writers: they’re just like us!

I recently read two books written by people I know. (It’s cool. I’m fine! I love the choices I’ve made and that I expend my creative energy tweeting on behalf of a corporation.)

The first, a collection of essays, was by a friend with whom I share not one but two alma maters: our performing arts high school in Las Vegas and Vassar College, three thousand miles away in upstate New York. During the year we overlapped at Vassar — my final year; his first — we acted and danced together in several productions and squealed occasionally over gossip about our Vegas mutuals, but never got to know each other well beyond that. The second was by a colleague who sat down the hall from me in our bleak Tysons Corner office tower. We didn’t interact much; I only learned about his novel when I stumbled across a glowing review in the Sunday Times and recognized his name.

I look at writers as another species. I write, but I’ve never been able to imagine myself as a writer. I just started Leslie Jamison’s “The Recovering” — in which she interrogates her own alcoholism and that of other Iowa-trained writers — and it reminded me that the whole idea of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop makes my skin crawl. (What self-respecting hermit wants anything but comments on a Google Doc? I took an Iowa-style creative writing course at Vassar and stewed so much about having to sit there while a bunch of hipsters lobbed their showiest criticism at me that I hardly had the energy to write my essay in the first place. Even now, whenever a colleague proposes we “live-edit” a document together, I have to decide whether I rank far enough above them to demand comments instead.) Nor can I envision myself wading into “Book Twitter” or keeping up on all of the online literary magazines. It seems that becoming a writer requires submitting to at least one of these indignities and so instead I scroll through @ mentions about Pizzagate all day (I dunno, it’s starting to seem pretty legit!).

Both of these books I just read are about place. Matt’s memoir travels alongside him from the Philippines to Las Vegas to Poughkeepsie to New York, and Kawai’s novel takes place mostly in Hawai’i, with detours to the mainland. I marveled at how differently Matt and I experienced teen and young adult years that we spent in mostly the same places doing mostly the same things (ballet class; drinking; embarrassing ourselves in front of boys). I read an interview where Kawai shared that he had been working on his book for a decade, and was struck to realize that as he was sitting down the hall from me in Tysons, doing whatever a software engineer does (reads xkcd and button-mashes?), he was simultaneously crafting a book that’s both fantastical and deeply rooted in its environment.

We three were all on the same mortal plane, yet they’ve transcended it. I, meanwhile, have dissociated from it.

I was fascinated by the idea of “place” when I was studying English at Vassar. I was surprised by how much I missed Las Vegas when I left, and by realizing how much of my identity was rooted in coming of age in a simulacrum surrounded by mountains in an inhospitable desert. (And I loved the double take when I told people where I grew up.)

The other week I finally read Jenny Odell’s “How to Do Nothing,” which is not actually about how to do nothing (much to the chagrin of many Goodreads reviewers!) but rather about how to live properly in the world. It’s a wide-ranging book that imparts several lessons. My favorite, put briefly, is this: You can’t responsibly detach from the world to avoid it, nor must you to change it. (In layman’s terms: You can have a Facebook account without being a zombie. You can speak to your Republican cousin without going home and flagellating yourself to make up for it.) She grounds this argument in an exhortation to reconnect with the physical environments we inhabit and to understand how we have reshaped them, mostly for the worse, over time.

This argument lingered in the back of my mind while I read my former colleague Kawai’s novel. He invokes ancient myths to tell the story of characters who find salvation in a landscape that is still a modern one, with cell phones and airplanes and binge-drinking. It’s not explicitly environmentalist, but it underscores Jenny Odell’s argument for rerooting yourself on the mortal plane to find greater meaning in the astral one. (The subtweet is “Shut down DAPL!”)

I’ve been working halfheartedly on a novel set in Las Vegas for almost as long as I’ve been away. In the intervening years I’ve lived in five cities in three countries and visited many more. It’s been a nice way to avoid picking a more permanent home, but — and? — I find myself feeling as rootless as I ever did as a college freshman. I love public transit and hate migraines too much to return to Las Vegas, but it feels high time to find a place that I know intimately enough to want to write something that depends on it.

It feels high time, too, to figure out how to become a writer. I thought I would resent my friends’ success, but in reading their books that are redolent of their lives and experiences, I find myself taking heart in seeing how lives that ran briefly along my path diverge from mine. I’ve never been one to take the obvious route (see above in re: I was a Las Vegan at Vassar and now I am a Vassar graduate in Silicon Valley, and also I’m afraid of flying but I live on the wrong side of the Atlantic Ocean). I don’t think I need to worry that I’m going to end up critiquing poetry in an Iowa bar. I think maybe I just need to finish my book.

the name is the thing

Like every other once-idealistic liberal arts college graduate who took a post-recession detour into the tech industry, I recently cringed my way through Anna Wiener’s Uncanny Valley at breakneck speed. (I didn’t react as strongly to it as my colleagues have. Mostly, I was just smug all over again that I never lived in San Francisco.)

My most lingering takeaway has been the book’s hallmark stylistic choice: Winkingly precise descriptions in place of proper nouns. Anna Wiener’s employers Oyster and Mixpanel become “the e-book startup” and “the data-analytics startup”; Amazon becomes “the online superstore.” My colleagues and I have traded the same hypotheses that reviewers have over whether she was gunning for timelessness or just skirting the Valley’s notoriously watertight NDAs, but it occurred to me this week that maybe she’s as allergic as I am to true names.

Writing in my journal these past weeks, I’ve caught myself studiously avoiding the words “coronavirus” or “COVID-19,” preferring instead the more cinematic “the virus.” I wince a little every time I read in a newspaper about who is and isn’t “practicing ‘social distancing,'” the scare quotes omnipresent around “social distancing” but not, mysteriously, “practicing,” which is jargon if I ever heard it; I dare you to tell me the last time you “practiced” something instead of just doing it. (You didn’t.)

I never was comfortable with argot. I chalk it up to a childhood spent studiously memorizing the mannerisms of an in-crowd I was outside of. I knew early what I could and couldn’t pull off and most nicknames, in-jokes, baby-talk, everything that was popular on the four-square court, were out of my league. They could smell on me my discomfort with anything that wasn’t of me or at least anything I hadn’t encountered in the dictionary that they insisted I read in my spare time.

(I recognize that in the grand pantheon of bullying, being said to read the dictionary in one’s spare time doesn’t count for much, but God, did it rankle me. I didn’t read the dictionary! It’s only now that I always keep a browser tab open to Thesaurus.com!)

Proof.

I only trusted language I acquired on my own. Anything else was a landmine. I remember once on the bus back from a field trip when one of the popular boys turned around to me with that glint in his eye and asked if I knew what a “cunt” was. I didn’t, but we were in middle school by then and I knew better than to take language cues from anyone with more mastery over hair gel than pre-algebra, so I just shrugged and returned to staring out the window.

(That bus ride was the first time I heard “The Remedy” and in seventeen years of hearing that song at dentists’ offices I haven’t been able to shake the association with B______ with the hair gel turning toward me with the look of someone who knew he was about to fuck a nerd over. Apropos of nothing, a few years after that I heard that he contracted a near-fatal case of necrotizing fasciitis after a wrestling match.)

So here I am in 2020 feeling like a fraud for calling the creeping crud COVID-19 when I hardly passed high school chemistry. Thus: “the virus.”

I am reminded of a time years ago following a gnarly breakup when I found myself incapable of referring to my ex-boyfriend by name in my journal. I referred to him as him, in italics, as if by abstracting him away on paper I could in real life too, or maybe I was just trying like the characters in Harry Potter not to invoke something I didn’t want around. Pronoun as amulet.

That time has also been on my mind lately as I try to compare right now — i.e., life under the shadow of death — to other trying times in my past. None reasonably compare to an invisible virus lurking on the chard at the grocery store. Logically, I know that. But every morning, five or ten seconds after I wake up, the oppressive weight of another day settles onto my chest like I’m twenty-five and newly single again and not thirty and living in a petri dish.

(“Time and distance,” a dear friend said to me back then when I was wallowing hard. Still relevant, K__!)

Now, at least, I’m affianced. The Thursday before last was the four-year anniversary of my first date with my now-fiancé. Our celebratory road trip around Romania has obviously been postponed until either after the pandemic or the afterlife. I can’t complain much about a celebration that involves lounge pants and a “Tiger King” marathon — let it be known that this is the first time since the second season of “American Idol” that I’ve participated in a cultural moment; I look forward to the next one in 2037 or, again, the afterlife — but I could do without the shadow of death circling ever closer.

The first several months of our relationship were blissful-ish. I got annoyed by things like a stubborn case of pink eye; a six-hour delay at SFO; a gargantuan cockroach that disappeared in my shoebox of an apartment, never to be seen again. The 2016 election took place the night before we were due to fly to Tokyo on a vacation I’d been planning since before we started dating, my Murakami fangirl dream trip.

We all know how that one played out. It played out like my gnarly breakup had a couple years prior; I startled awake in the middle of the night disappointed that it wasn’t a bad dream and then in the morning I would lay in bed for a minute or two adjusting, again, perpetually. In my journal I referred to “the ‘president,'” scare quotes and all.

Maybe it’s magical thinking: If I don’t name it, it can’t be. (It’s a backwards Ursula K. LeGuin.) It’s the writer’s delusion that if I can imagine it far enough from me I can keep it there, too; and the reader’s, that if I can find the experience I desire I can manifest it as my own. I know that my hand sanitizer can only do so much and so I’m turning for the first time to talismans. Can you blame me?

P.S. I wrote several years ago that “it makes me nervous to hear my own name.” I couldn’t figure out where to work that in here, but armchair psychologists are welcome to speculate.

woo-woo girls

I’ve always felt like a basic bitch trapped in a dweeb’s body. I don’t understand how I can waste so much time on Instagram and still not know how to buy clothes that fit, roundbrush my hair into beachy waves, interior-decorate, etc. Maybe it’s because I approach anything that’s not, e.g., reading Proust with a keening sense of shame and thus never learn to do it properly. The trouble is that I’ve also never read Proust, either, putting me in this liminal space where I have neither Instagram followers nor highfalutin lit-bro cred.

The other day I listened to a podcast about intuitive eating recommended by a friend and fellow-traveler on the used-to-count-the-calories-in-a-packet-of-baby-carrots journey, an interview with the dietitian Evelyn Tribole. I was walking to work and practically crawling out of my skin with fear that my headphones would fail and the other commuters would find out that I was listening to something so woo-woo.

(It happens. Every train commuter has experienced someone’s headphones getting yanked out of the jack so all the sudden everyone is listening to Papa Roach together before nine in the morning.)

I lean on my intellect like a crutch to make up for my failure to thrive as an artist, and ascribing value to anything that seems like it could have been on Goop feels off-brand. Case in point: A couple years ago a friend gave me his copy of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, a cult favorite workbook for creative artists who feel “blocked.” Julia Cameron is woo-woo embodied. Her method is premised on reviving the creativity you were born with, before your parents and teachers and coaches shamed it out of you, and so there are lots of exercises like writing letters to your childhood self and your shitty dance teacher, and arts and crafts, yada yada.

It took me fully three tries to complete the thing. It worked. Having shelved my ancient grudges with my sophomore year dance teacher and whoever judged the submissions for Vassar’s senior creative writing seminar, I am now a font of creativity. I’ve written probably four novels’ worth of content in the past year (unfortunately it’s the same five chapters of one novel, over and over again…).

Yet I resent feeling like the caricature of a self-involved white woman, hell-bent on rearranging the universe to accommodate myself at the center. Every morning I hunch over my Julia Cameron-prescribed “morning pages,” a three-page, handwritten ramble of whatever’s on my mind (I hate my novel, I love my novel, I hate my job, I love my job, I hate living abroad, I love living abroad, I should learn to garden, don’t forget to buy toilet paper, etc., etc.), afraid that someone’s going to see me engaging in my interior life. I listened to the intuitive eating podcast while I walked to work, blisteringly aware of the irony of being one wealthy woman listening to another wealthy woman telling me how to coddle myself into being able to enjoy the culinary riches on offer in our rarefied world while I swerve to avoid tripping on the rough sleepers who shelter in tents on High Holborn.

Years ago, as a middling dancer at my performing arts high school, I made peace with my mediocrity by reminding myself that I was smarter than the girls who got cast when I didn’t. (It was a real blow to my ego when I went to Vassar and lost out on roles to girls who were blowing my undisciplined ass out of the water academically and artistically.) I’m not a successful artist. I’m still low-key obsessed with the idea of visible abs. I rationalize my failures by positing self-care as lowbrow.

And the only reason that I’m introspective enough to recognize any of this is because I did Julia Cameron three times!

P.S. Honestly, do Julia Cameron. She’s so good. I hate her. But she’s so good.

P.P.S. Now that I’ve finished self-flagellating, another woo-woo thing I’ve been really into lately is yin yoga videos on YouTube. Yin yoga is the kind of yoga where you hold poses for like a hundred years, until you’re so bored you want to claw your own eyes out. I think this is supposed to be good for your chill, or something. On my favorite channel, Yoga With Kassandra, you can even do yin yoga where you repeat “affirmations” to yourself, and when you’re done you feel so chillaxed that you forget that you’re a monumental waste of space.

an office of one’s own

I was sour all this week. Logically, I knew it was because it’s January and there’s nothing good about January, especially not in this year of our lord 2020 when the next ten months are going to be an even more arduous slog toward inevitable disappointment than usual. Emotionally, I decided to blame it on “hot-desking,” a lesser-known scourge of work in the age of lifehacking wherein one isn’t assigned a desk but is instead invited to share a “pod” with their teammates. To me, this is a nightmare on par with weddings without seating charts, and I yearn for my past life as a dancer when barre spots weren’t assigned, per se, de jure, but God help you if you stood at the spot furthest from the mirrors on the barre nearest the courtyard because everyone knew that was my spot.

I was also sour because I’ve been trying to read more twentieth-century classics and so I’m gnashing my teeth through Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis. It’s a sendup of postwar England in which the hapless protagonist suffers, among other indignities, the hysterics of his would-be ex-girlfriend upon trying to dump her. Actual hysterics. Screaming, sobbing, frothing at the mouth until someone slaps her in the face. I’m too humorless and militant a misandrist to abide tired stereotypes, even in the context of satire.

To be fair, I was predisposed to dislike Kingsley Amis, the second husband of Elizabeth Jane Howard, my favorite literary discovery in 2019. She wrote the popular Cazalet Chronicles, five volumes of family saga that span pre- to postwar England, among other well-reviewed novels, but during her marriage to Kingsley her career took a backseat to his because that’s what was done then, and so I hate him out of allegiance to “Jane.” Sorry, Kingsley. (Besides, who the fuck names their kid Kingsley? Honestly. Brits.)

At the beginning of 2016 I decided to spend the year reading only books by authors who weren’t straight white men. It was a terrific experiment that took on unexpected poignance that November (I watched the election returns in front of a literal shrine to women leaders in history that my friend built for us to celebrate in front of, in case you were somehow confused about where my loyalties lay) and one that’s stuck with me, in terms of both the books I select now and my view on books I’ve read in the past. In my early twenties I read a lot of Philip Roth and John Updike and I couldn’t figure out why I felt so dejected every time I finished an American Pastoral or Rabbit, Run.

I obviously appreciate erudite writing that captures a time and place indelibly, and I love to read about socially unacceptable human foibles, but it’s only been in recent years — after immersing myself in voices from the margins, and in the era of #MeToo — that I’ve realized that I just don’t really like misogyny as a literary technique. God help me if I have to wade through another gratuitous description of the hysterical wife of a put-upon man chafing at the bonds of corporate servitude and his milquetoast children. Give me Eileen and her constipation any day.

I didn’t have the energy to deal with hot-desking this week, so instead of a desk I sat at a countertop between the video games and the pool table (recall that I work in Silicon Valley, where employment contracts are Faustian bargains, though it turns out the eternal youth gets old once you hit thirty). Fortunately, I joined the London location of The Wing in November, where I can leave behind the animal screams of post-adolescent coders taking breaks from “deep work” to hear women dressed in the millennial British uniform of that Zara dress over Chelsea boots under a boxy pastel car coat use the phrase “side hustle” in a sentence.

I felt especially grateful for The Wing during a week that felt spectacularly male with Kingsley Amis prattling on about the unbearable lightness of women who don’t follow recommendations on what lipstick to pair with your pallid skin tone and the only Bernie bro I know tweeting prolifically. It feels extravagant to pay for a coworking space when I already have a home and an office, but I have to spend the rest of 2020 and also, probably, my life catching up on the great misogynists of twentieth-century literature and being governed by the great misogynists of twenty-first-century politics and riding the Tube to work underneath male armpits. If shelling out an arm and a leg to sit underneath an oil portrait of Phoebe Waller-Bridge gets me through paying taxes to two governments led by men who have single-handedly inspired white women to rage-knit more performatively than ever, then it’s money well spent.

cleaning up bottles with you on new year’s day

It’s New Year’s and so I’ve been faffing around — we all agree that “faffing around” is the best British-ism, yes? — with New Year’s resolutions. I like to set a resolution or two but inevitably I forget them within weeks, which is fine, since it’s usually something like “Accept more social invitations” that is just not going to happen short of a brain transplant. It’s possible that my New Year’s resolution every year of my adult life has been “Accept more social invitations.”

I was thinking this year that my resolution should be something like “Be more present,” but that’s pretty easy, since I know that if I set my phone to black-and-white mode I magically stop wanting to watch Instagram Stories from my college classmates who are on Broadway now and/or Smitten Kitchen. Voila! Presence. I look forward to a more fulfilling future spent watching my friends and loved ones watch their Instagram Stories.

One could also argue that my resolution should be “Plan a wedding,” but I’m digging this concept my fiancé and I came up with (still funny that I have a fiancé; feels like the kind of thing I should say through a cigarette hanging from the corner of my mouth, wearing shoulder pads) where we rent out an Applebee’s and everyone wears sweatpants. Voila! Wedding. (Just kidding, Mom!)

Anyway, the more important thing is that they say that how you spend New Year’s Day is how you spend the year to come, and it’s nine P.M. and I haven’t left the house, so I think it’s gonna be a good one.

So. New Year’s resolutions. I’ve been feeling conflicted lately about my writing. I’ve had this blog for several years now and the essays I publish have gotten some attention here and there, but I’m beginning to realize that self-publishing on WordPress isn’t the best way to channel my creative energy. I haven’t been especially proud of anything I’ve published in the past couple of years, because I spend weeks to months noodling on genuinely good ideas and then vomit them out in the course of a weekend in a rush to publish to a relatively small audience. I feel stressed when I don’t write and inadequate when I do, with no editor to challenge and improve me and, of course, no remuneration. (Except the one zillion likes I get whenever I mention my eating disorder on Instagram, because everyone loves trauma!)

This is a solvable problem. People get paid for their writing all the time. Even bad writing! I’ve been paid for my writing! (I also had a stint as an SEO blogger for the cottage industry that’s sprung up to sue on behalf of people who had bad run-ins with vaginal mesh, but that’s not really what I’m looking for in a career as a writer.) It’s not as easy as pressing Publish on WordPress, and I’m pathologically lazy, but I’ve made exceptions in the past — twelve years of ballet come to mind — and I think I can figure it out.

At the same time, I love the instant gratification of blogging and social media, and my mission is a writer is to make people feel less alone in what they experience. This blog, and my Instagram, make great tools to achieve that mission, used in parallel as I grind out the novel that I’m finally gaining steam on and develop and pitch essays to real outlets.

I’m not saying my New Year’s resolution is to get paid for my writing, but I like an obvious inflection point, and there’s no time like today to shift this blog’s focus from sporadic, standalone, occasionally saccharine essays to more regular (and maybe more incisive?) meditations on daily life and culture. 

I guess this is a public commitment to leaning into my identity as a writer. I hope that I’ll be posting here more regularly and that eventually, you’ll see the fruits what I’m laboring on in the background in a more refined format. 

This is still the anti-lifestyle blog. Subscribers need not worry that I’ll start pummeling you with details of my workout regimen or photos of me wearing hats on pastel staircases in foreign countries, and friends and loved ones need not worry that I’ll air out their laundry for all the world to see. (Exes should continue to cower in fear.) I’m just excited to practice the art of writing, and to make obvious references to B-sides from lesser Taylor Swift albums, on a more regular basis. 

I hope you like it.

cybernetics for kinesthetics

This is part 4 of an ongoing series about technology. Previously, I justified my love of Instagram, felt nauseous about search engine optimization, and felt violated by targeted ads. You can stay tuned to this blog for more, or wait a few years for my Silicon Valley tell-all, All My Least Favorite People Went to Stanford.

I was troubled immeasurably by John Seabrook’s article about AI that writes

When I think about unpacking writing to its constituent biological processes, or to the rules of grammar and tone that comprise it, I feel nauseous like I do when I think about what’s outside of the universe, or God, or my most profoundly embarrassing moments. 

At best, my writing is Martha Graham’s quickening translated through me into action. Writing, when I do it well, isn’t something I think about; it’s something that I do with my body, as I did in my past life as a dancer. That writing might be something other than an incalculable force is anathema to the confidence that I’ve developed over the past several years since I first came to realize that there was, in fact, a thing that I was good at. 

Writing this essay was an out-of-body experience. I was 25 and absolutely wretched with despair. I was crawling with feelings and memories. I didn’t know where to put my rage and shame, nor did I know how to ask the world to pity me, and then finally I began to feel something bubbling up at the base of my skull, and I put my hands to the keyboard and then there was my heart, articulated. It was the first time I had felt powerful in months. It was the most powerful that I had felt. It was no biological process or series of instructions that a computer could execute; it was unfathomable. It was transcendent. 

In truth, I know that I, a writer, am a machine. I consume the New York Times Morning Briefing and Reddit threads about the misery of the Tube and I listen to my colleagues tell me all the ways in which they would do my job if they were me and I catch sight of a long-gone lover rock-climbing with his new girlfriend on Instagram and I scroll through movie reviews and restaurant reviews and gadget reviews email after email after email after email. What comes out the other end is one sheet from the multiverse, a dispatch from the version of me who crammed onto this morning’s Central Line to White City underneath the armpit of a man listening to a song that I haven’t heard since the long-gone lover played it for me in, for reasons that escape me, a parking lot. 

In the same way that baking is chemistry, and you can’t eyeball the baking powder, so is artistic expression. What I put on paper is the product of the precise number of hours I spent in the thrall of my A.P. English teacher in 2006 and the precise number of times that I’ve reread the first love letter I received as a semi-grown woman and the precise feeling I get when I forget that I’m brushing up against a stranger’s sweat, jostling for a grip as the train rattles from St Pauls to Bank, and remember instead that I live five thousand miles from where I was born. Had Mrs. Hampton retired five years earlier, I could be writing investigative journalism, not prose poems about the normal things I hate

What I create bears the mark of what I’ve consumed. And does that make me any different from a bot recapping the high school baseball season or a Russian troll farm regurgitating Stormfront in a Facebook ad? 

I like to think of myself as exalted. I’m an artist. You can’t teach an algorithm to feel where the commas go in its bones. I’ve never felt that my talent is explicable or that job, to speak bluntly, is at risk of being automated away. I don’t know where to put commas because I memorized Chicago; I know where to put commas because I feel it in my bones. I’ve made a career of putting commas in such a way that the person on the other end can’t help but feel what I’m feeling or buy what I’m selling. It’s a function of my being one with the commas. It’s innate.

But, then, how did I learn to drive? How did I learn to scale the shelves in the stockroom at the store where I worked in high school to restock a cartonful of shoes in the twenty minutes I had left before they stopped paying me whether or not I was done? Speeding down I-15 outside of Las Vegas, through the alien desert with mountains looming high above, is a task that a robot can do, but a joy that only a human can feel. Once, at the store, I fit a woman with half a foot missing for a pair of shoes; I held her damaged foot in my hand and we looked one another in the eye while she told me what she needed to be comfortable. 

It’s precious of me to imagine that being good at something that’s hard to teach makes me immune to the force of technology. I don’t get paid — yet — for the kind of writing that makes me really tick. And the writing I do get paid for can be such a slog that I might envy the robot that could dispassionately listen to the engineer line-editing my copy on the basis of his having once written for his college paper. (Perhaps we could train the robot to also dispassionately flag every time the engineer suggests language that is a little phallic for a technology marketing document. It, being neither a woman nor sentient, might get better results than I.) 

And yet. I write because I think it’s the best thing I have to offer the world, but I also write because it’s the best thing the world has to offer me. I can live with the idea that I might never drive a car again. I can’t live with the idea that one day holding a pen and scratching it on paper or letting my fingers fly along the keyboard might be quaint, that my naked human prose might not pass muster next to the output of a machine that has read more of Proust than I have. (Which is none, as long as I’m offering up naked human prose.) 

I want desperately to make a career of letting people see themselves in what I write and I’m scared to think that I might be up against not just the army of Buzzfeed listicle writers who have bafflingly landed book deals and an industry that only buys knockoffs of Gone Girl, but… robots. Or, more specifically, the decay of attention devoted to good writing. Machines can get the job of imparting information done. You can call it utilitarian, but what’s to say that writing — mine, or anyone’s — is more than that? 

It’s rich to claim that what I exude when I’m feeling productive is unique or valuable. You could, as Seabrook finds, mix up the same ingredients in another pot, and the consumer might be one the wiser. So who am I to imagine or even wish for a stop to the technology that so inexorably marches over what others hold as dear as I do writing? 

the medium is the message

This is part 2 of an ongoing* series about the Internet. Last week, I talked about how social media was my conduit to self-actualization (at least once I emerged from underneath the rock where I’d been hiding from Instagram for five years). This week, I counter that thesis by arguing that the Internet is a medium that is destroying our messages, and I’m not just talking about being limited to 140 characters. Next week, I’ll write about the meaning of identity in the machine learning era.

*It was going to be 3 parts and then it was going to be 2 parts but now it’s going to be 3 parts again and in the course of writing those 3 parts I’ve realized that I have A LOT OF FEELINGS ABOUT THE INTERNET, so why limit myself?

I didn’t expect that trying to learn about search engine optimization would trigger my latest existential crisis, but there you have it. (It’s been that kind of year, hasn’t it? I can’t figure out if it’s the omnipresent threat of nuclear war or if this is just what it’s like to be 28.)

I was trying to figure out what you’re supposed to be doing if you actually want people to read your blog. This in and of itself wasn’t that eye-opening, because I know perfectly well that there’s a metric fuckton of content on the Internet and you’re supposed to be doing some voodoo magic to make sure that when people Google “Dana Cass” they don’t come up with someone’s Florida mugshot. (Someone else’s. I’ve never been arrested in Florida, although I did consider burning down Harry Potter World when I went there in October, realizing that I had paid the equivalent of three new pairs of shoes to lay waste to my most precious childhood memories. The frozen butterbeer was really good, though.)

So I’m reading about SEO, which already feels like the used car salesman patter of the digital age, and then I came across this saga of how mattress reviews are actually just a proxy for the battle to dominate an oversaturated market. And then I was trying to figure out what to do with my books while I’m living abroad next year, and it turns out you basically can’t find anything unbiased about long-term storage. It’s literally all so-called sponsored content. (Pardon me if I don’t link it here lest I negatively impact my SEO with links to low-quality content. You, too, can Google “long term storage nyc” if you want to dispel the few illusions you had left about the democratization of information being net positive.)

“Indeed, it is only too typical that the ‘content’ of any medium blinds us to the character of the medium.”

“Sponsored” is a euphemism for “paid,” which means that what you’re reading is an advertisement disguised as neutral information. This is not the first time I’ve thought about the elusiveness of truth on the Internet. As it turns out, that’s a hot topic lately. But I’ve felt lately that a number of threads I’ve been tracking are beginning to converge, specifically: there is a metric fuckton of words on the Internet and consequently, the words themselves matter increasingly less.

I was reading some casual media theory a few weeks back. (Quick piece of advice: reconnecting with my academic self has been a great way to navigate the apocalypse without going completely insane. I balance out the New York Times with selections from my college bookshelf.) I didn’t spend much energy in college on anything that happened in the past hundred years. I spent most of my time on the nineteenth century — including a semester where, memorably, I managed to write more than one final term paper on the relatively narrow topic of the Shakers — so last month was the first time that I’d actually read Marshall McLuhan of “the medium is the message” fame.

In the course of my work, I spend a lot of time thinking about data and technology and the impact their use and misuse have on our daily lives. I spend much of my spare time writing. I don’t often think about the connection between the two beyond how I apply my talent as a writer in service of my company, where I was hired in 2012 to write proposals and white papers. I had heard the term “content marketing” and I assumed that that was what I was doing: writing things to get people to buy something. It was only when I started applying to content marketing jobs that I learned that even though I’m a better writer than most people I know, writing is not actually the point.

An entire massive cottage industry has sprung up around “content marketing,” which is not the art of writing well to describe what your company can offer a client but the science of getting in front of as many eyeballs as possible. It’s “the medium is the message” taken to the extreme, where every resource is brought to bear against the medium and the message itself is, if anything, an afterthought. The objective is no longer truth or even precision but rather a sort of association, where if you walk away thinking Manhattan Mini Storage is long-term storage the content marketer has done their job right.

“The effects of technology do not occur at the level of opinions or concepts, but alter sense ratios or patterns of perception steadily and without any resistance. The serious artist is the only person able to encounter technology with impunity, just because he is an expert aware of the changes in sense perception.”

I have always held writing as sort of a pure act, even in the context of my profession. I write to convey truth. I don’t hold sales or marketing as antithetical to the pursuit of truth, at least not in their traditional forms. Content marketing, though, strikes me as a bastardization of my talents as a writer. Nobody has any illusions about the intent of a proposal or a white paper or even an advertisement on the subway. But an advertisement disguising itself as advice on how to improve your work from home experience? No, thank you. Stick with product placement and let the writers pursue their truth. (And when it comes to how the art of writing has been bastardized in service of moneymaking, don’t even get me started on internet journalism.)

Some time after I discovered that I can’t be a content marketer because I didn’t come out of the womb knowing how to optimize my blog content for search engines, I moved to a new role inside of my company. Today, I often help people who aren’t speakers prepare talks for large audiences. Most of this work is therapy — reminding people that “The audience wants to hear you share what you have to say!” in hopes that they will remember that their arms are attached to their bodies and that they might even consider occasionally moving them — but a surprising amount of it is simply trying to get people to just say what they’re trying to get across in plain language.

How does this relate to content marketing? It’s just another symptom of the epidemic of not being able, or no longer caring, to speak meaningfully. I work mostly with engineers who think a lot about data — information — and how to make it usable. They tend to think about speaking in the same way, where the actual thing that they’re trying to say is secondary to the way in which they say it. “So I’m going to talk about x, y, and z,” they tell me. We go into rehearsal a few weeks later, and they talk all around x, y, and z, and they ask me for ways to visualize x, y, and z, and at some point I look at them and say, “Well, why don’t you just say x, y, and z?”

Every time, it’s somehow a revelation to both of us that it can actually be that simple. In a world where we are inundated by content, speaking truth without the trappings of search engine optimization or fancy slides feels as impractical as speaking truth without a microphone. The message doesn’t matter if it’s buried in the medium. (I think I’m abusing McLuhan here, but bear with me.)

That’s upsetting, isn’t it? I’ve been in ongoing conversation with a singer-songwriter friend of mine who recently deleted his Facebook account because he’s sick of how promotion on social media — and, increasingly, success as an artist — depends on your ability and willingness to manipulate the ranking system. He doesn’t feel like tying his success to his being able to fund Facebook ads, nor does he feel like his success should be something that Facebook gets to monetize.

This is even more insidious when you think about the inevitable politicization of the mediums we’ve come to rely on to speak our truths. Maybe it was idealistic to think that art and truth were pure — patronage has always existed; newspapers have always had editors — but today it feels that they are elusive. Before the Internet democratizes information, it bastardizes it. Why are you reading what you’re reading, or listening to what you’re listening to? Who paid for it to reach you? What’s their end goal and how do you, the the content consumer, figure into it? Are you the actor or the audience and who wrote the script, anyway? Do art, truth, and opinion still exist or are they all just a function of who’s paying whom to do what? 

And man! All you wanted to do was buy a new mattress.

textually transmitted diseases

When is the appropriate time to make your confessions to a potential partner? During the first date? The second? Before or after you admit that you’ve never seen “Jurassic Park?” Should you let them find out when they add you on Facebook? Should you just put it in your Tinder bio and get it out of the way? Do you have a moral responsibility to tell them before you’ve made an emotional commitment?

“I like you—”

“—I like you, too!”

“—but… I have—”

“It’s fine! I got diagnosed with HPV once too.”

“…”

“…”

“I was going to say, I have a blog.”

“Oh.”

My blog turned into a “thing”—as in, something that people beyond just my mom read and react to—around the first time that I offended a significant other by having one. Actually, I think the offense was a function of my blog becoming a thing. When it was my little hobby, where I wrote mostly for the sake of the navel I was gazing it, it was a non-issue. When I decided to deal with getting dumped in a hotel room in Palo Alto (Palo Alto! I’m over everything but that) by writing a little paean to the fact that I hadn’t yet jumped off my 13th-floor balcony, it was mostly because I didn’t want to call all of my friends individually and tell them that I needed somebody to bring me a box of Kleenex and some horse tranquilizers.

It was only when that little paean got featured on WordPress that it occurred to me that I wasn’t just sending out a holiday newsletter to my friends and third cousins. In short order, I had a couple thousand people subscribing to my little paeans—which, I think, could all be summarized as celebrations of how I haven’t jumped off a balcony—and one very put-out email from the subject of that first essay who pointed out perhaps rightly that, in asking me to drinks one summer evening and throughout all that followed, he had not signed up to be a guest on Oprah.

I have thought often since then about where the boundaries lie between what’s mine and what’s fair for me to talk about and what secrets belong to the people who shape me. I didn’t write that essay to spite him; in fact, I wrote it and rewrote it several times to reorient it around me, but there was only so much I could do. (You know, aside from not writing it at all. Which obviously wasn’t an option, because there aren’t nearly enough think pieces about breakups on the Internet and it was my civic duty to contribute.)

“Please don’t write a blog post about how happy you are to be single,” my last boyfriend said to me when I broke up with him. I wanted to say I can’t believe you’d think that I would but I was in no position to be the offended one, so I said I wouldn’t, and I didn’t. I can’t say I didn’t want to write after we broke up—not precisely that, because “happy” isn’t the right word, but Lord knows I can’t undergo anything resembling a seismic shift without milking it for all its worth—but I didn’t because there was no way to do it in a way where the meanness didn’t outweigh the artistic merit or the catharsis or the attention.

When I was a teenager, one of my favorite authors was Augusten Burroughs, who wrote—writes—incisive memoirs that are mostly about the terrible people who have turned him into who he is. He released a new book recently. I preordered it while I was inhaling the last of a container of hummus at two in the morning a few months ago, then forgot about it until it arrived (and sparked a moral quandary about whether a gay white male author counted as not quite a white male author because I’m swearing off books by white male authors this year. Spoiler alert: I decided it was worth it.)

I felt a little nauseous reading his latest book, hundreds of pages of gory detail about the collapse of his first marriage and how it led to his second. All I could think about was how could anyone stand to read this about themselves, especially the jilted first husband but even the second. I felt a little betrayed on their behalf, and in turn I felt a little sick finally acknowledging that while I don’t have a book deal and readings at the Union Square Barnes & Noble, the Internet is still a public space, and with the great power of speaking to an audience comes the great responsibility of not trying to make everybody in your life agree to be Scott Disick.

I am a different person now than I was when I was a seventeen-year-old reading Running With Scissors. Mostly, it’s because I don’t have to go to AP Calculus at seven in the morning anymore, so I’m a lot better adjusted, but I also understand now what it is for someone to really change the course of your life. Certainly, when I was a teenager, I had been saddened and irritated and humiliated by everyone from my mom to my algebra teacher to the guy who played the candelabra in our high school production of Beauty and the Beast.

At my performing arts high school, we made a lot of self-indulgent art that was mostly about each other. There were a lot of dance solos to “Hands Down” and monologues performed with more eye contact than was really necessary, and God help the poor suckers who had to sit through the Senior Choreography showcase, where every senior dancer got to express their innermost feelings through a piece choreographed on a bunch of freshmen who were practically drooling at the chance to roll around on the floor to From Autumn to Ashes wearing ripped-up black tights. It was all thinly veiled enough that you didn’t need to know someone too well to know just who the target of that impassioned rendition of “Your Eyes” was.

As an adult, though, I am trying to write intentionally about myself and only myself. This is partly because I am the most interesting woman in the world, obviously, and partly because I recognize that other people are my commodity to trade for “likes” on the Internet. I write about the people that drift into and then quickly back out of my life like the one-dimensional characters that they were for me and I try to treat the people who were three full and destructive dimensions just the same.

It’s only through gritted teeth and a couple of drafts of this thing that I’m willing to admit this, but the email I received after that first blog post made me realize a couple of salient facts about being a writer in the self-publishing age:

  1. I am not a professional writer. I am just another schmuck on the Internet writing tell-alls because the only thing more satisfying than keeping a diary is keeping a diary that talks back to you. I’m going to abandon this metaphor before I have to start talking about Horcruxes, but here’s the thing: it’s really, really hard to resist temptation when you know that you’re going to get a bunch of pats on the back and clicks and likes if you do it. This is the truth that I have to confront every time I’m tempted to air another pile of dirty laundry about the terrible date I went on with the guy who kept talking about how he hated Uber or to recount the day-to-day adventures of being a recovering anorexic. (Synopsis: I wake up! I feel mildly anxious about my breakfast! I go about my day! I feel mildly anxious about my lunch! Etc., etc., rinse, repeat.)
  2. That’s not art. It’s not even that interesting, really, to read a bunch of first-draft vitriol that is funny and interesting when you’re telling it to your coworkers over Friday night beers but overplayed and mean-spirited when you’re using it as a mechanism to get attention online. And fundamentally, I know that, and I felt a little sick when I got that email from my ex-boyfriend because as much as I didn’t want to feel bad for him for feeling exposed and embarrassed, I did.
  3. When a person becomes part of your history—especially when you’re a person who thinks relationships are like having a tapeworm—you can’t really abstract them away. And if you treat the people you date like they signed up to be the subject of a New Yorker profile, you’re going to alienate them. They’re going to think they need to ask you not to write about them after you dump them. They’re going to think you’re the kind of person who likes likes better than.. being liked. (I’m done. I’m sorry. I’m firing myself.)

But where is the line? What makes a meaningful contribution to the zeitgeist? When is it worth inciting pain or discomfort in somebody that you liked or loved or at the very least swiped right on for the sake of entertaining your audience? How should I balance my desire to write with my desire to be not totally undateable? Why won’t anybody watch me perform a heartfelt contemporary dance solo to “How to Save a Life”? Is it a sign of my weak moral fiber that I’m more concerned about how being a blogger affects my dating prospects than I am about, like, not being a completely awful person? Should I change my last name to Kardashian?

I’ll know the answers to these questions one day. In the meantime, I’m going to go work on my entirely fictional novel about a young liberal arts college graduate wasting her English degree on a minimum-wage retail job in suburban Las Vegas. Twist: she’s not a ballet dancer! (I told you it was fiction.)

all the old familiar places

We moved from one house to another, not even two miles away, when I was twelve. On the last night in the old house, I wrote a letter that I’ve since misplaced to remind myself of who I had been when I lived in that house. (I’m not sure how I drew up quite as much sentiment as I did, since I was twelve, but I’ve taken myself as seriously as I do now for as long as I can remember so you can bet it was heartfelt. I likely used the words “heartbreak” and “disappointment” as intentionally as I do in this blog. It was hard out there for a four-foot-tall nerd with poor social skills and Coke-bottle glasses.)

My hypothesis was that as soon as we moved into that new house I was going to become a new person, the way I did for a couple weeks every summer when I went to visit my grandma and became, oddly, docile and mostly quiet. It was as if the simple act of flying to Pasco was enough to make me forget that I was a championship whiner, but only until I got home and slept a night in my own bed and woke up the next morning as cranky as I’d ever been. I knew that a letter was no amulet, and that I couldn’t move to a new house and be the same person that I was the day before, but I wanted to remember as best I could.

Place is evocative. When I leave a place, I envision myself leaving behind something like a husk; when I return, it’s as if I step back into that husk involuntarily.

I’m a writer who works less with imagination than with memory. The question that runs through all of my work is who was I then? The answer is elusive. It’s easy to recall a generic description—that ugly shirt you had in two colors that you wore to every party sophomore year, and the Regina Spektor album that you were always listening to on the way to those parties, and how excited you were when S___ from American Literature finally asked you out—but it’s harder to conjure the sense of what it was like to live at the center of the constellation of all of those things.

To step back into a place that you’ve left behind—that’s the closest you can get to slipping back into that husk. Sleeping in your childhood home after you’ve grown up and moved away. Drinking at the bar where you went on your first post-college first date—your first first date, let’s be honest—five years later, only now you drink beer instead of vodka sodas and you know how to leave before the second drink with a little bit of dignity.

I think sometimes about the husks I leave strewn around the many places I visit where I’ll never return: that there was a time when I was a person who sat on her boyfriend’s kitchen countertop in an apartment in San Francisco, legs danging and wine glass in hand, and that there was a time before that when I was seventeen and I was the same person, only the countertop I sat on was in a dressing room in the backstage of a theater and it was very special to be one of the elite dancers who got their own patch of mirror and countertop, not like the underclassmen upstairs who had to share.

I got dumped in Palo Alto a couple of years ago. Of all the places to have my heart broken, Palo Alto was particularly cruel—it’s sunny and everyone is blonde and wears Adidas slides and works like four hours a day, for one thing, and for another, I have to visit some four or five times a year. And for all that I’ve grown and healed and moved on, I can’t help but feel a little raw and disoriented, like the second I step onto University Avenue I remember what it was like to be thrown so harshly off of my equilibrium. (Or maybe I’m just disoriented because it’s February and everyone is wearing shorts, and Palo Alto is full of humanoid freaks who don’t cry on the street like New Yorkers.)

It’s kind of joyful, though, to step back every once in a while to a husk that I’m thankful to have discarded. I remember that constellation viscerally—the sunshine on my back and the sound of chatter around me in the company cafeteria, how the sensation of disappointment settled in my eyelids and my gut—and it’s a great relief to know that that’s not my life anymore, that that’s never going to be my life again, that certainly I’ll have my heart broken again but that it will feel different and look different and smell different. (And I’ll get to say “Well, I feel like shit, but this isn’t nearly as bad as the time I got dumped in Palo Alto and everyone was smiling and drinking boba and wearing shorts and I wanted to punch them all in the face.”)

I finished A God in Ruins last night on a plane and while I’m not sold on Kate Atkinson’s prose or even her plots, there’s no denying that when it comes to structure and conceit she is a master. It’s a book about memory and perspective and she uses a trope where the protagonist, toward the end of his life—but not the end of the novel, which is told out of sequence—goes on a “farewell tour” of the places that figured prominently in his life. It’s a stroke that is of greater genius than it sounds. What better way to describe how a person has grown and changed—or not—than to juxtapose who they were at a moment in a place with how they recall themselves in that moment decades later?

It’s easy to recast memories in a light that better flatters the narrative you’ve crafted for yourself. I’ve caught myself more than once writing an anecdote that didn’t happen in the way I first recalled it: there was a story about being coached to insert a tampon for the first time through the bathroom door at ballet camp, and I wrote it down and a few minutes later remembered that that wasn’t my story, it was my roommate’s. I tried to write a few paragraphs ago that I had been to brunch at the restaurant where I’d cried into a cocktail napkin during my sister’s rehearsal dinner the night before her wedding, then remembered that it was the restaurant where we’d gone to drinks the night before the night before her wedding, which doesn’t flow nearly as well. I remembered these stories in a way that suited me.

Like I said before, place is evocative; being there jars my memory in a way that the simple act of remembering can’t. It’s not that I remember the details more clearly—I could sit at the same patio table where I sat for three hours on my first date with my first serious boyfriend and I still couldn’t conjure up what shoes I was wearing—but I remember the sensation. I used the word “constellation” earlier but perhaps I should say “confluence” instead: to be, physically, somewhere where something happened is to get as close as I can to reliving the experience of being that person in that moment, replicating the sensations that form a memory and retelling the story to fill in the gaps.

But as delicious as it is to step into and back out of a skin that I’m grateful to have shed, it’s even more delicious to know that the nature of my life—spent, so far, in constant motion, in moving trucks and on planes—means that most of my memories are ephemeral. My childhood home is sold and so is the one where we lived after that. My apartments have been relet to strangers, my furniture donated to charity, my high school repainted. I couldn’t go home again if I wanted to and so I have the freedom to paint my memories whatever color I want to; they’re lost to time, and no letter or essay or novel can conjure anything more than a husk.

I think perhaps that’s best. I tell people I write to make other people feel less alone in the world but I think that the old Joan Didion quote, the opening line of “The White Album,” is truer: “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” I write to mold my memories into the shape I need them to take so that I can live with them. To return to Palo Alto and remember how powerless I was on that day in August is to warp the shape of the story I wrote that forklifted me from that hole. I avoid DC because I don’t want to remember what it was like to be thin and weak and sick; I gallivant around the East Village because I want to recapture what it was to be 22, when nothing was nearly as big a deal as everything seems to be now. But what I like best is to leave footprints in new places that I’ll never see again—an apartment in southwestern France, a coffee shop on New Zealand’s North Island—and to file them away using whatever system I like. I was ambitious here. I was artistic there. I was listening to Simon and Garfunkel and it made me feel wistful. I made eye contact with a stranger and all sorts of this could have happened if I hadn’t looked back at my book. I write in my journal like I wrote myself that letter, so that I might remember who I was in that moment, so I can better understand what it means to be me now because of who I was then—there.

welcome to the anti-lifestyle blog

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

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

I’m single

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t like dogs

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

I’m not normal

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

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

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