Showing posts with label navel-gazing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label navel-gazing. Show all posts

hey all you foxy young things, this is what's coming down the pipe

Apparently, forty is the age at which men start describing you as "vibrant."

Vibrant. Dear god.

I try to take it as a compliment, but I can't help feeling that's it's a kind way of saying, "You clearly used to be hot. And still are, sort of, in a way. Just not, you know, young-hot."

I remind myself of all the lovely things that are regularly described as vibrant. Sunsets. Flowers. Casino hotel carpeting. And I'm sure I'll get used to it. Hell, in five or ten years I'll probably be ecstatic if someone calls me vibrant. But right now? Ugh.

Forty is also the age when you can justifiably start filling in the sentence, "The central problem of my life is ____." Not that you should. That's probably a sentence better left unfinished, unless it's being co-authored by a good therapist. But it doesn't sound so ridiculous anymore, is the point.

I'm really selling this forty thing, I know.

B27

I'm hungover, in the middle seat of a flight I shouldn't be on. I shouldn't be hungover, either. Last minute pre-flight dinner with a friend led to pre-flight drinks, which led to more, which necessitated a Change of Plans. So, fourteen hours after I should have been on my way, I am on my way. And lest the world shake its collective head at my irresponsibility, it was a friend I very rarely get to see. (Shake your head anyway, I'm sure I deserve it for some other infraction.)

Flying makes me strangely emotional, I guess because it means I'm either on my way to or from a loved one - in some state of anticipation or denouement. Usually exhausted, too. By the time I get my seatbelt buckled and phone switched to airplane mode I'm already gearing up for some serious in-flight feels. Liftoff, soundtracked by whatever song I've had on loop lately, does me in. I gaze out the window and sink into a sickly self-indulgent state of sentimentality. Wheels go up, tears come down.

I'm not crying today though. Just in a reverie. And a middle seat. (O Southwest Airlines, you unwavering model of populism!)

Here's what I want to know, as I sip my ginger ale, elbows carefully tucked at my sides. (I am nothing if not a polite middle seater.) When someone wonderful loves us, are we made more wonderful by their love? Does association with good, kindhearted people make us better? I think so. I fucking hope so.

Last night my friend - someone who's seen me go through some shit over the years - pried open my chest, pulled out my heart, and applied a little first aid. A pep talk of sorts, that boiled down to You're okay. You're gonna be even okay-er. Hold your head up. Now let's finish this wine. My friend is probably a better person than me. Harder working. More giving and forgiving. I don't know that I'll ever catch up to the best people in my life, in terms of their humor and grace. And when they share that humor and grace with me I desperately hope it's rubbing off on me. Teaching me an easier way to get through tough times.

Which this particular week, all things considered, is not. Middle seat hangover notwithstanding. T-minus 1:07 until we land and I get to peep some motherloving leaves in the mountains of northern Georgia. When the sun rises, I mean. First thing's first.

finding my forty

I've always liked the year I was born, 1975. It's always struck me as a clean, solid date. Easily calculable, vaguely nostalgic. Retro cool, even. Something you'd see on a vintage gym class t-shirt. I lean on the likability of that number when my age feels a little heavy, which it does from time to time.

Forty hit me hard. Rather, I hit forty hard. It was just standing there, minding its own business, when I careened into it with no seatbelt on. I don't know what I expected, though, or what such a seatbelt would even be. Some form of emotional security, I suppose, born of other, more pragmatically measurable ones. Financial? Professional? Who knows, and no use peering in the rearview mirror. I can't back up now.

Forty offers certain pleasures and presents certain challenges, and I am becoming familiar with all of them. The pleasures are largely along the lines of what you'd expect. Greater self-awareness (I hope, anyway). Intolerance for bullshit. My clubhouse is permanently closed to shitty people; there simply isn't enough time for them. And whereas dispensing with drama would once leave noticeable, uncomfortable holes in my life, now it is just a relief. I gobble up the solitude in between time with Terence, or friends. And I'm grateful for every minute of it.

But in other ways, forty has been like a new pair of shoes that I'm still breaking in. Conflicting ideas about what a forty year-old woman "does" or "doesn't do" bump around in my head, arguing with one another and exhausting me in the process. I shush these shoulds as best I can, knowing that the only version of myself I need to be is the one I already am. The problem is, some of my personality traits don't necessarily fit into forty, in all circumstances.

Example: I love being silly and making my friends laugh, but a twenty or even thirty-something goofing around on the dance floor is different than a forty-something doing it. I learned this the hard way in Vegas. Story time...

A couple of younger, very attractive women from our party pulled me up onto a small stage in the nightclub we were at. One of the girls was a visiting foreigner, extremely shy and giggly, and just drunk enough to want to get on the stage and tease her boyfriend...provided she had a cohort. Another was, well, a professional dancer, who was clearly most enjoying herself doing her thing up in the spotlight. She and I clicked and as she seemed bored and a little lonely otherwise, I gamely joined her so she'd have company and look a little less attention-grabby. In other words, I wouldn't have gotten on this stage (which was lit and had, you guessed it, a POLE) in a million years, if not to be social and a good sport for the sake of these two girls.

So. There I am, screwing around on a tiny little elevated stage, surrounded by friends and a few gawking strangers. Ten or fifteen years ago I would have been the cat's pajamas up there. Not because I'm any great shakes, but because it's what I did for a living, for a very long time. Now? Now I'm an older chick. I know I look decent, I know I'm not causing anyone to grab for their barf bags...but I'm still an older chick. So rather than make myself look absurd trying to be sexy, trying to compete with girls young enough to be my daughters, I ham it up. Act the fool. Stupid shit like patting my head and rubbing my tummy while the younger girls slinked around me eye-fucking the men who watched them from below. Some classy dude was handing out singles and I did an over-the-top pantomime of being floored by his generosity. For me??? A whole DOLLAR?? I mouthed. (His friends were dying; him, not so much.)

Every so often I'd need to take a break (I'm old, remember), so I'd climb back down the stage's ridiculous little circular staircase to rejoin my party. And this is where things got interesting. Guys would stop me, or approach me when I was alone for a second, catching my breath - but not to hit on me. To ask me, wide-eyed, how old I was. LOL.

Now, these weren't exactly insulting encounters. At least I tried not to take them that way. I'd smile or laugh and raise my hand. Hold up four fingers, then form a zero with them. I won't lie; the looks on their faces were a compliment in themselves. One guy high fived me. Another wanted to hug me, as if I was a ninety year-old who'd just completed a marathon. It was simultaneously gratifying and totally patronizing; a really weird thing. A new thing. A forty thing, I guess.

Clothes are a whole other issue. I want to dress appropriately, but still thumb my sun-damaged nose at convention. And I still want to be sexy, of course. But I don't always know what that looks like, especially for nights out. Form-fitting sheaths? Wide leg pants and button downs? More skin or less? Festivals have become a whole other, mystifying subset. At my age bohemian chic starts to edge towards witch/art teacher, so lately I've been doing a 180 and taking a swing at "sporty". Which in turns ramps up the pressure I already put on myself to be fit. I feel like I'm supposed to pick a lane and stick with it. Work it. But I don't want to. I like swerving all over the road.

I cringe, reading over what I've written. I know how utterly superficial and stupid all of this is. That if these are my biggest problems in life, then I have no problems. (I do have real problems.) But I'm gonna go ahead and publish this in case you, too, have had trouble finding your forty in some way. And if you're not there yet, fuck you, don't worry. I'll meet you on the dance floor and show you how not to do it.

bear vs. bear

Would you rather be a grizzly bear or a teddy bear? (For the purposes of this exercise, we're talking about a sentient teddy bear.)

If you were a grizzly bear you'd live wild in the woods. The exhilaration of seasons, fresh air, freedom. But you'd have to contend with all the usual threats: hunters, hunger, encroaching humans, other bears. If you were a teddy bear you'd have a pretty good chance of scoring a cozy home, and a loving child to keep you close forever. Or you might spend your life sitting in a warehouse in China. Or worse - discarded after years of friendship, lost at the bottom of a Goodwill bin.

Because being sentient, that would hurt.

It's a question of risk and reward, and I think it comes down to whether you prize security or independence more. I asked Terence one night over burgers and we fleshed out every hypothetical pro and con we could think of. (Louie and Silicon Valley are on break. We have a surplus of free time in the evenings.)

Anyway, I like to think it's a good sign that I'm firmly in Camp Grizzly - because I wasn't always.

thoughts on "Inside Out"

(contains mild spoilers)

Terence and I saw "Inside Out" on Thursday night. Wow is that one Trojan Horse of a movie. Hey boss, how we gonna sneak heavy concepts like psychological development, subconscious thought, and emotional programming into our movie? Oh yeah! Pretty Pretty Pixar! Of course!

We cried like babies. I lost it especially hard during the forgotten memories scene (and later I realized this blog is an attempt at keeping some of my own neural matter from turning to dust). I maintain the film has much more to offer adults than kids, glossy and fun as it is - though chances are, being childfree, I'm just underestimating them. Either way, I loved the message that emotions often mix, often conspire to complicate our lives in beautiful ways. It's a poignant meditation on the bittersweet nature of nostalgia, and a reminder that in order to appreciate the light, we must stay in touch with the dark.

Destroyed as I was by it, I can't imagine the number it does on parents. Oh, hai, no pressure but those core memories you're helping create for your children? Those are really, really, really important. Kk, carry on! We came home and wrapped Chaucy into the biggest cuddle ever, kissing and loving on him while I wondered aloud, perhaps absurdly, perhaps not, about my part in his psychological growth. Every time someone compliments his calm, sweet temperament is a secret gold star stuck on my heart and I think to myself, If nothing else, you did that. You gave a dog a happy life. You made a happy dog. 

Is it ridiculous that I managed to make a feature-length cartoon about how I've raised my pet? Absolutely. Am I the only dog mom that came away with the same thoughts? I have to doubt it.

"Inside Out" gives its adult viewers a lot to reflect on, regarding their relationships with their parents. (And I don't think I could have handled watching it very soon after losing either of mine.) In fact it practically invites us to critically review these relationships. We all went through rough transitions, as children. New home, new school, change, loss - moments that challenged our still developing minds so deeply we needed the support of our families to keep us steady. And I expect those adult viewers who are also parents came away doing a lot of introspection about their own emotional availability - to their kids, and to their partners. That is, if the way I renewed my pledge to Chaucer's well being is any indication.

All this thinking. Makes me say something I don't often: Thanks, Hollywood.

cloak

A funny thing happened when my dad died: I started becoming him. It was subtle at first. I began using words and phrases he favored - even ones that had always annoyed me. Then it was body language. I'd catch myself making gestures or even facial expressions that were very him. It amused me, and made me a little sad that there wasn't anyone else around who would recognize it, and be equally amused.

Then it got more serious. It's unavoidable that we internalize our parents' personalities to some degree, and I had always looked at the world through my father's (cynical, skeptical, but generally appreciative) eyes. But all of a sudden I realized I'd gone beyond just thinking about life with my dad's values in mind and had started reacting to it in ways that he would. Even in those instances where, at earlier points in my life, I would have acted completely differently - more like me. Holy shit, I thought. I'm turning into my father. 

Weirder still: I liked that it was happening. I felt strangely proud of it. Even when it was nothing to be particularly proud of. I loved my dad, he was an amazing person in so many ways and sometimes I miss him so much I can't breathe - but he could be such an asshole. Stubborn, negative, anti-social, inflexible, and critical. But when I felt those qualities bubbling up through me, rather than stuff them back down I thought No. It's okay to be like this. Dad was like this. And he was perfectly happy.

The thing being, though, that he wasn't always. Perfectly happy, that is. Or perfect. And of course I know that but to admit it, to voice it, is to recognize that I might have some work to do myself. I might have to examine these pieces of my father that I cherish if only for the fact that all pieces, now gone, are to be cherished, and say Hmm yeah, probably don't need to keep that one alive. Because that's what I'm doing, by acting like him: keeping him alive.

So here I have this very odd conflation of love and respect for my father and a desire to not manifest his worser traits. It feels wrong - to reject any part of him, now that he's gone. It feels unfair and pointless. Respect and celebrate the dead and all that. And it's painful, because what no one told me is that grief, if you want it to be, can be a magical cloak to guard you against ugly, hard realities. It can protect you from your past and it can protect you from your present. In my case it's protected me against having to acknowledge - remember, really - that my dad and I actually had a difficult relationship marked by many hurtful conflicts. By lionizing him, by keeping the grief cloak wrapped tight around me, I can lie to myself about...well, anything having to do with him.

But the dead don't seek our forgiveness, they don't care how we judge them, and they don't know anything about the lies we tell. Lucky fucking bastards.

What If, or In Defense of Snorkeling

There may come a day when Terence will turn to me and say Remember when you made me watch that movie about the time-traveling hermaphrodite who had sex with herself and gave birth to a baby...that was actually her? And I'll have to reply Yep. Yep I do. Because that was last night's activity.

As a dues-paying, voting member of SAG-Aftra, Terence gets free screeners of the award-nominated films. Super cool perk that's turned our living room into a regular AMC lately. No Horrible Bosses 2, either. Just compelling, thought provoking, heartstring-tugging dramas.

The stuff, in other words, that I don't like as much as time-traveling, self-impregnating hermaphrodites.

All movies are predicated upon a What If of some kind, but I like my What Ifs exotic. Big, outlandish, fantastical What Ifs that are so far removed from the realm of reality that my (admittedly sensitive, though gradually toughening) triggers remain safely out of reach. Give me science fiction. Action adventure. Horror. Give me post-apocalyptic chaos, ghosts, outer space, super powers, aliens, time travel. Alternate universes I can visit without cutting too close to anywhere near home. Give me something I have to imagine, because I've never gone through it. Family dysfunction? No thanks. Divorce? I'll pass. Abuse, disease, death and grief? Chaucer and I are going for a walk.

Spare me from having to vicariously relive, even obliquely, anything familiarly painful. Show me the never-known instead. Because when I unplug in front of the screen, I want to forget the kind of stuff that has too much real estate in my brain already. I want to be taken out of myself. Not shown a mirror, however distorted. Bottom line: the greater the possibility some element of a drama's plot has happened - or could happen - to me, the less interested I am in watching it.

This makes me sound like a dispassionate, maladjusted robot. I'm not, and I'd be -- wait hang on, let me adjust this dial on my neck -- I'd be more embarrassed of my cinema dramaphobia if I didn't consider it compensated, in the interest of culture and Deep Thinking, by the novels I read. Oh yeah and then there are all the feels of daily life. Got plenty of those. Doing okay with them. As well as the next person, anyway, I think.

But movies can be tricky little bastards. Some get to you organically, but others will manipulate the hell out of you. Push you to places that, if it's all the same, you'd rather not be pushed to for a tidy one hour, thirty minutes before being left bewildered, when the reel runs out, by a heartful and a headful of WHOA. WAIT. WHAT. WHOA.

It's the difference between scuba diving and snorkeling. You might see some dazzling, dangerous, indescribable things if you're willing to go deep and risk drowning. Or being eaten alive by sharks. Or you can float closer to the surface, still get a decent show, and be much safer.

---

If you've got time for a good What If this weekend, here are a few of my recent(ish) favorites:

Edge of Tomorrow: Live. Die. Repeat.
Moon
The Hunter (a more conventional, closer-to-Earth drama, but the animal lover in me was enchanted; the final fifteen minutes of this film are stunning)
Oculus
Europa Report
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Road

And hey it's Friday! Would you like a pretty song to ease you into the weekend? 



Have a good one, guys.

magic to me

Ever since I was a teenager, I've had a thing for musicians. While my girlfriends were swooning over Kiefer Sutherland and River Phoenix, I was locked in my bedroom learning exactly how many Discman plays of Need You Tonight it took to lose myself in the fantasy that Michael Hutchence's breathy "come over here" was a summons meant for me.

It wasn't just his growly purr, his sensual mouth and emotive eyes that did me in. It was - as it is with every musical crush I have - the creative fire behind those things that made them so hot. The idea of someone being so moved by an experience that he can't keep it to himself. That he has to take to pen and paper, to guitar and microphone, lest he go crazy. I understand that impulse completely, because it's one I surrender to myself, right here, lest I go crazy. So it's not just attractive; it's relatable.

Then there's the irresistible fantasy of being the inspiration itself. Who doesn't want to be a muse? Even an unflattering portrayal would stroke the ego: congrats, you got under his skin, in his blood. He had to trap you in a song, tied to a melody. Lyrics aren't even a requirement. Some of the EDM I listen to seems so erotically charged that I marvel to think what encounters, what unfulfilled desires motivated its creation. Oh to be so sexy as to inspire the hypnotic rhythms of a trance song.

I'm dating a musician now, a fact which tickles the part of my brain that wants to believe in fate, even when all the other parts know better. He was in the right place; I was in the right place - that's serendipity, not destiny. And I'd date him whether he was a performer or a tax preparer, because of how huge his heart is. That his creative spark would shine through even the thickest cubicle walls is just a bonus.

But I can't deny the thrill of it. He casually grabs a guitar, strumming as he perches on a bar stool opposite where I stand slicing an onion, and a sudden flurry butterflies threatens the security of my fingertips. We've been together over a year; there aren't swarms of butterflies. But there are enough, reliably, to refresh that adolescent, locked-in-the-bedroom-with-INXS feeling. It doesn't matter what he plays - his own work, another's, or a silly parody of something familiar. Billy Bragg reworked as a paean to Chaucer's toys, say. Half the allure is his technical ability. We tend to be fascinated by skills we don't possess, and the adroitness with which Terence plays - and can improvise - blow my mind. He plays beautiful music, beautifully.

Which leads to a frustration of mine, that will pinch his heart to read right now even as he anticipates it: I wish he'd start writing music again. I'm a broken record in that department. He can't get through an impromptu jam session without my scolding compliments.

"This is you?? This is really, really good. I would listen to this, if I stumbled across it on Spotify. When did you write this?"

"Two-thousand...four? No, five."

Or sometimes: "Um...right now?"

And then I lay into him, like a coach whose prize athlete isn't giving it his all. And it's not my place to do so, but he tolerates it, maybe because my encouragement helps chips away at the self-doubt that keeps him from writing new stuff. Or maybe because he's the most easygoing person on the planet. Probably that.

I want him to start writing again because he's talented and because I believe in him, and because I wish for him the same thing I wish for myself: creative fulfillment. And tonight while he practiced for a show, I confessed to him another, wholly selfish reason I wish he'd write new songs: because every time he performs the old ones, I am reminded that he hasn't always been mine. That he lived a whole life before me, full of experiences that excluded me. Full of joy and pain and friends and lovers and feelings he couldn't convey to me if he tried. And the insecure, abandonment-fearing child inside of me grows anxious. Her chest gets tight and her thoughts get ugly. Maybe there was something he loved before, when he wrote that song, that he loved more than me. Something I don't have. Maybe he loves that thing still.

Ironic, that the very thing which makes him exciting to me would be the same thing that unnerves me.

Typical, that I'd manage to make my boyfriend's previous creative life about me.

Anyway, I was honest. I explained it as best I could, using my blog as a poor comparison. What if I did a reading, of some of my writing that hailed from a time before you knew me? Wouldn't you wonder about what I'd been through, about who or what had inspired those pieces? And doesn't it make you feel connected to me, that as I continue to write now, you're a part of that? You share the experiences that become my stories, so in a way they belong to you, too. 

He got it. And he said some things which I don't remember exactly, but which were sweet. I think he even said that none of his songs are about other girls, which made me feel ashamed, like my jealousy had boxed him into a corner he should never have had to retreat to.

And then suddenly we weren't talking about it anymore, the us that came before us. We were just the us we are now. He had been standing beside me at the kitchen island, watching me seed a pomegranate (a task he's usually in charge of). But now he moved behind me, reaching through my arms to peel the fruit which bobbed in a wide pot. "You have to hold it under the water. Like this, see? Just rub the seeds gently with your thumb, they'll break off easily." His chest against my back, his chin over my shoulder. His hands over mine, showing me the trick. And the gentleness in his voice undid me in a way that no whispering pop star ever could.

---

A little bit later he zipped up his guitar case and slung it over his shoulder, and I thought about all the times I've passed a stranger similarly equipped, on the sidewalk. How each time I've wondered about them, intrigued and inherently impressed. How occasionally I try to communicate, with a shy smile, my appreciation. That thing you do? It's magic to me. 

And as my boyfriend headed for the door, to go play for strangers songs he wrote before ever knowing me, I felt a pang to think of all the years that sit silently between us. But I knew he wouldn't be gone long. I knew that he, his guitar, and the magic made between them would be home soon.

malibu

"Wanna go to Malibu?" he suggests, when he sees the Santa Monica exit choked off with traffic.

"Sure. Why not." It's only another ten minutes further, and I'm happy just to sit in the passenger's seat and gaze out the window.  

We've driven to the coast on a whim, because it's a pretty Sunday afternoon and we're already out and about. We're already out because we've just finished a reconnaissance mission to check out the venue for a New Year's Eve event we're considering. Tickets are pricey; I don't want to commit until I approve of the place in person. I want to wear the floor-length chiffon gown that sees action maybe twice a year (Valentine's Day being its other night out), and I'm hoping for an event that's fun but also a bit glamorous. Two-thousand fifteen seems like a year worth dressing up to greet.

The recon mission is mostly a bust, though. The venue doors are locked tight, not a soul in sight. Peering in through stately (if dusty) doors, all we can see is the sweeping staircase just inside the entrance. Rather fancy looking, I have to say. I'm just about sold. 

Walking back to the car a slice of low winter sun hits my face. The crisp cold feels like an invitation to play, and back inside a stuffy apartment is the last place I want to be. "Let's go somewhere," I say. Like Chaucer, I'm asking to be walked. I need stimulation and fresh air. If I don't get out of downtown every so often, if I don't refresh my eyes with the sight of trees or sand or just different buildings, moodiness sets in and the loft starts to feel like The Stanley Hotel. Terence gets it, and obliges, nodding. "Let's go to the beach."

The beach it is.

---

There's a seafood shack a little ways past Pepperdine on the PCH that I like. The food is overpriced and nothing spectacular, but I don't go for the food. I go because it sits opposite a movie-scenic bluff, over crashing waves and aimed at sunsets that never disappoint. There's only outdoor seating and it's chilly even in summer, but sourdough bread bowls of clam chowder help with that. So does hot apple cider, which they're serving today.

Terence orders a fish sandwich, and I get fried clam strips (along with the bread bowl) so he can try those, too. They come in a red and white paper tray and are never fully rinsed of sand. The occasional bite of grit doesn't bother me, though. Neither does the cold, which is bracing. We pull up our hoods and huddle close, and I glance furtively at the other patrons. I once sat a few tables over from the kid that played Draco Malfoy, and I've seen both a Ferrari and an Aston Martin in the parking lot. 

Malibu isn't what I imagined it would be, before I moved to California. Or maybe it is, and I just haven't seen the parts of it that would match my expectations. It's beautiful but largely inaccessible. All the best parts are closed off to tourists, which I guess is how it should be, considering what it costs to live there. 

When we drive back after sundown, I marvel at how tightly packed together the homes are. Not a single sliver of space in between them through which to see the beach. Like a finger wagging at me: nuh uh, not for your eyes, outsider. I picture clean, wide stretches of sand below sharply dropping cliffs. Living rooms with massive picture windows through which the contentedly rich or the creatively tortured watch the peaceful sea. I wonder what they think about while they enjoy that view, and if they, too, sometimes pine to get away.  

By the time the houses open up enough to see in between, we're past the prime real estate. I crane around in my seat, but it's too dark to make anything out. Malibu keeps its secrets another day. 









seven things I am aware of as the year comes to an end

1. If a tree falls in the forest and no one was there to document it, it still made a sound. 

Quitting Instagram turned out to be a surprisingly educational experience for me. When I took away that push-button validation, it got weirdly...quiet. And in that quiet I had plenty of time and space to consider why and how I document my life. What my motives are, what if anything I'm trying to show - to prove - to myself and to others. I got honest with myself about some of my longstanding insecurities, particular those surrounding friendships and what has, pathetically, persisted as a never-ending need to prove I have them.

I went through some shit growing up, with friends. And not-friends. And frenemies. Some awful, awful shit that launched me into adulthood frantic to fix that part of my life. And I do feel miles away from where I was, as recently as my twenties. But I certainly don't need to fuck with the precious, mysterious thing that is friendship by making it any more of a spectacle than it already is here on overshariquent.

Not being able to announce, immediately, HEY GUESS WHAT I HAD DRINKS WITH MY FRIEND KERRY, WHO LIKES ME, BECAUSE SHE IS MY FRIEND, BECAUSE I HAVE FRIENDS is really good for me. It took some getting used to, because I was so warped by the Insta-machine that not documenting my good times made them feel, at first, somehow less real. But eventually I was able to just chill and let go of the need to SHOW and TELL, and I know I became a better friend for it. More present and relaxed and engaged. Less distracted by the need to Make Sure and Get a 'Gram Out of It! Nowadays I don't even blog about every "bloggable" thing I do. I'm just doing things and enjoying them, like a normal fucking person. Imagine that.

Whether or not I blog it or Instagram it or Twitter it - the good moment happened. That's the thing to remember.

2. Reading fiction makes me a better person. 

My reading habits aren't what they used to be, but I'm fighting to earn back my bookworm badge. It isn't always easy to find time, and distractions abound. But when I do make the effort to plunge into a novel, to persevere until I feel its hooks sink gloriously into me, I marvel at myself. Psst, dummy! How can you forget how good this feels? How can you not want to do this ALL THE TIME? 

A good book occupies my thoughts and distracts me from the annoyances of daily life, making me less irritable. Even when I put it down, the back burner of my brain has something more satisfying to chew on than whether or not I should reorganize the spice cabinet. Fictional characters feel like temporary friends, and the (often epic) challenges they face smack some perspective into me.

I feel more open-minded and cheerful when I'm reading fiction, and I suspect I'm more pleasant to be around. It leaves me feeling peaceful and thoughtful, which probably primes me for more loving and engaging interaction with the people I care about. Compared to how I often feel after an hour or two on the internet (depleted, agitated), that's a very welcome change.

3. Being precious with things wastes them. 

For as long as I can remember, I've had the notion that "good" things need to be reserved for special occasions. It's only now starting to dawn on me how crazy this, because I'm looking back at the last few decades of my life and realizing how little I've utilized some of those good things. The expensive, the rare, the treasured and beloved. The "good" china. My "nice" sweaters. For a while after I bought it, I even avoided sitting on my own sofa, because I didn't want the cushions to wear out.

It's all fine and good to value your belongings, but what's the real value of something that you don't even use? When you think about it, disuse is about the saddest fate you can assign to some material thing. I mean, if you were a thing, wouldn't you want to be used and loved and appreciated to your fullest extent? Would you want to sit collecting dust in a cabinet, or in a jewelry box, or on a closet shelf? Wouldn't you revel in being taken out and given a chance to shine?

Losing my parents unexpectedly in quick(ish) succession has absolutely driven into me that life. is. short. Embrace what you've got here and now because you never know when it'll be gone.

4. Crowding out the bad is easier than cutting it out.

I first came across this concept in Hungry For Change, a food documentary espousing an approach to diet and exercise from a place of health and self-love, vs. one of deprivation and self-recrimination. And it was sort of revelatory for me, because it absolutely did work. When I stopped focusing on restricting bad foods and concentrated instead on slowly integrating in better ones, my life changed. And yeah that's dramatic, but it's true. I have never felt so consistently healthy as I have the past year, and that, I believe, is due to what I've added to my diet (which in turn has crowded out some of the worse stuff). It's easier not to fixate on avoiding unhealthy choices (thoughts which veritably consumed my food-disordered twenties) when they've been upstaged by healthy ones.

This idea has worked in other areas of my life, too. I'm as addicted to my phone as the next person, and much as I try to cut back on screen time, it's difficult. So rather than continuing to just rebuke myself for making poor choices (tap tap on Safari, oh look here I am surfing TimeWastersAnonymous AGAIN...tap tap on some shopping app, oh look here I am being a materialistic asshole AGAIN), I've added in some good choices. Duolingo. An awesome, super simple flashcard app for (NERD ALERT!) learning new words I've picked up while reading. I also only recently realized that I can save web pages, such as to news sites (or my blahg), to my home screen. But - and this is where the crowding out comes in - in order to do so, some other apps had to give up their prime real estate. Result: when I reflexively grab my phone in a free moment, it's that much easier to choose curiosity or creativity over mindlessness.

5. Curiosity and creativity are muscles that have to be worked. 

Sometimes I criticize myself for not being more up on current events, for not reading more articles, for not being better in touch with popular culture or knowing more quirky, interesting things about the natural world. The thing is, curiosity comes naturally to children, I think, partly because they have so little else on their plates. And since learning is so empowering, it becomes addictive. But the older we get and the more we have demanding our time and attention, the harder it is to keep this habit of learning up. It takes more effort to read the whole Times piece, for instance, and not just glance at the tweeted summary. But I think that just like any other habit, it can be strengthened. So rather than beat myself up for not knowing ALL THE THINGS, I accept that I can only know some - and even knowing those will take work. But educating myself about one issue is such a confidence booster that it feels less daunting to move on to another, and so forth.

Same thing with creativity. I believe writer's block exists, but I also know that forcing myself to sit down and create content sometimes produces the best stuff. No fairies are going to flutter down to my fingertips and take over. There's plenty of inspiration to be found in the world, but no magical muses. And the more I flex my creative muscles, the stronger they are and the braver I am about breaking out my guns. Even for silly stuff the point of which begins and ends with my own amusement. 

6. Good enough is a great stopping point for me.

A few months ago, Terence and I were checking out at the grocery store when a magazine caught my eye: Domino (a home decor magazine that was wildly popular but inexplicably retired in its prime). I was obsessed with Domino back in the day. I subscribed and saved every issue, only giving them up with great difficulty when I got married and wanted to pare down.

Anyway, when I saw the glossy cover on the rack, I audibly gasped. "What?" Terence asked.

I pointed. "My favorite magazine ever. Well, after Jane. I had no idea it was back!"

Terence grabbed a copy off the shelf and tossed it on top of our items, assuming from my reaction that I'd want one.

"No!" I exclaimed, shaking my head vehemently. "I can't." He didn't understand. "I'll want to redecorate our entire place," I explained. It's too much."

"Too much" is a place I can go to, too easily, and be too dissatisfied...and too spendy. Too much is Apartment Therapy and Pinterest and Domino. Where my home is concerned, I've learned that comfortable, organized, and welcoming to friends are good enough. I could make myself insane (and broke) trying to make it the most OMGstylish and amazing space ever, but that way madness lies.

Accepting its imperfection frees me up to better enjoy the home I've already got vs. obsessing over some future-perfect version of it that may never exist.

7. I want to be a fisherman.

A few weeks ago I told Terence about an interesting website I'd stumbled across. The Center for a New American Dream's tagline is "More of What Matters" and it sponsors initiatives having to do with things like community collaborations (sharing resources, strengthening regional food systems) and post-consumerist culture (better work/life balance, protecting kids from the marketing machine - even an alternative giving registry where experiences take the place of material goods).

But most exciting to me is their "Redefining the Dream" program, which is about what you'd imagine, and has a number of thought-provoking resource pages exploring the capital B Big questions (how much is enough? what really matters in this life? how fulfilling can an earn-and-spend existence be?) that, the older I get, the more I ponder.

Anyway, when I told Terence about it, he told me the story of the rich man and the fisherman, which I'd never heard. There are several versions of it floating around, but I like this one best. And if you're too pooped to click over, in a nutshell it's a story about a businessman who's too blind to see that the best things in life are free. (I'm not doing it justice though, because it's a powerful little tale and you really should read it because wow is it some food for thought.)

I've known a lot of rich men in my life and a handful of fishermen, and I've seen what it means to be each. I'm pretty sure which I'd rather be.  

lessons learned from a silver silk blouse

I've been updating my wardrobe in anticipation of the cold, dark days ahead. No, not winter. I'm talking of course about my forties.

It's two parts purge and one part upgrade (where finances allow). It's saying farewell to a lot of favorites, breaking up with Free People, and accepting the fact that at my age, "boho chic" reads more like "eccentric art teacher." It's slowly integrating pencil skirts and fitted sheaths and bypassing fit-and-flare. It's looking at my current closet contents with a critical eye and calculating the longevity of any new acquisition carefully.

It's not as bad as I thought it would be.

The difficulty of facing fashion maturation growing my clothes the fuck up is offset by the joy they've brought me. The hardest pieces to part with have the richest, happiest histories. I can't begrudge them retirement; they've earned it. Loading iPhoto to find an example, I ended up falling into the rabbit hole of my own recent past. Oh my god, that's right. I wore that dress the night we met those crazy Australian girls. Totally forgot about that. 

And no matter how much I antagonized over my outfits at the time, when I look back at these pictures, they are by far the least important aspect of the memory. I could Photoshop myself into something else entirely and the edit wouldn't alter one word of the conversations I had, or the laughter of my friends. Big fat duh, I know, but for someone who gets a leetle too spendy with the fashun, it's worth thinking about.

There's a silver silk blouse I've been needing to let go of for a while. It's unique, well constructed, and drapes beautifully. But it shows more of my torso than I'm really keen to show these days - possibly than I ever had a right to show. It was the first piece of clothing I bought when I moved to LA, and oh man did I think I was hot shit the first time I wore it out. There is no exhilaration like the suburban transplant's exhilaration of going to a trendy Hollywood club for the first time (at least that's how it was for me). And since that night, I've worn the hell out of that top.

It's utterly replaceable. When it's gone nothing will change. Had I never bought it, nothing would have been different. It's just a shirt. And probably the most useful it's ever been was last night, when I glimpsed it in pic after pic - awesome memory after memory - and was reminded to be grateful for the other people in those photos. Because they're not replaceable.

Forty is around the calendar corner for me, and yeah, I've got some feels about it. But if the next decade of my life brings me half as many good memories as the past one has, I will be one lucky mid-lifin' bitch. Possibly even a well-dressed one, too, though let's not get carried away.

Bad Clothes, Great Times: An Incriminating and Ill-Conceived Goodbye Collage

p.s. In case you're wondering what on earf happened to my hair - those were extensions (in a couple of pics toward the top and one at the bottom). Wore them from late 2010 through 2011. Second worst thing I ever did to my body, after tanning. Ugh. 

breaking news: people brag on the internet

That thing people do, where they are grossly ostentatious in showing wealth, with the express purpose of making others jealous? It has a name: invidious consumption.

Invidious consumption is defined as "the deliberate conspicuous consumption of goods and services intended to provoke the envy of other people, as a means of displaying the buyer's superior socio-economic status."

We all know this phenomenon exists. Thanks to the internet, we see it all the time. But if like me, you didn't realize there was a handy sociological term to denote it, well, now you know. And if like me, you find it exhausting to witness, think about how exhausting it is to be those people. To be constantly burdened by the need to prove something to others - to people they probably don't even like. People they've ex'ed out of their lives. Ex-husbands and ex-lovers and ex-friends.

I can't even imagine.

Oh wait, yeah I can. I can imagine, because there have been times in my life that I've done it myself - times when my financial security seemed like the only thing I had going for me. And yeah, it was exhausting. It is fucking exhausting to make choices based on deeply rooted hurt and anger. Oh yeah? You don't want me in your life anymore? Great. I'm gonna show you just how fucking amazing my life is without you in it. God, I am so much fucking happier now. Can you not see how FUCKING HAPPY I AM?? 

It's impossible to get through offline life without collecting cuts and hurts along the way. Painfully dissolved romances, abandoned friendships, misunderstandings and miscommunications. But bloggers and other live-online'ers (i.e., heavy users of social media) amass these cuts and hurts in full view of everyone they know (and a good deal they don't, the imagined judgment of whom is sometimes worse). Pride and ego - which despise pity - demand they show everyone that, not only have they survived, but they've gotten to the very top of the caterpillar pillar, bitches.

A public platform (such as the internet) + an inability to let go + insecurity = the perfect storm for invidious consumption.

Part of why I quit Instagram is that I recognize remnants of this behavior in myself, even though I have worked really hard, in the years since my divorce, to curb it. Not so much invidious consumption as "invidious happiness". One could argue that happiness is a form of emotional wealth, so in a way, it's the same net effect. I've got something you don't, person I dislike for X reason. Neener neener.

This is not to say my happiness hasn't been real, because I can say with gratitude that it is, even when it is undercut by my ever-present depression. But if it's easy to throw up a smiling snapshot on my blog sans context, sans any attempt at thoughtfully rounding out the bigger picture of my life (ups AND downs), on Instagram the whole fucking point is to blast the best moments and cut the sound on the worst.

The internet is a great place for sharing our lives with people we like. But it's also the perfect vehicle for showcasing those lives, like diamonds in Tiffany's window, to those we don't. And when we cease to examine our motives online, we cease to care about the difference. And that's not an internet anyone needs.

the me I see

I was thinking the other day about why relationships (romantic or otherwise) end. About the people I've passively let drift out of my life and those I've forcibly cut out, and the reasons I've done so.

Sometimes it's an easy decision. When someone has hurt me too deeply and too many times that my capacity for forgiveness is exhausted, it isn't difficult to put up a wall and self-protect. I've been doing it since I was a teenager, necessarily. Live without limits, they say, but that's such an ambiguous expression. Live without limiting yourself, maybe. But recognizing and respecting the limits on my patience and compassion is essential to my mental heath. I like having boundaries. I'm okay with telling repeat boundary breakers to take a hike. Doing so frees up space in my life for people who'll treat me with care and respect.

Sometimes I let someone go because I realize his or her values don't align with my own. The older I get the easier this becomes. (And I'm not talking about beliefs, which I think of as inward conclusions we draw about the world around us. Values are what I consider the outward expression of qualities we prize in ourselves, and for which we want to be honored, by others.) If someone had asked me at twenty-nine what my values were, I don't know that I would have been able to answer. I don't think I had a clue back then, and I'm still learning now. Perhaps strangely, much of what I've figured out about my values I've done so by identifying what they're not. By seeing their counterpoint demonstrated in someone else. Like, Oh wow, what s/he just did? I don't want to be that. Nope nope nope. In fact, what is the opposite of that? Because that's what I want to be. It's a weird way to come to understanding myself, I guess, but sometimes it's more useful than trying to straight out name what I consider most important.

But sometimes I disconnect from someone because they reflect back at me a version of myself that I've outgrown - or our relationship, to me, represents a painful time in my life. When this happens, I feel conflicted. I feel ashamed for my inability to overcome the past and for "punishing" someone who didn't do anything wrong. But at the same time, I feel incapable of keeping them close. I haven't found a way to say It's not you; it's me - the me I see when I look at you - but that's how I feel.

internot musings, part 5,039

Last night I spent about an hour sitting alone on the sofa in the dark, just thinking about some things I'm going through personally. Craptastic feelings of inadequacy and failure that are inching into self-loathing territory. I didn't pick up my phone or open my iPad to distract myself. I didn't put up a fight at all. I just let a parade of shitty emotion march right over me.

Simply sitting like that - being still and quiet with my thoughts in order to work through them - is something I've never been good at. When things get uncomfortable for me emotionally, distraction is the name of the game, typically in the form of some screen. Until I dumped Instagram, that screen was usually my phone's. I'm still turning to the browser far more often than I'd like, but overall, the amount of time I spend staring at my phone has gone down significantly. I'm happy about that change, but I know that I'm still using the internet in some pretty unhealthy ways.

The internet is my wooby and my scourge. It's where I go when I'm upset, and it's the place I go to get upset. It's the buffet at which I can gorge myself to bursting on whatever my appetite demands, no matter how toxic the craving. I overstimulate myself in some pretty fucked up ways on the internet, knowingly subjecting myself to annoyance, anger, envy, covetousness, jealousy, and more, all of which sit like jagged rocks at the bottom of a slide disguised as curiosity, or boredom. I start out surfing pages, but I end up surfing feelings themselves.

The internet is my right-hand enabler for some of my worst tendencies - egotism, materialism, superficiality, competitiveness. But it's also where I go to reaffirm my values, and the things I want to believe about myself. On other blogs and news sites, in communities and forums, I can read the words of like-minded individuals and surf away feeling reinforced by opinions I already held. It's the ultimate self-selection tool. And I wonder how my perceptions of the world - and of myself - would change if they weren't constantly being filtered through an internet page or two.

I'm also thinking about the ways in which we sell ourselves to one another online. Every so often, in discussions of blogs and social media, someone will point out the obvious: Okay, but don't forget: we're only getting a little bit of the picture with her. She's only sharing as much of herself as she carefully chooses to. And we know this, of course. But I think considering the degree to which we have allowed ourselves to become invested in these virtual relationships, it cannot be emphasized enough, just how important this is to remember.

Much in the same way that white sugar, white flour, and even cocaine are highly refined, concentrated essences pulled unnaturally from their greater, nutritively diverse packages, so are our 'net selves an artificial, winnowed-down version of who we really are. When I meet my friend Kerry for drinks, there's not a lot I can hide from her. She sees I'm tired. She sees my clothes are wrinkled, or out of fashion, or inappropriate to the occasion. She can see the tension on my face and draw conclusions about the kind of day I've had. It's easy for her to ask questions and get an idea of where I'm at emotionally, how I've been spending my time - how happy I am or am not. Sure there are things I can keep from her, but it's tricky to hide who I really am, time and again. Sooner or later, my flaws and uglier traits will out themselves.

But when I pop online, for all anyone knows - I'm perfect. I'm dressed stylishly, well-rested, productive, creative, and happy. I'm clever and cute and everything is peachy. For all anyone knows. And though yes, we're all quick to rush and say Oh, of course. Of course we know there's more to the story offline, I wonder how healthy it is to keep subjecting ourselves to these incomplete pictures of a one another. I think it fosters a whole host of shitty feelings we'd be better off without. She's prettier than me. He's more accomplished. They're a happier couple than we are. Etc. Or, when we identify the lie: Ugh, what a phony. She's not fooling anyone. Who does he think he is? I can't stand him. 

Annoyance, anger, envy. Why do we do this to ourselves, when we know better? When there's an entire, gorgeous physical world at our fingertips (not to mention a pretty interesting internal one), why do we ignore it hour after hour in favor of the virtual one filled with things that trigger such crappy emotions?

More and more, and especially since leaving IG, I'm thinking about what life was like, pre-internet. I've made a lot of noise about Productivity! and Literature! and Writing! and Better, More Creative Use of My Time! as motivating factors in my decision to (again) withdraw from social media - but now I'm wondering why that void needs to be filled with anything at all. What if the spaces between daily activities were filled with...nothing? With a few minutes of just sitting quietly? With petting Chaucer or just enjoying the sight of sunlight pouring in my window? I mean, what the fuck did I do with my spare time before I had a billion screens and gadgets to toggle between all day? It's been so long, I don't remember. Maybe nothing? Maybe a lot of sitting alone in the dark and thinking?

And maybe that isn't such a bad thing?

severance packages and safe bets

Nine days ago, I posted a final photo on Instagram with what I hoped was a not too dramatic-sounding explanation and farewell. I turned my phone face down so I wouldn't see any push notifications, and returned to what I'd been working on, determined to back up the decision to better use my time with immediate action.

That lasted about five minutes.

Then I picked up my phone, checking to see if any responses had come; a few had. I replied to them, and turned my phone back over. Twenty minutes later, I peeked again. I read goodbyes from IGers all over the world, some of whom had been following me for almost two years. Their kind words took the wind right out of my sails. I cried more than once, as messages continued to come. Yep. I cried when I quit Instagram. If you're thinking to yourself, Wow, this chick has problems, let me tell you - you don't know the half of it. Because quitting was easy compared to what came next.

Terence gamely suggested we go to happy hour to "celebrate" my Instafreedom. And I don't use scare quotes to mock his word choice, which was him just trying to make me feel better about my decision, and totally sweet and supportive. I use scare quotes because I spent the better part of that evening second-guessing myself and feeling variously depressed (Wow, I just destroyed a really nice emotional resource), scared (Was this the right call?), angry (WTF, so-and-so unfollowed me without even saying goodbye? I liked every one of his lame, boring pics for two damn years), guilty (I'm abandoning faithful readers who've been so supportive and encouraging), and this strange mixture of resignation and detachment, as if I'd just signed up for a deep space mission, and was saying goodbye to life as I knew it. Or as if I'd been sentenced to solitary confinement, albeit with access to a really good library.

Point being: I didn't feel celebratory, though I could feel the first, tiny shudderings of relief and unburdening. All sorts of questions were going through my mind, and that didn't stop Friday night or even that weekend. In fact, I've passed most of this past week thinking about the ramifications of my decision to quit, which - expected, right? What I didn't expect was the Pandora's box of much larger questions that quitting IG would open up, about things like the meaning of friendship, self esteem, and the definition of success. Thinking about those things raised other questions about my life and my priorities - re: myself, my relationships, and even this blog. I know it sounds dumb, but I don't feel like the same person I was nine days ago. Existential crisis: there's an app for that.

Some things I've been considering:

What could I look at, if I wasn't looking at my phone all the goddamn time? What could I think about instead? What sort of space, as my friend Jenny put it, would I have in my mind for other things, if Instagram wasn't there?

What am I communicating to my blog readers by quitting IG? Are they going to think that I don't want to interact with them? Would I blame them if they did? Why should anyone continue to give a shit about my life when I've essentially said, Welp, nice following your life for a while - peace out! 

Regarding social media, is more necessarily better? More followers, more Facebook friends? If I'm not actually interacting with most of those followers, what is the value in those relationships?

What about in real life? What would happen if we pared our relationships down to a core group, and truly invested ourselves in them? What would those relationships look like? How deep and strong could they become? Is there anything wrong with limiting our time and attention to a few trusted and loved people?

Who are these hundreds of lurkers who are otherwise active on IG but never like or comment on a single photo of mine? Why is that an acceptable concept to me, that my loved ones and I would be entertainment for them? How can I take the power back into my own hands, and stop submitting the treasured moments of my life for their daily perusal and (non)approval? What if I returned to my pre-Instagram way of posting what I want when I want, here on my blog, without auditioning for their "likes"? What if they had to work a little harder, to see what my life is all about? What if I at least had the satisfaction of making them come to me?

What was it about sharing photos on Instagram that I found gratifying? What were the drawbacks? How much of it was fun, and how much of it felt like obligation and upkeep?

Why do I feel compelled to share personal photos online at all, whether it's on IG or here on my blog? What are my motives for doing so? How much of it is sharing and how much of it is validation-seeking?

And finally: how much faster could I get to the life I want - to being the person I want to be - if I wasn't slowed down by the need for approval?

Like I said, reflection and introspection central around here. I'm still working out the answers, which aren't always obvious, despite my leading and loaded questions. One thing I have realized for certain: Instagram was not relaxing for me. Editing the photos, playing with color and filters and the overall look of my gallery - that I loved. But once a photo was actually posted? Then it was like a running ticker tape in my head. A constant distraction. How many likes? Hmm, not many. That's what I get for posting another pic of the man I'm wildly in love with and whose face *I* want to see reflected back in my gallery. Guess I better post more universally appealing stuff or I'll lose followers. Clever comment from so-and-so. Gotta reply to that, but too tired to respond right now. I'll do it tonight. Let me see what so-and-so's been up to...

Instagram is just too mentally stimulating for me, for it to be relaxing.

One awesome silver lining: I have been absolutely blown away by the amazing responses that have come in from readers and IG friends who reached out to say, Yo, I get it, and have shared their own struggles with social media and the internet in general - and those who've said, I guess you're not too horrible, Ellie - what say you we strike up a private correspondence, instead? In fact, I now have a handful of pen pals  (one of whom proposed snail mail, so we have legit mementos to keep and everything) and texting buddies whose friendship I can cultivate post-IG. Talk about a severance package.

---

One of the best things about Instagram was being able to scroll back and see loved ones and fun times at a glance.* It was, among other things, the perfect scrapbook - but it was a public one, in the same way this blog is. I've thought a lot about privacy, about intention, and about being present when I'm with the people I care about. About when a quick snapshot is worth disrupting the moment to revisit it later - and when memory alone should be enough. I've thought about the differences between posting to IG vs. posting to my blog, and about context, frequency, and timing.

I'm probably going to keep thinking about all of this until my head explodes. But for now, I believe that doing things from a place of love is a safe bet - with the important caveat that what we're doing is in the best interests of those we love. And if were to die tomorrow, I hope I would be remembered as someone who loved the people in her life absolutely, and sometimes just couldn't get enough of their awesome, smiling faces.

To that end, here they are, in some of the moments that have made up life lately, along with some ungrams, because why throw the creative baby out with the creative bathwater? Captionless because I'm too damn tired and this post is too damn long already, and the best moments in life speak for themselves, anyway.





Answerless, confused-as-ever Ellie out.

---

* This was the one big concern Terence had about my leaving IG. He said he'd be bummed not to be able to see those collected moments anymore. Solution: I'm not deleting the elliequent account, so the photos aren't going anywhere. I also made a new private account for just us that I can flood with personal pics day or night, without worrying about alienating/impressing/annoying anyone else.

the long run

In what will come as a shock to no one who really knows me (and my previously voiced feelings toward social media), I'm 99.9% sure that I'm going to quit Instagram. And possibly Twitter.

This past weekend, when I was at Coachella, there was a constant buzz in the back of my brain. And no, it wasn't drugs. It was my acute awareness that I hadn't posted anything to Instagram. That I was "dark." And it was fucking distracting. It stayed with me all weekend, and only got quiet for the couple hours or so after I'd posted a slew of pics on Saturday and Sunday morning, bringing my 1100 or so followers up to speed on my whereabouts and whatabouts, so they could exhale with relief and get on with their day.

You see where this is going.

It got quiet another time, too: when, out of the blue, I received a text from my girlfriend Kerry, who knew I was at Coachella and would be out of pocket, but who wanted to let me know she'd seen Chaucer out with his dog sitter, looking happy and fit. Her text was such an unexpected and welcome surprise that I broke into a huge grin. And I realized in that instant how totally fucked up my priorities were. I'd been spending all of this mental energy seeking out the sights and sounds I thought my internet friends would be impressed by that I hadn't stopped to consider what pics or video clips my actual, real life friends might get a kick out of.

I'm horrified to say this happens a lot.

I'm horrified to admit that there are days when I spend a LOT of time thinking about my internet friends and very little - if not none at all - thinking about my real life friends. Because the fact is, Instagram has grown to be a sort of substitution for doing the work of interacting with those real life friends. Social media is an easy, quick fix of interaction. Tap, tap, type, type - feel satisfied that I've had an exchange with someone. That I've connected. I feel social. I feel engaged. But am I? Because for all that tapping and typing, I haven't gotten the tiniest bit closer to the people whose company and real life support I (claim to) treasure. In fact, I feel like I've forsaken them in a way. Rather than put in the time and effort to connect with them, to ask about their day or make plans to hang out - to keep the generalized loneliness that is a fact of the human condition at bay for another five minutes - I turn to social media for a hit of connection.

The unspoken subtext here, the thing I realize it must sound like I'm implying, is that real life friendships are a more valuable time investment than internet friendships. I'm not saying that. I'm not claiming that as a truth for anyone. I'm not even sure that it's true for me, because holy shit have I been on the receiving end of some incredible support and kindness, online. I can only speak for myself. And I know I've been lax in working at my real life relationships, largely because it is so easy to get lost in (or feel satisfied by) my virtual ones. I hate that this is the case. I wish I had all the time in the world to devote to ALL my relationships, and to interacting with all the amazing people who've reached out to me on the internet, to say they appreciate or admire something I've done/said...but I don't. I'm overwhelmed by social media, and for a long time now, I've let it get in the way of my goals.

Instagram has become for me a very hollow and very superficial form of creative gratification. I get a fleeting sense of artistic satisfaction when I post, but that satisfaction is in lieu of creating something actually meaningful. Stories or personal essays, or compelling opinion pieces. Even the shittiest flash fiction or poetry I write on my blog feels better than posting another goddamn selfie. And when I consider the number of books I could have read - or the languages I could have learned - over the past two years, instead of screwing around on social media, it makes me want to cry.

I talked to Mason about this, and he nailed it: I think for you, as it is for me, a lot of that shit is a way to avoid facing your creative demons. Just a way to procrastinate. Take away all that shit and you're forced to write. Which is what you should be doing anyway. 

Speaking only for myself and my observations/experience, the most successful of my friends are the ones who give precisely zero fucks about social media. The friends I know who are actually most engaged socially, hanging out and taking trips and spending actual face time with one another - are the ones who have next to no social media presence. When I look at the artists I most admire - the writers and filmmakers and musicians who are actually producing (and selling!) compelling content, they're the ones for whom Instagram is last on a long and eye-opening list of priorities. 

I also use social media in some unhealthy ways. "Checking up" on people I don't even like. So, so fucked up. Such a colossal and embarrassing waste of my time. And if I don't have accounts on these apps, it's much, much more difficult to engage in that particular vein of WTFery. I can still log onto my computer and manually search for individuals, but I don't see myself doing that, because I am supremely lazy. 

Last point: having a blog does more than enough fuckery with my sense of reality, and my sense of self. I have to be vigilant not to live my life in pursuit of bloggable content, and not to look at the things and people I love as material. Instagram makes that about a hundred times harder. I find myself seeking out Instagrammable moments and situations, instead of just living my damn life. That's gross and weird, and I want it to stop. It's gotten so bad that sometimes an experience doesn't feel real unless I've documented it for the world to see (particularly when I spend time with friends, or when Terence does something especially sweet). I feel myself trying to prove something, to others maybe, or perhaps just to myself? I am loved. I am loved. SEE, WORLD? I AM LOVED!!

It's time, I think, to reinvest my energy into doing things that will make me love myself, truly and deeply, in the long run. 

carbon

We're all going to die someday. Very few of us will do so in accidents, suddenly and without warning. Most of us will go slowly, our bodies and brains used up, worn down, depleted of their vitality and the greater part of their usefulness. One or another degenerative disease will likely warn us in advance of our coming demise. There aren't many surprises behind that curtain.

There aren't many surprises because our bodies and brains are ours to use up, wear down, and deplete in the ways that we choose. Sounds bleak, but those choices are what makes life exciting and worthwhile. We get to decide what experiences are worth the debit on our health; what pleasures merit ticking down our lifespan in tiny or not-so-tiny measures.

Some of the ways in which we destroy ourselves are obvious, and vilified with increasing vehemence the more we understand their effects. Alcohol. Tobacco. Saturated fat. Sunshine. Some are less apparent, and much less nefarious - but they still share a destructive quality. A sedentary lifestyle contributes to heart disease, but high impact exercise and sports will erode your joints, or worse. Fitness buffs don't quit these activities, however, when they see and feel the consequences of them on their bodies. Sooner or later, reading takes a toll on one's eyesight. But bookworms don't surrender their library cards with the acquisition of spectacles.

And what about stress? What about sixty hour work weeks and the collected effects of years of sleep deprivation and emotional pressure? That's a choice, too. That's a choice to sacrifice certain aspects of one's physical and mental well-being, in pursuit of wealth, early retirement, prestige, or whatever else one considers important. That's a body being used up.

Childbirth. Breastfeeding. Childrearing. All take an enormous physical and emotional toll on a woman, who commits to them because she deems the rewards of motherhood to be worth its costs. That's a body being used up.

Antibiotics. Antidepressants. Artificial sweetener. Better living through chemistry say our corporations, but our corporeal forms often say otherwise. Bodies being used up.

We do things to and with our bodies throughout our entire lives, in hopes that health and happiness will be the payoff. We make these choices according to our experiences and expectations. But at the end of the day, we're all carting around the same rather faulty model, no matter what our individual expiration dates are. We all have one heart, one liver, two eyes, some teeth and bones and grey matter, and a lot of delicate skin. And it's all going to end up the same way. We're all carbon.

I'm using my body up, too. I stay up too late. I drink too much coffee loaded with too much sugar. A few times a week, I beat my knees to hell as I run across town on hard city streets. When I'm not in running shoes, I'm usually sporting unsupportive Converse that do nothing for the longevity of my vertebrae - or high heels that flat out wreck them.

I do these things fully cognizant of their repercussions, because when I weigh those repercussions against the unpleasantness of not doing them, I don't have to look at the scale for long. A life deprived of the things that make it enjoyable isn't much of a life at all.

A few times a year, I use my body up in another way: with the use of MDMA and psilocybin. In fact, in exactly a week, I'll be busy doing just that. I'll be doing it because I enjoy their physical and emotional effects immensely - but also because I value mind-expanding experiences. I'll feel an incredibly intense sense of well-being and peacefulness about my own life and the world in general. I'll feel sensual and blissful and be enraptured by my physical environment. My senses will be overloaded in the best way with stimulation, and I'll feel more alive than I ever have. I'll see colors and patterns that I could never replicate with a thousand years and a thousand crayons, or even describe if I tried. And sound will become multidimensional in a way that defies logic.

And all of this will tax the hell out of my body and brain, for about half a week. Then I'll come home and return to my physically active, non-smoking, relatively stress-free and healthy life.

This is my choice. And I don't think that the ways that I choose to use my anatomy are any better or any worse than the ways anyone else chooses to use theirs. Life becomes more beautiful and interesting as we learn about ourselves and the things that make us tick. Isn't our willingness - our need - to seek those things out what makes us human?

Every so often, despite my best attempts to explain the context and circumstance under which I use recreational drugs (i.e., safe and limited), I am met with judgment and moral condescension. I don't mind so much because hey, I get it. I'm a D.A.R.E. kid. But I wish those people would stop to consider the ways they're using their bodies up, too.

We're all carbon, but no one said we have to be carbon copies of one another.

the hassle of the haul

Gifting is such an interesting cultural phenomenon. Bestowing our loved ones with something by which to remember us is how we, as a society, have decided is the best way to express affection and gratitude. But when you think about it, it's actually pretty presumptuous to burden someone with some thing that you've decided has value, meaning, beauty. To essentially say to them, I'm giving you this physical item with the expectation that you will carry it with you throughout your entire life, because I think it's special - and because I think I know you well enough to know that you'll think it's special, too. I expect you to pack it and unpack it, every time you change homes. I expect you to find a place for it in your life, for the next several decades.

It's not that I'm so cynical and minimalist, though I cop to both in small measures. It's just that as a lifelong apartment dweller (whose residences, by and large, have gotten progressively smaller over the years), I think about this a lot. I have to, because every single time I move, I must assess the value of my belongings. What's worth the effort? What's worth the expense?

The other night, Terence and I spent about an hour going through several boxes and bags he'd carted over from his house but had yet to go through, because they were an overwhelming jumble of essentials, gifts, junk, and emotionally-charged things that he'd been lugging around for several years and was none too sure he needed anymore. We all have that stuff. The stuff we're keeping for one reason or another, about whose necessity in our lives we're conflicted. The stuff we just can't bring ourselves to ditch, but when pressed, whose presence in our closets and cabinets we can't really justify.

It's much easier to be stoic about the things we buy or acquire ourselves. It's difficult to part with the things others have saddled us with, especially when they were given in love. Thanks in part to my mother's shopping habits, which clued me in at an early age to the dangers of hoarding, I, however, am pretty ruthless about it.

It started right about the time I was headed to college. My mother took it upon herself to go scouting for deals at discount outlets and thrift stores, on things I was going to need as an independent adult: home goods, bedding, kitchen items, etc. And while it was kind of her, and her heart was in the right place, I knew her - and the shopper's gene I inherited from her - well enough to know that she was feeding her spending addiction, as well. Calling out those two birds, one stone doesn't make me any less grateful - though as a teenager, gratitude wasn't my strong suit. Opinions were. And I had opinions about the silver flatware set she scored for me at Tuesday Morning, and the Pfaltzgraff serving bowls she unearthed in the shelves of Goodwill, and those opinions were basically, Ugh, do not want. Would rather pick out my own.

Still, I kept the things she chose for me, and I lugged them from my first apartment to my second and third and fourth and so on, until I earned enough money, and enough time had passed, that replacing them didn't seem like such an insult. But years of schlepping several dozen pounds of wares that I never asked for in the first place left an impression on me, and I vowed never to give anyone any thing, unless I was at least ninety percent sure they'd want it, or it was cheap enough to discard guilt-free.

I've penned a lot of silly, personalized birthday poems, for this reason. I've read long-winded toasts at parties, filled with inside jokes and sentiments intended to show their honoree that I know and love what makes them them. I've written and performed mini plays (one a few years ago with popsicle-stick puppets), invented games, created goofy graphics and flyers - anything to make the recipient feel special and understood as a person, without burdening them with a material good they might have no use or desire for.

I've done all this because I hate the hassle of the haul, not because I know for certain they do. And I've reached such master status at remorseless purging that I'm happy to oversee and advise on the efforts of others, including the boyfriend with whom I just moved in. Because it's a lot easier to raise my eyebrows at the fourth Ganesh idol he pulls from the carton than to direct my critical gaze to the bottom shelf of my console, where a sticker maker I've used once in the past five years sits laughing at my hypocrisy.

When we were finished, and while he was waiting for me to change so we could go grab a celebrate-the-decluttering bite to eat, he grabbed his ukelele and started strumming. "See?" I lit up. "Do you see how getting rid of actual physical stuff clears the way mentally, makes you want to create something to fill that void?"

I had no idea what the fuck I was talking about, and still don't, but it sounded true-ish and like a good justification for the donate/sell piles we'd rather hastily created, so I was definitely enthusiastic about the idea. So was he, I think, because he smiled and kept playing.

The ukelele is not going anywhere. The sticker maker, however, is living on borrowed time. I mean, no way am I carting that thing around to more than, say, the next four apartments...

in defense of snapshots

I'm in the process of winnowing down the photos I'm going to use for my 2013 year-in-pics video. I've done them for 2010, 2011, and 2012, and even though they're nothing remotely fancy, they're one of my favorite creative efforts ever. Very much worth the trouble (which is more than it should be, as my outdated, overburdened laptop is basically a paperweight at this point) - a cathartic way to be nostalgic, to reflect, and in some ways, to say goodbye.

Most of the pics that go into these videos are crappy cell phone photos. And I wouldn't have it any other way. Because the quality of the pictures doesn't really matter to me, so long as the people in them are recognizable. They're just memory triggers, anyway. All I want from them is to be instantly transported to that moment, that instant in which I was laughing or loving or just enjoying myself enough to want to record the feeling. And I get there just fine, no matter what the pixel count or clarity. And best of all, I know that in that moment I wasn't weighed down with a cumbersome dSLR, futzing about with F-stops and other settings. I was actually present, checking out only long enough to snap a quick pic on my cell phone.

Deciding to stop posting photos - and recapping social events - on Elliequent was one of the best blogging decisions I've ever made. I don't have to worry about impressing anyone with my photos. I don't have to drag a dSLR to parties and get side eye when I invest way too much time trying to get that perfect blog-worthy shot. I can just enjoy myself and my friends.

My dSLR isn't going anywhere. I like using it at public events around town, just for fun and creative release. Photography is still an erstwhile hobby for me, and always will be. And occasionally friends ask me to bring my "good" camera to parties, to document the day for them with professional(ish)-looking photos. But that's about it. I don't even like taking it on vacation any more, since the trip quickly starts to revolve around finding photo opportunities rather than the collection of actual memories. I get caught up in thinking about how I'm going to capture the moment, rather than just live it.

I don't think anyone ever looks through their family albums and thinks Man, I wish my mom had a better camera or My parents should have thrown away this blurry shot of us. I think we're all just grateful the photos exist.

closure

Closure is a curious thing - this vague sense of peace, of amicable resolution, that we hold up as some kind of ideal ending to a relationship. Like if we can just come to an agreement about why or how or who, then we can part ways feeling like mature grown ups that have learned something from our time together.

Until I felt like I had closure, for most of my adult life, I felt anything from uneasy about to downright resentful towards my ex-partners. As if the things unsaid or the issues unresolved between us were actively preventing me from moving forward. Of course, it was just the opposite. It was me choosing not to let go, and using those unspoken words, and that unsettled score, as an excuse to hang on.

It's rare that two people cheerfully agree about their incompatibility and part romantic company on mutually respectful terms. More often one wants to hold on, and one wants to let go. Feelings get hurt. Egos get bruised. And when you're going into any interaction with a bruised ego, it's easy to bring an agenda along with you. It's hard to shake hands when you've got them wrapped around the handle of an axe you can't stop grinding. Once you feel like you've been undervalued by someone, it's natural to want to prove to them you are valuable, after all, And wow did you make a mistake, and I'm going to show you just how badly, by being just soooo mature and awesome and cool about all of this. A quick, honest examination of your motives might reveal that you're less interested in sincerely saying goodbye and more interested in leaving your ex pining for your return. And what the hell kind of progress or growth is that?

Pursuing closure with someone after the relationship has ended - particularly if it's been a while - is actually pretty selfish, I think. It's selfish to parachute back into someone's life out of the blue, when really you have no idea what their state of mind about you is. Maybe they've forgiven you, or themselves - maybe they haven't. Maybe they actively mourn the loss of you from their life, or maybe they're completely apathetic toward you. The point is, to reach out because you want to feel better about things doesn't take into account what's best for them, or how your sudden reappearance is going to affect them. Sometimes you've just got to bear the weight of your own shitty feelings alone. What gives you the right to disturb any inner peace they've reached on their own, particularly if you were the hurtful party?

And I say all of this as a former peace disturber and a former peace disturbee. I've been on both ends of it. I've desperately wanted to be forgiven, to be re-enlisted as a friend, to understand and make amends. I moved progressively through stages of sadness, anger, and confusion over the course of years - years - in my attempts to reestablish contact and friendship with a former boyfriend, someone who in my twenties deeply shaped my ideas about romantic relationships. I was first gently rebuffed, then pushed away with increasing frustration, and eventually ignored altogether. And it broke my heart not a little bit. But for years I managed to convince myself, hilariously enough, of his selfishness - of his immaturity in being unable to handle having me in his life. What disgusting hubris, right? I never stopped to think Hey Ellie, maybe, for reasons that are none of your business, a relationship with you isn't what's best for him. Maybe stop expecting other people to conform to what works best for you.

On the flip side, I've had exes bring their unresolved emotions to me, hoping I'll forgive/forget the hurts they inflicted, so that they can feel better about themselves. I was recently apologized to by someone I dated briefly, who I guess thought about things and realized he'd been less than great to me. And at first it felt good to have my feelings validated. But then it was like, Wait, what is this about? Why is he reaching out, out of nowhere? Is he regretful? Is he going through some period of self-examination and growth on which I'm a box to tick off? Is this really about him wanting to make me feel better? Or is it about him wanting to feel better about himself? And all of a sudden, I had all these thoughts to sort through and deal with, that I hadn't had five minutes before. And I realized that that first blush of warmth I felt at his apology was actually just my ego smoothing itself out again. My ego: nothing deeper than that. Just me straightening my shoulders a little bit, even thinking to myself, Yeah, that's right. You did screw up. Bet you wish you hadn't.

Is that growth? Is that maturity? And is that external validation anything I really needed, anyway? What good did it do me? Wasn't I doing just fine validating myself, before it came along?

At the end of the day, no one can give us true closure but ourselves. Because no matter how many conversations we have with an ex or how much territory we retread in pursuit of agreement, ultimately we're going to land, emotionally speaking, where we're going to land. So we may as well keep the power in our own hands by processing the relationship on our own - by determining what's useful to take away and what can be let go of. If we decide for ourselves what role we played in its successes and in its failures, we don't have to wait around for anyone else's gavel to fall, to let us know where we stand. And that's empowering.

And we know we're done, really done, when we're no longer chewing the bones. No longer stewing over undefended accusations, unexplained actions - or even unspoken apologies. When our thoughts are just plain elsewhere.

Closure is our own choice to make, and the faster we make it, the faster we'll be free and available for The Next Awesome Thing.