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.

image1

“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.
9781472151186

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.

Standard
Design, Observations, Self

my skincare/makeup routine: day version: or, what i’ve been thinking about to avoid thinking about more important stuff.

What important stuff? Like why I keep going on dates with people I know I don’t want to be in a relationship with. Like how much $$ I’m spending on frivolous things and how I need to get back to a budget. Like all my feelings about what I learned at the Jam.

Which, speaking of, needs its own blog post soon. I’ll say for now, though, that one of the major takeaways was that I need to shut down my Inner Critic, who I’m pretty sure is the one layering on the extra guilt about not spending my time on the “right” kind of activities.

Anyway, I figured I’d give my latest obsession its due indulgence, and maybe then I’ll feel a bit more capable of easing my mind over to other subjects.

Let’s talk skin. I’m including my face makeup in this roundup because face makeup directly impacts skin–and vice versa.

 

 

My morning routine is undergoing some finessing, as I’m searching for a new, lighterweight makeup for the summer and find my skincare needs change as my makeup changes. But here’s how it stands currently.

  1. Cleanse/ tone with apple cider vinegar, or with Simple Micellar Water– the former’s got malic acid, which is antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral, it balances my skin’s pH, and it contains alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) to break down dead skin cells and leave my skin feeling new. The latter just makes my skin feel clean and soft.
  2. Moisturize with Dr. Lin’s Daily Hydrating Gel– I don’t love this as much as I thought I would. It contains hyaluronic acid, my favorite moisturizer, but the gel texture actually leaves my skin feeling a bit dry. 
  3. Protect with Neutrogena Clear Face Sunscreen– most sunscreens break me out, but not this one!
  4. Prime with Clinique Superprimer Universal Skin Primer– I’ve recently come around to the value of primers, but good god if it isn’t hard to find one that isn’t silicone-based! This is the first primer I’ve used that doesn’t clog my pores or break me out. The price, however, makes this one untenable as a staple. I’ll be trying the slightly cheaper Pixi Poreless & Flawless Primer out next to see if that works; that also has titanium dioxide, a mineral sunscreen, so I may not need the Neutrogena then. $$$$$.
  5. Perfect with Covergirl Clean Oil-Control Foundation– Buildable coverage that doesn’t make me break out is unbeatable at this price. When I feel like lighter coverage, I skip the sunscreen, primer, foundation, and concealer and sub in Pixi Illuminating Tint and Conceal.
  6. Conceal with Maybelline Master Conceal Camouflaging Concealer– I LOVE the texture of this: inky fluid that provides full coverage. But it oxides over the day 😦 I’m actually working towards trying not to need concealer– I usually only have to use it because I’ve irritated a blemish by picking at it. 
  7. Color with Tarte Amazonian Clay Blush– Every blush makes me break out except this. It’s crazy expensive for me at $28, but I think it might last me the next 3 years. 

PHEW. Then I do my eyes (brow powder, copper eyeliner, black mascara) and lips (clear primer and red lipstick). It takes 15 minutes and makes me feel like a grown woman.

Stay tuned for the evening rendition… things get WILD.

xoxo m.

Standard
Observations, Self, Spirituality

the grand return! (confessions and a new apartment)

Confession Number One:

For the first time in like four years (humble brag), I haven’t kept my new year’s resolution. Which makes me normal! But I liked that I wasn’t normal in that way! Dammit. I’m back on track (with one day under my belt), but man oh man did I cheat the past few weeks. Until around January 7, I was like, AWWWW MAN I’M DOIN GREAT. I’d set an alarm for myself, browse gossip sites and interior design blogs for 20 minutes, and sign back off. What felt like oodles of free time popped up out of nowhere. I was forced to be alone with my thoughts, and it was uncomfortable but refreshing. But slowly, what with the fact that I’m moving and have to buy a bunch of home goods/ moving supplies, I stopped setting the alarm, and minutes turned into quite possibly hours of adding things to various web carts for my new apartment. Which has led to:

Confession Number Two:

I’ve also been bad about keeping of my finances in the past few weeks. I had to borrow some (a lot) of money to make this move happen, and aside from keeping track of what I owe my friends, I’ve gotten lax about all the little purchases from day to day. Allergy meds, a coffee, that Uber ride: I’ve tried to keep unnecessary spending to a minimum, but somehow that’s translated into sort of pretending I’m not spending anything at all. I am very likely being a perfectionist, but there it is.

And Confession Number Three:

Not really a confession but an observation. I had a moment of grace this morning on the subway. I was journaling about the ways I continue to use the Internet to avoid facing my thoughts/ feelings, and how what I’m realizing I’m actually attempting to avoid is God. I’m trying to avoid letting him speak to me because I’m afraid he’s going to be all kill-joy. I’m afraid that as soon as I tap into prayer, what I’m going to hear back is a list of the ways I’m messing up (dating the wrong people, dating at all, being unkind to my family, telling too many white lies, trying to do life on my own) and preventing him from doing his thing for me. Which might be true!  I might be fucking up (I am, trust me)! But I don’t believe God would meet my approach with an instant list of wrongdoing. Instead, I started writing, maybe I should stop putting words in God’s mouth. Maybe each time I pray and then get discouraged by God’s seeming disapproval, it’s really my own guilt talking, not God. Maybe what God has to say to me is simpler than that: I love you, Melissa. My grace is sufficient. My love covers all.

Standard
Design, Self

how do you give gifts?

I love browsing gift guides during the holiday season. Not because I actually am looking for things to give people. I mean, I am. But not from these places. I read them the way I imagine some people watch porn: as perfect, unattainable, seductive escapes to unreality that I emerge from with a slight guilt headache.

Take, for example, this gift guide from cool-girl website Refinery 29. In a list called, “30 Genius Gifts for Your Other Half,” their curator suggests a $195 rucksack. RUCKSACK. That sounds like something a 1950’s hobo would carry. Also pretty much everyone I know, including my imaginary other half, has a backpack. Also on the list is a  $350 bocce ball set. Again, maybe if I was a retired New York Jew living in Florida.

bocce.png

What I might give to my husband of 40 years during our retirement.

It’s not just that these suggested gifts are crazy expensive. It’s also that so many of them are totally frivolous. An icicle wine chiller. Moscow mule cups. A sleeping mask. No one I know needs these things!

My ideal gift for giving fulfills someone’s actual need or desire in a stylish, perhaps unexpected, delightful way. I don’t like just giving stuff. 

So I’m curious: what do you do around the holiday season for gifts? Do you obsessively hand-make, curate individualized lists, or just get the same basic gift for everyone? (As for myself, I am making baked goods for acquaintances and getting cheapie/creative with single gifts for my closer friends). I’d love to hear yours 🙂

xo m.

Standard
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.

Standard
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

Standard
Observations, Self, Social Justice, Spirituality

hello, st. louis!

I’ve got 20 minutes to create this post with the airport’s free wifi, but I wanted to give a shout out to mahself because it’s my birthday on Friday! The big 2-5. I’m currently sitting in SLA waiting for my (late) brother to pick me up; we’ll spend the day here in the city, then drive back to Columbia where he lives with his girlfriend (whom I’ve never met until now!) They met in the Peace Corps in Burkina Faso and then upon their return to the US they moved almost immediately to the Midwest. I plan to treat this excursion like a real vacation: hopefully I’ll get to do a little writing, go hiking, yoga myself to sleep, and enjoy time away from screens.

Tritely, I can’t say this year has turned out like I expected. But in many ways that’s a good thing. I broke up with the bf, and while that has been a much more twisty, complicated process than I wanted it to be, it was absolutely the right choice, and didn’t leave me feeling as confused and hopeless as I thought it would. I have begun attending a new church that draws on good scholarship, art, and embodied experience, that serves its community, and glorifies God with as much humility as I could hope a church could. I started this blog (!) to keep me accountable for noticing the world around me, and it’s done that. I have kept my New Year’s resolution of exercising 30 minutes/ day (!!!). And I have finally started shelling out for grown-up foundation that doesn’t make my face break out and actually draws people to compliment my skin (which still, lol, is rare, but has never happened before a month ago.)

My prayers for next year are big-picture: for wisdom on where to live after I quit New York (which won’t be toooo soon, but is certainly on the horizon); for more friends in the city with whom I can talk issues of justice and race and gender; and for career guidance on what sort of job roles I should be searching for. But mostly, they’re for the harmony of strength and peace and joy that (sometimes–dry spells are a real thang) accompany the pursuit of truth and justice in God.

Much love,

mel.

Standard