Showing posts with label self-improvement. Show all posts
Showing posts with label self-improvement. Show all posts

beauty in the grey

Next thing I promised to talk more about: therapy.

I found my therapist through Open Path, which is a discounted psychotherapy collective. Cheap counseling, in other words. So right off the bat you know you're going to be working with someone compassionate, because these people ask for pittance, basically, in terms of an hourly rate. In some cases they charge as little as a third of what a typical session of therapy costs. Patients only need to pay an initial membership fee; then they can see anyone in the collective, forever and ever amen.

I scrolled through the listings, looking for I don't know what exactly. An especially sympathetic face, primed to give me all the pity I crave? I found a man whose picture and description spoke to me (he specializes in loss), and I emailed him. This in itself was a very tragicomic exercise, trying to condense my many issues into a sort of please-take-me-on-as-a-client pitch. I ended it with my goals for what I hope to get out of therapy, which felt a bit like sucking up to the teacher - but I wanted him to know I'm serious about getting my shit together.

He didn't answer for a few weeks, and in typical Ellie fashion I just assumed I'd been rejected, and that I didn't deserve help, and I told myself I'd revisit the issue soon. But then he got in touch, apologizing for the delay, saying he'd been out of the country. He asked whether I'd like to come in for a complimentary consultation, which made me laugh out loud, because that's like asking someone with a totaled car whether they'd like to bring in their vehicle for a free checkup. Better clear your schedule, buddy.

No joke, I was already crying when I got to his office. I'd had a terrible night at work and the ol' avalanche of negativity had nearly buried me alive. As it does. So woo boy was I ready to unload on his couch.

Long story not much shorter: he had my number inside of ten minutes. "In the past thirty seconds you've said 'amazing' and 'horrible' and 'always' and 'never.' You swing from black to white rather quickly, don't you?"

So we're working on that.

We're also working on the inextricable closeness with which I keep to my emotions. My inability to detach from them, and from the experiences that have fostered them, even when those experiences are years old. I can tell the story of the abusive relationship I was in, in late 2011, and be instantly wrecked. He was quick to note that the upside of this is (he imagines) the amount of deep joy I can dial into, instantaneously. (I assured him that indeed I can do that.)

Bottom line, we're working on getting me to be more even keel. On finding beauty in the grey. And eventually we're going to put to bed all the crap that I've been keeping knotted inside of me for the past ten years.

And I like him a lot. He doesn't pull punches, and often uses humor to make his point. He makes me laugh at myself, which is something I love. My favorite people are the ones who know how to tease me, and do it effectively - and with warmth.

I told him when I initially emailed him that things are tight for me financially right now, but this is something important that I'm going to prioritize. Manicures are awesome. Mental health is awesomer.

no choice but to believe

I've been compiling a list on my phone's notepad. Small moments that have been special, that I wanted to share with you.

Today, despite the blue skies and 80+ weather, feels black and airless. Twenty-four hours ago I was crying, walking out of the elementary school gymnasium where I triumphantly cast my ballot. Election days always make me emotional. For the past eight years that emotion has been elation, and yesterday's tears represented a prolepsis of another victory that, shockingly, didn't materialize. Which is why twelve hours ago I was crying again, but for entirely different reasons.

It's gonna be okay. It's gonna be rocky at best and consistently enraging at worse--but it's gonna be okay. We all have a responsibility to buckle down and promote positivity every chance we get, on every level we can reach. Last night I made two vows to myself. This was the first: that I would concentrate on the things I can control; on building better relationships with the people in my life, taking the time to appreciate them and express my gratitude. My hope, I guess, is that this love will ripple outward and someday, hopefully before the next election, reach those who've become so lost, angry, and misguided in their values that they think the president elect represents their interests. It's Pollyannaish, sure, but we don't have much to lose right now.

The second vow I made is to make better and more frequent use of whatever meager talents I have. To be of service. To make you guys laugh, or think, or just feel less alone. And I urge anyone possessing any artistic bent to do the same. Now's the time. Get expressive. Bring us together, any way you can.

After I share the small moments I've been collecting, I'm going to share one other, bigger moment with you. It wasn't something I ever planned on telling anyone about, for reasons that will be clear to those with good Elliequent attendance. I'll let you make of it what you will. I'll let you think about it as much or as little as you want.

Today is a good day for thinking.

Moment #1

I'm walking home one day in August, the weight of my world slowing me almost to a crawl. Self-pity is a brick-filled backpack I can't seem to unzip, much less unload. My street is ugly; there's no two ways about it. I hate it. It's choked with traffic all day, and lined with run-down duplexes whose front steps are littered with discarded mattresses. How did I get here? A series of very poor decisions. Someday, if I keep making enough good ones, I'll be able to move off of it. But for now, trash avenue is my home.

Twenty feet ahead of me, a front door swings open. Three nimble young bodies bound out into the sunshine. Boys a few years apart in age, and sized accordingly. Ten, eight, and six, if I had to guess. The oldest reaches the sidewalk first, and without turning around, extends his arms backwards. His two younger brothers quicken their pace to catch up. Each takes the hand of their big brother. All three fall into step, and the picture they make from behind stops me short with its sweetness. Head, shoulders, hand. Head, shoulders, hand. Head, shoulders, hand. Together they are invincible.

Moment #2

The 720 bus, the one I occasionally take home from the west side, is standing room only at certain times of day. Exhausted faces that remain otherwise indifferent as we cram against one another, sometimes muttering apologies, sometimes not even bothering. I push as politely as I can to the back, not to get a seat (there are none to be had), but to make room for the dozens more passengers jostling for space behind me. A man ten years my senior stands and gestures for me to take his spot. I demur despite my heavy bag, but he insists. To my mind, etiquette dictates the seat is his; I'm a woman but he's older. But the bus is picking up speed, bouncing us around. Someone has to sit. So I do. All of this is theater for the surrounding passengers, who watch with impassive eyes. All except for one young man, who rises and taps the shoulder of the man who's just sacrificed his seat. Wordlessly, he signals: Now you take mine. They laugh and nod at one another.

Impassive eyes are now smiling eyes. Smiling at me, at the two men. Half the bus is in on this lovely moment. Rarely is something paid forward paid back so soon.

Moment #3

On the first floor of my building lives an old woman who, it seems, is caretaker to several small children in the neighborhood. Some of these kids--mostly around age five or six--live in the building. Some are visitors, only appearing in the afternoons. It's a sort of unofficial day care, the playground of which is our building's dusty front stoop. The kids pull cardboard boxes from the recycling bins, making flat-screen TV sleds or choo-choo trains out of them. A few have bikes, or those wheelie shoes. They don't seem to have much more.

The old woman doesn't speak much English, but I feel like I know her anyway. Her colorful cotton peasant dresses are worn to softness. When she smiles, nearly toothless, I can see why parents trust her with their children.

One early morning, as I am returning home from god knows what debauchery, I watch a man drop off his baby for the day. It couldn't have been later than six am. (Dawn spreads over our east-facing building beautifully but mercilessly; those of us with street front windows woke to roasted living rooms all summer.) The man is tall, dressed in carefully pressed work attire. An immigrant, his accent indicates. As he approaches the building he speaks in low, gentle tones to the baby in his arms, who positively lights up at the sight of the old woman. She reaches out, cooing. The baby giggles, and the man who places his child in her arms wears a complicated expression that moves me immensely.

I bet I don't even need to describe it. I bet you can imagine it perfectly.

Moment #4

I'm sitting at dinner with a man I've known for a little over half a year. My feelings toward him are as complicated as he is. He's a difficult man. A damaged man. He can even be a dangerous man, ill-tempered and violent. He has stunned me, at times, with his selfishness and small-mindedness. He has said many hurtful things to me; criticized and mocked me and left me crumpled in self-doubt. And I've watched him do the same to others, both to their faces and behind their backs.

But right now, he is none of those things. Right now he is someone else entirely. Because right now he is talking, with a sincerity I believe because I have seen glimpses of this other person, about the changes he wants to make. He is speaking with true self-awareness about the importance of compassion. Of how good it feels to him, to give to others. This second man, who lives inside the louder, brasher, angrier first man--I've known this man, too. He has been kind to me. Incredibly generous and understanding and patient. This second man is good. He just needs help being better. He needs encouragement. He's not entirely evil.

Very few people are entirely and exclusively evil. Very few people are incapable of change and growth. For some of them, change and growth are terrifying and threatening. But under the right circumstances, surrounded by the right influences and examples of others--almost anyone can access their second, better self.

There is no choice but to believe this.

of airlocks and currents

I have a tendency to react too quickly, and often negatively, in situations where I feel threatened in some way. Not in the sense of bodily harm, but emotionally. Threat of loss, threat of pain, threat of shame. Something like that. Because that's what all conflict comes down to - a fear of some kind.

In working on this, I came up with a visualization that helps. I think of an airlock, on a space shuttle. The small room between the body of the ship and the universe outside. It's a safe, secure threshold where astronauts can take their time suiting up before unlatching the door and heading out into the stars.

When something upsets me, I try to remember that I have an airlock, too. I have a space where I can get prepared, quietly, at my own pace. Where I can hesitate, if I need to. Where I can adjust to changes in pressure. Where I can calmly plan before unlocking the door to the world.

If you, too, struggle with being reactive - remember your airlock. And don't open the door until you're good and ready.

---

Along those same lines, here's another metaphor I find useful:

I know enough about myself to question my first, and sometimes even my second, impulses. I just have too many unresolved issues to let them be reliable guides for behavior. The problem is, they're impulses. They are so very beguiling; so seductive. They can overpower me with temptation, because they're right there. They appear suddenly and organically, so they must be trustworthy, right?

Wrong.

Impulses are like pretty little fish that swarm around you in the ocean. They're captivating, sure, but if you're not careful, they'll lead you astray in dangerous waters, distracting you from other potential perils. They're close to the surface; superficial. Observe them, but don't follow them.

Currents, on the other hand - those are your instincts. Always heed those. Currents we feel deeply, with the whole of our bodies. We can't ignore them. They are the underwater winds that pull us in one direction or another, warning us when we've strayed too far from shore.

It's not a flawless metaphor. It's one you can't think too much about lest it unravel. But it's something.

Therapy For People Who Won't Go to Therapy

Since I posted the other day about maybe setting the blog to private, I've gotten several emails from readers requesting access, none of which I've replied to yet. I'm so sorry for taking so long. Seeing my inbox count tick up with cheering subject lines like "SO IN" and "longtime lurker saying hi" was about the greatest boost ever. Thank you.

Some of you also took the time to give me a little extra in the way of encouragement and support, complimenting my writing, or even telling me your favorite post. That was pretty spectacular, too, especially in cases where the post was an old one. It never fails to amaze me how long some of you have stuck with me. I should have certificates printed.

Also incredibly gratifying are the messages I've received thanking me for my openness in writing about depression and anxiety. To that end...

The past few months have been a psychological crucible, and continue to be so. Leaving my job and completely reassessing the direction of my life has brought back to the surface the full monty of my emotional issues. I basically spent every day from June 15th until about a week and a half ago in a tail spin; 3+ months halfheartedly pursuing a line of work I'm completely unsuited for was a massive waste of time, money, and emotion. I procrastinated, self-sabotaged, and lied to myself every day. Then at night I'd feel like shit for not having accomplished anything.

I told you about bailing on The Big Interview, a decision which left me feeling simultaneously shattered and relieved. I said I went back to the drawing board, but I didn't explain. Well, this is the drawing board: I'm going to try and do the thing I've never done, largely because I never needed to do it. And that is write for money. What kind of writing, you ask? The short answer is fucking any, though I do have ideas about what I'd most enjoy and, you know, actually succeed at.

When I made this decision, the reactions of people whose reactions I care most about were mixed. One said, "Right the fuck on." One said, "Hm, okay. How exactly?" One said, "LOL, good luck with that." I'm trying not to be unrealistically encouraged or unduly shaken by these reactions. I'm trying to focus on concrete actions. I wrote a new, truthful resume. I created an online portfolio. I used a mind-mapping app to brainstorm every option I can think of. I'm figuring it out.

Writing for money, however -- writing full time, for a sustainable income -- is the long-term goal. Right now work period is the goal. And I'm not sure what that will look like. It might involve an espresso machine. And I am so totally okay with that, for reasons I'll detail in another post.

But to circle back to where I started: this summer tested me pretty badly. I was absolutely paralyzed with anxiety, but I wanted to keep moving forward. Unlike my deep depressions of years ago, I didn't want to curl up in the fetal position and quit. I could feel the fight still inside of me, but I definitely needed some help to get it going. That's when I started collecting new resources. New coping mechanisms.

I want to stop briefly and say something regarding the title of this post: There is no substitute for professional therapy. If you can afford it, and if you can bring yourself to do it, get it. Please. Just fucking do it, for yourself and everyone you will ever care about. All of us can benefit from therapy, even those who didn't suffer any major trauma. We all have our shit, and we all owe it to ourselves to unpack it and move past it.

I know, though, that not everyone will, for whatever reason. I know that for some, even those that need it most, professional therapy seems out of reach. They just won't go, because they don't think they can. And I get that. I so, so get that.

This summer I was in that place. I didn't feel like I had the time or energy to start delving into anything serious, in any structured way. I just needed some encouraging voices. Strategies. Perspective. Positivity. Black humor, even. Anything that would recast my problems as manageable, surmountable, even funny. I'm grateful to say that I found those things, and have been taking advantage of them for a few months now.

In hopes that some or all might help someone else, I hereby offer up this list of incredible, free resources for those who could do with a bit of guidance, structure, support, and humor - as found outside the doctor's office:

The Mental Illness Happy Hour

Far and away the thing that has helped me the most is The Mental Illness Happy Hour podcast. Host Paul Gilmartin is self-deprecating, compassionate, relatable, and just plain soothing to listen to. He's like a smart, funny, wonderfully supportive friend who listens, asks great questions, and ultimately helps you laugh your blues away.

I've been listening to the podcast almost nonstop since I discovered it. It is just that awesome. Hearing others open up about their own struggles - and victories - has been an invaluable source of comfort and inspiration. In between interviewing guests, Paul reads short submissions from readers, and wow. Hearing these "Struggle in a Sentence" and "Awfulsome Moments" entries is the perfect antidote to self-pity, and a reminder that so many others have it so much worse.

The greatest takeaway from The Mental Illness Happy Hour is its overall message: "You're not crazy. What happened to you sucks. It's understandable to be angry or sad about it. Now let's talk about ways to let go and move past it."

My favorite episodes so far are his interviews with Luke Burbank, Danny Hatch, Cassie Sneider, Maria Branford, Matty McVarish and Judy Gold.

Unstuck

From the website: "Unstuck is an in-the-moment digital coach that's ready every time we're feeling stuck. The app helps us see and solve situations with fresh perspective through provocative questions, targeted tips, and action-oriented tools. It's an approach that works for all kinds of issues, large and small, so we can live better every day."

The first time I used Unstuck, I was floored by how accurately it nailed me. The questions and prompts helped me winnow down exactly what my issue was; why I wasn't moving forward. And once you know what's in your way, you can start building a bridge to get over it. The interface is clean and simple; it almost makes your issue feel like a fun puzzle to work through.

You can save your "stuck moments" to revisit as needed; they're represented on the website as balled up wads of paper. About a week after the interview I skipped, after I'd written a new resume and finished my portfolio, I went back to Unstuck and realized I could get rid of that earlier "stuck moment" ball of paper. I wasn't stuck anymore. And I'd only been stuck because I'd been on the completely wrong path. So yeah. Trashing that wad felt pretty damn great.

The School of Life

There are now two things that, once I get going on, I can evangelize about until I'm blue in the face. LSD (though naturally I do so with a great many qualifiers) and The School of Life YouTube channel.

I don't even know where to start. I'm basically in love with Alain de Botton (who created the series) and I'm not really sure how I survived without him until now. I have intellectual idols, writing idols, and now, thanks to him, I have an emotional idol.

Think of anything you struggle with. Self-esteem? Shitty childhood or parental stuff you're hanging on to? Career anxieties? Relationship worries? There is a School of Life video dissecting it with clarity, insight, warmth, and good humor - and I promise you will feel better after watching it.

Grid Diary

Grid Diary is a lovely little app for writing short, quick daily journal entries. It has an aesthetically pleasing grid-style template that you can use as is, or make over with your own prompts. This summer when my inner (and one or two outer) voices were psyching me out and pushing me down, I customized my grid with questions that have helped me stay positive, pause to reflect on the progress I'm making, and focus on gratitude. I actually consider my prompts extremely personal, because I know some people would scoff at them as, I don't know, pathetic. Self-congratulatory.

But what the fuck ever. My self-esteem hit an all-time low this summer (and my anxiety an all-time high), and Grid Diary was one of the things that helped me get my head on straight. Filling it out every night has become my new favorite bedtime ritual; it's an incredible tool for self-reflection, perspective, and that most powerful of attitude-changers: gratitude. My prompts:

What positive things did I do today? What traits should I be proud of? What would I tell myself if I wasn't me? What am I more worried about than I should be, and why will it be okay? What am I grateful for today? How was Chaucer awesome today? What am I looking forward to right now? What issue am I working on right now, and how?

Productivity

Productivity is a simple, visually appealing habit-tracking app. It's incredibly easy to use, and, I don't know, not intimidating? It doesn't make the idea of setting and achieving goals seem overwhelming. You can set habits to be accomplished daily, weekly, monthly, or just a certain number of times per day/week/month. For instance, you can establish a habit of drinking eight glasses of water a day, or blogging three times a week (TRYING TO GET THERE, GUYS, I PROMISE). And there's a pleasing little ping! and congratulations message when you meet goals.

It's a great app for those who need to work on the whole "don't let perfect be the enemy of good" thing, because even logging in one habit a day feels better than none.

Calm

Another app I relied heavily on this summer. Guided meditations that you can play over a background of soothing music and serene visuals. Subjects range from gratitude and happiness to self-esteem, stress management, and sleep. A few times this summer when I was absolutely crippled by anxiety, just listening to the calming background music with headphones helped me crawl through whatever terrifying task I was struggling with.

Kiwake

Kiwake is an alarm clock app that you'll love to hate. First it forces you out of bed by making you match a picture from another room, then it wakes up your brain with puzzles and motivational reminders.

It's these reminders that constituted my resource/coping mechanism. They're customizable, so first thing in the morning you can read whatever inspirational words will help you start the day on a positive note. The very first one I made was something my friend Bill said to me several months ago: "You don't have to be married to your next job." The next one I made was "Get your shit done early in the day so you can hang out with your amazing new boyfriend at night." Another one was "The best way to improve self-esteem is to perform esteemable acts."

Yep x3.

greetings from the drawing board

The longer you stay away from something, the stranger it is to return to. Even if it's a thing you love. That's where I'm at with blogging. The pen is heavier when I pick it back up after so long an absence. I fumble with the cap. Not even sure the ink will flow.

But I came to a decision last week that has helped me refocus on priorities I've let slip. This blog is one of those priorities. I know that now. I haven't always known that. For a while, in fact, I've considered it an indulgence. I've felt that way about it for most of this year. Like it was a treat, an investment of time and energy I only deserved if I did all the other stuff I was supposed to do. But I was wrong. It's not an indulgence. It's meaningful, it's fulfilling, and it's vital to my sense of self. I'll circle back to this point in a bit, but right now, I'm going to suck it up and come as clean as I can about my recent failures.

So, where have I been?

In short: trying to figure out the rest of my life. But short isn't how Elliequent works. So if you're in the mood for a doozy of a tale, strap in.

I told you that I was the victim of a crime, and that I left my job. Well, after that things just kind of fell apart. I didn't know what to do next. I told you that my friends came to the rescue, propped me back up and got me moving again. And they did. But they didn't point me in the right direction. Which, of course, is not their fault. It is no one's job but my own to find my true north, and set off towards it. But all the drama of what went down twisted me up badly, and I was lost. So they did the best they could by me.

They said, Ok, so, you had this job as an assistant, and you were pretty good at it, right? 

And I said, I think so, yes.

And they said, Great. So let's get you another job as an assistant. An administrative assistant, or hey, an executive assistant! That guy you were working for was pretty high level, right? You did a lot of shit for him, right? Had a lot of responsibilities? 

And I said, Well, not really, actually--

And they said, Ok perfect! That's what you're going to do, then. Be an executive assistant. We'll help you doctor up a resume based on that. We'll lie for you. We'll be references. Easy peasy. Yes yes?

And I said, Ummm I'm not sure that I--

And they said, Brilliant. Here's your resume. Now go apply for jobs. Hurry up.

And so that's what I did.

Now, before you hork all over the screen in disgust, you should know that a good 2/3 of my resume was truthful. But the 1/3 that wasn't? It was pretty damn untruthful. And if you've never tried to apply for a position that you're wholly unqualified for, with a highly exaggerated resume that gnaws an ugly, guilty hole in your stomach, well, let me tell you. It is not fun. In fact it is awful. It is terrifying and stressful and nerve wracking and confusing. And ultimately, I would learn, a huge waste of time.

But I didn't know what else to do. I had a couple of very scary talks with one of my close friends, someone who truly has my best interests at heart but who doesn't really understand me, at the end of the day. And he put so much fear in me. So much fear. He said, basically, This is your only option. If you don't do this you are fucked. And I believed him. And then when I dragged my feet, when I procrastinated and had panic attacks, he got angry. He thought I was unmotivated and lazy and irresponsible.

Sometimes I am those things. But that is not what was happening here. I was just scared, because I knew I am not cut out to be an executive assistant, nor was I prepared to present myself as one.

But I didn't say that to him. I just said, Ok, I'm trying. I'll send out some applications tomorrow. I promise. And he said some heartbreakingly harsh things to me. He thought it was tough love I needed. What I needed, however, was to stop and think for five fucking minutes about what I want to do, what I'm actually good at.

But I didn't do that. I didn't stop to think for myself, about myself, and consequently, I wasted a lot of time, and a lot of money. I wrote killer cover letters, because (SPOILER ALERT) that is what I do. I went on interviews. I'm pretty sure I was about to get an offer from a medical institute, a place I realized after the interview I would hate, when I emailed to call them off from checking my references. That was the closest I came.

Then came the opportunity that split everything wide open.

I found a listing for something amazing. Tons of responsibilities, a massively intimidating list of requirements, but a really cool job. I agonized over my cover letter, because I knew it had to make up for a very flimsy resume. The position was intense, but I wanted it badly, because of the industry it was in. It just felt right for me. It was a huge outside shot, though. I was wildly under qualified, and I knew it. I sent in my application and forgot all about it.

Then I got an email request for a phone interview. And in spite of myself, in spite of the nerves that nearly had me puking up until the phone rang--I nailed it. The exec loved me. She said she'd gotten over a hundred applications, and that while my experience wasn't quite as strong as she'd like, she loved my cover letter (SHOCKER). And our conversation was just great. I'd prepared for it, hardcore. Learned everything I could about her, about the organization. We absolutely clicked. By the end of the call she admitted I was already one of top four applicants, in her mind. She was heading to New York the next day but wanted to meet with me in a week and a half when she got back.

I hung up the phone and nearly floated through the ceiling. And then I got busy. I decided I was going to get this job. No question. It was mine for the taking. I would be so well-prepared for my in-person interview (which the exec's assistant scheduled with me twenty minutes after my phone screen) that she wouldn't be able to say no to me. I was going to blow her away with my enthusiasm and passion.

I went nuts. I read more or less the industry manual, for that particular sector. A six hundred page book. I memorized the organization, top to bottom, inside and out. I'm talking flash cards. Staff members. (With their photos, so I'd know them on sight.) Resources. Programs. All of it. I listened to a year's worth of podcasts. I watched a dozen of the most recommended TED Talks for that industry. I sponged up everything I could. At some point my boyfriend (yep, that's what you call burying the lede...we'll circle back round to that, too) gently pointed out that it was all fine and good for me to learn the industry--but ultimately it was probably more important that I learn Outlook.

That was the first crack.

Maybe you can already see where this is going. It started to dawn on me what I was potentially getting myself into. My enthusiasm began to turn to anxiety. And by the morning of my interview, I was primed for an absolute melt down. I had spent the day prior with a friend inventing stories from whole cloth, about my supposed last job. Because I knew this interview was going to be a grilling. I knew there'd be tons of those "Tell me about a time when you...." type questions. So this friend and I constructed a whole fucking narrative for me. We came up with answers to all of those questions. And they were good.

But there I was, pulling my hair into a bun, rehearsing in my mind, twenty minutes away from leaving the house, when I started to fall apart. I felt absolutely sick to my stomach. The lies. All the lies. And more than that: the more I thought about the responsibilities of the position, the sicker I felt. Not only was I not qualified. I didn't want to fucking do those things. I wouldn't be good at those things. 

The straw that broke the camel's back? I realized I didn't have any good way to present my questions for the interview. She'd instructed me to bring questions, of which I had plenty (mostly written by my boyfriend, who has been unfuckingbelievable during this whole process, but we'll come back to that)...but I had no way of actually taking them there. Laptop? No. iPad? Weird. Phone? Out of the question. The only thing that would make sense would be a sharp, professional looking legal pad or organizer. You know, the sort of thing every executive assistant has. Because duh.

I started to laugh. I took a look at myself, at the situation I'd gotten myself into. Here I was about to go after a job where organization and details are of absolute singular importance...and I didn't even have a good pen or pad of paper.

What. A. Joke.

I sat down and I cried. I looked at the clock. I looked at myself in the mirror. I looked at my phone. I looked at the job description. I thought about what it would feel like, to walk into this woman's office and bullshit for an hour. To start a professional relationship with someone based on lies and bluffing. I thought about how my incompetencies could bring this organization to a grinding halt--or at least cause a lot of hassle for a lot of people. And I felt so ashamed of myself. And as the minutes ticked by, I thought about who I am, and who I want to be. I thought about my values and my character and my integrity. And I cried, knowing I was probably about to blow a huge opportunity. I knew in my heart I could get the job, if I wanted it. I knew she would love me even more in person. I knew my inexperience would be pardoned, I could already tell from our previous talk. But I knew I wouldn't be happy doing that job. It was too much. Way too much. I would be constantly stressed out, trying to catch up on skills I didn't have. Constantly fearing failure. Constantly fucking up. I can't even schedule my salon appointments without forgetting them. I have NO business taking control of the life of a busy executive.

I wrote one of the hardest, most embarrassing emails of my life (canceling the interview), and then I called my friends. I explained how wrongheaded everything had been. How I'd been pursuing something that was so, so wrong for me. I apologized for wasting their time. I thanked them for their support.

And then I wiped that slate clean and went back to the drawing board.

---

Okay, wow. This was exhausting to write. And I had started on a whole second section to talk about where things stand now, and to introduce you to my boyfriend--but I need to stop here tonight.

More soon.

absolutes

Here is a thing I am working on: dispensing with absolutes.

I tend to file my efforts in one of two folders: Absolute Successes and Absolute Failures. It's not a productive day unless I accomplish everything on my to-do list. It's not a workout unless I am dripping with sweat and exhausted. The day wasn't healthy unless it was totally free of refined sugar, or caffeine, or whatever my nutritional scapegoat du jour is.

This is great for keeping things simple, but not so great for actual achievement and growth. Because in my case anyway, the absolute system undermines the bigger picture by poking little holes in it. When I stumble in one arena, it's all too enticing to give up in others. Write off the day. Let the negative self-talk start. Absolutes are an excuse to flagellate myself and reconfirm all my worst suspicions about how terrible I really am, so why bother at all?

Absolutes are difficult habit to quit, but I'm experimenting with solutions. Rather than burn myself out scrambling after that 100%, I force myself to stop at, say, 85%. Then at the end of the day when I reflect on what I've accomplished, rather than berate myself for the missing 15%, I congratulate myself on the 85%. I'm learning to be okay with Bs.

And yeah, I know this sort of self-coddling makes overachievers and perfectionists throw up a little bit, in their mouths. But when you're coming from a place of total stagnancy and zero achievement, the small steps don't feel so small.


getting better

Well, hey there old friends. I've missed you. So much has happened since last we talked. Some of it wonderful, some of it terrible. I'm just going to dive in, get you caught up as quickly as possible. The sooner we dispense with the past, the sooner we can spread a picnic blanket out in the sun and enjoy the present.

I moved out of downtown into a new loft in Koreatown, in the middle of a heatwave, with no AC. Now, you're probably thinking, How the hell did you manage to do something so stupid, Ellie? And I'll tell you: I do not know. Maybe because of everything else that had been going on, it slipped my mind. Maybe because when I'd visited the apartment previously, it hadn't been so hot as to make me notice there was a problem--or would be. Or maybe I am just an absolute imbecile. Either way: no AC.

I quit my job. I could write volumes about why and how, but in the end it doesn't matter. It wasn't a good fit for me, for many reasons, but strangely the straw that broke the camel's back was the hours. I hated the late hours. I hated coming home at ten o'clock at night, or later. I hated missing every sunset. I hated not being able to go to dinner, to happy hour with friends. And, frankly, I wasn't being paid enough. So I bailed.

I was the victim of a crime. It's nothing I'm going to talk about though, because I'm fine now and I just want to move on.

I came into some financial difficulty, thanks in part to my own bad decisions and thanks in part to some major mistakes made by my accountant, in the filing of my dad's estate taxes.

Those are the broad strokes. But there was a lot more to it all. A lot more ugliness and a lot more struggle. And I've thought and thought about how much I want to go into it, how much I want to share. And I've come to the conclusion that I just want to press ahead. There are two main takeaways, though, from my past two months: 1) that my friends are among some of the most loving, patient, devoted, and generally incredible people in the world, and 2) wow did I have some growing to do.

The one good reason I could name, to open up about everything that's happened recently, would be so I could explicitly describe all the ways in which my friends were there for me. Because we're talking boots-on-the-ground there for me. Picking me up, dusting me off, and putting me back on my feet several times a day there for me.

When I found myself walking dazedly out of the police station, my face stained with shocked tears and unsure where to even go, my phone blew up with a group text. Three of my best friends had already conferenced privately before teaming up to reach out to me, ready to walk me through every difficult thing I needed to do next. They were, collectively, furious about what had happened to me, and their anger and indignation was the one thing that made me feel not alone. They helped me locate the resources I needed. They checked in with me every step of the way. They cracked jokes when humor was the best medicine, and they reassured me in those moments when I lost faith.

When I froze up at having to look for a new job, they came through again. One of them started my resume for me. Another made a timeline for me to follow, with due dates for submitting applications and securing interviews, and for creating a new personal budget. One of them called me almost every day on his way home from work, to coach and cheerlead me back into action. And they all sent me money, or offered to.

When I couldn't find an AC unit anywhere in the great metropolis of Los Angeles, one of my friends MacGyver'd me a fucking rolling cooler AC using copper tubing, an aquarium pump, and a fan. He brought me loads of groceries and bottled water which, not having a car, is a perpetual challenge for me to keep stocked.

Another of my friends connected me to an attorney who ended up being the real unsung hero in this story. Lots of unsung heroes in this story, unfortunately.

---

And then there is how all of what I went through has affected me, emotionally. And how I've changed because of it. How I've grown. And that is much more difficult to write about. But here is some of it:

I almost broke, but I didn't. I mean, I did break. I broke down. So many times. So, so, many breakdowns. Oh god, you can't imagine how many tears. How much fury at the world, at myself, at others. How much hopelessness and despair, despite the love and support that was given to me. How many times I gave up, for days and days at a time. Hid from scary responsibility. Delayed the inevitable. Procrastinated difficult choices.

I broke a little, but I didn't break to the point of not being able to put myself together again. That I did not do. Slowly, eventually, the crying spells turned into quiet spells. Thinking spells. I decided I needed some new tools. New coping resources. New ideas about old bad habits. And those are the changes I'm in the middle of now.

I've started meditating. Honest-to-goodness meditating. Oh boy would that piss Terence off, but there it is. I've started journaling privately, focusing on gratitude and self-esteem. I'm learning the simple but astounding power of deep breathing. Of taking five minutes - the length of one carefully chosen song, to listen to through headphones in the bedroom, out of Chaucer's view - to cry when I need to....but no longer than that.

No longer than that.

I'm reading Unstuck, and I'm addicted to The School of Life YouTube channel. In both cases, I'm amazed at how long it's taken someone to say such important, helpful things so beautifully.

But most notably, I'm in the throes of an epiphany and its concomitant conclusions, and it is this: I've always self-deprecatingly referred to myself as a self-saboteur, but I never realized just how serious a condition it is. And I get it now. And I get why I am: I am used to success in many realms of my life. Friends, health, fitness, romance, creative endeavors. But career? Nope. That is an area in which I have always stumbled. And because of that, I actually shun success. I run from it it. And that has been the biggest hurdle for me to clear, in getting past this difficult time in my life.

Example: I had a day where I got three leads in a single day, as a result of having applied to four jobs the day before. And rather than excitedly pursue all of those leads, I froze. I didn't return calls. I found reasons not to want the jobs anymore. (Eventually I returned the calls, and even got two interviews out of them.) What the hell, right? But it's because I'm unused to professional success, so it feels weird and foreign and scary to me, like the bottom will drop out any second. Like disaster is lurking right around the corner, waiting for me to fuck up.

Anyway, that is a very abridged picture of what my past couple of months have looked like. I didn't feel like blogging. I didn't know what to say. It would have been an endless stream of complaining, of bad news. I couldn't have faked it. So I didn't even try. But I'm back now. I'm almost totally on my feet again. Things are moving along, and though I don't have a job yet, the reins are firmly in hand and I expect to very soon. Hooray.

Oh. There is one more thing.

I met someone.

And because I know he'll see this, and because I can already picture the nervous smile spreading across his face, I'm going to be very clear in saying: his privacy shall be of my utmost priority, no matter what, no matter how badly I want to share. Because...he's kind of amazing. He's kind and smart and considerate and incredibly affectionate. He's the best communicator with whom I have ever had the delight to engage, in every sense of the word. He's expressive and caring and sexy as all fuck, and I am so enjoying his company, which, to brag about one tiny thing, I shared this past weekend at a bungalow deep in the hills of Malibu.

So, yeah. It hasn't been all bad. And it's getting better all the time.

boring explainer is boring

Hallo.

The only thing more annoying than a nobody blogger announcing an impending hiatus is a nobody blogger feeling she needs to explain a return from one. And I had no intention of doing so, because I'm not so arrogant to assume anyone notices or cares--but a few people have knocked gently on the door to make sure I'm okay here in my room.

I'm okay here in my room.

Few things going on, as to why I've hardly blogged the past month. Just gonna come right out with them, as straightforwardly as possible.

1) I was so, so, so hurt and disappointed by the lackluster response to the fundraiser I posted about. Other than, randomly, one Instagrammer I had just started following, the only readers who contributed are also actual, real-life friends of mine. That's it. No one else. And...I've been doing this a long time. Some of you have been reading me for years. I've always put my very best into this blog. Thoughtful, considered writing. Heartfelt, deeply personal sentiments. Totally free. I never once asked for anything in return, until the dance marathon came up. I guess I expected people would chip in $10, as thanks. Expectation is a killer.

Whether or not my disappointment and sadness was justified--well, that's subjective. Whether or not I had a right to expect financial reciprocation--that's a complicated question with lots of variables. But it doesn't even matter. It's what happened. And that was it for me. I was like, Fuck this. Why am I putting so much effort and honesty and feeling out there for these people. Yep, you guys became a "these people" to me. I was really, really bummed. After a clumsy attempt to get my feelings out, I decided to take a break from blogging and think about how--if at all--I wanted to come back to it. One thing I knew for sure is that I would return to withholding all information about my work life. I decided not to share what I'd been working on since last fall--the business I'd been working on. That to me is the most personal and vulnerable information, and always has been. Writing about love, depression, my relationships? No problem. That comes easy. But opening myself up to judgment about matters career and financial? Terrifying. So, as a way to get a boundary back up that would make me feel better about things, I took it off the table.

I'm not "mad" anymore. I've let it go. And I get it. You don't really know me. And you certainly don't owe me thanks, or a penny in thanks. But that's part of why I've been absent.

2) The situation with Terence has been difficult, and I just never know where to draw the line in talking about it. We get along...until we don't anymore. And while writing has always been such an important source of therapy for me, I still want to respect the rights and privacy of those in my stories. Terence and I made the decision years ago to be public with our relationship. We linked up social media accounts, tagged and tweeted at one another. And though fairly quickly down that road I realized that probably wasn't the best idea, it was important (read: really fun) to him so I kept going with it. But now the cat can't be put back in the bag. His friends and family and work associates and potential employers can get here, if they so desire, in a matter of a few clicks. And Terence asked me when we broke up to be considerate of that. So I've tried to. Even when I was in a state of bewildering anger and hurt, I refrained from writing posts about him and what's going on. Now we're down to final weeks, and I've moved on so much in my heart that there really isn't much left to say. But that's part of why I've been quiet, too.

3) I just don't know how public I want to be with my personal life anymore. Not just for my sake, but for the sake of others. For one thing, if I was dating a guy and found out he had a tell-all blog? Oh hell no. I'd run. Unless he was amazing, and then maybe I'd say, Hey, I like you...but keep me off your damn blog. 

And the fact is that in the past few months, I have met some guys. I've had some nice experiences. Not exactly dates, but interactions that have made me feel like, Okay. I can do this again. Heart bruised, but not destroyed. I know how to meet and mingle and flirt and feel those things again. There's someone right now, too, sort of. I don't know what it is, but it is a thing. And it's nice.

And these are all things I once would have told you about in a heartbeat--but the circumstances with Terence are so bizarre, and I'm trying to tread lightly with that. And Elliequent's boundaries are, if not necessarily evolving, at least undergoing deep consideration right now.

I'll probably keep sharing about my romantic life, but with absolutely no real names. No specifics. No social media references. Anonymous Person of Significance type thing. Because while I can decide for myself to be open to derision, scorn, or stalking--that's not my decision to make for anyone else.

So, again, figuring all of this out--that's part of why I haven't blogged.

4) There's also my work life. And yes, now I have an actual work life. I got a job. Quite recently. It's part time, and I'm looking for a second job. But my boss? Extremely private. The very nature of his work demands it, actually. So that's a non-starter. I can't share anything about it, other than I work in Beverly Hills and am thrilled to have something to think about all day other than my damn self and problems.

Which of course raises the question Wait wut? I thought you were starting a business?

Well, I was. And I got right to the point of pushing through the door and announcing it...when I realized I don't want to do it. It's a great idea--that I stand by. But the work itself? Mind-numbingly tedious and isolating. I'd be alone, all day, every day, doing the most mindless, un-stimulating actions ever. It would be toxic for my mental heath. It has been toxic. I've desperately needed to get out of the house and just go somewhere every day, be around others, be part of something, be focused on something outside of myself--for YEARS. The business I'd planned on dedicating myself to would do exactly what Rainy Day Templates did: make me a shut-in workaholic. It's just not the right path.

That's what's going on. Lots of change, lots of indecision about my blog's purpose and direction. I expect I'll keep at it, because it does make me happy to write. I just need some of the dust to settle, I need a little more time to get some distance from my last relationship, I need to feel established enough in my job(s) to feel that I can spare the time for blogging again. In the meantime, you can always find me chatting it up on Instagram.

I'm sorry if anything I said up there made you feel bad. I'm nothing if not honest, though. It's why you love me, maybe? If you still do? Hope so. I still love you.

behind it all

I have some thoughts to share that are pretty high up on the vulnerability scale. Things about myself I don't love at all, and am working on. But I'm going to share them anyway, because I also had an idea that makes me happy--or at least more at peace--about those things. The idea is a visual concept, a really simple metaphor I guess, and it might be useful to someone else, perhaps? I don't know. But here goes. First I have to establish some context. Okay a lot of context...

Do you remember my friend Cameron? I sometimes called him Wally, which became his nickname after a hilarious autocorrect fail. He and I were extremely close, and we spent a great deal of time together between 2010 and 2013, before he moved to Texas. We met around the time of my divorce--he was a neighbor in the building where Mike and I lived before we split up. I think the last time I mentioned Cameron was on Instagram. I believe it was a post showing a bounty of food and treats he'd brought over to me when he came for a visit. At the time I had just broken my foot. I wasn't very mobile and I was still in some occasional pain.

Well, Cameron and I broke up immediately after that visit. And "broke up" is not typically a phrase you use when discussing the end of a friendship, but for Cameron and I, it's really the only way to put it. And anyone that knows us, knows that too. We were tight. Really, really tight. Absolutely best friends. We'd spend hours upon hours together only to wake up and do it all over again the next day. We texted constantly. He was my confidant and my partner in crime (literally sometimes). When I went out of town, it was he who'd watch Chaucer - sometimes for months on end. When my husband insinuated to me that he was gay (fuck it, it's been six years, statute of limitations has been well bulldozed past as far as I'm concerned...plus he got remarried to a woman he was dating while he was still married to me), it was to Cameron I turned, devastated. When I got into an abusive relationship in Arizona, it was Cameron who got in his car and drove, overnight, to come rescue me. Cameron introduced me to gay bars, some of which became our go-to hangouts. I spent so much time in the gay bars of Silverlake and Hollywood that to this day, they are more comfortable to me than straight bars.

But Cameron and I had our problems. We would fight sometimes. Absolute ragers. We are both highly opinionated people who are unafraid to get angry. And having spent so much time together, having gotten so close, we had a lot of emotion invested in our friendship. That's a beautiful thing but it can make for a powder keg, too.

The reason Cameron and I broke up was simple: he wanted me to accompany him to the wedding of a pair of friends of his up in SF. I'd planned on going with him for months...but then I broke my foot. Long story short, we disagreed on how easy or comfortable it would be for me to go. I didn't want to. I was afraid of being away from home, injured and uninsured. He really wanted me to. Really, really. It was a gay wedding, one of his very best friends, and it meant a lot to him for me to come. He promised he'd take the utmost care with my foot. That he'd rent a damn wheelchair if need be. That we could go as slow as I needed. He saw that I was able to get about with crutches and a scooter and didn't see the difference between limping around in LA and limping around SF.

Well, we argued. And argued. And finally I just had enough. I felt completely justified in telling him to take a flying leap.

Oh, and conveniently? I had just started dating Terence. What the fuck did I need a stubborn, demanding jerk like Cameron around for when I had this amazing, loving, gorgeous new guy to fawn all over me??

Yeeeeaaaah.

I ripped Cameron out of my life ruthlessly. I wrote him a scathing letter and then blocked his email. Blocked his phone number. Blocked him on social media. To this day I don't know what came over me. Why I reacted with so much anger. Why I felt it was okay to obliterate from my life one of the few, loving constants in it. Sure we had some issues, sure there were things we could have worked on in our friendship, but really Ellie? Blocking him, like a cold-blooded bitch?

Time went by. Regret is like quick sand. You don't even know you're standing in it at first, and then you're suddenly sinking deeper and deeper and deeper. And the one person who could pull me out? Throw me a branch and haul me to shore? Well, I'd made myself invisible to him, and him to me. Pride. Ego. Shame. I assumed he hated my guts, too. And I buried my sadness underneath the new joy that was Terence.

Can you see where this is going? I told you--not proud of this side of me. The side that claims her friends are her family and then sometimes proceeds to treat them like dogshit.

To my credit, I waited months. Of course I'm talking about how long I waited until after Terence and I broke up to reach out to Cameron, tail between my legs. Because of course I would do that. Of course I would be so predictably basic. Of course I would wait until MY hour of need to invite him back into my life, knowing nothing whatsoever about the hours of need he may have had in the interim.

The letter I wrote was simple and short. I'm sorry. I was wrong. You were a wonderful friend to me. I think of you often and hope you are well. 

He answered. And so proceeded a month or so of polite back-and-forthing while he, understandably, got his bearings on the roller coaster that is Ellie's emotional regulation and decided that yeah, sure, he'd give it another shot.

Fast forward to last week. Those of you who follow me on IG maybe saw my post of him, though I don't know how many of you understood the import. I sort of quietly stopped talking about him after our fight, so maybe you assumed we'd just fallen out of touch? I dunno. Anyway, he came to LA last week, for work. And I spent three glorious nights with him.

I won't go on and on about what it meant to me to see him again, because if you've read this far you already get it. But it was like my entire world shifted back onto its proper axis. Cameron is one of the great loves of my life and talking to him again? Laughing and sharing and catching up and crying and forgiving and drinking and watching Netflix and getting Nutella and cookies at 2 am from the grocery store? Best thing that's happened to me in months.

Of course, he still lives in Texas. He comes to LA often but Houston is his home. And anyone that's read my blog for any length of time knows that I have other very close friends who live either in AZ or in other cities in California. Bottom line: my nearest and dearest are not very near to me at all. I see them a few times a year. Mason I see maybe once a year.  And this is very, very difficult for me.

How difficult? Well, sometimes I lose my ever-loving mind about it. Sometimes I get so down, so unbelievably depressed and angry that my friends are elsewhere, that rather than turn to them I turn on them. I grow incredibly demanding and unforgiving. Unforgiving that they have the audacity to live elsewhere and have their own lives. Jobs. Partners. Hobbies. Sometimes? These bastards? They group text without me. Sometimes they even travel without me. Together. They take trips without me. Can you believe it?? Don't they know how much I need them? How much I need to be included? How much love I need, because I suffer from depression and have been through some hell?

DO THEY NOT UNDERSTAND THEIR OBLIGATION TO MAKE ME HAPPY??!

K. So. Has the picture formed sufficiently, of how needy a friend I can be? And let me freeze right here to disclaim, with utmost confidence, that any one of my close friends would be the first to tell you that I am also fiercely loyal, loving, selfless, fun as fuck, and awesome. They would tell you that they adore me with their whole hearts, and they would mean it. I know this, because every time they pick up on the fact that my self-esteem is in the shitter, they swoop in and reassure me with the most unbelievable love and support, you'd melt to hear. It's real, true love, and I know it. Which is why I want more of it, more often than I can reasonably have, from people that live states away and are damn busy. And the last thing I'll say in my defense is that I am NOT the kind of "friend" who only ever cares about her shit, and never participates in the details of other lives. That's kind of the whole problem. I want so much to participate in my friends lives, to know what they're doing, their challenges and triumphs, how I can support them, etc. But again. Jobs. Partners. Hobbies. State lines.

Recently I took a really bad dive, emotionally. The details don't matter; suffice to say I was making plans and not for a vacation. I just felt really, really alone. I reached out to my friends with a mixture of pleading, punishing anger (why don't you call more often! you know I depend on you!), fear, and self-nihilation, and I ended up having one of the hardest but most necessary conversations of my life, with Mason. In a nutshell he told me I could have every last breath of his love and friendship, but that if things with me were so bad that not hearing from my friends was enough to make me suicidal...then no amount of love and friendship would matter. What I needed was a reframe, in the head and the heart. He then said a series of things that did fix me, as far as I was concerned, because my T-Rex brain was only focused on getting the love I needed THEN not the healing I need OVERALL...but the first bit was what was really important. Talk about your tough love.

I'm still thinking about all of this, still trying to figure out where the truth is. Because while I know that no one but me is responsible for my happiness, I think that fully needing and loving another is part of what makes us richly human. For a much better, clearer articulation of what I mean by this, see The Moral Bucket List, a NYT article by David Brooks that I can't stop thinking about.

And now I've come full circle. I started by mentioning that I'd had an idea maybe worth sharing. It's this:

Once, at Disneyland, I took a tour of the animation studios. I remember being fascinated by animation cels, and how they were created. An artist would paint on a stack of clear cellulose sheets; depending on whether what was being drawn was part of the background or the action, he would either lift the stack of sheets or lower them. So for example, if the animation called for a background of trees, the sheet painted with those trees would stay, stationary and constant, under the layer upon which characters would run, or jump.

I realized my life is like that. No matter what I'm coloring in on the top sheet, whether it's a new job or a new home or a new boyfriend, whether it's something scary and ugly I'm going through or something thrilling and fun--underneath it all is my same background. Friends I've had for years, decades in some cases. They're there, behind it all. And they're not going anywhere, as long as I don't erase them. They're sturdy and strong and they are in my life, always. No matter what else isn't.

It's a thought I can hold onto, to make the lonelier times less lonely.

I'm not very good at opening up to new people, which is precisely what I need to do in order to have more close friends locally. Especially now that Kerry and Ross are gone. I try, in small bits. See: Krista, who is truly a lovely, loving person. It takes me a while, but I do open up in a real way, eventually. I'm working on it.

Action and background. A richer, more complete picture. I'm working on it.

MMXV!

I dread the first of January. It always feels like the first day of a class I'm not sure I should be in. Didn't exactly ace the prerequisites. Don't know that I'm qualified to move ahead. So while everyone else is fresh-faced and eager, I'm chewing my pencil, avoiding eye contact. Sooner or later I'll be found out: I have no idea what I'm doing.

I've learned to keep my New Year's resolutions to myself. Once I share them, they start ticking like a countdown - how long until I fail? If I keep them quietly, the self-admonishments when I stumble can be quieter, too. It's okay. No one knows you dropped the ball. Just pick it back up. We'll keep this between us. 

If you're charging into the new year with guns blazing, right on. Pass me some of that confidence in a high five, will you? But if you've got to bluff it for a while until you get your bearings, come sit with me in the back. I've got extra pencils.

The last bits of my MMXV:
Some things never change. (Talking about my claw hand, of course.)
Supermoon viewing. I didn't blog these pictures before because this was the night I knew Terence and I were Donesville. They make me a little sad because of that, but seeing downtown all tiny off in the distance reminds me how insignificant my problems are.

Urban scrawl: so much prettier at night.
Clifton's has become my new favorite spot downtown. Cavernous, quirky, cozy, and chill. Plus they serve the best White Russian you've ever had. 
We agreed that either we both get facelifts or neither of us does.
An optimistic moment.
My thinking place. Three blocks up, one block over. I can sit beside the water and gaze at the city and just be blurry for a little while.
Terrible picture but a great moment, molesting balloons last night with Krista.

He said he's never veld this way before. Safari's just talk, though.
He always get a little pouty after he guts a toy and realizes he now has one less toy.
"You know I'm color blind, right? You can stop buying them in fancy colors."
Last night at The Belasco downtown. For the first time in my life I wore flat shoes on New Year's Eve, so I could actually dance. I'll never go back. 
Truly fantastic music, with multiple rooms to choose from. A+, would return next year for sure.
Big dogs need big trees.
Selfie queens to the end.


8.29.15

Whatnots this week:

wow no bra strap for once

Hollywood Boulevard between Vine and Highland is jam-packed with sightseers, chintzy souvenirs stalls, vape/hookah/head/stripper shops, and hawkers trying to hustle tourists into celebrity bus tours. Kind of awful, in other words. The side streets in that area, however, hold many treasures. This week we found STOUT, an airy and unpretentious little gastropub on Cahuenga. I'm not a beer drinker so I'm pleased as pickles that cider is The New Thing and STOUT serves a great one: Pitchfork Sonoma Cider. Great, that is, if you like sweet. (I like sweet.)

There's a whole 'nother floor below, too!

Everything I just said about the strip is true. However. There is a place. It is called Iguana Clothing. It is right smack on Hollywood, near Vine. It's one of those vintage-and-costume shops I'd sort of written off, because I don't need a poodle skirt or an Elvira wig (yet). But oh my, was I ever hasty in my judgment. I finally took the time to check it out thoroughly and it is fantastic. $25 cashmere sweaters in every color of the rainbow. Turtlenecks, v-necks, cardigans, you name it. Ponchos and fair isles at a fraction of what you'd pay for them at Free People. Thermals and graphic tees, cords, flannels. Please don't tell anyone about it.

Doesn't take his eyes off of Terence the whole time.

On Thursdays, Grand Central Market stays open late ('til 9), which means two things: 1) Chaucer gets to lick the McConnell's Black Coffee Chip ice cream from my fingertips after I've finished my double scoop, and 2) I get to poke Terence in the ribs and say "There he is!" whenever we see Mark Peel working late at Bombo. (Top Chef Masters fans, lemme hear you say PEA PUREE.)

I call them "Oxygen-Deprived Swallows" and "Fleur d'Infected Nipple", respectively

Colorfy is a ridiculously addictive coloring app, and my new favorite way to unplug. Pop in the headphones, crank some Tycho, snuggle into the ol' armchair, and play with a virtual box of crayons.  It's marketed as "the coloring book for adults" but since when do age guidelines mean anything?

You will thank me. (It's ok if you don't thank me.)

I'll keep this simple: What We Do In The Shadows is the funniest movie I have seen in years. Don't look up who's in it, don't watch the trailer to see what it's about. Just go rent it on iTunes. Immediately. We were DEAD. Dead on the floor I tell you. (We really do watch movies on the floor. Chaucer's idea.)

When we close the doors our pants totally make out in the dark. 

Did a closet purge and reorganize. Feelin' pretty good about it. Feelin' pretty adult. What's that? Do I really need to hang up my cutoffs? WHATEVER LEAVE ME ALONE GO ASK TERENCE IF HE HAS ENOUGH WHITE BUTTON DOWNS

The first chapter of Sam Harris's Waking Up is on SoundCloud, and if the video I shared a couple weeks ago resonated with you, I think you'd enjoy it. It's about the endless whatnextwhatnextwhatnext game of life and how to stop it, if only for a few moments at a time.

Listening to it was something of, well, a wakeup call for me. I realized I spend nearly every waking minute worried about what I need to do in the next minute, or the next. Forever obsessing about the future, even if it's some small thing like trying to remember what I need from the store. Harris's solution to this low-level misery is meditation, which for all of my life has seemed like something foreign and borderline religious. Weird and new-agey. Not for me.

Then I started doing drugs, and came to see the advantages in altering my consciousness, even briefly. But of course I can't do drugs every day. Though I sure would love to feel really good every day. So I'm finally opening up to the idea of meditation.

I have a hard time with it, though. Staying perfectly still, concentrating on my breathing and doing. absolutely. nothing. else. I can, however, practice being more present - connecting to my senses. Slowing down to notice my surroundings, find enjoyment in them. That's easy. Where am I in this moment? What makes this place special? How does the breeze feel on my shoulders, or Chaucer's fur against my cheek? What can I see and smell and hear that is interesting or just quietly beautiful? From there, a sort of detached gratitude floats up to fill the space where anxiety was. How amazing and fortunate is it to be here, alive and healthy, safe and loved? Of all the planets in all the galaxies, I get to experience this one. Oxygen. Oceans. Love and pain and growth.

I know, I know. Super goofy. But it's a wonderfully relaxing and happifying exercise. And along these lines, I've got a post percolating about the ways in which I'm 100% convinced using LSD has improved my mental health. Yeah.

hashtag AI

A year ago this week, fed up with yet again "having to" concurrently document something that I was just trying to enjoy (in this case, Coachella), I quit Instagram. I bungled what could have been a breezy goodbye by having a mini breakdown, getting inexplicably, retroactively angry about my own two+ years of oversharing and taking that frustration out on several hundred innocent bystanders by way of the blockhammer. From over 1100 followers, I whittled and hacked my way down to 25 or so inner circle friends.

So silly.

Not quitting; I'm glad I left. But the concomitant drama - that was unnecessary. I should have just walked away and let things be, instead of making it so weird for myself, for readers and friends. Ah well. I was in deep. Big emotional investments result in big emotional cash outs, I guess.

I don't really know what the state of the gramming union is. If people love it, generally, or if enthusiasm is waning. If new features keep it fresh for them or if, like I was, they're burned out and bored. And it's the ultimate in navel-gazing, I realize, to write a post about Why I Did a Thing On Social Media. But every so often someone says something to me along the lines of I get why you did it. And I'm kinda jealous. Or, Totally understand. Thinking about doing the same.

So this post, aside from being a belly button lint check, is an assessment of life After Instagram. It's for anyone considering jumping ship, wanting a glimpse of the dark side. We here on the dark side are always recruiting.

No lie: the first week or so was really weird and rather awful. I felt like I'd up and moved away from some close friends. It was disorienting and isolating, like being in a foreign country without wifi access. Self-imposed banishment. I questioned my decision, only finding reassurance that I'd done the right thing when I reminded myself of all the things - better, more fulfilling and self-improving things - I'd be doing with my time instead.

So, how's that going for me? Am I doing better, more fulfilling and self-improving things with that portion of my time?

Nah, not really. I haven't exactly plowed through my reading list. I'm not out volunteering every weekend, and I haven't mastered a new language. I can claim no intellectual high ground, being off of IG. I still find plenty of ways to waste time. I do think my writing has improved, if only marginally, from forcing myself to tell stories more than show them. But leaving Instagram didn't magically transform me into a sophisticate.

It definitely made my life simpler, however. One less thing to "keep up", to manage. Pictures sit in my phone or on my computer until I'm ready, if ever, to share them on my blog. There's less nagging sense of expiration, gotta stay current, gotta 'gram it while it's fresh! So it's quieter, too.

I still take snapshots of my experiences to include here, but the urgency to Record! Every! Event! is gone. Which, interestingly, has made me look at the very nature of my friendships, of my relationship with Terence, differently. Well perhaps not differently, since it's something I've known - but maybe with refreshed eyes. A year clear of the mind-fuckery of IG, I am reminded that whatever the degree of my closeness to others - that is the same whether we're in front of a camera shutter or not. My dear friends are my dear friends, acquaintances are acquaintances, I am tolerated by some, disliked by some, and adored by a few. I can post a dozen photos a day, a carefully curated selection of flattering selfies, sunny hiking trails, and smiling faces, but not a single one of them can change what's going on behind the lens. I've got wrinkles. My boyfriend and I fight. Some nights out are boring. And that's okay.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to share the highlights of one's life. But there was a certain superficial affirmation in that feedback loop that, having now cut it, I recognize. Wow, my life looks so good! I must be doing great! Look how happy I look! I must be so happy! Which is not to say that I wasn't happy. Just that admiring myself and my life daily, in cleverly captioned, pretty little thumbnails, was a great way to excuse myself from the very hard work of trying to actually be happier. When I enjoyed a constant stream of external validation (You look fantastic! You two are the perfect couple! Wow you do cool things!), I wasn't overly motivated to find realer, more long-term and satisfying sources of internal validation (such as setting and accomplishing goals, and improving the very relationships I so proudly exhibited).

These days, if I want to feel good about myself, I have to actually do something. Something productive, or kind, or difficult. I no longer have the quick fix of posting to Instagram and getting a flood of positive cues to reinforce my lazy, push-button creativity or implicitly praise my lifestyle.

Last plus of being off IG? Opting the fuck out of self-comparison games. There's a fine line between inspiration and envy and being even one inch in the wrong direction was toxic to my sense of self. Sure, you can limit your range of motion on Instagram, only interact with people who make you feel good. But sooner or later you're going to see something that will make you feel inadequate. Or maybe not. I did, anyway, and I'm glad to be free of that.

Sometimes, when my phone is full of picturesque, perfectly filtered pictures, I'll miss it. I'll think about how great they'd look on IG, colorful and bright, reflecting moments of my life that seemed beautiful enough to freeze the frame on. But then I'll realize how self-involved that is. That I'm not wanting to get back on Instagram because I so miss joking around with my buddies and seeing what they're up to. That I'm wanting to get back on Instagram because I'm a goddamn me monster who is vastly less interested in other people's images than in my own. Yeah yeah, okay, kid, kid, sunset, selfie, cat...NOW ME! MY TURN! LOOK AT ME MY PHOTO MY LIFE ME ME ME!

I do more than enough Me Monstering right here.

So that my friends is what it's like here on the dark side. A little bit quieter, a little bit simpler, a little bit lonelier, with at least one monster poking about. I'm probably not making it sound as nice as it actually is, but I'd be glad for your company if you came over all the same. #atleastIwonthashtagyou

Captain Awkward

I'm probably one of the last persons on the Internet to have discovered the advice blog Captain Awkward, but I'm happy to disclose my embarrassingly late arrival just in case you're even later than me. Because it's fantastic. I've said before how much I like Baggage Reclaim for relationship advice, but Captain Awkward goes further, delving into career, family, friendship, mental health, Feminism, sex, and more.

CA moderates comments (referencing by way of explanation a rather thought-provoking post from another blog, titled If Your Website's Full of Assholes, It's Your Fault), has a glossary (also off-site) of thoughtful, funny Awkwardisms, and boasts a community of long-time readers who've established a discussion forum and regularly schedule meet-ups around the US and UK. In short, from what I've seen, it seems like a really cool, really friendly place to kick it online.

As a recovering people pleaser, I particularly enjoy what she has to say about boundaries (I don't know that I'll ever get used to the empowerment that comes from a simple "no"). But my favorite thing about Captain Awkward is the "scripts" offered to letter-writers: helpful, concise responses which advice seekers can utilize, immediately, in the difficult situations they're facing in real life. (Example scripts for saying "It was nice to meet you! But not THAT nice.")

I could definitely have used this post about pushy in-laws back when I was married. This one, about auditioning for the approval of people who dislike you, would have been handy a few years ago when I was detaching, with much heartbreak, from a toxic social circle. And this one, about a lopsided, all-on-one-person's-terms friendship, is kinda exactly what I've been needing lately. From that post:

Listen, you can totally still be friends with this person as long as you accept that the friendship will take place 100% completely on his terms. When you hang out, you will do so at his place, listening to him noodle around on his guitar and agreeing with everything he says unless you’d like a tiresome fight. 
So only see him on those rare occasions that you’re looking for a night of listening to him play guitar and agreeing with whatever he says. On all other nights of the year, spend whatever energy and love you would normally pour into maintaining and deepening a friendship with him into making some new friends who actually, I don’t know, are interested in things about you and can maintain a basic level of reciprocity? 
And when you say “Let’s hang out!” and he says “Sure, come over and I’ll play guitar,” say “Eh, can’t we go out and grab some dinner?” and if he says “No, but come over!” say “Sorry, maybe next time.” Like any time you enforce a boundary for the first time, it will feel super-weird for a short time and then it will feel normal and you’ll start feeling much better. 
You don’t have to drop him from your life – I believe you that you’ve shared some good times – but you do have to teach yourself to need very little from him and to accept that he’s limited in what he can give you. I would pour your limited time and energy into making some new friends. I realize that’s easier said than done, especially with a demanding job, but I think that effort spent will pay off much better than beating your head against the wall of “We will do things my way at my convenience.” Hang out with him once in a blue moon when his self-centered ways amuse and comfort you with their utter predictability and don’t grate you down like fine cheese.

I mentioned a few posts back that I was going through something tough with a friend, something that I wasn't sure whether I wanted to talk about. Well, Captain Awkward has saved me that, uh, awkwardness because the bits I've bolded break it down perfectly. The exact situation, the exact dilemma. So, yeah. That's that particularly corner of my life, summed up. Bleh.

Anyway, if you've got some time and could use a laugh and a dose of good sense, coast on over. Great, useful stuff.

morebettersoon

Boring blog is boring lately, apologies for that. Few things going on keeping me from writing more (and better):

1. Some awfulness went down between myself and a friend recently. I'm really bummed out, not sure how to handle it, not sure if I want to talk about it or not. And when there's something big on my mind like that, everything else gets backed up and frozen until I've dealt with it.

2. I'm distracted by both some concrete and some still-vague travel plans for the year. Until that's all firmed up, I feel guilty spending time on the blog, particularly because others are waiting on me to make decisions. After Bonnaroo I'm taking a solo, mini road trip through Georgia and South Carolina to visit some friends (which I'll expand on in another post, soon). I need to figure out the exact wheres and whens of that. Also, Terence and I are talking about heading up to Big Sur for my birthday. A sort of hotel/camping hybrid weekend. Camping because I want to be in nature, because I want to try acid. But near enough to a hotel that if things go south, we can easily get back to civilization. I know, I am weird and crazy. And finally, not-so-new neighbor friend and I are looking at Morocco, this fall.

3. I guess I also have to cop to a general lack of inspiration, possibly tied to my upcoming 40th? Every so often an ugly thought worms itself into my brain: Quit the blog. You're too old for this shit. You've outgrown it. I doubt I will, I'm too entrenched. But ways to, I don't know, level it up maybe? - have been on my mind. It seems ridiculous to be posting screenshots of conversations with my friends at my age, even though they crack me up and are fun to read later. Essays feel like the right direction. Less social scrapbooking. But I still love that stuff, too, so who knows.

4. Last thing is that I've been focusing more attention than usual on working out. Also a turning forty thing, admittedly. And what with my finite energy supply, sometimes blogging gets shoved out of the day in favor of a run, or a longer set of weights. The good news is that I feel pretty great, physically. The bad is that I feel out of touch, creatively. If only balance really was sold in bar form. And because boring blog has been boring lately, eh, why not, here's a "progress" shot - though, spoiler alert, there'll almost definitely be more nekked pics closer to my birthday, because I yam who I yam.


Feels like I just wrote a term paper extension request, with the most inappropriate attachment ever.

Happy April, Quents! #morebettersoon