What I Did on My Summer Vacation, 2018 edition

Some of you might know this already, and maybe a lot of you don’t. Blogging is actually hard.

It’s especially hard for writers like me, who have periods of creativity and then periods of drought. (I actually think of it less like a drought and more like living life, priming the pump, re-filling my stores.) I’m also an Aries sun sign blessed with Virgo SOMEwhere in my chart, which means I get excited about my projects, organize the hell out of them, start them, and then get tired. I’m also a Scorpio rising, which means a lot of my projects stay private, so no one ever knows what the fuck I’m doing.

I digress. What I was saying: blogging is hard for writers like me, who started out writing so many years ago with notebook paper and pen. Who carried notebooks and binders around with them everywhere so whenever they had an extra minute or an idea, they could sit and physically write everything down.

I used to be a prolific writer. Poems used to come easily, and prose even more so. The real work was in the revision, and I did it, but not with so much attention. Because I was also busy being young and living and not understanding that revision is not only about what’s on the page — it’s also about reading the self and understanding what it’s trying to say to you. These days, I sit with poems in their revision phase for months at a time. Sometimes years. I think about intent. I think about voice. I think about character. Who is the voice that is speaking through me? Why are they speaking through me? Is it me? Is it someone else? What do they want? (What do I want?) How are they saying it? What matters about how they say it?

So anyway. I forget where I was going with this. Oh yes. My point: blogging is hard for me. When I’m writing for the page, I do not (and cannot) blog. When I am not able to write for the page for whatever reason, I blog instead. And when I cannot do either, I live. I try to stay present, in the present.

This summer, I’ve been doing a little bit of everything. I went on my first-ever writing residency in Knoxville, Tennessee. I stayed at Sundress Academy for the Arts’ Firefly Farms, caring for a dear donkey named Jayne, a sass-machine goat named Munchma, tons of sheep, and some pesky (but entirely relatable) chickens. And when I wasn’t throwing down bales of hay or hand-feeding Jayne treats, I was reading and writing. I wrote pages and pages of prose about food and family and memory and relationships and everything in between. I wrote more poems than I’ve written in the past year. And I’m excited. I finally feel like my full and actual writer self again.

***

M and I moved to a new place. It’s a townhouse in the same neighborhood we’ve been in for the past 6 or 7 years. We weren’t expecting to move, but when we made the decision to do it, it felt like exactly the right thing to do. We hit hiccups here and there, and there was sweat and there were tears, but I’ll tell you one thing: if you can, hire movers. I can’t tell you what joy I had watching two young college-aged men efficiently carry all our furniture and all our heavy boxes out of our old apartment and into our new place. If you can afford it, it’s well worth it, even if you can only afford to hire them to move your heavy stuff. I swear to you. Worth. All. The. Pennies.

***
We also took a spontaneous trip to Seattle to see Pearl Jam. I came home from work one night, and M said, “So…you want to go to Seattle tomorrow? To see Pearl Jam?” It’s been a dream of M’s to see Pearl Jam in their hometown, so we did it. We spent 36 hours in my favorite city, and we didn’t get to see or do much outside of waiting in a merch table line for 4 hours, or actually watching Pearl Jam perform a truly epic 3.5 hour show, or getting within an arm’s length of Eddie Vedder.

But we did have some delicious and unexpectedly comforting noodles though. I still think about them.

***
What else did I do this summer? I got a new job. At a bakery.

Do you remember that scene from Office Space? The one at the end when Ron Livingston’s character is finally free of his cubicle job, and he’s relishing in his new job as a construction worker? That moment when he stops shoveling for a minute, smiles at the sunshine, takes in a deep breath of fresh air, and finally looks content?

That’s me these days. It’s not easy work, and some days I come home with my body aching and cramping in places I didn’t know could ache and cramp. Sometimes I find gigantic bruises on my legs that I don’t remember getting, but then I vaguely remember that something happened and it hurt a lot, but I kept moving and then I forgot about it. (Kind of like life.)

But I learn something new every day. How to make neat-edged cookies. How to wrap treats and box them neatly. Remembering complicated orders. How to work quickly without fucking up, which I am not always successful at, but I’m learning. All of these are little things that, if you’ve never worked in the service industry, you take for granted.

(Also, an aside: tip your servers. Always. At least 20%. If there is an option to tip (do you see a tip jar? when you pay with your card, does it give you the option to tip? etc.), always do it. The people who serve you bust their asses every fucking day and they don’t get paid enough to do it with the amount of patience and grace that they do. Believe me. Okay, stepping off my soap box now.)

So anyway. I’m doing something completely new and different. It’s hard work, but I like it. It’s teaching me a lot in terms of tangible skills, but also more important things about truly and actually caring for the self physically. I’ve learned so much over the years about emotional and psychological self-care, but physical self-care has come as an after-thought. This new work is forcing me to pay attention to my body and listen to it. If I don’t, I literally cannot do the work.

***

What’s ahead? I don’t know yet. I’m working on some things. After the heat and excitement and ever-changing days of summer, I’ll be shifting my attention to writing projects outside the blog for awhile. Friday Bites will not be making its regularly scheduled appearances, but I’ll still be writing about cooking and baking and sharing my home creations on the blog. Scary movie season is upon us (although it’s really year-round for me), so I might jump back into my Days of Horror series soon.

The name of the game these days is staying open and flexible, working with what I have, and, as always, staying grounded amidst the vast fields of uncertainty that life is made of. Stay tuned.

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.

What I did on my summer vacation (2017 ed.)

I've been away from this blog since April. When I look back on it, it seems unfathomable that so much time has gone by, and it also feels like a hundred years have gone by.

I always forget about the rhythms of my writing. I don't know how I forget it, but I do. Maybe it's the 20 years of having a summer vacation that has embedded itself into my psyche. The cycles of hunkering down, working hard, studying, and producing from September to May. Then, when the weather starts to warm up and the days start to feel lazier, I give myself permission to take it easy. In years past, it was a subconscious decision.

This year, it's been a little bit of both. This year is different from all the other years. Every day there is a new tweet to rail against, a new infuriating policy to protest, a new disaster to mourn. This presidency has affected my psyche in ways I'm hesitant to admit, but it's undeniable. I'm living with a cynicism I've never lived with before.

Aside from all the large scale stressors, we're finally (!!!) planning our wedding. Each wedding dress I look at is now distinct from one another (please see 2017: The Year of No Intention), and I have actual opinions on them. I was hoping I'd have an actual strong opinion on our wedding colors, but I still don't. I have days where I'm so excited for our wedding that I wish it were happening tomorrow, and I have days where I avoid looking at the countdown timer on my WeddingWire app because the number of days til our wedding is too few. I've begrudgingly and apprehensively bought two wedding planning books and a wedding planning binder (and also wondered who the hell I am these days). 

This summer, my brother graduated from college after being an extremely hardworking Van Wilder for many years. M and I were there for his graduation. After, we took a family trip to Lake Tahoe, where M learned that when we say Tahoe's water is very cold, we are not kidding.

What else?

I went to Phoenix where it was 110+ degrees. I lay out on a 5th floor hotel rooftop deck at night, and felt homesick for the dry, hot, desert wind. We took M's dad on a surprise birthday trip to St. Louis to watch the Cardinals. The Cardinals lost both games we went to, but the weather was beautiful and the Bud Light Lime hit the spot (I know). I went to San Francisco for the Las Dos Brujas writing workshop, and wrote poems that I'm still working on and love dearly. I saw dolphins while hiking the Marin Headlands with poet friends. I got to show M the Golden Gate Bridge for his first time, and also introduced him to the (also very cold) Pacific Ocean.

This summer, writing has not been a priority. I've written here and there, and made some breakthroughs at Las Dos Brujas, but for the most part, it seems that my subconscious decided it was time for a break. It was time to take a step back and recognize that I have a very large plate, it is very full, and if I am not very careful and very intentional, I will burn all the way out.

I'm asking myself questions about balance and boundaries, about what caring for the self truly means. I'm asking myself questions about how to nourish myself and my writing when so much else in life and in this world seems to take and take and take.

So I'm back now. I don't have a lot of answers, but here we are. Figuring things out. As always.

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

A photo posted by medusaironbox (@medusaironbox) on

***

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. 

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. 

How to Keep Moving

I started a post a couple weeks ago that was also tentatively titled “How to Keep Moving.” It was two weeks after the election, and I was still reeling but trying not to. The post ended up being about the hours and hours of Ink Master that I watched, and it turns out that I have lots to say about tattoo reality competition shows. Too much for a post that’s supposed to be about how I get my shit together post-election. 

So here we are. (Don't worry, the Ink Master post is on its way.) The election was a little over a month ago. I’m trying to regain my balance. Things are not back to normal. It’s not business as usual. I'm trying to figure out how to live in this world, how to live in uncertainty, how to live in darkness and still have purpose. 

***

I recently wrote in an email thread to some friends, “The only things that give me hope these days are little babes and fluffy animals.” This is true.

I forgot to add that a good pop song can save me on a dark day, if only for as long as it lasts. It's something.

And because I'm a sharer and unashamed of (the broad range of) my music choices, I'm going to share the bubblegum pop songs that are giving me some life right now.

***

I'm going to kick off the jams with an adorable young man named Jordan Fisher. 

I don't know where Jordan Fisher comes from or what he's done in the past, except play an adorable nerd in Grease: Live! (please, do yourself a favor and never watch it). (Seriously. Just watch the actual Grease.)

I DO, however, know that he is now here to make jams like this one and make me feel like the world is worth dancing in again. 

Oh my god, I know. Major Lazer and Justin Bieber??? But seriously, this shit is so good. When you add MØ to the mix, and the badass dancers in this video, you can't tell me that you're not going to turn this shit up in your bathroom/bedroom/living room/kitchen and dance like the gruesome twosome were never elected to office. 

(For those of you who are like me and find that looking at Justin Bieber's face makes you uncomfortable, you have the green light to click play on this video. This video is pure Icelandic landscapes, fireballs, and badass dancing. No JB required.) 

So, M introduced me to Javiera Mena. He was obsessed for a real hot minute. He would play her album any chance he got, and he created a Google Play radio station that was based on her music. I'll admit, I was a little begrudging about liking her, which is weird, and I don't know why my initial reaction to her was 

when inside I was actually like 

but I'm here now. And converted. 

If you have not found the joy that is Lizzo and Caroline Smith -- please, enjoy. Listen to this when shit gets rough, and when Caroline sings, "I wish it was easy trying to work like a boss, but they keep shaking my patience," feel the validation flow through you and know that you are not alone. 

YES, FRIENDS. If you thought for ONE second that I would leave out the latest Bruno Mars jam, you're out of your damn mind, and you also don't know me AT ALL. (YES, is Bruno these days just straight up biting off the great artists of the past or is he paying homage? I DON'T KNOW. M and I disagree about this every time I put on a Bruno Mars song, and the reality is that we'll never agree, and does it really matter? (Yes, it actually probably does. Kind of?) You know you're going to get your ass on the dance floor when this shit comes on, regardless. Just go with it. 

Yes. I'm throwing in another Jordan Fisher jam. It's older, but still so good. I think this song is a breath of fresh air, M says it's mediocre. I don't even know how we're getting married. 

I'll end with Janet. This is certainly not the Janet I grew up with, but she's still a badass, even when she's not being her usual super sexy self. But we could maybe argue that she is still her usual super sexy self -- she's just...different. I love her past self and I love her current self. Let's not overthink it. Let's just enjoy. 

***

Oh no, wait. Just kidding. Bonus track. I want to end the bubblegum pop with something a little savory, a little salty, and a little sweet. I adore MØ because she makes these songs that lodge themselves in your heart/ears. They're sweet with some grit and some salt. They're pop songs, but they make me want to burn down the patriarchy with lyrics like, "I'm a symphony of the world gone wild." 

YES. 

***

In conclusion: dance. Dance whenever and where you need to. Dance when you're getting ready in the morning or when you're getting ready to go out. When you're standing at the bus stop or in your car at a stop light. When you're walking in to work. Dance as you cry. As you make dinner. When you take a shower. Dance with your love. By yourself. With your friends. With a stranger (with consent, of course). 

Dance because you need/want to stop thinking and just feel. Dance all those feelings out -- the sadness, the anger, the despair, the frustration, the desperation, and everything else until you're left with nothing except the music guiding your good and powerful body. 

We're in this shit storm for the long haul, so dance when you can to what brings you joy. 

The Mercury retrograde struggle is real, y'all.

Yes, friends. Mercury went retrograde last Monday night, the first solar eclipse of the month was on September 1st, and I’ll be honest with y’all. That Mercury in retrograde struggle is so very real for me right now.

I understand that some of you (most? all?) have (probably?) chuckled or laughed or lost some (all?) respect for me now. You might not believe in astrology or the idea that the stars and planets have anything to do with our silly human lives. And that might (probably?) be true.

What I know is that, in some of the most chaotic times of my life, astrology has been one of the things that helps me make sense of what’s happening. It gives me something to hold on to when I begin sifting through what feels like the wreckage of my life.

***
Wreckage sounds dramatic. It might be. But it's also what comes to mind when the world as you know it falls apart. Wreckage sounds scary and final. And it is. 

The good news about wreckage is that you can clear all of it away -- even the parts you loved -- and create something new. 

***
When you're still in the part of the wreck that is scary and overwhelming though. When it feels like you can't get out of bed, but you do because you're an adult and you have stuff to do and bills to pay. When you want to ugly cry all day. 

Basically, what I'm trying to say is: coping mechanisms. I want to talk about them. I talk a lot about self-care, but right now, I'm talking survival. I'm talking about the ways we deal with trauma and stress every day. The real-time struggle. 

***
Last week, my family got some awful news. Like really fucking terrible. Like one of my worst nightmares. 

My coping impulse was to lay in bed all day. It was to curl into a fetal position on the couch at random times and cry and then fall asleep. My impulse was also to call each member of my family at least twice a day to check in. 

My impulse was to lay in bed all day, but I forced myself out. I forced myself to get up, to be around people. The goal was not to force myself to actually interact with people, because it was clear that I was not up for that. The goal, instead, was to place myself in the world. To be among others, to remind myself that I do not exist in a vacuum. Life goes on. 

When I finally came home after our outings, I changed into sweats and collapsed into deep naps. Even if that outing was just to TJMaxx to buy a cat bed, it felt like it took everything within me to keep it together. But it felt important that I hold myself together for at least part of the day. To feign normalcy for at least 90 minutes a day. 

***

Cooking? Forget it. Before the bad news hit, I had plans for a pineapple jalepeño upside-down cake. It took me a week and a half to finally get up the energy to make it in between episodes of The O.C. (another one of my coping mechanisms -- what better way to escape reality than to watch a show about white folks living the dream?!). 

And it was worth it. 

HELLO, boozy pineapple jalepeño upside-down cake. 

HELLO, boozy pineapple jalepeño upside-down cake. 

***
This week, my energy levels are back up. The bad news has not gone away. Its urgency has subsided, mostly because there are a lot of medical tests to run, and results to wait on. 

I'm used to bad news quickly evolving into worse news into worst case scenario. This latest news is a slow burning fire. This feels like we're preparing for a long haul. At its most superficial, my life right now feels like a boss level of self-care and healthy survival/coping mechanisms. 

***
Anyway, my energy levels are back up. I'm not back to 100%. My energy for meal planning and cooking is back, but it might leave me just as quickly as it returned. My plan for this week is more loose than usual. Everything is a variation of a rice bowl. Easy, healthful, lots of room for improvisation, for as much cooking or as little as I want or am able to do. 

***
Last night, I started making October plans for this blog. I got so excited I couldn't sleep for a little bit. 

Two words: SPOOKY SHIT. 

It's coming. (I hope.) 

***
But seriously. I'm excited. 

Because I don't know how to end this post, I'm ending with this. Keeping it together long enough to buy a cat bed from TJMaxx for $20 is worth it. 

Coz getting comfortable in her new queenly ass bed. 

Coz getting comfortable in her new queenly ass bed. 

oh my god, my guy is marrying a sore loser (me).

Over the weekend, the love of my life (I'll call him M) and I began playing a game called Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn. Yes, it is a game where you battle each other with decks of cards. I've never played a game like this before, mostly because card games are for nerds? Just kidding. I've never played a game like this before because it just didn't appeal to me -- why fight each other with cards when you can play a fighting video game, mash a bunch of buttons and get the instant satisfaction of hearing a bunch of realistic punching sound effects? It didn't make sense to me. Also, these kinds of games require strategizing, and I'm just not a strategizing kind of gal. I like to just run into things blindly, windmill my arms a bit, and see what happens. 

But M was so excited about this game that I couldn't say no. I promised him I would take it seriously and really try to play, strategy and all. I picked a character with a deck that seemed awesome, and one of my first moves was to conjure a blue jaguar. It's a pretty powerful card that can take out any of your opponent's cards without using any valuable resources. I felt pretty good about myself -- I'd conjured my jaguar, decided to have mercy on M by not exercising Ms. Blue Jaguar's power just yet, and planned to make shit happen on my next turn. 

And then M killed my blue jaguar. He killed her without even batting an eye. I was pissed. I didn't crack a joke for the rest of the game because I was so f'ing mad. I successfully held back my rage tears and managed not to flip the table over.

And then I thought, "Oh my god. M is marrying a sore loser."

***

This isn't new. M first found out about my sore loser tendencies when he kicked my ass at NCAA Football on the Playstation 3. I rage cried. It was not a dignified moment for me (obviously). M was shocked, but still proposed to me a few months later. Thank god.  

***

The last thing I remember playing with my brothers was MarioKart. I don't think I ever won, and the whole time I just screamed obscenities at the tv and my brothers' gokart characters. Anyone who knows me in real life would probably be shocked, appalled, and maybe amused to hear the filth that came out of my mouth while playing MarioKart with my brothers. We're a foul-mouthed bunch as it is, but my vocabulary was extreme, even for me.  

***

The thing is, I play games as if they're real life. In real life, I weigh my decisions. I make my next move thinking about what's best for me and what's best for the person I'm dealing with. I make my real life next moves thinking about gains and losses, what I can live with, happiness, compromise, love. 

After M killed my blue jaguar, I realized that I can't play games as if they're real life. Unless I'm playing a co-op game (those are my favorite), I have to make decisions solely on what's best for me and only me. And that's a huge shift in thinking for me.

It's also liberating. Because for the three hours that I'm playing M in a game of Ashes, I can be ruthless. I don't have to be fair, and I don't have to keep anyone else's welfare in mind. I get to make decisions based solely on me, what I want and what I need to win the goddamn game. 

Unlike real life, I can exact revenge on my opponent. Unlike real life, I can plan ahead a couple moves because I know the resources I have and I have a vague idea of what my opponent has at their disposal and what moves they might make. 

***

This is not to say that I secretly wish I could be ruthless and make real life decisions based solely on self-interest. Hell no. The revolution will not come from acting on self-interest. Social and reproductive justice will not come if we each act for ourselves. 

In real life, I try to be mindful and heartful. Rather than blindly react to stimuli, I try to act with compassion and thought and a firm hand if I need it. In tabletop game life, though, that shit won't work. 

I guess what I'm realizing is that looking out for myself in a card game gives me permission to look out for myself a little bit in real life. 

What I'm talking about is self-care. Again. 

Looking out for myself and taking care of myself on the regular is not bad. It's not selfish. It gives me the tools (rest, energy, nurturing, self-love) to continue the work I do. If I don't look out for myself, I will burn out. 

(I had to work not to write that previous paragraph with "we" and "our." A reminder to speak for myself and let y'all speak for yourselves.) 

***

I swear, I didn't mean to end up at self-care again. I just wanted to explore why I'm such a sore loser. 

***

I might be a sore loser because I don't look out for myself in game play. We'll have to see if I continue to be a sore loser. However, with my new game-playing philosophy, I should only be winning.