One Year Later

I can’t believe that 365 days have gone by since 45 was impossibly and believably elected to office.

I remember my initial optimism on election night. And then the disbelief. And then the slow onset of reality. The moment where I knelt on my living room floor and cried because I had hoped for the best and expected the worst. And the worst had happened.

I look back at the things I wrote then, a constant grappling for some sense of stability, control. Some sense of being able to predict the future. If I could only imagine what was on the horizon — even if it was the worst possible scenario — I would be able to make it. But I couldn’t even do that. I had no idea what was ahead. All I saw was darkness. On good days, I could see apocalypse. Ruin. Something like Mad Max but real.


A year later, I can’t believe it’s only been a year. It’s been a year and 45 is, somehow, still 45. We haven’t destroyed ourselves yet, but it feels like it’s getting closer every day. I can’t believe what I have to force myself not to be numb to. I can’t believe there could be a mass shooting where 58 people were killed and over 500 injured, and that it wouldn’t even be mentioned in the news the next week. I can’t believe that there could be so many high profile reports of sexual assault in one week that I would feel a sense of ambient dread and need to stay off social media for two days. I can’t believe we live in a world where powerful people are justifying pedophilia and statutory rape.

I say I can’t believe it, but I can. I always have. These things have always been underneath the surface of our society and culture. It’s just that now, it’s been revealed. The bandage covering the festering wound has been ripped off.


A year ago, the way I tried to right my rocking boat was to think about self-care. All I could think about was how to fix my despair or at least live with it. How could I care for myself in a world that didn’t feel safe for me to exist in?


I haven’t done a great job of caring for myself in the past year. I fell far behind on my 52 essays challenge. I wanted to get my shit together and revive my 33 Days of Horror challenge. I wanted to have an entire manuscript ready to send out by the end of the year. I wanted to be well-adjusted. I wanted to be a balanced human, in spite of everything. I wanted to have found some kind of hard-earned hope through the shit winds of this era.

Instead, I haven’t even broken into the double-digits of #52Essays. I haven’t revived my horror challenge yet (though I wrote a mini-review of Crimson Peak that I’ll post soon). I don’t have a manuscript ready to send out.

Instead, what I have is a year’s worth of deep and necessary self work. I’ve learned that self- care is not just about survival. It’s not just about filling my cup back up just enough to get myself through the day. It’s not just bubble baths and binge-watching Gilmore Girls and sleeping in (though those things are part of it). Self-care is keeping my cup consistently at least half-full. It’s setting boundaries and knowing my limits. It’s saying “no,” whether it’s saying “no” to another commitment or saying “no” to being treated with disrespect. It’s staying grounded in my body. It’s paying attention to my emotions and making friends with them, rather than ignoring them, denying them, burying them deep.

I’ve figured out at least that much. I haven’t figured out how to do it exactly, but I do know that much.


What I also have is a wedding on the horizon. It feels right, that that is the thing I’ve followed through on this year. When I wrote my first essay of #52Essays, I came to the conclusion that I was ready to do this thing. I was ready to finally, actually get married.

And here I am. Here we are. Planning a wedding. Putting down deposits. Trying on dresses. Ordering cakes. And it’s truly exciting.


For the most part, the fruits of my year have been intangible. I don’t have much to show for it. But that’s kind of the point.

I wanted my year to end with manuscripts and completed projects. I wanted to prove that I could be productive and functional, even while it felt like the world was coming apart at the seams. What I’ve ended the year with is the realization that productivity and functionality should not come at the expense of my self-worth, my physical health, my mental health.

So I’ve ended up with something else entirely. Something unexpected. Something I didn't know I needed. And it’s cleared the way for those manuscripts and those projects. It’s clearing the way for something I haven’t even imagined yet.


And there it is, finally. Hope.

A Study of Sadness Through '80s Pop

It’s probably safe to say that I was born with at least two things in my blood: exhaustion and melancholy. 

I’ve always been a good sleeper. I’ve always been able to fall asleep fairly quickly, whether it’s nap time or bed time. Once I’m asleep, I can sleep through tornado sirens, typhoons, neighbor noises, M’s snoring, you name it. If allowed, I will always be able to sleep for at least 10 hours. In a perfect world, I would be able to wake up on my own around 11am, no matter how early I went to bed the night before. If you ask me how I’m doing, my answer will probably always be some version of “I’m tired/exhausted,” whether I’m obvious about it or not.  

These things have been true for as long as I can remember. 

I’m not here to write about perpetual exhaustion though. Not today. 

Today, I’m writing about melancholy. 


Merriam-Webster (yes, I’m doing it. I’m looking up words in the damn dictionary for this.) defines melancholy as simply, “a depression of spirits” and “a pensive mood.” 

That seems like an understatement, but an accurate one, for this thing I’ve lived with my whole life. 


When I was thinking about writing this essay, I mulled over the word that would most accurately express this feeling. 

I thought about depression. When I was in grad school, I remember watching a commercial for some kind of anti-depressant, where they listed off some symptoms of depression. I was only half-listening, but when I heard, “Have you lost interest in the things that used to excite you?” something clicked. I thought, hey, that’s me. I can’t remember the other things in the commercial that I identified with, but the mirror that 30 seconds held up to me was important. It was important for me to be able to name this wild, sad thing that was living in my body. It was important for me to be able to recognize why I felt so out of control, that juggling the pressures of grad school and being thrown into an academic teaching life and just life in general were taking a toll on me. 

Looking back on it, I should have seen a therapist in grad school. But I didn’t. Instead, I thought, Okay. So maybe I’m a little bit depressed. Now I know. And I adjusted. And I got to a better place. Was that the best way to deal with what I was going through? Probably not, but that's what I did. 

More recently, I read Chrissy Teigen’s essay in Glamour about having postpartum depression. It’s a fantastic read. It’s well-written, funny, and so, so real. I clearly do not have postpartum depression, and postpartum depression deserves its own platform and its own conversation. But I found myself resonating with so much of what she was describing that I thought, oh shit. It’s happening again. I’m depressed. Why didn’t I see it before? Of course I’m depressed. Why wouldn’t I be?

I still have a lot to figure out when it comes to my depression. Do I have a functional depression? Do I have Depression Lite (TM)? Does everyone have some degree of depression? Wouldn’t it be weird if I didn’t have some degree of depression with all the shit happening in the world and in my life? 

But depression is not the feeling that I’ve lived with my whole life that I’m trying to write about. 


Then I thought about ennui

When I first heard the concept of ennui in my British Literature After 1800 class in undergrad, I was elated. I finally had a name for that feeling I’d had for 19 years that was a lethal combo of restlessness and boredom. 

For those who aren’t familiar, ennui is a French term that means “a feeling of weariness and dissatisfaction.” Our English word “annoy” comes from ennui. It’s a word associated with the general attitude in the aftermath of the French revolution. It’s associated with youth and a sense of world weariness and jadedness. It can also be associated with a boredom and weariness that comes from living a life of privilege and “ease.” (Think Ryan Philippe’s character in Cruel Intentions — he’s the pinnacle of ennui. See also: any character in a Jean-Luc Godard film. See also: Monica Vitti’s character in L’Avventura.)

Of course I would feel ennui as a teenager. How could I not? I lived in a small town where there was nothing to do on a Friday night except go hang out at Wal-Mart or spend an hour in Blockbuster trying to figure out what movie to watch. Of course I would feel restless and bored and a relentless itch to do something or be anywhere else. 

However, that feeling has evolved in me. I still get restless, and I still get that relentless itch to do something or be anywhere else. But I would no longer call it ennui. 

Though I love ennui, and I love art that’s imbued with it, it is not the feeling I’ve lived with my whole life. 


And then I considered nostalgia. The longing for a past time, for the “good old days" (as if good old days ever existed, especially for anyone who is not white, not cisgender, not heterosexual, etc.).  

My preferred aesthetic, fashion-wise and music-wise and film-wise, is the ‘80s. I was only alive for half that decade, but god, do I love it. When I was a DJ for my college radio station, I would turn up my favorite ‘80s jams, sit in that tiny room, and wish so hard that music still sounded like that. 

It seems like we’re experiencing some kind of cultural nostalgia. We’re remaking movies that should never be remade, but not because they’re bad movies. Movies like The Karate Kid are so good because they tell good stories, but they’re also good because they are of their time. Karate Kid couldn’t be made in any other era. Just like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Just like The Crow. Just like Footloose. You can’t remake these movies successfully. 

Except Footloose. That remake was fun.  

Just kidding. That remake was pretty terrible. 

Nostalgia, though, is wistful. It’s yearning for a time that we remember fondly, that we think of without remembering the dark edges and the pain. (Not to mention the racism, the sexism, the xenophobia, the invisibility of queer and trans folks.) 

It’s wishing to go back to a time that never existed. 


And then, because I have a George Michael Pandora station, and it is basically the only thing I listen to these days, this song popped up: 

Weird ponytails and mullets aside, this song was my #1 favorite song of all time. (This was back when I had only experienced about 20 years of life, and could still maintain Top 5 lists with earnest and accuracy.)  

That song could remain at that #1 spot, if I still kept Top 5 lists. 


Hearing “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” that day awakened the melancholy. A depression of spirits. A pensive mood. It felt like coming home after a long day and curling up in bed with all my fluffiest pillows and blankets. 

Feeling that was a relief. Or a release. Or both. 

It’s strange to think that melancholy is this to me — something resembling home. That a feeling could be so comforting. 


When I was in undergrad, I was obscenely busy, but I would stay up until the wee hours of the morning, listening to bands like The Smiths and writing and sometimes crying. What did I write? Who knows. (It was before I had fully accepted that I was a writer, so I probably wrote long journal entries and love letters that never got sent to boys who weren't worth the attention.) 

What I do know was that when I listened to the music, it felt like there was finally a home for all the sadness that lived in me. When I first heard “How Soon Is Now?” by The Smiths, it felt like climbing into the coziest bed I could ever imagine, in a room that understood me without even needing to ask what was wrong.  


When I got to grad school, I gradually turned off my melancholy. I couldn’t afford to keep it around because I needed to get things done. I needed to be an adult — I had to teach, grade papers, write papers, write poems, write lesson plans, etc. There was no time to curl up in the cozy bed in the room that melancholy laid out for me.

And even though I was in a creative writing program, there was no room for feelings. (Ironically.) There was no room for me and all my stuff in this new life, and so, to survive, I eventually stopped listening to the songs that felt like home. 


I should say that my comfort only comes when it’s coupled with the music. Melancholy on its own is unsatisfying. It’s wholly unhomey. Melancholy experienced through music and film and art is the comfort. 

When art triggers something lonely in you. Triggers the loneliness in you. Connects to your lonely self.  

That is comfort. 


Maybe the relief also comes from feeling something other than panic, rage, stress, exhaustion. To feel anything else other than those things feels like a luxury these days. 


In “High Fidelity,” Nick Hornby writes, “Which came first — the music or the misery?” Are we miserable because we listen to sad music? Or does the sad music come because we are miserable? When I first read “High Fidelity,” I envisioned the answer was a mobius strip of sadness and music, one inextricable from the other. 

But now, when I think about melancholy and its containers, I think I actually have an answer. The sad, good music doesn’t come unless there is melancholy — or misery, as Nick Hornby says. 

I can’t just sit around and be pensive. It has to come out somehow. It has to express itself, whether it’s through the things that I actually write, or the things that I listen to. 

Music is kind of like fashion. We put on a particular outfit and we do our make-up in a particular way because it’s a way to express ourselves. Similarly, if we listen to music because we love it, we listen to the music that says all the things that we wish we could say, or didn’t know that we needed to say until now. 

That’s why mix tapes and mix CDs are such labors of love — each song is carefully chosen, the order is thought out. Every time someone gets a mix tape, they’re getting a little piece of the giver. The mix tape says all the things we’re too shy to say. They tell a story we didn’t know we wanted to tell until we started putting all the pieces together. 


(I once had a relationship where we expressed all our feelings and serious thoughts about “us” through song lyrics only. It was like we never spoke to each other — we only spoke to the music. It was wildly unhealthy and I don’t recommend it. If you must communicate your feelings in song lyrics, I advise that you do so with moderation. Try to use your own words in addition to the music. Use the music as a supplement, not the main vehicle. You'll be much better off.)


When I first started this essay a couple weeks ago, it felt so necessary. I wrote and re-wrote everything up until this point with urgency and laser focus. I accumulated a list of my favorite ‘80s songs that awakened the melancholy within. It felt so important that I parse out the things I felt, to name them and distinguish them from the other.

And then I left it for an entire week. I didn’t look at it. It was more than the regular letting-a-piece-breathe break. I straight up avoided it. When I thought of how urgently I wrote this, I felt a little embarrassed. I worried that, when I re-opened the document, all of this would just amount to nothing. I worried that everything I wrote would be another Cones of Dunshire situation. I thought, god, is this even anything worth reading? 

I don’t know if it’s anything worth reading, but I do know this now: it is worth writing.

Maybe it’s all a spectrum. The depression, the nostalgia, the ennui, the melancholy. All different shades of sadness. 

(In my Googling, I found this article, which opens up a whole new vocabulary and can of worms, so I’m not even going to talk about it. But if you’re still reading at this point, and you're interested, you should click on the link.)

Maybe what I was really born with is exhaustion and Sadness. (Yes, with a capital letter.) Some days it’s ennui. Some days it’s nostalgia. Some days it’s melancholy. Some days it’s depression. 

I don’t have any answers. 

What I do have, though, is music.

A love letter to mountains and coming home

As I write this, I’m sitting in the Reno-Tahoe International Airport, looking out over the tarmac and into the surrounding mountains. I love this view; I love these mountains. When I come home, I can’t seem to get enough of them. 


Yesterday, my Instagram story was comprised primarily of Boomerang videos of the trip my mom and I made to Reno. My brother saw it and said, “Seriously? Just a bunch of Boomerangs of the mountains? Are you kidding?”

It seems silly to my brother, someone who was born and raised out here, and then continued to live here. If you live out here — if you live on the west coast, in general — mountains are a given. If you’ve been surrounded by mountains your whole life, of course an Instagram story of a bunch of mountain Boomerangs are going to seem like a snooze. 


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I grew up in rural Nevada. I was born in a small town called Lovelock (population: about 2000), and when I was 5, we moved to the larger town of Winnemucca (population: about 8000). Though our zip code was Winnemucca’s, we actually lived 30 minutes outside of the town itself, putting us squarely in the middle of nowhere. 

When I lived there, I hated everything about it. I hated the landscape because it was always dry and only 5 shades of tan; I wanted lushness and green and trees and shade. I hated Winnemucca itself because it was small and full of conservative foolishness and cowboy poetry; I wanted art I didn’t understand and coffee shops and acoustic guitar shows. Winnemucca is big enough that you won’t know everyone’s name, but small enough that everyone looks familiar. I wanted to get lost in a crowd. I wanted no one to know who I was. 


When I graduated from high school, I moved to eastern Washington for college. The landscape felt similar, but with more trees and more people. It was just right for a girl from the country. 

I came back to Winnemucca for winter breaks and spring breaks and summer breaks, and felt the same disdain I always felt for it. As I got older and moved farther away, my visits became shorter and less frequent. And still, every time I came back, I felt that claustrophobia that I had always felt growing up, and the distinct urge to leave it all behind. 


When my mom was diagnosed with cancer last fall, I began coming back to Nevada once or twice a month, for a week or two (sometimes three) at a time. I usually stay with my brothers who live in Reno; they live in a cute neighborhood within walking distance of coffee shops and bookstores and restaurants, and they have reliable internet, which I need so I can work remotely. 

My most recent visit was for my mom’s birthday. Instead of staying in Reno, I decided to take a few days off to come back to Winnemucca.


Usually, when I come back to Winnemucca, I find it hard to do anything but anticipate leaving. Everything feels like a countdown. I think about all the things I need/want to do to help my parents out around the house, and how many days and how many hours I have to do them. I think about how there is nothing to do in town itself, and I think about my high school best friends who return home as infrequently as I do and rarely at the same time.


This time though, things were different. I was different. I am different. 


I’ve lived in Indiana for almost 9 years now. (Jesus, it’s been that long?) 

In the spring and summer, it is lush, green, and humid. There are trees everywhere. There is shade everywhere (kind of). It is flat, flat, flat. In the area of Indiana that I am in, there are “mountains,” but they are really just hills.  It is the opposite of Nevada. 


The Indiana landscape makes me claustrophobic. It’s flat, but there are so many trees that I can never get a good look at the sky. Looking up at the sky in Indiana feels like I’m looking through a porthole. 

(I was going to insert a picture of some Indiana landscape here, but I found that the last time I took a picture of Indiana was 7 months ago. Half of the photo is the water of Lake Monroe, a third of it is trees, and then there's a bit of sky. That was a different time -- it was summer, it was pre-election, it was pre-finding out my mom had cancer. It feels weird to insert it here now.)

Until I moved to Indiana, I never knew how much I needed to see the horizon. I never realized that mountains shaped me. That they gave me a chance to get to literal higher ground when I felt like I was metaphorically drowning. That mountains can hold you and also make you feel small. That feeling of smallness, of insignificance, is comfort to me. 


Winnemucca is located in a region called the Great Basin. It is surrounded on all sides by mountains. The city limits spill into the foothills of Winnemucca Mountain. 

In high school, we would go to the top during the day, explore the abandoned military buildings and climb into the old water towers. From up there, we could see the patchwork of farm land to the east, or the dull spread of the city itself, or follow I-80 as it stretched west toward Reno, or the expanse of sand dunes that lay behind the mountain itself, like a gigantic wrinkled sheet.

Or we would go to the top at night, and look out over the lights of the city. Winnemucca looked beautiful in the dark, sparkling and manageable. It seemed so much smaller from up there. So much easier to escape than it felt. All the feelings and events that loomed large in those days shrunk when I went to the top of that mountain. 

A bad photo of a photo. My best friend at the top of Winnemucca Mountain. 

A bad photo of a photo. My best friend at the top of Winnemucca Mountain. 


When I returned to Winnemucca this time around, I didn’t feel claustrophobic. I felt like I could finally breathe again and think clearly again. 

I took long walks around my parents’ property and thought, How could I ever feel claustrophobic here?

Because when you grow up in one place, it is inherently claustrophobic. Because it has contained you all this time, and you are growing, and, eventually, you want out of the thing that’s held you close for eighteen years. 

Some people get to leave. Some don’t. Some don’t want to leave. It’s all a journey. 


When I come back now, I breathe in that desert air, take in that blue sky, drink in that mountain horizon. 

I would be lying if I say I didn’t think about what it would be like to move back. What would it be like to live in Winnemucca as the person I am now? Would it be bearable? 

I don’t know. I honestly don’t. 

On avoiding writing, trusting my gut, & repetition

I was going to start this essay by saying that I have been avoiding the page, but that’s not true. I’ve been drafting poems and writing morning pages every day for the past two weeks.

I’ve just been avoiding essay 5. 

Why? I’m not sure. 

Sometimes, I think it’s because I’m not sure what to write about. 

But that’s not true. There’s plenty I want to write about — the WWE, country songs, Ink Master, having clutter, Ana Lily Armirpour films, Michael Ian Black, to keep or get rid of old photos, Friday Night Lights and all my nicknames for Tim Riggins, an ode to Coach Eric Taylor. And so on. I have no shortage of material for essays. 

And yet. Here I am. Writing about writing again. Writing about my feelings about not writing again. Writing about the things that I think keep me from writing again. 

And maybe that’s why I’ve been avoiding essay 5. Because though I have so many things percolating that I want to write about, the one that keeps rising to the surface is this one — avoidance. 


Every time I sit down to write this essay, I think about Jude Law’s character in I Heart Huckabee’s. He’s a schmoozy advertising executive who tells the same story over and over again about fooling Shania Twain into eating a tuna sandwich she didn’t want to eat. I think about the scene where the existential detectives have recorded every single instance in which Jude Law’s character has told the Shania Twain story, and they play every instance back to him in succession.

At first, Jude Law thinks his story is great; why wouldn’t he tell it every chance he gets? And then, after the 4th or 5th version of the story has been played back to him, he starts to sober. After the 6th or 7th version, he starts to literally vomit in his mouth. 

I love that scene so much. It’s hilarious and it’s sobering and it’s real. What’s realer than realizing that you tell the same story or say the same thing over and over again?

Every time I sat down to write essay 5, I felt like Jude Law’s character, hearing myself say the same thing over and over again. 

So I’d write a sentence, minimize the window, and go eat a cookie instead.


Some days, I think maybe I’m avoiding essay 5 because I’m afraid of writing something intimate, personal. Something I haven’t ever written about before.

But that’s also not true. It takes a certain amount of vulnerability and bravery any time we write and choose to put it out in the world — whether it’s publishing something on a blog or bringing a piece to workshop or showing a fresh poem to your partner or sending anything to a journal to be rejected or accepted or writing a personal statement. Whether I’m writing about Buffy or YA horror lit or my general exhaustion or being overwhelmed by the prospect of weddings or writing about writing — it’s all intimate and personal. Because I write things that I don’t usually say out loud. For me, that is writing for the jugular. 


Some days, I think I’ve been avoiding essay 5, simply because I’m burned out. I’m exhausted. This world we live in is exhausting and life on its own is exhausting. 

I’ve also withdrawn from my activity on social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter. When I think about composing a post or a tweet, I get overwhelmed. Even thinking about re-posting or retweeting overwhelms me. 

It just feels like there’s too much some days (every day). Too much to say and too much to absorb. How do you choose what to post? How do you choose what to retweet? It seems like a simple thing, but for me, lately, it’s been a conundrum. So I just don’t.

I close the apps, minimize the windows, and go eat a cookie instead. 


I guess what I’m trying to say is that maybe I’ve been avoiding essay 5 because I’m trying to find balance. And I’m not doing great. But I’m trying. 

I’m trying to find a balance between a public and private writing life. Between writing for this blog and the #52essays2017 project, and writing in a private space. Both are important. I love this blog and I love the #52essays2017 project and I love my horror project. 

But writing in a private space — as I have been — is essential, too. I’m seeing that now. Practicing writing in private — knowing that I will be the only person for quite awhile who sees this thing that I’m writing — feels good. It feels quiet and important. In a world where I’m bombarded every day by terrifying news and so many voices, it feels necessary to have a space where it’s just me. Just me and my voice and my writing. In that moment and the countless future moments that I will spend with my poems, my writing is no one else’s yet. It is mine until I decide that it’s ready to be someone else’s.  


I have to honor and trust my impulse. Writing about writing — about the process, about all the outside things that intersect with the act of writing itself, about where inspiration comes from — demystifies it. Sometimes, I look at prolific writers and think, How the hell are they doing this? 

I don’t know how they do it, but I know how I do it. I’m a slow writer these days, and a percolator. I marinate on thoughts and ideas for essays for awhile before I sit down to actually write them. When I finally get to writing, the words come quickly, but I take some time to revise. 

(And poems? Jesus. Forget about it. I used to be a fairly prolific poem writer, and now I’m the slowest poem writer in all the land.) 

When I write about writing, I’m demystifying the process for myself. I’m writing to bust the myths I’ve internalized over the years in undergrad and in an MFA program about writing and what being a writer looks like. I'm writing to define what being a "real" writer means to me, and me alone. I'm writing to get rid of all those other voices that tell me not only what is acceptable to write, but how to write it. I'm writing to find the rituals I need to make for myself as a writer, as opposed to the ones that are prescribed to me if I want to call myself a “real” writer. 

Part of it is acknowledging that the world and life and exhaustion and emotions affect my ability to write sometimes. Sometimes I just have to take a break. Yes, writing is one of the only places where I feel truly whole, but it can also be exhausting if I don’t balance my private and public writing lives. 


Avoiding essay 5 has been a lesson in trusting my impulse and my voice. If an idea keeps rising to the top, no matter how many times I think I’ve explored it, I need to take its hand and follow it into the woods.

A Kind of Ode to Surviving

I am tired. 


I woke up with Bikini Kill in my head this morning.

I woke up this morning feeling like I'd only gotten three hours of sleep. The feeling that you've completed a REM cycle, but not enough of them. And I realized that since January 20th, I haven't really gotten a good night's sleep. 


I woke up this morning wanting comfort, something familiar. Something shrill, gritty, something that could express my anxiety and anger and exhaustion and 'tude because I'm too fucking tired today. 

I've been trying to be kind to myself this week. I'm behind on so many things. I'm behind on #52essays2017, and I'm embarrassingly behind on my 33 Days of Horror project. I get so ambitious. For some, writing an essay or a post a week is completely feasible. They do it and they don't have trouble doing it. They do it on time. 

That is clearly not me. But I'm trying though. And I'm trying to be kind to myself. Keep in perspective all the plates I have spinning, and tell myself that it's okay for me to write in my Passion Planner that my focus for this week is "Rest and Recovery." That my personal to-do list for this week is "Write Essay #4" and "Mail package." That's it. (My professional to-do list is much longer. Maybe that's the trade-off.)


I marched in two protests in the space of 8 days. I seriously contemplated stocking up on poster board because there is no end in sight.

I've started a bunch of books but haven’t finished any of them because I can't figure out what I'm in the mood for. 

I'm not in the mood for any particular tv show, but I've found comfort in watching WWE with M because it feels cathartic to watch some people beat the hell out of each other with no investment in the outcome. Because I know it's not real. The stress put on the bodies in the ring is real, but the drama isn't. For some reason, that comforts me. 

Before going to a No Ban, No Wall protest, I made New Jersey Crumb Buns. The recipe is in the latest issue of Cook's Country, and when I decided to give it a try, I didn't realize that I would be making protest signs while I waited for the dough to rise.

Crumb buns and protest signs. #resistancebaker #NoBanNoWall

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I'm no good at cooking up a snappy, hard-hitting protest sign. I think too much about it. I want it to perfectly express my sentiments. I'm too much a poet when it comes to the protest sign, I think. M's is perfect -- his is the pink one. It's simple and unequivocally true.

Mine is the green one. Aside from the fucked up "C" in "country," it is inaccurate. This country was actually built by the violent colonization and genocide of the people who already lived here. It was built by people who were kidnapped, put on a boat, brought here, and forced into slavery.  

I thought of that when I was halfway through outlining my letters with a Sharpie. 


My mother immigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines. My father worked long hours, so in those first few years, it was my mom and me, all day, every day. My mom and me and her friends -- all Filipina immigrants. Though I grew up in rural Nevada, I spent more time with immigrants than I did with white folks.

I never learned Tagalog or Ilocano. I would sit with my mom and her friends and just listen. I never needed to know what was being said, but I took everything in -- every gesture, intonation, eye roll, wrist flick, hair flip, laugh. 

I look back on my childhood and see so much that's familiar and comfortable, so much that I'm nostalgic for. And so much that is untranslated. Unknowable. 


A friend saw my Instagram post of my protest signs and crumb buns, and she gently and kindly called me in on my inaccuracy. And I’m thankful for it. 

When I made my protest sign, I didn’t intend to erase our history of genocide, colonization, and slavery. When I made my protest sign, I was thinking of my mother and all of her friends and the people I grew up with. 


In the grand scheme of things, the sign I made is not the biggest deal. But I hate to think that I was careless with my words. That with one sentence, I could erase the complexity of history. And that that sentence would be something that I held up at a protest, a place that I believe, at its best, should honor and reflect intersectionality and complexity. 

No one will remember my sign, and anyone who did notice it has most likely and hopefully moved on. And I’m still here, trying not to beat myself up, trying not to be embarrassed. 

This is what I mean some days when I say I’m trying to be kind to myself.


I started this essay two weeks ago. Since I started it, I’ve been traveling and working and not diving too deep into social media, trying to keep my head above water. I’ve been surviving, trying to keep myself at a baseline of care. Keeping myself fed, doing yoga when I can, seeing friends because I know I need to, keeping my energy reserves at just full enough to get by. 

I don’t know where to end this. I just know that I’m tired (it’s only been three and a half fucking weeks of this administration), and I’m emotionally curling up next to all the things that give me comfort. 

And I’m trying to get back on my feet. I’ll get there.

For now, though, I'm going to let this essay be what it is: messy, raw, trying to find itself, not quite getting there. And I'm going to let it go so I can move on to the next thing. 

Reflections on the Women's March, unity, & discomfort

Around 3:00pm on inauguration day, M and I decided to join the sister Women’s March up in Indianapolis. It was a decision I made with some reluctance because of all the shit surrounding its inception and organizing, but I finally decided to go.

Why? I’m not actually sure. On inauguration day, I felt unexpectedly raw. I had actually been doing pretty well, emotionally speaking, up until that point. I had hope. I had motivation to move forward. I had a sense of letting go, and an acceptance that, sure, the Cheeto would be our President, but we’d be okay somehow.

I’d also been avoiding all of the Obamas’ goodbye speeches, and all in-depth news about the incoming administration. Headlines were good enough for me. 

On the morning of January 20th, I watched the footage of Obama’s last moments in the Oval Office, and I lost it. I didn’t expect to lose it, but there I was.

A lot of people in my life salivate over Obama and romanticize his presidency. I am not one of them, and neither is M (and when it even sounds like I’m heading in that direction, he is there to check my ass). On his watch, more undocumented people were deported than any other president. His authorization of drone strikes have killed hundreds of innocent people in the Middle East.

Obama did some truly great things, but he’s also behind some of the most problematic and dehumanizing events in our history.

So there I was, crying tears that I didn’t expect to come.

My reaction was so extreme, not because Obama was leaving — I mean, he’d be leaving no matter who won the election. That’s how it works. Two terms, max.

Instead, I was mourning the beginning of the Trump era.

That day, everything felt so quiet. When I went downtown, the energy was subdued, even though there were inauguration protest activities being held. That same feeling of wanting to hide that I felt in the days following the election crept up on me. Everywhere I looked, there were crowds of white folks, and I felt unsettled and unsafe.

M and I had been planning to go to the local inauguration rally and march, which were being held that evening. But I couldn’t do it that day. I couldn’t march or rally in a crowd where I would be one of a handful of brown people.

But we wanted to march somewhere, so we decided to go to Indianapolis. I thought, surely there were would be more people at that march who looked like me. 

The turn out in Indy was huge. The local news sources report that around 5,000 people showed up; the organizers say it was 10,000. I don’t know which number is true, but there were a lot of people there.

The signs were clever, and woman-centered and genitalia-specific. I saw maybe one “Black Lives Matter” sign. I saw one “Water is sacred” sign.

At one point, the crowd was called upon to look around, to look at our neighbors, and “see how diverse we are.” I looked around, and I was surrounded by white folks.

Sure, we could say Indiana is very white, and that would be true.

What’s also true, though, is that Black folks and people of color do exist in Indiana. To say that a place (like Indiana, or Portland or Seattle, and so on) is very white erases the existence of the Black folks and POC who live in those spaces. Just because they are not visible in white spaces doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It means that white folks are not paying attention. It means that white folks are creating spaces where Black folks and POC are not and do not feel welcome. It means that white folks are creating spaces that are not accessible to Black folks and POC. The same is true of undocumented folks, immigrants, queer folks, Native folks, Muslims, disabled, and trans folks.

What’s also true is that the Women’s March, in general, was largely attended by white women.

Now. This isn’t to say that Black folks and POC and undocumented and Native and immigrant and trans and Muslim and disabled and queer folks were not marching. What I am saying is that while the march brought lots of white women joy and hope and uplifted spirits, many of the experiences of marginalized and underrepresented folks were very different.

Many people I know marched wherever they were, white and underrepresented alike. Many people I know opted out of marching. Everyone's reasons are valid for doing what they did.


Who Didn't Go To The Women's March Matters More Than Those Who Did

I’ve been struggling. With the grandiosity and historic moment of the Women’s March — how incredible it was to see 2.5 to 5 million people out and marching against this new administration. When we came home from the Indy march, I stayed glued to social media because I was amazed by the sheer size of the crowds. I also love snappy protest signs, and there was no shortage of them. In my Facebook and Twitter feeds, people were sharing photos of the local march they were attending. There were some who I never expected to be attending a march and posting, in detail, all the reasons they were marching.

My Filipina mother and my trans parent marched in Reno. It was the first time either of them had ever participated in anything like it. My trans parent said she thought she was the only one who felt this way; the march helped her feel not so alone and the energy she felt as she marched filled her with joy. My mother said the march was “kinda fun” and talked about the little girls she saw giving out daisies.

When I see the march through their eyes, I think, yes. I’m glad for the Women’s March.

And I also think of all the marginalized and underrepresented people who were not represented at the more visible marches. Those who marched and were ridiculed and/or disrespected by white women. Those who feel strongly, for a host of reasons, that this march was not for them.



A couple nights ago, we went to see Roxane Gay read. She was everything I thought she would be, which is to say, she was a badass human who I would genuinely love to sit down and have coffee with.

Someone asked what her thoughts were about the Women’s March, and she said, “I think it’s great.” She acknowledged that some people had behaved like assholes, but that was to be expected when you get 2.5 to 5 million people together. She acknowledged that there were a lot of things to be desired, but on the whole, the fact that so many people came together to voice dissent was powerful.


Woman in Viral Photo from Women's March to White Female Allies: 'Listen to a Black Woman'


I guess the conclusions I’m coming to are that both things can be true at the same time: that the Women’s March, despite all its shortcomings and issues of representation, was an incredible moment. Everyone marched for different reasons and in different ways, but we were all there together to show the new administration that their asses are on notice.

At the same time, we also have to listen to the voices and experiences of the marginalized and underrepresented folks. Both the folks who marched and the folks who didn’t. Because I guarantee that their experiences and voices will express something that will clash with a white woman’s experience of the march, and it will be uncomfortable. It might temper some joy. It might bring some white folks back to reality.

And that’s okay. I don’t want to hear that voicing dissent or anger is “divisive.” I don’t want to hear calls for “unity” that sacrifice and silence the voices of underrepresented and marginalized folks. Either your feminism is intersectional or it is not feminism. We have to truly and actively listen to each other — in particular, white women who want to continue in this movement must listen to and reckon with those voices who express experiences and ideas that poke holes in the little joy bubbles they’ve been living in.  

Because, white folks, that’s a huge part of working for justice, and it’s just as important now as it was before the human Cheeto took office. Fighting for justice sometimes means hearing hard things and sitting in discomfort. Reckoning with the role you play in systems of oppression and white supremacy. Constantly checking in with yourself and asking, “How have I participated in replicating a system of oppression today? How can I change that?” Speaking up and speaking loudly when you see a fellow white person do or say something fucked up.Educating yourself and not relying on marginalized folks to teach you what you don’t know. Recognizing your privilege. Not shying away from difficult and awkward conversations. 

As Roxane Gay said during her reading, “Why does having an uncomfortable conversation mean that we’re not getting along?”


Activist Raquel Willis talks about her reaction to the huge turnout to the Women's March and where to go from here


So why did I go to the sister march in Indy?

I’m still not sure. It wasn’t necessarily to feel hope. I already have hope. Because I know and work alongside people who have been organizing and fighting for justice long before the Cheeto administration was a sparkle in anyone’s eye. Since the election, the work hasn’t changed, but our timelines and resources have. For some of us, our tactics have to change as well.

The best answer I can come up with now is that I wanted to witness. I wanted to witness those who were there, and especially witness those who weren’t.


Shirley Power


Marches and rallies are not the only action we should take. The Women’s March was an incredible energizer and momentum-builder, especially for those who felt terrified, paralyzed, and alone. But the work doesn’t stop there.

The real work for justice often isn’t as sexy as a 2.5 to 5 million woman march. It involves following local and state legislation, calling your legislators. It means being informed and staying up-to-date on what the fuck is going on. It means finding out who’s already doing the work you want to get involved in, and it means getting out there in your community and getting your hands dirty. It means showing up for the underrepresented communities in your town, city, state. It means speaking up when you see something fucked up happen, whether it’s in the office, in the classroom, or on someone’s Facebook wall. 

And don’t be afraid of discomfort. Lean into it. I promise, it will make you a better human.


What's Next After All the Marches? Organize.


On DNCE and the freight train that is January 20th.

This is my second essay of the #52essays2017 challenge, and I’m very late in posting it. I’m late in posting it because I couldn't put my finger on the pulse of what it was I was trying to say last week (now, this week). What is in my heart and mind for this second essay of 2017 that needs to be said. 

I started writing about DNCE because I’m so fascinated by them, for some reason. Then I started writing separately about George Michael, and then I put the two together, and tried to find a way to braid together my thoughts on Joe Jonas and George Michael and sexuality and sensuality and objectification and sex positivity and some snarkiness about the DNCE bass player who has a mohawk. 

And then it started to feel like a Cones of Dunshire situation.

Yes, that was me, on Saturday evening, looking over what I had written and thinking, "This is nothing, isn't it?" 

So my essay about George Michael is going to stay separate (as it should have always been), but I’m going to follow the DNCE thread and see where it takes me. 


Maybe what I mean when I say I’m fascinated by DNCE is that I can’t stop listening to them. It was a slow conversion. Over the holidays, while shopping with my mom, I heard “Toothbrush” in nearly every store we went into (literally). 

Now, when I first heard of DNCE over the summer, I saw their album cover and thought, That guy looks like Joe Jonas. Is that Joe Jonas?  I looked up DNCE and didn’t see any mention of Joe Jonas or the Jonas Brothers at all. (Granted, I didn’t look that hard.)  So, I shrugged and thought, I guess that’s just a guy who really looks like Joe Jonas. I felt like the world was maybe a bit off its axis, though, because that guy really looked like a Jonas brother, but maybe I was wrong. 

When I first saw the “Toothbrush” video, I was like

What went through my mind: 

Yes, that’s definitely a Jonas brother, and it’s definitely the one that wore a purity ring. 

Joe Jonas is making out with a woman with a normal-ass body?! EXCUSE me?! 

WHO is this badass woman guitarist?! 

WHO does this mohawk guy think he IS?! 

Does Joe Jonas not know how to do this, the unchoreographed dancing and being a cool lead singer thing? Why is he so awkward? What is happening right now? 

I thought maybe it was a fluke. All of it. Joe Jonas making out with a normal-sized woman, Joe Jonas not knowing how to be cool. This weird group of people making a song that legitimately moved me to get down in the middle of a Forever 21.

So then, I watched “Cake By The Ocean.” (You should skip to 0:37 because who needs a lengthy intro to a staged cake fight right now?)

(M finds the image of eating cake by the ocean unsettling. I find it delightful. Decadent. Syrupy-sweet. Could I handle that much sugar and sunshine in one go? I don’t know, but I’d be willing to try.)

So, in this video, there are lots of women in bathing suits, and some of them are normal-sized. There are lots of shots of butts, but the women are all wearing functional bathing suits and they're using their bodies in ways that are athletic and realistic. 

Okay, I thought. So maybe that’s not a mistake. Alright, I see you, DNCE. 

And then there’s Joe Jonas. Wearing all white. And still being awkward as hell. (Him saying, "Fucking delicious" -- please. Awkward af.)

So then I thought maybe I was being a jerk. Maybe my expectations for pop band lead singer swagger are too high.

Then I watched “Body Moves.” 


There are other things happening in the world. The Republicans are already voting to gut the ACA with no replacement, no plan, no foresight. The President-elect’s cabinet picks are showing how truly inexperienced, ridiculous, and self-serving they are. Total abortion ban legislation has been introduced at state and federal levels. Once the President-elect takes office, he can fill that empty Supreme Court Justice seat with anyone he wants. And he's also apparently going to start building that wall bordering Mexico. How it will be paid for is anyone’s guess and we all know who will be building it. 

The list of things that are looming on the horizon doesn’t end there. It goes on and on and on and…

Every time I think about it, my chest starts to get tight. At every headline that pops up on my phone, I can’t do anything but laugh. Out of desperation, helplessness. It’s a nervous laughter. It’s the kind of laughter that happens when I see something fucked up and I don't want to let the anger take over. My Twitter feed is overwhelming, but also a comfort, at times. 

Right now, it feels easier to be weirded out by how Joe Jonas doesn’t seem to know how to be a lead singer. 


Here’s the thing about Joe Jonas. I don’t mind his outfits, and I don’t mind his look. It’s that his look over promises, and his act under delivers. For god’s sake, he’s wearing a goddamn Freddie Mercury outfit in “Body Moves.” Or, I should say, the outfit is wearing him. Joe Jonas does not currently have the swagger to pull it off or pay homage or reinvent. It seems like he doesn’t know how to be in his body. How to use it, how to inhabit it fully. 

He doesn’t know how to be sexy? 


The truth is that, aesthetically, DNCE has a template. They know how to perform like rock stars, but without the grit. They perform like boy band stars who want so badly to be bad boys. They lure you in with that sweet boy band voice and those high notes, the lead singer who looks really attractive when he's motionless, funk-ish (?) guitar action, the fun vocal details (like that wolf-y "Ah-woo!" in "Toothbrush"), the ever-catchy hook. 

The “Body Moves” video is full of sex. I get what they’re going for — a fun, sexy, orgiastic video that’s full of youth and nostalgia (for the early '00s, but it's nostalgia, just the same). It’s also full of bodies that are being objectified, mostly women’s bodies, all thin. No normal bodies here. The only Black body that is prominently featured is that of a Black woman, and we only see her ass as she twerks. Also featured in those shots is the bassist, the white guy with the mohawk, with his face next to her ass, with a look of goofy astonishment. 


So it turns out that DNCE is just like all the others. The music is so much fun and it’s so catchy. 

And their videos reach toward something refreshing, but still leave so much to be desired. Just like so many others. 


We’re about to enter a world where we have a President with no scruples. No experience. No empathy. No idea what it takes to be the leader of a supposed democratic country, not a corporation. The crew that he’s bringing with him are equally unqualified, unscrupulous, and lack any sort of empathy whatsoever. 

This is not to say that Obama was perfect. He is certainly far from it. There are things to celebrate, and there are things to condemn. There is a complexity to Obama’s presidency that I am comfortable sitting in, that is less overwhelming to think about. It feels manageable to me, to contemplate the last 8 years, and to reckon with the things that deserve celebration and the things that deserve closer examinations and calls for justice. 

With the upcoming administration, I am quickly buried under the avalanche of everything that is to come. With all the things that are possible. I am stunned at the lack of nuance in the rhetoric of our President-elect and all those who are banding together in support of him. 


I’m not going to stop listening to DNCE. Yes, they’re saccharine, they’re slick, they’re plastic. They’re formulaic, they are filling in the blanks on a template. (That mohawk guy could be a dealbreaker for me, but I just won’t look at him, even though he tries so hard to be different from the rest of his bandmates.) 

But goddamn, is this shit catchy.


We have to find joy in whatever we can these days. Sometimes, it feels like joy is an act of resistance. Turning our back on the impending future for just a moment, and finding the light and love within to be able to dance, to smile, to laugh, in the face of so much that vows to crush us. 

So I will continue to crank that business up and sing along as I put on that eyeliner, slick on that lipstick, and get ready to smash the patriarchy every day.

2017 : The Year of No Intention

On New Year’s Eve, two years and six days ago, M asked me to take a walk in subzero temperatures. The sun was shining, and that feels rare in an Indiana winter, so I said, Sure, why not? We went downtown and stopped at a coffee shop we never go to (and haven’t gone to together since) and bought warm beverages. From there, we wandered onto campus and found ourselves at the Rose Well House, a gazebo where M and I had lunch together for the first time. 

M started talking about the history of the gazebo, the legend about it, how it came to be, and what it was made out of. It was all very interesting, but I wondered why he knew all of this and why he was telling me now. 

I knew it was going to happen about 10 seconds before it actually happened. It feels like it happened in slow motion, but I’m sure it was only a few seconds. 

Standing in that gazebo, with both the sun and the moon visible in the sky at the same time, M asked me to marry him. 

I was surprised. In shock. Freezing. 

And I reacted the way most people do in those videos of proposals: I gasped, covered my mouth, and cried, even though it was far too cold for me to cry as many happy tears as I wanted to. 

And I said, yes. Of course. 

A few minutes later, the campus clock began chiming the hour.  

It couldn’t have been a more perfect moment for the two of us. 


Even before this moment, New Year’s Eve has always been my favorite holiday. I’m good at celebrating a new year. I’m good at dancing all night, I’m good at counting down, I’m good at drinking champagne. I’m good at cooling my face on the bathroom floor on New Year’s Day. 

More recently, I’ve been good at eating well and hydrating so I can wake up sans hangover on New Year’s Day.

I’ve been good at knowing what I want to work on for the coming 12 months. I’m good at setting intentions, and I’m good at working hard at them and being kind to myself when I fail (usually). 

This year, though, I haven't been able to come up with one or two words to set my intentions for the coming year. I’ve tried to sit down and write out what I want for myself and out of myself, and my body resists it. I feel like I’d rather crawl out of my own skin than write down what I want in 2017. 


I love New Year’s rituals. My mom does, too. She’s collected so many over the years, both from Filipino culture and others. On New Year’s Eve, when the clock strikes midnight, she opens the front and back doors to let out the old energy, and lights candles at both open doors. She fills her pockets with silver dollars and walks around the house, throwing silver dollars around the perimeter. On January 1st, she doesn’t leave the house (unless it’s to go to church), she wears as much polka dots as possible, keeps those silver dollars in her pockets, and makes black-eyed pea stew. Her new tradition is to eat 1 round fruit a day for the first 13 days of the year. 


When M and I started telling people we were engaged, the responses varied so widely. Everyone wanted to know when the wedding was. Our joke was, “Oh, we don’t know. One, one-and-a-half, two, two-and-a-half years from now?” To each other, we said, "Isn't it enough that we finally made this commitment to each other? Why do we have to rush this?"

When people started asking questions about dates, the ceremony, dresses, bridal parties, I started to realize how uncomfortable I felt with the whole thing. I wasn’t uncomfortable with my commitment to M — far from it. In those early days of our engagement, it felt like we were in this cozy, private bubble that no one and nothing could enter. The world was what we made it, and we were making it our home. 

What was making me feel claustrophobic and uncomfortable was all the tradition around weddings and gender roles and marriage. When I looked at wedding dresses on Pinterest, I started clenching my jaw and felt a rage cry bubble up in my chest. All the dresses looked the same, they cost so much money, and I just hated them. All of them. When it came to the ceremony, there were so many options, and so many of them were patriarchal nonsense or cheesy or creepy or not reflective of who M and I are. 

I could go on and on about everything that overwhelmed me when I started to think about planning a wedding. I don’t know about M, but for me, it felt like there are so many expectations on every aspect — the wedding itself and how we should do it, and where we should do it, who we should invite, picking the right color scheme. And then even more expectations and projections on who we’re going to be as a married couple — the old “You’ll see when you have kids” routine, the “You think you don’t want kids now, but you’ll change your mind” routine, the old “Is the old lady being a ball and chain?” routine. And on and on and on. 


When I sit down to map out my intentions for 2017, I am overwhelmed by uncertainty. It feels like I’ve just been washed up on the shore after being sucked under by a wave and tumbled around violently. It feels like I finally have the ground under me, and I finally know which way is up, but I don’t know where I am and I don’t know what to do from here. 

And god dammit, shouldn’t it feel that way? It should fucking feel that way. 2016 was a real shit show of a year, but the past three years for me have been full of life-razing moments. In the past three years, one of my parents came out as a trans woman, M and I got engaged, I fell into a new career path, I had the privilege of being accepted and able to attend the VONA/Voices writing workshop in Miami and the Pink Door Women’s Writing Retreat, and my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. 

And that’s not even mentioning all the other things happening in the world to marginalized folks that always weigh heavy in my mind and heart. Police brutality against Black folks with no repercussions, mass shootings, stripping away reproductive rights and access, the Dakota Access Pipeline, the weight of daily microagressions, and and and. As I'm writing this, I'm thinking of all the things I'm not mentioning here. It's too much to write out all in one place. 

The results of this election were the thing that finally broke me. 


Since the election. I’ve been trying to figure out how to look into the future and still be able to get out of bed in the morning. 

There is so much uncertainty that lies ahead. I don’t know what the world will look like. I don’t know what will actually happen. I know what I’m afraid will happen, but I have (some) hope that it won’t turn out that way. For once, I truly have no idea what lies ahead. Sincerely. 

And it’s terrifying. Because it’s hard not to know what you’ll run into in the dark. 


M and I still haven’t gotten married. But we’re close. We’re getting there. I think we’re finally ready to do this thing, and do it our way. 


In times of uncertainty — in times of possibility — we turn to ritual to maximize the potential and luck of what will come next. All those new year’s rituals might not have any influence on the future. But who's to say that they won't? 

Coming up with intentions for the new year has been my ritual. And this year, 2017, I’m not going to do it. I can’t. My body won't let me. I have to leave everything I know behind. All the old tricks that worked in the past just ain’t gonna cut it anymore. It’s time to clear away all the old shit, all the old equations. 

This is a time to be radical. To uproot everything that I know. This is a time for revolution. In society, yes, but also in the self. 

It’s time to do something new. To make something new. To be new. 


So I won’t set intentions for the year. What I will do? I’m going to marry my guy. I’m going to keep writing. I'm going to write 52 essays in 2017 (this is the first). I’m going to be active. I’m going to care for myself. I'm going to follow my heart, my intuition, and my gut. And I’m going to see who I become and where it all goes.