dana cass

the anti-lifestyle blog

calculus for nomads

I was doomed from the moment I left Las Vegas. Understand this: to grow up in Las Vegas is to constantly plan your escape. This is generalizing, to be sure, and I know now that it is entirely possible to live a full and vibrant life from cradle to grave in Las Vegas. But when I was seventeen, it seemed like my only options were to cut and run or to grow up, marry a real estate agent, pop out a bunch of bitchy daughters, send them to Palo Verde, get fake boobs, and die.

So I ran. I was sure that once I escaped Las Vegas, I would land squarely in the life I was meant to live. I arrived at Vassar and was promptly and aggressively proven wrong. I was cold and lonely and suddenly painfully aware that I didn’t know how to dress myself, even the thrift store hipsters were better dressed than me, and also I didn’t know the word “dichotomy” and everyone was thin and I kept tripping up the dorm stairs. Though I eventually found my tribe, Vassar is located in the armpit of the Hudson Valley, and I would sooner have moved back to Las Vegas than stayed in Poughkeepsie.

In fact, that’s exactly what I did. It wasn’t long until the fear of dying with fake boobs set back in, though, and so I booked a one-way ticket to New York City. Little did I know that I should have spent that money on a camel and a tent, because it was then that I became a nomad. Since then, I’ve drifted back and forth from coast to coast, searching for the corner of the world where I fit best: from Las Vegas to New York to California to D.C., and now, again, I feel the itch to run.

With each move, with each pile of boxes—each forfeited security deposit—each long and arduous trip—I land closer to happiness. I run from whatever series of disappointments is driving me away, certain that a place exists that will transform me from the moody and awkward and unsociable creature that I am into some kind of self-actualized butterfly. It’s this far-fetched belief that a more hospitable world exists somewhere that drives me each day. I shudder to think of what will happen when I abandon hope, should I wake one day and choose to settle.

But the nomad’s life is exhausting—not to mention expensive, and at a certain point, people start to think you’re a little nuts—and I needed a more reliable method of determining my next move. So I wrote a formula: an algorithm based in reliable science and not at all on anecdotal evidence based on a sample size of one, designed to guarantee my happiness on the next perch where I alight:

([TRANSIT + FRIENDS THAT DON'T GIVE ME HIVES] * UNPREDICTABILITY)/TOLERANCE FOR WEIRDNESS

TRANSIT

I take great pleasure in public transit. This is in no small part because I should not, under any circumstances, be behind the wheel of a car in a city with bad traffic. (Especially in a city where it snows.) Road rage aside, my life changed for the better when I discovered that the train is an excellent place to be human and to observe humanity.

Here are the fundamental truths of the train: everybody rides the train. (By “everybody,” I mean “a representative swath of the population.” And I suppose this isn’t precisely everybody, but everybody who is interesting. Billionaires aren’t interesting. Unless they ride the train.) And when the train is the primary mode of transportation for most of the residents of a city, you get to see everybody in just about every possible state of being.

Just think: you’re trapped underground in a metal tube with the spectrum of human emotion! This also means that you’re trapped underground in a metal tube with tourists from the South wearing fanny packs going to a comic book convention at the Verizon Center who don’t understand that they’re in public, and also that you’re trapped underground in a metal tube with a tweaked-out junkie who keeps looking at you like he wants to rip off your face, but there is no opportunity to observe humanity like public transit. Also, no opportunity to smell the spectrum of human body odor. I’m not selling this one very well, am I? Did I mention that you don’t have to drive a car?

FRIENDS THAT DON’T GIVE ME HIVES

I’ve been alive for a quarter-century and over the course of the past several years, I’ve racked up an impressive address book (Facebook friends list, WHATEVER, I’d like to pretend that I maintain a leather-bound book of addresses with a fountain pen and I don’t have to Gchat everyone for their addresses when I want to mail them a postcard). If it weren’t for my crippling social anxiety, I could make lunch dates in most major American cities.

And therein lies the rub: I am a curmudgeon and a hermit. In college, my friends grew accustomed to me disappearing for entire afternoons and evenings at a time. I called it “decompressing” and I think I’ve written extensively enough about my propensity for hermitude (hermitage? Hermitosity?) that I don’t need to explain it further. The thought of calling someone to make a lunch date gives me hives, and so except for a small group of people who know me well enough to have seen me vomit in a kitchen sink, I don’t.

I have to be around this group of people, the friends that don’t give me hives, to have a fulfilling social life. I’m finally reaching the point in D.C. where I can handle sending out the occasional text to make plans, but it still takes a lot out of me. This has the unhappy effect of making me seem like a bad friend and a flake, and it is the great struggle of my life. Sometimes I want to give up and ride on the train all day so I can be surrounded by people without having to reach out to them myself. Social ineptitude: the struggle, as they say, is real.

UNPREDICTABILITY

I don’t gravitate naturally toward the unpredictable life. I’m drawn to routine to the degree that given a few months in one place, I lapse into a sort of catatonic devotion to whatever sequence of events I’ve decided I need to follow to be good or virtuous or productive. Case in point: a few weeks before I left California, I got pulled over. Once the cop finished berating me for driving down the wrong side of the street (it made sense in context, I swear) and sent me on my way with a moving violation in hand, I realized that it was the most exciting thing that had happened to me in recent memory. In a matter of months, I had devolved from a vibrant and deeply alive human into a slightly more verbose approximation of a hamster.

I need to live in a place where unpredictability is forced on me. I like living in cities where sometimes it thunderstorms out of nowhere. (This is when carrying an umbrella as a force of habit comes in incredibly handy. All of the excitement, none of the wet socks!) I like it when I have to take a detour because construction workers are tearing up the sewer and I find a new Colombian bakery where I can’t actually make a decision about what I’m ordering because nobody speaks English, but I point effectively enough that I end up with a bag of delicious cheese bread. When I live in a city where nothing ever changes, I never change. I have to be plucked from my hamster wheel and dropped in the fire.

TOLERANCE FOR WEIRDNESS

Lastly, and most importantly, I cannot live somewhere where, at any given moment, I am the weirdest person within a mile radius. In Arlington, this is my status quo. Everyone here is well-coiffed, and they wear suits and fashionable sandals, and on the weekends they go on bar crawls, and at no time is anyone alone. Everyone is, in a word, normal. Not only is nobody hawking Jesus pamphlets on the corner outside of Fuego, but nobody is even sitting in the corner of Le Pain Quotidien reading the Sunday Times by their lonesome and God forbid you try because your waiter straight up will not know what to do with you.

It’s been years since I felt weird about being weird, but living in Arlington is like being in middle school all over again—like everybody read some handbook that I didn’t. And without even the Jesus pamphlet hawkers to make me think, “Hey, at least I’m just sitting here quietly reading my newspaper alone and I’m not shouting about the Rapture,” I can’t go outside on the weekend without feeling like I might as well be wearing a T-shirt that says “LOOK AT THIS FREAK WHO IS EATING BRUNCH ALONE AND ALSO WOULD RATHER EVISCERATE HERSELF WITH A RUSTY SPOON THAN PARTICIPATE IN A BAR CRAWL.”

So this is my declaration that in a few months’ time, I will once again be pulling myself up my bootstraps, packing up my life, and looking for a new roost. D.C. has been kind, and I expect that I could learn to be happy here, but I can’t wait for that much longer.

The formula is telling me to move back to New York. The first time I moved there, I felt like a rejected organ transplant. I think I’ve hardened myself—and my finances—to the point that I can take the beast on again. I won’t kid myself into believing that moving again is going to satisfy me, but at the very least, I’ll live in a city full of nooks and crannies perfect for a young curmudgeon to disappear into when she needs to retreat, and full of people who speak my language, and full of Jesus pamphlet hawkers who make me feel normal. And with that foundation in place, I believe that I can find… well, if not myself, than at the very least, something exciting.

idiot box

I was five before anyone noticed that I couldn’t see past my own feet. In hindsight, much of my peculiar behavior up to that point could be chalked up to my near-blindness: the way I stared at the ground when I walked and held books inches from my face to read them and how I called pennies “drops of money.” (At the same time, no near-disability could explain away my decision to rename myself “Vicki Pat Rice” or the solid year I spent refusing to wear any article of clothing that wasn’t a bathing suit. I was both blind and weird, characteristics that have persisted into adulthood.)

More than anything, though, my childhood blindness explained my aversion to movies. I couldn’t fathom why anyone would voluntarily spend hours in a darkened room staring at blobs on a screen. (The glaring exception here was “101 Dalmatians,” which I begged my parents to borrow from the library every week. I guess I could handle movies whose primary tropes involved 101 characters that all looked alike.) I fell in love with books instead—probably because I could hold them inches from my face without anyone looking at me sideways—and left movies and, by extension, television, to the more sighted masses.

Two decades later, while I catch the occasional movie, I still haven’t developed an interest in mtelevision. Unfortunately, this is much more detrimental to my participation in the world at large than it was when I was a blind four-year-old. It was one thing when I was fourteen and I didn’t watch “One Tree Hill,” but with the advent of Netflix, DVR, and binge watching, the world cannot conceive of a pop culture-literate twentysomething who, God forbid, has never sat down for eight hours to watch an entire season of “House of Cards.”

I consume television the way I consume, say, classical music. I might leave it on in the background, and there are a a few gems that I treasure, but I don’t actively seek it out. I wouldn’t pay for a concert ticket… although I should confess here that I pay the extra $30 or so for cable television on top of my Internet for the sole purpose of leaving Food Network on at an indecipherably low volume because the dulcet tones of Guy Fieri are an excellent substitute for a roommate, one that doesn’t forget to change the dish towel. Regardless, I know about as much about “Mad Men” as I do about Wagner, and I have about as much desire to watch every episode of it as I do to listen to the entire Ring cycle. (Sorry, Jon.)

I frequently engage in some variation of the following conversation. Someone asks, “Do you watch ‘Orange is the New Black?’” And I say, “No, I actually don’t watch a lot of TV.” And they hear, apparently, “No, I actually don’t have Netflix.” And then they ask, “Did you see the ‘Breaking Bad’ finale? Will I spoil it if I talk about it?” And I say, “No, I actually don’t watch a lot of TV.” And they think something like, “Oh, it’s too gory for her.” (I watched four episodes, actually, and it was. Also, I got depressed. It sort of reminded me of a grown-up version of something that might happen in a Sammy Keyes mystery novel, and that was depressing, and then I got distracted by the fact that I don’t have any Wendelin Van Draanen books on my shelf and high-tailed it to Amazon to see if she’s written anything for adults that I might be able to read in public without losing my dignity.)

The conversation doesn’t end there, though. You can explain away my aversion to most popular TV shows: “Game of Thrones” is too bloody or too fantastical, “House of Cards” and “Scandal” too political, “Mad Men” too misogynistic. But where I finally have to confess that I’m a cultural illiterate who lives under a rock is when someone drops the trump card: “Downton Abbey.” I have no excuse not to watch “Downton Abbey.” I’m a liberal who thinks that PBS is an appropriate way for the government to allocate Mitt Romney’s tax dollars. I understand and appreciate British humor. I can make educated comments about how classism is alive and well in modern society, and I read long books of my own volition, and also, I like castles. When I tell people that I don’t watch “Downton Abbey,” they think that I’m referring to the last episode, or that I misheard them. “You don’t watch ‘Downton?’” they ask, bewildered. “But… you’re…” And all I can do is nod sadly. I was born to watch “Downton Abbey.” But I don’t.

It’s not because I think television is lowbrow. It’s because I think it’s boring. It’s because of what drew me to books as a half-blind four-year-old. There’s no way to put this in words that aren’t painfully hokey, but it’s because books offer me an outlet for my imagination that television and movies can never provide. When I read, I am engrossed in the prose and in conjuring the images that the author has put forth for me to engage with. Conversely, when I watch television, I feel like a passive consumer of images that I have no agency to interpret, and so I’m not as engaged. I’m aware of my surroundings the way I never am with a book that’s even remotely engrossing.

I get this sensation with books as lowbrow as mass market young adult fiction and as highbrow as 500-page novels by Hungarian nihilists with an aversion to traditional punctuation. I spent a good portion of last summer stretched out on a lounge chair by the pool on my apartment building’s rooftop deck reading Anna Karenina, because what better way to escape the D.C. swamp than to pretend you’re throwing yourself on the train tracks in a frigid Moscow winter? (One could argue that one could more effectively escape the D.C. swamp by spending a few quality hours in a dark air-conditioned room. Like the ones where they show movies. Whatever.)

Maybe it’s because I was half-blind when I was little and I missed out on developing some kind of visual entertainment appreciation function. Maybe it’s because television is actually boring and I’m the only person in the universe who is enlightened enough to realize otherwise. (You know that episode of “How I Met Your Mother” where the gang makes fart noises every time Ted talks because he’s a pretentious asshole? 1) Good pop culture reference, self. See? I’m not totally inept. 2) This would be an appropriate time to employ that device.) The reason is unimportant, but the fact remains: one of the many insurmountable obstacles that prevent me from ever achieving normalcy is that the only thing I do with my television is fantasize about marrying Alex Trebek.

whenever this world is cruel to me

When I was thirteen, my best friend found a new best friend. After five blissful years connected at the hip—it was a rare weekend that didn’t start at one of our houses and end at the other’s—it had become clear that we were no longer appendages of the same person. It was painful, to be sure, but it was also a relief to withdraw, for the first time, into myself. I began to discover the pleasure of spending weekends alone.

I haven’t had a best friend since. I refer to a rotating cast of people in my life as my best friends—I’ve got my best friend who goes to law school, my best friend who lives in Mississippi, my best friend who is training to become a midwife, my best friend the singer-songwriter—but none of them would rank me their first call in prison or their number one on speed dial.

And God forbid I ever become one of those people who calls their mom their best friend. I love my mom. She’s an excellent mom and one of the two people I ever speak to on the telephone (the other is my dad, who is similarly excellent and also not my best friend). But I think that the fact that at various times in the past, she’s grounded me, forced me to pay her money for complaining, and given me a piece of packaged American cheese that I was to eat before I would be allowed to play with my dolls, would preclude her from being my best friend. (Also, I’m just saying, a best friend would never ground me for something silly like getting caught drinking underage at a roller disco-themed party in someone’s backyard.)

On that note, don’t even get me started on people who call their significant others their best friends. My feelings on coupling haven’t changed since I entered into a relationship. I still go to restaurants alone and I still go to 6 A.M. spin class alone and my boyfriend is NOT my best friend because Christ, having someone all up on you while you’re trying to sleep is enough of an intrusion on your personal space without having to classify them as your number one brunch date, too.

Generally, I’m okay with this, but as a particularly self-conscious member of the Facebook generation, being a loner can start to feel like being a loser. “I still get irrationally angry and hurt whenever a close friend calls someone her best friend,” a friend of mine admitted recently. “Because then I am not the best friend. And then I want to crawl away in defeat.” She and I are engaged in a similar mental battle: I don’t want to be someone’s best friend, but to acknowledge that I’m not and never will be the best is… well, it’s not my style.

The problem is that I’m not the “best friend” type. It’s not a role I, as a loner and a fairly selfish person, play comfortably. Much of what the Internet tells me I should do for a best friend—or that a best friend should do for me—are tasks that frankly, I’m perfectly capable of taking care of on my own. (Moreover, some of this is downright unhygienic. The day I let anyone else use my toothbrush is a cold day in hell indeed.) Contemporary best friendship is characterized as a competition: who does the most of your bidding? Who listens to the most of your whining? Personally, I prefer to share the wealth of what I’m unable to shoulder on my own among all the people who have some modicum of willingness to aid me in my incompetence.

Most of the time, though, I prefer to take care of myself. Case in point: the only time I ever had to take Plan B, I happened to be in Las Vegas without my car, and it was the height of summer and I had to walk to not one but TWO drugstores in the hundred-degree sunshine to ultimately locate it at a pharmacy in the middle of a retirement community, where the unfairly attractive pharmacist felt the need to repeat my request audibly in front of a lot of obviously judgmental old biddies. That was a character-building experience that I wouldn’t have undergone had I subjected myself to the indignities of best friendship as delineated by Thought Catalog. I also assemble a lot of furniture on my own because I’m not willing to call anyone else to help me. (This has the unfortunate consequence of my apartment being somewhat of a structural hazard. I should probably rethink this particular commitment to independence.)

Much more than best friendship, I value meaningful social interaction with whoever is in my life at a given moment. Little pleases me more than conversation over a languorous meal with someone who lives an interesting life, whether that’s my boyfriend or one of my rotating cast of best friends or someone I haven’t seen in months or years. To me, friendship is about sharing the human experience, not about competing to be somebody’s one and only by—by what, precisely? By letting them call you at four in the morning because they can’t handle their own shit? When I’m a mess, I prostrate myself on the floor and cry. The floor is my best friend. The floor doesn’t let me down and I don’t have to hold the floor’s hair back when it drinks too much or help the floor select matches on Tinder.

I am lucky to have a rich and wide social life that spans multiple states and even continents. I have friends who provide me with invaluable social and emotional support and a boyfriend who fixes my poorly built furniture and a mother who had the good sense to ground me when I got caught drinking underage at a roller disco-themed party in a stranger’s backyard. But I am too selfish to commit myself to being anyone’s best friend. Does this make me inferior to the kind of people who are selfless and kind and willing to pick up the phone at four in the morning to lend balm to someone in need? Maybe, but I like the way I live and I like the way I interact with people. I’ve been accused of holding people at arm’s length and perhaps that’s true, but if you ask me, arm’s length is a perfectly comfortable and fulfilling distance. 

the %$*(ing weather

“Your family is weirdly obsessed with the weather.” I have been told this on more than one occasion. I would be offended if it weren’t true: we are, in fact, weirdly obsessed with the weather. No Cass-to-Cass conversation lacks a comprehensive discussion of the current and historic weather in every location we’ve been or could conceivably have visited over the past several days. (For a family of nomads—in a given week, among four of us who ostensibly live in only two cities, that can include D.C., Seattle, Spokane, Las Vegas, New York, and San Francisco—this is not a lightweight commitment.) Our conversations often go something like this:

“Yeah, it snowed a little bit on Monday, then it was like 60 on Tuesday, it was super weird.”

“It was 85 in Vegas on Tuesday!”

“Oh, were you in Vegas this week?”

“No, but…”

It was only recently that I discovered that other people are not quite so fixated on the weather as we are. This baffles me. How can you possibly leave your house without at least a passing familiarity of how the weather is going to change over the next several hours? How do you dress yourself? Aren’t you afraid you’re going to be, God forbid, uncomfortable?! I check the hourly weather forecast when I wake up, after I shower, and regularly throughout the day to prepare myself for what horrors await me in the (insert unpleasant D.C. season here, unless it’s this particular week in April, in which case I continue to check it that regularly just to gloat to the past version of myself that I cryogenically froze during the polar vortex).

Much of my obsession with the weather comes from being a Las Vegas expat. Growing up in Vegas, weather events were such a rarity that any deviation from the norm was sure to cause any and all of the following: celebration, mass panic, traffic accidents, and/or public nudity. Rain was an invitation to run out of your house into the street and experience a phenomenon that you typically read about only in books (as a child, I was particularly fascinated by how Beverly Cleary’s characters always wore rain boots. I didn’t own a pair of rain boots until I left for college in New York).

As a people, we yearned for rain—for clouds—for anything but the pounding, relentless sun. Even in winter, the constant sunlight felt like a punishment. I felt this way when I lived in California, too; it was so galling to live in a climate that refused to wallow along with you every once in a while. There was no need to check the forecast because if it was July, it was hot; if it was December, it was windy, and regardless of the temperature, it was sunny and you had better be damned happy about it because think of those poor people in Portland who have to live in the rain all the time. I think that Las Vegas lacks a certain verve that exists in other cities because we had no weather events to rally around.

Here in D.C., if it’s about to snow, you can feel the air change. (And you can watch the bread disappear from the Clarendon Trader Joe’s like we don’t all have enough cereal in our pantries to get us through to next winter because bread and milk.) For days, all anyone talks about is their plans for the storm: “I’m buying six bottles of wine and binge-watching Game of Thrones!” “I’m buying six bottles of wine and binge-reading the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez!” “I’m buying six bottles of wine and locking myself in the bathroom while my three children under the age of six destroy my home because we can’t take them to the playground!” There’s none of that in Vegas. It’s an excellent conversational topic. But I digress.

Now that I live in a world where the weather is constantly changing, I have adopted it as a religion. Think about meteorological science for a moment. At any given moment, we have access to a narrative of the next ten days of our lives. Imagine if astrology were so reliable! “With rain overnight, tomorrow’s high of 24 degrees means ice on area sidewalks and roadways. Your ill-advised sprint to the bus will result in an embarrassing and quite public spill in front of that cute guy who works in the KPMG building. By the way, he’s totally gay. Move on.”

Nothing in our lives is as predictable as the weather, and given the effect that the weather has on the human condition, I can’t understand why everyone doesn’t value this as much as I do. I am desperate to know how the future will play out. I go through periods where I read my horoscope and analyze my dreams and try to track whether the underwear I put on in the morning has any bearing on whether or not I get any rude emails that day. Unsurprisingly, none of these methods has successfully predicted the course of my life.

The ten-day forecast, though, that’s reliable. And I ask again: why doesn’t everyone follow it as closely as I do? Am I missing out on something? Would I enjoy the world more if I let it take me by surprise, freak storms and all? I have been preoccupied lately by the fear that I’m letting my anxiety doom me to a life of routine and familiarity. I am slavishly devoted to the forecast because tomorrow’s weather is the only fact that can be promised to me before it happens. It’s an anchor for me in an unpredictable world. Perhaps I should give up Weather.com for a month, to see if I can function like a normal person without knowing precisely how to dress myself the following morning, without spending all of Tuesday dreading the wind on Wednesday.

But then I picture myself in the pouring rain with no umbrella and, God forbid, improper footwear, and I don’t delete the ten-day forecast link from my Bookmarks bar just yet. Really, there’s no sacrifice that isn’t worth it for dry socks.

whine and cheese

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“we”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

jumbo slice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

welcome to the anti-lifestyle blog

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

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

I’m single

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t like dogs

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

I’m not normal

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

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

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

but actually, don’t be tardy to the party

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Am I a grown-ass human?

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

Do I rely on public transportation?

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

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

If “yes,” stop.

Do I frequently get lost?

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

Is it raining?

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

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

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

the unbearable lightness of ke$ha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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