Who Am I?

I. A daughter

I was born to walk the middle ground, the first child of type A and type B
[and what does that make me?]
Constantly stuck between too small and too tall,
Talks too little, reads too much, sings too loud,
Hips too big, mouth too small,
Needs too little, wants too much, dreams too big.
I am a combination of everyone I’ve ever known,
But mostly I am too much like my mother,
And too much like my father,
[and too torn between the two people I am to really know who to be.]

II. A sister

I had bite marks on my back and my arm in a sling
Because that’s what it means to have your thunder stolen
When your parents decide to procreate again.
[I guess it also means feeling important,
Because someone looks up to you so much
That it makes you want to be better than you would be for yourself.]
And I would have laughed if you said someday I’d be proud
To have him for a best friend,
But the first time he asked for my advice
[because he thought I was wise]
I thought maybe the bite marks were worth it.

III. A friend

I learned more about friendship from the people who didn’t stick around
Than from the ones that did,
Because I learned when to hold on
And when to let go.

IV. A scholar

I’ve been taught to question everything.
["Don't be so gullible, Gwen,"
I hear as I fall for another stupid joke.
"Don't believe anything you can't prove."]
I go to class and they tell me,
“Think critically, Gwen. Pick it apart. Find the truth.”
But I don’t think there’s just one truth.
I think sometimes the truth is that you don’t have to question everything.
[my professors disagree.]

V. A writer

My fingers bleed a lot because I pick the skin,
My brain bleeds words because, because?
[because it's the only way I know how to feel.]

VI. A survivor

Once I thought that to be happy,
My bones had to poke out of my skin,
And my worth as a person was dictated by a number
On a scale
[or the label of my jeans.]
But when I stopped chasing perfection,
I found someone wonderful,
[Daughter, sister, friend
Scholar, writer, survivor]
I found me.

 

Written for the Weekly Writing Challenge. I don’t usually write poetry.

A Finals Week Pick-Me-Up/Knock-Me-Down

It’s finals and I’m having trouble thinking up a post that doesn’t involve combinatorial analysis of a tic-tac-toe board. So I’m sorry, but this is not going to be intellectually stimulating at all.

Instead, I’m going to ruin the ending of as many books/movies as I can think of, because it’ll make me feel better.

  • She dies in the fight.
  • He dies of cancer.
  • She dies in a car crash.
  • He’s been dead the whole time.
  • She dies of AIDS.
  • He kills her little sister.
  • She was sleeping with her boyfriend’s dad.
  • He gets abducted by aliens as he’s dying of cancer.
  • The devil ascends in human form.
  • It was all a dream.
  • He gets hit by a meteor.
  • She jumps in front of a train.
  • He euthanizes her.
  • Only the virgin lives until the end.
  • She turns out to be a psychopath.
  • He goes insane.
  • It wasn’t a training session.
  • He was depressed because he was repressing sexual abuse.
  • The butler did it.
  • The ex-boyfriend did it.
  • The not-really-dead twin sister did it.

Don’t you just love happy endings?

And now, back to combinatorics. Peace out, y’all.

On Graduating College, Or Why Time Needs to Move Slower

Screenshot 2014-03-17 19.20.05

I set a countdown last night for the day I finish my last final. Now I have this blinking clock at the top of my computer screen that says pretty much the scariest sentence I’ve ever seen.

“2 months and 25 days until you’re done with college.”

Seriously? How did I get here? It feels like just yesterday I was receiving my first college acceptance letter – but no, that was 2009. It’s been more than four years since then. And it’s been a long four years. Definitely challenging. Invigorating. Heartbreaking. Eye-opening. And in a little under three months, it’ll all be over.

I don’t feel like an adult. I still feel like the same shy, terrified little freshman who cried her eyes out every night because she was so homesick. Hell, I have even less of an idea of what I want to do with my life today than I did in 2010. In what universe am I ready to graduate? I don’t know how to fold a fitted sheet or use the broiler on my oven. I forget to empty the trash can in my bedroom for months and sometimes even to lock the door when I leave the house. I’m a kid pretending to be a grown-up, and I’m not even doing a very good job of it.

There are moments, though. Moments when I think, “wait a minute. This is my life.” My apartment is a disaster area 85% of the time because we don’t do the dishes enough or put away our shoes, but you know what? I have an apartment, and I pay my bills, and I couldn’t have done that when I was eighteen. I talk to people when I go somewhere new; I network and make connections and four years ago that would have paralyzed me. Even though some of it feels the same, I’m not the person I was when I rolled my suitcase to Willard 228 for the first time.

I honor the girl I used to be, because she is the one that allowed me to become who I am. But I’m glad I’m not eighteen anymore. Everything was life or death back then – picking a major, joining a sorority, staying in touch with everyone from my graduating class – and it was exhausting. I lived in a constant state of pressure and fear. I didn’t know how to let all the petty stuff go.

I’m not an adult, I know. I’m still clueless and scared and unprepared. But I’m smart enough to figure it out. These past four years have been the hardest I’ve ever faced, and look at how I’ve conquered them! Despite the fear, the misgivings, the doubt, I’m ready for what happens next.

2 months and 25 days. Let’s do this.

16 Reasons My Roommates Are Better Than Yours

  1. They let me eat their leftovers.
  2. They call me out when I do something really disgusting like clip my toenails on the couch.
  3. They proofread my blog posts when I’m a little too intoxicated to string together coherent sentences.
  4. They make the best chocolate chip cookies in the entire universe.
  5. They introduce me to a wide variety of really wonderful and really terrible movies.
  6. They enforce the “every time you say something bad about yourself you have to say three good things about yourself” rule.
  7. They know the difference between times when it’s appropriate to mock my singleness and times when they need to hold my hand because I’m completely convinced I’m going to die alone.
  8. They don’t get mad at me when I drink all their liquor and then buy them a replacement bottle and drink that too.
  9. They share my affinity for Buzzfeed quizzes and understand when I get weirdly emotional about the results.
  10. They decorate the house for every single holiday. And I do mean every single one.
  11. They are somehow still okay with the fact that I’ve crashed 80% of their dates for the past nine months.
  12. They do my dishes sometimes even though I don’t deserve it.
  13. They’re super weird and loud and hilarious. This counts as, like, 3000 reasons.
  14. They have become quite skilled at convincing me that I’m being ridiculous and overdramatic and I need to CALM DOWN.
  15. They actually let me dress us up as Lady and the Tramp and the bowl of spaghetti for Halloween.
  16. They’re smart and sassy and successful and they got me through a really tough time in my life. If roommates were flowers, I’d pick them every time.

Did You Love Him?

“Did you love him?”

***

I met him when I was six and he was seven. My parents had just finalized the world’s most hostile divorce, and my dad and I moved into this tiny little ranch house in a part of town I’d never seen. “A whole new start, babe,” he said, reaching behind him and ruffling my hair. “This is our home now. “

Next door, a silent little boy stood still on the front porch. No matter how many trips my dad and my Uncle Keith took carrying boxes into the house, he was still there. Watching. Waiting. Waiting for what?

I wandered over when I had a chance to slip away. He was a little taller than me, with white-blond hair and huge green eyes. I was startled by how big his eyes were. Maybe staring like that made them grow.

We didn’t say anything. We just sat down on his porch swing and dangled our feet until my dad got mad and carried me home.

***

In fifth grade we had to dissect frogs in science class. They smelled like death and formaldehyde, and the second my teacher handed me a knife, I felt woozy and had to sit down.

He was my lab partner, like always. He wasn’t loud, but he was smart. He smiled at me and put his hand on my shoulder and said, “It’s okay. I’ll take care of it.” And I tried not to watch as he cut and peeled and poked and pulled out organs, and he never once let me look at anything. He did the whole lab, all by himself, and proudly wrote both of our names at the top.

“Our names look good together,” I joked. I think I already loved him.

***

When we got to high school, he got even quieter. He barely spoke in classes, never said hello to anybody in the halls. The only times I ever heard him talk were in the afternoons, when we’d sit on his front porch and drink grape soda and work on our homework. He was still so smart, and so kind, and so lovely, those hours we spent on the porch. But we’d get to school the next day and he was back to radio silence, not even an “excuse me” when he nearly ran me over in the English wing.

One afternoon he was quieter than usual. I looked up from The Scarlet Letter and saw him gazing sideways at his picket fence and the setting sun. “Are you okay?” I asked him softly, resting my hand on his knee.

He turned to face me, and he stayed so quiet, so calm, as he slowly moved closer to me and his eyes swallowed mine and our mouths were touching, so lightly, and he tasted like grape soda and our tongues brushed against each other and it took all I had to pull away.

“I have reading to do,” I said as I turned the page. I didn’t bother to look at him. I knew what I’d see.

***

He kissed me again one morning, before I even had a chance to say hello.

His kiss was a breath, a question, the product of a boy so scared he could barely figure out how to move his body even a centimeter forward. I felt his lips grab mine, sucking, asking if I was okay. He didn’t need to ask. I was already drowning in a sea of ecstasy, wondering when he would get bored of my lips and move somewhere else.

“You’re the only fucking thing that makes sense,” he breathed into my ear one night as we laid tangled up in each others’ limbs. “You’re the only thing that matters.”

***

“Yeah,” I said quietly, catching a teardrop before it spilled over onto my cheek. “Yeah, I loved him.”

I loved him, and I hated him.

It was the circle of life. He loved, I loved, he left, I grieved. He was everything. Life in a flag, lamb on a breeze. It was only a matter of time before our time ran out, but I’d never love him any less.

 

Throwback Thursday: College Essay

I wasn’t expecting very much when my parents drove me to the parking lot of my dad’s company on an insignificant day in the middle of June. I thought maybe my dad had forgotten a project he had to finish, or he’d left his briefcase there or something. So when we pulled in right alongside a beat-up Buick Le Sabre with patches of rust all over the body, I wasn’t really thinking anything other than, “I wonder who let THAT happen.”

But people always surprise you, even parents who tell you that they would never in a million years buy you a car. That 15-year-old beater came home with us that day. It needed work, of course, considering its age, but my dad told me that as soon as he was done, I could have it. Not astoundingly, I was overjoyed. It was every sixteen-year-old’s dream to have a car of their very own. I certainly didn’t care what it looked like, or that it smelled a tiny bit like cigarette smoke, or that it had perfect little cylindrical holes in the seats, or even that the A/C didn’t work. It was a car, and more than that, it was my car.
I don’t know if I had ever been so dedicated to anything in my life. Instead of going out with my friends the following Saturday, I stayed at home cleaning the car. I vacuumed the interior, shook out the rugs, scoured the windows, scraped tar off the dashboard, and even tried to take off some of the rust. I had a few mishaps; while trying to scrape the rusty bottom with a broom, I accidentally punched a hole through the entire panel. But I worked, without a break, until it was too dark to continue.
My car became a part of me. Vladimir, as I called him, became not only a tool of my independence, but a fortress of solitude in which I could lock my doors to the rest of the world. I explored new places without having to leave behind the familiar, venturing far beyond where I had ever dared to go alone. In the comfort and solace of the front seat I was free to emote as I wished, screaming in celebration or sobbing in disappointment, separate from the eyes of any others. And somehow, he always seemed to understand what I was feeling, keeping his headlights pinned on the horizon, reminding me to find assurance in what lay ahead. I began to rely on him not only for transportation, but for friendship. He was loyal and dependable, honest and helpful. His presence in my driveway was like the constant presence of an old friend.
However, Vladimir was aging every day; rusting, cracking, squeaking, faltering, breaking. The strength and invincibility I used to feel within his walls started to be replaced with panic and frustration. On the day he died, I stood in the dusty parking lot for hours, attaching and reattaching jumper cables, trying uselessly with everything I had to coax him to come back to me. And at that moment, it hit me: that I had put all my faith and trust in something inanimate, fallible, and unreliable. As much as I had convinced myself of all Vladimir had taught me, in reality I had made my own adventures and judgments, as I could have done with or without him. He was only a vehicle in which I had traveled; everything else that I had made him was my own imagination and wishful thinking. He did not have magic powers, and he was not in tune with my emotions. He wasn’t even a he. I had not lost a friend. All I had lost was a broken 15-year-old beater car with patches of rust all over the body.

Two weeks later, my dad fixed Vladimir, and now he runs as well as he ever did. But I no longer rely on him for all that I used to. I have friends I can call when I need to scream in celebration or sob in disappointment, and they assure me better than just some high-beam headlights. And I still go on adventures, but I know he’s not driving me anywhere. I’m the one driving, I’m behind the wheel, and I get to take charge: I can steer him anywhere I want to go.

5 Things That Didn’t Happen When I Gained Weight

To someone struggling with an eating disorder, the idea of weight gain is one of the scariest things in the world. I still panic sometimes when I have to step on a scale, even though I actively choose not to look at the number. The words “weight restoration” send shivers of dread down my spine, and on days when I eat “too much” I imagine myself looking like a beached whale. The funny thing is, though, all the reasons I’ve ever had for being so terrified of a few extra pounds are slowly becoming non-reasons, because they simply aren’t realistic. Here are five of my favorite things that didn’t happen when I spent a year and a half gaining weight.

1. I didn’t grow out of all my clothes. I’ve grown out of one pair of pants, and that’s it. Almost everything else I own, I still wear on a regular basis.

2. I didn’t suddenly become obese. I don’t mean to skim over obesity, because I know it’s a real issue that a lot of people struggle with. But gaining enough weight to actually be classified as overweight or obese would be extremely difficult, especially for someone who began by barely eating anything at all. Besides, my nutritionist is looking out for my health – she wouldn’t push me somewhere just as dangerous as the place I started.

3. I didn’t lose control of my life. I thought that by moving toward intuitive eating, I would sacrifice my agency. That by giving up rigid, restrictive behaviors and obsessive self-monitoring, my life would spiral out of control and there would be nothing I could do about it. But I wasn’t in charge back then – my eating disorder was. Intuitive eating, weight restoration, and self-care are things that are 100% under my control.

4. I didn’t hate my appearance any more than I already did. I thought that when I gained weight I would be even more disgusted with the way I looked. But in the depths of my eating disorder, even when I was emaciated, I thought I was the most hideous person in the entire world. To be honest, I still struggle a lot with my appearance, but weight restoration is slowly making it better, not worse.

5. People didn’t like me any less. If anything, I’ve become a more social person, a much better friend, and a lot more fun to be around. The people that care about me don’t give a shit if I weigh 110 pounds or 160 pounds, as long as I’m confident and happy.

So my fears were unfounded. And you know what? When I gained weight, I also gained a lot of other wonderful things. Things I never thought I’d be able to attribute to something so scary. I gained confidence, control, energy, and optimism. I rediscovered my love for writing and decided to use my story to inspire others. I learned to take ownership of my life instead of always playing the victim. I laugh more and take more chances and worry less and less about what other people think.

A lot of things didn’t happen when I gained weight. But one thing did. I gained myself. And that’s worth every pound.

I Was Here

When I was fourteen, I painted my name onto a sidewalk out back behind the middle school. We were painting foam stones for the set of Les Misérables, and my best friend dared me to do it. A few quick strokes of the brush, a G that looked more like a 6, and voila, vandalism complete. For a moment, I was immortalized.

It wasn’t even a week before somebody painted over it. I wasn’t exactly surprised, considering it was public property that I’d defaced. No one came after me or anything, I just kind of disappeared. Before the show even went up.

During the summers I lived and worked at summer camp, I was careful to write my name everyplace I could. The cabins I called home for one or two weeks at a time got a little Sharpie tag on the inside of the cabinet door. The picnic tables by the beach, too. The swim box, the snack bar window, the boys’ bathroom where I used the urinal once (summer camp is a weird place). I was meticulous about it without being too obnoxious. I was just staunchly determined to leave my mark wherever I’d been.

Memories aren’t enough. That’s why we pull out our iPhones every time we come across something beautiful. We’re afraid that without tangible evidence, we won’t have really seen it at all.

So what does that mean for us? How will people remember us, after we’re gone and everyone who knows us is gone and our Facebook pictures are lost in the depths of the cloud forever?

Will they?

Truth be told, I’m pretty terrified of being forgotten. I want my life to have meant something when I’ve gone; I want there to be proof that I spent a good long time on this earth. Even if it’s something as small as a tiny tag on the inside of a cabinet. But preferably something bigger.

That’s why we do it, I think. That’s why we do anything at all. We want, somehow, to believe that we matter beyond what we ourselves can see. We want what we think and say and wonder to be able to change the world, because we’ve heard stories of how, sometimes, it can. We pull out our paintbrushes and write it on the sky. “I was here.”

The Life of a Writer: Not Always a Happy Ending

This morning, when I couldn’t sleep because my apartment had suddenly risen to about a hundred degrees, I pulled out my laptop to turn on a romantic comedy. That’s usually what I do when insomnia hits, mostly because I typically don’t get invested enough in the characters to care if I’m awake by the end. It was a bit of an ordeal because my battery was dead and I had to stumble around the living room without my glasses on to find my charger, but eventually I settled in with my sappy rom-com of choice, the Scottish fan favorite Not Another Happy Ending.

via my-ponchoboys

I’m not a movie critic, so I’ll spare you straight description of the plot (witty, but trite) or the characters (quirky and far too attractive). I didn’t end up falling asleep, although I’m not entirely sure if that was a testament to the quality of the film or the continually rising temperature in my bedroom. I paid enough attention to feel like I saw the movie; not enough to love it. But there was one little scene, toward the end of the story, that I had to rewind and rewatch. Yep, it was that good.

I guess, for context, the main character (Karen Gillan, my number one girl crush) is a novelist who suffers from the tragicomedy that is writers block. Because she’s “too happy” from the aftermath of her first novel, her editor tries to make her miserable in hopes that she’ll write a better book. Anyway, in this scene, she kind of lets him have it, and it’s a nice moment.

“You don’t have to be miserable to write, you do it because you have to.”

I think about the post I published just a few short weeks ago, in which I lamented that my lack of current suffering was making me a boring writer.

“Because it gnaws away your insides if you try to ignore it.”

I think about how miserable I am when I don’t take time out of my day to write things down, when my head is full of thoughts and ideas and jokes and stories and I just shove them in my mind’s closet and go about my life pretending they aren’t there.

“Because if you don’t write, then you might as well be dead.”

And he’s kind of spellbound by this, partly because he’s in love with her (OH SORRY SPOILER ALERT) and partly because it’s so damn true. That’s the thing about passion. Without it, you’re nothing. I mean, I wouldn’t go as far as to say that not writing = being dead, but it’s certainly a different kind of existence. I know because I’ve tried it, and I didn’t do very well. When you’re a writer, you’re empty without words. When you’re a dancer, you’re empty without movement. That’s just the way things are.

I think maybe if I went back and watched the movie again (which I probably will when I’m not so sleep deprived) I might see a lot more of myself in the protagonist. I mean, I’m not a redheaded Scottish supermodel, for sure, but I think I’m confident calling myself a writer. A failed one, at that, considering how many of my pieces have been rejected by just about every content curator on the internet. A struggling one. Oftentimes a blocked one. It’s nice to see the realities of the writing life played out onscreen – the realities that show the world it’s not always glamorous, and it’s usually painful, but it’s totally worth it.

In Defense of the Indoor Kids, And Why We Should Change

I never was particularly outdoorsy. As a kid, I much preferred curling up on the couch with a book to the overly aggressive lifestyle of the child athlete. Certainly, I appreciated a game of H.O.R.S.E. as much as the next girl, and some of my fondest memories include several consecutive rounds of kick the can. In general, though, I was pretty content exercising my brain instead of my body. Years of basketball and soccer did nothing to cure my aversion to physical activity, and I quickly had to accept the fact that I was never going to wear a varsity jacket. Sports and I were simply not meant to be.

The lowest grade I’ve ever received on a report card was given to me in ninth grade P.E. And trust me, it wasn’t for lack of trying. I always wore appropriate gym attire and listened carefully to instructions, never complaining that it was too hot (which it often was) or that I was being mercilessly bullied (which I often was). I took my place on the team like a good little flunky, whether it was in the outfield or on defense or on the left side of the tennis court. I just, quite simply, sucked ass. At just about everything.

To be honest, it was hard for me to be so bad at sports. There weren’t a ton of things that were difficult for me, especially in school, and I wasn’t used to the uncertainty and self-doubt that went along with lack of natural ability. That’s just kind of the truth of the matter. I was uncoordinated, and too gangly, and awkward, and way too shy to actually get myself in the game. At some point my gym teacher suggested that I try individual sports, like swimming or cross-country, and it turned out I pretty much sucked at those too.

I joined theater, thanking God that I wouldn’t have to make a fool of myself on a sports team. Turns out even that requires some athletic ability. When I was in my second musical, I was disheartened to learn that my dancing skills were absolutely abysmal. I had a hard time telling my right from my left, and I was about as graceful as a tipsy elephant, and it was all the director could do not to burst out laughing at my sad attempts to travel across the stage. It was horribly embarrassing, and I would lock myself in my bedroom for hours practicing for the next time I had to subject myself to an audience.

It turned out movement was unescapable. Who knew? No matter what I decided to spend my time doing, I couldn’t avoid having to display at least a little bit of athletic ability. Even these days, when I spend 90% of my time sitting on the couch watching Netflix, I have to climb four sets of stairs to get to my math class. And it’s kind of embarrassing to walk into the room panting from exertion of walking up stairs, but when you’re me, there’s really no other option.

Sometimes people ask me what sports I played in high school, because that’s a normal question to ask, and I get scared that maybe they’re looking down on me when I tell them how miserably unathletic I am. I know that’s not where my talents lie, and that should be okay with me. It’s just…not. I wish I were one of those people who turned into an animal in the right uniform, the ones who go out and run a marathon and feel euphoric afterward. Instead, I’m petrified of the ball and I want to throw up after I run about a quarter of a mile. That’s who I am.

I like being outside. I like walking, and I like lying on the beach reading a good book, and I like the view from the top of a mountain. I was scared of the outdoors for a long time because it was the place where my inadequacies were realized, but that’s such a small part of what lies out there in the world. There are too many beautiful things there for me to spend my whole life afraid, or lonely, or stuck in a book. Even if I trip over my own feet, at least I’m living. That’s more than lots of people can say.