On Clutter

Last Tuesday, I put the endless stacks of sheets into the closet. Finally. I’m resisting editing that sentence, even though I know it’s a bad beginning. It’s really a bad sentence in general. But I’m resisting. I want to try writing this piece all at once, badly, just to get something out.

In November I did my one-blog-post-a-day challenge, and it was so fucking hard but it was so fruitful! By the end of the month, there were thirty pieces, all about different things, all written at varying levels of honesty. Almost all of them had something good hidden in them, a little gem, that I will use later. So that challenge was a success. But the problem with challenges is that when they’re over, you can let yourself off the hook. You can say “alright cool beans. I’m tired now. I’m gonna watch Netflix at night instead of forcing myself to pump out yet another blog post. Yay! Celebration! Sigh of relief!” And then you can lie to yourself and say “I’ll write one blog post a week, instead of once a day…but after I take a little break.”

So five months later, here I am! Back at it. Not doing a daily challenge this time, just writing regularly and putting stuff out there.

Just for the record – and fyi, “the record” is pretty much just my overactive need for approval and recognition, things that I mostly need from myself, that I almost never give myself, yay for therapy – I have been writing almost daily in my journal. The first evidence of journaling I have is from 2001 (I was six). My family went to visit my 20-something aunt in California. I remember feeling a strong urge to write in this sparkly purple journal she gifted me. It was so beautiful, so empty. It was waiting. At least I felt like it was. I wrote about seeing the elephant seals sunning themselves on the rocks by the ocean, my handwriting was big and loopy, and I felt this weird satisfaction from being able to write something down in a little book all my own. I liked that nobody but me would ever see it, so I could write whatever I wanted.

I wrote a year later in that journal that I thought my best friend’s father, Les, was “brainwashing my dad.” I think I had never seen my dad agree with anyone before, and the fact that he was nodding along to what Les was saying was shocking to me. I was genuinely angry and afraid for my dad, and I wrote about those feelings in my journal. A “boiling hot feeling” spread through my body. I thought my dad would lose himself completely if he acknowledged any more of Les’ opinions. It wasn’t that Les’ opinions were scary or wrong. It was that I was terrified seeing my dad accept anyone else’s perspective as valid. It wasn’t normal.

To be fair, I had also just watched the Scooby Doo live action movie where everyone gets possessed and lose control of their bodies, so the fear of being brainwashed was pretty present in my mind.

Then there was my fourth grade teacher. Mr. Baker saw the writer in me immediately, and made it his mission to nurture that identity. He was a writer, and actually encouraged all of his fourth grade students to keep their own journals, and read pieces to the class. Pretty much all I remember of fourth grade was writing writing writing. Every single day, my best friend Sophia and I would be the last to leave the classroom. We were either the most disorganized, or the least concerned about getting out, or the most chatty, or a combination of all three, and Mr. Baker would ALWAYS send us off with a hearty “don’t forget to write!” Every singled afternoon. It stuck. I’ve kept a consistent journal since fourth grade, without fail. So. Much. Material. So. Many. Ridiculous. Stories. So. Much. Processing. I fucking love it.

And since this was originally supposed to be about clutter, I’ll just quickly describe the clutter around me in my office. I did finally put the linens away in my closet. About 8 months ago, I took them out of the closet to organize them into piles – this piles is the towels, this pile is the winter sheets, this pile is the summer sheets, etc. Very exciting. The problem was, once I organized them, I didn’t have shelves to put them on. There are not shelves in the closet, because my partner and I just haven’t had time yet to build them. So I just put the individual piles on this big white IKEA chair that we got from my parents, and left it at that. It was easy to find each thing, at least, but it was terrible because my office was basically one big linen closet all winter.

Last week I decided enough was enough. I was putting the linens back in the closet, organized, shelves or no shelves.

There’s still clutter, though. In the right corner I have all of our house documents, including our deed and other important things, in a folder waiting to be filed, along with piles of music books, a broom for cleaning the upstairs bathroom, CDs that Chris and I have no intention of listening to, paintbrushes, paints, empty photo albums, empty binders, empty journals, and a collection of old calendars from my middle school years.

In the left corner of my office sits a desk that I found on the side of the road in Vermont and toted back to Rochester. Chris and I painted it this awesome eggplant color, and now it’s covered with art magazines that are “weighing down” a collage I made a couple years ago that got a bit curled from our move. There’s also a huge prickly pear cactus that we repotted recently, thinking it would do it some good to have space, only to find that repotting it was a huge mistake. So now it’s in rehab on the purple desk. Then there’s my little blue paper organizer that holds folders of receipts and checks. It’s kind of teetering on a pile of art magazines, just barely staying up. Then there’s piles of envelopes and stamps, also perched on top of the art magazines, that I use to send poetry to my patrons. Then there’s a pile of paper of various thicknesses and colors that I use for art and poetry. And to top it all off, I have a pile of piano teaching materials sitting on top of the art paper pile.

It’s all very overwhelming once I start writing it down. But the thing is, I’m doing the best I can. I actually keep our house pretty well organized. I actually look around me with a fond amusement. I think it’s delightful how messy and in-use my office is. Eventually I’ll create zones and more shelves and blah blah blah. But for now, this is what it is. This is where I’m at. And that’s okay.

The most important shelf in my office is my journal shelf. I have all of my journals, from 2001 to the present, lined up on that shelf. My history, my healing, my process, my trauma, my experiences, my family, my friends, my pain and joys, my core and my wanderings, everything is in those journals. Most of them look different. Most of them I received as gifts. All of them I love and cherish.

On Secrets

I want to give you the full picture I promised.

You have to understand that the full picture isn’t pretty, and does not seem conducive with making money, or receiving more support from the general public. But, I think it’s important to tell the truth somewhere. And since I can’t tell it on social media (I lose followers, shed likes, and lose engagement if my posts are not sunny and hopeful and perfect), I will share it with you here.

Let me back up and set the scene. I’m lying on an ugly couch in my beautiful home, cozy in a big, hooded sweatshirt from the University of Rochester, with a hot water bottle and my cat curled up at my feet. I am safe. I am panicking. There are too many people I have not called back, too many emails I have ignored and let slip into the dank muck of internet memory, too many songs I have not yet recorded, and too many opportunities I have been unable to pay attention to. I am panicking because I am not enough. Or rather, I believe I am not enough.

Two competing ideals vie for attention in my mind:

  1. The artistic freedom I possess in my life makes the “suffering” worthwhile.
  2. I am supposed to be living the dream.

Here it is in a nutshell: my innate musical talent is a gift, and thus I am encouraged to work hard to share it with other people. I practice piano and voice, create arrangements in rehearsals with my band, promote my shows online, haul my keyboard and gear to small bars, give all of my raw energy and passion to performing with my band, collect a couple hundred bucks at the end of the night, distribute the money between band members, and finally drive home, depleted, to start over the next day. I also record my songs, collaborate with audio engineers, book future shows, and maintain a Patreon community.

This is fine. It works for someone who has more tolerance than me and who gets energy from being out. I am very sensitive to noise, though, as well as socializing and being out late at night. Being out depletes my energy.

Then there’s the “making a living” part, which tends to be important for staying alive. I spend 20-30 hours a week making my music career work, not including the hours I spend teaching. Due to my sensitive nervous system, I can play about 3 live shows a month, and leave with $50-$100 bucks in my pocket. I make about $160 a month from my patrons on Patreon. With this income, at the current New York minimum wage of $13.20 per hour, I get paid for only 8 hours of work each week.

Eight. Out of thirty. At minimum wage.

So. It’s becoming clear to me that I’m doing community service when I’m working on my music. Okay. That’s fine. Community service is wonderful. The question is, is it strengthening me or slowly killing me? Is it my fault? The eternal question for everything challenging in our lives.

I don’t have an answer, and don’t think the answer is truly important, but I can at least start to think it through.

Mostly, I just want to be alone and quiet. That desire makes me feel unloveable and broken, and it also makes me feel like a failure of a musician. What musician wants to be alone and quiet most of the time? Living the life of a musician, I am almost never alone, and quiet is not the goal, to say the least. I am rehearsing with my band, or creating relationships online with my fans, or performing for a crowd at a bar who is half listening, half talking, and half numbing the stress of daily life.

These necessary, day-to-day tasks push me far past my limit. I’m so far past my limit that I can’t bring myself to call the people I love back, respond to supportive messages from friends, clean my office properly, or consider new opportunities. I’m at a standstill, trapped in the commitments I’ve already made, but unable to function properly. This is all obvious to me. I can write it out and nod my head and go “yes, I am burnt out.” But it also seems absolutely ludicrous. It’s ridiculous to me that I have such a low tolerance for stimulation, for other people’s experiences, for being out in the world. It seems impossible. I must be capable of more. I just have to bully myself into being capable of more. At least that’s what I tell myself.

We always have to answer to someone, right? I answer to my audience. And until recently, I loved doing it. I reveled in their joy, their excitement. I absorbed their energy and called it mine. But now, when I go onstage, I notice a huge disconnect between how I’m feeling on the inside and how I present to my audience on the outside. I can never go onstage and use my audience for comfort. I can’t go on and say “today has been really fucking difficult and I need some love.” They use me for comfort, not the other way around; that’s how the agreement works. The person onstage provides a respite for the people offstage. I am vulnerable, soft, exhausted in front of my audience. I try to be myself. I try to be open. I hold so much space for them. I bleed myself dry in front of a crowd of people for a couple of hours. The problem is, I cannot hold the same space for myself. At least not at the dizzying rate it would take to counteract the depletion of resources caused by performing. If I can’t love myself, or give myself the space I need to thrive, then the rest means absolutely nothing.

My life force, or energy, or whatever you want to call it, is at an all-time low, and still I push myself to play one more show, to make one more Instagram post, to keep expanding my business. That’s where I’m at, in this precious moment on my ugly couch. That’s the truth. Is this what I’m working for?

I thought I was doing all of this to build a sustainable music career. Simple. If I could gain enough financial and physical support from my fans, then I could relax a little bit and my days would be like a well-oiled machine, rather than the scrabbling rat parade they are now. I work super hard in the present so that I can relax a bit in the future. Tour the world, play big stages, make steady money, hire a team of people to book my shows, run my social media accounts, and market my music. Focus only on the music, not on all the stuff surrounding it.

But.

It turns out I want to be cozy at home with my cats instead of touring the world with my band. So why am I really doing all of this?

Because I am terrified of failing. I’m terrified of not being enough. I’m terrified of letting go.

I have so many questions. As usual.

Why do I try to expand when I can’t yet handle the work I’m currently doing? Why am I trying to build this ‘strong foundation’ when I don’t want, or don’t think I can handle, the life of a touring musician? Is not wanting the same thing as not being able to? Is there a way to do this without martyring myself? Is there a way to do ANYTHING without martyring myself? My therapist tells me there is. She says I need to stop doing third grade work when I’m still in second grade (a clever reference to me skipping second grade as a kid) so that I can succeed instead of drown.

It’s true that I am drowning. In my own ambition. I am trapped in my own skewed sense of self and responsibility.

I’m not supposed to be telling anybody this. I’m supposed to keep up a rehearsed front, in which I am always excited and grateful to be doing what I’m doing, in which I’m always proud of my work, where I consistently advocate for myself with a smile on my face and a spring in my step. I’m exhausted from all the springing and the stepping. I don’t want to advocate for myself anymore. I don’t have the capacity to do it. I just don’t.

I’m actually sick right now, came down with a bad cold. I’ve been sick for days, but I refused to let myself rest until today. I had too many things to do, too many tasks to complete, too many people to answer to.

Why?

Because I can’t fail. But I can’t keep going like this, either.

On Creativity

So. I just finished this podcast episode. Like I literally just closed GarageBand (that I used to edit the audio) and send the file link to Ben Albert (who is using his marketing platform to promote my podcast). AND I AM REALIZING THAT I HAVEN’T BEEN TRULY PROUD OF SOMETHING I HAVE PUT OUT FOR A COUPLE OF YEARS!! UNTIL THIS VERY MOMENT. This is it. This is the one. This is The Project. If you want to listen to it, here it is.

My first conversation with @zahyiamusic was absolutely life-changing, and felt immensely nurturing and healing. We talked about letting go of perfection, appreciating the small stuff, and adjusting the “grind” to make life more joyful. I know we both came out of it feeling less alone, more understood, and more in touch with ourselves. The podcast episode is jam-packed with valuable reminders of our humanity. I have a new epiphany every time I re-listen to it, and think about her wisdom at least once a day now. For awhile now, I’ve sensed that my role as a teacher and “understander” of music/creativity fits my soul better than being in the spotlight myself. Of course I love performing for its catharsis & joy, but there’s something about the attentive silence of listening that makes my body feel right at home.

This is why I’m so excited about this new project, The Process Podcast. Not only does it align with my values and artistic journey (aka career), but it will help me explore Big Questions. It’s an incredible opportunity to listen to artists who are figuring Life out right along with me. Plus, I love that this is something I can give you that doesn’t cost anything and doesn’t demand anything from you except your open heart & ears.

With music, I always have a qualm about something when I release it – my vocals in this one spot weren’t perfect. The mixing cost too much and now I need to make that money back. But with this….. it feels perfectly imperfect. I feel genuinely excited to share it with the world on Wednesday. I have such a good humming feeling in my body about it. I know it’s true to me. I know it will resonate with people. And now I get to share it with you, my patrons! That makes me feel happy.

The podcast has been months in the making. Ben Albert posted on Facebook awhile back asking if anybody was interested in starting a podcast to take over for his long-standing Rochester Groovecast podcast. I read the post, and kept scrolling, thinking “I probably don’t have time for another project.”

But… I kept coming back to the post in my mind. I turned it over and over in my mind. I felt the excitement at the prospect of creating a podcast. I thought about how, in the past year or so, I listen to podcasts much more (by a long shot) than I do music. I thought about how much value I get from the podcasts I listen to regularly. And I just could not resist. It felt right. I sent Ben a message. 

Months, many meetings, an amazing interview with my first podcast guest, and lots of hours editing later, here we are.

You all know me. I’m a creative human – a musician, writer, artist, and teacher. I have Big Questions. How do we build a creative life? What keeps us going? What does our daily process tell us about ourselves? I genuinely just want to talk to other artists about how they do life. I’m working with Rochester Groovecast (by artistic community pillar @realbenalbert) to make this podcast the most valuable, most genuine project I’ve worked on in a long time.

Every month, I’ll have honest conversations with various artists that reveal the strength, challenges, purpose, vulnerability and joy of living a creative life. This is a place for people to feel less alone, and to gather inspiration for our own lives.

The podcast is complete. If you want to listen, here it is. Please enjoy. I am definitely enjoying myself making it. 🙂

On Beauty and Strangeness

Beauty and Strangeness
drop to the sand

come, get the ropes
(who are, after all, not mild
but militant)

I don’t think I am old yet,
half asleep,
not
all at once
but steadily

I know I have already lived



Words found in Mary Oliver’s book of essays Upstream and rearranged to my heart’s content. I found the words, but was careful not to copy any phrases or pairs of words. Each word is its own island set in the fabric of this poem.

On Decisions

I woke up this morning and shuffled to the bedroom door. What followed was a mess of decisions, routine, habit, emotion, and, like it or not, just plain humanness. What followed was a mess. A beautiful, powerful, ordinary, exhausting, comical mess. A regular day. A regular day where I made so many tiny decisions, each one influencing the next, and influencing the people around me. What a complex web we weave around ourselves!

MORNING
walked out of the bedroom door
thought about boiling water for coffee, but didn’t
thought about picking up my phone
gratitude for coffee
more gratitude for coffee
dragged my feet to the bathroom
while peeing, considered not working out
tried to justify not working out (“I’m sore from yesterday, I didn’t get enough sleep,” etc)
realized that was bullshit
brushed my teeth while dreading working out
realized I could drink coffee right before my work out
got considerably more excited to be alive
turned on the shower accidentally (that was my habit before I started working out in the mornings)
turned off the shower
felt sheepish
walked to the stove to put on the water to boil
went back to the bedroom to pull on my workout clothes
walked out of my bedroom, forgot why I walked out, then walked back in
thought about picking up my phone
resisted the phone addiction (I have a rule – no phone in the first hour of waking up)
grabbed my yoga mat and brought it outside to the deck
chose the YouTube workout I wanted to do
went back inside to pour the water over the coffee grounds
picked up my phone to text someone before I forgot
felt a bit guilty for breaking my “no phone in first waking hour” rule
breathed an audible sigh of relief as the coffee percolated (and my phone addiction was appeased)
poured milk into my mug like I always do
took the first, heavenly sip
walked outside to start the workout
thought about how terrible this feels
thought about how strong I’m becoming
gulped coffee like it was water and I was on a desert island
thought about how I still don’t have a “perfect body”
thought about how I definitely don’t want to do these fucking bridges
drank the last dregs of coffee
was amazed when the workout suddenly was over (I didn’t think I’d actually finish it)
stood up shakily
rolled up my yoga mat
thought about breakfast
thought about all the things I wanted to get done today
realized that the workout actually made me feel super energized
gratitude for my body
gratitude for a full day with “no plans”
almost immediately decided to go into town with my grandma to keep her company at the bank
thought “so much for a day with no plans”
thought “look at me, being helpful”
thought “oh shit, now I’m not gonna get as much done”
thought “fuck it”
tried wheat germ for the first time
discovered that wheat germ is pretty much a much blander nutritional yeast
got really excited about wheat germ
gratitude for wheat germ
had a fantastic conversation with my grandma about nothing and everything
gratitude for my grandma
showered and chose an outfit
decided I didn’t feel attractive enough in the first outfit
changed my shirt
got into the car to drive into town
realized I forgot my chapstick
went back inside
grabbed the shitty chapstick because I couldn’t find my good one
headed back to the car

AFTERNOON
called Chris while I waited for my grandma to finish at the bank
learned a lot from talking with him
decided I love being with him (I usually decide this 1-7 times a day, as if it’s a new revelation)
thought that I really want to trust him more
gratitude for Chris
thought about how I really really have to pee
talked about Christmas plans
felt stressed about buying Christmas gifts
received a text from my grandma which read “I’m going to scream soon”
felt panic rising in me, that old, familiar “I’ve been at the bank for almost an hour” panic
thought about how much I have to pee
went over to sit by my grandma, trying to be comforting
decided to go find a bathroom
wandered around the neighborhood for a few minutes, desperately searching
felt weird about going into any of the fancy hotel lobbies nearby, so just went back to the bank

EVENING
hid in bed watching Monk
felt incapable and anxious
forced myself to venture out of the bedroom for a family video call
thought about how far away we all were from each other
gratitude for family
tried to time things so our dinner would be delivered before we both got way too hungry
decided what I wanted for dinner from the Cuban restaurant
called to order
thought about how luxurious it was that we didn’t have to leave to pick up the food
shared a beer with my grandma – Blue Moon – her favorite kind
finally read a text sent that afternoon, from the parent of a piano student (S)
realized she’s asking if I could teach S this evening, instead of tomorrow evening
weighed all the factors: my crippling anxiety, my love for this student, my deep exhaustion, her dedication to the instrument, and her recital coming up in December
decided to let go of my “free night” and teach her an online piano lesson at 7:45pm
ate dinner with my grandma
thought about what I wanted to teach S
thought about how proud I was of her
thought about how I wasn’t making any sense
wondered why the hell I was talking so much
thought about how inadequate I was as a teacher
thought about how much awesome wisdom I was imparting
wondered if anything I’m saying is actually getting through
ended the lesson on a strong note

NIGHT
felt proud of myself
gratitude for my student
gratitude for teaching
dreaded writing this blog post
said goodnight to my grandma
begrudgingly sat down to write this blog post
had zero clue what to write about
lay down and snuggled into my blankets, trying to feel more at peace
then decided what the topic would be: decisions


On Joy

One time, my mom gave me a book called 14,000 Things to Be Happy About. It was awesomesauce. I’ve opened it so many times, read for a couple minutes, then closed it with a knowing smile on my face. It even inspired me to ask friends and family to write their own lists of what makes them happy. To this day, I still have the notebook where I collected these various “happiness lists.” Maybe someday I’ll do something with them. Who knows.

I’m tired AF tonight, need to feel a little joy in my body, and don’t want to write anything truly coherent, so here’s my own happiness list, in no particular order:

pot roast slow-baked with beer
a new gel pen
playing a song at a show that makes someone cry
making my own stickers using colored pencils
sharing a meaningful look with a stranger as I walk by them on the sidewalk
waffles with strawberry jam
kids creating their own compositions in piano lessons
a big, clean dining room table
beautiful tea towels
using cash to buy cheap coffee
using coins from my piggybank to buy expensive ice cream
Vans sneakers
biking with someone I love
asking trees for advice
eating raw green beans
my cat’s almost obscene obsession with chasing and eating green beans
getting into bed with clean sheets
biscuits and grits
snuggling on the couch watching a movie, eating popcorn with my partner
mid-solo realizing that this shit actually sounds dope
walking along a river
flourless chocolate cake
holding hands in public
giving someone a gift I’m super excited for them to have
ice-cold lemonade
putting $40 into my retirement account
practicing piano in the morning sunlight
sweet tea
watching a really good Netflix food documentary
seeing a flower I’ve never seen before
Bananas Foster
listening to the birds
moss
eating at a fucking amazing restaurant on my birthday
dessert wine
leather jackets
long dinners with family
walking in cold weather drinking a hot drink
laughing so hard that tears stream down my face
showering after a workout
my cat’s hilarious habit of eating popcorn when I throw it for him
really, really, really, really warm socks
first snow
hugging my mom
getting paid to play music
the moment when the food arrives at the restaurant
snuggling
seeing a butterfly
walking barefoot
going to sleep after a long day of working
swimming in a lake
giving myself a hug
greenhouses
blackberries
cats in laundry baskets
the little moment when my partner joins me in bed after a long rehearsal and whispers “I love you so much” into my hair
homemade tie die shirts
Steinway pianos
balling out and choosing the whole bottle of wine at a restaurant

I could literally do this forever, so I’m gonna cut myself off there and call it a night. Make your own list! Try not to judge what comes out. It’s honestly so fun. I feel better already.

















On the Cost of Healing

I can’t start at the very beginning of this story, because that would overcrowd the format I’m working with – the blog post. Instead, I’m going to start in the middle, and it won’t have a proper ending. Make of it what you will.

I have carried my trauma with me, in my body, belief-system, and behaviors, since I was 6 years old and was molested for the first time. What is the actual cost of that trauma? What is the cost of healing? Spoiler alert: it’s $94,090. You’ll see how I arrived at that number soon.

As a high school sophomore, I was already resigned to give my power over to other people. That’s how I learned to be in relationship with someone else. When I was 6, a family friend molested me. When I was 14, a boy I was romantically involved with sexually assaulted me. These were my first sexual experiences. I assumed that this was how it worked: I was trained not to focus on myself, but rather to focus all my energy on somebody else’s desire. I knew that their will would prevail no matter what.

So it’s not surprising that, as a 16-year old sophomore, convinced I had no power in a relationship, I got romantically involved with an older boy who abused me. The boy was in college already, while I was still chugging through high school, so the power-dynamic was already skewed in his favor. Out of the nine behaviors Rainn.org lists as warning signs of intimate partner abuse, this person consistently practiced six of them.

Finally, at age 19, I entered into my worst, and last, abusive relationship. This person was physically violent. He tore apart my self-confidence every day, until I eventually didn’t believe my own sense of reality and couldn’t escape.

Until recently, I carried these abuses in my body and belief-system as “normal” and “okay.” Until recently, I blamed myself for having intense reactions to the abuse. I was too flaky, too emotional, too sad, too dark, too intense, too obsessive, too empathetic, too involved, and too messy.

What has it cost to face this trauma, and start healing from it?

$12,000 (therapy 2019-2021, 50 weeks/yr, $80/session)
$5,000 (therapy 2018, 50 weeks/yr, $100/session)
$4,000 (therapy 2013, 50 weeks/yr, $80/session)
$1,050 (psychiatry, $175/session)
$1,000 (dance & somatic classes, $5-$20/class)
$640 (body work sessions, $80/session)
$200 (gas for travel to and from appointments)
$150 (Qi Gong classes 2016, 10 weeks, $15/class)
$50 (medication)

So that’s $24,090 in expenses. Now let’s examine how trauma/healing work has affected my earning power in the workforce over the past 5 years.

$25,000 forced rest year: (due to untreated clinical depression, anxiety, and PTSD, I needed to take the entire year to rest/heal/process from 2016-2017. For that year, I was unable to work towards a BA degree, work at a paying job for more than 15 hours a week, or network in my field.)
$45,000 reduced earning power since graduating with a BA in 2019 ($15,000 a year, due to PTSD symptoms – I’ll write more about this later)

That’s $70,000 of lost income due to the effects of my trauma.

If I add that loss to my expenses, the total cost of trauma and healing for me and my family has been $94,090. That’s a shit-ton of money.

These costs are STILL ADDING UP. I’m still healing. I’m still not able to work as many hours per day, or with the same focus, as I could before developing PTSD. That’s income I’m missing out on every single day. I’m still putting all I’ve got into trying to live the way I want to live. Trying to grow out of this trauma, instead of letting it slowly destroy me. And I haven’t even STARTED to discuss how privileged I am that I have a family who has been willing to financially support my healing process.

Healing from trauma is expensive. I didn’t have a choice in whether or not to be traumatized. But unlike cancer, or the flu, which occur without human consent, a person made a choice to abuse me. Multiple people, actually. Those people made decisions, and I am paying for those decisions.

I’m just putting it out there: maybe there’s a way that the people who inflict trauma can pay, financially, for the healing process. Any ideas?



On Settling

I was born in 1995. I’m smack-dab in the middle of the “Millennial” generation. I grew up on VHS tapes, landlines, and tucked-in turtlenecks, but never used a payphone or a record player. I was taught that I was special, that my unique capabilities and personality made me perfectly suited for…something. Whatever that ‘thing’ was, be it a person, a job, or a lifestyle, I was meant to find it, pursue it, and never settle for anything less.

This ‘thing’ wasn’t supposed to pay my rent, or provide a stable life. Nope. Instead, it would supposedly make me happy. It would fulfill my potential. That was the ultimate goal: to fulfill my potential for joy, for being fully human. This ‘thing’ would make me fully myself.

Settling was supposed to feel like boredom, stagnation, or mundanity. Notice a small lack of passion for your partner? You’re settling. Don’t feel quite right all the time in your job? You’re settling. Doing mundane work that doesn’t seem to have a higher purpose other than putting food on the table? You’re settling.

So yeah. It turns out that “not settling” can be pretty confusing. The “not settling” mentality can keep you from actually living fully. It’s making us more anxious, less happy, and just generally less OKAY. It’s as if we owe it to the world, to the universe, to never settle. Because to do that would be to rob everyone else of our gifts. This messaging is constantly pushed down our throats in ads, Instagram posts, and media, generally aimed at us “snowflake” Millennials:

“Don’t stay in a boring job.”

“Follow your bliss.”

“Find your purpose.”

“Be uniquely you.”

“Never compromise yourself.”

“Your perfect person is out there, you just have to make room for them in your life.”

This shit doesn’t lead to happiness or fulfillment. Because we’re never gonna get there. “There” is always changing. We’re always searching, striving for the next best thing, and we’re never gonna feel present. Not only are we never sure if we’re doing the right thing, because we’re terrified of settling, but we’re also just not attending to the miraculous, ordinary shit that’s happening in our lives.

Then, there’s the constant questioning. It takes a toll. It’s exhausting. It’s anxiety-inducing. As my partner Chris wisely said when I mentioned I was writing this piece, “If you don’t settle for something, you never get to enjoy anything.”

Then, there’s the issue where “not settling” can trick you into thinking that you’re moving on to bigger and better things, when really, there you still are. The same ‘you’ that you’ve been dealing with this whole time. You don’t all of a sudden grow wings and a halo because you move to a different house, or meet somebody new, or create a new online business where you print inspirational quotes on stuff.

And, the more I think about it, the more “not settling” feels like avoiding real connection and growth. If you don’t settle into something, you don’t ever have to compromise. You never grow in relation to another person, or in the context of a challenge. You’re an island. You’re holding out for your “best” self, in the form of the “best” thing outside of yourself. You’re a self-perpetuating carousel.

The real question is not, “Am I settling?”

The question is, “Is there something hurting in me that I need to attend to?”

Here’s the heart of it for me: “not settling” means running away from the mundane. But the mundane moments in my life are what make it all worth it for me. My cat jumping up onto my lap while I practice piano. My partner making us egg sandwiches for breakfast. Drinking a cup of coffee in the morning. Finding a great radio station on a road trip. Listening to a particularly poignant podcast. Looking out into the trees through the big window in my office, forgetting about my to-do list for a second. This is it. And I’m not selling myself short because I actively love, notice, and cherish those things.

From now on, I want to stop avoiding settling. Fuck it. I’m rebelling against all the messaging. I want to be present. I want to be bored. I want to revel in the absolute miracle that we’re here, on this earth, together, and alive. And I don’t want to do it in Bali. I want to do it in my fucking living room.

On Flight

Scruffy, angelic white puffs blow in the wind outside my plane window. My sister says it’s an invasive species. It seems ludicrous that something so beautiful could be so violent. We take off, and the white puffs give way to dead grass, then an expanse of grey sky. I’m thinking about elementary school birthday parties in dimly-lit bowling alleys. I can taste the greasy pizza soaking through the paper plates. Huge sheet cakes with frosting so sugary the granules are rough on my tongue. Blue lettering. A barbie with hair that grows when you pull a string.

Now we’re over the ocean, spots of white littering the indigo blue water. I can still see the lines of tiny boxes on the shore, distant now. I’m thinking about how someone once described humans as a parasite, quickly spreading across Earth, taking and digging, extracting all the life out of our host. Sucking her dry. The CDC describes a parasite as “an organism that lives on or in a host organism and gets its food from or at the expense of its host,” so this seems pretty accurate. I wonder if I agree with this image of my species. It’s certainly romantic, but makes my skin feel too tight for my body, especially from up here in this plane, where our parasitic behavior is so clearly laid out for me to see. The Bay, taken over by human dwellings, along with all the necessary dwelling-accessories. Tiny lines, beige against green: roads. Lighter bits bunched together in squares: farmland. Chunks of sun reflected, glinting: office buildings leering up at me.

Now the mountains are below us. They are bare compared to the city we left behind. Strong in their solitude. It’s been awhile, a long moment of just spacing out in the general direction of the horizon, but I haven’t been able to forget the parasite analogy. Will these little pockets of human disease eventually spread to cover the entire surface of the earth? Will the faraway mountains soon be teeming with scurrying people, gardens, rats, parks, highways, restaurants, and chlorinated pools?

In the distance, the mountains have huge wrinkles. Elephants, heavy velvet. These mountains know deep change: they are not static. Constant erosion. Surrender. Receiving. Yielding to the rain that flows down their many faces. They are relinquishing and relenting. I think the mountains must have to fully know themselves to accept such complete and uncontrollable distortion, without protest.

I think about how often I used to yield to people and experiences. When I was 18, the thrill of that surrender was expansive. It felt like a dripping diamond necklace, or a huge, cool lake waiting for me to jump into the deep waters. The thrill was like water, flowing around me, through me. A womb and a river simultaneously. I was at home in surrender. I trusted that I, or something else, something benevolent and good, would pull me out if it got to be too much. If I got too chilled, or too wrinkled.

I didn’t know myself yet. Or maybe I knew myself too much already, and the world would not budge to accommodate my knowing.

The people I surrendered to were not ready for the trust I immersed them in. They were not the rain. Was I the mountain? Was I the rain?

These people submerged me. And I drowned. They told me I couldn’t swim, should not swim. So I stopped swimming. That was part of the yielding, right? I had to yield. To make the complete shift to embody someone else’s experience, I had to leave my own body and experience behind. And so I went still. My limbs atrophied, my mind filled with grotesque images of floating heads and penises, surrounding me in a suspended, tangled mass until I couldn’t breath anymore, and drowned.

What was the yielding, then? Suicide? Or was it just a big misunderstanding? Back then, I assumed that everyone was exactly like me. I saw a face and thought, “behind that face is a deeply-feeling, spectacular spirit that takes in everything, yields to everything, and knows itself fully.” I thought everyone was tapped into the huge, cool lake of it all. I thought each person would automatically wrap us in a warm, fluffy towel if things got to be too much, too cold. I thought they would notice these things. I thought they were like me.

But it was all a big misunderstanding, wasn’t it?

Now we’re moving through the clouds. I’m thinking about all those times as a kid, looking out the airplane window at the clouds and feeling like this is the one true experience. Like everything else in the universe was just a distraction from this moment. Like this white, clumpy, grey, writhing mass was the pure heart of it all. At the time, it felt undeniable. Now, the cloud is over much more quickly than I remember. Now, I watch it giving way to a clear view of Los Angeles below us.

Los Angeles, the parasite to end all parasites. The horrid, flat buildings weighing down the land. The football fields, skyscrapers, palm trees, languid universities, and sad little cars. The water shipped in from Yosemite. The clouds are above us now, back where they belong, suspended in chaotic little puffs. An ominous fog obscures the horizon to my right.

Suddenly, there are large piles of red dirt and tiny scruffs of bush along the runway. White paint sprayed on the pavement to mark our way as the plane lands. Houses in the distance jar me back to the parasite idea. “The parasite carrier touches down onto its host,” I think wryly. First stop down, two to go.