Tag Archives: real

I do not write happy stories.

9 Apr

People want happy stories. Good characters. Sweet endings. Family-friendly. At least, that’s what a lot of magazine submission guidelines seem to be saying.

But I do not write happy stories. I swear, I try. Took me five goddamn years to write a YA novel with a happy ending and after another five years I’m still not finished editing it yet. Happy stories are not the ones that come to me most naturally or most frequently. They are not what my brain generates. They are not what my brain understands. They are not what my brain has had to work with.

Happy stories, sure, they can be nice to read. Like a delightful little square of baklava. But too many of those delightful little squares, and odds are you’re going to be left with sticky, nut-grimy fingers and an urge to go puke up at least half of the sickly sweetness now residing in your stomach into the nearest toilet bowl. Or onto the nearest politician. Either would be acceptable, probably.

I mean, too many sad stories, or difficult stories or unsettling stories or generally unhappy narratives, and you’re also probably going to be left in a huddles mess o’ blankets on your living room couch crooning yourself into a tear-slopped sleep with that bottle of whiskey you’re clutching as your only friend. Not exactly a more preferable kind of overdose.

But at least… at least those tears your crying are real. The elation you feel from a happy story may be a vicarious kind of wish-fulfillment but the pain you’re left dealing with from a grungier tale is a memory, the recollected aching from some time before when your story veered a little too closely to something a character got herself into. Probably why the sadness lasts so much longer; it’s no mere slap-on-the-surface temporary veneer. No, it’s an upwelling of past shame or doubt or anger or disappointment. The kind of sadness that leaves you as said whiskey-breathed mess has roots.

Maybe it’s just because of my own negative-lens tendencies the depression fairy apparently decided to, uh, gift me with at birth, but I know that I, at least, remember pain more than I remember pleasure. In my life-flashes-before-your-eyes-’cause-you-done-fucked-up-and-somehow-now-you’re-drowning reel, the moments of hurt, of regret, of loss would be the first ones to play out again before me. They are, unfortunately, what my brain, my memory centers, my inner interpretation mechanisms snap to first. Over time (read: SO MUCH THERAPY OH MY GOD), I’ve been able to re-groove my brain a bit (hoorah neural plasticity!) and convince my brain that it really is okay to go the positive route every now and then, really, there’s probably not even that much of a traffic jam,  but still… inner GPS forgets about those routes a fair amount.

I’m tempted to write that to me, happiness just doesn’t feel natural. But I know, really, that’s not true. Happiness is totally a natural thing to experience. It’s more appropriate to write that for me, happiness hasn’t felt usual. I grew up in a household of parents who had been fighting since before I was even born. I wasn’t exactly the cool kid in my class for much of high school (but then come high school people realized I was smart and that they needed me and then I ruled the world! AHAHAHAHAHAHA!). I’ve been battling mental health shit since god knows when. Yes, there has been a lot of happiness in my life, but it’s not exactly been the baseline or background. Happiness has been an exception.

But honestly, I don’t think it’s just my own experience that’s made writing happy stories so difficult for me. Ever since, well, ever, I’ve been an emotional go-to for other people. I may not have been the cool kid, but I wasn’t ever that kid – but I did usually end up getting picked out as OMG BFF! by that kid. Then come middle school, when puberty hit and we were all just leveled to a singular playing field of awkwardness, the girls who became my closest friends were also the ones who, like me, had some inner demons that started clawing a bit more actively at our vulnerable brains. And our vulnerable hormones. The rest of pre-college schooling for me was a slew of late night phone calls, desperate pleas to hang on just a little while longer, letters sent every day to some treatment center other, constant scans of wrists and arms and rib cages and stomach circumferences and little pricks in the back of our minds any time one of us wore long sleeves or baggy clothing. Chat sessions into three and five am, glowing laptop screens hidden behind closed doors and under the covers.

Yes, there was a strain of hope. Maybe, just maybe, if I can get through this, you can too… We were all one giant mess of hands and arms clinging to each other and brace the entire structure of our lives. Support went in all directions. Hurt went in all directions. Despair abounded. Hope was a parched substance. It did not rain; it sludged through the ravaged sewers of our tenacity, tainted and unsafe even by the time it got there in the first place. But when you’re dying of thirst, you stop being so picky about these kind of things. Even dirty water will keep you going. For a little while. It might kill you a little while later. But I don’t think any of us would have minded that for ourselves.

We would have wailed over it, though, for each other.

The real-life stories that I have known have not been ones that work out. They have been ones of struggle. Constant struggle. You think you’ve gotten over one thing, and then something new crops up. Your once-savior becomes your new slave master. Relief only lasts so long. Every so often you may find yourself on your feet again, running, and you run as far and as hard and as long as you can, but then some invisible un-reason reaches its ugly snag and you don’t even see and suddenly you’re on the ground, scraped knees and bleeding elbows and your legs are so tired they don’t want to work anymore and your arms are wondering what the use even is anymore to try to pull yourself up one more time if you’re only going to end up down here covered in the dirt of a failed attempt again anyway…

And yet somehow we keep going. Knowing we have likely only doomed ourselves to repeat the process. But the way out is no more glorious than the struggle. So you might as well finish the race. Might as well find out if it was ever going to get you anywhere anyway.

You understand if your fellow runners decide they can take no more of the dizzying, soul-quenching exhaustion. You understand the decision to finally cease running, cease panting, feel only one more final sharp stab at the weary lungs you have forced to keep filling you with breath before saying that no, no more, I will stop here.

It’s a tragedy, yes. But it’s less of a tragedy than most people seem to realize. The loss of uncertain future happiness ways a little less to you than the end to present, undeniable pain.

So far, only one of us has dropped out of the race.

This impossible, endless race. There is some pride in my fellow runners, every time I look around and see them still there, straggling through this thing with me.

We will arrive at the finish line cut and scarred by thorns and brambles that held no roses. Our souls will be impossibly bruised. We might not have the strength to hold even our heads high. But we will have made it. We will have finished.

That is not a happy ending. That is not the kind of story I write.

But it is a story. With a horridly natural, un-fairy tale ending.

And that is something.

The Last Day

24 Mar

Well, lovely readers, this is my last day in the US before I head out to the Galapagos. This time tomorrow, I’ll be on a plane to Quito. Or to Texas, where I think we might have a layover… In any case, I won’t be in California, and I won’t be in Missouri, and I won’t be in Florida (those other two places in the US I tend to frequent). I’ll be going some place entirely new.

Honestly, right now, I don’t have any profound words of wisdom about this last day before embarking on the most exciting stint of travel in my life to date. I don’t think it’s quite sunk in yet… I’ve just been sitting here, at the table, in a vague state of shock and awe which might in part be attributable to the Spotify station I’m listening to (which is basically the “here, let me play soft mellow Indie-ish music that will lull you into peace and then tear your emotions out through your soul” station).

Things haven’t really felt “settled” for a while now, anyway, so it’s kind of hard for me to be jolted out of normalcy right now. The past two weeks have been so much in flux, so strange on their own… I’m in school, I’m packing, I’m studying and taking finals and writing a thesis, I’m driving to Santa Monica and back every other day to move my stuff or hang out with Kim, I’m almost finished with school forever, I turn in my thesis, my boyfriend leaves for his visit to Miami, Kim leaves for San Francisco, it’s just me, shuttling back and forth between Caltech and the apartment in Santa Monica in some kind of waif existence, I hang out with new people, I’m at the beach for the first time in months, there are new streets everywhere, Kim’s back from San Francisco but now I’m living in the apartment too but I’m also leaving in two days and packing again for a different trip…

Everything has been strange for what feels like such a long time now. A weird mix of me moving on but also retaining connections from my life “before” and not quite having a new platform to step onto and a weird stasis time of exploring some islands on the other side of the equator to prepare for… There’s been so much difference lately. And those things I’ve clung to, trying to maintain some sense of solidity, of continuity in my life – they’ve mostly been those odd, transient connections made to people I know and people I don’t know over the internet. Chatting with people on facebook, reading the tweets headed by familiar names that I started following back when I still had a room in the dorms at Caltech, visiting the same sites like Tickld and the OhJoySexToy webcomic because it’s a voice, a community that’s cropped up like mist or smoke in my memory… I’ve been carrying the pillow from my boyfriend’s couch that he let me take eons ago around from room to room, clutching it between my chest and my knees while I clasp the first stuffed animal thing he ever gave me back when we first started dating in my hands, a physical proxy for his existence, a reminder that he is still connected to me, that this thing called “us” is still alive in the universe…

I’ve been lonely. There’s been a lot of strangeness – which in some ways I crave – but I haven’t had anyone, really, to share it with. I require another mind, another body there with me to turn the mere slipping by of seconds into experience. I think that’s why this trip to the Galapagos feels like a step back towards “realness” to me. I’m going with classmates I’ve interacted with all term, professors who have been to the Galapagos before and have a level of familiarity with the place they’ll bring. We’re not just being cast off on the sea to who knows where.There’s a structure – an itinerary – a tangibleness to this exploration, something to bring it out of the realm of ephemerality and wayfaring into the place of wanderlust, something I can hold onto more. There’s a someplace we’re going to. A something we’re going to do. It’s adventure. A real kind of magic. Not just… hand waving.

Well then. Maybe some of the words were profound. They were true, a lot of them, at least. So readers, if you don’t hear from me for a while, don’t fret – I’m just galavanting about with marine iguanas! Or sitting on a plane being bored. Either way, I’m still here. I’m still real. I haven’t gone away. I’m just going to be in a different realness for a while. I guess I’m leaving this blog behind, for you all, as the anchor to me, the thing of attachment or proxy or reminder or whatever that I’ve been searching for, for everybody else, for a while.

I’ll see you around the third of April, lovely readers.

Bon voyage.

My Anxiety Is Not A Lie

12 Mar

Let’s talk about anxiety. (Oh, and for those of you back home who’ve been keeping track since that last post, yes I have actually started editing my thesis. I swear. I know this looks bad. I mean, another blog post… no way she’s working on that thing she needs to graduate! But… c’mon, guys, a girl needs a break! I’ve deleted and changed and fixed and added in three whole fucking pages of new content from three new primary sources so look, it’s getting done, okay?!)

Right. Um. Anxiety. So, there are all those websites out there that talk about what “anxiety” is, right? All those ads with comic character-style people in it spewing out some symptoms for you and telling you which drug they’re promoting you absolutely need to buy? Maybe even a couple of helpful informational pamphlet things you shoved in the bottom of your purse the last time you visited the doctor’s office?

Yeah, so all those things, they’re probably telling you about how anxiety (and its devil spawn, panic attacks) can make it feel like your heart is beating really fast, you may be hyperventilating, basically it feels like you’re being run over by the pounding feet of a herd of elephants while your heart and stomach and brain are getting convulsed and squeezed and honked like clown horns?

Yeah, no. My anxiety isn’t like that.

Obviously, I’m not saying that *nobody’s* anxiety is like that. I know people who have given that exact description before (okay, maybe not that exact description) for what they experience. Fast, frenetic, some other f words – that’s the dealio for them.
But not for me. My anxiety, it’s… slower? When I am “anxious,” I am not fidgety. I am frozen. Instead of feeling like a hot mess, I feel like a cold… nothing. My anxiety doesn’t make me want to dash out of the room – it hardens my insides like ice, paralyzing me right where I am. I can’t think. I can’t focus. It’s like my brain’s eyes rolled back in their sockets or something. Like I’ve suddenly hardened into a block of cold, black metal.
And fuck, is it uncomfortable. Rather than feeling like my lungs have suddenly become a pair of poor over-filled balloons being torturously squeezed by some manic two-year-old, my body, all of it, suddenly feels like it’s been… compacted. Like someone took all my muscle fibers and coiled them. I am tense. I am not bursting. I am strung. I get this kind of general ache everywhere, like the kind you get when you’re heading into a particularly bad cold. Or like somebody decided to wash my insides with lactic acid. Or like my entire body is suddenly a uterus and it’s that time when Mother-In-Law Nature decides to come for a particularly nasty week-long visit.
There is a nervousness, and sometimes I do shake and spasm (but hey, at least I get my core exercises in for the day, right?), but it’s not, like, heaving or hyperventilating or any of that. And the world doesn’t spin, it… fades. Like a movie shot does when you suddenly pull out from a freeze frame so that the llama protagonist can make snarky comments and draw red marks all over everything. (The search terms I had to use to find that image… dear NSA surveillance workers who are currently incapacitated on the floor from laughter, you’re welcome.)
Anyhoo. This anxiety thing. It’s different for me. But I’m still pretty sure what I experience is anxiety. I mean I’m nervous, right? I feel overwhelmed, I’m incapacitated to a degree, I hug my knees and stare through a fog of muted blind terror – that’s still anxiety, right?
If I go through the traditional symptom list, pretty sure the answer is no. The phrasing that list uses, it doesn’t *quite* fit with my set of descriptions. And it can feel really damn invalidating. There are multiple brands of depression that get talked about in all the different mediums, why can’t my type of anxiety get its share of internet space? Sure, thankfully the first psychiatrist I came into contact with way-back-when knew her shit, and “anxiety” was definitely a word she brought into our conversations. But my current psychiatrist? Mental health site “anxiety reduction” self-help articles? Cultural chatter at large? Nope.
But… I know what I know. I know what I feel. I feel what I feel. And I know it’s anxiety. I know that my anxiety is not “just in my head” (my core muscles can attest to that, thank you very much). I know that saying I have anxiety is not just some cop out to try to stick some label-excuse on some personal shortcoming. I know that my anxiety is a very real obstacle in my life that I have to deal with. (Btw, by “deal with,” I pretty much mean “sit on my boyfriend’s couch or on the floor of my dorm room being miserable through it until it eventually goes away because I managed to distract myself with the internet well enough. Sorry, I don’t have a magic – or even better – solution to anxiety to give you. I wish I did, really.)
So, whatever the chattering “experts” may say (or really, not say), whatever the eternal skeptic in my head that constantly looks to pick a fight may hurl at me, whatever doubt may well up from inside me and pump up the disconnection from reality I sometimes experience by telling me that that experience itself isn’t even real, in my more sane moments (and somehow even in most of my un-sane ones), I still know that my understanding of what’s going on inside of me is true. I know it isn’t made up. I know that even though it might be different, my anxiety is not a lie.