Crying in Public

Oh, what’s PJ doing? Crying again? In public? Again? What do you want from me? I blame writing. And reading. And living. All this stuff is just too good and too hard that one can’t help but shed a tear from time to time. Or, you know, imitate a fire hydrant. Potato, potahto.

Good writing rattles me. Good writing is different from something well written. It’s hot guts spewed on pavement, not a neatly stitched wound that leaves no scar. Some months ago, I read something that was both good and well written. My friend, whom we’ll call Smate, wrote a personal essay untangling some stuff. Grown-up, Life stuff. The essay centered around an event, a positive decision Smate had made in an attempt to abandon past conceptions of self.  The decision symbolized a commitment to change; the essay provided  way to work through the cascade of emotions. As I read through it, I felt a subsequent cascade set off inside of me.

Good writing rattles me because it hits nerves that I try not to touch. Edit: it hits nerves most people, safer people, try not to touch. But not me. I’m always poking the uncomfortable places, the painful spots, the wounds. I read a tweet recently from one of my peers which stated that writers should remember to let joy, and not only pain, fuel their work. Soon, I thought, but not tonight.

When I received Smate’s email, I was sitting at home. It was the middle of the day on like, a Tuesday. I couldn’t focus on my work. I welcomed the distraction. I didn’t know what I was getting into, but it became evident that it wasn’t going to be a light read. I heard her voice and began to feel. And then cry. I kept scrolling. Crying wasn’t enough. So I bawled. I got up from the table and paced the kitchen, wrapped my arms around my chest. I sat back down and read more. I refilled my coffee. I kept reading. Another nerve struck. I wailed. I went to the corner of the kitchen and sat down, pulled my legs into my chest, and let the wall and door frame hold me in a sturdy embrace. I put my hands to my wet, hot face and gasped for air.

When I was finished, I thought of a satirical piece I love: If you think I’m pretty when I cry, you should see me sob on the bathroom floor.  This kind of knees-to-the-bathroom-floor kind of pain, whether brought on by a break-up or some good writing, isn’t cute. I couldn’t tell tears from snot. I was sweltering and shivering. Inconsolable isn’t cute, but it is beautiful. It’s beautiful to feel your way through powerful shit–shit about what it means to be “pretty,” to be loved, to be whole, to be broken, to be healing, to be a woman, a person, stable, alive. To feel less than, unworthy, scared, petrified, confident, elated, petrified, alive.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cried in public. Not because I don’t know the number, but because I don’t want to worry you. I can’t tell you how many times, but I can tell you a few places. I’ve cried in administrative buildings at my school. In parking lots. On airplanes…on a stranger’s shoulder. In a 24-hour diner at 5 am. In a 24-hour supermarket at 6 am. At church, often, but I don’t think that’s particularly strange. Subway cars. Chipotle. My yoga studio. The list goes on.

I’m not ashamed of my episodic crying. We are socialized to feel shame about stuff like this, but I won’t. As a woman, I’ve been told to calm down. Like, so many times. I’ve been told to be more rational. To be strong, be soft, sit still, stand up, lean in, lean back, nod my head yes, shake it no. To make sense. To boil everything down into a crux that other people can easily understand. To show less emotion so people take me seriously. I don’t want to be understood or taken seriously. I mean, I do, but by people who know what I’m saying even when my voice is cracking. My head isn’t the only part of me that provides useful information. More times than not it’s my heart and gut and toes and knees that show me where and how to go. I’ve learned so much by creeping into dark places with “Do Not Enter” Signs, often without a hard hat on. I don’t often emerge with a smile, but it’s been worth it every time.

This world will take everything from you if you let it, and that sounds a bit cliche, but as I count down the hours to tomorrow, they are the only words of comfort I can find. Don’t let this stuff make you hard. Don’t let Fear consume you. The world can take everything, but it also has everything to give. So make some room. Cry until you have no fluid left. Then hydrate and begin again.

Be beautiful. Be graceful. Be messy. Be true.

With love and nothing else,

PJ

And, obviously, Florence + the Machine: 

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The Heart at 23

A few months ago, my roommate had her birthday and I posted “The Brain on 23” on her facebook wall without even thinking. It’s cleverly written–the kind of tempo’d prose I love to read and write. Much, but not all, the piece resonated with me, so I decided to carve out my own poetic essay about twenty three. I’m posting it today in honor of my beautiful bestie, M, who celebrates her 23rd on this very day. (A couple of years ago we celebrated our first BBBFB, and we haven’t looked back since)

I’m 23 and change (enough that you’d pocket it), not yet a college graduate, as you are well aware by now. The fuse burns, though, and I’m ready to shoot out into a productive future. Yeah, right. I’m 23 and living in Donald Trump’s America.  I’m 23 and all my friends have degrees, but they were gracious enough to stick around town to support me and each other as we figure our shit out…M doesn’t think it’s right for me to live my life like I’m in a movie, but I just tell her that it’s research for when I do, finally, eventually, write FOR THE BIG SCREEN. Movie life or not, our existence together is pretty fucking magical. Here’s to M, and to making the rest of ya’ll jealous of our life: 

We’re twenty three and we flirt with each other and our smoking habits. We play it safe, except when we don’t, which is often, and thank God for that. It is in the moments of naked risk when we are most ourselves.

We’re twenty three. We smash flower pots boys we don’t like gave us. We are too old for cooties, too young to want bouquets that seem to say: Look at me, I am trying to buy your love. We are too young for that kind of Love. We pick the flowers first and make them into crowns because in our hearts we are eight, but in our minds we are twenty three, nearly twenty nine, running up our time to be free, single, alive. Of course this is a lie, force fed by the media and our mothers, but still we chug it like we chug our three-dollar Trader Joe’s wine.

We are twenty three. We smash pots and the patriarchy, smoke pot and monsters out from under the bed. Our monsters aren’t the hairy, scary ones of the past, well, maybe that one night stand, but we let that one pass. No, instead we battle societal expectations, telling us to dress smarter, look for a partner–But we’re not crafting CVs, we’re drinking craft beer in converse sneakers which stick to the floors of the only bars we can afford. We want to dance till our feet bleed, pressed up against a stranger we won’t text tomorrow, because there is no tomorrow in our minds. We are twenty three.

We still babysit. Come home and sit cross-legged on each other’s bedroom floors, giggling about the silly shit we got into that day. We are twenty three and trying to navigate “intimacy,” whatever that means. We know nothing of string theory, and everything about no-strings-attached theory. We ghost and get ghosted, which seems only fair. We are learning that love is difficult and a mess, so we find comic relief in the”hey beautiful” messages we get from Tinder matches we probably–no, definitely–won’t meet for drinks. Drinks we can’t afford and drinks we do not wish to have because porch beers with our best friends are all we’re looking for right now.

We’re twenty three. We take each other on writing dates in hipster coffee shops, drink our coffee black. The baristas smile at us, flirting or trying to make tips, we can’t tell- We’re too preoccupied to care, really, about his tattoo sleeve, her guitar pic earrings. We’re busy writing love letters, cover letters, and grad school apps, well, some of us. We’re busy making and breaking plans, hearts into pieces. We’re busy being us.

We are twenty three. We play with magnetic poetry and prank each other with ugly statues we bought on sale at Good Will. We sustain ourselves on boxed pasta and avocados, black bean brownies and dreams. We don’t follow recipes or rules, which means our lives often look like a drunk dart board. Our floors are covered with clothes and the occasional thermos of what was juice but is now wine. We either own cats or despise each other for owning cats. Most of our walls are covered in chalkboard paint. We are dusty, musty dreamers–we are doing it right.

We’re twenty three. We sleep alone in unframed IKEA beds to which we have no extra sheets. We are early to bed early to rise, trying to get worms, grow up, sometimes. Other times we’re skipping downtown through moonlit muddy puddles, back to the same hipster cafe to drink stale wine and coffee-flavored cocktails. We hold hands and our contradictions, telling each other it will all work out. We hold back tears and the door open as we stumble back to our shared home. Our out of season Christmas lights. Our life.

We are twenty three. The future is out there, looming like the parking tickets we swore we would pay yesterday. We are just the right age for jumpsuits and postage stamp skirts and knee-high boots. For half off margaritas any night of the week. We aren’t dressing smarter, looking for partners. We are driving to the 24-hour Stop and Shop at midnight, buying Mylar balloons and coconut ice cream. We are twenty three. We flirt with each other and our smoking habits. Twenty three, not dead.

 

And because I’m hipster and sappy as fuck, and fancy my movie-life to have the same filter as a Wes Anderson film, but with strong feminist overtones, I present to you, as your musical note, The Zombies: 

 

A toast

A toast! A toast! I recorded my first blog post! (This is a trial run, so be kind. The iPhone 7 camera is super high quality, and you can see all my pores and hear all my voice cracks)

So, I learned that my childhood crush was getting married…today. I thought I’d drop him a line to say “congrats” and also to brag about the cool & dope aspects of my life as a Single Lady. So in lieu of music, you get a 6:24 minute monologue of me in my kitchen. How luck you are! But not as lucky as Zack.

PJ’s Postgrad Plans

160 days until *~graduation~* and people always ask me what I’m gonna do, where I’m planning on living, working, brushing my teeth, buying stamps. People are nosy. So for anyone interested, here’s what I got. Excuse the caps. I had some coffee. Also I’m sick of having to make up something that appeals to capitalism’s road map for twenty-somethings, so if it feels like I’m yelling, I am, from the top of a snowy peak, from underneath my comforter….

~*~*~*~*~ 

“So what are you gonna do with that degree?”

WHAT AM I GONNA DO WITH MY DEGREE? MY PAPER WORTH $200,000 AND A MENTAL BREAKDOWN? OR TWO? YOU KNOW WHAT I’M GONNA DO WITH THAT DEGREE? I’M GONNA TACK IT TO THE WALL, FIND SOME DARTS AND GO AT IT. THAT’S WHAT I’M GOING TO DO WITH MY DEGREE.

NOW MY LIFE. THAT IS SERIOUS. MY LIFE IS ART IN PROCESS. AS PROCESS. I KNOW YOU ARE DISAPPOINTED WHEN I SAY THAT WHEN I GRADUATE, I AM GONNA DO THE SAME THINGS I DO NOW. I’M GONNA EAT AND SLEEP AND DREAM AND SPREAD THE GOSPEL OF PEACE. I’M GONNA BE HAPPY. AND SAD AND SCARED AND HOPEFUL AND DESPONDENT AND RINSE AND REPEAT.

WHEN I GRADUATE, I’M GONNA KEEP LEARNING. KEEP READING. KEEP GROWING. KEEP FALLING AND GETTING BACK UP. I’M GONNA SPEW HONESTY AND I’M GONNA GIVE THE WORLD AND ALL ITS PEOPLE AS MUCH LOVE AS I CAN HANDLE–EVEN MORE ON GOOD DAYS. I AM GOING TO STOP CHECKING BOXES AND START EXTRICATING MYSELF FROM THEM. I AM GOING TO ESTABLISH VALUES AND ABANDON THEM WHEN THEY’RE WRONG. I AM GOING TO DISSOLVE FEAR AND RESOLVE TO LIVE FOR LOVE AND FOR JUSTICE. WHEN I GRADUATE, I AM GOING TO KEEP ON BEING. OH, AND I AM GOING TO WRITE. AND WRITE. AND WRITE.

~*~*~*

And to feed my inner angsty child and yours, some Third Eye Blind:

On Lost Things

I’m back in my hometown for the weekend. A little writers’ retreat. It’s mostly been thesis stuff, but I churned out a quick poem, too. This afternoon I took a walk and ran into my very first boss, L. She was driving through the center of town just as I was strolling through. “Center of town” may be overstating exactly the location we ran into each other. The town center is merely a four way intersection with, get this, a traffic light. On the hill to the south is the congregational church; at the base of the hill to the north is a “plaza,” or rather two adjacent buildings, one of which is a liquor store, the other of which lies vacant. It used to be the general store, at which L was the manager and I was the coffee maker slash bagel(-sometimes-finger) slicer. We caught up for a bit and talked life and town politics. I’ve put a lot of distance between myself and this town since leaving, but standing under the traffic light, next the hand painted sign for next week’s turkey dinner (which is sold out, in case you were looking to go), I felt something like nostalgia. Y’all know how I feel about Rory Gilmore, but I was pretty moved by how moved she was to revive the Starshollow Gazette (not that she had many other leads, but still). As I stood by L’s car, I looked down the hill and had a strong desire to reopen The Store. The sign still hangs above the porch like an omen. A “Bain Real Estate” sign sits out front, a second omen. Living here and working here meant so much to me as a young person. I was just a kid when I worked there, but I gained so much. Responsibility, a bank account, customer service skills, exposure to good, old music, and the sense of humor that every service worker must cultivate in order to deal with weirdos and rude people. I left work each Saturday reeking of bacon grease. It took two showers to get it out, but it didn’t matter; I loved it there. Here’s my little tribute:

For L
And so I come back to where I began
To the place that formed me,
Or at the very least held me while I took form.

I open my car door and spill into the driveway.
My knees hit the gravel as I look up.
Sleep will come easy tonight.

The sun rises and dawn’s pink fingers
Cradle the hollowed shell of this town,
A town struggling to be heard.
It had something, way back when.
It had a spark of love in it
If love is bacon and egg sandwiches,
Which it undoubtedly is.
If love is a place to gather with your coffee,
Which of course it is.

But something got in the way.
Something that sounds a lot like change
Falling into a Coinstar machine.
Something that smells like
Palms sweaty from
Being clenched into a fist,
Fits of anxiety.
Not ours, not the dreamers,
Makers, writers, creators.
It was, and always has been,
The owners who fear most,
Whose knuckles are the first to go white,
Tightly gripping their portfolios
And financial managers’ advice.

Having never had nothing,
I suppose it is this that they fear,
The possibility of losing it all.
So they hold on, instead, to unoccupied lots,
The safety that exists in vacancy.
They keep the buildings empty,
As we sit with wide eyes brimming
with tears, through which we see
blurry visions, possibilities.
We sniffle back the sobs and
smell fresh paint and baked pies.
We know what we could build,
Attract, become, support,
If only they would give up the keys.

 

Because I first heard this album while working at The Store, and because of this song’s relevance to this story & the story I am writing for my thesis, (an urban developer quoted Ms. Mitchell in one of the articles I read today) here’s some Joni for you all:

 

Hipster Nonsense

I’m sitting in one of New Haven’s more “alternative” cafés, Koffee? The exposed beam architecture is wrapped in silver tinsel, for the holidays, and burlap sack, for some unknown reason. The barista, who sports a grey, full body jumpsuit, like you might see on an airport runway worker, plays an album by the nineties hip-hop group, The Pharcyde. I’m eating a gluten free muffin and drinking from the repurposed peanut butter jar that I always keep in my backpack. Hipster “af,” you might say. Enter: Greif.

In “What was the Hipster,” Greif unveils hipster culture as extractive, consumerist, confused, and absurd, all the while bringing nuance and validity to the subject. Though I have only been alive to see and interact with modern mutations of the hipster, this social category has been around for decades. Greif cites specifically the use of the word hipster to describe a subset of black culture in the nineteen forties; the transgression from black subculture to white subculture took just a decade, he notes. This rapid adoption of black trends by white communities is, too, a center thread in the works of Carl Hancock Rux and Sylvia Obell. Rux and Obell discuss music and celebrity trends, respectively; these areas see rampant amounts of the cultural theft and appropriation that Greif describes. Though perhaps less obvious than in, say, music, the relationship between race and hipster culture runs deep.

Greif suggests that while some hipster identities may have been lifted from black culture, the name for instance, other facets of this cultural icon are intentionally white. He writes that the “White Hipster fetishized the violence, instinctiveness, and rebelliousness of lower-middle-class “white trash,” and quotes Vice founder Garvin McInnes, who stated, “I love being white, and I think it’s something to be proud of.” Rux and Obell show us the ways in which white media icons in music and fashion (though not limited to these fields) have stolen forms from black artists. While I don’t think it’s the case that the original white hipsters were cognizant of these modes of theft and sought to generate something fair-sourced (though if you slapped that label on it, the modern hipster would pay top dollar to purchase it in cases), it may have been an attempt on the part of white-identified style gurus, such as McInnes, to generate a culture that was as authentically white as possible. The quintessential image of a first-wave hipster, sporting a trucker hat and white t-shirt as he sips a Pabst Blue Ribbon, certainly suggests this (however, one point that Greif did not touch on heavily enough was the appropriation of American Indian identities which is, tragically, prolific in the modern hipster portrayal. Think American Spirit cigarettes, folk music, flannel, even PBR) Aside from appealing to a subsect of mostly-white, mostly-male individuals, the hipster doesn’t really stand for much of anything; he is apolitical and apathetic when it comes to matters that don’t involve indie rock bands and cheap beer.

The hipster generation does not define itself in opposition to the government, as hippies did, or main stream popular culture, as punks did. Greif’s descriptions of the life and death of hipster culture suggest that it is the closest thing to “white American culture” to have emerged from the last half-century. In that way, we might think of hipsterdom as a kind of racial performance.

Obell and Rux use case studies to examine other kinds of racial performance, and more specifically the resulting violence from such performances. Rux outlines the problematic rise of Eminem, a white artist in a black genre, but makes clear that Eminem is no exception, citing rock and roll and jazz as originally black genres, which were quickly co-opted by white artists. But art is a tricky thing to claim ownership over, and Rux asks, “Whom does music or race belong to?” After analyzing the rise of the Kardashian dynasty, Obell might answer: wealthy white women with large Instagram followings. And she wouldn’t be wrong; the Kardashians are not all that different from Greif’s hipsters who were not “artists but tattoo artists.” They (or their agents) could be credited with discovering and alerting the public of hot trends, but not of creating those trends themselves. Obell captures this when she says, the “Kardashians’ style has left many feeling like they created an empire using things that didn’t belong to them.” Just like white America.

The barista calls out that Koffee? will be closed in ten minutes. He composts the leftover granola and locally sourced yogurt, humming along to Gil Scott-Heron’s  song “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” Black music about black causes, struggles from the seventies that are just as relevant today. Scott-Heron’s lyrics fall on mostly white ears, or would, if not for earbuds. Us patrons stare like zombies into our screens, reading food blogs or scrolling through Twitter where #MyRapperNameIs is trending. Tomorrow it’ll come out that no officers were charged in the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott. #KeithScott will be trending, but will the white folks who made puns out of famous rappers’ names, including Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls, who made puns without acknowledging the deaths these men suffered at rates disproportionate to their white counterparts take notice?

As I walk home, I’ll think about my own position to these readings. How can I continue to challenge my own consumption of popular culture? Though I prefer The Pharcyde to Mumford & Sons, I know that the former exists in a contentious genre, which, as Rux describes, profits from exploitation of black experiences that I haven’t endured and won’t ever fully understand. What business do I have as a white, middle class woman listening to rap when hipster-indie rock was manufactured for me? It would be, and has been, easy to scoff off criticisms and tell myself that my listening to hip hop isn’t on the same level of racial performance as the Kardashians lip enhancements. But I’m not sure that’s true. We all engage in racial performance, Rux writes, and so we must continue to educate ourselves on the history of the media we consume. Who originated the styles we admire? Who has been credited for their existence? Who profits from their sale or popularity?

 

Dear Rory

 

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Dear Rory,

I’d like to acknowledge that it’s not your fault. You are a fictional character from a television show, and I knew that all along. But when you’re a smart eleven year old girl from small town Connecticut who goes off to private school and you see a character on TV who’s a smart, slightly older girl from small town Connecticut who goes off to private school, it can be hard to forget that this is a TV drama and not your actual life.

I forgot that this was a TV drama and not my actual life. And who can blame me? You and your mother were adorable, the talk of the town. You put your studies first, dated cute boys second, and talked about it with your mom over coffee. This sounds so silly, and it is, but I idolized you for so many years. My coffee dependency started early, eighth grade, right when my mom and I started watching your show. A couple years later, I was captain of the debate team at my fancy, Corinthian-columned high school, and while I didn’t graduate first in my class, it didn’t matter because I packed my bags and headed for Yale. I was living in the Rory Gilmore dream world, or so I thought.

College brought new hurdles, and I did my best to leap over them. But after my sophomore year, I couldn’t keep leaping, and so I left Yale. My friends reminded me that you had taken time off of school, too, though under entirely different circumstances. The parallels seemed to continue. But as I filled out form after form of readmission information, I remembered you and your brief stint with the university therapist (which was just you crying into a box of Kleenex about Logan) and how they let you back in just like that. You even graduated on time. I sulked in the dean’s office with my check written out to Yale for “readmission processing fees”, the memo of which read, “get your head out of your ass, Yale” (in the end, they didn’t accept this check, not because of my vulgar inscription but because they changed their outrageous policy and waived the fee). I knew they were going to readmit me, but that didn’t change the fact that I didn’t want to be here anymore. I didn’t want to be you, anymore, either.

How could I be? I was so far off track. I wrote one shitty piece for the Yale Daily News my freshman year, about aspartame of all things. I had no Logan Huntzburger to date (and thank god, because that guy’s the actual worst). No wealthy grandfather to pick up my tab. My relationship with my parents was rocky on a good day. Years of stress and anxiety and coffee wrecked my immune system. I was 21 and directionless. Motionless. I finally saw that this world had been constructed for girls like you, who had cotillions and trust funds, and not for the rest of us who have to deal with real world issues.

You and your mother mocked the lavish parties and affairs, sure, but they were a big part of your life and your social mobility. Your relationship with your grandparents is complicated, I get that. But that’s just human. We all have complicated family relationships, but some of us have to deal with financial concerns on top of it. Although your mother is depicted as a badass, working-class, perfect mama, she isn’t. The problem isn’t that she’s imperfect; we all are. It’s that she denies where she came from and the privileges she was awarded at birth and every year that followed. She struggled with petulant pride and daddy issues. I know you want to write a book about her or whatever, but honestly, she’s a whiner. Through every “crisis” ya’ll endured, Emily and Richard were there in the background, willing and able to bail you out. Just like magic.

My life, on the other hand, is real. And I don’t mean real in the sense of happening-in-the-real-world, because art mimics life or whatever. My life is raw and honest because I choose to live it that way. When I see you fight with your mother or struggle with one of your pretty-boy boyfriends, I see a child who’s scared and confused, not a grown-ass woman who’s taking control of her life. I’m glad you’re struggling this year, in 2016, because it’s been a real bitch for us all. We had a good thing going, Rory, but look at you. You never grew up. You wanted to “go out in the world and write,” but you were so sheltered by your shiny, Starshollow snow globe that you never grew a thick enough skin to deal with it. I used to think your relationship with your mother was the shit, but now I see that it’s just shit. She coddled you and protected from ever screwing up, doing wrong, being wronged. That’s not right and it’s not realistic. And every mother wants that for her kid: to keep them safe. But there’s a difference between safe and casted with no space to change or challenge or grow. You’ve got one episode left to prove me wrong in this letter. But if not, I’d just like to say, it’s been nice knowing you. Good luck with your thirties. You seem wildly unprepared.

Cheers,

PJ

 P.S. To my own mother, since I know you are going to read this, this next bit is for you: I would take a knife-wielding, red-eyed, tear-stained fight with you any day (preferably not near exams, but hey, we’ve been there before) over a Rory and Lorelai arm-linking, funnel-cake-eating, sunny picnic. And not because funnel cake makes me ill. Because look at where it got them. They’re a mess, and maybe we are, too, a little, but at least it’s our mess and it’s legitimate and not infuriatingly contrived. These women aren’t heroes and they’re hardly feminists. Looking back now, I can’t see why we ever looked up to them in the first place.

And for your musical note, my favorite cover of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young “Our House.”