One of the 30 million

Social distancing in the time of corona is one thing, but being single and jobless during a dystopian nightmare is another. I’m 30. It seems like I was just starting to make long-term goals and take off in my career.

Then comes the swift pull of the rug. Hey, thanks a lot, 2020. Thou art cruel.

I have certainly shed tears. The thing is I know I am far from alone and that my situation could be worse. Last I checked there were 40 million people in the U.S. alone who filed for unemployment due to the coronavirus.

The day I lost my job I bought a fish filet and ate it on the top of a parking garage where two friends joined me. One of my brave friends hugged me. It was a warm hug.

I don’t have the interest or stamina to hunt down conspiracy theories or fiction’s premonitions at the moment, but how Orwellian does being afraid to touch another person feel? Let’s be honest.

This is the first time I’ve been unemployed since I was 16 years old. The first job I ever had was at Cold Stone Creamery, and I gained 10 pounds in the first 6 months. Because free ice cream. I worked with my friends. I made $6.50 an hour. I sang to customers. I had a blast.

Now, I’m one of those poor souls who has a hard time defining myself outside my job. I didn’t realize how severe it was until I was laid off and my “seek, write, destroy” routine came to a screeching halt.

My energy is still here, but I find it’s veering off in all directions. As it turns out there isn’t really a set standard to productiveness during a world pandemic.

Today I was fairly productive, by my standards, and I need to give myself more credit for that. I applied for a few jobs, journaled all my twisted feelings, contacted a career-coaching agency, talked to my therapist, and watched a documentary about Michelle Obama. What an inspiring lady. And I want to wear rainbow colored power suits like that.

Today was a good day. I’m lucky I have the time to do this self-exploration and learning.

Not all days are like this. Some days I slop out of bed around 11, take my dog on a grand tour of the neighborhood, marvel over a squirrel and robin duking it out outside my window (I swear this happened), and depress myself with massive amounts of shitty news until my back hurts and I realize it’s 5 p.m., and I should probably dive into a complicated home cooked meal that takes me 2 hours to make because my body is so riddled with anxiety that I’m having a hard time concentrating on the instructions. On these days, I’m lucky if I make it out of my pajamas or brush my teeth.

One day I wrote a list of how I can become essential. Things I might like to do included child care worker, garbage truck driver, and foot fetish saleswoman. It’s a long story but someone actually did reach out to me for pictures of my feet, and to my disappointment they only wanted to pay me $7 dollars. “My dogs are worth at least $100,” I kindly told the man.

How fun is that, huh? To realize what you do is considered non-essential?

I read somewhere that volunteer work will make me and others feel better, like I’m contributing something in this shit storm. I am writing letters and sending cards to this woman in hospice. She was an elementary school teacher her whole life, and now she has no one. I’m having fun talking to the girl who is coordinating the volunteer work, too. It kind of feels like we’re friends. She told me that the hand-sketched bulldog I sent to Gloria (let’s call her), the patient I was paired with, smiled real big when she saw it. And this made me smile.

I am proud of how far I have come in my life (from a career standpoint and otherwise). As someone who grew up on government assistance, there was always a feeling that I had to work extra hard to prove my worth. I want to continue to work hard, but I also want to make sure what I’m doing aligns with who I am, the lifestyle I want, and the goals I have for myself. The narrative is always changing. So am I.

I’m not done searching. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t painful.

Maybe you are in a similar kind of Rock Bottom, but it’s a different circumstance. Anyway, it’s not quite the apocalypse just yet. Don’t you dare fucking give up.

 

 

 

 

Letter to 13 year old me

I want you to know that you were right before you felt the need to be right.

The dog in the picture that sits inside your arms is different now. She’s a longer, daintier half breed. People stop you on the sidewalk to tell you how pretty she is. A beagle on stilts.

But you don’t forget the now deceased animal of your past. Small with soft ears too big for his head. You once sat up all night cleaning the worms he vomited onto the couch. He was one of those puppy mill puppies that was broken when you got him, but you were prepared to love him anyway.

You were fiercely jealous when he curled up next to your brother at night. Once you snuck him out of your brother’s room, but he stumbled his way back.

The dimly lit space behind you was too snug for him. The neighbors complained about his howls through thin apartment walls. And your mom didn’t feel well enough to chase him around. So another family loved him instead.

You were a clash of color. A smorgasbord of thrift store finds. Musty, knitted sweater. Yellow beanie. Yellow like sunshine. Yellow like madness. You put every single one of those rings on in the morning as armor. You knew you belonged here.

Why do I keep coming back to you?

What is left for me to forgive? To criticize? What is there to learn from you that I haven’t already internalized?

Today you match everything except for your socks, because you can never find the partners. You wear an engagement ring on your middle finger. Your grandma’s watch on your left wrist. It has since stopped ticking. You remember the day it stopped ticking and felt a little more alone, until the next meaningful conversation rolled around, and you stopped paying attention to time.

It’s raining. There’s a spider outside your window. You left it there because you admired the amount of work and time it put into its web. Your dog is asleep on the couch. Your man is washing the dishes you filled with dinner. You had a good day. People see you. This is the present. This is the love you surround yourself with. It loves you back.

You were right before you felt the need to be right. Thank you for allowing yourself to be huge by nurturing the most fragile parts.

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Bath time with Frida Kahlo

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I’ve been thumbing through, “The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait,” for the past week or so. It appeals to me that someone can use both writing and drawing at the same time, in the same place, to capture their inner world.

I knew very little about Frida. Just that she had a sweet unibrow. And I could recognize her famous self-portraits like a lot of people. A few months ago I bought a pair of bottle cap earrings with quarter-sized portraits of her painted onto them. I wore them around a music festival I attended with a friend. A lot of people were delighted at the sight of Frida dangling from my earlobes.

All but one of the drawings in this diary I’m reading never made it out. It was her space to make sense of things. I had to read the translated notes because I don’t understand Spanish, but I still found myself examining her multi-colored writing. She wrote in colored pencil and left scratch marks and scribbles, as one would do with a pen. It’s nice to know someone as regarded as she had visible second and third thoughts, could allow herself to stumble on paper.

It turns out she was quite the writer too. Here is one of my favorite letters, one of the many written to her beloved Diego:

Diego,
Truth is, so great, that I
wouldn’t like to speak, or sleep,
or listen, or love.
To feel myself trapped, with no fear
of blood, outside time and magic,
within your own fear,
and your great anguish, and
within the very beating of your heart.
All this madness, if I asked it of you,
I know, in your silence, there would be
only confusion.
I ask you for violence, in the nonsense,
and you, you give me grace, your light and
your warmth.
I’d like to paint you, but there are no colors,
because there are so many, in my
confusion, the tangible form
of my great love.

Frida suffered from a lot of physical ailments throughout her life. She beat polio in her childhood, and in her later years was in a near fatal accident that left her physically impaired for the rest of her life. She had close to 35 operations in her lifetime, and was unable to bear children. Much of her art depicts misplaced body parts, parts outside her body. And a spiritual and sexual longing to reproduce. It’s no wonder she painted so many self-portraits. Despite her immense pain, she found a way to steal her own joy and find love in her life.

Many consider her to be Mexican hero, who appealed to Mexican women and more broadly to the plights of women everywhere, but a lot of her critics thought her work was intensely self-directed and incapable of moving past self.

“I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best,” the artist once said.

Essayist Sarah M Lowe wrote, “Her work was deemed so excessively personal and self-referential that it is thought incapable of expressing universal emotions or the human condition. In time, her self-portraits, though they never cease to shock, have overcome some of the prejudices against women painting their own lives.”

I started drawing women in bathtubs a few months ago. I’m not exactly sure of the reasoning behind the choice of vessel. I know that both baths and drawing calm me down when I’m feeling overwhelmed by the weight of things.

And baths are where some of my best ideas have come from.

In a college writing class I wrote a metafictional story about this woman who takes a bath and gets the idea to write the story of her life. There’s a talking shower head that is encouraging her to write and also shouting innuendos.

The woman rockets from the bath in a Eureka-like moment, water spilling all around her and plummeting to the carpet. She runs butt naked into her garage and wrenches out these old, dusty bins filled with her old journals.

She searches one of her journals frantically, dampening the pages with the water falling from her hair. She finds the passage that is supposed to help her define this moment of certainty. She realizes the passage is in fact not the missing piece she needs to solve her life story. She’s frustrated at her younger self for leaving such a poorly constructed record of her life. She scoffs and criticizes every line in that single passage then moves onto mocking some others. Finally, she flings the journal across the room.

Looking back at this piece, I realize it was about my idea process and the frustration I face in creation, particularly writing. When I have an idea, I feel that well-known mania, and I need to write. RIGHT NOW. URGENT HURRY. A lot of times I lose the feeling. Then I over complicate the idea. I rage about the hopelessness of memory. The idea vanishes as quickly as it comes.

Drawing these bathtubs was my way of coping with my issues with writing. I love these hours I spend shading, erasing, coloring. It’s obvious I don’t have formal training, but this doesn’t stop me from getting better and sharing my work. Putting my work out there has only made me feel braver.

For now, the bathtubs seem to be working. Drawing has helped me reunite with writing. I’d like the two to become friends. Like my girl Frida, I’d like a space where I can combine both worlds.

I feel like a Linkin Park song

Sometimes the noise in my head is so loud I just have to say fuck it and surrender to the tears that are pushing and shoving their way through my tear ducts. They all want a turn to star in the show. Me, me, pick me, Sarah. Cry me! I’m next in line.

Today I cried in my car parked in front of a Subway. I’ll take the 6’’ inch turkey with chips, and a cup full of snot, please. There was this guy in a dark Mustang parked next to me who looked startled, then squeamish—like he just saw a squirrel get run over, and he was trying not to stare directly into the pool of glistening guts. So warm and gooey.

Subway is long gone. I’m home alone. I reactivated, then deactivated my Facebook at least five times. I tried to change my profile picture to something less morbid, less “feel-sorry-for me.” But then again, I don’t know what face I could possibly make to convey all of what I’m trying to say. It’s known in my circle of friends, co-workers, and family that I’ve shied away from social media and why. After fumbling around on Facebook again and again and failing to speak up for myself, I went to the gym.

The gym is one of the few routines—that and my beautiful drop of delicious sunshine a.k.a writing group—I have to my name. Zumba always makes me feel GOOD. Like I’m one sexy, strong mama with a slammin’ pair of hips. Like the flaming-bird-spirit-child I’m supposed to be. If I could stare at my ovaries in the mirror during Zumba, I would. I would ask them out on a date and get to know them.

And then the adrenaline dripped like a hose that’s just been turned off. And here I am. Alone with myself. It doesn’t help that my pits smell.

It’s 10 p.m. right now, and I’m forcing myself to write. Even though I detest writing when I start to dip this low.

The truth is I don’t want to sound like a Linkin Park song.

I’m sorry if you like Linkin Park. I like Linkin Park, too, actually. Back in the day, Meteora was my jam. But for some reason I thought I was light years away from Meteora in terms of my life. I thought I only had room for Bob Dylan, for Iron and Wine right now.

It’s not only the lyrics (Somewhere I Belong, Breaking the Habit, and Easier to Run, if you want to get all technical about it). I also feel like I’m made of Chester Bennington’s voice. I’m the hairball covered in shards of glass scraping on your tongue. I’m like swallowing a blister that explodes in the back of your throat. I guess I just want kind of want to break things. Or run.

I told everyone that I need some alone time because I truly do. I told them because I’m not one of those people who just disappears. My brother tells me, “Dude, Sarah, you sound sooooo emo right now.” One of my cousins thinks I’m pulling some bomb ass Edgar Allan Poe shit. My friends and boyfriend support me, but linger in the shadows just in case I need anything. My parents have no idea what planet we’re on, and that I live in it.

I’m not blaming my parents for this. Even though they have a lot to do with things. In fact, I have this ancient biblical-like scroll I could pull out and read to them. But I have never blamed anyone for my problems, and I’m not about to start.

My wanting quiet time is supposed to be a good thing. I set out to work on my writing, settle the racing thoughts, figure out where I want to go next. YOU ARE HERE on the map. But I’m having a rough time with it because in the silence, I’m finding yesterday’s news. It turns out I’ve been hoarding newspapers for years.

I’m reverting back to the gurgling, black pit of insecurity and helplessness that we so cherish in our adolescence. And the worst part is I’m not okay with that. The steaming bitch inside me is not onboard with letting me feel this all out. Even though “feeling this all out” is a part of the plan.

Because the same hustler, the same back patter who has been working with me, inside me, for years is also the one handing me my ass, my severed head.

Here’s what you don’t learn sitting at a desk or find staring at you in the middle of the notes you wrote in your college rule notebook: sometimes you sweat blood to get out of the dark cloud of your home life, you push yourself, you come ploughing through the other side—and you realize that it kind of feels the same. Except there’s nothing there. There is no broken home, no screaming match, no violence on the other side. The nothingness itself is what eats away at you.

You move into an apartment. You feel the wind in your hair of being on your own. You find a full-time gig, a window to your career, something to do with your time. You have someone to share it with, who understands what it’s like to be a 20 something on your own in 2014, someone who will hug you through it all. You think, I’m ready to begin my life, but wait…

And suddenly, IT is there. IT never left you. IT rings like a bell reminding you what you left behind. (Speaking of Poe) BELLS BELLS BELLS; to the rhyming and the chiming of the bells. There’s nothing touching you. You can’t feel it on your skin, taste it on your tongue. You try like it’s your religion to phrase and re-phrase it the best way you can. You try to outrun your past, and you find it here waiting for you—sleeping in your bed, sharing a cup of coffee in the morning with you. It says, “hey man, remember me?” with a nod of its head. It tells you fuck off in between red lights.

My parents are cropping up in casual conversations. It’s almost how I introduce myself, how I recap my weekend. How was your weekend, Sarah? Oh you know, my mom wants to live in my living room. The usual. How do I tell people that that she calls me weekly, pleading in pain, while I’m at work? I don’t. Because that shit doesn’t fly, dat shit don’t pay rent. Sarah, please help me. Please help me, Sarah. And I feel ready to cave, to just give it all up. To move back into the cigarette-stained apartment, to suffocate again with her. All in the name of HELP.

If you read my pulse, you’d find my family there. If you listened close enough, you’d hear something bleating like a half-wounded sheep. I used to have this on lockdown. For a long time FAMILY was the one genre of honest writing that was off limits for me.

I desperately want to ebb and flow in front of my siblings. They after all lived through the same thing. But I’m too stubborn to show them, too scared to get black ink all over their clothes. My brother is a young dad now. He’s found a way to outsource his rage, through scream-o music, and my jaw drops in awe whenever I hear him scream. It’s thrilling to me—like the feeling I get on the Giant Drop. My sister has a new boyfriend she’s really pumped about. And apparently she’s what the kids call “a boss” at her job. The other one is going to school after silently digging holes into herself and straggling from house to house for years. I worry about them as often as I click on a link, as I type a sentence, as I turn a tight corner. I also well an ocean of pride for them because I know what it takes. It takes everything just to move an inch in the muddy waters of poverty, of pain you wouldn’t believe even if you lived it. Because trust me, I don’t believe my eyes.

Being the first to graduate in your family sounds like a big fucking accomplishment. It is, don’t get me wrong. But there’s something so pathetic about coming out the other side alone. There’s no one at the finish line to share this with me. I left people behind. When I come back to visit, there’s this artificiality, this distance, this need for them to understand me. I miss my people. I need my people. But I’m afraid to get close.

Let’s get back to Linkin Park, and why the bitch inside my head is not okay with me feeling the music. When I was 13, this was expected. I just let myself feel whatever I had to feel, and then moved on. Mostly, I felt angry. I felt suffocated. But as soon as I opened the sliding door, when I left the dingy, cigarette stained apartment, shit was funny again. I turned to my friends and teachers; I didn’t push them away or push the button on self-sabotage when my open life was staring me in the face.

Sometimes I wish I could just inject funny into me. I used to see directly past pain, and a lot of that had to do with my ability to open my mouth, hear the sound come crashing behind my tonsils, and laugh with my entire body. My defenses are down. I’m so good at making myself laugh, at laughing at myself. But right now my humor sounds like a radio playing muffled music, short-circuiting under water.

I try to move on, but really what I’m doing is distracting myself, over stimulating myself—with the Internet mostly. With the opinions and thoughts of everyone else, so I don’t have to be alone, truly alone. At home and at my desk, I’m living in this hyper sensory bubble. When something happens—not just to my family, to people I hardly know or don’t know at all—the bubble I’m living in zaps me. My hair stands up straight from the electricity. When a journalist is beheaded. When a comedian kills himself. When an entire population is led to an edge at gunpoint. I suddenly can feel that, too.

I feel like a dandelion that’s being plucked over and over. When did I become such a delicate, little flower?

And then there’s the whole what am I going to do with my life thing that plagues us all. I figured out a long time ago that I’m not okay with doing something that isn’t meaningful to me. What I really want to do depends on if other people think I have anything legit to say. It has to smell new, feel new. It can’t be covered in chocolatey clichés. For the love of god, I want to be a writer. A WRITER. I usually follow this with a punchline, chortle, a snort. Why of all things, does it have to be that? Why couldn’t I have picked something else to fall in love with?

I don’t even know what kind of writer I want to be. My boyfriend tells me I need a niche. Hey babe, you’re good at movie and book reviews. Hey babe, you love poetry. I know I need to narrow things down, too. The trouble is I have this professorial snob in the back of my mind who is wagging HIS (because let’s face it, most known writers are men) finger at me, telling me I’m not smart enough to be a writer. He speaks in a British accent of course. He asks me what I know. I tell him I’m not sure. And he laughs a merry laugh that only a well-esteemed, well-accomplished old, white man can.

I know a million people around me who are feeling the flimsiness of being a 20 something in 2014. As my best friend said to me last night in between my large gulps of air, our parents, people before us, don’t know what it’s like now—to graduate from college, to write a resume, to encourage yourself, to find a job, to learn the ropes of a new one, or to be stuck in one. It’s a miracle that I still have my best friend, that I have friends to share these raw sentiments with.

In a sense, this is why I’m sharing all of this. I know I say I want alone time, but this does not mean I’m truly alone. I know you are on the other side feeling some of these things, too.

Here’s the advice that I’m telling my wide-eyed, sleep-deprived self this morning. (It’s no longer 10 p.m. I woke up. It’s 7:30. I have to be at work at 9.)

The advice I tell myself is nothing fancy. It doesn’t wear designer clothes. It’s what I tell everyone else. Here it goes: just roll with it. If you feel pain, fucking let it shine, let it shine, let it shine. Girl, don’t push it down. Where do you think that shit goes? You can’t simply have a bowel movement, and out it goes. Wrapping up insecurity and pain and stamping a frilly bow on top of it all is not the way to go about things. It has never helped anyone. Hiding breeds bad adults. Plain and simple. Say something. For fuck’s sake, wake up, speak up. Turn around and look. We’re all bleeding around you.

Success in solitude

Thoughts+Expression = Success

I’m beginning to think that maybe solitude is the success.

I don’t want money. Growing up, I was welfare poor. That’s right. I said it. Now, even though I’m inching up in life, I’d rather be welfare poor than rich without morality and concern for other people who are hurting below me. I get the concept of work. Sometimes. But I never really understood money.

I don’t want to be the smartest person alive, though, that’s tempting. To be that person who can rattle off knowledge or pull it from her pocket. People need to know more things than other people. Though I’m far from immune to this tendency, I know deep down that I don’t need to collect facts, stockpile knowledge to make others feel ignorant, stupid, LESS than me.

I don’t want a big house or to discover the American dream life, the “home is where the heart is” bullshit they feed you for breakfast. I never belonged in any home anyway. AND THAT’S OKAY, I’m beginning to realize.

THIS. This is what I want. Mommy, daddy! Buy me this for Christmas! Put this in a box and wrap it up, eh?

The following passage is from Pablo Neruda’s collection of writing found in Passions and Impressions (1984). It was originally posted in La Nación in 1924. It’s an introduction of some sort to how he saw a collection of his poems (his life, really) all together, which he admits is impossible. “Tying them together, interweaving them, never finding what will endure—because it does not exist.”

I had to type it up word for word because this doesn’t exist on the internet apparently. I guess this is what happens when you say fuck the internet to go sifting through the library instead. You find gems.

This piece is about self-expression, creation, and finding yourself in solitude. It seems to say you can set yourself free when you can pinpoint your expression. You don’t have to define yourself, confine yourself to anything, but if you have something that pulls passion from you, and you know it, it’s worth muddling through yourself. Obviously, muddling through and translating it into a piece of something you can see, touch, hear, get others to relate to etc. takes time and pain. A lot of QUIET time. Quiet time is especially hard because of how noisy everything is. How many interjections there are rolling around the internet, the 9-5 life, and in so many other places. The pain comes from isolation, from being absent from other people’s lives. This is hard for me. Maybe it’s hard for you too.

Take a read. I have put in bold italics the things that I think are worth re-reading again. Re-reading sentences over and over again lets things sink in more for me. Enjoy!

“Exegesis and solitude”

“I have undertaken the greatest act of self-expression: creation, hoping to illuminate words. Ten years at a solitary task, ten years that make up exactly half my life, have generated in my writing diverse rhythms, opposing currents. Tying them together, interweaving them, never finding what will endure—because it does not exist—I offer her my Veinte poemas de amor y una cancion desesperada. As scattered through in its elusive variations, joyful and bitter, I have fashioned them, and I have suffered no little in doing so. I have simply sung of my life and my love for certain women, as one would by shouting greetings to the parts of the world closest to him. I sought increasingly to link my expression with my thought, and I achieved some small victory; sincerely, and consciously, I put something of myself in everything I wrote. From afar, honorable people, people I didn’t even know—not clerks and pedagogues, who personally detest me—unhesitatingly demonstrated their friendliness. I didn’t respond, but concentrated all my strength on damming the tides, my only concern to pour intensity into my work. I have not tired of any discipline, because I followed none: the hand-me-down clothes that fitted others were either too small for me or too large; I acknowledged them, without looking. Always a meditative man, I have given lodging, as I have lived, to too many anxieties for them to vanish because of what I write. Facing in no particular direction, freely, irrepressibly, my poems have been set free.