dana cass

the anti-lifestyle blog

there and back again

When I think of anorexia, I think of Karen Carpenter. Like every normal teenage girl who came of age in the 1970’s, I idolize Karen Carpenter (I, unfortunately, grew up in the 2000s, which makes the “normal” qualifier irrelevant). But only insofar as I would give my right arm to feather my hair and belt out “Superstar” in front of a screaming crowd. It never occurred to me to want to be thin like Karen Carpenter. I knew that she died of anorexia, which as a little girl, I knew to be some terrible disease where you weren’t allowed to eat cereal or chicken fingers or any of the other beige foods starting with the letter “C” that I was willing to eat.

But her death, years before I was born, was irrelevant to me the way that Janis Joplin’s or Jim Morrison’s deaths are irrelevant to me: tragic, of course, and preventable in hindsight, but a fact of life, a thing that happens to people who aren’t me. It is only when I am 25 years old and staring at a piece of paper that says in clinical numbers—307.1, the diagnostic code for anorexia nervosa—that it occurs to me that I never got the feathered hair or the Asian tour, but I did get that freaky disease where you forget how to feed yourself.

I always assumed that if I were to contract an eating disorder, it would be something like pica, where you eat paint chips or whatever, things you see on “My Weird Addiction” (or read about in your favorite children’s book, the Childhood Medical Guide, if you were a friendless child with bizarre literary interests). Anorexia is awfully basic for a girl like me who prides herself on being original. Anorexia is for cheerleaders and Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul contributors. I’m a writer—I’m supposed to be an alcoholic, or bipolar; something sophisticated and higher-brow. I’m too smart to starve myself.

But as ridiculous as it seems—that I, a girl who has always been best described as voluptuous whose favorite sin has long been a tie between sloth and gluttony, could be on the brink of death from self-induced starvation—the omnipresent pain in my chest tells me the truth.

“No, it’s not,” my then-boyfriend said when I mentioned that I thought my chest pain might be a consequence of my alarmingly low weight. I don’t know why—maybe he genuinely believed it, or maybe he was in denial, or maybe he was just sick of the fact that somehow the smart-mouthed, energetic little thing he’d fallen in love with had morphed into a moody, listless, half-cadaverous excuse for a human who would rather exercise than spend the morning in bed with him. I can hardly blame him. Nobody wants to date a sack of bones.

And a sack of bones I am. To clarify: I have always had great boobs. It’s awfully lowbrow of me to say that in such a public forum, but it’s true, and it’s important. They are perfect, and nobody in my family knows where they came from. They are big enough to be noticeable, but not so big that they’re, you know, slutty—because as any woman knows, large breasts are a visual indicator of one’s genetic predisposition not only to heterosexuality but also to wanting to sleep with any and all men, including that guy yelling at you from his car window—and they’ve always been one of the few parts of my body that I am comfortable with.

I looked down one day, though, and instead of my beautiful Raphaelite boobs I had a bra that I could have worn to smuggle drugs. Instead, I had a lucky rib.

“Rib” is probably not the anatomically correct term. I never pretended to be good at science, but to the point, I had a lucky rib—a little nub that protruded from my sternum that I could feel when I poked around at my chest, which I did often when I wanted to make sure that I was still a good and disciplined and virtuous person and not a greedy-sloppy-sluggish pig.

My lucky rib was more fascinating to me even than the base of my spine, which I discovered for the first time some eighteen months ago when the protective layer of fat that coats my bones first began to melt away. It became my talisman. I rubbed it like an underfed Buddha.

I could count, then, every bone from my collar to my waist.

It becomes harder to concentrate. I quit reading books. When I was a kid, I used to get a stack of books from the library, read them all in three days, and beg my mom to take me back. At 25, I am no longer able to read books because they are too much for my shriveling brain.

My hair grows brittle and falls out in clumps. The more I exercise—and oh, boy, do I exercise; even my spin instructors admire my dedication to the classes that I attend every day without fail—the grayer my skin grows. My veins pop out of my arms and legs. My heart pounds out of my chest. Sometimes, when I lose control and eat too much, I stick my finger down my throat and vomit. This is by far the least glamorous part and I try to save it for when I really need it, like when I eat ice cream.

“If you continue like this, you will DIE,” C_______ writes to me in an email.

“I had two heart attacks,” says K__. “You will have a heart attack.”

I dislike these opinions, so I ignore them. I stay home, mostly, or I go to the gym, where people ask me what I do and what I eat and eye me enviously. The gym is a safe place. Restaurants and bars are not safe, so I stop going to them. I go to bed early. C_______ and K__ want me to be healthy, they say, and happy, but it’s unclear to me how I can be happy if I’m not skinny and being skinny is incompatible with going to restaurants and bars and staying out too late to get up and exercise. Plus, I get cranky when I’m hungry, and I’m always hungry because I only eat when I’m ready to chew off my own arm and I stop when I stop shaking and that doesn’t really mean I’m less cranky, just that I’m less faint.

I’m not very much fun to be around. My boyfriend dumps me, eventually, and then I am alone, except for my lucky rib. Like a country song about a lovelorn vegetarian at a barbecue.

I am a sack of bones dangling from a coat hanger.

I used to be a wild animal. I used to go out dancing, take four shots and sweat it out in a pile of bodies and then go pile into a booth at the diner and order chicken fingers or buy a bag of tacos from Del Taco and down them in the back of the car.

Have you ever asked a sack of bones to go out dancing with you?

Nobody loves a sack of bones.

I watch a video of Karen Carpenter a few months before she died, after she had been force-fed 30 pounds’ worth of food in a hospital. She is haggard. She could pass for sixty—and I’m not just saying that because she has the same haircut that my grandma did before she died, which I don’t think you can really blame on anorexia—and her skin is gray like mine. I want to drink away my heartbreak, but I can’t, because alcohol has calories, and I want to read away my heartbreak, but I can’t, because I can’t read, and I want to run away my calories and so I do until my heart is practically popping out of my chest and I hear again—“I had two heart attacks. You will have a heart attack”—and with no love and no wine and not even a book to keep me company, I know that I have lost.

This is rock bottom, I suppose. Sometimes, now, twenty pounds later—and counting, God help me, I’ve already replaced my pants twice and I’m about ready to join a nudist colony—I look at pictures of myself from those months between when my boyfriend dumped me and when I finally called the treatment center and I am abjectly horrified. I want to make inappropriate jokes about the Holocaust and the Bataan Death March because I don’t know how else to explain away the complete irrationality of starving yourself.

Rock bottom is the night at work that we need to pull an all-nighter, and I can’t bring myself to eat so eventually I lose it and start screaming at my coworkers and solidify a reputation for myself as the psycho girl who can’t hack it during an all-nighter. Rock bottom is leaving my best friend’s bachelorette party early because I want to get up early and run the next day. Rock bottom is doing that again at her wedding.

But I felt so glamorous. This is what they don’t tell you about anorexia: you feel like a movie star. “You look great,” I hear, often, from coworkers and strangers and relatives and friends. “What do you do?” I am unused to this attention and this is what is so hard to give up: the idea that I’m finally doing something well. I’m not good at very much: I wasn’t very good at ballet, and I wasn’t very good at being a girlfriend, but for a time, I was good at being skinny and that felt really, really good.

I am smart enough to understand that being good at something that will eventually kill you—“The only good anorexic is a dead anorexic,” C_______ says to me, and I suppose logically, that’s true—is not actually a talent you want. I go to therapy and the dietitian and I learn that I’m slowly killing myself and that my body is eating away at my brain and that if I don’t start feeding myself again, and soon, I’m going to lose my job and then I will have nothing, absolutely nothing, left to live for.

What I also learn is that I have a choice: I can be a glamorous movie star in a tiny dress with jutting elbows and cheekbones and ribs that I can count in a dressing room mirror, or I can be a human being, with a life and friends and love and hobbies.

My therapist gives me a list of the things that happen to you when you starve yourself: not just the hair, or the being cold, but things I never guessed, things that explain why my life has become so intolerably lonely. It turns out that starving yourself is a good way to become an antisocial hermit, only minus the part where you read the works of James Joyce and write your version of Walden, because as I’ve mentioned several times, malnutrition is really bad for being a functional human.

I am given instructions to feed myself. This is ironic: I’m 25 years old, I was the valedictorian of my high school class, I have a degree from an almost-top-10 liberal arts college and I have to pay $160 an hour for a woman to tell me how to eat properly. (Maybe if I’d gotten Phi Beta Kappa, I’d still be able to eat sandwiches without feeling like I’m trying to solve Fermat’s last theorem. Prove? What do you even do with a theorem? See above re: not being good at things.) It’s demoralizing.

I cry a lot. I cry about the bachelorette party that I missed. I cry about the fact that I went an entire year without eating sushi because it has rice in it. I cry about my relationship, both because my eating disorder destroyed it and because I think that maybe letting myself stay with someone who was so cruel to me was, in a way, tacit permission to let me be cruel to myself. It seems to me that I have lost an entire year of my life to what looks to other people not like a disease but a weakness, and I cry over every night that I could have spent dancing and drinking and eating bags of tacos from the Del Taco drive through but instead I spent on the couch reading a single page of some women’s magazine over and over until I finally digested whatever bullshit they were feeding me about how I should hate my body.

Eating disorder therapy is not all tears and confessing that your high school dance teacher made you keep a food journal (side note: in retrospect, that was really fucked up). It’s kind of fun, trying to regain 20 pounds. It’s fun to say that going out and drinking beer and eating pizza is your therapy. It’s fun to down a whole plate of enchiladas like you’re a fifteen-year-old boy and feel the warm sensation of fullness spreading through your veins in a way that you haven’t felt in months.

It’s not fun to feel yourself seized by a wave of panic induced by a plate of enchiladas. In fact, it’s downright embarrassing to be 25 years old, gainfully employed, ostensibly an independent adult, and to be brought to your knees by a plate of enchiladas. It’s not fun to buy a new pair of jeans every month because you’re blowing up like a hot air balloon. I could probably buy stock in the Gap right now. I would happily join a nudist colony right now if it meant that I never had to put on another pair of jeans and feel the button crushing into my fat belly every minute of every day, reminding me that I am no longer thin and glamorous.

I’ll be 26 in three months. I’ve remembered mostly how to eat on my own again. I am reading voraciously, catching up on all the books I missed while I was underwater. I have a new boyfriend who puts his hand on my belly sometimes like it’s something precious. He looks at me like a girl in a Renaissance painting and I forget for a moment that I’m covered in fat, that my lucky rib is buried again, that I’m not virtuous or special. I go out dancing and I eat pizza and I drink beer, and when I do, I look at everyone in their sweaty, imperfect bodies, girls with mascara running down their cheeks in cheap faux-silk tops from Express and boys who are finally outgrowing their teenage metabolisms and I feel—well, not lucky, yet, but at the very least, at home in the world again. Alive, again, at last.

elf on the shelf


I brace myself. She is coming.

She comes every day at lunchtime, diving on me like a jackal on a rabbit. I hear her battle cry and know that it’s only a matter of seconds until her arms close around me, lifting my defenseless body into the air and breathing her Lunchable breath into my ears.

I run through my options. I know how this works: if I scream, or I kick her in the shins, she’ll claim that she was just being “nice” and somehow I’ll be the one who loses her gold star for the day even though I wasn’t the one running around assaulting my classmates. She is one of those pretty Mormon girls that all the teachers loved, and I am the freaky little kid who I suspect the teachers view as most likely to blow up the school one day, and in short, that means that I will definitely get blamed for it somehow. (You know the Sunday school scene in A Prayer for Own Meany? It’s like that. Minus the nuns.)

So I tense up my entire body and prepare for the assault. She grabs me, spins me around, shrieks in my ears, and drops me. Some days, she pinches my nose or my cheeks, as if she were my grandmother (who at four foot nine would never do me such a grave indignity). “Cutie,” she says over and over again. I am never able to discern her motivation for carrying out this ritual day in and day out. I understand that height-wise, I’m the closest thing our second-grade class has to an infant, and maybe she’s just practicing in case one of her fifteen Mormon babies turns out ugly and she has to force herself to call it cute. (Meanwhile, I’m here wishing I could just eat my peanut butter crackers alone in the corner in peace like I do every other lunch day. Don’t other weird kids get to be home-schooled?)

I am small. I have almost always been small. I combed through my medical records a few years ago and read with mild interest as I fell further and further down the percentile charts that track childhood growth. Nobody has ever been particularly concerned about how small I am—my mother, after all, is all of five feet and for a Wilson girl to surpass that is an achievement—but people often feel compelled to comment on it. More specifically, dudes like to comment on it. Women understand how I can, in fact, be both five foot two and a fully functional human, while men seem to be trying to vet that I’m not lying about being over eighteen.

Sometimes, these comments are a clear and harmless expression of surprise that evolution hasn’t done away with my kind yet. Other times, I get the sense that I’m being politely warned that I am likely to be murdered posthaste.

  • The one who told me that I was “beautiful… like a porcelain doll”: Murderer. Wanted to stuff my body and add it to his Madame Alexander collection.
  • The one who nicknamed me “little girl”: Murderer, inspired by some combination of the Brothers Grimm and Hannibal Lecter. I suspect that upon his death, his journals will reveal detailed plans to chop me up and store me in a mini-fridge.
  • The ones who poke and prod at various parts of my body—my calves, my waist, even my ears—and say, “You’re so tiny”: Not murderers. Just genuinely fascinated with the idea that natural selection hasn’t done away with a nose as small as mine. (“Can you even smell?”)

I can’t say I’m totally averse to this line of conversation. As a former ballet dancer, it’s refreshing to be called small or tiny, considering that I had one teacher who used to come up to us at the barre, poke us in the belly, and ask if we had eaten a watermelon for breakfast. (There’s nothing like the trauma of thirteen years in ballet to make a girl seek self-actualization with questionable life partners!)

Really, for the most part, I like being small. Airplane seats are almost comfortable. I can tunnel through a crowd without making awkward eye contact with any of the people that I bodily shove out of the way. I can always fold myself into that three-quarters of a seat next to the dude on the Metro who is airing out his balls.

But there are myriad indignities associated with being small. I often thank the universe that I was born before they started telling parents to keep their kid in a carseat until they were like four foot eight, because the eighth grade was embarrassing enough as it is. At the airport a few years ago, the guy running the backscatter machine asked me if I was old enough to go through. “How old is old enough?” I asked. “Twelve,” he said.

Like my second-grade classmate, men also like to pick me up. As in, when I run into a dude that I haven’t seen in a while and he greets me with a hug, maybe two times out of ten, he will pick me up. I understand that this is out of both love and a desire to demonstrate your masculinity, but 1) I am a human, not a kettlebell and 2) I weigh like a hundred and ten pounds. Call me back when you can bench-press The Rock.

Clothiers seem to be under the impression that I should have four more inches of skin between my shoulders and my boobs. Consequently, every shirt I buy that isn’t designed explicitly for petite women is inappropriately low-cut. I live in constant fear of nip slips. More specifically, I live in constant fear of realizing halfway through a conversation with one of my many male coworkers that my shirt has slipped far enough that my bra is exposed and of course it’s the leopard-print one.

At the ATM or to punch in a code to get into a garage, I can’t just stick my arm out the window like a normal person. Rather, I have to wrest my body halfway out the window and if even then I can’t reach the keypad, I have to open the door and sort of drape myself across the window while the line backs up behind me and all the normal people wonder why they gave a pygmy a driver’s license. I am waiting for this to appear in a Final Destination plotline where some poor sap has their skin burned off in a tanning accident only to be chopped in half by a rogue power window trying to get cash out at her local Wells Fargo.

I came across my second-grade tormenter recently on Facebook. She has a kid now. I imagine if that thing’s internal organs haven’t been squeezed out of its eyeballs yet, it’s probably dressed up in a lot of ruffles and getting posed next to a chalkboard every morning detailing how many hours old it is. Best of luck, kid. May you make it to five foot three unscathed.

the butterflies are still there

Ten years ago, I had a flawless first date. I have no qualms about bragging about this because none of my other firsts have been so storybook-perfect. My first kiss startled me so much that instead of kissing back, I hiccupped. My first relationship ended in a hotel room and not even in an exciting “I cheated on him during a coke binge” way. My first date, though, was one for the ages: making out in the back row of the movie theatre, and ice cream afterward, and I think we even planned it over the phone because that’s what people did back then before Tinder.

It was so perfect that a few days later when he called me to tell me that, essentially, I was too young for him—which at a young and inexperienced fifteen to his seventeen, I was, but still—I wasn’t just gobsmacked but downright offended. How could he possibly have held my hand and bought me a movie ticket if he didn’t intend to take me to prom in five months and introduce me to his parents and post a picture of us together on MySpace?

Ultimately, though, it made sense to me, because after all, things like that didn’t happen to girls like me. I have always been susceptible to this illogical line of thought, that 1) there is a species of woman called “girls like me” and 2) we are by some universal dictum excluded from being honored by experiences that fall into the category of “things like that.”

If you asked me to define either of these, I would probably be embarrassed into taking it back altogether, because empirically speaking, “girls like me” means short white girls and I know plenty of short white girls who are often privy to “things like that,” which I suppose refers to good dates that lead to good relationships and good marriages and, you know, good houses that are well-decorated and not living alone in an apartment that looks like a homeless person’s been squatting there. (This is a more current characterization of the species. When I was fifteen, “girls like me” were girls who bought “Well-behaved women rarely make history” bumper stickers and read everything that had been published about sex on the Internet as some kind of theory-based preparation for an event that would occur in a distant and unfathomable future, maybe in a decade after we were finally allowed to go to parties where parents weren’t present.)

Clear as it was that this storybook first date was an anomaly, it’s been a decade and I don’t remember what it felt like when S_______ slipped his arm around me in the back row at “The Aviator,” but I remember how giddy I was. And how my stomach sank when I realized that this had been a mistake on the behalf of the universe, that Cupid had mistaken me for one of “those girls” and let me go to the movies with a cute boy, and how I felt some of those butterflies that had rendered me practically unable to speak for the whole night die away.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how the flock of butterflies that lie dormant in my stomach have never come to life as energetically as they did that night when I was fifteen and S_______ took me to the movies. It’s been four months since the breakup of my first ~*real*~ relationship, and now that I understand that the pain of disappointment is in direct proportion to how long you spent feeling giddily certain that this was the stuff of love songs and that Pinterest wedding boards are for basic bitches but maybe you should start thinking about what your first dance song should be. That’s some curl-up-under-your-desk-and-cry level pain. That’s the kind of pain where if you aren’t careful, you might start thinking it’s okay to quit showering. Fortunately, as I’ve discovered lately, that pain does subside to the point that you can listen to Leonard Cohen again and refer to the vagaries of your relationship like you refer to old friendships that have faded over time. And you shower.

It occurred to me a few days before Thanksgiving, as I wondered whether enough time had passed that I would be able to listen to Mariah Carey’s seminal Christmas classic “All I Want for Christmas Is You” without caterwauling, that it might be time to dip a toe into the dating pool again. I haven’t been actively avoiding dating, but nothing has come of the occasional flicker of flirtatious eye contact with dudes on the Metro who don’t look like their favorite hobby is beer pong on the weekend with their bros. (It occurs to me that perhaps what I think is “flirtatious eye contact” is me giving crazy eyes to innocent strangers trying to get home from work. This has burned me before.)

Because like all good millennials I don’t understand basic face-to-face human interaction, I signed up for OKCupid, where you can curate away your crazy eyes and your general inability to speak English when you get nervous. I engaged in witty banter with a few sparring partners who looked reasonably unlikely to be serial killers, and a couple of these sparring sessions turned into dates. And not only did I not get murdered, but I even felt the stirrings of my long-dormant butterflies.

It was such a relief to discover that even though I’m 25 now and not fifteen, and I have confirmed through personal experience that a breakup is the emotional equivalent of getting a cavity filled every day for four months on end, I’m still capable of feeling butterflies. Butterflies. If I could ask for just one emotion for the rest of time, it would be butterflies, butterflies like the ones that practically knocked me off my feet when I was fifteen and the cutest boy in school wanted to take me to the movies. Butterflies like I felt when I was 24 and my boyfriend told me that he loved me. The sensation that anything could happen and the certainty that whatever happens, it will be good; the belief—the self-delusion—that although an infinite list of possibilities invariably includes negative ones, they could not possibly happen to me because the universe is smiling on me.

No first date has made me as nervous as that very first one did. This is a good thing, certainly, because I think the only thing that got me out of the minivan and into the movie theatre that night was the fact that my dad circled the parking lot long enough for us to finish listening to “Stairway to Heaven” while I did some deep yoga breathing and thought about how pretty I looked in my red sweater and my corduroy flares (blissfully unaware that nobody who doesn’t want to look like the Keebler Elf should wear flares, but then again, it was 2005 and we’re lucky I wasn’t still wearing a T-shirt from the Limited Too), and I can’t really get away with having my dad drive me to dates in a minivan these days.

It makes me a little sad at the same time, though, to know that I’ll probably never be knocked off my feet by butterflies the way I was that first time. I suppose every time my illusions are shattered—that ice cream doesn’t mean the prom, and that bringing someone home for Christmas one year doesn’t mean that they’ll be there the next—my flock of butterflies is pushed a little closer to extinction. I remember how my stomach sank when I realized that I wasn’t going to the prom with S_______. And sometimes, despite my best efforts to think about neutral things like whether I prefer Brie or Camembert or whether I would rather date Ben from “Parks and Rec” or the grown-up version of Seth Cohen from “The O.C.”, I remember what he said to me that night in August and how my whole body went numb.

But in spite of that, a flicker remains. Mostly because butterflies are so goddamn fun. When someone whose hands are unfamiliar puts those hands around your waist, runs them through your hair, looks at you like you’re something new and shiny and unencumbered by the baggage that maybe one day you’ll share with them and they’ll carry as their own—is there anything more fun than that? Anything more fun than walking on air, than dancing around your living room the next morning lip-synching to Mariah like you’re fifteen again and this boy is going to invite you to the prom?

I’m grateful for my little butterfly farm, for those strivers that have survived every cull to help me steadfastly ignore the likelihood that any good evening will lead to disaster or, at the very least, disappointment. Without that blind optimism, after all, girls like me would just quit showering altogether.


I am a nervous Nellie. Always have been and since no matter how passionately I beg, my doctor refuses to write me a prescription for intravenous Xanax, always will be. I’ve outgrown a few of my fears: when I was a little girl (okay, until I was like, sixteen and driving myself), the bumpy span of U.S. 95 in Las Vegas that stretches between the Spaghetti Bowl and the Sunset Road exit used to send me into white-knuckled, armrest-clutching paroxysms of fear. I was sure that our minivan was about to fly off the overpass, much like how nowadays when I fly, I am convinced that my plane is going to fall out of the sky at any moment.

Most people are afraid of things that have some basis in reality. I, on the other hand, am afraid of things like airplane bathrooms. While it’s at least conceivable that my plane could fall out of the sky—especially now that rogue drones are apparently a thing that I need to worry about, JESUS CHRIST, PEOPLE, BIRDS WERE BAD ENOUGH—airplane bathrooms are pretty much completely harmless. For the first several years of my life, I coped with my fear of airplane bathrooms by dehydrating myself nearly to the point of collapse every time I boarded a plane. This included, notably, a ten-hour flight from Phoenix to London.

Only the steadily decreasing capacity of my bladder has forced me to confront this fear head-on. On a related note, I found myself in my own personal hell a couple weeks ago on the Acela from New York to Washington when the door to the train bathroom got stuck shut. With me on the toilet side. I have never felt less dignified than I did when I had to press the “CALL ATTENDANT” button next to the toilet. You know, the one that’s there for old people when they’ve fallen and they can’t get up? That one.

(Really, though, if it weren’t for the keen embarrassment of having to look the conductor in the eye after he wrestled the door open to discover a fully functional adult standing on the other side, I would have felt empowered. They should probably make an episode of “I Survived” featuring me, hungover and confused in the Acela bathroom, struggling mightily to wrest open the door, considering whether I should just climb out the train window instead, and ultimately emerging triumphant to face the world with newfound strength. And by “strength,” I mean “the lifelong burden of knowing that one time when I was 25 I had to press the CALL ATTENDANT button in the Acela bathroom because I got stuck.”)

In addition to bathrooms and certain highway overpasses in the Southwestern United States, I am also afraid of fire, injuring myself on a trampoline, and carpal tunnel syndrome. The trampoline thing isn’t much of an issue these days—except for the occasional 27th birthday party at the trampoline park, because as you’ve probably heard, the millennial generation refuses to grow up—but there is something a little demoralizing about being 25 years old and constitutionally incapable of striking a match. Or toasting a marshmallow. Or using an Aim-Flame to light candles on a birthday cake. (Carpal tunnel, the only real threat to my well-being given that I am a writer both by trade and by hobby, is naturally the one I take the least seriously.)

I’m also afraid of space. You’d assume that all this means is that I never had to trouble myself with being disappointed when NASA rejected my application, but instead, it means that I still have nightmares about the space-themed “choose your own adventure” that we used to play in Gifted and Talented class in third grade where if you chose the wrong adventure, your spacecraft blew up and you went cartwheeling into oblivion like George Clooney in Gravity. (Karmic retribution for making us think we were intellectually superior to the other third-graders. You’ll never win the Pulitzer if you’re always up all night worrying that you picked the wrong noble gas to fuel your jet propulsion engine!) Also, Gravity scared the shit out of me. I can barely handle navigating a vehicle with Google Maps talking to me, let alone fly myself across space in a pod with only Chinese directions for guidance. No wonder Sandra Bullock felt compelled to strip down to her sexy astronaut underwear the second she got back to Earth. That’s what happens when you let women drive!

I’m not afraid of conceptual things like dying alone or failure. As a curmudgeon, the prospect of dying alone is not an unpleasant one. (I’m half-kidding, but doesn’t it sound nice to live out your last days nesting quietly in a pile of books with a mug of coffee and a bowl of oatmeal? It also sounds like my senior year of college, although I expect to throw fewer costume parties in my old age.) Failure is impossible when you don’t set goals for yourself, so I’m pretty much set on that front. Instead, I’m afraid of an arbitrary selection of things that have an incredibly low chance of affecting me during my lifetime. Why am I afraid of plane crashes, but not train crashes? Trampolines and not waterskis? Not that I’ve ever gone waterskiing, and if I were given the chance I’d probably spontaneously develop a fear of it, but the point is that my fears are not just irrational but kind of bizarre.

I admitted my newest fear publicly for the first time at Thanksgiving dinner the other day after we had opened the second bottle of wine (to be honest, we opened the second bottle of wine at the same time that we opened the first bottle of wine. Why wait?). “Guys,” I said, apropos of nothing, probably because the conversation had subsided for a moment and I’m about as afraid of silence as I am of drones flying into my plane engine, “I think I’m afraid of squirrels.”

They looked at me like I was crazy. Granted, my friends have mostly learned to keep this expression on their faces when I’m around, because a lot of what comes out of my mouth is, like the content of this blog, weird. Instead of changing the conversation to something more universally appropriate like Taylor Swift or the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions, I pressed on. “I’ve noticed that I’ve started to, like, avoid squirrels when they’re in my path,” I explained. They continued to look at me like I was crazy, which is probably a reasonable response when your friend, who has a history of mostly harmless mental instability, is confessing to a fear of small and generally nonviolent mammals. “Like, if a squirrel and I are walking in the same direction, and it becomes clear that one of us needs to move before we end up running into each other, I move.”

I didn’t grow up with squirrels. I grew up with wildlife that actually poses a threat: rattlesnakes, and scorpions, and cockroaches that can both fly AND live without their heads for thirty days or some equally ungodly length of time. I encountered squirrels in the wild for the first time at Vassar, a college that, like many others, is infested with squirrels that are too damn big for their furry britches.

If you went to a college with squirrels, you know what I mean. Like freshman boys at the on-campus dance club, they are all up in your grill, no matter how hard you try to intimidate them from your ostensibly higher position on the food chain. I was walking down the sidewalk on the quad once when a squirrel came rocketing out of a nearby trash can. It was the most terrifying thing I have ever experienced in my life, including the time that I had to fly into Denver in a turboprop plane during a lightning storm. They are fearless.

Squirrels in Arlington aren’t quite as ballsy as the squirrels in Poughkeepsie were—maybe they’re not all tripping on molly—but they are certainly as comfortable around humans as I am. (Which is, to say, sort of. Depending on the day.) They’re on the grass and the sidewalks, and when you come near them, they don’t back down. They’re feisty. I was jogging down the Custis Trail in Arlington a few months back when I found myself in a showdown with a squirrel. It was scampering back and forth—a little rabidly, I thought, based on my comprehensive veterinary training and deep knowledge of the pathology of rabies that I developed as an English major at a liberal arts college—and it was clearly not bothered by the footfalls of the hulking human advancing rapidly. Or, rather, the featherweight huffing and puffing down the sidewalk at an embarrassingly leisurely pace.

I weighed my options. I could continue on my path and assume that the squirrel would eventually move out of the way. I could leap over the squirrel, putting my twelve years of ballet training to use for a reason other than puddles (I don’t get much out of all that money my parents spent on pointe shoes these days, but my feet stay dry!). Or, as I ultimately chose to do, I could dodge the squirrel by angling sharply to the left at the moment I passed it.

“Gotta watch out for those squirrels,” I heard from behind me as the dulcet tones of Demi Lovato faded just in time for me to remember that I had neglected to weigh the embarrassment factor of each choice. Two commuters on their bicycles rode past me, cackling like the K Street version of Miss Gulch, as if I hadn’t just come face-to-face—okay, face-to-feet—with a vicious creature and won. It was just like the conductor on Amtrak. People underestimate the potential threat posed by overconfident woodland creatures. Just imagine: one second, you’re trotting down the Custis Trail like a champ listening to “Let it Go” and imagining yourself outrunning Usain Bolt in the 500-meter dash, and the next, there is a squirrel CLAWING OUT YOUR EYEBALLS. And it all could have been avoided had you only thought to dodge it. Face your fears. Let woodland creatures have the right-of-way.

I suppose it’s a sign of gentrification that in 2014, the greatest threat to a single woman walking alone down the streets in Washington D.C. is a squirrel. Either that, or it’s a sign that I’m probably going to jump into the arms of a mugger someday when I’m trying to escape a rampaging squirrel.

I’m also afraid of llamas, but I’ll save that one for the third bottle of wine.

the hitchhiker’s guide to the holidays

I come from a long line of nomads. My mother’s mother raised her family in Washington State, far from the Minnesota farmlands where she grew up and where their Finnish mafia of a family still lives. My father was raised a military brat, the son of a Coast Guard captain, and my own parents decamped from where their families settled in Washington to new opportunities in the Southwestern desert. (It was like Manifest Destiny. With showgirls. And air conditioning.)

For the past several years, since seventeen-year-old me made the grand decision to go to college 2,500 miles away from home, I’ve spent much of the holiday season being personally victimized by the airline industry. (Ever been snowed in overnight in the bag claim of the Stewart International Airport in Newburgh, New York with only your backpack for a pillow and Skittles for a meal? I have. It was a low point in my contentious relationship with winter travel.)

Not to mention that the dregs of humanity come out to fly when the holidays roll around. By “the dregs of humanity,” of course, I mean people who wait until they’re at the front of the security line to take off their sixteen bracelets and empty their pockets of what must be a piggy bank’s worth of change and then have the audacity to request a pat-down rather than an X-ray when it’s clear that the radiation would probably do them some good. Also, babies. In the context of an airplane, babies qualify as the dregs of humanity.

I understand now why my parents never took us to visit Grandma for Thanksgiving or Christmas. I also understand that other families undertake these epic journeys every year as a matter of tradition, but the Cass family doesn’t do well with crowds. In fact, while this is probably truer of me than of the rest of our family, we don’t actually do that well with people other than ourselves. And so holidays for us have always been a rather sedate and insular affair: no genetically modified turkey large enough to feed thirty, no drunk relatives making inappropriate passes at the nephews’ girlfriends, no neighbors showing up empty-handed and eating all the cheesecake.

What is glaringly absent from our family celebrations, other than a bunch of interlopers trying to get in on whatever Epicurious dessert experiment I’ve embarked on this year, is just that: tradition. Or at least the slavish devotion to tradition present in pop culture and other people’s families. There is no ceremonial green bean casserole dressed in French’s French Fried Onions, nor do we sit around the table and share what we’re most thankful for before we dislodge our jaws in preparation for the feast.

Frankly, when it comes to Thanksgiving, we’ve pretty much given up. My sister and her husband spend the holiday with her in-laws (a fair trade-off, considering that the shiksa gets to bring her husband home for Christmas every year) and I alight wherever it makes sense to go that year: occasionally my parents’ house, sometimes I glom on to a friend’s family celebration. Last year, it was my then-boyfriend’s childhood home; this year, I’ll spend a motley “Friendsgiving” with a single girlfriend, a married couple, the husband’s mother, and an aging poodle.

Does this sound lonely to you? Au contraire, mon frere. Perhaps it’s my pathological addiction to change, but I feel like I get to play cultural anthropologist every Thanksgiving. Like Dian Fossey in the jungles of Africa among the gorillas—except, you know, in the dining rooms of New York and New Mexico among the upper middle class—I have eaten fried ravioli and fried cactus. I’ve played Trivial Pursuit and sung Bob Dylan songs at the piano. I’ve marathoned “Say Yes to the Dress” with my best friend and her dad and I’ve played Boggle with my sister’s in-laws.

It’s different every year, and every year brings a new story to tell. I find it refreshing, because I feel about traditions how I feel about holidays like New Year’s Eve and Halloween. I like to dress like a slutty disco ball as much as the next girl (oh, and I love Halloween, too!), but I cower in the face of the expectation to Have a Fun and Crazy Night. The winter holidays take on a similar level of pressure: you must have fun and be thankful for your family and get in a fight with your crazy aunt and eat your sister’s weird mashed potato/Jello casserole and God forbid if one of those things doesn’t happen because if it doesn’t, you might as well just CANCEL DECEMBER.

When you uproot yourself, you give up a few things, and tradition is often one of them. So much can go wrong when getting home is a matter of planes, trains, and automobiles, especially during the time of year when you might as well end up snowed into the baggage claim at the smallest airport in the Hudson Valley as make it home unscathed. Hanging your happiness on the prospect of a holiday proceeding as it has every year prior is asking for disappointment.

To eschew tradition is not to reject the holiday season altogether. My family’s version of tradition is a collection of odd little rituals that don’t count so much as tradition as familial idiosyncrasies. I think it’s because we recognize that putting all your eggs in the tradition basket is a dangerous prospect. You never know when your father is going to up and detach his retina and find himself bedridden for two weeks just when you’re all supposed to be hopping on planes to come home for Christmas. That’s the kind of thing that happens when you’re a nomad. You have to roll with the punches, so to speak. Roll with the retinal detachments. Roll with the flight delays.

We adapt. My sister married a Jewish man whose family hosts a grand Thanksgiving; we lost Thanksgiving and gained latkes on Christmas Eve. (Fair trade, if you ask me. Give me greasy fried potatoes over dry turkey any day of the week.) I spent a few minutes considering whether or not to cry the year my father’s eyeball ruined Christmas. Instead, I bought a six-inch light-up Christmas tree that doubled as a USB port and made a reservation for three at our favorite Thai restaurant near the crack dens in central Las Vegas.

Barring ophthalmological disasters, there are a few constants in our holiday celebrations. A giant slab of red meat is the centerpiece of our table. Someone drops the phrase “meat sweats” (common side effect of having a giant slab of red meat as the centerpiece of your table. Sorry, Michael Pollan). We play several vicious games of Scrabble and we curse my sister’s aggressive tactics. My dad tries to get away with playing the Led Zeppelin live album with the 20-minute “Moby Dick” drum solo and two minutes in, my mother starts making faces. We take walks for the express purpose of making judgmental comments about the neighbors’ gaudy holiday lights.

But none of this is sacred (except the meat). I think it’s what motivates us that is sacred: our shared love of food and word games, how my father and I know that 20-minute Led Zeppelin solos are our thing and nobody else’s. Playing Scrabble every year because my grandmother, gone ten years now this October, was the grand dame of Scrabble and on the off-chance that there is a heaven, she is absolutely cheering on my sister’s asshole Scrabble strategy from the great smoking lounge in the sky. The fact that colored Christmas lights are really ugly and anyone who hangs them should be judged by a family who measures our Christmas by the severity of our meat sweats. It’s, y’know, togetherness. Unity. Umoja (okay, I learned that from “The Baby-Sitters’ Club”).

In my role as a holiday anthropologist, I get to explore and participate in the traditions that hold my friends’ families together. It’s bittersweet, because I’m always just passing through, but it aligns with how I view tradition: as a concept that tries to deny the transient and fleeting nature of happiness and comfort. I have never felt more strongly about this than I do this year, a year after I spent my first Thanksgiving with a significant other’s family (and we all know how well THAT one turned out, am I right?!), when I am questioning why I even have to celebrate the damn holiday just because everyone else does.

Happiness and comfort may indeed be transient and fleeting, but they exist, so I seek them out. They are unreliable sensations, but I expect to find them tomorrow at the kitchen table with my girlfriends and C_______’s husband and mother-in-law and aging poodle. And I’ll find them again in a month with my family together again for another Christmas of meat sweats and Scrabble rage. And in the days in between, I will find them at raucous parties and on quiet evenings and wherever I can dig them up. Wherever, that is, that nobody has dared to hang colored Christmas lights.

album rock

When I was thirteen, I brought along with me on a weeklong family vacation to Texas a single album: Avril Lavigne’s seminal Let Go, featuring cultural touchstones like “Sk8r Boi” and “Nobody’s Fool” (actual lyric: “I’m not the milk and Cheerios in your spoon”).

For seven days, I listened to Let Go on repeat. Nobody understood me like Avril did: the album was a journey through my thirteen-year-old brain. I doodled her lyrics in the margins of my diary (“He wanted her; she’d never tell—secretly she wanted him as well,” which conveniently ignored the reality of the situation wherein I told my crush that I wanted his spiky-haired, skateboarding bod and he went after my best friend instead). I glared at my father when he played the rental car radio loudly enough that it interrupted my seventeenth ceremonial listening of “Anything but Ordinary.” I glared at the rest of my family because I was thirteen and that was the only facial expression I was capable of.

I like to tell that story whenever we talk about how hilariously tragic it was to be a teenager. And it’s the kind of story you tell with the implicit suggestion that you would never do something that ridiculous again, especially in this age of shuffle and Songza: listen to one album and nothing else, no matter how loud your dad blasts Click and Clack (RIP), for a solid week?

Yeah, we all know where this is going.

Want to know what I’ve been listening to since last Friday when I finally bit the bubblegum-flavored bullet and dropped thirteen of my hard-earned dollars to buy Taylor Swift’s 1989? That’s right. Taylor Swift’s 1989. On repeat. Every time I leave the house. Or when I don’t.

Like every twentysomething who recognizes that the therapeutic effect of Taylor Swift on a breakup is worth the indignity of acknowledging that Taylor Swift is, in fact, a musical genius, I was excited to listen to 1989. (Also, I was born in 1989, and I’ve been waiting since 1995 for the Smashing Pumpkins to pay tribute to a year that I was around to experience. That obviously hasn’t paid off, so this was the next best thing. Despite all my rage, I am still just a white girl wearing red lipstick in a cage.)

I did not expect, however, that doing so would catapult me back to the summer of 2002. I can blame it on any constellation of factors: my recent breakup and the fact that I, like Taylor, used it to propel myself to artistic fame (okay, whatever, she has a few more fans than I do and I don’t have backup dancers yet but I bet I could bribe my fellow retired amateur ballet dancers enough to follow me around for, like, an afternoon); the fact that it’s getting cold and taking off my gloves to change the music on my touch-screen phone means inviting certain frostbite; the fact that it’s just so goddamn catchy.

Regardless, what I know is that being forced to buy 1989 meant that I did something that I almost never do anymore: I listened to it from beginning to end. (87 times. In a row.)

I had forgotten what a unique experience it is to listen to an album that an artist designed specifically to evoke a defined sequence of emotions. I’m a sucker for shuffle and Pandora and Songza, tools that supply me with a steady stream of interesting music by artists I wouldn’t have discovered on my own. The wheat is separated from the musical chaff for you: none of those flimsy little B-sides that never should have made it into the recording studio, let alone out of it, none of that bizarre filler that seems to serve only as a means to string together disparate tracks.

I wasn’t raised to listen to music like that, though. I am the daughter of a man who saw Led Zeppelin and Queen in their heyday. The golden period of my musical education was in ninth and tenth grade, before I got my own driver’s license, when my father and I listened to his album collection, from “the Mighty Zep” to Dark Side of the Moon to Highway 61 Revisited over the course of our daily thirty-minute drive to my high school. I learned to look beyond “Stairway to Heaven” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” and to appreciate how the psychedelic strains that opened “Tie Your Mother Down” brought “Teo Torriate” to a satisfying close. I could write a novel about all of the wonderful things that my father gave me by forcing me to listen to Leonard Cohen and Pink Floyd at 6 AM when I was fifteen, but chief among those is the appreciation of the album as an art form.

Playlists provide the constant entertainment that the millennial generation craves: the sonic equivalent of empty calories that leave you satisfied but, ultimately, emotionally unfulfilled. Albums are the medicine that remind you that what the world throws at you is not an unceasing string of flawlessly crafted hit singles, but rather a roller coaster of emotions wherein sandwiched between masterpieces like “Oh! Darling” and “She’s So Heavy” is, of all things, “Octopus’s Garden.” (While I don’t share my father’s utter disregard for everything the Beatles let Ringo slip onto an album, you have to admit that in this slightly painful extended metaphor, that’s like when you leave for work hungover on a Thursday and realize halfway through your commute that your laptop is still sitting on your couch from when you tried to work on a marketing document after three margaritas the night before. I think the word I’m looking for here is “undignified.”)

Even after the great state of Nevada made the grave error of allowing me to operate a motor vehicle alone and my dad and I lost our precious morning ritual, I continued to devour albums as they were meant to be devoured. I can play back the memories of my most wretched teenage moments to the soundtrack of Damien Rice’s O and 9 and the Postal Service’s Give Up. It gave me great pleasure to sit in silence waiting for the hidden track at the end of O to begin, like Lisa Hannigan singing “Silent Night” was a reward for my patience.

Albums are funny that way: as a rule, they start out with energy and with hooks, the kind of music that makes you want to run outside and engage with the world and fall in love and dump your boyfriend and start a riot. And then they lapse into the tracks that don’t make it on the radio, the songs that more accurately reflect the banality of human existence (okay, whatever, I am trying REALLY HARD to excuse how shitty “Recycled Air” is compared to “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight,” but bear with me here). And the best albums close not with inspirational bullshit but with meditations, choosing instead to intersperse the more powerful songs at choice moments along the journey.

Consider Rumours: there’s a reason that “Go Your Own Way” isn’t the closing track, and it’s because you need that to survive listening to “Songbird.” And then you take “Gold Dust Woman” with you into the universe to help you grit your teeth and keep moving after you divorce the bassist (guys, don’t date your coworkers). I believe that considerable effort is expended in determining the structure of every album, no matter how lightweight or artistically unimpressive the responsible party. At a young and impressionable age, I was devoted to this tenet.

Then Steve Jobs ruined everything.

My family were early adopters to collecting music digitally. We had Napster back before anyone noticed it was illegal (and then KaZaA and Limewire and everything else that I probably shouldn’t admit here lest I ever apply for a security clearance). I burned a LOT of mix CDs featuring artists who weren’t quite tolerable in album length: Something Corporate, Oasis, Taking Back Sunday, etc., etc., angst angst scream scream. But when I got an iPod, I turned into a shuffling monster. I flagrantly disregarded everything I held sacred about the art of the album and, in the process, lost something precious. (My attention span, that is. Look! Something shiny!)

Because I’ve already acknowledged that I am hopelessly basic, I am only moderately ashamed of the fact that it took Taylor freaking Swift and an album that contains the lyric “Band-Aids don’t fix bullet holes” to remind me of the power of the album. And though like any good recent college grad, I really like free stuff, I have to admit that I support her decision to pull her music from Spotify. Because I had to buy her album to listen to it, I did, and I suddenly remember what music is supposed to be. It’s like books: you don’t pick up a book and read a single chapter because you like it better than the other ones (right? People don’t do that, right? I would judge you). You read the whole damn thing and it’s a journey and some of it is Harry and Hermione farting around in the woods for like four hundred pages, but that’s what life is and you can’t subsist only on peaks and valleys or “Tuesday Afternoon” and “Nights in White Satin.” You have to take the weird shit in between, even if it’s only there because the Moody Blues were doing A LOT of drugs.

So anyway, in conclusion, the point of this exercise is to convey my deeply held belief that Taylor Swift can do no wrong and to make it clear that although I may have burned the song “Konstantine” to approximately every single mix CD I made when I was fifteen, at least I never bought an entire album by Something Corporate. Which is probably not enough of a declaration to discount the number of times I’ve referenced Taylor Swift in this essay, but, like, it could be worse.

By the by, are we out of the woods yet? It’s unclear.

everyone’s a little bit basic

Pumpkin Spice Latte.

Mimosa brunch.

Sex and the City.

Hear that? That’s the sound of 500 followers running for higher-brow ground. Can you blame them? No self-respecting intellectually competent young adult wants to be caught associating with someone who’s—dare I say it?—basic.

There was a time, not so long ago, when a young woman in Ugg boots could enjoy a shitty chemical-laden beverage without incurring accusations of being a brainless bimbo. “I like coffee-based drinks that incorporate the flavors typically associated with Thanksgiving, especially when my feet aren’t cold,” she thinks to herself. “What’s wrong with that?”

The Internet is what’s wrong with that. (I hope you guessed that. The Internet is what’s wrong with everything.) Would you have ever felt compelled to contribute to the national conversation about the proliferation of Pumpkin Spice Lattes among the young women of America if 1,000 of your closest friends weren’t posting about it on Facebook? Would you even know what a Pumpkin Spice Latte was if 1,000 of your closest friends weren’t posting about it on Facebook?

The Internet has made the world smaller and, in doing so, revealed to us a hard truth: we are not unique and beautiful snowflakes. To me this is both a comfort and a source of angst. “I’m not alone!” I think triumphantly, then, just as quickly, “but I’m also not special!”

Without the Internet, we would never know that for the literati among us, to purchase and consume a Pumpkin Spice Latte as anything but part of a performance art piece is social suicide. Before the Internet, a trend was something you noticed on the street: a lot of women are wearing pants that would previously have been categorized as undergarments. This exercise class is certainly packed today! I overheard two other woman having the same debate we were having, contemplating whether they needed to face facts and accept that they’re Carries.

But with the Internet—with real-time access to the proclivities and inner thoughts of not only everyone you’ve met since 2006 but also everyone else, from Matt Lauer to the Dalai Lama—we’re bombarded. Leggings-as-pants are a pandemic! SoulCycle is a cult! Sex and the City is being shown on TBS and if you had any self-respect, you’d throw out your cable subscription, log onto your parents’ Netflix account, and watch something way less mainstream like “Orange is the New Black”! (Let the record stand that at the time of publication of this essay, liking “Orange is the New Black” was not yet a hallmark of being basic. Check back next year.)

When we identify “basic” tendencies, we are declaring that to like what many other people like is to be unoriginal. Being basic means being—God forbid—normal. Conventional. Sheeplike. A consumer of highly caloric beverages flavored with a chemical that sort of tastes like a pie.

Now, normalcy is one thing. I’ve spilled a lot of ink writing about how I learned to accept my weirdness. What’s bizarre about the advent of the “basic” trope, though, is that now we whose binders were graffitied in elementary school have grown from painfully weird children desperate to be normal into painfully weird adults desperate to be… not normal. Because “normal,” now that “basic” exists, implies a level of stupidity. If you drink mimosas and you buy your underwear at Victoria’s Secret and you’ve not only paid $13 to watch an Adam Sandler movie in theatres but enjoyed it, you are normal, you are basic, and you are stupid.

Thanks to the Internet, and to the notion of “basicness,” I’ve added a whole slew of new anxieties to my repertoire. Because… well, do you want the truth? I drink mimosas. I buy my underwear at Victoria’s Secret (how can you beat 5 for $25? Or, rather, 5 for $26.50, now that last year’s stealthy price increase is in effect. Still, everything else is damn expensive). I watched “Click” and I cried like an idiot. Not only that, but I have read several Jodi Picoult novels, and if I didn’t think Pumpkin Spice Lattes were disgusting I would probably drink them on the regular, and I just used the phrase “on the regular,” and I spend an exorbitant amount of money on SoulCycle, and I bought an infinity scarf on Saturday, and last year I finally bought LLBean boots instead of Uggs and I feel like a traitor.

Because I—I am a little bit basic.

But so are you, probably. Frankly, if you’re not, you’re probably an asshole, and you probably also went to my college and I probably stalked your music library on iTunes from down the hall because you probably shared it so you could force everybody within reach of the college network to admire your super underground collection of 38,000 songs comprising mostly Gregorian chants, didgeridoo remixes, and Gregorian chants remixed with the didgeridoo and then self-consciously stop sharing their library because apparently Regina Spektor is not as underground and hip as you thought.

Or maybe you just really like Gregorian chants remixed with the didgeridoo. Does that make you feel like a weirdo? Go spend a couple hours on the Internet. There’s probably an r/gregorian-didgeridoo-remixes with a whole passel of weirdos whose dingo ate their monk baby. (I apologize for this metaphor. It’s painful and I should have left it behind several sentences ago. This is where the “blog” format falls short compared to the “legitimate publication with editor who would cross that shit out” format.)

See? You’re basic, too. We’re all basic. The more we’re exposed to the world via the Internet, the more we discover that none of us is as unique as we had once imagined. And it’s hard to take that as a comfort, now that being unoriginal is equated with being unintelligent. With being basic.

I got over feeling bad about being weird. Now I need to get over feeling about about not being weird. I already have a whole catalogue of things that I could hate about myself. The last thing I need is to add my underwear-buying habits to that! (Or, rather, the last thing I need is to add a bullet point to what I hate about my underwear-buying habits. I really do need to buy underwear more often. I have enough disposable income to stop wearing the Victoria’s Secret underwear I bought in 2007 back when it was actually 5 for $25.)

I am only self-conscious about the fact that I like bottomless brunch because the Internet told me that there are other young women out there that like bottomless brunch and that they also bought an infinity scarf last Saturday, and therefore I should feel bad and stupid and I should go out and knit myself a woman-sized hemp sack and wear that for the winter and also I should consume only home-distilled liquors, even at breakfast.

Here’s the thing: none of what I listed above makes me any less weird. I’m still writing this alone in my apartment, surrounded by piles of unread copies of the New York Times and the Washington Post from the past two Sundays. I still need two hands to count the number of moderately uncomfortable conversations I had today and all of them were uncomfortable because there is no magic pill being ground up in the global mimosa supply to teach you how to be a normal human.

Anyway, long story short, haters to the left, because I’m going to go get my hair ombre’d and then I’m going to go to SoulCycle and I might even go buy a Pumpkin Spice Latte just out of spite.

(And then I’ll throw it into a bush because seriously, that shit is rancid. I’m less concerned about the basicness of the young women of the world and more concerned about what pandemic has annihilated their taste buds.)


I signed up for a French class a couple weeks ago. It’s the first time I’ve set foot in a classroom since I graduated from college some three and a half (!) years ago. It’s entirely for fun—not for work, not even for a grade—and yet every time I enter the classroom, I feel myself transmogrify into a vicious hand-raiser of the Hermione Granger variety. Long-buried instincts from my school days gurgle up from some corner of my belly into my throat and before I know it, I’m practically jumping out of my seat to demonstrate to the class that not only do I know that the French word for “hotel” is, uh, “hotel,” but I knew it BEFORE EVERYONE ELSE.

Ladies and gentlemen, I must confess: I am what they call a gunner.

I learned this term from my many friends who have attended law school. They tell me that there’s one particularly obnoxious breed of law student defined best as “that asshole who shows up having read not just ALL the required reading but the supplemental reading and also some additional research by a scholar that has influenced the professor’s career, which they knew to be true because they read all the professor’s books, too.”

The gunner accrues this knowledge not to further their education, but to demonstrate at every turn that they are smarter than you and to ensure that when you answer the professor’s questions incorrectly, they can chime in with the right answer and probably some supplemental trivia about habeas corpus or torts or whatever it is you law school people learn.

Here’s the thing: in an academic setting, for as long as I can remember, I’ve been utterly incapable of conducting myself like anything but the nerd equivalent of a WWE wrestler. I get that what you’re supposed to do is sit quietly, absorb information, and provide input when called upon. What I don’t get is how anybody manages to do that.

I’m utterly incapable of silence to the point that even now, in my current position in business development at a software company with a lot of smart people who have more useful skills than I do like writing JavaScript and blowing their noses effectively, I have to bring notepads to meetings so I can write down all the things that it would be inappropriate or obnoxious for me to say out loud. “You just… like to be heard,” my manager said to me once during a performance review. It was a more tactful phrasing than I deserved of the appropriate suggestion that I can it every once in a while.

This need to be heard—this need to prove that I have something to contribute and that I’m totally worthy of being wherever I am, whether it’s in a classroom or a business meeting or on Earth in general—is something that’s plagued me for as long as I can remember.

I have referenced previously on this blog that I was, shall we say, unpopular as a child. I like to explain this away by saying that nobody liked me because I was smart and bad at sports, but I’ve neglected a central truth of my childhood personality: I was… a little obnoxious. Actually, if we’re being perfectly honest, I was kind of an asshole.

To clarify, this wasn’t a permanent condition. I was often quite pleasant, especially when I was tucked into some corner engrossed in a book or otherwise occupied. Really, when I wasn’t trying to engage with other humans, I was a pretty great kid. I drew stacks of pictures and wrote stories and poems and built houses out of Popsicle sticks and lived fairly quietly on a diet of dry cereal and Cran-Apple juice. Stick me in a classroom setting, though, surrounded by a bunch of jerks who came out of the womb knowing how to kick a soccer ball in a straight line, and my inner gunner flew free like a butterfly. Or, more accurately, like a cicada. A really, really persistent cicada.

This is what I was like as a baby gunner: I devoured books at the same rate that I devoured dry cereal and consequently had a killer vocabulary for an eight-year-old. The year we competed to see who could recite their times tables the fastest, I spent the preceding week stalking back and forth down the halls of my house, furiously whispering “ONETIMESONEISONE-ONETIMESTWOISTWO-ONETIMESTHREEISTHREE” until I could do it without taking more than a couple breaths. Then every day at school, when the other kids tripped over words they didn’t recognize as we read aloud Round Robin-style, I corrected them. (No. Seriously. I was an asshole.) I Hermione Granger’ed my way into answering every question the teacher asked: hand up, waving frenetically, frantic to demonstrate to everybody else that even if they knew it too I knew it first and therefore better. When the teacher didn’t call on me, I would purse my lips and shift my weight petulantly onto one arm in my desk, staring pointedly at whatever sucker got to answer the question instead of me.

I wasn’t good at much when I was a kid, and so I decided that being smart would be my domain. The girls in my classes were always athletic and pretty and confident and I was uncoordinated and geeky and constantly uncomfortable. I wanted desperately to prove that I, too, was good at something even though it wasn’t soccer or dodgeball or the kind of code-word-and-inside-joke-laden interaction that is so common among eight-year-old girls. It’s unsurprising that the other kids responded by concluding that I was annoying. Frankly, I’m surprised I never got trash canned. I probably deserved it.

Thankfully, it didn’t take me long to connect the fact that I had no friends with my behavior in class. After a couple of years of tortured journal entries—“Everyone thinks I’m annoying and I know I’m annoying, but I don’t know how to stop being annoying”—it occurred to me that it would probably behoove me to stop constantly insinuating that I thought everyone around me was an idiot.

It was around this time that the other baby gunners started to come out of the nerd woodwork. We were finally released from the torture that was playing foursquare during recess and instead, we passed the time comparing scores on math tests and vocabulary quizzes and competing for the high score on the Logical Journey of the Zoombinis. (Does anyone else remember this game? I liked it at least as much as the Oregon Trail. Better, maybe, because you never died of cholera. Or while fording the river.)

I passed several years blissfully competing with my fellow nerds for the top prize at the spelling bee and a speaking slot at graduation. We spent classes trying halfheartedly to outgun one another, growing more comfortable with ourselves. Basking in the knowledge that there was still an unwashed mass of Prettier and Better at Ballet/Soccer/Tuba/Mime but Not Nearly As Smart suffering beneath in some English class not designated as Advanced Placement, we began to understand the joy in learning for the sake of learning.

Then I went to college and the bottom dropped out. I was now not only less pretty and less good at ballet than everyone else, but they were also smarter than me, and some of them had even written “theses” in high school, and also a lot of them were not virgins. I had nothing to flaunt because I didn’t even understand half the words they were throwing around in class—dichotomy? Heteronormative? Semiotics?—let alone know how to use them in a sentence. One time, I made the mistake of using the term “symbolism” in a 200-level American literature class and the professor gave me such a dirty look that you’d think I was dropping racial epithets in an Africana Studies class. I shut up after that.

After a while, I picked up enough of the vocabulary to understand that nobody knew what they were talking about and to string together enough bullshit literary theory terms to sound as pretentious as the Mason jar-toting, keffiyah-sporting hipster on either side of me. By that point, though, I had come to terms with the fact that I would never be Phi Beta Kappa. Being smart at Vassar wasn’t my domain, and I lost interest in “gunning.” I felt like a much more tolerable human being: quieter, if you didn’t count every second that I wasn’t in class; more social; more in tune with… okay, yes, I drank a lot of cheap wine and sang a cappella. “Tolerable” might be a stretch.

But by all accounts, I was—am—less obnoxious than I was when I was eight. I recognize that I am never the smartest person in the room, and even if I’ve read the most books or can spout off the most state capitals, there’s probably someone else there who should be saved from the coming apocalypse before me. My gunner instincts lie dormant except for those occasions in business meetings where I feel the need to prove that even though I look like I’m twelve, I’m still totally competent and know many words with lots of syllables and would own many leather-bound books if Anne Tyler would only release a special series of her collected works bound in leather. (People tolerate this because I’m still less obnoxious than people who say things like “close the loop” and “synergize.” You can get away with a lot of behavior in a business setting as long as you never say the word “synergize.”)

I try my best to stay away from trivia leagues, where I fear that my inner gunner would flow free and wild and I would be shunned by the rest of the mid-twentysomethings and forced to live out the rest of my days eating peanut butter and jelly in the toilet stall without even a half-price Yuengling to keep me company. I keep my hands down and my thoughts on social media where the universe can choose to listen to me or not, unlike the elementary school classroom, where “Dana Cass never shuts up and if I spend another hour in class listening to her screech her times tables I’m going to off myself” was not an acceptable excuse for an absence.

But this French class? This French class might out me. If you see a bunch of yuppies chasing one of their own down Embassy Row, hurling workbooks at her as she seeks asylum with the Kazakhs, you’ll know what happened: I just had to prove that I could count to “quarante-quatre” the fastest.

baby’s first breakup


It begins with a breakup that takes all night.

Is this normal? I’m not sure. This is my first breakup, because this was my first relationship (sorry, high school boyfriends, but you don’t count. I still treasure the poems I wrote about missing looking at your dirty Converse sneakers under the table during biology class), and I was under the impression that it would be a lot cleaner than this.

But it’s not, and we’re in a hotel room in Palo Alto, and it’s midnight and there is nowhere I can possibly go and nothing I can possibly do but stay here and listen to my sandcastle of a long-distance romance—with a man nine years my senior and polar opposite from me in every way including, it’s becoming apparent, those that mattered (the literary merits of Haruki Murakami, bacon as a food group, the frequency with which one should sharpen one’s knives)—crumble.

i. the tracks of my tears

The sun rises the next morning. There is nothing to do but shower and venture back into the world of the living, and so I do, fumbling as I wedge my contact lenses in between my swollen eyelids and painting my dark circles over with a heavy coat of foundation.

I am not one to wallow in my bed. I got that out of my system years ago, during my third, wasted semester of college, and now come hell or high water or surprise all-night breakup session I will participate in the world, puffy eyes be damned.

And so this morning, when the sun rises and I confirm that this was not a dream, I get out of bed and I shower and I grit my teeth and I embark on what I have come to think of as “the North American crying tour.” I must make it through one day at the office and one overnight flight from San Francisco to Atlanta and just to hammer one last nail in the coffin housing my dignity, a commuter flight from Atlanta to D.C. at 7 A.M. It occurs to me that someday I am going to find this funny. It might even be funny already.

I make it through a solid three hours, a testament to the power of business email to dull anyone’s senses to the point that they can no longer experience normal human feelings. At 11:30 A.M., I run out of email, and I cry in the basement of my software company’s hip Palo Alto headquarters, face first in a synthetic leather IKEA couch next to a foosball table. I pray that none of the engineers decide that they need an 11:30 A.M. foosball tournament to get their creative juices flowing. I’m not sure they understand crying. (This is a generalization, I know. Engineers have feelings too. You’ve seen the iPhone 6 lines.)

At 5:30, I go to SoulCycle. At 6:07 or so, I begin to cry in SoulCycle. I continue to cry in SoulCycle, in part because I’m sad and the instructor keeps shouting inspirational things about how I’m a warrior and a rockstar but really I’m just a leaky faucet, and in part because I am now one of those assholes who writes essays for SoulCycle’s Twitter feed about how SoulCycle transformed them from a leaky faucet into a functional human.

I leave SoulCycle with an endorphin high that propels me through one last tortured farewell with him in an airless hotel room and to the airport and through the boarding process and into a seat and through the air until we get somewhere over the mountains, when it occurs to me that I haven’t slept in a day and a half and that the relationship I spent the past year of my life cultivating has crumbled like a sandcastle and also that the music on my iPod is all from high school and not only is it depressing, but it’s also kind of embarrassingly bad. I take another Xanax and turn up the Dashboard Confessional because I’m on an airplane and there’s really nothing else I can do about my life at this point.

I land in Atlanta and stagger toward the gate where I will board a commuter jet to my final destination. The boarding area is full of fat white men in business suits who look like they are off to D.C. to lobby for the NRA. I look haggard. Red-eye flights are cruel. Red-eye flights are crueler when you’ve spent most of the previous day wallowing in your own angst. I feel like the Michelin Man.

The airplane to D.C. is smaller than I like and freezing. I grab a blanket that some previous passenger has abandoned on a seat, probably after contaminating it with Ebola, and wrap myself in it. I curl into my window seat. I thank Airplane Jesus for granting me this window seat. I begin to cry silently into my neck pillow. It occurs to me that this may be my nadir: wrapped like a burrito in a stolen blanket that is probably contaminated with, at the very least, the common cold, on a commuter flight to D.C. surrounded by fat white men in business suits, sobbing like the world has ended with my face molded involuntarily into my best “I Love Lucy” crying face.

The woman next to me orders a bottle of wine and drinks the whole thing between 7:20 and 8:00 A.M. I want to hug her. I don’t, but I want to.

My girlfriends, who are the greatest girlfriends in the history of the universe (more on this later), pick me up at the airport with a handmade sign. I cry at the airport. I walk into my apartment and I drop my suitcase and I make a Family Circus-esque beeline through the 600 square feet, scouring every inch for signs of him and cramming them into the bottom of my storage chest.

I haven’t slept in two days but the thought of sleeping is daunting. Instead, I make an appointment with the eye doctor. I send my closest coworker an email to tell her that I’m not functional today and that I’ll be back in the office tomorrow. I put on my bikini and I climb eight floors to the roof of my high-rise building and I bake in the sun until my eyes feel dry again.

ii. a little help from my friends

My friend J____ takes the bus down from New York City to spend the weekend with me. (See “the greatest girlfriends in the history of the universe,” above.) We drink, and drink some more, and we go to a pizza restaurant with my sister and her husband and the four of us order a quattro carne pizza to celebrate the fact that I am no longer dating a vegetarian.

“Do not talk to him,” says K____, after I confess that he is still contacting me, asking after my well-being. I waffle and mumble about how I feel like I have to, because I’m worried about him, and this and that and every excuse I can think of to cling to the last grains of sand before they wash into the ocean.

She is right, of course. She always is. Several days later, I text her in a panic because it’s worse than it would have been if I had just quit talking to him. She talks me down from the precipice and doesn’t even say “I told you so.” I make a vow to myself to always listen to K____ because she is always right and if I take her advice, I will be more okay than I would be otherwise.

“Time and distance,” she says, again and again. I write it in my journal. I repeat it to myself. Time and distance. Time and distance.

“I don’t know how many more breakups I have in me,” says A____ ruefully. We are discussing how very sad breakups are, and how surprised I was by this fact. I think back on how much of an uncaring asshole I must have been to my friends when they were going through breakups in the past. I expect that the next time someone gets dumped, I will show up on their doorstep with chocolates and insist on petting them and pouring wine down their throats until they politely ask me to leave.

iii. the sound of silence

What happens next is this: the pit of panic that sits like a walnut in my chest, knocking occasionally to say “hello” and to remind me that it exists, is knocked loose. It rockets around my insides like a pinball, rendering me helpless in the face of the crazy that I’m usually capable of tamping down enough to function. I’m not sure what this says about what I was doing with my feelings while I was building the sandcastle that was my relationship.

I do an excellent job at acting like a functional human being. I feel slightly bitter that my coworkers don’t know how hard I’m working at being functional. I consider mailing them physical copies of documents covered with the stains of my tears, but this seems excessive. When I’m not hiding in the corner of my office crying, I am aggressively cheerful. People ask how I’m doing and I shriek “FINE!”, which seems like a fairly obvious signal to them that either I’m not fine or I’ve discovered meth (which is probably a distinct subcategory of “not fine,” now that I think about it, but fortunately for everyone involved, I’m not cool enough to know where to get meth).

My officemate is on vacation for the week. This is both a blessing and a curse. A curse, mostly, because she’s a comforting presence and without another human in the office, I’m free to listen to Taylor Swift without headphones, which is healthy for no one. A blessing, though, because there’s something kind of delicious about shutting the office door, curling up in a ball in the corner, and crying into my chest. It’s kind of like when I say I’m working from home and I’m actually on the roof deck checking my email on my phone. Only soggier.

I begin to feel aggressively lonely. I feel lonely in a way that is unfamiliar to me, a sworn and avowed curmudgeon who typically prefers a book for company. I spend a Saturday afternoon at brunch with friends and go home to my empty apartment and sit in the dark with my panic. It’s bewildering, because two weeks ago when I was in a long-distance relationship and I never saw him anyway, I was perfectly content to spend a Saturday night with no plans taking myself on a date to the movies or devouring a novel at the Barnes & Noble down the street.

I log onto Facebook and watch a video of my high school classmate proposing to his girlfriend at Disneyland.

I fear that when the world spots me alone, now, they’ll know that I failed at sustaining a relationship, that I’ve failed at sustaining many relationships, that I am not actively choosing to be alone the way I used to but rather I have been left alone. This is the walnut of crazy zinging its way into my brain. When the rational part of my brain resurfaces, I am able to remind myself that the relationship failed because we were not the right people for one another.

The rational part of my brain seems to surface more and more infrequently. I feel like I am scuba diving without the appropriate gear.

I need to be constantly entertained. I fly to Washington to visit my parents for a fortuitously timed vacation and spend ten days trotting after my mother to the grocery store and the pharmacy and the nursing home to visit Grandma and and Pilates and the hairdresser, anything to give me something to do with my brain other than think about how aggressively sad and lonely I am right now. (I’m not sure that my poor mother knew she’d need to expend as much energy taking care of me on this visit as she had to when I was three. Next time I visit, I expect to find that she’s hired me a babysitter. In my defense, I no longer need my diaper changed, and I am capable of making my own breakfast that doesn’t involve eating poisonous mushrooms off of the lawn, to name some of my primary failings as a three-year-old.)

I watch the clock tick down to my inevitable return to D.C. and I think about sitting alone in my apartment and I begin to panic again. When I resurface, I remember how much I like to spend time alone and that I spend plenty of time in the company of others and that it’s absurd to expect that life is always going to be easy and that sometimes I am going to be underwater without the appropriate scuba equipment and that this is not a permanent condition. Time and distance. Time and distance. Time and distance.

iv. love is a battlefield

I begin to think in really, really bad metaphors. Worse than the scuba diving metaphor.

I feel like a jellyfish.

I feel like a leaky faucet.

I feel like a used Kleenex. No, that one’s kind of gross. I feel like a wrung-out washcloth.

I feel like someone took a knife, baby, edgy and dull, cut a six-inch valley in the middle of my soul. Wait, that one’s kind of good. Oh, that’s because Springsteen wrote it. Dammit.

I feel like a wrung-out washcloth.

v. don’t think twice, it’s alright

I begin to think about the exciting things I can do when I’m over him. I calculate that this will be true after two things happen: 1) My criteria for new boyfriends does not consist of “a curmudgeonly vegetarian in his mid-thirties who likes German philosophy and runs marathons and likes to play Leonard Cohen songs on his guitar” and 2) my criteria for new boyfriends also does not consist of “a barely legal ginger who subsists entirely on beef jerky and listens to Nickelback.”

I count myself lucky that I don’t believe in the notion that there’s only one person out there for me. Like, it sucks to get dumped, but it must suck A LOT WORSE when you think you found #TheOne and then they move on without you. Also, it must suck A LOT to break up with someone who you’ve been dating for longer than a year. And divorce must just literally be the worst thing in the universe. Except for getting widowed. Oh my God, everything is more terrible than this and I will probably be over it after my next case of the hiccups.

In the grand scheme of breakups, this one is not actually that bad. The panic walnut is bad, but the breakup itself is not bad. I envision us having a civil conversation several months from now. I recognize that it is probably for the best that our relationship ended when it did not only because it wasn’t, like, #MeantToBe and also because I was apparently incredibly emotionally constipated and I need to spend a lot of quality time navel-gazing and figuring out why I’m such a nutcase, and then maybe I need to become a missionary and do some things that don’t involve thinking about myself and crying into my pillowcase.

And so here I am today, three weeks out, bobbing like an under-equipped scuba diver in the toxic and beautiful ocean that is love and relationships and friendship and heartbreak and really bad metaphors. I feel like a real adult now: like I can go write a terrible first novel featuring a thinly veiled version of him in a supporting role and throw it out, like in a while I can go meet someone new and we can laugh about the time that I got dumped in a hotel room in Palo Alto and I had to wrap myself like a burrito in a stolen blanket and cry into my neck pillow and all the fat white businessmen on the plane must have thought that I was a tragic, raving lunatic. And I was a tragic, raving lunatic, and I think that for a few more weeks—maybe even a few more months—I might still be a tragic, raving lunatic, but that’s okay because we are all tragic, raving lunatics bobbing in the bad metaphor ocean and I don’t really think there’s much we can do about that.

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:



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?


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.


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.


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.


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