dana cass

the anti-lifestyle blog

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.)

gunner

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

prologue

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:

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

TRANSIT

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

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

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

FRIENDS THAT DON’T GIVE ME HIVES

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

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

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

UNPREDICTABILITY

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

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

TOLERANCE FOR WEIRDNESS

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

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

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

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

idiot box

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

whenever this world is cruel to me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the %$*(ing weather

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

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

“It was 85 in Vegas on Tuesday!”

“Oh, were you in Vegas this week?”

“No, but…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

whine and cheese

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“we”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

jumbo slice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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