Why I’m Done Thinking About Feminism Or My Fucking Body Anymore. :)

22 Mar

Ever since my show-stopping exit from the womb (I am told it involved confetti and an original musical number), I have been a devoted feminist. My vaginal vitriol began at a young age, probably because I never really liked being a child OR a girl – both positions that, in my view, seemed to entail an inherent lack of authority and entitlement. Some of my earliest memories are of thinking to myself, ‘Goddamn it, why doesn’t anyone listen to me? I know my shit over here.’

And then I grew up (well, physically, at least) and became a comedian. Mostly because I am in love with the process of writing and performing jokes, but also because people have to listen to me when I perform. Much of my subject matter is based on feminist values, but I pride myself on getting my point across through the back door; satirizing myself and letting the audience draw their own conclusions rather than preaching from the pulpit. Comedy is a sneaky teacher. A laugh is really just an involuntary response to the truth, and if you can make people laugh by presenting a truth in a new way, you can affect peoples’ value systems without them really knowing it.

Good comedians make people laugh, but the best comedians are culture-shapers. I have always aspired to become the latter, and so I think a lot about my underlying message, the precedent I am setting, and the image I am projecting. As a woman practicing what has traditionally been viewed as a man’s art, this set of value considerations gets complicated very quickly.The fact is, in a culture that encourages women to constantly seek validation for their physical attractiveness, it IS hard for a woman (me) to shift her mindset and get to a place where she doesn’t need that anymore. It’s a tricky dance you do with yourself in your head.

If I write a cheap joke about my tits that I know will get a laugh, but I’m not proud of it, do I tell it anyway? “Does this shirt make my boobs look fat?” Will the women in the audience hate me for it, or will they relate? Will the men be distracted by it? Am I stooping to a lower level as a comic? Am I setting myself up to be exploited? Or am I just telling a funny joke and relating the realities of my experience as a tits-haver?

And good lord, will someone please just tell me what the hell I should wear up there?

Should I talk about my body? I think about it a lot, and so do other women, so it definitely seems relatable. If I say I think I’m fat, will heavier women hate me? If I say I think I’m thin, will all the women hate me? Will I accidentally make other women feel shitty about themselves in an effort to relate to them? Will they hate me because they think their boyfriends want to fuck me? Do I kinda WANT their boyfriends to want to fuck me? Why?  If they want to fuck me, they won’t laugh. People don’t watch porn for the giggles.

Wait a second, how DO I feel about my body, exactly? I like it, I think, but maybe not. I kinda like being all cushy and curvy and stuff, but I do look big on camera. I like myself in a dress, but not a bathing suit. Probably most people would say I am a little chubby, but not FAT fat, ya know? I mean, I work out and everything. But I guess I’m still about twenty pounds heavier than I should be. Maybe I should lose some weight. All the popular female comics these days are pretty small, at least the white ones. They’re the ones getting deals. Nikki Glaser, Iliza Schlesinger, Amy Schumer. Hell, even Lisa Lampanelli is skinny now. And they’re all really talented, too, so it seems like you have to be both these days. Nobody my size is famous. Maybe I should take a hint.

But if I were a good feminist, I wouldn’t even think about this stuff. I would just own my body. I would be proud of it and say so. I would inspire other women to embrace themselves unconditionally.

But…is that funny? Is it honest? Is that my job as a comedian?

Is all of this worrying sucking the fun out of what I love to do?

Yeah. It is. So I’m not gonna do it anymore.

What a fucking waste of time. I just want to write jokes and make people laugh. Truth be told, I don’t want to talk about my body or my vagina or feminism at all anymore. At least not directly. I just want to get up on stage and kill it and let my performance speak for itself. I don’t want to be thought of as “the best female comic in town,” I want the audience to forget my gender as much as possible and just laugh. I don’t want to be booked on shows as the “token chick,” I want to be booked on shows because I get the most laughs per minute, which I often do. It’s not because I’m a woman, it’s because I work hard on my jokes, and yes, I want credit for that.

Don’t get me wrong, I always appreciate someone telling me I’m funny. It’s just annoying when it’s followed by “especially for a girl.” The implication is that the audience member or fellow comic was comparing me to all other women in the world, rather than other comics they’ve seen. I’m a comic. Compare me to other comics.

And I don’t want to talk about my fucking body. I don’t want anyone else to, either; whether it’s complimentary or not. I do not want attention for my body when I am telling jokes. I just realized this when I did a set in my underwear for a touring show, and I hated it. It was a mistake on my part. It’s a great concept for a show, and my set went well, but I’m up there in a corset thinking “Jesus, didn’t I choose this art because it’s the only one where women aren’t supposed to be sexualized? What am I doing?”

And I don’t want to talk about my sex life. I don’t want attention for that. I don’t want to act like I’m some self-proclaimed badass slut and tell a bunch of hackey, low-brow jokes about blowing a bunch of dudes. I don’t want to get booked on Stern. I don’t want a spread in MAXIM. I want a set on Conan.  

But above all, I just don’t want to talk about any of this shit anymore. When I talk about it, I think about it. And when I think about it, I’m not thinking about jokes. I’m thinking about feminist guilt or whether eating a fucking cookie will ruin my career. It’s wasted time.

And maybe, just maybe, the world isn’t as biased as I’m imagining it is. Maybe it’s all in my head. Maybe I’m not giving people enough credit. Maybe part of me enjoys playing the martyr, when my experiences don’t really justify it.

Whatever the case, maybe it makes sense to assume all that, because I can’t control other peoples’ thoughts anyway. All I can control is the quality of my work. So I’m going to just let all of this go. I’m going to do what I think is funny and let go of the pressure and the resentment and the futile attempts to be a size 4. I’m not only sick of worrying and wringing my hands over it, I’m just bored by it anymore.

I am releasing myself from the prison of giving a fuck about this.

I’m going to let my jokes inform peoples’ opinions, instead of the other way around. That’s all I can do, but it’s a lot. THAT’s the way to become a culture-shaper.

International Men’s Day: Reflections and Ruminations.

19 Nov

Image

Today is International Men’s Day, and perhaps unsurprisingly, I have some thoughts on the topic.

At first blush, the idea seems rather ludicrous to a devoted feminist such as myself. An international celebration of men’s rights? Why don’t we just go ahead and put White History Month on the books while we’re at it. Do we really need a special day to advocate for the special interests and issues facing modern men? Isn’t that pretty much taken care of by, oh I don’t know, like, every government in every country? You’ll forgive me if the idea of a bunch of dudes gathered around the barbecue congratulating one another on the inherent advantage of their genitalia strikes me as a tad unpalatable in a climate where women are still making 77 cents on a man’s dollar.

Yet, upon further reflection, I’m less sure that I hate the idea (and I hate to be unsure if I hate something.) 

Hear me out. I’m not saying I’m a huge fan of the day in its current mission, which is more than a little vague, broad, and contradictory. I’m simply saying that the concept itself may have some merit. 

As an outspoken, irreverent, and largely career-focused woman (okay, I may not have much of one to speak of yet, but my primary focus right now is changing that), I know how frustrating it is for me when well-meaning people ask me when I’m going to get married, or expect me to have a strong opinion on baby shower colors, or act appalled when I curse or make an off-color joke. It’s frustrating to feel like I have to be one kind of woman or the other because people have a hard time digesting complexity. For instance, I fucking love babies and want one, but I’m also the kind of woman who says “I fucking love babies.” And while I am one of the most deeply sensitive and nurturing people I know, I will also go right for the jugular with no holds barred in the very next second if someone attacks me or someone I love. I can be a somewhat confusing admixture of both traditionally masculine and feminine traits, and I feel emotionally validated when others fully accept me as such. And because of the cultural progress achieved by the feminist movement, it becomes easier and easier for me to be all of who I am without social condemnation. 

But maybe men are getting screwed in this department. As far as I know, there really isn’t any mainstream movement supporting male integration of traditionally feminine roles and qualities. Stay-at-home dads are still viewed as somehow weak or submissive, taking paternity leave is still far from the norm, little boys are still expected to forgo Barbies for G.I. Joes, and men are still cast in the role of romantic pursuer (and dinner-payer). Is this really fair? And are we doing enough to curb these limiting expectations? Shouldn’t a teenage boy who loves musicals and hates football be allowed to cultivate his interests without being called a “fag?” And for that matter, shouldn’t a gay man be allowed to play intramural football without his straight teammates raising an eyebrow? Would it be so strange for the Boy Scouts to have a merit badge for visual arts? 

In short, shouldn’t our concept of what it means to be a man be a hell of a lot more comprehensive than it is now?

Perhaps there SHOULD be an International Men’s Day, and perhaps its mission should be to broaden the woefully narrow scope of traditional masculinity. And wouldn’t this be good for women, too? Maybe if men weren’t put under so much pressure to be muscle-bound stockbrokers driving their Hummers to a Fantasy Football draft, their insecurities about not living up to this standard wouldn’t compel them to create similar insecurities in their female counterparts, as so often happens. I can honestly say that as I get older, the primary qualities I look for in a mate are things like compassion, empathy, emotional honesty, and communicative prowess. I mean he’s gotta be funny and attractive, too, but he doesn’t need to be in a high tax bracket or know how to fix my car. I’m not looking for an “alpha male,” I’m looking for an “alpha person.”

And so, in conclusion, I would like to honor International Men’s Day by offering a brief makeout sesh to all those wonderful men out there who are strong and confident enough to stay at home with the kid, let me yell about politics at cocktail parties, and enthusiastically take the fuck out of a ballroom dancing class with me. Y’alls is sexy gangsta kings and never forget it. 

Oh, and the makeout sesh costs only $450 (or 3 easy payments of $200).

The New “C” Word.

6 Aug

feminist rants

My dear reader, as a prelude to this offensively wordy rant, please first honor me by asking yourself the following question:

Of all the scathing things to say about a woman, what singular word is the most acutely and permanently damaging to her reputation?

There are, of course, the old standbys. Your simple, time-honored “bitch” is probably at the top of that list, but perhaps due to the very frequency of its employment, it has lost a lot of its zest; it’s impact; it’s “oomph,” if you will. Hell, in this day in age, you can call your own grandmother a bitch for failing to produce a seven during Go Fish and everyone shares a good, hearty chuckle. Nah, “bitch” is child’s play these days.

Then there’s your standard “slut,” or the more formal, less fun “whore.” Labels of promiscuity are some of the most classic, universally understood lady slanders there are.

*A brief aside: many scientists theorize that such terms are the reason that language itself came into being. The story goes that an ancient east African cavebachelor (affectionately dubbed “Fucking Genius” by Oxford anthropologist Ann Bowling) discovered the phenomenon of the clitoral orgasm somewhere about a few million B.C. As a result of this development, many cavewomen from a nearby tribe began leaving their communities for days at a time to visit the strategically remote hut of Fucking Genius. This disrupted the functioning of established family units, prompting cockholded cavehusbands to seek a cathartic verbal outlet when their wives were too far away to physically beat the piss out of. Thus, though there is ample evidence to suggest these early humans had a previous awareness of the need for verbal labelling, it is thought that “whore” preceded both “fire” and “watch out” as the first universally recognized phrases of the oral tradition. Thank you, Fucking Genius! For language and so much more!*

But I digress.

While “slut” and “whore” are still commonly wielded as weapons in the war against women, they too, have been dulled down with repeated use. Nowadays, such terms are proudly emblazoned on the asses of hot pink sweat pants, or tastefully inserted into a cheeky Twitter handle. No, I’m afraid “slut” and “whore” just aren’t the degraders they used to be. Out of the running.

“Cunt,” on the other hand, well now we’re getting somewhere. I think we can all agree that “cunt” still packs a real punch. Though the British seem to throw it around with about as much hesitation as you’d throw a live grenade, it remains a real eyebrow raiser here in the states. “Cunt” is “bitch” squared. It’s locked up in a special safe in the back of the misogynist arsenal, only to be deployed in the most serious conflicts. Yes, “cunt” is a contender, to be sure.

But I will argue here that “cunt” has been trumped by another, infinitely more potent “C” word. A word that, uttered by any source at all, has the power to subject a woman’s reputation to the kind of deep, penetrating, irreversible damage characteristic of nuclear radiation. A word made ever the more insidious by its easy acceptance in even the politest of societies. A word whose truth seems only to be validated by the very act of fighting it.

And that word, my friends, is “crazy.”

—————————————————————————-

It’s the new Scarlet Letter. It’s the new leper-maker. It’s a downright epidemic, our modern fascination with the “crazy chick,” and it’s a huge fucking problem. Not just for its predominantly female targets, but for all of us, and I do mean all of us.

It seems like every time you turn around, someone is calling an attractive woman under forty a crazy bitch. It’s not just the men doing it, either; the women are guilty, too. Don’t get me wrong — the word is often uttered through glossed lips or typed by manicured fingers. There’s plenty of girl-on-girl crime happening out there. I’ll be the first to admit that in my younger, more insecure days, I said it about girls I was jealous of, or laughed and agreed with some handsome jackass when he said it about some other chick. My hands aren’t entirely clean here, either. But in my personal observation and estimation, men are the quickest to draw that particular gun, and fire it far more indiscriminately.

Which makes sense, because it’s an efficient gun, no? “Crazy” is the AK47 of insults: you don’t have to be very specific to achieve the desired effect. This is why it’s a particular favorite of stupid, lazy people. Witty people, on the other hand, are snipers; taking the time to zero in on their target’s most vulnerable spots before delivering the calculated, fatal blow. Smart people put in the effort to truly customize a thoughtful, considerate, and personalized shitty thing to say. But in this fast-paced, busy world we live in, who has time to craft a gem like “you have the empathic capacity of a toasted almond” when you can just throw the trusty ole “crazy” blanket over your offender and call it a day?

But “crazy” wouldn’t be such a reliably ruinous nametag if not for the media’s continued commitment to covering the follies and misadventures of every already-exploited teen starlet under the sun.

“I have an idea,” said some asshole, a long time ago, “let’s find a lucky few pretty girls with horrible parents, sexualize the shit out of them from the age of 13, speculate publicly on every five pounds they gain or lose, give them unmanageably hectic schedules (and a little cocaine to keep up), and pay them millions and millions of dollars they have no idea how to manage!! Oh, and then film it and take pictures and stuff! YAAAAY I SURE AM GREAT!”

And that person made a million kajillion dollars, has his or her own hovercraft, and shits into a platinum toilet, because that’s fair.

Meanwhile, we’ve bought all of this hook, line, and sinker. We wait with baited breath for the next Amanda Bynes tweet; the next Lohan arrest; the next Britney bender. Our appetite for the Great American Hot Mess-stress is insatiable. We want more, we want it now, and we’ll pay whatever for your magazine as long as it promises us floor seats to the next big breakdown with breasts. I mean, honestly, how the hell else are us normals supposed to feel better about our lives? What, we’re supposed to just LET a woman be gorgeous AND talented AND happy? Ha! Sorry, suckers, the last time I checked, we live in America, not Afairica! If you don’t like it, you can tote your proud little vagina on up to communist Canada, because them’s the breaks around here, lady girls.

I mean, seriously. How far have we really come from Victorian English doctors extracting ovaries to cure “hysteria?” Whether we like to admit it or not, the term “crazy” STILL carries an inherently feminine connotation, and it is still being used to rob women of their credibility. And if you’re a powerful woman who isn’t crazy, you’d best believe we’ll try our damndest to make you that way.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a scrotum and already BE crazy, congratulations, you’re an unlikely hero! Pssssht, you’re not manic as a hummingbird, Charlie Sheen; you’re quirky and misunderstood! You’re not a sociopathic monster, Chris Brown, you’re a reformed sinner! You’re not a self-mythologizing lunatic, Gary Busey, you’re a — you know what, I can’t even joke about Gary Busey, that dude is awesome.

But you get the point.

And not surprisingly, this fanatical double-standard of a media witch hunt has trickled down to, well, everywhere. And I’m here to call bullshit, because this trend is far from harmless.

My theory is that there IS an association between gender and what our society thinks of as “crazy,” but it’s a matter of correlation, not causation. Hear me out. I’ve noticed that “crazy” gets thrown around a lot to describe any woman who acts or makes decisions based on emotional or intuitive strengths rather than established, readily citable facts. For example:

“How can she say I’m cheating on her when she hasn’t even seen any of these texts from Amber to prove it! She’s crazy!” Or,

“What do you mean you ‘have a bad feeling,’ Bessie?!’ This is ‘The Unsinkable Ship’! You’re hysterical. Now just calm down and find your ether kerchief. We’re getting on the bloody boat!”

And this is what we call intuitive (sometimes referred to as “emotional”) intelligence. For either biological or social reasons, women use it more. I don’t know, tear this claim apart; be my guest, science people. I’m not Charles fucking Darwin, I ate pizza before 10 a.m. today and don’t have a real people job. I’m just a student of the world seeing a pattern. Anywho, women seem to act upon this sort of right-brain intelligence more often than men, and calling it “crazy” has been a super easy way of making women wrong since like, forever.

Here’s an idea: maybe all women aren’t crazy and some men are intuitive idiots. And maybe on some level, men are threatened by women, because we can and have learned shit like algebra, but some (and I do mean SOME) men can’t and haven’t learned how to listen to their own feelings, much less interpret and cater to the feelings of others. There’s no textbook for that. It’s pretty much trial, error, and natural aptitude. A girl is not “crazy” for crying when a guy thoughtlessly suggests she “try Crossfit sometime” while she’s wolfing down a well-deserved PMS burrito on the couch next to him. That is not her being crazy, that is him being a dumbass. I don’t care how it was meant. Sorry, but it doesn’t take Dr. Phil to anticipate how those dots might be mistakenly connected to result in hurt feelings. That is just a lack of emotional savvy. What exactly makes men think their brains are inherently healthier just because they trust its left hemisphere more often? Emotional decision-makers have a leg up in many areas, including social interaction. Gentlemen, if she has to carry your conversational dead weight at a cocktail party while your awkward ass hides out in the corner inhaling cocktail shrimp, I’d say some burrito tears are a fair trade-off.

But all gender inequalities aside, here is the biggest problem with “crazy:” if we keep “crying wolf” with that word, we may as well be begging to get eaten by a real fucking wolf. That is to say, when we keep watering-down that term, it doesn’t mean anything anymore. And when it doesn’t mean anything anymore, it can’t be used as a crucial red flag in a situation that is actually dangerous.

For example, I think we can all agree that your angry ex-girlfriend sending fifteen unanswered texts in a row is eeeehhhh kind of in a different ballpark from your Uncle Rolf wallpapering his entire house with tinfoil to shield him from secret Russian mind-control lasers. So why in the sam hell would we use the same word to describe both scenarios?

BEING EMOTIONAL IS NOT THE SAME THING AS BEING OUT OF TOUCH WITH REALITY. I cannot. Stress this. Enough.

Similarly, a gothy high school chick checking out of the library with a book about Wicca is not the same thing as overhearing a depressed kid under the bleachers muttering about shooting up the football team. I am by no means making an infamous “buying-pot-basically-makes-you-a-terrorist” argument here. I’m not saying you’re an accomplice to a horrific school shooting for calling your ex crazy because she cried a lot. Of course not. What I AM saying is that the term “crazy” doesn’t accurately describe either situation in a way that’s going to help anyone involved.

And it certainly isn’t going to help innocent sufferers of mental illness to get help for themselves. Every year, a staggering and heartbreaking number of people kill themselves, kill others, hurt themselves, hurt others, hate themselves, and hate others all because they are suffering from a very real and treatable mental illness they’re ashamed to talk about. This just doesn’t need to happen in the frequency it does, and obscuring these serious issues with that shitty, unspecific, (did I mention shitty?) word “crazy” is not helping.

So here’s what I’m proposing:

Drop “crazy” from your vocabulary entirely. Just do it. Today. Let’s make it the new “retard” and make anyone who utters the word feel like a grade-A dickwagon. If you’re frustrated or angry with someone, or you think they’re being too emotional, or you don’t agree with their choices, say so, but don’t throw “crazy” out there because you’re too lazy to identify what you’re actually taking issue with. That word is holding back women, it’s holding back our intellectual evolution at a society, and it’s indirectly contributing to an epidemic of unfathomable acts of violence across the country.

I mean, really, aren’t we just better off without it?

Oh, and speaking of things we might be better off without, maybe we oughtta lose those little metal hand-held death machines that literally anybody can get. Just a thought.

Glad Tidings, and NPR 3-Minute Fiction

12 May

Look Ma! No crippling depression!

Look Ma! No crippling depression!

Bonjour, mes copains!

It has been quite a while since I have posted here, in part because this blog has served primarily as a therapeutic exercise for me during difficult times. Now that those difficult times are fewer and further between, I have less cause to pour my heart out here. I admit, I’m a little conflicted about keeping the blog public. Going back and reading through it is a little hard for me, because it’s a chapter in my life that I would prefer to remain closed. However, the comments and messages I receive from readers have convinced me to leave it up.

I was especially touched by a comment on my last post. It was from a therapist I have never even met who somehow stumbled upon my entry from when I had just left treatment. She said she was going to share it with a patient of hers who was going through a similar struggle. That meant the world to me, and reminded me that my rare and perhaps controversial openness does have the power to help people, or at least make them feel less alone. My heart goes out to all those coping with mental health issues, and take it from me, there IS such a thing as remission. Popular opinion seems to suggest that remission is an impossibility with regard to mental illness; once you’re labeled “crazy,” you’re crazy for life. I’m here to tell you, that’s absolute bullshit. It’s like any other illness: find the right medication regimen, make the necessary lifestyle changes, take ownership of your own care, and you’ll be fine. You’ll have good days and bad days, but so do “regular” people. Above all, never feel ashamed, don’t be so hard on yourself, and be patient. This is advice I need to heed more myself.

Anyway, things have continued to go pretty damn well for me! I’m really enjoying my newfound passion for exercise (it’s amazing how much better I feel), my various writing projects (and good lord, there are a lot of them going) are progressing slowly but steadily, I’m doing marketing work and writing ad copy for my dad’s cosmetic procedures business, and taking on some other freelance work here and there on the side. In addition, I definitely want to start some advocacy work in the mental health sphere. I’m really passionate about this issue, and it seems to me that it is ripe for reflection on a national level. There is no reason I shouldn’t be using my writing and speaking talents to help initiate change, and also help comfort and reassure others who are coping with these problems — because the astronomical number of sufferers is downright shocking compared to the small number of people who are open about it. It’s high time for this ridiculous stigma to dissolve so that we can institute some much-needed reforms.

Aaaaaanywho, the real reason for this post is to share a short piece that I just wrote for round 11 of NPR’s 3-Minute fiction contest. I just heard about this series, and it’s pretty effing rad. I believe they give a new prompt every week (though I’m not positive about that), and the prompt for round 11 was “Finder’s Keepers.” They wanted stories wherein a character finds something they have no intention of returning. My submission deals with the issue of what “returning” means in such a case, so it perhaps stretches the prompt a bit, but hopefully in an interesting way. This story was a rather difficult exercise for me, as the contest dictates a 600-word limit and my original draft was 846 words. Thus, I had to cut it down significantly. This was a valuable exercise for me in particular, because I tend to me rather long-winded and repetitive at times. Cutting the piece down forced me to examine which words and phrases packed the most punch and which ones were expendable. Ultimately, I don’t feel like I lost much, if anything, in the editing process.

I hope you enjoy, and as always, thank you so much for reading! Love you all. And Happy Mother’s Day to all, by the way! I love you, Mom!!

———————————————————————————————————————

OUR MARTIN

He didn’t have much time left. He slipped in and out now. He couldn’t keep the days straight, and had lost the warm look of recognition when the children came to visit. In a rare moment of clarity, he had grasped my hand and said,

“Bring me my memories.”

It had slipped out of a copy of Great Expectations as I was retrieving the old photo albums for him. The book was one of those intimidating, gilded numbers that sits on the shelf undisturbed for generations — an excellent hiding place.

The letter itself had nearly disintegrated, barely legible underneath coffee stains and smudged cigarette ash, devoured over the years by someone’s greedy eyes and hands. The penmanship was small and deliberate; not a single error in the sea of words; perhaps a fourth, a fifth draft. Someone had worked until they were satisfied.

“June 8th, 1954”

“Dear Martin,”

Oh…

A wave of nausea, an electric jolt. The blood draining from my face.

“I expect this is the last I will write you. I have heard from cousin Kay that you are getting married. I hope the day is just lovely, and I wish you all the happiness you can possibly stand.”

“It is clear to me now that you do not love me, Martin.”

Stop reading, Anne. This ghost doesn’t belong to you.

“I must tell you, Martin, for my own peace of mind, that I love you. I love you with all my heart. St. Louis is just swell, but my heart will forever remain in Joplin with you. I know it’s silly, but I find I cannot even drink iced tea anymore, as the taste brings me back to those times with you under our tree.”

A tree. They had had a tree.

“I love my job as a typist, but with each day that passes, lunching alone, working at my needlepoint (it’s still simply laughable, I’m afraid), it becomes clearer that my life was meant to be a more quiet, solitary affair.”

The words tumbled over each other down the page; a sort of fever dream. I let her feeling wash over me, this woman I had never met, never even heard of…this lonely stowaway sleeping soundly inside a book.

“I don’t want you to feel badly, Martin; not ever. I always knew it would never really be. I didn’t shine like you. I never told you, but I know you only spent time with me because your dear mother asked you to do me the kindness. I know I’m plain, and have always been rather bookish and shy. I haven’t a clue how to style myself, I’m afraid, but I tried. You are the only person who ever made me feel beautiful, Martin.”

I fought the rising lump in my throat.

“I heard your bride is just lovely! Kay said she was a petite little blond. I imagine you are over the moon! You always loved Betty Grable.”

A smile crept across my face, for he had made the comparison many times.

“If I never see you again, Martin, I hope your life is everything you dreamed. I want you to know that the summer we shared is the brightest spot in an otherwise rather dull collection of memories, and it will sustain my heart for a lifetime.”

“Love Always,”
“Margaret.”

And now I was back in the quiet study, the grandfather clock faithfully keeping time in the corner. Steadying myself on the bookcase, I tucked the letter back into its leather-bound coffin and replaced it on the shelf.

Wherever you are, Margaret, I’m sorry.

Life On The Other Side.

27 Mar
Yeah I didn't exactly know what kind of image to put with this post so here is a picture of a smiling kitten.

Yeah I didn’t exactly know what kind of image to put with this post so here is a picture of a smiling kitten.

It’s hard to know what to blog about when everything is going really well. I mean, I guess I’ll just write about how well everything is going…?

It’s been 10 days since I was discharged from the treatment center with a diagnosis and a medication regimen, and every day just gets better and better. The difference continues to astound me. I have remained uniquely me, retained my various oddities, sense of the absurd, and extreme sensitivity, but now I have the benefit of a new sense of balance and clarity. I can stick to a steady routine with ease. I’m kind of addicted to exercise (and no one is more shocked at this than me). I can be creative AND grounded at the same time, without the aid of booze or a personally manufactured crisis. Basically, I can handle my fucking business now. I’m sure it’s beyond annoying for me to go on and on about this, but you have to realize that for me, this is like being a born-again human.

Anyway, I guess I’ll just share what is currently going on in my life for those of you who are interested.

I’m seeing my life coach several times a week, which I still think is hilarious and awesome. I’m getting into the habit of planning out every hour of my day and learning how to manage my time, which is absolutely essential for someone like me. The medication works on a physiological level to level out the internal fluctuations, but I have to meet it halfway by managing my external fluctuations as much as possible. And when both of these aspects are under control, I can finally fire on all cylinders. Routine is absolutely essential for my lifestyle, and up until now, I’ve never been able to maintain one effectively. Again, it’s this consistency of body and mind that I never had access to before.

Right now I’m taking baby steps and adding one new lifestyle component at a time. I’m used to making huge sweeping changes all at once, which makes sense for someone prone to extremes. But this kind of change is slow and steady and (hopefully) more permanent. At this stage, I’m focused primarily on my health and my creative projects, and frankly, just really enjoying being with my family and celebrating this newfound peace. Then in the next couple of weeks, I’ll start volunteering. Then a few weeks after that, I’ll get a part-time job. My life coach (hahaha omg I still can’t get used to saying that), my parents, and myself all agree that I need to take my time with all this as I feel comfortable. Because basically, I’m learning how to live like a fully functioning adult for the first time rather than relying on my upswings to achieve the things I want. It’s a really good feeling.

As far as my creative work, I just started the prewriting process for the split-screen love story I described in a blog post a while back (the one tentatively titled Retrograde). It’s an ambitious project, but it’s going very well so far and moving right along much more quickly than I had anticipated. I have the whole plot outlined in pretty minute detail, and I’ll start the actual drafting process April 1st. The plan is to be halfway finished with the first draft by May, complete it by the beginning of June, and have the final draft submitted to The Black List by the end of June. At the pace I’m going, that timeline is completely doable and I may even finish earlier. But I want to give myself plenty of time because of the level of detail involved with this particular screenplay.

Then, starting in July, I will be developing a children’s book idea I’ve had in the back of my mind for the past year or so that is very much in keeping with my tendency to mess with narrative structures . The concept is a series of books called “Circle Stories.” The books will consist of those sturdy cardboard pages commonly used for children’s books, only they will be affixed around a circular binding (I’m thinking either by magnetic strips on the edge of the pages or some kind of plastic snapping mechanism), such that the book stands up on its own with the pages fanning out around it. However, the pages are all mixed up in no particular order, so that the book is also a puzzle for the child to solve, requiring the reader to arrange the pages in the correct order using context clues. I’m thinking that at least initially, I will do common fairytales in this format, both because children are already familiar with them and because they’re public domain, meaning I could adapt them without having to pay royalties or infringing on any copyrights.

I’m thinking Circle Stories might be a useful and marketable tool for early elementary classrooms because it teaches children how to use context clues and deductive reasoning skills to improve reading comprehension skills, all of which may theoretically help improve scores on state standardized tests. I haven’t decided yet, but I may also write the books in rhyming couplets, which would also help children with phonetics.

Of all my writing projects up to this point, I think this one is the most potentially publishable and lucrative, so I’m really excited about developing it. Children’s books are one of the only types of literature that people actually buy physical copies of anymore. And coincidentally enough, Scholastic, which is perhaps the largest manufacturer of children’s educational literature, is actually headquartered in Cincinnati. And my life coach (still laughing every time I type this) thinks she has some connections there to potentially get me a meeting once I have a prototype made. Obviously, I’ll need to partner up with a local illustrator and draw up some kind of contract before we actually start working together. I have a few people in mind that I’m interested in approaching.

Anyway, I’m giving myself a deadline of January 1, 2014 to have all the content and illustrations done, acquire a patent on the book design, and have a prototype created and ready to present. Even if no one commisions or publishes the series, it will be really valuable for me to learn more about the business end of writing and publishing, and I like the idea of building something really novel from the ground up. I think it’ll also be a lot of fun to do a collaborative project for once.

So at least until the end of this year, I’m focusing primarily on my health and well-being and getting these two writing projects completed and shown. I feel really good about my goals and think they are realistic and attainable. And IF Circle Stories were to sell, I could potentially become a very wealthy woman and sit on a steady stream of royalties that would give me the freedom to write anything I damn well please. But that’s getting way ahead of myself :)
*Knocks on wood; immediately regrets jinxing self*

And that’s all for now, I guess. Life has been amazing on the other side of all this…if someone had told me six months ago that I would end up back in Ohio doing a stint at a looney bin and living back at home, I would have been extremely upset at this notion. But so far, I can’t really remember a time when I’ve been happier. As one of my best friends said to me when I was first considering leaving LA, “sometimes the story we begin is not the same one we end.”

And the wonderful thing about endings is that they’re always beginnings, too.

March Madness.

19 Mar

For those of you who don’t know, I recently came home to Cincinnati to seek treatment for a mood disorder I’ve been struggling with for quite a while. The stresses of L.A. and the relative isolation I was experiencing there eventually pushed me over a dangerous edge, and I knew that if I didn’t get some kind of help soon, well…you can fill in the blanks. I don’t want to say it again as my poor mother has had to hear it too much already.

Anyway, my last few posts have been about my cross-country drive home, reminiscing and in some ways reliving my past, and preparing to finally let go of it. Not surprisingly, I was exhausted when I got home, but also resigned. Truth be told, I was relieved to have made it and I wanted to waste no time getting into treatment.

My family and I did some research on local mental health facilities, since it was decided that a hospital wasn’t really the right place for me. We found a renowned treatment center very close to us, and I enrolled in their voluntary program for a 10-day diagnostic stay. Strangely, I had hardly any reservations at all about heading off to a looney bin for a mini vacay. I think I had just been suffering for so long that I was willing to try anything.

And I mean, shit, if I could make it through the crazy train that was The Glass House for three months, this was gonna be a cakewalk.

Anyway, I cannot overstate how much better I feel. It really is like night and day. And I made some great friends while there that I’m sure I will continue to be in touch with in the future.

The program was nice in that it wasn’t at all the typical white-walled, sterile, confining atmosphere that you think of when you envision a mental institution. It was much more Promises of Malibu than “Girl, Interrupted.” We had our own private rooms, could keep and use our cell phones, laptops, etc., and could choose whether or not to attend group therapy. Being at a small facility where admission is voluntary is a whole different ballgame from being committed against your will in a crisis situation. You weren’t eligible for the program if you were psychotic, delusional, or out of touch with reality in any other way. So everyone in the unit was suffering from depression, anxiety, mild mood disorder, OCD, substance abuse, or a combination thereof.

While I left the center feeling fantastic, I definitely had my ups and downs while in there. Naturally, I tried out different combinations of medications throughout my stay, and the heavier doses sent me into a serious and exhausting depression for a few days. At that point, I started to lose hope, I think because I felt a lot of pressure to “get better” due to the astronomical expense of the program and all the guilt I had associated with that. But my parents insisted that I not worry about the expense, which made me feel a little better. And in some ways, it was actually very good that I swung as severely as I did during my stay there, because the doctors and counselors got to see just how extreme and transient my moods could be. Ultimately, though, they got my medications straightened out, and I swear to God, I didn’t know it was possible to feel this good without feeling TOO good. I can’t believe I’ve gone my whole life without having this kind of balance. On the one hand, I wish I had done all of this sooner, but on the other, I’m enormously grateful to have done it while I’m still young.

In all fairness, I suppose I should add that the staff, while hospitable and capable, was completely disorganized and dropped the ball on more than a couple of occassions. Apparently they hired a new director several months ago and they were still “working out the kinks.” I had to advocate for my own and others’ care many, many times. But I erred my grievances calmly and cordially, and the staff was for the most part very apologetic, in large part because I genuinely liked all of them and they genuinely liked me. As the saying goes, you kill more flies with honey.

I don’t know why, but I always end up in these situations; leading the charge when incompetent bullshit is afoot. So of course, I became the mouthpiece for all the other pissed off patients and basically prevented what was shaping up to be a mutiny. Once again, Erica was the squeaky wheel, but ultimately, myself and the other patients got the grease.

But I digress.

On day nine, I had a feedback session with my treatment team to discuss my diagnosis. After hours and hours of written testing and sessions with doctors, I sat down with them all (with my mother on speaker phone of course) to get the results. This part I was a little nervous about. Ironically, I came in there afraid they would tell me I’m crazy, but by the end of it, I was afraid they would tell me I wasn’t. Because if nothing was wrong with my mind, what the hell was wrong with ME? And how would I fix it?

Luckily, this wasn’t the case, and I am, in fact, crazier than a bag of angel dust. No, I’m only kidding, turns out I’m not that nuts. My established diagnosis of ADD was confirmed (no shocker there), and I was given additional diagnoses of alcohol abuse (even less of a shocker there), and rapid-cycling Bipolar II (pretty much in the ballpark of what I anticipated). Bipolar II is a form of bipolar disorder with a predominant depressive mood coupled with periods of hypomania, which refers to an elevated mood and energy level distinguishible from actual mania, which includes psychotic delusions, paranoia, etc. Cyclothymia is extremely similar to Bipolar II, but I was diagnosed with the latter because of how rapidly my moods cycle, which is apparently not typical in cyclothymia. The treatment team believed (and I agreed) that my alcohol use was an effort to self-medicate which had actually been causing more severe mood symptoms. They also agreed (and this really surprised me) that in the absence of alcohol use, my hypomanic episodes weren’t actually doing me much harm aside from the sleeplessness, though that symptom was not to be minimized. In accordance with the diagnosis, it was recommended that I stop drinking, get heavily involved in therapy, and take my medications as scheduled. They believed my prognosis for recovery and/or remission was very good, and when I left that meeting, I did, too.

Also, the IQ testing they did on me put me in the very highest intelligence bracket for verbal skills and knowledge (top 2% of the population). This has nothing to do with my diagnosis at all. I’m just blatantly bragging about it.

So I left feeling like they hit the nail on the head with the diagnosis, and feeling very good about my medication regimen. And let me tell you, folks…it’s quite a regimen.

My New Friends!!

My New Friends!!

But it WORKS. Enormously well. And the cocktail that we settled on is very low doses of more medications, rather than higher doses of one or two. This is great because I can achieve the mood stabilization I need with no undesirable effects on my personality and no side effects at all so far (well, except for a slight decrease in appetite, but who the hell complains about that?!). Thankfully, the psychiatrist agreed that the actual mood stabilizers were going to be too heavy-duty and possibly exacerbate the depressive symptoms, so we stuck with low-dose anti-seizure medicines (which makes me wonder even more about the possible link with my childhood epilepsy) and low-dose antidepressants. The effect has basically been getting rid of all the bad mood while retaining all the good mood — CONSISTENTLY. I had no idea that was possible. I went into this assuming that I was going to have to give up something to get something; that I would lose my spark or my wit or my sense of humor along with my depressive spells. It’s really impossible to explain how shocked and thrilled I am with the outcome of all this. I know people in this situation are always “cautiously optimistic,” but personally, I think cautious optimism is self-fulfilling, self-defeating, and pointless. Why put a condom on your own hope?! What, so that if things go wrong later on, you can say “I told myself so?” I don’t get that. I’m enjoying feeling great, right now, right in this moment, and allowing myself to believe that will continue, because I don’t see the advantage in believing otherwise.

I’ve spent the majority of my life waiting for and assuming that the other shoe will drop, and I don’t want to live that way anymore. Maybe now I don’t have to.

In addition to my meds, I’ve stopped drinking entirely and attend Women for Sobriety meetings. I went off-site to a couple of AA meetings while I was staying at the treatment center, but it just didn’t jive with me. It was kind of church-y and depressing…they make you feel horrible about your past use, but then give all the credit to Jesus if you quit. And it just felt like a bunch of grizzled old dudes trying to one-up each other’s horror stories from their boozed-up past. “I lived in a conversion van and woke up in my own vomit for two weeks straight…” “Oh yeah? I lived under a bridge selling oregano in plastic bags for a year until I got stabbed in the knee by a guy named Dutch!” Don’t get me wrong, I think AA is a fantastic organization that has helped millions of people, it was just a little too guilt-driven and mired in the past for my liking. Women for Sobriety is a much better fit. We’re more open with each other, we don’t continually refer to ourselves as alcoholics, and we focus on our present circumstances and on building each other up. It’s great stuff. Plus, we laugh our asses off in there. AA is so goddamn serious all the time.

Since I got out of the treatment center, I went on a date and celebrated St. Patty’s Day without a single drink, and I had an awesome time (at St. Patty’s, at least). I wasn’t so much surprised at my willpower as how minimal the temptation actually was. When I take my medicine, I feel good. I feel calm and happy. That urgent need to get some booze down my gullet so that I can feel normal just isn’t really there anymore. And if I can soberly survive St. Patty’s and what turned out to be a pretty boring date, I feel like that is a damn good sign. Besides, if I had been drunk on my date, who knows how long it would have taken to figure out that the guy was boring?! It could have taken me weeks! And how many dudes have I dated waaay longer than I should have because booze made them seem interesting?! I don’t even want to think about it.

So I can’t have booze. It’s pretty simple, really: diabetics shouldn’t eat funnel cakes and bipolar people shouldn’t shoot Jack. Makes sense, no? And I won’t miss it as much as people probably assume. I don’t need it for the reasons I used to anymore. And how much of my life have I wasted being either hammered, hungover, or regretful? Good riddance. I’m plenty fun enough without it.

I’m also working out six days a week and just fuckin loving it. I used to dread it, or never be in the mood, or do anything to avoid it, but whatever switch got turned on in my brain is now releasing endorphins the way it’s supposed to. While at crazy camp (a term I fondly coined for the treatment center), I got pretty into lifting. I do the obligatory 20 minutes of cardio to get my heart rate up, but spend the rest of my workout with weights. That burn gets addictive, and I put on muscle really fast, so the instant gratification seeker in me likes to see the results. I don’t really give a shit about losing weight; if that happens, it happens. I just want to be stronger and feel better. Basically, I’m gonna be an absolute manimal. A beast. Just ripped, bro. Cut. Crushing my fuckin delts and lats on the daily.

But I digress.

Anyway, I like exercise now.

And I also have a life coach now. That’s right, a life coach. I could not be more thrilled about this development. Having a life coach in Cincinnati Ohio is basically the same as being a Kardashian. I am telling everyone within a 13-mile radius about my life coach with the oblivious, unapologetic zeal of an obnoxious Californian who has just cut out gluten. It makes me feel fancy and special as shit. When she (my life coach, Melissa McCarthy, why yes, I do have her card if you would like it) calls me, I loudly announce to anyone within earshot that “I HAVE TO TAKE THIS BECAUSE IT IS MY LIFE COACH AND I AM VERY IMPORTANT YOU SEE.” It might get old to them, but it doesn’t get old to me. Also, everyone I know wants a life coach now. Who wouldn’t, right?! This nice lady is coaching the shit out of my life! I have every hour of every day planned out! I get stuff done! Like a normal human person! I have short term goals! I have long term goals! I have tracking mechanisms! I HAVE A FUCKING DREAM BOARD, PEOPLE! Anyway. If there’s one thing you take away from this post, and frankly that would be surprising,

Get. Yourself. A life. Coach. I’m talking to you, Alex Stein.

But in all seriousness, I really can’t believe it. I’m absolutely floored. My parents are floored. Everyone is floored. I have never felt like this in my life, and I never in a million years thought I would get the right cocktail of medicines right out of the gate. Nobody does. You hear horror stories about how long it takes to get the right combination, and the hell you enure in the process. But I might have just gotten lucky, and I’m not wasting time looking a gift horse in the mouth.

Earlier today, I was driving along and Dave Grohl’s voice came on the radio singing “it’s times like these/ you learn to live again,” and it just hit me all of a sudden; how quiet my mind finally was, how good I felt, how normal and capable and steady, and what a true miracle that is for me…and I’ll admit it, I just started crying. I actually had to pull the car over into a parking lot, lay my head on the steering wheel for a moment, and just cry.

It’s like getting a whole new life.

I go to sleep at midnight because I’m tired. I wake up on my own at eight or nine because I’m rested. I have actual energy, throughout the entire day. I laugh my ass off with my family. I laugh my ass off with my friends. My brain isn’t consumed with depressing thoughts about the past or manic fits about the future. I get to live in the present, consistently, for the first time in my life. And when I’m living in the now, I don’t put my purse in the sink. I don’t leave trash in my car. I don’t stuff unpaid parking tickets under a floormat. My mind is here, with me, in this moment, and I can use it to manipulate my environment. It sounds like a simple thing, but that’s because most people take it for granted.

And it’s hard to explain to people who have never had a brain like mine, but that never stops me from trying. It’s like the weather in your brain is constantly changing and you spend your entire life continually trying to survive the storms and clean up all the debris after they’ve passed through. It’s not the normal stress of life; it’s not some external event that triggers a natural emotional response; it is a brain that is firing off erratically almost all the time. It is as real an illness as it gets, and what really sucks is that, because people can’t see it, they assume it’s character weakness. It’s “just a phase.” She’s being “dramatic.” Or the ever popular “that chick is crazy!!” Interesting how the hordes of men (and women, but come on, it’s mostly men) throwing this judgment around never actually stop and express genuine concern for the girls they’re saying this about. I mean, if someone you knew started having an asthma attack, you wouldn’t just sit there laughing at them. You’d go get help. So why do we so often sit back and do nothing while a friend continually gets black out drunk, makes self-destructive decisions, and hides out alone for days at a time?

Why do we just laugh it off? “She’s crazy,” we utter dismissively, just glad it’s not us.

And I guess I just wish we, as a society, could be a little kinder about all of this. A little more tolerant and aware of these issues, their astounding prevalence, and the real pain they’re causing for the people afflicted with them. I can tell you first hand, it’s exhausting. I’ve walked around for years not even knowing I was sick, trying to live a normal life for both Jekyll AND Hyde. And it’s perhaps worth noting that, in that story, Hyde eventually wins out. And that almost happened to me. Hyde almost won.

But he didn’t. Thank God he didn’t.

And some people have come to me saying things like “but you never seemed that bad,” or “I never thought you were CRAZY crazy, just eccentric!” or “you know, you really shouldn’t let them drug you up like that at the expense of your uniqueness…” And while I know people mean well, that stuff is really frustrating. Of course nobody knew how bad it was — I hid out for days and weeks during my depressive spells, doing the bare minimum on the internet to make everyone think things were fine. Avoiding phone calls. Lying about being okay when I did take phone calls. I didn’t want anyone to see me like that, and for the most part, they didn’t. They saw the busty blonde comic who was always the life of the party. They saw my academic achievements, my television appearance, all my highest highs…and the thing is, there were many of them, which only obscured the fact that I was sick. Nobody realized that even when I was “succeeding,” I was either really unbalanced or not enjoying my successes. And how could I, when nothing ever lasted? After all, you can’t build anything on a continually shifting foundation. It’s like trying to build a house on top of a damn fault line. You can try as many times as you like to lay some bricks, but it’s only a matter of time before it all comes crashing down again. And after enough earthquakes, you just throw your hands in the air and say “fuck it!”

But I swear, these medications are giving me a new lease on life. I can’t even remember the last time I got normal sleep for more than two straight nights. I can’t even begin to explain what it feels like to experience balance when you never had it before. It’s almost like getting a whole new sense, but it’s authentic, not manic. It’s real. I can build something on top of this. I can build whatever I WANT on top of this. And all the pain I’ve experienced in my life has given me the insight I need to affect and empathize with people. It all had a point and a purpose, but it sure as hell feels like the worst is over. Feels like coming up for air. Feels like so many stupid, cliched, wonderful things that I could spend an hour writing them all out, but I won’t. Because it’s simple.

I’m happy.

I’m really, really, really happy.

Life Is A Highway (Or, The Fool and The Phoenix).

28 Feb

the fool

Since my early 20′s, my father has often lovingly referred to me as “The Prodigal Daughter.”

“Go and explore,” he would say, “but know that you can always come back home.”

This used to make me strangely angry; like he always assumed that I would surely fail in whatever new endeavor I was chasing and have to come back home to the nest to roost.

As I get older though, and especially now, I’m very grateful for this enormous luxury.

I’ve been on the road for over a week now. I got held up for a few extra days in Denver due to weather, which was not a shocker, but anyway, for much of that time, it has been myself and the highway. Needless to say, this is a lot of time to be living in your own head. Part of it has resulted in crippling anxiety and fear, definitely. But much of that time has also been a transformative trip down memory lane. I am, after all, literally and geographically retracing much of my twenties: from LA, to Denver, to St. Louis (where I lived for three years after college when I was engaged), and finally home to Cincinnati. The I-70 version of “Erica Russell, This Is Your Life,” so to speak. Not surprisingly, it has provided plenty of food for nostalgia, reflection, and catharsis.

In tarot, there is a card called “The Fool.” I hate tattoos, because hey, your own skin is usually prettier and less permanent, but if ever I were to get one, it would be The Fool. I suppose this harkens back to my love of symbolic, esoteric languages that I discussed in my last post. They always seem to inspire me in interesting ways. Anyway, The Fool shows up a lot inside veiled pop culture references, films, and really all over the place if you’re paying attention (including The Simpsons, of course). The card represents a particularly salient concept for many coming-of-age artists, so it makes perfect sense that it gets injected into all kinds of artistic product.

To anyone without context for tarot lore, “The Fool” might at first sound like a bad card to draw. In modern culture, we think of a fool as a hapless idiot; easily misled; a naive simpleton. And while this definition certainly informs the tarot interpretation, The Fool in tarot is in fact the hero, the protagonist, the heart and soul of the tarot story. Per tarot lore, The Fool is the open-minded yet sheltered young man who embarks, alone, on an epic journey in search of wisdom and experience. He is the innocent Odysseus of the tarot, only The Fool has no aim but his own edification. Rather, The Fool has an inherent sense that one day he will rule over and be responsible for his own dominion, and he knows that he must gain wisdom which he does not yet have to be of use to his world. Knowing only that he does not know, The Fool undertakes the long journey ahead with zeal and youthful optimism, weighed down with nothing save a pitifully small rucksack that carries only the essentials. He is followed only by the faithful dog who nips at his heels in constant warning of the dangers that await, not least of which is the cliff whose edge stands directly in front of him. But The Fool is blind to danger, gazing heavenward toward his source of divine guidance and inspiration, completely faithful in its providence, wholly undeterred.

Christ, I should just call it a day and be a college professor.

Anyway, despite these clear dangers, The Fool is not a cautionary tale if drawn upright; rather, he is a signal to shore up your courage in the face of the unknown and simply go, go, go. Again, he is the protagonist of the tarot, the very lens through which the story is told. During the course of his travels, The Fool encounters every other character in the tarot, learning something invaluable from each and every one of them as he goes, taking the bad with the good, all the while becoming wiser and more valuable himself. At the end of his journey, The Fool returns home, ready to rule over himself and his kingdom.

What a cool fucking story, right?! I actually think the tarot could be adapted into a very cool children’s book; the structure itself would make a perfect episodic bedtime series that could be a really beautiful introduction to the abstract concepts of human nature.

I mean it might not hit so big with Middle America, but I feel like gay NYU professors living in Brooklyn brownstones would pay about $400 a pop for a hard-cover illustrated version to read to their kids. Not that it’s about money.

But I digress.

Anyway, on my current cross-country journey home and indeed back through my own past, I can’t help but compare myself to The Fool. Right after I dropped out of law school and had not the faintest clue what the fuck I was doing with my life or where I was going, I had my cards done for the first time with a friend of mine, totally on a whim. Not shockingly, the first card in my spread was The Fool. I was told I was going to be embarking on a long journey that would leave me forever changed.

And thinking back on the last couple of years, yeah, I would say that’s pretty damn accurate.

But again, my interest in esoteric stories, symbols, etc., isn’t really in their actual predictive or applicable value. I like them simply because they supply me with new frameworks with which to interpret my experiences in meaningful ways. And so in thinking about the concept of The Fool, I wasn’t thinking about how my life experiences since that particular reading have held “true,” but more about how The Fool’s journey has applied throughout my 20′s in general and as a concept; where I have been, what characters have influenced me, and what I’ve learned.

And whatever you want to call it; The Fool, The Prodigal Daughter, the Penny Lane, the goddamn gypsy, I’ve certainly seen a lot of the world. And this drive has been the first time in a while that I’ve had cause and opportunity to stop and really process it all. I mean, Jesus Christ on a cracker, I’m basically the female Forrest Gump.

And so, dear readers, without further ado and in no particular order, I Erica Vandemark Russell give you an honest and exhaustive list of the good, the bad, and the ugly of the Fool’s journey of my twenties. Why? Because I can. Because I have worked to have these experiences, and paid for them in kind. Because this is my bizarre life, and I am proud of it. Because I am a writer and these are my stories.

Sorry in advance, Mom and Dad, though at this point I doubt any of it comes as a surprise:

…ahem…

I have said “yes” to a man with a diamond ring on Christmas Eve. I have held the cold hand of my darling aunt as she lay dying in bed. I have been asked to stand up and be recognized in Ohio Stadium as one of the top 10 graduating GPAs in my undergraduate class. I have spent an entire summer on network television. I have let a coked-up Andy Dick grab my left breast at The Hollywood Improv and mutter simply “those things could start and end a war.” I have kissed a man I desperately loved at the top of a Colorado mountain at midnight on a full moon in a snowstorm. I have botched a trade on the New York Stock Exchange and lost 1.7 million dollars that weren’t mine for roughly 10 minutes until I somehow bought it back at a profit. I have been a size 10. I have said “no” to a man with a drinking problem after I said “yes” to him the previous Christmas Eve. I have taught summer school English to 11th grade students in South Central LA. I have performed a stand-up set at The Comedy Store in Hollywood. I have gone to a clothing-optional dance at Sarah Lawrence College (don’t worry Mom and Dad, I only went Britney Spears sexy schoolgirl). I have sipped champagne on the arm of my artist boyfriend during his opening at the New York Gallery building. I have lived with him in his parents’ basement after that. I have dressed up in a platinum blonde wig and a Playboy cop’s uniform to sell Jello shots for five bucks a pop plus tips at a piano bar. I have sat in the passenger’s seat of a Maserati next to an (again) coked-up real estate tycoon who owned 1/5th of the real estate in Midtown as he drove exclusively on the sidewalk to “avoid traffic.” I have slept on an air mattress for 10 months. I have talked on the phone for hours with sobbing, wrongfully convicted inmates I was trying to get out of jail as a law school student fellow. I have sobbed to my father as a rightfully convicted DUI offender as a law school student fuck-up. I have been an honorary guest at the table of the entire writing staff of “Community” after wooing one of the writers at a fancy bar in Santa Monica, which I went to by myself for no particular reason. I have gotten rejected by a man on national television. I have been told that I had a “spare tire around my stomach” after wearing a bikini on national television. I have done a lot of things on national television. I have had a Spanish financier named Diego feed me asparagus spears on a boat and tell me I “leave no man unchanged.” I have grabbed the cold hand of a recently-divorced 66 year-old German bartender to make him tango with me on the beach in Barcelona after he said he thought his life was over. I have held the hand of a 67 year-old Native American woman across the bar I worked at until the day she didn’t come in because the sauce had finally killed her. I have worked as an ad copywriter for a British male pornstar selling sex tip videos for men. I have shrugged helplessly at my first love after he asked me whether I was in love with someone else and we both collapsed onto my living room floor in sobs. I have sobbed on the same living room floor with the same man a year prior when we both had to make the horrible decision that we were not ready to be parents. I have made my own way from Southern Italy to North London by five different trains with three suitcases in the course of a single day. I have spent weeks in bed wishing to die. I have quit smoking. I have started smoking again. I have been really blonde. I have been not as blonde. I have watched my brother become a wonderful husband and an even better father. I have desperately wanted to be the mother of my ex-fiance’s seven year-old little girl who already had one. I have been roofied. I have written a sitcom pilot. I have cried on an English soccer player’s shoulder as he dropped me off at Heathrow and called me “love” for the last time. I have been a size 4. I have spent Super Bowl Sunday on Venice Beach playing cornhole. I have spent Christmas alone eating street tacos and watching Swingers.

I have learned about pain. I have learned about love. I have learned how to be invincible, and then learned how to be vulnerable again. I have learned how to be an enigma, and then learned how to be a trusted confidante again. I have learned how to be an adult, and then learned that being a child is, in most cases, wiser.

Most of all, I have learned about people, and decided to see only their goodness. I have learned about myself, and fight every day to see only the goodness there, too.

I have been, above all else and throughout, a perfect fool. Or Margot Tenenbaum.

And as I think about it all on this return trip home, I feel lucky as hell to have lived all of this; good and bad, taxing and fortifying, magical and traumatic. I have said yes when I should have said no, and “no?” when I should have said “never.” And I suppose what I learned is that “should” is something you shouldn’t do when you’re young.

Anyhow, I have no regrets. Well, okay, a few, but just enough to have assured me that the stove is, indeed, hot. Which I have truly, finally, completely learned for myself.

And I guess all of this is coming up in accumulation now because of this heartbreaking yet relieving sense that this is the end of an era for me. The close of a chapter. Hell, maybe the start of a whole new book. I don’t mean that I am going to stop dreaming big or going for what I want or stay in Ohio forever; who knows what the future holds. I put no restrictions or watermarks on any of it; it is, after all, the future, and I am now wise enough to know not to feign any dominion over it. I just mean that my days of accumulating experience for experience’s sake seem to be at an end. My soul is satisfied, but naturally weary, and I find myself smiling and counting my life’s novel episodes the way a sleepy, glassy-eyed child counts Halloween candy at the end of the night. My work here is done, and I have done good.

And I have lived in choas for so long that normalcy seems like the next great adventure. My body is tired and my mind is reeling. Experience comes at a cost, and life itself can be a war. I’m ready to come home and heal. I’m ready to start experiencing the simple things, as a dear friend advised me to start doing at this stage in my life. My parents aren’t getting any younger, and my nephew won’t be this cute forever (okay, maybe he will). What my heart wants is just to go home, give my physical body everything it wants for a while, hold my baby nephew until he falls asleep in my lap, talk about life with my father, talk about love with my mother, take the boat out on the river and have a couple beers (only a couple:) over the summer, write a little every day, figure out what the hell is next, start a family of my own, and get healthy enough to use my gifts to help a lot of people. Boom. That’s a good recipe for a happy death. Which I hope doesn’t come anytime soon. :)

Anyway, I’m taking a break from everything for a bit. I’m going into treatment when I get home, because I’m crazy or whatever, which I’m sure I am, but I’d prefer to stay that way as long as they can help me be happy. My crazy is pretty fucking special, folks. The world needs it. But not at the expense of my own happiness, and since I have accumulated more than enough experience for about fifteen lifetime; it’s time for me to just be happy.

Strangely enough, in the reading that I referred to above, the one where I drew The Fool in the present position, I drew the Four of Swords in the future position. Now that I think of it, it’s odd that I even remember this. It was a year-and-a-half ago. Anyway, the Four of Swords depicts a knight in armor, resting peacefully inside a tomb. He lies in immaculate repose, dead or asleep, as his body heals from battle. This is the card of convalescence, of tending to the physical body before the spirit can go forth and conquer again. And that seems pretty on point to me, too.

Because it’s a crazy world out there, folks; even moreso if you’re crazy. A fool like me can burn out quickly, and it’s taken me a surprisingly long time, but I am burnt out. I am ash. But from that ash rises the Phoenix, and I have this powerful sense that that is exactly what is about to happen with me. I will take this time and come back a million times more powerful and capable and joyful. I am completely open to transformation, whatever that may look like for me. Healing my body has been my inclination for some time now, but I’ve tried to load way too many responsibilities and undertakings on top of it. I’ve tried to do it alone. This is my time to concentrate on taking care of me, with my support system all around me, learn what makes me happy, lick my wounds, and learn how Erica is going to live and what that is going to look like from here on out.

I think I might just figure out a new way to be a happy artist (gasp). And frankly, I’m excited. This might sound shitty or arrogant, which is not at all my intention, but in thinking about the next stage of my development, I am left wondering: when I have my body and moods regulated, what WON’T I be able to do?

Besides, have you ever heard anyone say they were grateful to have been an early bloomer? :)

Anyway, I love you all, and I’ll be back with more stories, I’m sure. Especially after what’s coming. As always, I am honored to be your Fool. Go out and be one yourselves if you haven’t and can afford to. Trust me, there is much to be learned.

And to my father: the prodigal daughter returns once more.

And to my father, who wrote me yesterday to tell me that, no matter what “poor wretch I see in my own mind at the moment,” when he closes his eyes to picture me, what he sees is “a smart, pretty girl laughing.”

Thank you.

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