Observations, Self, Writing

on the single life.

Yesterday, I was sitting alone at a bar waiting for someone and wound up finishing the book I’d brought with me. The bar was in downtown Brooklyn, right off the train, large and bright and full of empty tables, but I preferred to sit at the counter where I could, despite being absorbed in reading, be around people. I’ve always liked that– being around people doing their own things, while doing my own thing. When I finished the book, which I did fast and greedily, I immediately texted my roommate.

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“Have you ever gotten that feeling after reading a really good book?” I continued. “Like: full, warm, maybe a little sad, and at the same time really open and clear?” It’s been such a long time since a book made me feel that way– probably years since I read a book I could both escape into and learn from.

The book, Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own, is a memoir about author Kate Bolick’s love life, interlaced with anecdotes and biographical snippets of five woman writers from history who remained single– or maintained a “single spirit” while married– whom she positions as her “awakeners” to the possibility of an adult life sans marriage: Maeve Brennan, Edna St Vincent Millay, Edith Wharton, Neith Boyce, and Charlotte Perkins

It’s meandering, full of poetic musings about the pleasures of singledom and fears about rejecting convention, woven (occasionally clumsily) with biographical anecdotes about her court of authors, who chatter on in her head like derelict guardian angels. Bolick writes about walking and living alone in the city, eating greasy fast food in her bed, cobbling together freelance jobs that barely pay rent, going on boozy dates, chatting with a widow who drinks tea on her stoop: she paints a picture of life in New York City that reminds me of my own.
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Bolick’s desire to be single, which outlasts a rotating cast of boyfriends, seems to be inextricably connected with her desire for the financial independence and emotional detachment she feels is required to be a “real writer.” She enjoys her wide swath of “weak ties” afforded by city life and delights in reflecting on her world from the vantage point of an unattached person: that is, a person who doesn’t define herself by her relational roles. She seems to believe that she notices more as a single person than married women might: that she can observe and appreciate more of the color of city life by the lack of a relational commitment weighing on her mind. Her desire is urged on by the awakeners, whose marriages didn’t last even when happy, and who found living alone while being sexually and socially extroverted most conducive to their productivity. Still, she feels pulled towards marriage by abstract notions of conventionality and the real comfort of having a stable partner.

The book is less about her decision not to marry than it is a scrapbook of reflections of what it means to carve out a life on one’s own, which is increasingly the question I ask myself the longer I stay single: how to live independently and confidently while also in community, how to find meaningful work that pays, how to balance professional success with alignment to one’s values, how to be a feminist and enjoy going on dates, how to be an extrovert while also listening to one’s need for solitude. It provides no easy answers to these questions. But a book that asks them, and while giving me glimpses of the lives of fascinating literary women to boot, is a gem to me.

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Self, Social Justice, Writing

Yes! let’s jam.

Q: What is a jam?

A: A delicious spreadable fruit-based condiment to be slathered on bread with butter, traditionally consumed in the morning but also at night by people who just can’t get enough toast. Duh.

Other A: a creative gathering for people working at the intersection of arts and social change to come together, reflect, share our challenges and breakthroughs, nurture ourselves, support and inspire each other.

Fortunately for me, I get to have BOTH kinds of jams in my life! About a year ago, my dear friend Nandita attended a gathering in central Cali and came back a different gal. Or rather, the same gal, but more hopeful, energized, and fulfilled. This gathering was the 2015 Arts for Social Change Jam, which I understood as a networking/ group therapy/ art-making workshop for creative types. This year, she was selected as one of the facilitators and she begged (okay, casually invited) me to apply. Although it was a stretch to think of myself as an artist, I did.

via Yes! World

I was super honest in my application essays– about the fact that I’m not really sure it’s possible to earn a decent living while making a career out of helping people; about my stressed relationship with money; about whether art can really change the world; about how little art I’ve produced lately. It was less a personal sell than a “I don’t think you’d want me, but if you did, I’d sure be glad.”

Somehow, though, something in that real talk caught the admissions team’s eye(s?) and I got in!. So on April 5th, I’m flying out to sunny San Francisco (and then likely hopping in a van to drive for several more hours) to attend the 2016 Arts for Social Change Jam in Ben Lomond, CA.

I have very little idea what to expect in terms of concrete activities, but here’s what the website says I can expect to think about:

 

  • What is my story as an artist?
  • How are we to be sustainable and valued for our artistic gifts?
  • What does success look like for artivists? Where am I challenged as an artivist? What does it even mean to be an artivist?
  • How do we collaborate as artivists across mediums, modalities, and issue focuses?
  • How do we create an enduring support network of people using their creative passions for social change?
  • How do our diverse identities relate to us as artists and as activists, and how do we build bridges across those identities with each other?
  • What feels like the purpose and value of artist-activists in these particular times?

Sounds cool, right?! This opportunity couldn’t be coming at a better time. I recently ended a (short) kind-of relationship and am starting a new full-time job next month, so it feels like a great way to kick off what hopefully will be a year of rooting down and finding some personal stability.

xoxo

m.

 

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Nanny, Observations, Self, Writing

moving sucks.

You may remember that I mentioned I was moving a while back. In fact, if you’ve been reading for more than a few months, you may remember that I’ve mentioned it twice, separately, in two different contexts. That’s cause I’ve moved twice in the past year. I’ve moved at least once a year, actually, since I graduated college.

In this new place, which is just slightly too expensive, and just slightly too inconvenient, but damn if it isn’t beautiful, I’m trying to forge a home more than I have in the other places I’ve lived. As an experiment, kind of; I don’t plan on living in the city for more than another year/ 1.5 years. I feel strongly that my time here is limited. Which makes investing in furnishings feel frivolous. But I’ve gotten tired of living in other people’s spaces, of feeling like I don’t have control over my home. I want to see how it feels to live in a place I got to decorate, where I get to set the rules.

That feeling of ease/ownership is complicated, in a way, by the fact that I’m now living with one of my best friends. I care about how my actions affect her more than I did about previous roommates. Which means I’m trying to be especially careful about, say, making noise early in the morning, or leaving messes in the kitchen. I’m not tiptoeing exactly, but I haven’t yet figured out a good balance between being conscientious and being comfortable.

My new housing situation is soon to be matched with a new employment situation, too. The families I’ve been working with nannying are moving on. The little girls are going to school! I haven’t quite let myself feel the full—honestly—grief that I know should/will accompany this transition. Hannah, one of the moms, told me the other day that I’ve been a third parent to her daughter. While I might debate that, it’s true I’ve been working with her daughter for two years and have had a big role in shaping the small person she is. But my brain has been so caught up in anxiety about moving and finding new employment, in grasping at the fragments of newness and hints of what’s to come in order to establish some semblance of security that I haven’t allowed myself to mourn the shift/ loss of that precious relationship. My temporary situation is such that I am going to be working with another family for at least a month until I find out whether my office job can offer me a full time position beginning in April.

With all the transitions, too, finances are a concern. I was just offered a position at an Arts and Social Justice Jam in San Diego in April—with a significant scholarship and travel discount. The total cost is still over a week’s pay for me at this point, though. A friend of mine is facilitating the conference and attended it herself year; she called it life-changing and credits it with setting her on a path to healing after several years of trauma and trauma-fallout. I could use a creative kick-in-the-pants, but as always, money hounds me.

I’m going to accept the position and pray for the wisdom to make the best decision. If you’ve got it in you, would you mind joining me?

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Design, Self, Writing

blue skies and red rock.

Here are a few pictures of my recent trip to Israel, if you’d like to see…

I have tons more, but I am, frankly, not a very good photographer, and don’t have enough hours in the day to make the rest appreciable 🙂

From left to right:

  1. The Chapel of the Ascension, where Christians believe Jesus was miracled to heaven after the Resurrection
  2. A view from the base of En Gedi, a gorgeous hiking site near the Dead Sea, peppered with natural springs and waterfalls
  3. The best hummus lunch eaten by the ocean.
  4. The Dead Sea. I waded in, and it was COLD! And oily. If you don’t rinse off afterwards, your clothes will be smelly and perma-damp. It also hurt. I didn’t realize how many scratches I had all over my skin until I doused them in salt!
  5. Detail on the Dome of the Rock
  6. View from the top of Masada fortress, a former Herodian vacay spot that was later taken over by Jewish rebels and converted into an armed city. It offers massive views of the surrounding terrain and is difficult to enter. Still, the Romans managed to use a nearby natural structure to create a pathway inside, and legend has it that the leader of the rebels ordered everyone in the city to commit suicide to prevent being re-enslaved. Yikes.
  7. Peeking through at the Dead Sea from En Gedi.
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Nanny, Observations, Self, Writing

my trip to Israel.

I’ll be honest. Israel is not a place I ever planned to visit. Nothing about it called out to me, and I imagined it was mostly sand and conservative people and a whole lot of guns (only the latter turned out to be true.) With embarrassingly wholesale dismissiveness, I labeled it backwards and that was that.

Now. One of the families I used to nanny for is Israeli, and when they moved back last fall, they immediately began begging me to visit. With some hesitation (and enormous thankfulness at their offer to pay for my ticket) I agreed. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t anticipate finding it so beautiful.

Having returned, I have complicated feelings about the trip. It’s a blur, what with meeting someone handsome at a bar in Tel Aviv and spending too much money in an antique shop in Jerusalem and kissing the ground where Jesus’ cross was erected and feeling my blisters and scratches burn in the salty Dead Sea and eating my weight in hummus. While I was there, I didn’t think too much about the horror stories I’ve heard about Israeli politics. Everyone I met was generous and open and asked me at least once to move there or visit again and stay with them. For a place that I’ve heard referred to as “evil” with some regularity, its people were normal, nice, and welcoming.

It’s not like it matters whether I have some kind of comprehensive opinion of whether “Israel”– land, state, collection of people, however you want to define it–is “good” or “bad” (I think it’s stupid to have an opinion about something as vast and abstract as a nation, and even more so to try to form one after having visited for a week), but it’s strange visiting a place whose people and policies seem so different. Then again, since I was interacting mostly with young, modern people from the secular Tel Aviv, aaaaaand couldn’t understand anything they said that wasn’t in English, aaaaaaaand everyone I met knew I was friends with a wealthy native Israeli (my host), it’s not like I experienced anything near like a representative sampling of what life in Israel is like, or of what a Palestinian person might experience in Israel, or of what the broad trends in popular opinion about Jewish-Palestinian relations are.

Pics will have to come later in the week; I tried to email them to myself, and this is the only one that came through:

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One of about 10,000 churches I saw in Jerusalem; but perhaps the most beautiful.

 

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Observations, Self, Writing

on feeling adrift (p.s. happy early thanksgiving!)

On Sunday, I fell asleep at around 10:30 AM after having gotten breakfast with a friend. I didn’t wake up again until 4 AM the next day, after which I felt so out of it that when I dozed off again, I woke up at 8:15– exactly when I had to leave for work. I sprinted into the shower, threw on the first outfit I had the wherewithal to create, and called a cab that never showed up. It was a strange morning, and I feel like it exemplifies what a strange few weeks I’ve had– maybe even year.

These weeks, and year, have been full of absolute declarations and then major revisions, meeting new people, going on dates without potential, rebuilding old friendships, worrying about money, and spending too much. I feel a bit groggy from the the ways I’ve launched myself into projects or relationships from what seems like a dead sleep of not really wanting to change anything about my life. There’s a disconnect between the plucky, confident face I show the world and my inner disorientation.

I woke up this morning at the more reasonable hour of 6:30 AM. I had to clean my room and pack to go home for Thanksgiving and then to Israel to visit a family I used to nanny for. I expected it to be dark outside, but the sky was blue. It was already light.

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Observations, Self, Writing

dear Mel: on depression.

Dear Mel,

I recently lost a bunch of weight, and am trying to lose more. But I’ve been losing momentum. I haven’t gone to the gym in a week. I also hate my job. I woke up yesterday and realized that I dreaded going in to work. My coworkers are entitled and rude. Plus they comment on my weight constantly (mostly it’s nice– well, now it is. It wasn’t before); but quitting my job is not a financially viable option right now. I’m stressed out, and it’s making me super depressed. Last night I ate an entire pizza, which is contributing to a spiral. What should I do?

Yours truly,

Pretty Sure I’m Depressed AF.

Dear Depressed Af,

So, a new report by the New York City Department of Health and the Mayor’s Office says, “Major depressive disorder is the single greatest source of disability in NYC. At any given time over half a million adult New Yorkers are estimated to have depression.”

While I could have told you that myself just by noting how many people I’ve seen crying on subways or drinking themselves into oblivion on a weeknight, a more insightful point the report makes is that some of the most affected (and poorly treated) groups are people with low income, Latinas, and African Americans (you, part of which may be that they’re treated like freeloading scum by half the country). A choice quote:

In the United States, African Americans are less likely than whites to be diagnosed with common mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. But when they are diagnosed with a mental illness, African Americans are more likely than whites to experience a persistent and severe illness. This may in part be due to biases in diagnosis. For example, African Americans are more likely to be given a diagnosis of schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, and that is true even when they have the same symptoms as white people.

On the flip side, there are soooooooooooooo many people I know who go around calling themselves depressed but are really in a bout of feeling sad or lonely (keep reading– bouts of sadness are still horrible to experience and are still legit!) As a feminist, I understand why what we call things matters. Words carry power. Gloria Steinem recently said in an interview that she no longer calls people who have sex for money “sex workers,” even though many people believe that that title gives dignity to a profession that’s often considered shameful. Why? Because calling them sex workers allowed other people to say, “Hey! Stop complaining about the government not helping you! You can always get a job doing sex work!”– exploiting that term to try to push people into prostitution to get off welfare. That, ya know, is pretty shitastic.

Still, I often wonder if people resort to semantic arguments about terminology in order to avoid facing the humanity of the person in front of them: to avoid having to take into account that person’s experience, their probable intentions. Lambasting someone for using the wrong word lets you ignore what they really meant by it, which you could only know by developing a relationship with them, at least for the duration of a conversation. It’s much easier to be right when you don’t have to give the benefit of the doubt.

STILL AGAIN, I do feel irked when I hear people are just having a hard time call themselves depressed. I was diagnosed with depression my freshman year of college, though I had experienced symptoms of it earlier. My junior year of high school, I remember feeling for months that life was just not worth the effort of getting out of bed. I wasn’t getting joy from the things that used to excite me. In fact, I couldn’t feel much of anything. But when I got to college, things went into overdrive. I was cutting, obsessing about food intake, crying at all hours of the day for no reason, even seeing ghosts of myself walking around doing things, as I lay in bed wishing I had the courage to kill myself. When I was feeling better by junior year, I went off my meds. I developed bulimia as a coping mechanism. I stopped going to class, instead lying in bed and crying for hours. I had to take several incompletes. Then I got back on meds and felt better. So I went off them again. And went crazy again. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Tl;dr: It was fucked up.

Not everyone’s depression looks like that. I realize it’s a trap to hold my experience as some kind of standard. Depression is real for many and looks different for many. But people who are unhappy in their jobs; who are stuck in a bad relationship; who suddenly have a lot of time on their hands they don’t know how to use; who have lost a loved one are probably not depressed in the clinical sense. Rather, they’re grieving, or frustrated, or overwhelmed.

As to why I am bothered by your suggestion that you are depressed: it’s not AT ALL that I feel like my experience of depression is invalidated by someone who’s struggling “less”/differently than I did calling themselves depressed. Some people have said that “depression” as a term can be cheapened/ weakened by overuse, and maybe that’s true. But I also don’t care what the popular definition of depression is, as long as me and my caretaking team are agreed on it.

My issue is more with the way we tend to pathologize normal human emotion. Depressed AF, you don’t need to claim you’re sick for your emotions to be validated as real.

Let me say that again: You don’t need to pathologize your feelings for them to count as painful, important, or legitimate.

I like to think of our feelings as little sweet furry animals in our tummies (no, we didn’t eat them; stop reading too far into my analogy) who call out to get our attention when they see we need something. Anger tells us we need something. Fear tells us we need something. Those feelings are unpleasant, but if your Fear is a (talking) puppy, would you tell a frightened puppy to shut up and stuff a muzzle in its mouth? I hope not! Instead, you might pat your puppy Fear and let it tell you what’s wrong, and by the comfort of being heard, it might not need to cry anymore.

Are you nervous about some big changes in your life? You likely don’t have “social anxiety.” You are uncertain about your future and current place in the world. Do you find yourself overwhelmed with disproportionate rage every time you lose your keys? (Anyone? Or is that just me?…) You don’t have anger issues. Your anger may be telling you that you feel out of control.

Basically, I think feelings are not diseases.They tell you something true about yourself and your needs, and about how best to care for yourself. Most of the time, there’s nothing wrong with you. Your body and brain are just trying to get you to listen to what’s real!

That all being said, please: if you do believe that you are depressed, GET HELP. If you suspect you are experiencing healthy but uncomfortable feelings, try simply caring for yourself. Do some research on free/ cheap therapists in your area, go back to the gym and exercise just for 10 minutes just to remind yourself you are still on the right track, take a hot bath, snuggle with a body pillow, get a massage, pray, and most importantly, sit with your feelings and tell them you hear them. Out loud, if you like. Know that you don’t have to claim a disease for your feelings to be valid. Feelings are ALWAYS valid (note: not all ways of dealing with them are!). Take the time to evaluate your feelings and care for yourself whenever you feel like shit.

I really, truly think that if you care for and love on yourself, you’ll feel better. Hopefully better enough that you can motivate yourself to look for a new job. Cause that sounds like an unhealthy work environment that no amount of self-care could completely seal out.

I sincerely hope you feel better soon.

xoxo,

Mel

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