I Live, I Die, I Live Again

Being a true and accurate account of the events relating to Peri Blomquist’s knee, on Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018. 

1

It’s January 23rd. 7:10 a.m.

A high, horrible keening begins in my home. A wordless, inhuman scream that reaches past the dimension of the living and pulls me from my sleep. I roll over, ready to bludgeon the alarm clock, but the sound isn’t mechanical.  It’s bestial.

I rise and yank open the bedroom door.

“Shut up.” I tell the cat.

“MMEEOOOOOOUUUUAAAIIIEEE” the cat screams back.

“Right,” I say, and slog into the kitchen to feed her.

My eyes lift to the window as I straighten from appeasing the beast, and I see a world of swirling white on the other side of the glass. Thick fog clogs the streets, obstructing my view of the sidewalk and neighboring buildings.

Neat-o, I think, and stomp back to bed.

Except, once I’m lying down, the fog is all I can think about. It reaches into my mind, with curling tendril fingers and it pokes. It prods.

Get the fuck up, it says, and take a picture. 

I curse at the ceiling and get up. Now I’m in a frenzy for no reason. The fog is calling, singing it’s siren song, pulling me towards the door. I yank on pants and start the coffee maker while I find my shoes. I grab a belt and jam a toothbrush in my mouth. The coffee finishes right as I pull my coat over my shoulders. I take a quick, scalding gulp and leave it on the counter.

“Back in five,” I tell the cat.

Then I grab my camera and my phone and my keys, and woosh out the door. My wallet sits on the same counter as my coffee, forgotten.

Jan 26

2

On the street the fog is like wet wool. It hangs heavy, draped over every rooftop and lamppost. I wander through it, snapping pictures of the crawling street and the early traffic.

I think idly about my coffee, but I’m nearly at the reservoir, so I keep walking. I find the water low and frozen, blending in with the white mist and erasing the horizon from view. The fog is swirling and blowing and eating morning joggers one by one. I follow them more slowly, ambling at my own pace into the milky oblivion.

I take more pictures but they look like nothing. They look like a plaster wall, or the heat death of the universe.

I’m halfway around the reservoir now. And I know that, up the little path and across the little back road, is a cemetery. I shift my direction, half unconsciously, the fog pushing at my back, and climb the muddy path. Then I stand on a sidewalk, looking across the little twenty foot wilderness to the iron fence and the shrouded headstones beyond.

Jump the fucking fence, says the fog, and take a picture. 

What a good idea, I think.

I jump the fence.

I wander happily through the graves, taking pictures, following the whispered directions of those whipsy, tendriled fingers buried in my brain. Five minutes later, as I crest a little hill, I see a pickup truck winding down the cemetery path in my direction.

Uhoh, says the fog, and I backpedal quickly until I’m no longer standing in the open.

I check my phone, which reads 8:05. The cemetery opens at 8:00, so I’m okay. But the gate (which was not my route in) is more than a five minute walk from where I’m standing. If I’m found, I might be asked how I got all the way to the back of the graveyard so quickly without being seen. At which point I might have to explain that I jumped the fence.

It’s not illegal, says the fog, but it’s sketchy as fuck. 

I am dressed in all black, entirely by coincidence. I don’t have my wallet or a picture ID.

Jump the fucking fence, says the fog.

I turn and start quickly back the way I came, glancing over my shoulder, listening for the pickup. I don’t run exactly, because that would look even more suspicious, but I am definitely no longer ambling.

I reach the fence and take two steps faster than the rest. I put my hands at the top of the fence and push up and jump, swinging my legs over. I swing gracefully down on the other side.

My left foot hits something slick and uneven beneath the leaves. My knee twists and gives out right as I hear a crunch sound and I slam into the ground.

Jan 24.2

3

Nice, says the fog.

I’m sitting in the leaves, camera cradled against my chest, both hands clamped down around my knee, which is throbbing. Beneath me I can feel a broken branch. I wonder if the sound I heard was my knee or the wood?

“This adventure is over,” I tell the fog. “I’m going home.”

I get up carefully, prepared to shuffle the mile and a half home, but my first step lands me back on the ground.

I can’t walk.

Alright, I think. I’ll just call a Lyft.

I crawl through the mud to the sidewalk and situate myself as well as I can. Then I pull out my phone and open the app.

“Update your payment information,” the app tells me.

“I can’t, I don’t have my wallet” I tell the app.

This is a very good day for taking pictures, says the fog.

I call my dad, who is alarmed to hear I can’t walk, but happy to help. He lends me his credit card information, and I plug it in and call a ride.

“Seven minutes,” says the app.

I wait seven minutes. My phone vibrates and a message appears letting me know my ride has arrived.

I raise my eyebrows at it, and look up at the very empty road, nothing but the fog caressing the bends on either side.

When I check the map, I discover that Lyft has sent my driver to the nearest address. Which is several hundred feet and on the other side of the graveyard from where I am sitting. With my useless knee. That I can’t walk on.

“I’ll just call them,” I say. And another message pops up on my phone.

“Your Lyft driver is hard of hearing,” says Lyft. “Please communicate with them only through text.”

I look around me, but there are no street signs. No landmarks. I have nothing I can text this poor driver to let them know where I am, because I’ve been wandering around in the fog all morning, and I don’t know where I am.

I close the app.

It begins to rain.

Ha ha, says the fog.

I start to call my boyfriend, then remember he’s in South Carolina for work. So I call my best friend instead, who answers the phone, just as she’s stepping out of the shower, thinking someone has died. I explain that no, everyone is alive, but that I have just busted my knee escaping from a graveyard I technically didn’t need to be escaping from, and am currently sitting on the sidewalk in the rain.

Rachel laughs at me. Then pulls up google maps and pinpoints my general location based on my description of how I arrived where I am. She drops a pin on the map and sends another Lyft driver.

“When he gets close, just wave your arms a lot,” she tells me.

“I love you. You’re a superhero,” I say.

Take a picture, says the fog.

I hang up and wait. The rain is starting to chase the fog away. Eventually, a red car appears around the bend.

I stumble up onto one leg and wave my arms like a maniac. The driver slows and pulls up cautiously.

“I’m your Lyft?” he asks.

“Yes!” I hop across the road on one leg and clamber into the back seat. Mud covered. Sticks in my clothes and in my hair. Soaked to the skin.

“What the fuck happened to you?” the driver asks.

“I got up early to take a picture of the fog.”

Jan 25

Epilogue

I spend three hours in the ER. I am x-rayed and gently mocked. Chided for not having my wallet. The registration clerk clearly thinks I’m a nutcase. The nurse seems to think I’m a photography hero. The doctor who treats me doesn’t even ask what happened, he just blows right in the door of my room and says “I heard the story! It’s all over the floor. Show me the pictures.”

I am diagnosed with a bad knee sprain and told to stop hopping fences. Rachel turns up to take me home.

“Hope those pictures turn out!” The doctor shouts after me as I hobble out the door on my new crutches.

Yeah me and you both, doc.

Jan 23

 

 

 

 

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HOW DARE I? And also, Finding Your Voice in Writing.

*Ahem*

So this is actually two posts in one. The first is kind of me circuitously addressing the topic, HOW DARE I, A NEOPHYTE NOBODY, GIVE WRITING ADVICE ON THE INTERNET? And the second is, how does one find their voice in writing?

I’ve been thinking about doing blog posts about writing for roughly 10,000 years now. But I’ve been hesitant to actually start doing it for a very simple reason: I have no idea what I’m doing.

No really. I know some of you think I’m being modest, but I’m like a very early hunter gatherer over here. I’m just chucking different types of projectiles at the writing market to see what makes it bleed (boy that got dark), and if I started with like, balls of grass, I have probably only just progressed to rocks. Spears I have not figured out yet. Spears are a magical, futuristic technology that still await me down the line of creative evolution.

And like, one time I managed to bonk a crow on the head and it died and I ate well that night. So now I’ve somehow gained this reputation as the consummate hunter-gatherer professional, when really I’m still just a noob chucking gravel at mastodons. (The crow is the one story I managed to publish, for those following along w/ the metaphor at home.)

But, people in my life always come to me for writing advice. This, by the way, is completely fair from their perspective, because if there’s one fact literally every acquaintance knows about me, it’s that I spend a lot of time writing. And I feel bad sending them away with nothing more than the eerie sound of my helpless scream into the void echoing in their ears, so when they ask, I regurgitate some of the writing advice I’ve read elsewhere, or try to reason something together on the spot.

That’s not to say I don’t know anything at all. I’ve made good friends who know more about what they’re doing than I do, and I learn from them. And at least I’ve reasoned out that wadded balls of grass do not make a good hunting tool.

But I’m still figuring a lot of this shit out.

So, why am I gonna give writing advice? Because it helps me figure my own shit out to put it into words. And because I think it might be helpful to you if you get to watch me articulate all the crap I’ve been doing wrong, and also possibly funnier for you when I inevitably fall on my snoot.

Cool? Cool.

AND NOW: Finding Your Voice in Writing. 

Dock Feet

Here’s a weirdly composed photo I took of my own feet as I sat in front of a lake screaming “WHERE IS MY WRITING VOICE” at passing water fowl.

This is one of the topics I recently found myself giving advice about to people. Three people, to be exact, who each came to me separately and to whom I then sent ridiculously long emails or google doc comments or chat epics.

I, personally, am still very much struggling to refine my voice. Both here on the blog, and in my fiction. (My professional email voice is the one voice I’ve got down, and for whatever reason it is the voice of a barrister out of the 1800s.) But here are some of the things I’ve noticed over the course of trying get my shit together.

1)  Your voice finds you, except where it doesn’t.

One of the questions I know people who are just starting a writing project (be it a blog or a novel or a necromantic text) tend to worry about is: How do I find my voice right away so I can start writing in it? I know that’s what you’re worrying about because that’s what I worried about when I started the blog. And also because some of you told me.

The short answer is: you can’t. That’s not how it works. Which on the one hand, is some real fucking suckage, because that means your project isn’t going to be the perfect awesome thing you want it to be when you first start out. Dunno about you, but that  slows me right down sometimes because I am a hellish perfectionist.

On the other hand it’s good news, because it means finding your voice isn’t as hard as you think it is.

How do you find your voice? You write. You screw it up a bunch of times and get it right in some places and eventually it sort of just slithers into your style and hibernates there. There’s no complicated formula you have to worry about, so you can just relax and get on with your project.

“Peri, that is so not flipping helpful.” Yeah I know, tell me about it.

So here’s some other things. A lot of the writing advice I’ve found on the internet or in books focuses on the idea of finding your own very special snowflake voice. This voice is the beautiful crystal image of your individuality and when you find it, it will be like no other very special snowflake voice in the world. Which is true, of course you’re you and you are a unique individual who brings your own unique voice to the writing table. But also how freaking intimidating is that and how the hell do I become a sublime snowflake? 

As a person still figuring out their voice, I can tell you this:

You do not start out as a snowflake. You start out as a kid in the snow grabbing other peoples’ snowflakes out of the air and putting them under a microscope. Part of figuring out your voice is often mimicking the voices of other writers you like, especially early on.  That’s our instinct. For instance, I dig the ever loving shit out of Chuck Wendig. He is my angry Buddha of blog writing. A lot of the early posts on this blog are me kinda going “how the heck do I be as funny as Chuck Wendig?”

I’ve since learned that nobody is as funny as Chuck Wendig.

Also, Mr. Wendig has this kind of sarcastic confidence that I just cannot pull off. Even when I’m telling a story verbally or giving advice in an email, my voice is full of self-effacing little asides. So I am not the internet’s next Chuck Wendig, and I just have to make my peace with that. But in the course of learning that I am not Chuck Wendig, I did find some of my own voice, so my early keyboard flapping was not all in vain.

A goodly chunk of finding your voice is finding out what your voice is not. Another part is also just trying a bunch of different things, and noticing which things you feel kind of comfortable and snug writing, and which things make your skin go wibbly.

(DISCLAIMER: When I say, “Hey it’s okay to find yourself trying to write like another writer,” I am not saying plagiarize. Do not plagiarize.)

And I suspect that in the end when you find the nirvana of Your Voice (if such a place exists, which I’m also beginning suspect isn’t the case, and maybe we get to worry about this stuff, to varying degrees, for the rest of our creative forevers) you will find aspects of others in that voice. You learn to be funny from one writer. Some of your rhythm is inspired by another. We learn through amalgamation and the end result is a thing that is both us and the aspects we love about other people.

2) Don’t wait until your voice is perfect to start putting your shit out there. 

Don’t wait because finding your voice can take a long ass time, and it’s an ongoing process. It’s just not practical to wait until you feel like you’re wearing a bespoke second skin to start really doing your thing. Do your thing the best that you’re capable of doing it right now. Then learn from your thing. Then do another thing, and learn from that too.

Besides which, most of the time your perceived lack of voice isn’t going to be as obvious to people as you think it is. Most readers won’t know that you’re a protozoa singing someone else’s karaoke unless you tell them you are. (THIS IS A METAPHOR, STILL DON’T PLAGIARIZE.) And really, you are writing in your voice. Is it perfect? No probably not. But you’re already laying foundations of your future, better voice, even if it doesn’t seem that way to you.

3) You have more than one voice.

Even in the scope of the same kind of project. In the blog, my “I am telling a hilarious story about my misspent youth” voice is not remotely the same as my “I am pissed off about this political subject” voice.

And between projects, obviously my blog voices are not my fiction voices.

So if you write a thing, and it’s going well, but then you notice “This sounds nothing like that other thing I wrote” don’t worry about it. You’re a microcosm of other microcosms, my friend. You contain multitudes.

4) Your voice is going to change. 

It’s a living organism. You’re going to find new techniques you like, you’re going to grow and change as a writer and a person. Two years from now you’re going to look back at stuff you wrote this year and go “Holy cannoli, did I really sound like that?”

Yes, you did. But it’s possible, and even probably, that only you have noticed that you sounded like that. And even if other people noticed, well whatever. They didn’t pop out of the womb as fountains of witticisms either.

5) A quick aside about sign-offs. 

As a subheading to the HELP WHERE IS MY VOICE question, I was asked twice about signing off blogs.

I am obviously not a great resource for blog specific advice. I haven’t even managed to compile a blog posting schedule for myself and sometimes ice-ages come and go between the posts I do get up. Which means that, not only does my voice morph drastically between posts, but the sign-off I thought was cool three months ago is usually exactly the type of sign-off I now find to be utterly un-cool.

Therefore, my own experience with sign-offs is “Fuck it, I’ll figure it out as I go, like everything else.” But that doesn’t mean that’s how everyone does it. I’m sure there are bloggers out there who nailed it the first time. Maybe you can write a list of a bunch of different ones and show them to your friends to get a consensus. Do whatever you are comfortable with, and whatever you find works for you, but my advice would be, don’t totally stress yourself out over it. You have bigger fish to fry.

And, later, if you do end up changing it, that’s okay. That’s how a lot of creative endeavors work; the end result rarely resembles the initial plan.

To demonstrate: I have no clue how to sign this post off.

No clue at all.

So…uhh. Yep.

Bye.

 

 

Me Too

I had a sort of light-hearted post about writing good (or not writing bad) antagonists prepared for this week, but we’re gonna put that on the burner because:

Me too.

And her too. And him too. And them too. And let me tell you the staggering number of times I’ve had conversations with men where I’m trying to explain to them the absolute ubiquitous experience women have with sexual assault and sexual harassment and they’re saying to me “Yeah, you say that,” and the woman sitting next to me has said, “It’s happened to me too.”

And the men have said, “Yeah, you all say that.”

We do. Me too. And boy do I have a question for you.

“Yeah, you all say that.”

Is there a minimum number of times you need to hear it before you believe it? Have you heard it so many times that now it’s just words?

I think it’s great that we’re taking to social media to spread this awareness. I think it’s very brave of so many women (and queer folk and non-binary folk and men) to let the world know, in solidarity, how violated they have been made to feel. I think it’s necessary that we spread the word.

But I’m worried. Because I’ve heard “me too.”

And then I’ve heard: “Yeah, you all say that.”

Which tells me that a lot of men have already been told, but they didn’t listen. Or it wasn’t convenient for them to understand. They’ve been told but they don’t know. They don’t want to know. Or they do know and they have chosen not to care.

And how the hell can that be.

If I sound pissed off, it’s because I am.

 

 

There’s a short story by Tim O’Brien called “The Things They Carried.” It’s about soldiers in the Vietnam War, and it breaks down their experiences by the precise weights of the things they had to carry on their backs.

Extra rounds. Hand grenades. Spare boots.

It’s a powerful story. One of my favorites.

The average human hand weighs about .86 lbs.

Most of the men I know have two hands. 1.72 lbs.

When I’m an adult sitting at my desk or standing around the break room and hands come down on my shoulders from behind me and start giving me a massage I didn’t ask for. When I’m a teenager and a male teacher puts his hands on my neck and asks “Why are you so tense?” When I’m a little girl and a boy on the playground puts his hands on my arms and pulls me backwards to get my attention.

I lost count of the hands I was carrying around before I was 16.

An arm weighs about 8 lbs.

An arm around my waist, “Hey, babe.” An arm around my shoulders, “Want me to buy you a drink?” An arm around my midsection, “What’s up, sweet stuff.” An arm around my back, “Don’t you want a hug?”

An arm around my neck, “I heard you know Kung Fu, can you get out of this?”

I don’t know how much a word weighs, but a tongue weighs about 2.5 ounces and it adds up.

From a manager: “Hey, hot stuff.” From a friend: “Nice ass.” From an acquaintance at a party: “You really turn me on.” From a dance partner: “Lets fuck.”

The mouth is a cavity so it doesn’t weigh much at all, but there’s the weight of a Jackson Pollock painting in unsolicited kisses from strange men painted across my face. That’s to say nothing of the men who weren’t strangers, but who still had no business kissing me.

And though I’m forever saying that I’m terrible at math, I’m also forever calculating the hands the arms and the tongues that haven’t even happened yet.

Walk in well lit areas.

Sit next to a woman on the bus if you can.

Sit across from, not next to, the coworkers you know are handsy.

Don’t wear that skirt.

Stand with your back to the wall.

Keep your eyes looking ahead and don’t make eye contact.

 

I’ve left one out.

The average adult male body weighs about 194.7 lbs.

And even when you truly, enthusiastically, wanted it there, that’s still a lot of weight to carry.

And when you didn’t?

 

 

This blog post isn’t my way of coming out about the sexual assault and harassment I’ve experienced in my life.

If you really need an itemized list of the things that have been done to me in order to understand or empathize when you hear someone say “me too,” then fine, come see me. I’ll tell you honestly that some days I’m ashamed about it, and some days I’m pissed about it, and some days I’m a mess about it. I’ll write a timeline and chart every hand I can remember. If you gotta have my story, then you can have it, but what I want from you isn’t pity, or shock, or apologies.

What I want is for you to understand that I’m not an anomaly. And the very shitty things done to me are not even a fourth of the shitty things that many other women I know have endured.

And I want you to understand that all the little “jokes” that weren’t made in ill spirit still weigh .86 lbs. And when you add them up, they’re not funny, because now I walk around expecting at any second the one that’s not a joke.

I’m not betting that this blog post will change the world. I’m not even expecting it to change anyone’s mind really, because I’ve been trying to do that to people I know, face to face, for years. And if the sound of my voice, and the echoing “Me toos” in a crowded bar can’t do it, then I don’t know what more good a little vulnerability on the internet is going to do.

But let me just explain that one of the things I’m saying when I say “me too” is: “I don’t know any woman who isn’t a ‘Me too.'”

When I say, “Me too,” I’m saying it in the hopes that other people, today or tomorrow or someday, won’t have to say it at all.

We’re not out here talking about sexual assault because we want to ruin your day. What we want is for things to change.

What we want is for people in positions of privilege to ask themselves:

“Who is carrying my hands around?”

 

Wherein I Accidentally Sit on Henry David Thoreau’s Dad.

An Update on the Life of Peri Fae Blomquist.

SO IT’S BEEN A WHILE, HUH?

Like, almost a year. How good am I at this blog thing? So good.

I was going to do this whole long philosophical post talking about the changes in my life and the nature of human creativity and where the heck I’ve been all this time, but instead I’m going to tell a small story about embarrassing myself in public again and summarize all the rest.

Summary: Where have I been? I’ve been laid off. I’ve been temping around. I’ve been finding employment. I’ve been flipping tables and shouting in the streets over the political situation. I’ve been writing. (I’m always writing.)

Where am I now? I am here! On my couch and nursing a small bruise on my tailbone. I’m also working part time and writing part time (a recent experiment which I’m still getting used to.) My boyfriend and I have the financial wiggle room to let me spend a few days a week just writing, thus giving me the space to improve and fail as many times as I need for a while, so we’re trying that out. It’s great. It’s also hella stressful because now suddenly there’s this onus on my writing that didn’t exist before. Imposter syndrome is my new roommate in a big way. He sucks, by the way, he doesn’t even do the dishes.

But we’re not here to talk about him. We’re here to talk about my butt.

So my buddy Phil (whom you may remember from previous posts written back in the Mesozoic era as Philtog the photographer) and I took a little trip out to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, MA this past weekend. We took this trip because my favorite holiday, Halloween, is almost upon us and that means I’ve been spending most of September and October pestering my friends to do spooky things with me. Like sally off on graveyard adventures for spooky photos.

Sleepy Hollow is a picturesque little collection of headstones, established in 1855. It’s relatively small, considering the scope of other historical New England graveyards, and doesn’t look like much from a drive by. However, if you follow the narrow, winding road to the back lot, it boasts the burial places of writers Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Louisa May Alcott.

And Henry David Thoreau, obviously.

HDT

There’s the scamp.

It’s tradition for writers who come to visit to leave pencils or little knickknacks on his grave. Hawthorne and Emerson both rest behind (admittedly not very imposing) fences made of a single chain strung through stone posts. Emerson’s grave is this huge, white quartz thing, and the others are all very respectable records in stone with RIP’s and dates and the usual etcetera.

Henry’s is right off the path in his family plot among a tangle of tree roots. No fence. Barely taller than a No. 2 pencil. His family members have stones very much the same. And there’s something humbling about getting to the plot and finding out that this great American mind is sleeping under a marker barely big enough to hold his first name.

You could sit down with him among the roots, while pine needles and leaves fall into your hair. You could contemplate the inevitability of mortality and the impermanence of human legacy. You could count the pencils who came before you and wonder what they made of this unassuming stone.

If you’re me from another dimension you might think on the parallels in your own life, since you’re trying hard to be a writer and pomp and circumstance are guaranteed to no one.

Or you could do what me from this reality did, and sink awkwardly down into a kind of deep, yogic squat–because it rained earlier and the ground is wet and these are your new jeans you’re not gonna sit on the dirt–and then lean forward until your head is between your trembling knees and kink your neck into an impossible angle until you look, very probably, like a rather twisted turtle, in an effort to take a decent picture.

And then you might periodically scuttle back a few inches at a time because you’re using a prime lens, which means no zoom in or zoom out. And then you might scuttle-trip over one of those itty bitty tree roots that become much more significant when you’re that close to the ground, and slam your tailbone back into something very hard. 

You might assume it’s just a tree and snap “OW! That’s my friggin’ butt!” in a very accusing tone.

You might discover, when you turn around, that it’s not a tree at all, but another little gravestone in the family plot. You might feel bad, because while there’s no social code for snapping at trees in public, it’s really very impolite to snap at gravestones. So you reach behind yourself and give the stone a little apologetic pat and say, “Oh, so sorry. Excuse me, sir.”

At which point you might look up, and realize there’s a family of six standing right over you looking horrified. They’ve just climbed the hill in the hopes of spending a few reverent moments at the grave of a literary genius, and instead have found you, in a turtle squat, with daddy Thoreau squeezed between your butt cheeks.

“That’s his dad!” Says Dad of the family of six who now probably qualify as witnesses under the law. The three children are staring at you in alarm.

“Sorry daddy!” You say, in what is possibly the only phrase that could make the situation more awkward. You hastily unfold your stiff limbs into the semblance of a human shape and quickly shamble away into the trees like a geriatric cryptid who can’t feel her ass.

At that point your little cemetery adventure is over. Yep, it died in the forbidden valley of your butt; time to go home. Phil is looking at you with that expression that says “Why do you always do this to us?”

You’ll have to make do with whatever imperfect shots you managed take before you inadvertently sat on the headstone of a famous American writer’s progenitor.

Alonezigzag stairs

That’s all for now!

May the autofocus be with you.

Satanic Cranberry Sauce

It is a truth universally acknowledged that some people cannot help getting themselves into preposterous scrapes, no matter how hard they try to stay out of them. This is a true story, and is more or less a transcript, to the best of my memory, of what happened to me, in my real life, on Thursday last, November the 24th.

Thursday, day of giving thanks for the thin veneer of comfort that comes from being raised on historical B.S., dawns chilly and fair. I’m destined for thanksgiving dinner with my boyfriend’s family and I’m reminding myself not to talk about politics in a household where I will be out-numbered, and where the stress levels of everyone involved will already be running high.

In general, it should be noted, I get along with these people. They’re conservative and they’re Christian (where I am hella liberal, and not Christian), but they’re not exclusively hard-right  leaning. We disagree on many things, but we all agree (at the very least) on the disaster that is Trump. We have that much going for us.

Believe it or not, this is not a story about how Trump ruined Thanksgiving. This is a story about how Satan (and also me, his unwitting accomplice) almost ruined Thanksgiving.

I’m helping set the table before the guests arrive. I plop cranberry sauce out of its can and into a bowl, still in can shape, still standing upright. And, since there’s not much else to do, I doodle a little star on the top with a butter knife. There was nothing special about this star, it’s the same star we were all taught to draw in kindergarten or first grade. It’s a geometric shape with no meaning beyond the memory of whacky childhood drawings of dogs that look like ponies and ponies that look like dogs.

I put the cranberry sauce on the table and I forget all about it.

Later, all the guests have arrived, and we’re at the table. I’m at one end, as the spry and helpful server I have the most mobility this way, and a family friend is at the other end. He’s seated by the cranberry sauce. His family and my boyfriend’s family are seated all around him. I am standing alone, dolling out napkins or water or maybe just holding my position there like the queer, nervous scarecrow I am.

“So this is an interesting symbol to have drawn on the cranberry sauce,” the family friend says in a voice that’s not quite casual. We’re going to call him Fred.

I look up and meet his eyes, thus admitting guilt unintentionally. He’s already looking at me, so he must have suspected I was the culprit anyway.

“It’s a star,” I say.

“It’s a five-pointed star,” says Fred.

“I…yes?” I say,  utterly perplexed.

“It’s not the star of David,” says Fred.

“No?” I say.

“Why did you draw a pentagram in the cranberry sauce?”

I look at Fred. I think Fred is probably joking.

Fred doesn’t look like he’s joking.

I look around the table. Everyone is staring at me, silent, waiting, in utter seriousness, for me to explain why I have served them Satanic cranberry sauce.

“It’s just a geometric shape,” I try, beginning to feel as though I actually need to defend myself, and beginning to feel as though a real defense does not exist.

“It’s a five-pointed star,” Fred says again. “You could have drawn any kind of star, why this one? And it’s inside in a circle.”

“I didn’t draw a circle!” I protest.

“The cranberry sauce is a circle,” Fred explains patiently.

I…Yes. It is. But I didn’t make it that way, I am not responsible for the platonic form of the cranberry sauce. I didn’t create the base nature of all cranberry sauce thus making this one circular in shape.

I can’t very well say that though, I’m in a snag already, and if they didn’t believe that I had no satanic intentions when I drew that five-pointed star, they weren’t going to believe that I honestly had not noticed the cranberry sauce was a circle.

In a desperate attempt to extricate myself, and to alleviate the discomfort of all present, I open my big, know-it-all mouth, and I say:

“Technically, if it’s in a circle it’s a pentacle, not a pentagram.”

A much more uncomfortable moment of silence follows.

“What’s the difference?” Fred demands. Everyone is still staring. No one has ever been so attentive to my boring, pedantic ramblings on any subject I’ve ever rattled on about before. And my rattling on pedantically is a common enough occurrence.

I am thus interrogated into a long, breathless lecture on my imperfect knowledge of the oft misconceived history of the pentacle, the pentagram, the Wiccan religion, and the Satanic church. (For the reader alone, I did not, in the course of my sudden, impromptu history lesson, mention that the Satanic church does also use the shape of a pentacle, merely an inverted one, since there would be no way for Fred to determine if the pentacle I had inadvertently created was inverted or not. I left the pentacle safely within the realms of Wicca.) I kept the entire lecture as brief as I could, possibly for the first time in my life. But Fred had many questions. And other people at the table had questions. And there I stood, at the head (or the bottom) of the table, sweating my bisexual, democratic, feminist sweat, scrambling to remember everything I’d ever come across in my research on these four subjects.

I explain how usually the representations of the five points on the star are based on the five Aristotelian elements. And how the Wiccan religion, though drawing from various pagan and polytheistic traditions, was a relatively young, and much varying, religion. I won’t go into everything I went into here, because it was long and boring, and neither you, dear reader, nor anyone else I’m ever likely to meet with could possibly possess the same intense, laser interest exhibited by this particular group of people, at that particular time and place.

“Why do you know so much about these things?” Fred eventually asks as we’re winding down. His worries have been mostly put to rest by my frantic assurances of earthy practices used by many Wiccan’s, but a gleam of suspicion for my own motives remains.

“I’m a writer,” I stammer out. Which is the truth. And thankfully is the kind of answer that covers all manner of sins, and was enough to satisfy Fred.

Everyone at the table partook of the Cranberry sauce. I can only assume from this that I had successfully dispelled their thoughts of Satan.

That’s all for now. Peace out, fellow heretics.

 

Pretty Sunsets, Shady Boat Plug Deals, and a RAIN OF FIRE.

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Hello. It’s high time for another amateur photography-adventure story, yes? Yes.

Lets rewind back two months to July 3rd. A nice, balmy Sunday. It’s sunny, but not unbearably hot. My boyfriend and I get a text from our good friend Philtographer that says something to the effect of, “I have procured a boat. Let’s go boating and take pictures.”

I’m like “Hell yeah, lets,” not bothering to ask where Philtog got a boat since I’ve come to just expect these kinds of things from him. (I found out later that he’s just had a boat for years, and I simply never knew.) We meet up at a little residential lake in the northern part of the state around 5 pm. And sure enough, there’s a boat. And Philtog. And about 9,000 metric tons of camera equipment. What could possibly go wrong?

I know nothing about boats, but a general description of our vessel is that it’s your standard lake chugging boat, seats about six in a pinch, used to have a gas motor on the back which Phil replaced with electric trolling motors, and two long, wooden oars on either side.  (And for those of you who are like me and don’t know boats, trolling motors are like, not meant for speedy transportation. They mostly keep the boat from drifting away in a gentle current.)

After we load up the boat, Phil says, “Let me just check the boat plug before we shove off, so we don’t sink.” And I’m thinking that’s probably a good idea. So Phil bends over the edge of the boat and fiddles around for a while. Then I hear a snick, chink! and Phil’s muffled voice going, “Yep. That’s not good.” And since Phil has never uttered a cuss word in his life, I’m thinking “not good” basically means “*&%$*#.”

“What happened?”

“The boat plug snapped in half.”

Well poop.

I lug all our equipment back to the car because I am not a fool. I know an omen when I see one. And even if we manage to somehow, magically find another boat plug here in the middle of almost nowhere, it would still be wise for us to heed the message the universe has sent us.

Besides, what are the odds of us finding another boat plug in the next two minutes?

When I return for the rest of the bags, I find Phil and my boyfriend chatting with a family who just came in off the lake. They are buying the family’s boat plug. Right out of their boat. Like some sort of shady, back alley boat plug deal.

Apparently, I am a fool because I proceed to lug all the camera equipment back again. And then I get in the boat. And then we shove off. And row our sweet, oblivious little selves into the middle of the lake.

As we slowly drift along, actual speedboats and jet skis are zooming around us. They whizz by with incoherent shouts that amount to the aquatic equivalent of “OUT OF THE WAY, NERDS!”  Waves cause our rusty little craft to bounce up and down, making any kind of photograph with a zoom lens impossible. But the day is getting on and the sky is promising a darling sunset, so whatever. Screw you, jet-ski bros.

Phil is rowing the boat. I’m ignoring everything, taking wobbly pictures of the tree line. When behind me I hear SNAP and Phil stops rowing. I don’t even turn around.

“Was that the oar?” I ask.

“Yep,” says Phil.

Hahaha fuck.

I turn. Sure enough there goes half of one of our oars, floating away. And with only one oar left and tiny electric trolling motors, we can’t go fast enough to catch it.

So we’re stuck. But hey! The sun is setting! Lets take some pictures.

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OOooo.

 

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AAahh.

 

 

Darkness falls, and now it’s time for us to limp home with our one oar and our tiny motors.

Putt-putt. Sploosh. It takes us about 15 minutes to go 100 yards. Putt-putt. Sploosh. All the other boats are heading in to the docks of the lakefront homes. Putt-putt. Sploosh.  Someone ahead of us starts yelling from their dock to someone on another dock on the opposite side of the water. The shouting sounds suspiciously like, “SUCK IT, BOB. WATCH THIS.”

fire1

Oh right! It’s July 3rd! Free fireworks show. That’s pretty cool. We keep paddling and drifting, because we have to get home at some point, and the public boat launch is still, at the speed we’re going, about a year away. Inch by inch. Minute by minute. Putt. Putt. Sploosh. We enjoy the fireworks in the meantime.

Except thirty five minutes later, they’re still going off. And now we’re getting closer to the dock.

Closer.

Closer.

fire2

CLOSER.

fire3

TOO CLOSE.

Ash and sparks are raining into the boat as we putt-putt-sploosh by at the breakneck speed of a wounded snail. Our ears are ringing. We’re brushing powder out of our hair and rubbing smoke out of our eyes. It’s been forty five minutes and the fireworks are STILL going off. Despite our little running lights, which make us visible. And our undeniably terrified shouts of “OHMYGOD. OHMYGOD.”

We finally get by.

We finally get to the boat launch.

We finally, amid a thick, teeming cloud of mosquitoes, get the boat on the trailer and get ourselves in the car. Ears still ringing. Eyes still stinging. We all go home.

The next day, as they do every year, invitations via text and facebook trickle in, offering us the opportunity to tag along to various local fireworks displays with friends or family. Boyfriend and I look at each other, shake our heads and “nope” our way through every one.

And that’s the whole tale, fellow amateurs.

May the autofocus be with you.

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Not My Autobiography: This post doesn’t get a title, just a public apology to my father for telling this story on the internet

So this is a story about my dad.

(Dad, I know you hate it when I tell people this story, and I’m sorry for putting it online, thereby ensuring its immortality, but this is one of the funniest things you’ve ever done. Please don’t ever change.)

Journey back with me now back to the bedbug panic of 2011. Bedbugs are in the news. They’re in your home (according to the news) and there are more of them arriving every day from outer space. They’re coming! For you! Bedbugs!

I am in college. So is my bestly bestest friend in the whole world, Rachel, except she’s in college in Boston and I’m in college in Dunmore, PA, and it’s a very sad state of affairs, we haven’t spoken in months. Meanwhile, I am currently living with my dad, whose house, it just so happens, is right behind (not 50 yards from) the house of my bestly bestest friend’s ex-boyfriend (whom we shall call Mob.) Who is a really good dude. We all stayed friends, and given the proximity, I occasionally still saw this gentleman, but there are rules about these kind of things.

If you don’t follow these rules, the universe will punish you.

One fine day, the aforementioned Upstanding Gentleman asks me on a date. Like any intelligent young woman, I completely panic, say “Oh shit, um..I’ll think about it,” and proceeded to throw Upstanding Gent out of the house. I then immediately pick up the phone, call my besty, and (as Gent is still walking past my living room windows) scream into the phone “OH SHIT MOB ASKED ME ON A DATE WTF DO I DO?”

Rachel proceeds to hyena-laugh in my ear. “YOU HAVE TO SAY YES,” she shouts back. “YOU HAVE TO. WE MUST KNOW HOW THIS TURNS OUT.”

“ALRIGHT.” I say, and hang up. I call Mob, who probably hasn’t even managed to reach his house yet so little time has passed, and tell him I accept. We agree to do sushi and the new Harry Potter movie in theatres. It will be great.

Or a disaster.

As *soon* as I hang up the phone it rings again and it’s Rachel.

“WHAT IF THIS DATE GOES REALLY WELL?” she banshees. “WHAT IF YOU GUYS DATE AND THEN GET MARRIED AND THEN HAVE KIDS AND THEN THOSE KIDS FIND OUT THAT I SLEPT WITH THEIR FATHER? I WILL BE TRAMPY AUNT RACHEL!”

HAHAHAHARHGHBLRGUH,” I say.

I know, I know. I said this story was about my Dad. And so it is.

Here comes Friday. And sushi. And Harry Potter. Mob and I have a lovely time. We get home around seven, which is far too early a time for a date to end, so I invite him in to watch cheesy Vincent Price movies for a bit. (Which isn’t an innuendo, that’s exactly what we planned to do, pants, and the removal of them, factored not at all into our plans.)

I park the car. We walk up the driveway to my front door. I reach out for the handle.

Do you hear that sound? That thumping, rumbling, ground shaking gallop that’s getting closer? That’s bedbugs.

Actually, no. It’s my dad. Vaulting off the couch and running to the door so he can bar our entry like a one man Red-Rover Red-Rover.

“WHERE DID YOU GO?” Dad demands. (There is a lot of shouting in this story. Emotions were running high this week for some reason: bedbugs.)

“Uh,” say Mob and I. “We got some sushi.”

“Cool,” says Dad. “Was it good?”

“Yes?”

“WHERE ELSE DID YOU GO?” Dad asks, like a man waiting for the terrible phone call he knows is coming.

“The movies,” we say. “We saw Harry Potter.”

My dad is tense now. His knuckles are white on the molding of the door frame.

“Before you went to the movies,” he asks slowly, “did you….” a deep breath to steady himself, “did you check for the theatre on the National Bedbug Registry website?”

“Uh…” The what? “…no.”

Dad nods. He knew it was coming. Knew it was only a matter of time before the bedbugs found a way…

“STAY RIGHT THERE,” he bellows, and slams the door in our faces.

Mob and I look at each other. We are lost and confused.

The door bangs open again. Dad’s arm thrusts out, an empty garbage bag clutched in his fist.

“Both of you take this,” he says with slow determination, “and go into the back yard, and take off your pants.”

The universe itself has paused in disbelief.

“Pardon?” I say. Because apparently I’ve just had a stroke and my brain can no longer process the English language correctly.

“Your pants,” Dad repeats. “Go take off your pants. Put your pants into this bag. Then you can come in the house.”

He slams the door again and stares at us through the glass from the other side, his arms crossed, waiting.

I look at Mob, whose face has crashed and frozen like Windows 95.

Together we go into the backyard and stand looking at each other, completely silent. There is no first date etiquette for this situation. There is no ancestral wisdom passed down from our mothers’ that can help us now. There is no escape.

“We have no choice,” I say. “Take off your pants.”

And so, enclosed by the high, weather beaten wooden fence, standing amid weeds and left over firewood, we take off our pants.

Dad opens the door for our quiet, bare-thighed return. He accepts the bag with an approving nod and hands Mob a change of clothes.

“Now, go change the rest of your clothes, put them in the bag too. Then, put everything in the dryer for fifty-six minutes.”

Later I found out that what Dad actually said was “fifteen minutes”, but really I think it’s amazing I understood any of his words at all over the shrieking void of incredulity still ringing in my ears. Mob and I go down the hallway in our underwear and part ways to change in different rooms, as if the shreds of our first- date dignity aren’t already blowing like tumbleweeds through the desolate landscape of my backyard.

We watch a Vincent Price film and laugh about it, pretending that I’m not in my pajamas and Mob isn’t in my dad’s pants. We soldier on, determined to be totally chill and un-embarrassed. But the shadow remains, looming darkly over us.

We can never escape it.

Bedbugs.

EPILOGUE:

Mob and I didn’t get married (obviously). And eventually, through a convoluted series of events (most of which were Rachel’s fault) I moved to Boston and now see my bestly bestie on the reg.

My dad finally admitted, some years later, that maybe it was just a little weird of him to insist that my date and I take off our pants in the back yard. He still maintains, however, that bedbugs are the root of all evil, and likely to be the downfall of this civilization.

That’s it for now.

Sleep tight, all. Don’t let the bedbu–OHGOD THEY’VE GOT ME SAVE YOURSELAAAUUUHGHGHGGHHgggghhhhh….

 

 

 

 

Sexy Lumberjacks and a Pocket Full of Turtles

I probably should have called this blog “A Professional Amateur,” instead of “Writertude” since I spend most of my free time (bahaHAHA, I mean the time I buy with stress proportionate to the number of hours I’ve put off whatever I should be doing in order to do the thing I’m actually doing) accumulating hobbies. I knit, crochet, sometimes I paint, I’ve been a martial artist and a dancer, I can play about 2 songs on my guitar, I’ve dipped my toe into blacksmithy and recently took up running…and of course I write (although I consider that less of a hobby and more MY LIFE’S MISSION.)

About a year ago I decided to start trying my hand at photography. As luck would have it, a good friend of mine is an actual photographer (he would probably classify himself as *almost* a photographer, but I mean, he takes pictures of people and even occasionally gets paid for it: that’s a photographer to me), and was willing to apprentice me and show me the ropes. Thank you, Phil, for being such a wonderful enabler and patiently entertaining my flailing, amateur attempts as I recklessly fling myself, once again, into waters I know nothing about (Look I bought a camera! It’s a really good ca–what’s a fourth-frame what do you mean I have to “pick the right shutter speed” what the frig is an f-stop?)

Fast forward. This past Friday.

I sent Philtographer a link to a photo shoot I found online of an actual, burly Lumberjack, dressed and posed like a pinup poster. I sent him this because I found it hilarious and awesome. I’m always on board for art that undermines gender norms and makes me laugh at the same time. And I said to Philtographer: “This should be the theme for our next shoot!”

I typed this message with irony in my heart.

Two hours later I get a message that says, “I found a lumberjack. We need suspenders and an axe.”

…What?

  1. That was a joke, Philtog.
  2. WHERE did you find a lumberjack at 10 in the morning on a Friday???
  3. It’s too late. We’re committed now. Better block off some time for the Sexy Lumberjack shoot.

We put Saturday afternoon on the books, since during that time I would be joint-house sitting for my boyfriend’s mother and she lives basically in the woods near a cranberry bog, and I was forwarded a picture of said lumberjack. Who, I must note, was not an actual lumberjack, but a tall, Nordic-looking young man with flowing locks and plaid in his wardrobe. Close enough.

Saturday arrives. So does the Lumberjack. I’m already a little boggled by the rollercoaster of unexpected that is my life, but I’m rolling with it. We grab the camera equipment and begin the hike down a lonely suburb road to the Cranberry bog, Nordic giant with an axe swung over his shoulder bringing up the rear.

A few people pass us in cars. They give us a wide berth.

Halfway to the bog I look down at a rock I’m about to step on. I look because the rock is crawling, slowly, toward the edge of the road.

Turtle Portrait (1 of 1)

Holy shit it’s a turtle. A tiny, baby turtle the size of a half dollar, trying to make the long, impossible journey to the bog. Beside this turtle are one or two road smudges that had once been other turtles, along with the smashed scribble of a big snake with its mouth frozen open in an unmistakable expression of “Om nom nom.”

Obviously his turtle journey hadn’t been going very well so far. I pick up the exhausted little guy and put him in my jacket pocket (gently) and we carry on. Until, up ahead…

Dinoturtle (1 of 1)

Oh shit, another turtle. Struggling along. Into my pocket tiny dinosaur.

We finally arrive at the bog, lumberjack and Philtog in tow, I with a pocket full of turtles. Near the waters edge, we release the turtles, and I delay the photoshoot a further ten minutes by laying down on the ground to take the pictures you’ve already seen.

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Featuring Philtog’s fingers and his wireless mouse for scale.

 

The turtles swim away. The day is saved. Philtog and I finally take some lumberjack photos and it’s pretty awesome. Apart from being dashingly photogenic, our Nordic Hero is a very amiable, laid back guy, willing to stand still among beaming shafts of bright sun and pretend as though he isn’t being eaten alive by a teeming cloud of blood thirsty gnats.

Mmm…bogs.

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I call this the “Pantene Pro-V shot”

 

lumberjack 3 (1 of 1)

Look at that majestic profile.

 

lumberjack 2 (1 of 1)

“I hear the song of my people.”

 

10/10 would drag this guy on an unexpected turtle misadventure again.

Peace out fellow amateurs. May the Autofocus be with you.

Post Hoc Ergo Panic Hoc (Wherein I Intend to Write a Blog Post About Panic Disorder and Instead Write an Essay)

I’ve mentioned this on the blog in passing, but I have this little gem of an anxiety disorder called Panic Disorder.

There’s a whhoooolleee lot of misconceptions and myths about anxiety disorders embedded in media and today’s social structure, and after spending this past Christmas explaining to each side of my family, and my boyfriend’s family, why the fact that I was having so much trouble eating did not actually mean I was afraid of food itself, and what a panic attack actually *is*, I wanted to take some time to dispel some of the big ones, and go over some of what anxiety disorders and Panic Disorder actually constitute, as far as my own, meager (non-medical, non-expert) understanding of them extends.

Besides which, conventional wisdom tells me I’m supposed to shut up in polite society about things like mental health issues and therapy, which of course just makes me want to talk about it all the time. It’s about time that we shook off the stigmas clinging to these things and starting fucking conversing about them.

First, the short/medium version of my own descent into Panic Disorder goes thusly: Two years back I had a heck of a stressful year for about 10,000 reasons. During this time, in addition to other stressors, I was given to understand by doctors that I had an allergy to tree nuts which could lead to anaphylaxis (this, by itself, not a huge problem.) I was equipped with an EpiPen, told to be HELLA CAREFUL about what I ate, and then sent on my way. The year was a busy one, and fool that I am, I put off seeing an actual allergist for a year and a half, instead growing more and more hyper vigilant about what I ate. This hyper vigilance combined with several other factors (including a predisposition to anxiety) snowballed until the panic attacks appeared. And, while the attacks are the result of many, many factors, they came to focus on the one thing in my life I thought I could control: my food.

Control, by the way, is a total illusion, and panic disorder is not a beast of reason, so before I knew it, the simple act of eating was a trigger. I would sit down to a meal of peppered mashed potatoes, feel a tingle in my throat (from the dang pepper of course) and POW, panic attack.

Last spring, when I finally caved and called my doctor to scream into the phone something along the lines of “HoLy SHIt I ThINK I MigHt NeEd a THErApiST” I was having, on average, four panic attacks a day (anywhere from 2 to 10). Which is like, a lot. And which was most certainly affecting my ability to live my life and do simple things like, go to work, see my friends, and most importantly eat my lunch.

I found a therapist, saw and allergist, underwent numerous tests of the pokey, staby, variety, and came to find out that I did not, actually, have a food allergy. The EpiPen I carry everywhere is vestigial to my own needs. But by then it was too late, damage done, the list of foods I could eat without melting into a gasping, shuddering mess was about twenty items long.

So Panic Disorder itself. Tl;dr, panic disorder is officially defined as when an individual experiences at least two panic attacks within a six month period. Anyone can experience a panic attack, they’re not exclusive to a spilled-spaghetti brain like mine, but the common recurrence of them is what makes it a disorder.

Which brings me to my first myth:

 

All a person having a panic attack needs to do to feel better is just calm down.

People say this all the time on TV, in real life, in magazines, on health blogs: “Just calm down. Just take it easy. Take a deep breath.”

People who say this don’t have a clear idea of what a panic attack actually is. For starters, it is just not that easy. Why not? Well, first:

What’s a panic attack? <– There’s a link, but my personal description of a panic attack is that it’s basically a physiological response that occurs in a situation that your lizard brain interprets as life threatening (or if you have social anxiety, world crumbling). Lizard brain kicks your body into fight or flight, full speed ahead: adrenaline whams into your system, sweat prickles out of your skin, your hands shake, your legs itch, your chest tightens to the point of actual pain, and your throat physically closes in panic. You feel like you can’t breathe, (which leads to hyperventilation) and you get dizzy, your lips and fingers tingle, and your heart does it’s level best to slam its way out of your chest like a TV FBI agent kicking down a door.

Every single doctor I’ve seen on the matter has told me, in the same credulous voice, as if they were revealing to me the secrets of the universe, that’s it’s not uncommon for people having a panic attack to go to the ER or call 911 thinking they’re having a heart attack. Because it feels like a heart attack, it feels like you’re actually dying. (The irony of doctors who have clearly never had a panic attack telling me this as if I won’t be able to believe it cracks me up every time. Of course people go to the ER, THEY THINK THEY’RE DYING, isn’t that why anyone goes to the ER?)

Imagine sitting in a chair, physically feeling like you’re having a heart attack, and these are actual physiological symptoms remember, it’s not just something you’re imagining in your head, and then they guy next to you says: “Just calm down.”

Not helpful. Also usually not helpful is the advice to “take a deep breath.” Someone having a panic attack is likely already hyperventilating, which is basically the issue of taking too many deep breaths. When you hyperventilate, you blow off too much carbon dioxide and take in more and more oxygen, which causes your blood to become more alkaline and as a result, you to become dizzy and nauseated. The kicker is that hyperventilation is often interpreted by the brain as the lungs not getting enough oxygen. So, you’re over breathing, but you feel like you’re not breathing at all, so you over breath even more. It’s a vicious cycle.

Just “calming down” isn’t good enough. There is no instantaneous, magic feel better solution. And actual solutions obviously differ for different people.

A few things I, myself, have found helpful:

Yoga breathing. Breath in slowly, through your nose, filling up your diaphragm so your stomach expands, and just when you think you can’t take in any more air, take in a little more. Then exhale, slowly, through your mouth, lips pursed, emptying your lungs completely of air, squeezing out that little extra at the very end. Repeat for a few minutes. This is something my therapist (who is a lovely woman) taught me. Basically, the body can’t be both relaxed and panicking at the same time, and breathing like this (and focusing on relaxing the shoulders and the muscles of the face) relaxes the body.

Relaxing into the panic attack. This sounds insane, like leaning into a punch. But think of it like jumping into a wave, if you dive headfirst into the wave all of a sudden your through it on the other side, if you stand still, rigid, freaking out, that wave is gonna knock you on your ass, drag you up the sand like an impotent jellyfish, and dump you, gasping and scraped up, on the shore with a nose full of seaweed. Remind yourself it’s only a panic attack, tell your Lizard Brain to shut up about whatever it’s freaking out about, and just let it happen when you feel it coming. Just sit and relax your shoulders and say to yourself, “okay, I’m having a panic attack, so what? It’ll pass.”

Regular Exercise. Exercise causes endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people don’t just kill their husbands. They just don’t. (Wait, no, that’s Legally Blonde.) But, exercise *does* cause endorphins, and endorphins *do* help in the management of anxiety. Believe me, the irony in the fact that the desire to feel like a normal person (rather than a rumbling, tumbling, weed of nerves and panic) may be the reason I finally get into a decent amount of shape is not lost on me.

 

A panic attack is when someone pulls a Chicken Little and assumes the sky is falling down without actual evidence of the sky falling down.

This misconception is a little harder to sum up in one sentence, but basically, people assume when I’m having a panic attack, that I am reacting to an irrational thought which I totally believe to be true. “This lentil soup might kill me!” They think that I have jumped to a ridiculous conclusion with the rational part of my brain, and that is what has spun me into a panic attack. Lentil soup doesn’t kill people. Spiders don’t kill people. I’m not going to catch Ebola and drop dead just because that guy two seats away on the bus sneezed.

A panic attack, like other symptoms of anxiety, and some symptoms of PTSD, can, and usually does, have triggers. Little day to day things that can set it off like a bad guy pushing a big red doomy button.

So, in my own example, my trigger is the act of eating (sometimes the act of smelling) combined with the little, insidious gremlin of “What if?” The trigger is two-fold.

This doesn’t answer the question of why some people having panic attacks about things which seem perfectly harmless and banal (such as individuals with phobias). Let’s turn to a probable example from your own life. Remember that thing you ate that one time years ago, and right after you ate that thing you threw up for hours, and as a result you can’t eat that thing anymore? You can barely look at that thing? The very smell of that thing wafting through the air makes you want to make like a one-woman stampede out of the room?

That’s an aversion. And it’s caused by that old, practically prehistoric part of your brain that, in times gone by, kept your ancient lineage alive. Prehistoric Peri ate some red berries one time and was violently ill afterwards, but, Prehistoric Peri, basically just a walking appetite, didn’t have the kind of cognition necessary to draw the logical conclusion that maybe those berries were BAD FREAKING NEWS. But, P. Peri did have instincts that linked those red berries to a health threatening situation and created an associated icky feeling, so that P. Peri wouldn’t eat those fucking berries anymore.

I call this part of my brain: Lizard Brain, whether or not that’s exactly scientifically accurate. You can call it something else if that’s what you’re comfortable with, but the point is that Lizard Brain is still around after all these years, trying to make sure you don’t eat little red berries.

The obvious problem, is that Lizard Brain is seriously guilty of the Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc fallacy. Lizard Brain thinks that because you threw up after you drank strawberry milk that one time, all strawberry milk is no good, very bad poison (when actually you just had the flu and it chose that moment to rear its virusy-gopher flu head.) Now, you may know that it wasn’t the fault of the strawberry milk, but you still can’t drink the stuff. (Or it takes you a long time to drink the stuff again with any enjoyment.)

People with anxiety sort of have a Lizard Brain that’s in over drive. Lizard Brain has made an erroneous connection, for one or more of several reasons. Trauma being a major one. So a person goes to war where things that make loud sounds = things that will kill you, then they come home and that connection still exists. A car backfires, fireworks go off, and their automatic physiological response will be one of someone in a life-threatening situation.

Lizard Brain thinks “x” is deadly or calamitous. And thus Lizard Brain behaves as if “x” is deadly or calamitous.

Then there is the mental component, often in the form of a what if, with some panic attacks. So, for instance, I’m not actually afraid of food. I don’t see a steaming pile of creamed corn and want to run for the hills. But, a little over a year ago, I spent a good deal of time being told by doctors not to eat certain things or I could DIE. I was told, over and over, that I had a food allergic and was at risk for anaphylaxis (when in fact I wasn’t) and that I had to check labels, eat only things I knew the ingredients of, and I became so used to that kind of hyper vigilance, that now my brain connects the act of eating food with the risk a potential attack of anaphylaxis.

Even though I *know* I don’t have a food allergy. Even though I know, rationally, that creamed corn won’t kill me, my lizard brain has been trained to fear that scenario, and has learned to continually ask “What if?”

Lizard Brain doesn’t care what I know. Lizard Brain isn’t taking any chances. I take a bite of a donut and lizard brain goes “What if there’s a tree nut in there and your throat closes and then you OMG DO YOU FEEL THAT? YOUR THROAT IS CLOSING, YOUR HANDS ARE NUMB, YOU’RE DYING, OHSHITOHSHITOHSHIT.”

Of course really I’m just having a panic attack. And then I have to sit there and talk myself back down, reminding Lizard Brain that we have the results of medical tests that clearly state we don’t have a food allergy.

And, for many, the worry about having another panic attack (since they are SO VERY UNGODLY UNCOMFORTABLE AND UNPLEASANT) is enough of a worry to induce another panic attack. “What if I have a panic attack right now where people can see me? That would suck. Oh jeeze, my chest hurts. Oh shit they’re gonna know and they’re gonna judge me and ohgod oh shit, I can’t breathe…” That’s a hell of a Catch 22.

“That corn isn’t going to kill you.” Yes. I know that. Logically, I have a firm grasp on reality. But my body has been trained, like Pavlov’s dogs, to respond to certain situations a certain way, and retraining my body and my lizard brain is one hell of an uphill, Sysiphus-like endeavor.

 

Panic attacks are goofy, minor things that are just quirky personality traits owned by adorable, pixie dream girls in movies, and they don’t really affect people’s lives.

Most of the time in media, panic attacks (and anxiety disorders in general) are treated like a personality quirk. Pixie Dream Girl is freaking out about that test she took. Nerdy Comic Relief Guy found a snake in his locker and he’s petrified of them.

Obviously, given all the descriptions above, I feel like I don’t need to beat this myth to death with a stick anymore, but I still think it’s worth saying that Panic Attacks can suck major ass. They can be debilitating. They can prevent people from living their lives, from leaving their homes, from calling their friends.

And this is true of many mental health disorders. They appear as the defining characteristic of a supporting character in a capacity that’s utterly misrepresented, or is treated as comic relief, when the reality of the disorder is much darker, and much more of a royal pain in the ass.

 

I am stuck, helpless as a screaming damsel tied to the railroad tracks, in the chugging, roaring path of my Anxiety.

This is probably less of a societal misconception as it is the misconception of a person actually suffering from anxiety, but that just makes it all the more important. Part and parcel with this misconception comes the secondary fear that you are the only poor S.O.B tied to these tracks. There are more than enough catalysts in the world to cause feelings of isolation, and I won’t pretend to have the wisdom to put them in a hierarchy, but feeling like you’re crazy and everyone else is fine is definitely one of them. You’re standing in line at Starbucks, internal alarms and whistles and earthquakes cracking apart your focus, and when you look around all you see is people looking relaxed and normal, people looking calm, people who don’t appear as though their worlds are coming down around them, and you think:

I’m the only one.

But you’re not. You’re totally not. Anxiety affects about 18% of adults in the US. And that percentage adds up to millions of people.

Even if you know, intellectually, that you’re not the only one, the more tangible feeling of being the lone crazy person having a wig-out in a room full of average, happy Joes, can be enough to stop a person from asking for help, or breaching the subject with a doctor. Not least because the media, that psychological slushie of stereotypes and “conventional wisdoms” which we are constantly slurping through our parched eyeballs, treats anxiety like a joke.

But there are things that can help. There’s medication. There’s therapy. There are support groups. Self-Help books on the subject. Blogs. Videos. Documentaries. I recommend whatever of these things work best on an individual basis, and I recommend taking the chance to find out. (“Recommend” I say, in that some of these things are helping me. No one can really recommend anything with certainty, although a doctor is a good place to start. Also I’m not an authority on the subject. I’m just a fellow wiggin.)

On top of that, there are actions that can help reduce anxiety. They vary, from person to person, and different types of anxiety. But there’s exercise (CURSE IT ALL, I know. This uncomfortable shit is going to turn out to be the freaking cure for death itself, it comes up everywhere). There’s a change in diet. Staying hydrated is a small but significant help for some people, since anxiety can be a symptom of dehydration (same thing with being hungry.) There’s exposure therapy, which is one of several methods I’m currently slogging through.

I will say that none of these things are necessarily easy. And changing your routine/way of living, especially when you already have anxiety, can be holy-shit levels of hard. As a general rule, people don’t like change. We like routine and comfort, dinner at the same time, watching our regular TV shows, seeing our regular friends… and stepping outside of our sphere of cozy, known-experiences, is not fun.

But, at the same time, change isn’t as hard as it seems in the beginning. Because your anxiety thinks that change is impossible. Anxiety believes that change is Not Even An Option. So once you disprove that, once you’re over that initial uncertainty and doubt, the new habits, over time, seem less and less monstrous. And so, it miraculously turns out, does your anxiety. That towering, neon green, saber-toothed, cranky fucker who keeps screwing up your day, starts to shrink, one millimeter at a time.

 

*Whew* Well, that’s all for now. I’m gonna just end this post abruptly, rather than making you all suffer through an essay-style recap.  I hope all that blathering was at least mildly informative. Time for me to sneak off and have a nice quiet cup of Jane Austen to sooth the ragged nerves. (Coping Mechanisms come in all shapes and forms, my friends.)

Wiggins, out.

(postscript: a West Wing clip, just for funzies)

WRITING ADVICE IS STUPID (but also kind of awesome)

Upfront: I hate writing advice.

Like, I hate it. It upsets me the way people that don’t use their blinkers and hang sudden lefts upset me. Whenever I run across an article that’s titled “15 Things to Avoid When Writing…” Or “How to Make Your Stories Sell” my immediate, gut reaction is:

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I’m like: WHO ARE YOU TO TELL ME WHAT 15 THINGS I SHOULD BE DOING? F*CK OFF, I’M MY OWN PERSON. AND I WILL DO THINGS MY OWN WAY, THANK YOU VERY MUCH. IF I WANT ROLL UP NARNIA AND SMOKE IT, I WILL, AND THEN I WILL WRITE THE MOST GENIUS THING YOU’VE EVER SEEN AND YOU’RE GOING TO FEEL REALLY STUPID AND YOU’RE GOING TO WANT TO BE MY FRIEND BUT I’LL BE LIKE, BUZZ OFF PUNK, REMEMBER THAT TIME YOU FLICKED A BOOGER AT ME IN MATH CLASS?

Obviously, there are a couple of things not very chill about this reaction.

1) It’s way not situationally proportionate.
2) It’s sort of weirdly personal? Like, what part of my subconscious was so damaged by being uncool in high school that I assume every piece of advice written on the internet is a direct attack on me implying that I don’t know what I’m doing? Slow your roll, Lizard Brain.
3) Issues with authority? Me? Surely not.
4) It implies that I never make any of the mistakes they’re telling me to avoid.

The last one I think comes from having always been  a Smart Person. Not a prodigy or anything, but just a person who always got good grades and never had to try that hard to get them. A person who sucked up to teachers, and received the “what a good job you did” cookies, no need for a parent teacher conference, kid, you’re aces, hey want to help me grade this homework after school?

FYI, this was in no way ever a hardship. I am hella not complaining about any of that.

But I think one of the traps Smart People fall into, is that we get told for so long growing up just how freaking smart and wonderful we are, that we learn to overlook or forget how completely dumb we are too. Specifically in terms of experience. We feel like we got all these brains, so we don’t need Wisdom, because surely that came as package deal with the ability to pass tests with minimal studying. Didn’t it?

It didn’t?

Well shit.

And that aaalll that advice we barely listened too back in the day (or last week) because we thought it didn’t apply to us (“us” being too smart, after all, to fall into such plebian pitfalls) came back to smack us right in the eye like a bee flying at speed.

What’s more, since we’re so freaking smart and capable of figuring shit out, every time we fail to solve a problem on our own it feels like we’re letting ourselves and other people down. Which is ridiculous. (Here’s a tangentially related post by the wizardly Mr. Wendig on that wanky nonsense known as  talent. )

I do have a few more intellectual reasons for hating writing advice.

  1. It is, by its nature, reductive. It’s always going to leave out nuances that are important to a really good understanding of whatever bigger point the author is trying to drive at.
  2. Sometimes it’s  all the same. If I do read advice I’m not looking for the same tips over and over again. “Write what you know!” Yes. Thank you. Clearly you took your own advice.
  3. Sometimes it’s trying too hard to be original and it just soars right over the realm of creative-thought and into surrealism. “Go plant a garden of rutabagas and spend a few hours every morning communing with the fairies. This will clear your mind and open the door for new ideas!” …What?
  4. Writing advice is subject to perspective and personal preference, just like anything, and it doesn’t matter what some big-shot author tells you to never do, you will invariably find that someone has done that exact thing, somewhere, to immense success.

So balls to writing advice, I say! I’M OFF ON MY OWN ADVENTURE AND I’M NOT BRINGING A MAP.

That said: I love writing advice. I consume it like candy (right after I’m done yelling at it.) And sometimes it’s nice to at least look at other peoples’ maps. Because like, if there’s a deep, spikey, snake-filled pit lying directly in my path, it might be nice to know about it before I stumble into it on my own and land amongst the old, sun-bleached skeletons of writers from aforetime.

On top of which, all that advice that I rail against? The advice that I bitch about because I’ve seen it a million times, or that I find to be so obvious even a drunk bear on a spinning merry-go-round with a BB gun could hit the broad side of it?–that is often also the advice that is the bee that comes careening into my eye later on.

“That thing!!!? I’m not doing that thing. I’ve never done that thing!” And then a month later, I’m going over a draft, and there is the thing, staring me in the face like:  “Hello! I am your glaring mistake! I’ve been hiding behind your ego for the last 30 days eating shame burritos and stinking up the place.”

*sigh*

So I have a hate-love relationship with writing advice. Because on the one hand, it’s banal and usually dull and often is trying to cram me into a box that was clearly not built for someone Peri-shaped. (And really is not built for anyone anybody-shaped except the author.) On the other hand, sometimes I do learn useful things that I needed to know, and as a result my craft improves. And then I get to bore other writers in turn with the writing advice that worked for me.

And finally, there’s this weird kind of switch in my brain that gets flipped when I’m reading writing advice (again, *after* I’ve finished flinging cuss words at it), and it’s sort of like by reading the advice I remember all the things I’m actually trying to do with my own writing. It’s a little bit like a pep talk, it gets me excited again, adds some spark back into my old, worn out, mantras. And it’s a little bit like when you find that piece you never finished a year or more ago, and you read it out of curiosity and think to yourself, ‘Holy shit. This is actually pretty good. Did I write this? Who wrote this? Who snuck into my house typed these words into my computer when I wasn’t looking?’

Reading other people’s advice helps me achieve a little bit of distance from whatever project I’m currently up to my ears in. This is good because with distance comes a greater ability to recognize my own errors. Also, and perhaps more importantly, it helps me gain the perspective I need to recognize the good parts in my writing that I’d been previously ignoring in favor of berating myself for (allegedly) being less smart than my (apparent) smarty-pants should have allowed me to be.

In summation:

Don’t do drugs. Do writing advice. But don’t be afraid to call that advice into question and defenestrate whatever parts of it are just not working out for you.