since I joined the working world, I start to panic. I find myself burned out, thoroughly exhausted, and inconsolable because it seems like everything I work so hard for is ultimately unattainable.

This month, I looked at my bank account after I paid my bills, sorted my savings, and so on. For the month of April, I have $15 a day. This includes gas for my car, food, and anything else I need. (Let me put this in perspective for you: It costs me around $40 – two and a half days of life – to fill up Simon’s gas tank. I do this every seven to ten days. Budgeting for four fill-ups during the month of April, we’ve already lost a quarter of my funds.)

***

According to new studies, about 11% of school-aged children have been diagnosed with ADHD. I lost the link to the article, but apparently the people with the highest percentage of prescription drug abuse are people born between 1981 and 1990. And then there’s this horrifyingly sad op-ed piece from a father who lost his son to a drug overdose.

I wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until I was twenty-three. It was a hellish two-day testing, during which all learning disabilities were ruled out. I’m grateful for that – I always wondered if I was just bad at math or if it was something more than that. (As it turns out, I’m actually average to above average at math, so I’m wondering how much learned helplessness is playing a role in my inability to do calculus. I also wonder how necessary calculus is for a long and happy life.)

In the year and a half since my diagnosis, I’ve embraced my Adderall and all of its drawbacks. Honestly, I’m eternally grateful for the drug. It’s changed the way I work. It’s allowed me to focus, something that I can’t do. I now have the ability to be productive. I often wonder what my grades in high school or college would have been like had I been properly diagnosed around the time I started wondering if I had a focus issue. I wonder if my inability to concentrate – which was honestly so bad that I never read a textbook – negatively affected my grade point average and my chances at success in life.

My manager when I was 16 always used to tell me that I had the attention span of a golden retriever. Now, I’m still not the best at impulse-control or listening, but I’m at least getting better at being patient, at doing work,
[edit: I came back to read this paragraph and realized I’d totally trailed off, leaving it unfinished. I’m leaving it this way.]

True, I immediately lost 15 pounds and have struggled to maintain my four-pounds-underweight weight ever since. I pick at my skin, unconsciously. I was having trouble sleeping for a while. They tried to prescribe me pills for that, but I declined them. I don’t want more pills.

Regardless, I’ve never abused it. Nor have I sold it. Nor would I ever dream of doing that. I believe that too much Dateline as a child has led me to lead the mostly drug-free life I lead today. I am disappointed to hear so much about the struggles that so many people are having with drug abuse, particularly my beloved Adderall. I never took it recreationally before being diagnosed, so I never understood the allure of it. I hate the vilification of Adderall-users. I hate how I feel like a criminal with my pharmacy and my doctors. I hate how hard I had to fight to get my insurance company to cover it, initially. I don’t take it on the weekends. I don’t take it so I can stay up and party. I don’t understand why you would.

***

I work sixty hours a week, and have for much of the last two years. I supplement my income from my full-time job with income from a regular babysitting gig and then a part-time job at a Dairy Queen. I am exhausted. There is no time for balance. There is no time for moderation. I see my family and friends when I can, working them in between the triple-work schedules that I juggle.

I hope that one day, I will make more than $xx an hour. I hope that eventually, I won’t have to work three jobs so that I can make ends meet. But for now, this is what I have to do. I try to love my job, and generally I do, but there are times when things start to get so impossible that I start to drown in the negative.

These past few weeks have been that cesspool of hell, the undercurrent threatening to pull me under. I go from being confident in what I do to cut down and weak. It’s frustrating. The environment, which can be so collaborative and positive, can quickly turn threatening and hyper-competitive, leading to unnecessary drama and unanswered questions. Instead of being able to stay afloat and above the chaos, I find myself questioning my own abilities.

***

People ask me why I work so hard. I don’t know how to tell them that I know what it’s like to wear damp pants to school because your dryer broke and your parents can’t afford to fix it right now.

I am so grateful for everything I’ve been given. I am grateful that I have been blessed with the ultimate gift of education. I am blessed because I  understand the value of a dollar, the value of simple indulgences like a drink with your meal. I understand what it’s like to make sacrifices; I understand how to cut out the unnecessary. (Seriously, if you want to save money, don’t buy liquid. Don’t buy juice, don’t buy soda, just drink water. One of my favorite indulgences is fruit and veggie juices. It pleases me on some core level.)

I don’t ever want to worry about money. (Which is why the sad irony here is that I spend every day worrying about it.) I don’t ever want to have to ask for help. I don’t need a gold-plated bathtub – I need to know that I can pay the water bill. I won’t stop until I know I’m okay. I can’t. If something bad happens, I need to know that I can hold on for a few months, that I won’t lose my house, or not be able to afford a car, or whatever else.

***

I’ve been struggling lately. It’s a life crisis of the worst kind. The “why do I work so much when it’s not really getting me anywhere?” struggle. The “maybe I’ll just live off ramen and be done trying so hard” train of thought.

I’ve been wondering if it’s that I’m materialistic or too greedy. But then I think, that can’t possibly be the case, can it? Sure, I take pleasure in my material comforts, but I truly believe I’m reasonable about them. I haven’t gotten my car fixed (long live the duct taped bumper!) because I believe it’s an unnecessary expense.

***

In the middle of this disjointed spewing of thoughts, I renewed my prescription online. Then I got a message saying that I’m due for a blood pressure check. I will gladly go and do the blood pressure check so that I can get my prescription renewed. I’m responsible. I’m on top of it. I renew, I submit to the examinations of the mind and body whenever they tell me to, I pay. I don’t abuse. I take my dose, no more, no less. I hate that people want to make the drug the problem, when in fact, there are other factors to consider. I will say, though, that I’m glad it happened at 23 and not at 10, or younger. I am grateful that medication was my choice.

***

I hate to say it, but have we considered the fact that our society is slowly building a set of standards that are possibly unattainable? I hear all of these complaints, including that op-ed piece in Wall Street Journal by a very whiny high school senior who didn’t get into her chosen schools, from people who aren’t measuring up. But are the standards too high? Am I one of those who worries I’ll never be good enough simply because I could be good enough? Or perhaps I’m already good enough but can’t see it because I’m constantly being told I should push harder, run faster, be better. (For the record, I’ll never run faster than last place, and I’m cool with that.)

I need my Adderall to focus. But I need my focus to work. And I need my work to survive, to be happy, to be secure. Above all, I want security. Is that so much to ask for? Security should not be the result of a sixty-hour work week. It should not come at the expense of happiness.

***

Last week, someone asked me what I do to relax. I stared at them, my mind desperately searching for any answer besides “gin.” After a very long and uncomfortable pause, I weakly offered, “I take baths sometimes?”

“I expected that you wouldn’t have a lot of answers, but I didn’t expect nothing,” was the response I got. I’m determined to somehow find time to take care of me, to find my own relaxation somewhere in this madness. But perhaps, much like security and happiness, relaxation is another of the unattainables we were told we could have if only we worked hard enough.

On Paying Taxes, Resignedly

In theory, I love the idea of taxes. I’m the only one of my friends who regularly votes for tax increases. That whole egalitarian ideal of paying for the provision of necessary services really pleases me on a human level. It’s such a hopeful concept. It does take a village…

But of course, theory never translates into real life quite the way anyone would imagine. Human nature tends to corrupt even the processes created with the purest intentions. This democratic society in which we live is a prime example of greed, waste, and corruption.

[Side note: There are moments in life when the gratitude for corruption is undeniable. In South Africa, we had managed to lose a few hub caps on our rental car – to say nothing of the rim that I dented….oops. But since they never found out about the rim, that’s irrelevant. Upon returning the cars, we bribed the rental car lady to take us to a super shady garage where they sold hub caps. I had to bargain with them – still got ripped off, but I was desperate and they knew it – in order to replace the hub caps. In that moment, I realized how awful I was for participating in the perpetuation of a corrupt society, but I was almost giddy with relief that we’d managed to avoid a serious foreign rental car debacle. Thank you, cash.]

I love the idea of paying for better roads, better hospitals, better schools. I have deep appreciation for certain (emphasis on certain, like the Dutch) European models. I love the idea of living somewhere where my contributions can be seen around me in positive and beautiful ways.

What I don’t like? Paying into a social security system that will never be able to provide for me. Paying taxes but not seeing spending allocated to serve the needs of the mentally ill, veterans, and other people who need those services most. Excessive defense spending. And so on. But we can only hope that the people we’ve elected have our best interests at heart (hardly likely) and work to change processes from within.

I’m always pleased to get my tax refund. For the past few years, my income has been such that I have received a very welcome check from the government after I file my taxes.

This year, I sat down to do them and was astonished to see how much I owe. Yes, you read that right. Owe. I was floating on a cloud of newly accrued savings bliss, and now I am floating on a storm cloud of hatred for forms and lines.

I’m just being grumpy. I love adulthood. I love freedom and responsibility. I love taking charge of things. I love all of that, but I so hate stuff like library fines (finally got them again after over a year without them), parking tickets, and newly, taxes.

I guess this is one of the instances where it doesn’t bother you until it happens to you. (I’ve been known to say things like, “I don’t understand why they don’t want tax increases! What about the good of the people?” But now I may some day be quoted as saying, “Grumble grumble grumble….taxes.”)

I will pay with grace. It is a privilege to participate in government, even if my participation is involuntary. Use my money wisely, government, that’s all I’m asking.

[Second – and last, I swear – side note: This is a super cool use of government and citizen willingness to cooperate for good – Englewood, Colorado has this concrete utility. It’s voluntary to participate, but you pay into it and then if your sidewalk or curb needs repaired, they’ll fix it for free! You would have had to get it fixed or face trouble anyway, so this is the ultimate solution. You pay into something at a pretty low rate and then when you need help, they’ll evaluate your damage and fit you into their schedule. I called the utility to ask them about it before we moved, and I had the best conversation with the guy who worked there. He was so friendly and so willing to answer all of my weird concrete questions. Caveat: once you’ve gotten assistance from the concrete utility, your participation in the program is no longer voluntary. But that makes total sense, so I bet they don’t get many complaints about it.]

On Business Trips and Existential Crises, Millennially

(TL;DR: 24-year-old girl emotional word vomit. So basically, what follows is some seriously grumpiness. Don’t read if you’re in a great mood. Don’t read if you hate millennial complaints. Don’t read if you’re Bruce Wayne – I essentially insult your power by comparing my power suit to your bat suit.)

I have just returned from my first business trip to New York City. I attended a big legal tech convention with my company. I had an absolute blast. Of course, in typical Katie Barry fashion, I failed to set an alarm and woke up incredibly late on my first morning there. I ran around, printing additional materials, and finally arrived in our booth. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they don’t kill me for the transgression, and I feel like an asshole, but other than that, I think the trip was a smashing success. I wandered the trade show floor, observing. I am far too timid and thus didn’t end up with any freebies (other than a football), but that may be for the best anyway. Who really needs a thousand pens and stuffed animals and flash drives?

I got to see Letterman taped! And Jason Bateman was on the show! I did the excited squeal that I make when I’m excited, and my co-worker looked at me like I was insane. Jason Bateman! Michael Bluth! Oh my god, so good. He had to retape his interview because they started talking about his daughter and it went to a very weird place – he sort of called her fat and it got super awkward. But I laughed so hard. It was so great.

I like being in front of the people. I like talking to people about what they need. I like talking to people in general. At one point yesterday, a man walked up to our booth and asked me what separates us from our competition. I blurted something out and he looked at my co-worker and said, “You should double her pay. That’s the quickest anyone’s been able to answer that question.” Even though he was not a serious potential client, I was thrilled. (It’s the little things. And don’t act like a little flattery doesn’t make your entire day some days.)

I spent the flight home in utter melancholy. Despondency. Severe emotional apathy. Thanks to my childhood, I have what I have termed a “mediocrity complex” in which my competency far outweighs my confidence. When I am confident and comfortable, I excel in whatever endeavor I choose to do. But for some reason, I’ve been hindered by the growing fears of my own inadequacy.

It’s holding me back – it’s stopping me from reaching my full potential. It’s miserable. I know this. I know that I am far more intelligent and capable than I could ever imagine, and yet, I stare at big projects, unwilling to start them because I’m terrified that something will go wrong. But I guess they’re not wrong when they say that everything worth happening happens outside your comfort zone.

I should just settle in and get comfortable with discomfort, because I am seriously determined not to be someone who just shows up. I want to be someone who kicks ass at what I do – and I want the people who I work for and with to be insanely impressed by my work and proud to have me as a team member.

I’ve been in this funk for a few months now. I can’t tell if the existential crisis I’m ensconced in is one that is the result of growing pains, or if it’s one that will lead me to seek growth. But either way, it’s brought my thoughts to a far more empty place than any of my previous quests for answers. It’s depressing, without depression, if that makes sense.

I no longer believe that I will find a person to truly love – that passionate idea of a soul mate has died and has been replaced by the reality that I find most men either incapable and boring or wildly pretentious and not life-experienced (they’re all such downers). I no longer have any idea what I’m passionate about (seriously. I mean, Game of Thrones counts, right?). I watch my friends as they do such great things – they volunteer, they work abroad, they are so much more whole people than I am – their accomplishments are starting to pile up, and yet, I don’t feel as though I can say the same. I no longer want children. That idea of that responsibility terrifies me. It’s this horrible stagnant circling – and the fear that I’m locked in a miserable holding pattern because I can’t think of one thing that I want. I do not want to internet date. I do not want to become a better snowboarder. I do not want to be tied to a cubicle for the rest of my life. (I mean, those “nots” are a start, right? Process of elimination? baby steps?)

It might be time to stop thinking about the future at all and start focusing – seriously focusing – on right now. I have a cat son who adores me, so there’s at least one thing I know I’m insanely good at it (snuggling and opening packets of wet cat food – okay, that’s two things). I am making new friends (whom I absolutely adore). I have managed to muddle along thus far, so perhaps I shall just keep on keepin’ on and see where I’m at in a month or so. Hopefully this panic that has been coursing through my veins and keeping me awake at night will settle soon. I’m tired. (Also, whiny never looks good on young ladies, so perhaps if I just shut up and think happy thoughts, happy things will follow.)

I also know that your twenties are at times terrifying and horrible – especially now that we’ve all coddled, terrified little people who want to think we’re young adults but are really just overgrown children – and perhaps this is one of those developmental milestones they write a thousand articles a year on. Perhaps this is the realization that eventually separates the “men from the boys,” so to speak in horrid gendered terms. But perhaps this is that kick in the pants where you have to realize that if you want something (oh god, what is that something? If only someone would just give me a freaking hint), you have to reach out and get it yourself. Ugh. Gumption. Courage. Candor. Capabilities. Potential. Here we go. (In case you can’t tell, I just typed words that feel good right now.)

On the plus side, I totally own a red business dress now. And it’s a damn good power dress. Maybe it’ll be like Batman and if you have the outfits, you’ll have the power. Hm. I’m going to stop now, obviously I’ve lost my mind and sleep will heal everything and I have some serious work to get done tomorrow.

 

On Stumbling, Stubbornly

It happens less frequently now, most likely due to a conscious effort to subdue such thoughts, but every now and again I’m struck by a period of existential crisis which leads to panicky thoughts, hastily hatched life plans, and morose moments spent in soon-to-be tepid bath water, reading material thrown aside and all my focus directed on pink toes turning the taps.

Those toes breaking the surface of bath water form the basis of the physical memories of each experience, but it is the rapidly firing thoughts that mark the turn from “keep on keeping on” to “panic” in my existence. I spent a lot of time questioning everything as an adolescent (to wit, I had a “Question Authority” bumper sticker hanging in my room – right next to my Kerry/Edwards bumper sticker and an Anti-Flag album – oh adolescence). The questioning led me to beliefs that I still carry today, and to the realization that some questions are better left unanswered.

The goals of my early introspection were far grander than they are now. Then, I was determined to seek love and beauty in all things, in the naive belief that arriving at the correct answer would be as simple as stumbling in the right direction with enough stubborn determination.

Now that I am older, immersed in a world that is far more complicated than I could have ever imagined, I see that the root problem revolves around conviction. Convincing yourself of something can be difficult, although true growth requires conviction to move in a singular direction (or perhaps many singular directions simultaneously).

I spend time now mired in the “what if?”, and endless stretches of point and counter-point conversation with myself. I can convince myself of the correctness of both sides of any argument, and it’s that ability that holds me back. How can I move with conviction if I’m not convinced myself?

Which brings me to my current crisis, which has been simmering under the surface for longer than I’d like to admit. It’s terribly important, and yet it isn’t, if that makes any sense at all. It’s the ennui of the daily grind, I think, the realization that I’ve lost focus on the bigger grander scheme of things in favor of survival now. I’ve lost a part of me that is essential to me. I’ve let go of certain dreams in favor of the moment, and even though it is living the moment that keeps us alive, it is also important to chase dreams.

It’s funny how quickly survival now can turn into tunnel vision. It’s not just “now” in the immediate sense, but also now in the same way we used now in Africa – now can be immediate, or it can be later. It could be at any point from now into the future. Survival now for me has become an endlessly repetitive schedule of work, work some more, maybe see some people, date, pay bills, don’t think about anything but this week or next.

But what I’ve lost, or misplaced, is perspective. Perhaps not perspective exactly, but the ability to remove myself – whether it’s objective introspection or a wild fantasy world. It’s the thoughts, the curiosity, the wonder that used to keep me feeling alive. It’s the drive to know everything about everything. I’ve somehow managed to separate me from my future self, and in doing so, I’ve somehow disconnected the forward progress, I think. But maybe that’s overstating it.

I think that I’ve gotten so bogged down with everyday stress and responsibility that I’ve lost the wonder that used to fill me. I often write about wishing that I had time to be bored, and yet, when confronted with time unfilled with obligations, I find myself so overwhelmed by the possibility that I fill it up as quickly as possible.

I was shocked when I read this article in The Atlantic about online dating, because it struck a chord with me. Not necessarily all of it, but the idea that there’s always something else waiting made me start to think about how I approach much of my life. They discuss “perceived alternatives” as one of the three factors that affect satisfaction in a relationship, and it got me thinking, both about dating but also about my own perceptions of alternatives.

I imagine my future self as being entirely different from the person I am today, which is silly, because as I age, I grow increasingly aware of the fact that I am and always will be myself (this is an overwhelmingly positive thing as I’m only growing more and more happy with who I am). Yet, if this is the case and I’ve got my mind constantly focused on the intangible elsewhere that is the “perceived alternatives”, how is it that I’m supposed to start building the foundation for the rest of my life? It’s not something that can be done subconsciously – arguably yes, but is that the sort of foundation you want?

I know that my disconnect is not uncommon. I know that approaching something looming ahead of you as large as the rest of your life is not something to approach all at once. It must be resolved in small chunks. Baby steps, if you will. (You will.)

I think the restlessness might be growing pains, the terror of assuming responsibility for everything you are and the desire to have the fullest life possible. I spent most of last year working on my own perception of myself, and I think that beautifully positive pseudo-metamorphosis is causing me to reach for more and question the path I’ve found myself on for some time now – the path of immediacy, the path of stability, the path of desperate independence. I have achieved my short-term goals: stable employment, home ownership, savings and a retirement account, and of course, my sense of self has been strengthened and renewed. Now, I want more.

I am looking for more knowledge. For more passion. For more wonderment. For new experiences. I am looking to continue the growth period and extend it – ultimately fusing the ideal of my future self into the absolute reality that is current me. I have spent the last decade learning how to live, how to be alive (here I pause to say that living and being alive are two different things, mostly), how to fully embrace myself as a human being and I think it may be time to return to my origins as a know-it-all fascinated by all things in the world around me.

It hadn’t occurred to me that it was intellectual curiosity that was missing until I sat next to a guy on a date and watched as he explained a theorem to me. I realized that I was absolutely fascinated, and even as I yawned against him, exhausted, I was desperate for more. My brain, it seems, has not forgotten what it feels like to learn. It is as though the connections that used to fire so rapidly, the very same connections I long ago set aside in favor of experience, yearn to fire again, to make sense of things, to connect.

I think this time it may be as simple as starting off in search of knowledge that will lead me where I ultimately need to go. I have built the foundation that I needed, created the security that I sought, and now I can push forward, confident in my own abilities. Perhaps I was not wrong about stumbling stubbornly in the right direction all those years ago.