dana cass

the anti-lifestyle blog

whine and cheese

When I was six or seven, my parents put a jar on the kitchen counter and informed me that I had to put a dime in it every time I said the phrase “no fair.” At this point, I had been verbal for about five or six years, and while my first words were probably something innocuous like “Mommy” or “Can someone put some vodka in this milk bottle?”, it wasn’t long before most of what came out of my mouth was a complaint. (Understand that I was not only the younger child, but I was the sister of a girl who now, as I understand it, defends white-collar criminals. I had reason to complain.)

I still love complaining. It’s one of my favorite hobbies. You may notice that this blog is one big complaint. I’m friendless! Other people in the world own dogs and sometimes I can smell them! The possibility exists that someone might want to marry me one day and that makes me nervous! My team at work holds a semiannual session to discuss our greatest “pain points.” The last session devolved into me waving my arms and hollering “PAAAAIN!” in my best imitation of Samuel L. Jackson. It’s my favorite hour of the year because I get to participate in sixty solid minutes of unmitigated whining (although I think my manager is about one Samuel L. Jackson imitation away from getting me another no-whining jar).

Mostly, it’s because my life is actually really great. I’m stupidly privileged, more so even than most white girls my age are, and when it comes down to it, there’s actually nothing wrong with my life. But there’s nothing interesting about that. I mean, aren’t you bored by people who talk all the time about how spectacular their lives are? Sometimes I binge on blogs that are, for the most part, devotionals to the fabulous lives of the authors. Every day is a blessing. They don’t just eat food—they “enjoy” it. (This may be unique to “health” bloggers. “I enjoyed a Paleo Muffin for breakfast this morning.” Really? Because I got to work after sitting in traffic on 66 for a half hour listening to “Royals” on every channel on by XM presets and then I shoved about five chickens’ worth of eggs down my throat and now I feel like I want to vomit. I guess “I snarfed a bunch of cholesterol this morning” doesn’t have the same ring.)

For this class of writers, every batch of oatmeal, every new couch purchased, every CrossFit workout, every dog-walking adventure is a blessing. Whereas the last time I tried to build a piece of furniture on my own, I ended up basically reenacting the Kama Sutra with my 5-Tier Leaning Bookshelf and woke up the next day with bruises in weird places. Also, I burn my mouth every time I eat oatmeal because I’m 24 years old and I’m too stupid to wait for hot foods to cool down before I eat them. (See “snarfing,” above.)

I suspect that happy lifestyle bloggers are as plagued by these issues as I am, only they take the opposite tack and whitewash the details for a glossy photo finish. I understand where they’re coming from. They, like I, have so little to complain about that it’s downright shameful when we do. So they approach it by sharing the blessings in their life… whereas I approach it by sharing all the hilariously stupid things that happen to me in hopes that I can make somebody laugh.

Consider what happens to me in a given week. I could tell you in great detail about the meals I enjoyed this week and the several sparkling hours I spent in the company of family and friends. I could wax poetic about the exercise classes I attended. I could post pictures of the infinity scarf I bought today from Old Navy. But that’s spectacularly boring. The vagaries of life are dull. What I ate for dinner would be interesting only if I discovered halfway through my plate of pasta that the jar had gone moldy. (This has never happened to me, but it did happen to my 55-year-old father, who ostensibly knows better.)

You know what’s not boring? The fact that on Friday morning, my straightener overheated and fried my bangs and now—four days before I meet my new significant other’s family for the first time, I might add—I have a shock of dead hair that looks like a dish scrubber sticking out of the front of my face. That’s hilarious. Especially for everyone who isn’t me.

Mostly, what complaining helps me do is ignore the sadness in life. There was a typhoon in the Philippines and thousands of people are dead, and someone I love and admire was diagnosed with breast cancer, and there is very little meaningful action I can take about either of those realities besides sending them money and prayers, whatever those are. I feel useless and it seems disingenuous, in the face of all this tragedy, to brag about my perfect life. So instead, I try to distract myself and everyone else by telling fluffy, relatable stories about bad hair days and traffic and the weird sex noises my new neighbors make at bizarre hours.

In truth, I love my life. In my journals, the notebooks that nobody sees but me, I write about all the beautiful things in life. I have pages devoted to the joys of evenings spent with friends and what it felt like to be me on the night that the last person I kissed first kissed me. But who does that benefit but me? Nobody—so I don’t tell you about that. Nobody who visits this blog regularly wants to read about how many episodes of “The Big Bang Theory” I watched last night with my girlfriends or see pictures of the steaks my brother-in-law grilled last weekend. You want to listen to me whine about people who show up five minutes late to meetings (bastards) and my general inability to be a functional human being. It’s cathartic for me, it’s entertaining for you (um, I hope), and best of all, I’m not trying to pass off a series of photos of the salad I bought for dinner as prose.

“we”

I enjoy not having a tapeworm. (Granted, I would spend a lot less of my life grunting on a spin bike if I had a tapeworm, but I’m told there are some unpleasant side effects that aren’t worth the calorie burn.) I also enjoy not being royalty, in no small part because I really like wearing bright colors and I’m pretty sure Kate Middleton isn’t allowed to do that anymore. Anyway, what I’m getting at here is that you’ll never find me using the royal “we.”

At a certain age—26, maybe; 29 if you got a particularly harrowing graduate degree; 19 if you’re Mormon and you want to find out if sex is really as hard on furniture as it is in Twilight—people start to use a new pronoun. Suddenly, where once you were “I,” you become “we.

We. “We went to Green Pig last week. We had the short ribs.” “We can’t do brunch this weekend. We have a wedding to go to.” “We bought a Dyson. It’s amazing.” You, who were for so long a singular entity, are now part of an amorphous two-headed blob that will at some point probably grow to include a dog and maybe some babies. You’ve been subsumed. You aren’t a whole person any longer; when your other half is away, you have to replace them, you can’t face a night alone on the couch with only your television and your mind for company.

I can’t envision myself as a “we.” For 24 years, I’ve been a me, a singular entity who does most everything by herself. I live alone, I see movies alone, I dine at restaurants alone. I thrive alone. I contemplate the mold in my shower alone. This is unusual for a 24-year-old in the circles I run in; I am an outlier. Most of my friends and peers have coupled off, or at the very least, they live in a city where they know scads of people and they always have someone to call for brunch or dinner or a drink. Me? I go to Meetups and talk to strangers. I go to ballet class on Friday nights. I set routines and follow them slavishly and only my whims can disrupt them.

When I’ve done some normal activity with company, like going to dinner or to a movie to to a show, I revel in the feeling of using “we.” “We went to Kapnos last night. We had the charred octopus.” (By the way, go to Kapnos. Have the charred octopus. Holy crap.) It’s so refreshingly normal! I’m just like everyone else! I do social things in the company of others! The truth? I can only handle a “we” for so long. My closest friends know this, and they aren’t offended when after spending hours with them, I leave to go spend an equivalent number of hours with myself. 

The prospect of losing the reliable pleasure of my own company is what scares me about coupling and marriage. I’m certain that I would stop relishing “we” if I had to use it to describe my every activity. I’ve decided—and perhaps 24 is too early to make this decision, but tell that to my ten million friends who have gotten engaged within the past few months—that I want to hold onto my “me.” It’s not that I don’t want to get married, per se, because I certainly want to give my friends a party with an open bar and listen to them tell me how beautiful I look in an expensive dress that’s supposed to indicate that every bad decision over the past six years of my life didn’t happen. Rather, I’d like to get married in a way that doesn’t force me to sacrifice my “me.”

I don’t want to be totally alone. I like the idea of falling in love with someone and I think it would be comforting to believe that whoever that is is the best person I could possibly fall in love with all the world over. But I can’t fathom the idea that to do this is to incorporate another person into my life full-time. Maybe I’m just self-centered or maybe I have too many thoughts crowding my head to even consider adding another person’s well-being to the mix.

Can I do something different? Is that allowed? Can I ask the world to let me buy a vacuum cleaner on my own or even to accept that I might want to live by myself some of the time? Is my other half somewhere on their couch wondering these same questions and feeling vaguely nauseous at the idea that they might have to choose between love and their own identity? I’d like to travel on my own and dine at restaurants with a novel instead of a boyfriend, but I’d also like the security of knowing that someone wants to spend more time with me than with anyone else. I’d like to have my cake and eat it too.

Come at me, boys. But only if I’ve explicitly invited you over, because if I haven’t, it’s quite likely that I’ve made a hot date with a stack of week-old newspapers and a plastic dish of homestyle tofu from the Chinese restaurant down the block. 

jumbo slice

I was at a bar in Adams Morgan a couple weeks ago after attending a beer tasting festival, where after “tasting” our body weight in beer, my friend and I tried to prostitute ourselves to the semi-attractive man running the Saranac booth in return for his inflatable bear (not a euphemism. We wanted a souvenir). I drop that anecdote here to demonstrate just how addled my facilities were an hour or two later when the following scene played out.

I was starving. There are several metaphors that I could use to describe drunk hunger, but most of them involve third-world countries, and there are lines we don’t cross on the Internet. Suffice it to say that when I’m drunk and hungry—drungry? Hunk? Drungry.—I go out of my way to find the foods that I’m least likely to eat when I’m sober. Pizza, chicken fingers, French fries; everything that ignites an aneurysm in my disordered brain is free game after a certain number of drinks. (Four, to be precise.)

I was drunk and I was hungry, and I was at a bar in Adams Morgan with a group of acquaintances and strangers and I told them I needed a panacea for my drunger, and they pointed at the neon lights of Jumbo Slice, just across the street from our patio table at Millie & Al’s. No one wanted to join me, but my social anxiety disappears with my calorie anxiety when I’m drunk, so alone I trotted across the street.

Little did I know that Jumbo Slice was an institution. Little did I expect that I’d be charged six dollars for a slice of pizza at a joint greasier than anywhere in the bowels of Brooklyn. Little did I anticipate that the slice of pizza would be the size of my torso (granted, I’m 5’2” and short-torsoed to boot. But still). A tiny sober part of my brain panicked when the man behind the counter handed me the slab of pizza: how could I possibly eat this? How could I possibly carry this? Do I just pick it up, aim for my face, and hope for the best? Should it have come with a pamphlet of instructions for the Jumbo Slice virgin? Do I just lie back and think of England?

But the line behind me was piling up, and so I picked up my Jumbo Slice with both hands and started bravely for the door, where a line of fratty dudes stared at me. “Are you gonna eat that all by yourself?” one asked.

“Yeah,” I said. He may have been flirting with me. He may have been disgusted by me. He may also have been concerned for what would happen to my stomach when I forced down what was surely more matter than my little esophagus could contend with. I had a mission, though, and that mission was to make it across the street without getting run over or dropping my Jumbo Slice so I could devour it in peace back at the bar.

I darted in between the cabs like Frogger and strutted back into the bar, Jumbo Slice in hand(s). The bouncer raised his eyebrow. “You can’t bring that in here,” he said. I gave him my nastiest look and said, “Are you serious?” He gave me his nastiest look, which was scarier than mine, given that it was backed by the ability to throw me back out onto the street with only my Jumbo Slice to keep me company.

I weighed my options. I could choke down my Jumbo Slice like a breastier version of that little Japanese dude who wins the hot dog-eating contests every year. I could throw my Jumbo Slice—nope, not an option. And then I remembered that my group of acquaintances was seated on the patio, and I strutted back out of the bar, parked myself on the sidewalk side of the fence that separated me from the table of near-strangers, most of whom I’d met that night, and led the table in a communal consumption of the Jumbo Slice that involved a lot of illicit over-the-fence pizza passing. It was a bonding experience, and I hope that these people forever remember me as the weird midget with the giant piece of pizza and know that they shared in a formative DC experience: my very first Jumbo Slice.

I grew up in Las Vegas, where the discerning drunk sobers up at Del Taco or Roberto’s, if you’re really daring the food poisoning gods. I graduated from Vassar in 2011, which puts me narrowly in the old guard who still remember Nap’s, which I still maintain was a clever cardboard recycling operation with access to cheap toppings. (And I’d still hike to the Acrop any day before I’d deign to order Bacio’s. In my day, we had to work for our drunk snacks.)

It says a lot about my commitment to sentiment that I can wax nostalgic about the Acrop. But the memory of cramming into a booth to order chicken fingers, French fries, and Ranch dressing in a basket with Michaela is more visceral and more comforting to me than the fleeting memories of the parties that ignited our appetites. I can’t remember what bar we were at before Julie pulled out her wallet to pay for her taquitos at Roberto’s, but I certainly remember how much we laughed when she realized that her tab was still open downtown and with it, her debit card.

Drunk hunger is what makes my favorite part of any night out possible: the part where you settle in with a group of people, be they strangers or your best friends, to feed your souls with the food that scares you in the daytime and to share stories and secrets until you’ve talked yourself near back to sobriety. Drunk hunger is what lets you wake up in the morning, weary and a little nauseous and probably craving kale or at least coffee, but still alive and glowing with the memories of what it is to be young and to eat a slice of pizza the size of your torso in a city that, at long last, seems to be accepting you into its greasy, pepperoni-covered arms.

welcome to the anti-lifestyle blog

Over the course of the past year, since landing my first grown-up job, I turned into a yuppie douchebag. I go to spin class, I eat salads, I recently paid a flat fee to taste an unlimited number of IPAs in a muddy field littered with fake mustaches. Were I a more entrepreneurial woman, I would monetize the shit out of my affinity for the written word and the ungodly amount of money I spend to keep my weight below where it was when I subsisted entirely on grilled cheese sandwiches.

I’m a casual reader of several women’s fitness and lifestyle blogs—you know the type—and I’m fascinated both by their ability to capture a devoted readership and to get all kinds of sweet free swag.I wondered why I couldn’t do the same… then I realized that I suffer from several fatal flaws that will forever separate me from the women’s lifestyle blogosphere.

I’m single

I’m perpetually lacking in the man department. In fact, I’ve been for-all-intents-and-purposes single for such a long time that my relatives keep pulling me aside to subtly encourage me to come out of the closet. For a budding lifestyle blogger, this is a problem. It’s a thing for lifestyle bloggers to coyly mention their “man,” usually with that particular noun, but sometimes with a nickname of sorts. (The Pioneer Woman and her Marlboro Man are the only lifestyle blogging couple that I allow to get away with this. Mostly because I’ve made her smashed potatoes and they are delicious. Also, I’m pretty sure she’s a multimillionaire and that’s kind of awesome.)

It’s not that I’m a cat lady before my time. Over the course of the past two years, I’ve been involved with a veritable parade of men who are, for various reasons, unsuitable for long-term purposes. I’ve committed every kind of violation: cradle robbery, workcest, castcest, dormcest, and dating a guy who dressed up like a robot for his senior picture in high school. I think one time I accidentally went on a date with a 40-year-old. These are not the milquetoast young men who go jogging with their blogging belles. I only date men who are interesting enough to deserve a blog of their own.

But it seems like without a boyfriend, I’m just a Woman Laughing Alone With Salad. To be a successful lifestyle blogger, I need one of these uber-supportive cardboard cutouts by my side to guide me through my spiritual journey toward Crossfit nirvana. I can’t very well blog about a romantic weekend trip that I took by myself, can I? How can I lord my superior lifestyle over my readers when I’m not even getting laid on a regular basis?

Compounding my singledom is the fact that I’ve moved several times over the past year and while I think that D.C. was the right place for me to settle, I haven’t yet established a strong social network here. My best friends live mostly in New York (with a few stragglers in Las Vegas, Mississippi, and points abroad), which makes it hard for me to do normal lifestyle blogger activities like Going to Brunch on the Weekends and Giving Dinner Parties. I can’t really conceptualize a detailed photoblog about my night in on the couch watching “Big Bang Theory” reruns (which is most nights). I like to think that this fact will change over the months and years to come, but for now, Brunch on the Weekends is basically me eating yogurt while I hate-watch Giada.

I don’t like talking about exercise, eating, or health in general

I really enjoy exercising. I also find the cultural obsession with glorifying exercise to be distasteful. I don’t consider myself to be superior to anyone else because I exercise regularly. In fact, I struggle to keep my exercise habits in check because I tend to overtrain out of a desire to control my weight. I think it would be irresponsible for me to blog about my exercise habits in a way that could be considered prescriptive.

Actually, I really hate talking about health in general. I could not possibly give less of a shit than I do now about what other people eat or how much they exercise. I’m an evangelist for happiness, not low cholesterol. Exercise, sleep, and healthy eating are integral to maintaining my sanity, but that’s a personal thing and not everybody is at war with demons that run when confronted with a consistent bedtime.

And it will be a cold day in hell before I start taking pictures of my food. Not in small part because all my meals are provided to me by my employer, because I somehow tripped into a job at a software company that understands that if you feed your employees breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and beer, they will happily work through all the hours that one consumes those items.

Even if I were responsible for feeding myself like a normal person (plebes!), I still wouldn’t want to take pictures of my food. When I tried to count calories, I stopped eating, and then my hair started falling out and I was super bitchy and I kept getting sinus infections. I think that taking pictures of my food would have the same effect (the medical community might call this an eating disorder). Eating disorders aren’t a cute thing to blog about as they occur. They’re only fodder for the “About Me” section where you discuss how you had an eating disorder, then you got over it, then you got fat drinking beer in college, then you saw an ugly picture of yourself on Facebook and went on Weight Watchers, then you decided you didn’t want to count points anymore so you bought a bunch of quinoa and took up Ashtanga yoga and Crossfit and now you live with your marginally attractive boyfriend and endearingly ugly dog in the suburbs and you go to coconut water tastings with a bunch of other recovered anorexics who, too, have discovered the joys of the WOD.

I guess I could blog about how to stay marginally sane without prescription drugs while maintaining a low-level compulsive exercise habit and spending the majority of your waking hours at work. That’s a more honest version of what most healthy living bloggers are trying to sell, isn’t it? Or is the rest of the world a lot less crazy than I am?

I don’t like dogs

All lifestyle bloggers have dogs. I’m going to be honest here: I hate dogs. My workplace allows dogs, which most normal humans would consider an awesome perk, but to me, it just means that I constantly have to pretend that I have a soul. And I don’t. When I’m standing at my sweet hydraulic desk minding my own business and someone’s mongrel sticks its head in my crotch, my initial reaction is not to start petting the dog. My initial reaction is to kick the dog in the face. This is generally considered sociopathic and it’s really lucky that thus far, I have been able to contain this urge.

I’m not normal

I find that lifestyle bloggers, for the most part, tend to be refreshingly normal. Particularly in the domain of women’s health, they’re sane, social, and following a pretty standard life path for the Millenial generation: college, career, marriage, baby. I think it’s downright admirable—and unusual, perhaps belying my point—that many of these bloggers have turned their websites into a career. And I’m more than a little jealous that they’re able to do this with a similar set of skills and interests to mine, but I don’t think that I belong to their elite.

When people meet me, they get the impression that I’m a sweet, painfully earnest girl who’s a little bit of a weirdo. I don’t think I’d fit well into the community of twentysomething female lifestyle bloggers. They’re all really attractive and have really excellent hair and boyfriends and dogs and I feel like they don’t offer obscure trivia about colonial history as conversation starters. I don’t live the kind of life that other women my age want to emulate (although everyone should be jealous about free beer, the greatest perk of all). I like salads and spin class, and then I like to curl up on the couch and write first chapters of novels and wear ugly sweatshirts and see movies alone. I like dating men who dress as robots in their senior pictures.

I think the conclusion here is that while I exhibit yuppie douchebag tendencies, I’ll never be the kind of sane, sociable, put-together woman who can realistically offer advice to the public. I can only observe and try to capture in words the absurdity of the world I travel in. Does this interest you more than yet another recipe for protein powder-laced pancakes coupled with my detailed observations on the latest Crossfit workout? Then stay tuned, dear reader, because there’s plenty more where this came from.

but actually, don’t be tardy to the party

There’s a new app called Twist that notifies people that you’re running late because you opted to blatantly disrespect the rest of the world’s time in favor of playing an extra five minutes of Fruit Ninja. The New York Times informs us that this is because the founders were perpetually running late to meetings with one another and, instead of leaving their apartments five minutes earlier, decided to start a company. I can’t help but think that it would have been a more effective use of their time to just, like, not be late.

I abhor lateness. I think it’s a side effect of growing up in the performing arts. It would have been a cold day in hell before I’d roll into Miss Monika’s ballet class even ten seconds late. When you’re told constantly that you’re expendable, which is the main lesson that young women of average talent and looks in the world of dance and theatre are taught, you do whatever you can to make yourself stand out. For me, that meant developing a reputation for timeliness and preparation. (I’m not sure if it really counted for much in college when I’d show up for rehearsal a half hour early, then pass out in the corner on top of my backpack until it was time for me to dance, but points for showing up, right?)

My company, which prides itself on efficiency and an incredibly low level of office bullshit, thrives on a culture of lateness. I get the feeling that this is a systemic problem in Silicon Valley (and Alley, and Prairie, and wherever else people are making a killing through means other than uranium mining). I have scheduled 30-minute conferences calls, sat on an empty line for fifteen minutes before giving up, and then received emails saying “Hey, where were you? I called in and the line was empty.” It is not rare to see someone get up from their desk at 11:05 to leave for an 11:00 meeting… in a building that’s seven minutes away. It is so contrary to the life-hacking ideals that most of my techie coworkers espouse that it confounds me. How do people not understand that if we all committed to not being late all the damn time, everything would run more functionally?

(I should note that nobody is ever late to a meal. In fact, our “Kitchen Ops” team practically has to beat people off with a stick in the morning to keep them away from breakfast before it’s ready to be served. Maybe if we served home fries at every meeting, people would get there on time.)

Lateness isn’t confined to companies staffed by overgrown teenagers with ergonomic keyboards. Some people subscribe to the idea that “fashionably late” is anything but a douchey phrase that irresponsible people use to hide the fact that they don’t know how to tell time. I have never in my life been tardy for the party. On the contrary, I once arrived so early to a party that the hostess was still in the shower. Since then, I’ve discovered myriad benefits to arriving early:

  • First dibs on the hors d’ouevres. Why does it always seem like the guacamole is gone by the time you get there? Yeah, that was me. Enjoy those Brazil nuts, fashionably late scumbags.

  • Mitigating social awkwardness by pregaming the arrival of everyone else. Do you, like me, suffer from a near-paralytic fear at the thought of having to interact with large groups of people, to the point that you’d rather blog alone in your apartment than be a functioning human? Get there early and drink yourself friendly in the warm company of the host and their houseplants! (In a college or broke young adult setting, this has an advantage similar to the above in that you will get first dibs on the middle-shelf booze and will not have to suffer the indignity of shooting tequila that came in a bottle capped by a plastic sombrero.)

If you’re constantly late, I encourage you to ask yourself a series of question to improve your punctuality:

Am I a grown-ass human?

If “yes,” then you are too old to oversleep. You are too old not to understand that if your route takes 15-20 minutes depending on traffic, you need to leave yourself 21 minutes. You are too old to change your outfit more than two times before you leave for an event. (Okay, three. No, I couldn’t decide what jeans to wear tonight either. Skinny? Sort-of skinny? Skinny-only-after-laundering? Would-have-been-skinny-if-I-hadn’t-had-six-beers-last-night?)

Do I rely on public transportation?

If “yes,” then may God have pity on your soul, especially if that public transportation is the 7 train. Or the Red Line. Or the Caltrain, whose tracks are often confused for parking lots. Occasional lateness due to single-tracking between every station in the entire Washington metro area is excused. Habitual lateness due to your pigheaded inability to understand that the 2 train runs approximately once every two hours on the weekends is unacceptable.

Do I frequently schedule meetings back-to-back in locations that are more than zero seconds apart?

If “yes,” stop.

Do I frequently get lost?

If “yes,” I sympathize. Assume you’re going to get lost every time you leave your apartment. Leave earlier.

Is it raining?

If “yes,” you should have left 20 minutes ago.

This is a call to arms or, more accurately, a call to wrists. Is it ten minutes before your appointment? Does it take you eight minutes to get to your destination if you hit all the green lights? Leave two minutes ago, for you never know when a tiny, raging, hopelessly punctual woman with a lot of really well-sharpened pencils is lying in wait. 

P.S. I was late to lunch with a friend yesterday because I was trying to figure out how to use my new French press. Nobody’s perfect.

the unbearable lightness of ke$ha

Is it me, or has Ke$ha’s music gotten a little bittersweet? There’s a plaintive note in some harmonic line that suggests that the queen of stuttering and sloppiness is ready to hang up her ripped tights and, God forbid, spend a night in reading her high school journals and drinking chamomile. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but haven’t you felt it lately, too? Doesn’t it seem like your salad days are behind you? Aren’t you, in spite of yourself, behaving with a startling amount of dignity and sense?

Feeling like I’m a high schooler / sipping on a warm wine cooler”

She’s grown aware of her mortality, or at least of the reality of aging. A single taste evokes a vivid memory, and she’s swept back into a past that seems, suddenly, like it was another life. I found an old body spray, my freshman year staple, in a medicine cabinet at home some months ago. I sprayed it and suddenly I was sure that I was eighteen again and that I had a pressing set of logic problems and a hickey to attend to.

Better pack a toothbrush / gonna pull an all-nighter”

She’s developed a healthy sense of pragmatism. Gone are the days when she could trust her oral hygiene to a bottle of Jack. Perhaps her dentist, like mine, gazed into her open maw critically and suggested that she purchase and wear a $457 night guard to cut the grinding that’s destroying her gums. Would Ke$ha wonder how to reconcile a life of non-commitment–a life of, at the most, three-month stands–with the cold reality of a night guard? When is it okay to bust out the night guard? 

Perhaps Ke$ha hasn’t crossed that bridge yet, but she’s certainly learned to plan ahead. Next thing she knows, she’ll be packing a change of clothes, too. After all, that dude only lives a few subway stops uptown from work, and wouldn’t it just be easier to stay over?

“Oh, what a shame that you came here with someone”

Ke$ha knows the pain that is being a twentysomething lone wolf and watching the rest of the world couple off. Perhaps she, too, has wasted a few hours commiserating with My Friends Are Married. It’s indeed a shame that the object of her affections came here with someone. And it’s a shame that repeats itself in every produce aisle and Starbucks line and Junot Diaz display at the bookstore. The handsome devil you might have shared a few seconds’ worth of eye contact with a year or two ago is there, but there’s someone on his arm now, and they went to Big Sur last weekend and they might take rock-climbing classes this spring and they love brunch.

Ke$ha recognizes that her glory days are fleeting. She can’t get away with warbling in a sparkling American flag poncho for much longer. Before she knows it, she, too, will be home at ten on a Friday, asleep on the couch in front of Netflix with a familiar pair of arms wrapped around her. She might even like it.

life was better when you had to invite the whole class to your birthday party

It might surprise people to hear that I suck at making friends. I’m a very friendly person and it’s easy for me to carry on a conversation at work, in line at Philz, in the locker room at the gym, on a plane, etc., etc. I have a plethora of opportunities to make friends! People like me! Unfortunately, I suffer from intense anxiety that manifests itself as what I like to think of as a little monster in the back of my skull that convinces me at every turn that I should stay home and watch TV on my couch.

This is what it’s like in my head when I do things that might otherwise lead to friendship:

Scenario: Someone invites me to a social gathering where I will sort of know people

I’m so excited! Someone has invited me to a social gathering tonight! I’m gonna make so many new friends! What should I bring? What should I wear? There’s a bottle of wine in the cabinet but like what if  it’s shitty and they judge me for being a shitty wine buyer? Or what if everyone else brings beer? Oh my God, what if they don’t drink? Should I just bring chips? What if they’re paleo? What if they think I’m a chip-eating fatty? Should I bring carrots? What if they think I’m judging their eating habits? I could bring hummus. Hummus is universally appropriate. Wait, but what am I gonna wear? Is this top too low-cut? Will everyone think I’m trying to seduce the host with my cleavage? Am I too dressed up? WHAT IF IT’S FORMAL? What if it’s a pajama party? What if everyone shows up wearing onesies? Are these earrings too jingly? Fuck it. I’m staying home.

Scenario: I consider inviting an acquaintance who lives nearby to hang out

I could totally take the train up to the city to hang out with this girl from my year at Vassar! I bet we have a ton in common and we just didn’t know it at school because the only reason we know each other is because we both hooked up with that dude with the receding hairline. Oh my God, what are we gonna talk about? That guy’s makeout technique over the years? Cappy’s haircut? Eggs all day? This is literally going to be the most awkward situation of all time. Oh my God, this is gonna be one of those situations where I just keep talking to fill the silence and then she thinks I’m batshit crazy. Maybe if I think of a list of appropriate topics, we won’t end up comparing “I-made-out-with-Receding-Hairline-Guy-five-years-ago” war stories. Umm… careers? Hobbies? Interests? Oh my God, she’s gonna ask me if I watch Breaking Bad and when I say I don’t she’s gonna think I’m super lame and a big weirdo. Fuck it. I’m staying home.

Scenario: I join the website Meetup and study the opportunities available for twentysomethings living in Silicon Valley

What a great website! It’s just what I’ve always dreamed of: OkCupid for friends! Except you don’t get to know anything about the people you’re hanging out with. And they’re probably all gonna show up in groups anyway and you’re just gonna be awkward in the corner alone until some weird engineer dude from SurveyMonkey tries to get in your pants under the misguided impression that you’re looking for love with an MIT alum who dresses exclusively in T-shirts they give him at work. Oh, God, what if it’s all dudes from SurveyMonkey wearing T-shirts from work? What if they all band together and talk about NoSQL and think I’m a bimbo with a worthless degree? What if there are other bimbos with worthless degrees there and they’re all prettier and more charming than me? WHAT IF THERE ARE REPUBLICANS? There is a zero percent chance that I’m going to end up anywhere but awkward in the corner alone. Probably without even a weird dude from SurveyMonkey wearing a T-shirt from work trying to get into my pants. Fuck it. I’m staying home.

Scenario: I debate the merits of sitting down to eat lunch with coworkers I vaguely know versus bringing my lunch back to my desk

I’m going to go sit with that table of people I vaguely know! There’s an open chair! They aren’t playing a card game with an arcane set of rules that you practically have to have a B.S. in computer science to understand! It’s a perfect opportunity to make new friends. Wait… are they all on the same team? Are they having a lunch meeting? What if I sit down and they’re like “Hey, um, sorry, but we’re having a lunch meeting” and then I have to get up and move? And then they’re all like “How did that girl not notice that we’re having a lunch meeting?” Fuck it. I’m going back to my desk.  

hoarders

I am desperately afraid of losing my memory. Sometime last year, I read neuroscientist Lisa Genova’s novel Still Alice, about a woman’s descent into Alzheimer’s. It wasn’t the finest piece of literature I’ve ever read, but I read it in a single sitting and sobbed for HOURS. To lose your memory seems, to me, akin to losing your sense of self, your purpose, the ability to comprehend and interpret the world that you’ve painstakingly refined since birth.

My friends and I spend a good deal of time reminiscing. I mean, I know everyone does this, but I’m not sure that anyone is as hardcore about it as we are. We can pass hours reconstructing the events of a single night in gory detail, prompted by the memory of an object or a moment–it goes something like this:

“I would really kill for one of R.M.’s brownies right now.”

“Do you remember the last time we had them? It was the night we crashed the end of a cast party for a show we weren’t in–”

“OMG, I fucking HATED that show. J.W. was the director–you remember J.W.? She was psycho–”

“Wait, but wasn’t that the show where B.P. was shirtless?”

“When was B.P. NOT shirtless? Whatever. But remember, we were at the cast party, and we had run into J.F. in the College Center on the way–”

Here J.F. himself interrupts. “I still can’t believe you didn’t make me come with you! I was in the midst of making a VERY BAD life decision!”

“Um, YEAH, you were. But seriously, J.F., when were you not in the midst of making a very bad life decision?”

He sighs.

“Anyway, it was like, March, and it was still super cold, and we weren’t even drunk but we decided to go to this party anyway because R.M. always made really delicious food for parties, and we ran into J.F. on his way to make a really bad life decision, and B.P. had been shirtless, and then we ate brownies. Wait, but what else had we done that night? Why weren’t we with A.S. and M.K.?”

We have memories like elephants. We are a herd of memory-hoarding elephants. It’s silly how much we love to do this, and perhaps a sign that we should be doing more constructive activities as a group, but we’re memory-hoarding elephantine storytellers and maybe we’re writing the sequel to “How I Met Your Mother” and it’s what we like to do. We like to hoard our memories, use them to build stories, marvel at the absurdity of life. 

I hoard memories, for certain. In my living room, I have an ottoman that opens to reveal boxes of journals, photographs, show reviews clipped from newspapers, notes, letters, cards. That’s a lot of paper with a lot of memories that I don’t need to hold in my brain.* And perhaps in decades when I’m in the throes of dementia, I’ll sit for hours digging through my vast stores of paper, unfolding the notes that the cute boy in freshman geometry used to write me back in 2003, tracing my tenuous path to adulthood through a pile of spiral notebooks, aching for the details–details that I could never capture in words or photos or origami or Crayola marker song lyric collages.

There are no words that can capture the most precious feelings. I don’t know how to write a book that will explain to an elderly, confused version of myself how strangely warm it feels to see someone cry because you’re leaving them or how cold it feels when someone leaves you. All the photographs and programs and ticket stubs can’t encapsulate the ecstasy of being onstage. I can’t write a poem about the spins. 

I cling to the most visceral elements of my memories. What will I do when I can no longer remember the feeling of your hands on my back? When I can’t remember how cold I was that night in October, how I had to put on a bathrobe over my sweatshirt to keep out the chill? When I can’t hear the applause of 1300 people giving a standing ovation in the middle of a high school theatre performance? When I can’t relive the feeling of my stomach dropping as the cops burst into the backyard at our Memorial Day roller disco in 2007? When I can’t see the green paper that I used to write my goodbye letter to our house on Brook Bay eleven years ago?

*Guys, what if I started referring to my brain as my personal virtualized storage solution? I AM THE CLOUD. Only I’m not a particularly non-repudiating solution. I can’t vouch for the integrity of my data.

didn’t Dumbledore say something pithy about choices once?

It is a conscious and mindful practice to live, content, with the choices you make. 

Thus spoke my yoga teacher this morning. I’ve taken her class on and off when I’m in Vegas and she is one of the rare yoga teachers whose opening monologues or class themes I take seriously. I have a low tolerance for new-agey bullshit–I don’t generally believe that the divine light within my yoga teacher honors the divine light within me–especially at yoga classes where you can tell that the teacher is just parroting the same crap her instructors feed her. But this teacher is one of a few who put original thought and even research behind her words. She spoke to us today about recent research that has revealed connections among decision-making and the production of various happy-making chemicals (dopamine, oxytocin, other things I don’t remember from Intro Psych in 2007), offering a possible explanation for why we never feel satisfied with the choices that we make.

I made a lot of grand and dramatic choices this year, as I do, with little thought behind them. These choices have led me to grand and dramatic places and experiences, but I’ve been disinclined to live contently with them because I am constantly distracted by what else could be. I tend to act on instinct and to make rash decisions based either on what seems most attractive at the time or what will make the best story. It’s kind of a hedonistic, careless way to live and is contrary to my disablingly hesitant nature.

But I believe that had I thought any more critically about the decisions I made this year, I would have traveled down worn, dull paths that brought me no heightened emotion. Living on instinct, aside from the fact that I would probably be an excellent hunter-gatherer if called upon, is a great way to upset expectations and follow a path other than the one that society or your mom or Hollywood or whatever has set out for you. While I probably would have ended up being a professional nerd no matter what path I followed, I have a pocketful of untraditional experiences that set me apart from the rest of the nerds. I love being different and memorable and I’ve achieved this by just doing what seems fun or interesting rather than what other people have done before me. You know how little kids wanted to be a firefighter fairy princess ballerina mailman? I mean, I’m a proposal writer ballerina blogger a cappella singer actress haiku enthusiast. I’m every nerdy yet strangely agile and rhythmic little girl’s dream, entirely because it seemed like it would be fun to take a ballet class and audition for the musical and apply for that long-shot job that my sister’s husband thought I might be good at. There was no indication that any of those paths made sense for me, but I thought they’d be interesting to wander down regardless. 

Nevertheless, I wonder. It’s natural, if I believe what my yoga teacher told us this morning, to consider the alternatives: to wonder if I’d be happier if I lived in a different city or if it would have been more sensible to ignore my feelings for that boy or if I should have found an apartment that allowed cats or if I should have eaten less bacon at breakfast (NEVER) or if–and it continues, in an endless loop of dissatisfaction with my charmed and interesting life caused by the distraction of possibilities.

Perhaps this should be my New Year’s resolution this year: to either live, content, with the choice I have made, or to make a new choice that supersedes the previous one. It seems wasteful, given that I’m pretty sure we’re going to get nuked at some point in the next few years, to spend as much time as I do wallowing in a pile of “what ifs.”

Or perhaps my resolution should be to convince the yoga teachers of the world to stop babbling about divine light and either say something interesting or just STFU and let me savasana a little while longer.

things that used to cause me existential worry that no longer bother me

1. pit stains: I’ve tried all the magical aluminum prescription deodorants in the world. I’m just a sweaty, unfeminine person. It’s okay. I make up for it with my sparkling personality.

2. buying feminine hygiene products: I mean, someone’s gotta let the pimply teenage drugstore clerk know that ladies do, truly, bleed out their uterine lining on a monthly basis.

3. my embarrassing lack of knowledge about current movies and TV: There’s literally nothing I want to do less than watching a midget in fur getting it on with the princess or whatever “Game of Thrones” is about. Plus, I like to think that it makes me look more intellectual when I say, “Oh, I’ve never seen ‘The Wire.’ I don’t really watch TV.” (This is a lie and a half. I just only watch mediocre sitcoms and “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives,” which is decidedly anti-intellectual and actually kind of embarrassing, especially since sometimes I start fantasizing about how fun it would be to go on a culinary tour of the Midwest with Guy Fieri in his convertible. What can I say? I’m a sucker for frosted tips.)

things that will indefinitely cause me existential worry:

1. holding babies: I got to hold my boss’s itty-bitty month-old infant last night. I tried to tell him that holding babies gives me an aneurysm, but he just laughed at me and told me that it isn’t that hard. Which it isn’t… but man, if I had dropped that baby, I would TOTALLY be fired. (I did not drop the baby, and there is photographic proof that I held it properly. I might have even managed to wipe the look of terror from my eyes for the length of the flash.)

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