Let’s Talk Depression.

I realize that this blog has been gathering dust. I think I’ve reached a point where I can think critically and speak openly about my experiences over the past 15 years and I’m ready to convey some of the things I’ve been going through. It is impossible to describe depression while you’re lost in its depths, difficult while you’re healing, still hard when you have gained a slight distance and some perspective.

I was diagnosed with major depression when I was 23. I was in grad school, struggling to make my traditionalist professors understand that a digital community was no less viable a source for ethnomusicological study than a tribe in remote parts of Uganda. My mother seemed to be asking “but what will you do with it?” during every phone call, casting doubt on my future. I had a work study job and could not attend as many gatherings with the other students in my departments as I wished to, leaving me feeling left out and marginalized when they chatted about lunches and so forth. I had approached my first semester of grad school with a heavy courseload and no understanding of the differences between college and grad school and the expectations of the professors upon different levels of students. Almost none of my friends from college remained in Boston and I felt awkward and needy when I thought about tracking down the few who did.

My first semester, I decided that having someone to talk to about my stress levels would help me function. I went to the mental health center on campus and spoke with a counselor who responded to my self-deprecating, chuckled, “I don’t transition well and I’ve been fighting off panic attacks and tears for the last few weeks” with a sharp “you say you’re upset but you’re laughing. Why are you laughing?” At that point, I asked for a referral off campus. There is nothing worse than a therapist who does not speak kindly nor comprehend defense mechanisms.

I’m not sure how I got my term papers written, the second semester. I remember little more than lying in my bed, staring up the ceiling with tears leaking out of my eyes, mind completely blank. This state persisted from the last week of classes to sometime in late June. I recall finding myself down in the kitchen of my apartment, water running unheeded in the sink, gazing out the window at the side of the neighboring house and wishing vaguely that I could feel something. That was when I finally realized I needed to step up my game.

I had my anti-depressant medication changed to something without the side effects of memory loss I had been experiencing. I increased the number of appointments I had with my therapist. I enlisted a friend to help encourage me to conduct my research and write portions of my thesis. I forced myself to join social situations and I made new friends. I decided to allow myself to take as much time as needed to write that thesis rather than scrambling to complete it within the recommended time frame for graduating within two years. I remember sitting in the sun on campus one day, feeling amazed because I felt okay, wondering if this was what it felt like to be normal.

A few days later, I went to a performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, my favorite opera, in Boston with a fellow grad student. We chattered happily, we climbed up to the third balcony seats that we had gotten, we settled in comfortably, and I thought I was having a heart attack. My heart was hammering, my pulse was fluctuating, my breath was coming in short, shallow wheezes. I spent the entire first act wondering if I should find an usher and ask for an ambulance. I texted my father during intermission, feeling lightheaded. He texted back, “I think you’re having a panic attack.”

The next moment was crisp, like a fever breaking. I was having a panic attack, an incredibly severe one, unlike the ones I’d experienced while on my previous medication (which had involved mostly 5-10 minute fits of crying and gasping for air). It had been so long since I’d had a prolonged panic attack that I had forgotten they could last longer than 10 minutes. It occurred to me that several of the “asthma” attacks I’d had during the last few months had probably actually been low-level panic attacks expressing themselves in this new way. I spent the rest of the show concentrating on controlling my breathing and relaxing my tense muscles. By the time we left, I was exhausted and drained but no longer panicked.

The summer progressed and I watched my fellow students graduate, feeling incredibly relieved to not be up on that stage. I worked with my therapist on not bottling up all of my emotions and opening lines of communication. I prepared to move to a different apartment.

I was packing one night when my phone rang. My grandfather had passed away. It was not unexpected but he was significantly younger than most of older generations of my family have been when passing. It hit me hard, harder than I realized.

My sister flew to Boston to help me move boxes in the morning and then packed me into a rental car to drive back home for the funeral. My entire extended family were their warm, loving, wonderful selves. My grandfather was a well-known man, one of the few people I’ve ever known who truly does qualify as a pillar of the society in which he lived, and the celebrations of his life were wonderful and ridiculous – in my family, we express love through physical affection and remorseless roasting – and it wasn’t until I was back in Boston, in a new, unfamiliar, unpacked, apartment with one friend and several strangers, that I realized how much it had all affected me.

I knew I was grieving but somehow I didn’t think I was feeling right. Roughly a week after being delivered back to Boston, I found myself walking down the hallway of my apartment and wondering, “Wouldn’t it be normal for someone who has been through all I’ve been through lately to think about suicide?”

Then, I thought, “Wait. Did I just think about committing suicide?”

Then, “Am I suicidal?”

I have never experienced a panic attack like the one I had immediately after that string of thoughts. I wound up sitting on the floor in the bathroom, wiping my eyes with roll after roll of scratchy toilet paper, sobbing hysterically and desperate for someone to hug me. My mind was screaming white noise and disjointed thoughts. I texted a friend that I needed help. I called my parents. My mother left immediately to make the drive out to Boston.

My friends are incredible people. As soon as she got out of work, the friend I had texted scooped me up and took me to another friend’s apartment, where our entire group had gathered. No one pushed me with awkward questions. I was hugged, my arms were rubbed, I was leaned against, my hair was stroked, and silent support was offered while we watched a movie and completely unrelated tears streamed down my face. They calmed me down without speaking and just let me gather myself.

My mother arrived early the next morning. We took a hotel room for a couple of days. I spent hours in tears, lying on a bed with her arms around me, gasping out things I barely remember. Things that had bothered me, things that were bothering me, things I learned about myself in therapy, things I’d been hiding from myself and others, fears, concerns, regrets, problems. We drove around the countryside in Massachusetts and New Hampshire the next day, taking in calm scenery and quiet sounds. We chatted, we laughed, we meandered, and in the evening I wound up back in tears, crying for no particular reason, feeling physically cold and emotionally empty and utterly lost.

Mom and I gathered a few things and then drove back home. I spent the next week alternating between curling up in a chair trying to distract myself with books and studying and lying prone on the sofa, trying to convince myself that the feeling of the nine-pound shih tzu sitting on my stomach wasn’t bringing on a panic attack of claustrophobia. It was the single most confused week of my life but by the end of it I knew I needed to return to Boston. Being with my parents had bought me some calm, the knowledge that I was cared for more deeply than I could understand, and the space to recognize that no one could fight this battle for me. I needed to go back to my chosen territory, to face my fears and concerns and reclaim my life.

That is easier said than done. It must have been the most difficult thing she’s ever done, but my mother agreed to drive me back to Boston. She helped unpack my bedroom. She took me to buy a comfortable chair to curl up in. She helped me organize the chaos into a living space. She stayed nearby in a hotel for a couple of days. And then she left.

I took myself off my medication because it had a known side-effect of causing suicidal thoughts. I met with my therapist several times a week. I mourned for my grandfather, I mourned for teenaged girl I had been who had expected to be living an entirely different life at this age. I tried to accustom myself to my new domicile, the unfamiliar room and the new housemates. I went through panic attacks and had trouble forcing myself to leave the house. I couldn’t stop thinking about tripping while going down the stairs and breaking my neck. I was afraid I would stab myself while cooking. I couldn’t stop picturing myself walking out into traffic and getting hit by a car. I shrank away from the safety razor in the holder in the shower because razors could cut.

I finally went to an off-campus psychopharmacologist and got a recommendation for an entirely different medication. My therapist had worked incredibly hard to point out to me that I was not doing any of things I so desperately feared. I was not walking into traffic, I was not slitting my wrist with a razor blade (even though a safety razor, even I could admit, would have been a difficult tool to use to do so). I couldn’t see a difference between fearing suicide and being suicidal until the psychopharm looked at me and said, “These thoughts seem more obsessive than suicidal. Do you tend follow a lot of patterns?”

That was when I learned that I was actually, instead of jokingly, obsessive compulsive. My fanaticism for having certain things in a particular order has been a long-running joke in my family. I was the kid would dump out the crayon box and spend hours meticulously putting the colors in a gradient line before I would color. Being officially diagnosed flipped a switch in my brain, turning my odd habits into something recognizable and acceptable instead of quirks that frustrated me because I couldn’t understand why I was doing them. Yes, the cream cheese needs to completely cover the surface of the bagel. It may be silly but it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Knowing that my thoughts about death and suicide were caught in an OCD loop made recovering from each episode of panic easier. The episodes were still frequent and severe and the gloom could last for days on end but when the dark haze lifted a bit I could reassure myself that recovery was possible. It was difficult to actually believe it but knowing that shifting my therapeutic goals to address cyclical thinking gave me a sliver of hope.

A lot of that fall and winter is more or less lost to my memory. I applied for and received a leave of absence from grad school. I had completed all required coursework and just needed to write and present a thesis. I truly intended to use the time to grieve and poke away at my thesis but depression doesn’t care about what you should be doing. My memories of those months has a dark film of sadness, frustration and fear. Even daylight was dim, filtered through a blackness somewhere behind my eyes. I lived day to day, aiming for simple survival. “Just make it to Friday,” I would tell myself over and over again, “you can go out to dinner with your friends and forget things for a little while. You can afford an appetizer if you convince someone to split it with you.” Small splurges on things like $20 concert tickets gave me things to actively live for, instead of just enduring existence. “Just make it to the Utada Hikaru concert next month. It should be fun. You remember fun. That will make things better.”

I found work through a temp company so that I could afford to keep feeding myself. My parents helped financially, doing everything they could to support me in my struggle against myself. They paid for my rent when the last of my grad school loans ran out. This brought new feelings of guilt and of being a burden, even though they assured me every day that they were happy to be able to help me. I applied for and received state health insurance which I absolutely credit with saving my life and sanity by paying for my medication and my therapy.

Somewhere in those cold winter months, I decided that I needed to prioritize getting back on my feet over finishing my thesis. While the group I was exploring fascinated and delighted me, trying to write things to please academics who were still not convinced I was studying a “real” community brought levels of stress into my life that completely negated any forward progress I ever made. I wrote and erased several chapters. By the spring time, I actually had less of my thesis completed than I had had when my leave of absence began.

When the chance of a temp-to-perm job arose, I grabbed it. I wound up spending the next three years accumulating aspects of several people’s jobs as personnel changed and decreased at what I tend to call a “soulless for-profit college”. I started as the “assistant registrar” and kept student files. Three years later, I was the event planner, the dean’s secretary, the registrar, the student support system for everything from having a bad day and needing someone sympathetic to talk to to filing paperwork with government assistance offices. I built the library. I built the work-study program. I never received a cost-of-living increase, let alone a pay raise due to changing job functions.

My living situation had grown tense over the months of defensiveness and fear. I misinterpreted just about everything and communicated poorly. I almost lost one of my closest friends because of it. My frustration with every aspect of my situation made me even more emotional and prone to overreacting. Even when my quasi-suicidal tendencies were quiescent I was terrified of losing my job and what little self-respect I had gained through managing to complete the overwhelming projects I was being handed. Silly things like a towel being hung on my hook in the bathroom would throw me into a fit, regardless of whether or not there were other hooks free. Two of the other housemates had gotten married and any time spent on their floor – which had the kitchen and the stairway up to my floor – felt like I was an unwelcome intruder. It was time for me to live alone.

My father came to Boston and helped me move apartments, bless him. I have never been so out of shape in my life as I was after nearly three years of being holed up in my bedroom and only getting exercise when walking to and from the buses to work. I was essentially useless. My poor dad lugged most of my belongings down from the third floor old apartment into the third floor new apartment several towns to the south. Since I would start gasping for breath after just one flight of stairs, he finally made me stay upstairs in the new apartment and start unpacking. The seventy-something landlord, who was built like a brick and did physical work around the house that I had thought only bodybuilders would be strong enough to do, came out of the first apartment and helped.

I was incredibly happy with my new living situation. I was still terrified, of course, because I was living unsupervised and what if I poisoned myself with my cooking or finally did go crazy and stab myself with a kitchen knife? Added to that was my poor ability to transition through major life changes. There were a few panic attacks, to be sure, but Dad had been insistent on making the living room a completely finished room before he left so I had a warm, welcoming environment to relax in between frenzied bouts of unpacking and cooking. And let’s not talk about my first experience with a gas stove and how completely convinced I was that I was going to go up in a puff of smoke for the entire first month I lived there. But overall, I was in a fresh new place, I had vague hopes that I would finally get some kind of relief to the stress and work load at the office, and I had finally started to go days at a time without expecting to die in incredibly painful ways. My mother came out to visit me and we talked about how things were finally, finally, looking up for me.

Three months after I moved in, my seventy-something landlord came to help me take the monstrous air conditioners he had put in the windows out before Hurricane Sandy hit. His daughter was home on the second floor, making dinner. His wife had just gotten out of the hospital and was on the first floor, resting. They were expecting relatives to come for dinner. And he kissed me, licking my lips. He called me a “good girl” and, when I told him that kissing me was absolutely not okay, he said, “maybe just like this” and kissed my cheek.

I thought I had experienced panic before. I am no stranger to panic. But never before have I been held in place and “kissed” by a man I thought of as a surrogate grandfather, with his family home and his wife ill. That kiss was all that happened and things certainly could have been much worse but, for the first time, I was afraid of an attack from an external source.

When the landlord left, I called my father and told him what had happened. “I don’t think I can live here,” I told him, gasping and shaking and crying. But I did. I couldn’t afford to move again, I couldn’t stand the thought of losing my new independence. Over the next several days, I told my friends what had happened and found myself armed with pepper spray and offers of alternate lodgings.  I told a couple of trusted colleagues and received support and encouragement to protect myself officially. I filed a complaint with the police.

Finally, I steeled my nerves and told my mother what had happened. I had left her for last because I felt so ashamed of what had happened, like I was responsible for the landlord’s actions. Was it because I was in my pajamas that evening? Was it because I wasn’t wearing a bra? Let me get this point very, very clear: NO. What happened was not my fault and, even if I had been completely naked, it would not have been appropriate to be kissed against my will. Still, I felt awful about it and guilty for putting his recovering wife through such a betrayal. Going to the police taught me two things: 1. it was illegal for me to have pepper spray without a firearms license and 2. having this report on record would make future transgressions by the man legally actionable offenses. With that second bit of information, I was able to shore up my anger and allow myself to tell my mother, whose opinion matters more than anything, about the Event.

Nothing else was ever done to me by the landlord but I spent the rest of the days I lived there grabbing a knife and checking my closets and shower for hiding attackers. I slept poorly, awaking with every creak of the old carpentry and listening for footsteps on the stairwell. At two in the morning one night I devised an alarm system to tack on the door frame, consisting of twine and metal buttons that would clatter if the door was opened. I dug up the extra shims from the package my father had bought when it was discovered the fridge was on uneven floor and jammed them under the door to make it harder to open. I half ran when taking out the trash. Being attacked joined the list of topics my OCD liked to dwell on and the troublesome thoughts, which had been diminishing, rekindled. I had nightmares about the landlord’s wife finding out I had kissed her husband and transforming in a clawed monster, attacking me while screaming “how could you” and otherwise raging in her betrayal.

I spent many nights waking and staggering to the bathroom to vomit. I developed a persistent stomach pain that I went to the doctor for. It turned out not to be the half-expected ulcer but I was given medication and a recommendation that I lower my stress levels. Fat chance of that happening, what with the living situation and the work problems.

At work, I had been told I was working too many hours. “There is no reason you should be working more than 35 hours a week,” was the actual phrase. I was told that my work was not up to par and not offered any training beyond going to another campus and sitting with their registrar for a day. I spent two hours on public transit and got an hour with that registrar. I was told that I should sign a thirty day “employee success plan” which I was initially excited about as an opportunity to learn how to manage my priorities for work better. Then I actually read it and discovered that it only addressed registrar functions. Well, fine, I admit that there are areas I needed to improve upon in terms of being a registrar. If I were only a registrar, that would be one thing. Unfortunately, the official plan said nothing about the graduation ceremonies, the advisory board meetings, the work-study programs, the student support activities, the accreditation-mandated library, the office supply and textbook requisitions for staff and students, the entry test proctoring for the Admissions department, or the ongoing presentations to teach students about their school emails and software.

I knew something had to change when I went to a book club meeting and my friends there looked at me, said nothing, and proceeded to spend the next hour rubbing my arms, hugging me, and leaning against me just like my other group of friends had back during my nervous breakdown. My mother came to visit again, arriving just in time to sit in the back of the rented auditorium and watch a graduation ceremony I had put together and to help with the clean-up after the ceremony when everyone but one coworker left without a backward glance. When we got back to her car, laden with boxes of spare gowns, unclaimed certificates, banners, programs and other flotsam, I sat the passenger seat and cried. “I can’t. I just can’t.” She looked me in the eye and said, “This is making you sick. This is killing you. You need to quit this job.” She sat next to me while I made myself face the situation and came the realization that she was right.

I handed in my two-week notice. This was the first time I had quit a job for any reason other than going to to school. I was terrified. I was exhausted. If it weren’t for the two coworkers I love so much, the ones I had told about my living situation, I probably would have broken down and cried every single day. I tried to help students figure out solutions to housing problems, child care, stress, fear and frustration, all while feeling like my own future was imploding around me. For those last two weeks, I tried to offer  as much training to the coworker who was being shuffled into the registrar position as I could. Most of it amounted to, “This is how I have been doing it but I made it up because I didn’t know how it was supposed to be done, so you should probably request some actual instruction on that” and “this is what it looks like but the numbers are wrong somewhere between the last registrar and me and my lack of training so you should probably ask Corporate if you can start over with a clean slate”.

I was truly sorry to leave some of the people I was working with, including the two coworkers who had become trusted friends and a newish boss who was definitely one of the best bosses I had ever had but who was still undergoing his own training. Many of the people who worked at that for-profit college truly did want to help the students learn useful skills and enter successful careers. Unfortunately, that school was a business and the business only cared that bodies enrolled and bodies graduated, not that individuals improved their lives and situations. As the daughter of a mother who taught in public school and gifted programs and a father who lived for community outreach and arts opportunities, I had long raged at this fiscally-focused, dismissive approach to education. I had told myself that my love for learning and sharing knowledge and my wish to help others experience education was enough to keep me afloat but I was wrong. Leaving that job was absolutely one of the best decisions I have ever made and it was certainly the most overdue.

Faced with unemployment, college and grad school loans that were in repayment and an uncomfortable-at-best apartment situation, I floundered. A wonderful holiday week with my immediate family at my sister’s house in California was a salve for my tattered emotions. I spent several afternoons abandoning everyone to take long naps. I hadn’t slept a full night since October and I was completely out of the adrenaline that my “I need this job” mantra had lent me. I returned from that trip feeling calmer and more centered than I had in months. The very next day, I called my father in tears because I was so lonely for easy affection and perfect nine-month-old nephew I’d had for a week and I was so scared of my nebulous future.

I resolved that, if I did not have a job by March, I would take my sister up on her offer of a place to stay and seek employment in California. At the same time, I felt like leaving Boston, my chosen home, would be a failure of some kind. When I discussed the situation with my mother, she offered to take over my entire rent payments for January and February, to give me time to search for a job. I had never been able to afford Internet service in that apartment, so I spent hours at either the Starbucks in the grocery store or the public library. I sent out hundreds of applications, tracking each meticulously on a spreadsheet to prove to myself that I was doing something despite the utter lack of responses from prospective employers. I landed a grand total of two interviews. I didn’t get either job. My days started to take on that familiar dark tinge of depression and hopelessness.

Just before the end of February, I received an email from a guy who had been at my previous job for several months. I had applied to a company in Boston that, it turned out, he had worked for as an HR representative for more than a year. He had seen my application and thought I would be better suited a different position. He encouraged me to submit a new application and passed my resume on to a colleague in his department. I did a phone interview and it was wonderful. I loved everything I heard. I was invited to do an in-person interview and it was wonderful. I was awestruck by the office, so different from my previous office, and I really liked the employees that I was introduced to. I liked the company’s mission statement, I liked the sound of the work I would be doing, I liked the sound of the prospective teammates. I crossed my fingers, used my tax refund to pay for another month’s rent, and tried not to think about all the things that had looked promising but gone so horrifically wrong over the last year.

The next two weeks were indescribable. March hit and I fluctuated between nervous hovering around my phone and disconsolate packing of things for what looked like an impending relocation across country. When my phone rang and I was offered the job, I could barely speak.

It was just the beginning. With that offer of employment, my life changed. I was moving into an entirely new field. I had so much to learn and I was convinced that someone would decide a mistake had been made and I would be back to looking for a job. My first week of work coincided with a big convention that I had previously chosen to be my last hurrah with friends in my city. Now, it was an opportunity to celebrate with them the fact that I had a future in Boston, the fact that I had a future at all. Each day, I left work breathlessly exhilarated, thinking, “They didn’t fire me! I’m not a complete failure!”

The Boston Marathon was bombed. I spent days stranded in my fear-inducing apartment, developing new fears for the friends who lived in Cambridge and Watertown. That week taught me a lot about myself and my city, very, very quickly. I expressed that here in my blog. My mother came out for a pre-scheduled visit that we had considered cancelling because of the bombing and I forced her to go out to dinner with my friends on Saturday after everything was over. It was probably very awkward for both Mom and my friends but I regret nothing. It meant the world to me to have her there while I reassured myself that everyone was alive and in one piece.

In May, my mother sent me a link to an apartment posted on Craigslist. It was near my friends, it was almost affordable with my new salary, it was in an apartment building instead of in a creepy old man’s home. I leapt at it. I wanted to claw the eyes out of the other people who attended the open house. You don’t even understand, I wanted to shriek at them, please let me have this! The landlord’s wife opened the door when I got home one night after applying for the new apartment, sighing at me and saying, “I was so sick. I hoped you would visit me. You were such a nice girl. You were supposed to give us 30 days notice.” I managed not to claw her eyes out, either, not to tell her that her husband was a creep and a lecher and I wanted to move out months ago. I kept it to pointing out that, although she had only learned of the pending move when called for a reference by the new landlord, I still wasn’t moving out for 30 days.

And, somehow, I got the apartment. I had to borrow money from a friend to make the down payment. He later refused to allow me to pay him back, telling me that he wanted me to be safe and happy and, when I protested again, that my suffering guilt over it would be my gift to him. One of my friends lives around the corner, a four-minute slow saunter from my door. One lives further into the residential areas of the town, about a thirty minute walk from my apartment. Two others live about an hour’s walk away, an easy and beautiful walk along parks and reservoirs with only complicated road crossing (which, in the Massachusetts tangle of highways, one-ways and rotaries, is nothing short of a miracle). It’s an area I know well, not a new and unfamiliar town, and it’s the first apartment I’ve ever been in that is on the ground floor instead of the third. That seems a silly thing to celebrate but it makes an incredible distinction in my mind.

With the move, the last of my lingering stress started lifting. Friends helped me move and my parents visited a few weeks later and helped me settle. For the first time in my memory, I no longer felt that the Sword of Damocles was dangling over my head. The next shoe was no longer about to drop. I had bad days, I had good days, I had worries and frustrations. Then, one day, I had a panic attack. I spent about thirty seconds trying to breathe and then straightened up, shocked to realize that I had been living here for two months without a panic attack. I was surprised right out of the one I’d been experiencing. I hadn’t had a panic attack since I had learned I’d gotten the new apartment. I hadn’t had a nightmare since I’d moved.

I had made a major life transition and it hadn’t gone horribly. The implications of this were astounding. All at once, I had perspective on things that I’d never been able to distance myself from enough to consider seriously. I listened to a podcast that referenced suicide and my triggers didn’t flare up to engulf me in a whirlwind of all the ways I could die. I made mistakes at work, realized them or had them pointed out to me, corrected them and learned from them. I left work each day without being amazed that I hadn’t been canned. The first time I spent an entire weekend in my apartment, alone, not leaving because I didn’t even need to make a grocery run, I was astounded. I called my parents, I call friends, I met with my therapist. “I was fine,” I told all of them, trying to convey my disbelief, “I was productive! I did dishes and cleaned just because I could. I watched a sad movie without dissolving into tears.”

You can never amaze yourself more than when you do something impossible. For me in 2012, having never done it, the 20-mile Walk for Hunger was impossible. For me in 2013, after five years of struggling, making it through a day of my own company and introspection without a depressive episode was impossible. My innate reclusive tendencies have evolved from the social anxiety of my adolescence through the fear and darkness of depression to settle into calm solitude. My fear of endangering myself has quieted from surety that the next step would be my last to a vague thought that I need to be careful while cutting the potatoes or a slip of the hand could nick a finger. The only time I’ve laid in bed, staring at the ceiling with tears leaking from my eyes, was when I finished reading Ender’s Game and wanted to reach into the story and hug that tortured child. Five years ago, three years ago, last year, I could not have imagined doing these things so naturally.

I still have down days. I have days I cry for what seems like no reason. Now, I am able to calm myself down and locate and examine the cause. I have days when I loll around in bed because the thought of getting up and dealing with the dishes that have accumulated in the sink is overwhelming. Yet, the fact that I even think about doing the dishes is a victory.

I spent 2013 building a new life. I spent my time consciously entering into important conversations that I wanted to shy away from. I spent hours learning the pleasure of my own company. I reintroduced the joy of learning new skills by teaching myself, with copious assistance from Google, how to spin fiber into yarn. I am learning to express myself without self-recrimination. I started exercising regularly and being more careful about what I eat, not because my doctor continued to sigh dramatically over my triglyceride level and recommend more medications, but because I wanted to make a choice and prove to myself that I could command my own fate. Even eating had seemed out of my control, before. During the Christmas gathering of my large, loud, ridiculous and wonderful extended family, I still felt myself needing to edge away and sit against a wall. I sat in the middle of the wall, though, knitting and engaging in conversation, instead of hiding in a corner with a book. This is something I have not been able to do since I was child. 2013 was the first Christmas that I felt I could actually contribute to the discussions and share stories with my relatives.

At the beginning of this month, I spent a week and a half in California with my mom, my about-to-give-birth sister, and my wonderfully imperfect nephew. My sister invited me out there to help her and our mother, who regularly goes out there to help with the toddler, during the delivery of my second nephew and the accompanying visits from relatives. My brother-in-law, a trial lawyer, was working until midnight and returning to the office at four in the morning in order to be able to be in the hospital with my sister when the baby was born. He had to leave the very next day.

For me, this trip became about more than just helping keep the toddler entertained and setting the table. This trip represented a chance for me to demonstrate to myself that I was a functioning, capable adult. My sister and my mother had enough to worry about, especially after my sister started experiencing active labor and kept being instructed to go to the hospital to be monitored and then being sent back home. My sister has always sort of terrified me with her very Type-A personality, her decisiveness and determination. Even when we’ve fought and disagreed, she has supported me and encouraged me to step up and take charge. This trip was my chance to show her that her help has made a difference for me and an opportunity for me to return some of that aid.

Curse her for being so perceptive, though. Even when she was high as a kite on narcotics after the baby was born, she pointed out to me that, yes, I still cry when someone says something nice about me. Mom had asked earlier that evening, somewhat hesitantly, if I was gaining anything by still seeing my therapist. My sister’s question forced me to recognize that, yes, I still have an incredible deficit when it comes to self-esteem and I will not be “better” until I can take a compliment or a thanks from someone without feeling awkward and undeserving.

It has become apparent over the years of working with my therapist that I first began experiencing depression when I was about 10 and my first major episode occurred when I was roughly 12. What I had thought was stereotypical melodramatic teenaged angst was, in fact, heightened by serious disease. I never had a chance to develop any self-confidence. I only accepted the fact that I was vocally talented when I realized that I had received a perfect score in a vocal competition that I had almost entirely trained myself for. I was forever chasing my sister’s shadow, never measuring up in my mental comparison chart. I once came out of several long minutes staring at myself in a mirror to announce to my mother that “you always say that I’m pretty but I just don’t see it”. I was sure I was a burden to my father, who I sobbed at after every argument with my mother about college, hobbies, whether the sky was blue.

Every teenager is clinically insane. This is being proven by psychologists and neuroscientists in study after study of cognitive development. Depression took those teenaged upsets and growing pains and fed them into crippling neuroses and bitter defensiveness. How I made it through my senior year of high school without being institutionalized, I’m not entirely sure. Looking back on it now, it might have staved off a great deal of confusion and forced me to take that year off between high school and college that I’d considered as possibly beneficial. It’s a moot point, as that gap year didn’t happen and I progressed to college and the next set of growing pains, worries and doubts.

If 2013 was the year of my learning to be myself again, 2014 is going to be the year of learning to love myself. Actually, this may take more than one year. I have about an 18-year deficit of self-acceptance to get through. I have several advantages in my friends, my family, and the therapist who has met all of my personality quirks with effect training in coping mechanisms, self-analysis of emotional responses, and just letting me vent and talk about what’s gone on in my life since I last saw her. It’s going to be hardest to allow myself to internalize things said by my family, because they’re the ones who have known me all my life, they’re the ones about whom I have the most memories and the feelings, and they’re the one whose opinions absolutely matter the most. Thankfully, I already know how very much they all love and support me because of how they’ve stood by me during the last five years of my battle. I know there is a difference between feeling like a burden and actually being one but it is going to take some work to allow myself to fully believe them when they say that they don’t mind because it’s temporary and someday I’ll have all my loans paid off and be able to actually afford to live in (stupid expensive) Boston.

On a side note, Boston can be a difficult city but I didn’t fail here. My family and my friends have all helped me out. I have a job that I love and feel worthwhile doing, coworkers I adore, an apartment I’m comfortable in, friends to keep me grounded and tell me when I being a nut. If the future sees me leaving Boston, it won’t be because I didn’t measure up. It will be because I choose to relocate.

I am healing. It has been a slow, laborious process. I am still establishing my healthy baseline of emotions. Unfortunately, I think I’m always going to cry at commercials and can no longer blame that on the depression. I’m still getting used to the difference between a depressive bout and actual sadness although both experiences are now blessedly few and far between. I will always carry the scar of these difficult years but, more importantly, I will be armed with self-awareness and useful coping mechanisms for any bad days.

I’m going to learn to set goals again. For so many years, any goals that I aimed for were either turned aside or outright crushed by my circumstances. I don’t have to sit back and watch that happen, now. With my growing contentment and happiness has come a sense of empowerment, of being able to move on after disaster strikes.

My life has definitely not been what I expected it to be. No one expects to spend their early adulthood gasping for air, buried under a weight they cannot express. Despite the emotional and mental pain, I’ve come through to the other side with a rewarding life. For the first time, I expect good things to happen to me in the future. At the very least, I’m no longer reluctant to kick an old man in the shin (or elsewhere) if he needs it. But I am going to make damned sure that I’m never in that kind of situation again. One thing to be said about the slow climb out of depression: it leaves you pretty determined never to be in that horrible place ever again. And I won’t be.

I may have future bouts of depression, dark stretches of days without energy or ambition, feeling blank and bereft. I have an entire arsenal of resources at my disposal now, not the least of which is the fact that I have succeeded. I have clawed my way out of that pit. I did it once, I can do it again. Hopefully I will never need to. But I have and I can and I know I will have support every second of the ordeal.

So there it is, my 2014 resolution. Not to lose 10 pounds or buy fewer shoes or go to gym but to just be and to be happy.

I think I’m going to make it.

Societal Thinking

I am such a curmudgeon.

Thinks I have thinked over the past week of thinking:

1. Kid, are you even old enough to buy cigarettes?

2. Do you ever take a break or are your lips permanently attached to her face?

3. This is your trash. Put on your big boy panties and toss it in the recycling like a responsible adult.

Any day now, I’m going to start yelling at college students to get off my lawn.

The thing about city life is that there are people everywhere. You can’t get away from them on the street, on the train. You can do your best to ignore them but they’re always there.

Cranky-old-biddy that I am, though, there are plenty of times that I fall madly in love with the ridiculous strangers around me.

There is the Stop-the-Afghan-War guy who plants himself directly in front of the crosswalk every day, rain or shine, who usually sparks vague irritation in me as I swerve around him. Yesterday, he left his post to help two extremely confused tourists dragging large suitcases. As I passed them, he was giving detailed directions to their hotel. “And enjoy your stay in Boston,” he said, with more vigor and enthusiasm than I’ve ever heard him say, “Bring them home.”

There were the small children on the subway who were being loud and exuberant not because they were fighting or climbing all over things but because they were sneak-attacking each other with kisses and erupting into squeals and giggles. Many an uncaffeinated glare melted into a soft smile amongst the commuters that morning.

There was the man who strolled into the park with his terrier at a sedate pace only to cluck at his dog and send it dashing about. He dashed along with it, following just behind, pulling himself up short every time the dog paused and taking off like a maniac as soon as the dog had stretched the leash to fullness. Up the hill, down the path, over the rocks, around the sunbathers. It was both adorable and glorious.

I make no secret of the fact that I am, internally, an 80-year-old woman. My idea of a great night out is going to a friend’s house to knit. I’m likely to fall asleep on the couch before 9. I do not suffer fools gladly and I am brutally opinionated about the world around me. Happily, though, I find my snarkiness is often mitigated by the sheer delight I get from watching my fellow humans.

My goal in life is to reach an actual age of 80 with that same sense of delight. I’ll undoubtedly still think that some people need to be forcibly re-educated in the concept of public versus private behavior or that some people should on no account be allowed to contribute to the gene pool. As long as I still smile when I see a child chasing a pigeon in the Common, as long as I still chase pigeons in the Common, I’ll consider that a spectacular win.

Megchiladas.

I moved in June. In the process of packing up one kitchen and settling into another, there has been something of dearth of real meals in my life for a span of several weeks. For much of the last month, I have subsisted on a diet of veggie burgers and office snacks which, while delicious, does not add up to ideal nutritional intake.

It wasn’t until the beginning of August that I felt up to challenge of cooking pasta. Get some rotini, thaw some flash-frozen veggies and toss them in a pot with stewed tomatoes, sauteed onions and garlic, and a fistful of spices. It was like learning for the first time that I actually had tastebuds! My parents visited last weekend and brought fresh life into my kitchen – not only fresh fruits and vegetables in my groceries but a trip to Ikea for a kitchen island! – and rekindled my interest in creating meals.

And so: this morning, I was awoken by a surprise plumber coming to replace my garbage disposal (it wasn’t really a surprise, since he had said “Sunday or Monday” and he knocked before letting himself in…it’s just that I didn’t hear it over my air conditioner in my somnolent state) and I found myself in the Starbucks attached to Whole Foods. While imbibing my daily caffeine it occurred to me that this day would be a really good day for enchiladas. I had a vague memory of having more or less followed a recipe at one point and, for once, I knew exactly what was in my kitchen.

As it turns out, a vague recollection is more than enough to compile utter deliciousness. Especially when you’re tailoring it to your own tastes. Who needs recipes?!

I give you: the Megchilada.

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And, now, here are Meg’s Totally Unofficial, Completely Customizable, Read It Once And Then Build Your Own, instructions:

Complete Shopping List

  1. Crushed tomatoes with green chiles (2 cans)
  2. Chipotle chiles in adobo sauce (1 can)
  3. Protein (in my world, this is veggie protein crumbles)
  4. Black beans (I quick-prepped dried beans, but you could use 1 can)
  5. Corn tortillas
  6. Two medium sweet potatoes
  7. Cheddarjack cheese
  8. Low-fat sour cream

Dice the sweet potatoes and toss them in the oven with some vegetable oil and black pepper. Cook at 350, stirring occasionally, until tender. While that’s happening, cut up three or four chipotle peppers and add them to the crushed tomatoes. Get as much of the adobo sauce as humanly possible into the mix, too.

Pour a little bit of the tomato mixture into the bottom of a 9×9 pan and spread it around more or less evenly. Put down a layer of tortillas (breaking them in half helps get the corners) and then toss some beans over them. Note: the tortillas do not have to completely covered! Add a layer of sweet potato.

Here’s the fun part: add the protein (if it’s actual meat, you probably should have already cooked it) to the tomato sauce. I used about half a package of veggie stuff, just eyeballing it until it looked thickly protein-ated. Know what you’ve just made? AWESOMESAUCE. Pour half of that over the tops of the potato and beans and do what you can to spread it evenly. Lay down a whopping great handful (or two) of cheese.

Add another layer of tortillas and cover it with beans, sweet potatoes and the rest of the awesomesauce. Throw on some more cheese, set that sucker in a 325 oven until the cheese is all melty and mouth-watering, grab the sour cream to garnish with, and chow down.

Success! You have just made (and consumed) a real, honest-to-God, meal. Pat yourself on the back and go do some laundry.

Personal Landscapes.

So much has happened. So much is happening.

The past two months have been one long rollercoaster. I went from cheerfully, hopefully unemployed to despondent, defeated unemployed. I started preparing to: move across the country, relinquish having my own living space, leave the friends I have built so much of my life around, introduce myself to an unfamiliar job market, and try to figure out how I could possibly pay off my loans while living entirely off my sister’s generosity. I received a phone call I hadn’t dared to hope for, offering me a new and exciting job. I spent one week in an ecstasy of relief and accomplishment and the next in a rictus of nervousness and apprehension.

There were days of my head spinning so quickly that I couldn’t focus on anything and subsequent days of delight and exhaustion. I felt pride in my capabilities and a terror that the people who had hired me would decide they had made a terrible mistake. There was a week of illness during which I ran out of several important medications, such as antihistamines, and I recovered from that only to plunge into the depths of magnolia blossoms and misery. (Spring can end now, thank you.)

This week, just as I was preparing to rejoice in beginning my fifth week of productive employment and celebrate with a trip to the pharmacy, Patriots’ Day saw the worst disaster my city has seen in decades, if not longer.

There are no words to properly describe the emotional state I have been in for the past few days. I was so deeply wrapped up in the stress of having a new job, the discomfort of fighting a cold and the limitations of budgeting after three and a half months of unemployment that I had nothing left to devote to processing an act of violence against the city I love.

I have so many conflicting, spiraling thoughts that a yard stick couldn’t make a straight line from them.

My personal history with major life transitions has always been rocky. I knew that landing a job that would challenge me, that would teach me new things, would be a shock to my system. I haven’t been challenged by anything in years; at least, not challenged in the way that needing to learn a new skill set and an entirely new industry would challenge me. As far as my work life, I have become downright complacent and lazy. The only challenges I faced in the working world up to this point have been in sheer work volume, not in topic or difficulty or innovation. While I relished the idea of having to struggle to complete a satisfactory day’s work, I was positively terrified by the realization that being new to things would mean that I probably wouldn’t be excellent at them. I am, after all, a perfectionist.

During the past few weeks, unwinding and ignoring stress at the end of the work day led to an obsession with Doctor Who. I had used my tax refund to finally – finally! – get Internet for my apartment and I abused BBC streaming with alacrity. Unfortunately, in this as in many other things, I abandoned all good sense and spent more than a few days getting (unhealthily) attached to characters and living, breathing in epic high-drama. This past Sunday, I watched a particularly emotional episode and immediately transitioned into a deeply personal conversation with an old friend who asked for my insight into a number of different matters. There followed a stretch of overwrought sensitivity and overactive imagination.

Going into Monday morning, I was sleep-deprived, worried, pensive, nostalgic, unsettled and anxious. Good conversations with coworkers, some kind words from my team and the realization that I had made it past lunch without feeling completely out of my depth combined to make me feel more relaxed and confident than I had felt for quite a while, despite the itching of my eyes. The stress of the previous evening melted away and I started to feel somewhat chuffed about my day.

I like to have my cell phone set to display a virtual fish tank while I work; I can glance down and take a breath and watch some carp swim around, a moment of zen, while I try to remember which process document applies to whatever I’m working on. I always leave it on my desk. I rarely expect it to buzz. When it buzzed in the middle of Monday afternoon, I glanced down.

Tell me you’re ok.

That is not a typical message from my mother. Even considering the teary phone call I made to her Sunday, thanking her for her support and encouragement over the years, it seemed somewhat overly dramatic. If she’d wanted to see if a good night’s sleep had calmed me down, she would have waited until after work to call me. Still…I sent her a quick note just saying that I was in good shape.

Then she asked if I had heard the explosion. And how close I was to the marathon.

Phones started pinging all over the office. Parents, friends, roommates, classmates, everyone was trying to find out where everyone else was. At our distance and height, neither of the explosions were audible and the sirens were muffled.

News started pouring in from the television, from people reading aloud from websites, from text messages and emails. Our office has sight lines to MIT, Bunker Hill, the Harbor Islands, Logan, I-93, the Fort Point Channel, but there is one tall building directly across the street that blocks our view of Chinatown and, just beyond, Copley Square.

Many offices in Boston are closed on Patriots’ Day. It is a distinctive holiday of re-enactments and athleticism and tourism. If offices didn’t close, there honestly wouldn’t be enough room for the events in the city. And Boston is small, smaller than seems possible. Everything in Boston is near everything else. You can walk from the edge of Brookline across the city to the shores of the North End in roughly half an hour. What you can’t do is get from downtown Boston to the suburbs – Brighton, Medford, Quincy – without taking mass transit.

It was as I stood in the break room, sipping a bottle of water and wondering if it would be better or worse if I could see all the way to Copley, that the reality hit me.

Terrorism. In Boston. In my home, in my land, in the city I had repeatedly considered the likelihood of attack on and dismissed. Every September for the last nine years, I have thought about the possibility of such an event and decided that there was no way we would ever end up on someone’s list.

In that moment, staring blindly across an alley at a brick building that hid smoke from view, I realized that I have a form of latent PTSD from the other severely traumatic event of my life: September 11, 2001. Suddenly, I couldn’t be alone. I could not face the prospect of being alone in that room with my thoughts. I thought about going home to my quiet apartment in the suburbs and shook. I had a desperate urge, a physical need, to call everyone I went through that first horrendous day with and verify that they were all right. (I didn’t need to. Nearly all of them beat me to it.) I kept picturing a fireball and people jumping out of the windows of a skyscraper, even though Copley is populated largely by older, lower buildings. As the afternoon wore on, I became more and more paralyzed with the shock. I couldn’t decide what to do with myself. I couldn’t stop watching the live blogs. I couldn’t figure out how to get home by any manner other than the subway past a questionable situation at the JFK library or a three hour walk. I couldn’t even let myself think about being alone.

Then, the office closed down. Everyone still lingering needed to leave. As confused as I was, as incapable of processing as I was, I headed for the subway station and stood dithering while I tried to decide which direction to head. A station attendant told me that nothing had been said about the situation near JFK and trains were still running there, but still running through two downtown stations without stopping. I could have gone home. I couldn’t be alone. I headed to Cambridge, opposite the direction of my apartment, and found myself entirely unable to handle the fact that I was on a crowded subway car underneath a massive crime scene. Topped off by a signal problem at the end of the route that caused a delay, I was ready to have a nice, screaming meltdown by the time I clawed myself out of the train and back above ground.

Despite the careful no-news-watching policy my friends and I adopted that night in favor of simple togetherness and mindless comforts (read: MarioKart 64), that intense anxiety stayed with me. When I drifted home Monday night, safe, and back to work on Tuesday morning, safe, I retained the achingly taut shoulders. I distracted myself with work every bit as thoroughly as I’d distracted myself from work!stress with television shows.

The logical portion of my brain knows that there has been shock and that there are constructive ways of dealing with it; the emotional portion of my brain wants to be as ignorant of the situation as possible. In 2001, I was glued to the news and absorbed every horrific second of it. This time around, I did my best to check in only after lengthy intervals in the hopes that there would be more reliable, more digestible information rather than the same nightmarish stories over and over.

Tonight, I still feel that immense anxiety. After spending my day determinedly burying in arranging paperwork by type and chronology, I realized that distracting myself with podcasts had been A Very Bad Idea Indeed.

I meant well. I listened to a few wonderful storytelling podcasts (The Moth, StoryCorps) and learned about devious bacteria (Science Friday) and then selected a two-part This American Life piece on Harper High School in Chicago. It was magnificent listening. It was fascinating and informative. And it just about crushed me.

Coming off several weeks of very carefully not thinking about the nervousness and worry brought on by a new job, a weekend of intense emotion and three days of utter shock, it was an ethnography of an urban high school that made me realize I needed to do something other than distract myself or I was going to end up curled up in a ball on my kitchen floor, sobbing incoherently and rending my hair at some point in the not-too-distant future. Happily for my sanity, I had no other plans for tonight.

There is no way for me to say “I’ve been dealing with a lot” without making it sound self-patronizing. I know I should cut myself some slack on the job front - anyone is going to have nerves and face a learning curve when starting a new job. I should take solace that none of my friends or family were injured or killed in Monday’s bombings. I should allow myself time to process my shock and the memories this week has brought up, allow myself my current discomfort in crowds, allow myself to be relieved when I see the armed guards on the street, because this is not a normal situation.

I am struggling to show myself compassion. I experience a moment of self-loathing every time I discover that my work performance doesn’t meet my personal expectations. I feel guilty for feeling reassured by the highly visible policemen in the plaza with their bright vests. I am horrified by the assault rifles held by guardsmen even while their uniforms make me feel safe. I am conflicted and distracted and I don’t feel well physically because spring is the time of allergy suffering and because stress and my stomach do not get along well and because I ate too much salt yesterday.

Acknowledging the things that are causing stress is a huge step toward being able to process them, come to terms with them, and move on with life. To be honest, it would be worse if I were feeling nothing right now. Anxiety over a change in life status is a perfectly normal phenomenon. Shock is a common reaction to an unexpected tragic event. Heightened emotions are to be expected when tired, not to mention while reeling from a two-week span of rapid-fire changes in prospects. It would be more worrisome if I didn’t have some kind of emotional reaction to the events of the past week, to the past three months.

The world continues to turn.

I have a new job, with an amazing team and really great coworkers, which is both intellectually stimulating and a fantastic outlet for my organizational OCD. I have wonderful friends all over the country who care about me and about each other. I have supportive, loving parents. I have a sister who sneaks out of her meetings to call me and check in. I have a city of incredible spirit and hearty history that is reacting to extreme violence with love and determination.

While I’m working my way through the process of grieving for the events of the 2013 Boston Marathon, I can take delight in the fact that this entire region is refusing to stall, refusing to be terrorized, refusing to give up on daily life and human kindness. There is a line in the song “Hey California” by Catie Curtis that goes, “People want to know why you’d live back east when the weather there is cold and the people there are cold. I say the people are why I’ll never leave.”

The people are why I am sitting down and writing these thoughts. I want to help my city recover emotionally. I want to help myself recover emotionally. How can you not want to live in a place where people respect your personal space while walking down the street but are willing to share a hug at a moment’s notice? Where even the fiercest scowls can be lifted by the notes of a jig? Where brilliant intellectuals share café tables with scruffy punks? Where every third person you meet works in healthcare or human services? Where directions are given in terms of relation to the Green Monster? Where tour guides in period garb drift amongst the businessmen, the shoppers, the homeless, the athletes, the inventors, the writers, the scientists and the sightseers?

As I said before, Boston is small. Geographically speaking, the vast majority of Boston’s land is actually landfill, earth stolen from the sea. The villages that were originally Boston’s suburbs are more like its neighborhoods now. “Boston” is an umbrella term that can encompass Boston, Roxbury, Dorchester, Charlestown, Allston, Brighton, South Boston and East Boston (both of which are practically foreign lands!). The proper term, “Greater Boston Area”, is a mouthful. Boston is rambling, stretching. And we’re a family. Everyone who loves Boston loves Boston fiercely. We delight in our past, in our legacies, in our stories.

Monday’s bombings and emotional aftermath will become one of Boston’s stories, one of my stories. The city and I will mourn, rage, grieve, rant, fuss, abhor, denounce, defy and internalize what has happened here. We will be stronger for it. It will take some time. There will be dark moods and tearful nights and irrational fears and irrational anger but there will also be the confidence that we experienced a tragedy, responded efficiently and compassionately, and are capable of doing so again. It won’t be easy. It probably won’t be pretty. None of that matters. We will come out of this, out of our exhaustion and fear and sadness, and be a people that knows intimately just what wonders it is capable of.

Pillow Fort: UPGRADE

It is dastardly cold in my living room. The kitchen gets all the sun and I would love to spend my time basking in its warmth. Sadly for me, the open wireless network signal that I rely on for budgetary reasons does not reach that side of my apartment. Banished to the window-laden, shaded side of my apartment, I frequently huddle on the sofa under a pile of blankets, wishing I had a means of protecting my nose.

This morning, after spending twenty deliciously cosy minutes enjoying my iced coffee at my kitchen table, I retreated to the cold living room. My intention was to spend my time trying to load the video lecture for the Coursera class I’m taking. The reality was somewhat different.

Five minutes spent retracting into smaller and smaller fetal positions on the cold sofa had me thinking longingly of a nice little cave that could be warmed by my body heat. Then, inspiration struck!

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Why not?! I have blankets, pillows, and a papasan chair. I might not be an engineer, but I am nothing if not creative!

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I am armed with trail mix, lip balm, Altoids Smalls, and iTunes. Inglebert the dragon is keeping me company. I am rapidly nearing 30 and I have no regrets about the state of my living room.

If only I could get the lecture video to load…!

mwick:

You guys, I really really love living the Greater Boston Area. Check out what I’m doing this weekend!

Originally posted on Because Life Is Better With a Cat On Your Lap:

Everyone likes cat videos. I defy you to find a single human being who has never laughed at a cat video.

Last year, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota sponsored an Internet Cat Video Festival. The turn-out was huge – more than 10,000 people! – and the New York Times featured an article describing the crowd and how the idea grew from a half-joke to a festival blending Internet and real-world cultures.

This year, the city of Somerville, Massachusetts is paying homage to that first fiesta. This weekend, the Copycat Festival will take place at Arts at the Armory. On Sunday, February 17, cats will be front and center in the eyes, ears and conversations of the city.

The Somerville Arts Council has developed a distinctly local spin for their version of the kittyfest. The event is set to be hosted by author Jef Czekaj, whose books include Cat…

View original 229 more words

Off the hook!!

My mother texted me last week, saying “Gues what!” It turns out that this is a thing! John Dies at the End!! This is a thing that exists!! You know what this means?

I don’t have to writeeeeeeeee itttttttttttttt! I laughed long and hard in the middle of the subway train. It looks like a blast and I can’t wait to track it down and read it. Clearly, this author has fabulous taste in titles. It sounds absurd and grotesque and right up my alley. I can’t believe I’ve never heard of it before!

Plus, I received an invitation from a Meetup group to go see the movie. I’m tempted to go even though I haven’t read the book; it should fit in nicely with all the Lovecraft I’ve been reading recently. Perhaps not, though. I do poorly with gore. I love zombies but can’t watch zombie movies. Even Shaun of the Dead was a struggle and a half.

Farm-raised salmon has also been a struggle. It was on sale the other day and it’s been a while since I had fresh fish so I went for it. The problem is that I have stuck to wild salmon so long now that the farm raise seems bland and far too fatty. Wild caught fish is much, much better. Enough soy sauce will fix pretty much anything, though, so I made some rice and went with my old college/grad school standby: salted salmon.

I decided that a favorite old food deserved a favorite old pastime to go with it. As I type, I am lounging at my kitchen table with my computer playing old fansubs of a Japanese television show. Maybe I could call it inspiration?

I’m watching Yamada Tarou Monogatari (The Story of Tarou Yamada). It stars a couple of members of my favorite ridiculous rainbow boy band, 嵐 (Arashi). It’s also built around one of my favorite tropes: an incredibly poor student at an incredibly wealthy school.

This all comes up because I had a hot date with corruption yesterday. A friend of mine brought a new face to our most recent game night and she made the mistake of commenting to me that she wanted to watch anime. Yesterday, I introduced her to Ouran High School Host Club. This show is a must watch! Poor student, wealthy school, ridiculous costumes, “commoner” as a descriptor for an alien culture, and a lot of really hilarious characters. She will never be the same and it’s all my fault! Insert glee here.

My new awesome friend has promised to corrupt me with Hot Fuzz in return. Insert additional glee.

I love finding new friends!

Maybe the third cup of coffee is the charm? Or the ninth?

I’m beginning to think that I’m working too hard at this not-working thing. My entire morning so far could be efficiently summed up by that perennial truth, “I can’t brain today. I have the dumb.” So far, GAMES Magazine has forced me to look at the answers for the Kid Stuff Puzzles (a candy that starts with Y?!) and while I solved the last maze I have absolutely no idea what the resulting image is supposed to represent.

I have, however, decided upon a naming theme for any eatery I may happen to own in the future. The menu shall be filled with delicacies such as “Gooey Eggplant of Deliciousness” (eggplant rounds alternated with slices of mozzarella cheese and doused with vegetable-rich tomato sauce, all baked together) and “Iced Coffee of Which There Is Not Enough in the World” (which is self-explanatory, really).

This problem isn’t new today, either. Yesterday, I went to wash a plate and was standing in front of the bathroom sink before I realized that I had walked all the way through the kitchen and something was wrong. I thought that under-caffeination might be the problem, so I had a glass of coffee and sat down to Googlechat with a friend. I informed her that I had repeated something “vertabim” and then spent a full three minutes staring at the red underlining of doom and trying to figure out why it was wrong. I had another glass of coffee and decided to stop being social, instead focusing on my job search. I found an interesting position in Tacoma, Washington and figured that I should check out a map, since what I know about the state of Washington could fit inside the tip of a Monopoly thimble. And then I chortled, “Awwww, look at all the little arpeggios!”

….

Maybe I should have expected that my music!nerd mind would revert to musical terminology when I babble, but I assure you that the word I was looking for was archipelagos.

Archipelagos, archipelagos, archipelagos.

My father keeps telling me that this would be the ideal time for me to get to work writing the Great American Novel. The only possible response I can give to him is:

part a) Did you read Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos? and

part b) I would title it John Dies At the End.

At the end of what? I dunno. Is “Dies” his surname or what he does? No idea. Do his friends call him John or does he go by Jack? You know what? Write the bloody book yourself. I can’t wash my dishes in the right sink, let alone structure a scintillating, whirlwind adventure through the great American mores. Clearly, I am not to be trusted with this. Arpeggios, indeed.

Singing is usually the answer to my incoherence. Actually, singing is usually the answer to a great many of my problems. Oh, how happy the world might be if we all just sang our conversations to each other! No, wait. I tried that for a time, back in high school, and I think my mother almost had me locked away with my insanity. Perhaps I’ll throw myself a little five minute dance party instead. I’ve got some fabulously embarrassing 80s tunes buried in my hard drive, perfect for settling down to a little boogie all alone in my apartment.

    Why don’t they

    Doooo what they say

    Saaay what they mean?

    One Thing Leads Another!

Putting My Self-Occupation Skills to the Test!

The bizarre thing about being unemployed is that I have absolutely no boundaries on when I can do what I want to do. Last week, I called my aunt. She lives in Florida. I usually see her once or twice a year. I hardly ever get to speak with her. But I felt the urge to call her around 11 in the morning and I could. We chatted for about half an hour about my life, her life, my nephew’s life, and all manner of things. It was wonderful! I haven’t had the opportunity to make a phone call without having to do something else at the same time since, oh, maybe college? Wonderful!

The other bizarre thing about unemployment, or at least, my own particular brand of unemployment, is that I’m pretty certain I’m being more productive overall than I have been since I was in grad school. I have sent in job applications, I have researched and written for my volunteering position, I have cooked delicious and nutritious meals, I have read a book, I have knitted coasters, and I have taken small breaks throughout the course of a day to clean things. It’s crazy!

Want to know something else that is crazy? Facebook sending me emails to tell me that I have posted events on my timeline. Uh, yeah, I kind of have this thing called a blog which automatically marks moments of interest in my life. Silly Facebook.

I feel the need to educate the world on one of my favorite things: Gloom.

Gloom is a marvelous game for creative (terrible) people who like to tell stories. I learned about it a few months ago from the web show Tabletop (considered by some, myself included, to be the Best Thing, Period, of 2012). It’s a card game in which a player takes on the responsibility of leading a family of misfits to their doom. The best doom, of course, is one of gloom.

The point of the game is for each player to kill off the members of his or her family after making the characters really, really unhappy people. A character could be “abandoned on the moors” or “shunned by society” for negative self-worth points. The game ends when a player’s entire clan is deceased and the winner is the player whose family, collectively, has the lowest self-worth. Other players can combat the tragic events of a another player’s stories by playing positive self-worth points, making a character “wondrously well wed” or “diverted by drink.”

Gloom is a game for 2-4 people. Don’t let that stop you, though. If you’re a truly horrible person, like me, you might enjoy building up and destroying the social lives of two or more intertwined families all on your own!

[Hey, if nothing else, it's an effective way to pass the time.]

To play Gloom all by your one-cy:

  • Pick your characters. You may decide to play just one family, two families, or mix and match characters from any or all of the four clans.
  • Draw two hands of five cards. Put one aside and look through the first for some fittingly terrible deeds.
    • If you’re feeling delightfully cruel, you may wish to look for happy events to raise your characters’ self-worth before really putting them through the mill. I happen to find it more satisfying for someone wondrously well wed to be abandoned on the moors and then shunned by society.
  • Play by the standard turn rules: play or discard two cards, then draw up to the hand limit. If there are other people in the room, you can downplay your evilness by keeping the stories you make up in your head rather than speaking them aloud. If you’re alone, though, go ahead and narrate to your demented heart’s desire!
  • Pick up the other hand and play by the standard turn rules: play or discard two cards, then draw up to the hand limit. Continue the tale!

It can get pretty challenging to keep the story consistent. It’s also sometimes difficult to figure out how to balance your glee at killing off a hapless character with the goal of obtaining the lowest self-worth possible. Some of the Untimely Death cards are just so funny that it almost seems worthwhile to play them right away!

The Tabletop episode about Gloom can be found here and is definitely worth watching. It will give you a good idea of how the game is played and how much fun it can be to be a terrible person. I probably should have made my family watch it before getting them all together to play a few rounds, since my sister is by nature disturbingly cheerful and almost incapable of being mean. She struggled to come up with some dastardly tales of misfortune and tragedy but she did quite well, her expressions of dismay not withstanding. I think she grew more comfortable with it as the game went on and I enjoyed her struggle immensely.

We have established that I’m a horrible person, right?

If you’re bored and looking for an interesting outlet for any pent-up frustration, dark humor and/or creativity, take a look at Gloom.

OM NOM NOM NOM

Come to the dark side!

Feels Like Feeling

What are you looking at, Halfpint?

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This venerable gentleman, Spuds, is one of my new best friends (although he may or may not be thrilled with that title). I have signed up to write copy for a cat rescue group, Kitty Connection, and today I took full advantage of the director’s invitation to spend time socializing the cats.

To be entirely honest, a large part of what drew me to spend some of my day with cats is that I have resigned my position and am looking to refocus my career path. I’m in the market for a challenging new position and I welcome suggestions, should anyone have knowledge of interesting opportunities. Working with Kitty Connection is a step toward engaging my more creative side as well as toward healing some of the overextended, exhausted parts of me that want to just curl up in bed and never look at a computer screen or a spreadsheet ever again. Today, a pre-scheduled day off, I was desperate for some simple, hands-on, not-involving-Microsoft interaction.

The other thing that brought me back to the shelter after my introduction to the cats this past Monday was this gorgeous creature:

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When I arrived at the shelter Monday evening, straight from the difficult decision to move forward with my career and the nerve-wracking experience of submitting my first resignation, this wonderful fellow besieged my dangling arm with all manner of nuzzles. He purred and he flipped and he snuggled and he purred some more. Standing by the cat tree and petting him was the single most relaxing thing I have done in years. His name is Abraham and I love him. He was every bit as affectionate and cuddly today as he was on Monday and I think I love him even more.

And then there’s this wonderful young man:

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This is Tiger. While I was learning the basics of the shelter from the director, Tiger was almost adopted by a family with a young child. I honestly thought he would have a new home when I came back today! He is calm, has a wonderfully rumbly deep purr, and while he was clearly delighted to have someone skritching his shoulder he seemed truly happy with something as simple as leaning his forehead against mine. He has chubby cheeks that I want to cradle in my hands forever.

My family always had pets while I was growing up, everything from a chocolate lab to a frog. We had a Persian cat for years who for some reason tolerated me but no one else (and I was NOT an easy child for any animal to live with, with my obsessive YOU MUST LOVE ME tendencies). A while after getting rid of the (so they say) awful Persian, my parents surprised my sister and me with tuxedo kittens for Christmas. I have an incredible soft spot for tuxedos. There was no way I was going to let this beauty hide away in the back of the cage:

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No matter how shy cats are, it’s entirely worth while to coax them from the back corners of their dens for a little love. The cuddling may be brief but that quiet little purr is entirely rewarding.

Some cats require a little advance planning. Cats like Honey.

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Honey is gorgeous. She’s young and she’s a typical demanding calico who wants your attention NOW when she wants it and wants you to disappear to Pluto when she doesn’t want you around. She also seems to be the source of enough fur to coat three cats. At least, I’m pretty sure that I could have made an entirely new kitten from the hair that was clinging to my shirt and pants after ten minutes of playing and petting. She is utterly delightful. I did rather wish I’d thought to bring a change of clothing after snuggling with her, though.

And then, THEN! There’s Mr. Climberpants. I believe his real name is Cody but I shall call him Shoulder Cat.

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This afternoon, Shoulder Cat had a near desperation to be held. He stretched up and batted at my thigh with his big, polydactyl paws and butted my hands with his head. When I picked him up, he set about rubbing his face all over my chin and shoving his fur up my nose. I couldn’t stop giggling as I held him! When he decided he would get a better vantage point of the room from my shoulder, though, I realized that maybe my arms were not the best place for him. While I can see how it would appear to be a perfectly reasonable path, to a cat, clawing his way to my shoulder via my chest was not my ideal route for him to take.

The sad thing about a cat rescue group is the simple fact that cats have needed to be rescued. Some are so nervous around humans that my unfamiliar presence made them refuse to leave the cat tree for food.

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There was a gorgeous black cat tucked into a spacious crate who wanted nothing to do with me. He hissed in fear every time one of the other cats approached his cage (Honey, of course, found him fascinating and kept trying to stick her paws into his space). While I was there, word came around that there was a big rescue operation going on in a neighboring town and thirty cats had been rounded up. A volunteer was already on her way to pick up four of them to bring back to Kitty Connection.

Other cats were simply uninterested in me. There was a marmalade who blinked up at me once or twice and opted to return to his nap rather than come out to receive attention. There was a regal black cat who stared haughtily down at me from her window well perch. There was an elderly gray short-hair who watched everything impassively from atop a small filing cabinet. He was willing enough to receive some gentle skritches but showed no desire to seek them out.

And there was Chuck.

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Once he finally deigned to sniff my hand and decided that I was allowed to pet him, this boy engaged in a thoroughly hilarious dance of rolling and twisting and twitching. Half the time, it seemed as though he was perfectly capable of getting a passable experience of “petting” out of squirming around in his chosen tree. I think he liked having an audience to show off for more than he cared about having a hand to stroke his fur.

I am an obsessive animal person. One of the biggest disappointments of college was that I wasn’t allowed to have a pet in the dorms. Once I got out of the dorms and into apartment life, I realized that supporting myself meant that I couldn’t afford to keep a pet. The cat I had left at home with my parents passed away while I was in grad school and I was too raw to think about a companion animal for a while. Working full-time earned me barely enough money to feed myself, let alone another creature. Now that I’m living on my own, my resources and my time are so stretched that it would be nothing but cruel to have so much as a fish tank. Working with Kitty Connection is something that I think I have desperately, deeply, needed.

Cats are fascinating creatures. I know my sister would dispute me on this, since she’s never really been crazy about cats to begin with and grew to loathe them when she became a homeowner whose lawn was widely regarded as a public litterbox. I, on the other hand, adore their unique personalities and their vast array of quirks. I am what might be called “violently” allergic to cats but the moment I see one I have to use all of my restraint to keep from picking it up and burying my face in its fur. I love dogs as well but there’s an entertainment value in a cat that few dogs I have encountered could hope to match.

Cats are a puzzle. They are stimulated by the most bizarre, random things and react unpredictably to things they have encountered a dozen times before. They are a source of never ending delight to me.

And, really, what human isn’t jealous of the ability to purr?

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