In Response to Being Called an “SJW”

I’ve been trying this new thing where I have conversations with people who generally make me want to gouge my eyes out. The ironic intent is to engage in actually eye opening dialogue, in which a seemingly sexist/racist/likewise moronically inclined individual is able to convince me their backward ass way of thinking isn’t entirely archaic and misguided but rather horribly misunderstood. I’m sure you can tell from my lack of coddling this experiment has not been going well.

In the past few months I’ve wasted a ridiculous amount of energy patiently listening to those with opinions starkly different than my own. For the record, I do not get to pat myself on the back for this. What I’m calling an “experiment” should in reality be basic human decency, but I’m the first to admit I’m kind of a stubborn prick and am more prone to administer a swift “lol fuck you” titty twister and carry on with my day than put up with anyone’s regressive bullshit. And so, with this in mind, I have attempted to stifle my penchant for the profane, tone down my offensively loquacious liberalism, and make space for those who (turns out) take up too much already. I have sat composed as a man who adamantly claimed he was “not a misogynist!!!” yelled himself red in the face about the polarizing effects of feminism without recognizing the polarizing effects of his having spent the past hour ranking random women’s breasts. I have apprehensively nodded as a “please keep going in hopes this isn’t heading where I think it’s heading” gesture while a friend explained why they won’t be bothering to vote in November. I have left what I thought were genuinely curious comments on a high school classmate’s posts about “black on black crime” and white privilege and woken up to a stranger calling me a “special snowflake” — one that should “go back to the nursery, because the adults have some adulting to do.”

Needless to say, none of these interactions have been particularly enriching experiences. They’re also rather tame in terms of backlash compared to what a majority of people have to put up with on a daily basis — those fighting for their right to (forget thriving) merely exist without constant berating for simply being themselves. Those who aren’t fazed by lame insults because their inherent being has been spit out as the dirtiest of slurs their whole life. Plus, I’m fairly certain it’s a scientific fact the frequency at which you use “adult” as an action is directly disproportional to your actual maturity. I know this because I myself subsist strictly on self-deprecating humor and foodstuffs which cost no more than $1.25 in the vending machines at work. Sticks and stones may break my pathetically weak, junk laden bones, but there really aren’t any words you can hurl at me on the internet that’ll make me give a shit about your opinion if it revolves around name calling and an unhealthy love of jerking off with a confederate flag every night.

Perhaps living near Berkeley has made me too much of a hippie. Maybe going to poetry slams and writing workshops has made me ~*overly sensitive*~ to social justice issues, more likely to use words like “triggering” and subsequently trigger those offended by me taking initial offense (go figure). Quite frankly, I’m tired of parsing my language into digestible pieces for those still using origin stories of forbidden fruit as an excuse to be supremacist asswipes. Please, go ahead and use your newest favorite acronym to brand me as unintelligent. I don’t fucking care. If I wanted to have a pointless argument about labels I’d get back together with my ex.

I’m sick of pretending I’m doing some sort of vigilante service by not unfriending ignorant peers when the fact that I even have the option is part of the problem. I’m sick of being shamed into thinking empathy is just the newest bandwagon trend I’m lame for trying to jump on. Being called a social justice warrior doesn’t upset me. The fact that people finally caring about something bigger than themselves is being made out to be a ludicrous concept does.

To Revisit When in a Funk

Oh, little rosebud. You’ve been having a bit of a rough go of things, haven’t you? Suffering from what you call “the funk.” But if we’re being completely honest, dear, “funk” is just a cutesy euphemism for “mild depression.” Which, in the name of full full disclosure, probably doesn’t need a Taco Bell hot sauce qualifier and should in fact simply be called “depression.” But, regardless of what you call it, or however many slightly-endearing-mostly-patronizing floral nicknames you come up with for yourself — it doesn’t feel so good, does it? That inexplicable heaviness in your chest, however big or small. The meltdowns so blubbery random police officers deem it necessary to bring you tissues and water as you curl up in embarrassment in your car. The persistent mantra of “I am not good enough,” despite being surrounded by the most loving of friend cheerleaders and even sometimes attempting to wield the pom poms yourself.

You’ve been tired without really knowing why. Your body aches, and not in that amazing post-run-post-kinky-sex-post-food-baby-glory way. You’re remembering all the “revelations” you’ve had over the past year and wondering how you let yourself slip back to this place. This delusional realm where other people’s opinions and expectations and unhappiness are somehow your problems, too. You’re apologizing for being “needy” and “crazy” and praying you’ll get your period soon so you’ll have an emotional scapegoat when deep down you know this shit rests on more than just a few days of hyperactive uterus partying.

You went to therapy, goddamnit. You occasionally workout and sure as hell eat enough and you have hobbies and family and all the distractions in the world. And yet it still hurts. Your heart hurts your head hurts everything just really really fucking hurts and it hurts to try to explain and hurts worse when you don’t and you just want it to stop. hurting. And there are no quick-fix band-aid solutions because if there were you would’ve slammed them down with the rest of those beers and you wouldn’t have cried after making out with him and your mother wouldn’t be sending you puppy memes because you’d be taped back together and fine. But you’re not. You’re bottling it all in only to explode at the worst possible moments — drinking too much, sobbing too much, too much-ing your way through everything to overcompensate for never being enough and you’ve done this before why isn’t it ever getting better?

Obviously being manic in this way is not helping. So let’s try a different approach, hmm? Take a minute or two to cry. Or half an hour. Or a week. Really, bawl your eyes out. Scream, if you must, ya overachiever. And whenever you’re done — exhausted not from everything you’re trying to run away from but from sheer aggressive air gasping exertion — rub your snot on your sleeve in the most un-lady-like fashion, take a deep, deep breath, and listen.

It’s OK to admit that sometimes when you say, “I need a drink,” what you’re really hoping someone will hear is, “I need a hug.” I need a hand squeeze. I need time to lay by myself on my big girl bed and do absolutely nothing. You can also explicitly ask for these things, you know. And you’ll get them, from the right people.

Because you know what? You’re actually pretty baller. You’re like, the ballsiest you can be without literal balls. Your metaphorical so-called “masculine” genitalia is pretty fucking fantastic, and it’s not conceited to think so. In fact, it’s brave. Barring shark cage diving or attempting to convert a hoard of violence inclined Trump supporters (which, one could argue, are both quite stupid rather than courageous endeavors), owning your confidence or lack thereof is one of the gutsiest things you can do. To wake up each day and try to be gentle with yourself and your feelings no matter what? Goddamn, that’s badass.

It’s obviously not easy. If it were, you wouldn’t have the urge to write second-person blog posts every few months with the classic woe-is-me-but-wait-you’re-great! story arc. And while you could admonish yourself for not sticking to your own advice, maybe you’re learning to accept this isn’t a linear journey like you had hoped. Maybe you’re scheduling internal mental health checkups more frequently than you visit the dentist or doctor and confusing this with worrying too much when in reality the “neuroticism” and desire for impeccable self-awareness are helping you grow. Maybe your depression doesn’t feel as valid as someone else’s, maybe you’re being too whiny and self-absorbed — but then again, aren’t those the thoughts that got you here in the first place? Tearing yourself apart and then comparing the scraps to other people? Denying you have problems while simultaneously pushing them front and center, blocking all the good things out?

No wonder you’re exhausted. Here you are, fighting against all the little quirks and nervous ticks that make you you. Making yourself the punch line, talking to yourself in a way you would never, ever imagine using on someone you love, lowering your expectations for people who still can’t be bothered to reach them. You are amazing. And for some godforsaken reason, you’re far too eager to forgo that for the alternative of being miserable, a comforting discomfort you’ve held onto for too long. Please, let go. Stop confusing “familiar” with “good.” Stop surrounding yourself with anyone or anything that doesn’t bring out the best in your wonderful albeit perpetually snarky self. Stop making lists of things to stop doing.

Get outside. Call your brother. Run slowly, and often. Read a book. Love those who can love you back just as fiercely. Gag when your own advice makes you ill. Tell yourself lovely things without referencing gagging. Bloom, motherfucker. Write this knowing it will not be the last time you worry about your thorns. Smile anyway.

Chat Room Confessional

At 15 I spent a lot of time on a site called “myjellybean.com.” Which, in retrospect, sounds like my first online encounter with a clitoris, but in reality was a forum where teenage girls (and, let’s be real, 40 year old men hiding behind usernames like lilmamaponylover92) could come together to bitch about problems teenage girls are prone to have. For instance, I had just gotten my braces off and was essentially trying to bust out of my awkward “cocooning” phase with the grace of someone gyrating out of a straitjacket — so it was pretty cool to find a community of similarly afflicted tragic ducklings. It was a point in my life where I had outgrown taking care of virtual creatures on Neopets, and “family dinner” meant everyone ate in their respective bedrooms, giving me ample time to lurk message boards dedicated to convos about how to French kiss and what lip gloss brands would taste best while French kissing.

Not that I put my saliva swapping lessons to immediate use. Or retained much, for that matter (fast forward five years to a boy telling me I was “stiff as a board” while trying to tongue wrestle and it was like, “Well, yeah. Shit. You’re trying to tongue wrestle.”). But still, it felt oddly comforting to know there were other young women out there equally concerned with the possibility of “baby fat” being — gasp — regular ol’ fat. Other girls frustrated with their older brothers and mothers and that witch Samantha who never invited anyone unpopular to her sleepovers. Puberty stragglers and avid Sweet Valley High readers and timid virgins all gathered under one cyber roof commiserating the suckfest that was — and still is — becoming a woman. This was not a space for “A/S/L?” talk. We were all young, female, and wanted to be anywhere but where we actually were. Being locked in my room blinded by an eMac at 2 AM was ironically the first time I felt connected to other girls my age on a global scale.

While Jellybean offered a variety of topics for discussion, I never explored boards like “Talents, Hobbies & Sports” or “Current Events/Politics/Religion.” Frequenting a chat room meant I had no hobbies, and even now the only reason I care about anything political or religious is because I’m horrified the Republican frontrunner for President is basically Satan. Instead, a majority of my time was spent on boards like “Dating 911” and “Beauty 911” (note the recurring theme of comparing crush drama and makeup faux pas to a dire emergency). To say my interactions with boys were minimal would be generous. My foundation was a thick slathering of SPF 70. It wasn’t shocking I was drawn to tips on how to improve my sex appeal, even if I wouldn’t go on to engage in any sort of hanky-panky for another five years (“stiff board” boy now stiff in other regions). Sure, I had friends at school with boyfriends, and a mother with a staggering amount of wisdom regarding all things Trojan and Maybelline combined, but there was something that felt more honest about getting feedback from strangers. They didn’t know me in real life. They had no reason to lie.

I started posting pictures of myself asking for advice on what I could change. I hated my curly hair, the hint of yellow in my teeth, the way my chin disappeared when I stood profile. “What would you do if you were me?” I asked. These “Rate Me!” threads were common. At any given time dozens of girls under the age of 18 were eagerly sharing photos of their faces and bodies, begging for ways to improve their appearance. I’ll admit most of the time I was fishing for compliments. I felt uncomfortable in my own pimpled skin like any other freshman in high school, but I’d grown up being brainwashed to think I was beautiful anyway (thanks, mom). I didn’t necessarily want someone on the internet telling me to straighten my hair — I wanted attention. I wanted someone not related to me, not obligated by best friend code, to validate things about me I had always secretly hoped were true. In a time before Facebook likes and Tinder matches, little me got a little high every time my thread would be bumped up by someone saying, “Aw, girl, you’re already pretty! Don’t change a thing.”

Wasn’t enough though. I went on to participate in “Guess My Weight” threads, posting faceless photos of myself in the only bikini I owned. I was 15 years old and posting nearly nude photos of myself on a public forum. I knew my weight by heart. It let out a sigh every time I got pizza for lunch, wailed a bit any time I tried on jeans too small. Even though I was healthy, the smack-dab in the middle BMI for my age and height, I wanted someone to look past my slightly curved tummy and Neanderthal-esque posture and say, “You’re definitely not over double digits.” But when users came back with spot-on guesses — 5’3,” 120 pounds? — the honesty tasted wrong. Tasted like maybe I should start keeping a daily log of my food intake on the “Fitness/Nutrition” board. Like I should stop eating so much cake, as one girl suggested. Try some arm exercises, said another. Write all “bad” foods in red, shame on you. Post a sad face emoticon every time I felt disgusted with my results. Starve. Binge. Post. Repeat.

I wish there was a climactic end to the story. That I stopped going on the forums because I knew my behavior was edging on unhealthy. But in reality I got too caught up with the traumas of trig homework and driver’s tests and irregular menstruation to spend time thinking about anything related to my body other than how to shove a cardboard applicator up inside it. I often look back on my trysts with eating disorders and dismiss them for never reaching an extreme. I was never hospitalized. There were no interventions, no noticeable changes in my weight to warrant such. Part of me is incredibly grateful it never got that far. Another (sick) part of me is disappointed with my inability to commit to a full blown disorder. Thinks I’m a quitter. Still doesn’t understand food as a source of nourishment but instead sees it as an opportunity for punishment, control, proof of determination.

I can’t remember the password to my Jellybean account, yet it takes all of two seconds to tap back into the mindset of a teenage girl frustrated with her surroundings and using her body as the punching bag. I’m worried those feelings will never be something I “outgrow.” Nine years later and they still creep up after breakups; when work is killing me; while laying on my back in bed trying not to drop my phone on my face as I stalk some hot chick’s Instagram. There are runs when I am punishing my body instead of celebrating it. Group photos I have to actively resist the urge to Photoshop to oblivion. Bowls of plain broccoli followed by even more bowls of ice cream and days of regret. It is a never ending battle to accept that a balanced diet is a reflection of a balanced mind, and I’m not sure I have the latter.

I am in my mid-twenties calling myself a feminist and balking at body shamers yet crumbling under my own weight whenever I find myself in front of a mirror.

It is almost a decade later and I’m still forging online relationships in hopes I’ll find a community strong enough to push me away from the screen.

I am 24 years old and it still feels like everything I post on the internet is a half naked selfie begging for attention.

Nonconsensual Crushin’

Your arm hair is touching my arm hair and oh sweet jesus I am excited about it. Like, pile of Corgis / found twenty bucks in my jeans’ butt pocket / just ordered dope nachos hell yeah extra cheese level excitement. You’re facing forward because I guess that’s what normal people do while illegally streamin’ & chillin’, and I’m praying despite your godly appearance you’ve been cursed with horrid peripheral vision and won’t notice furtive fan-girl side glances. You’re endearingly immersed in a fantasy world where summers somehow last ten years and every character is named something that sounds like botched German, but all I can fantasize about is what this hair follicle canoodling means for “us,” purposely holding my IPA in my right hand so as to not cut the sexual tension because I’m so not fucking moving.

But then you do. You get up to use the bathroom and my limbs are left frozen in place, too scared to wiggle my feet out of their tingly slumber in the chance it’ll shift my whole body and create too wide a gap for accidental grazing. You sit back down but the moment I’ve created in my neurotically charged head is over. We’re two people sitting on a couch watching a show which just happens to be filled with other people banging. It’s like platonic porn, it’s whatever, no big deal.

Except… it kinda is. Because for months, I’ve been trying to close that gap. Flirting just shy of shameless in hopes you didn’t really mean it when you said “No.” Pretending if actions speak louder than words inaction must be fair game. Offering you another beer because maybe you need liquid courage to finally press more than a sliver of forearm against me.

I start to imagine the tables are reversed. That instead you are sexualizing everything I say and do and only feel marginally bad about it. That I’ve told you on numerous occasions I want to remain friends, I’m not emotionally available, I don’t know exactly what I want but I know it’s not this. Think to myself what if it were you drunk texting me nonstop, commenting on my physical appearance as if that’s all that matters, pressuring me to reiterate I am not interested in all the polite ways I know how.

Because that’s the expected narrative, isn’t it? Guy hits on girl. Girl acts gracious and apologetic for being on the receiving end of perversion disguised as flattery. She isn’t down but isn’t sure how to remove “I’m sorry, but…” from her vocabulary. Wants the guy to stop trying, move along, please stop making me tell you to stop. These are the Tinder conversations that get blasted on Buzzfeed. They’re the people reluctant to change “no means no” to “yes means yes” because they like their consent to have some grey area. “Friend zoning” is an acceptable substitute for misplaced misogyny, right?

I am “used to” unwanted attention from men. I am also used to “playing along.” I do not flinch when the sixty year old man at the bar leaves his hand on my waist while telling my blonde haired, blue eyed friend she “looks like a Kardashian.” When the man who works next door to my office leaves a note on my windshield telling me I am beautiful, I defend him to my coworker who thinks it’s sexual harassment even though I am too embarrassed to go my normal route through the backdoor because I know I will somehow end up thanking him. I have grown accustomed to believing my nos will always sound more like maybes, that I am meant to accept these advances with courtesy and feigned surprise someone else could find me desirable–by golly, what a compliment.

So when I finally do develop a crush of my own–when the sheer proximity of a hot dude who is intelligent, and kind, and respectful gets me all kinds of worked up–it’s difficult to hear my own arsenal of rejection echoed. The voices of girl friends claiming “He’d be crazy not to like you!” too loud to admit maybe he’s not crazy, or gay, or playing games but rather no-justification-necessary doesn’t like me. It is hard to accept he is being honest when his body remains two inches away, his hand never reaching even though mine is open-faced, waiting. I have watered down my own language to the point of drowning out his, trying to read in between lines that don’t exist as the episode’s end credits scroll up the screen.

We get up to say goodbye. I press myself against him in a hug, accept that’s all it is. Let him go.

To the Women I’ve Been Jealous Of

You’re laughing with your friend one seat ahead of me, the stem of your wine glass poised effortlessly between your stupidly slender fingers. As if ordering wine at a dive bar is somehow très chic instead of très cost ineffective, like the maroon maxi skirt hung low on your hips which just so happens to match the impracticality of your liquor choice was a happy accident in painting the perfect picture of you. Your hair is long and thick and almost brushing my knees and I hate it. Makes me irrationally angry, like I could dropkick a turtle. Makes me all too aware mine is knotted like my stomach while I watch the guy I went to dinner with glance in our direction, thoughts too involved with his casual mentioning that you two “used to be involved” to enjoy the Lagunitas creating a charming puddle in my lap. I bet you don’t even drink beer because it’s fattening. I hate that you’re not fat.

I don’t even know you. But I’ve known women like you. Ones I’ve built up so much in my head the only solution is to tear them down, their names branded in my memory more vividly than the faces of the men I thought I was competing for. Strangers I’ve never met except through accidentally left public Facebook photos, vague histories I’ve tormented myself with by making too graphic, too real, too much my business when they were so not my business. Women whose bodies I’ve used as vessels for my own loathing, begging friends to convince me I’m prettier—crying because I don’t believe them; crying because I know it shouldn’t matter.

To you, and to all those women: I am so sorry.

I am sorry for turning you into the worst kind of muse, the kind only capable of inspiring childish ill will. I’m sorry for resenting the inane idea of “eskimo sisters,” fixating on the curve of your breasts, the width of your nose, the space between your thighs simply because the same man once parted the way between my own. I am sorry for ever implying the length of your skirt could speak volumes louder than your actual voice.

Please forgive me. For while I could blame the media, past lovers, long harbored insecurities—I know there is no excuse for such behavior. Forgive me for all the times I’ve cut deeper than your physical beauty—hoped you were stupid, prayed you were unlovable—merely because I feared those things about myself. Forgive me for thinking a strong woman’s presence was something to be afraid of; shoved aside; undermined by sick facades of admiration while I struggled to figure out what someone could possibly admire about me.

It’s common to tell those worried about relationships they must love themselves before they can love someone else. But regardless of the language I use to speak to myself—the hyper critical native tongue I practice every day waking up in this body and mind and refuse to silence—you deserve so much more than that. I don’t even know you and yet I know you have struggled. And sought affection. And perhaps even thought poorly of me, the random girl sitting behind you glaring helplessly at your goddamn ridiculously lovely head of hair. And I am sorry for ever believing thinking less of you could possibly bring out more of me.

I often feel as a woman my existence is meant to be an apology. This is the one time I mean it.

Screw the Metaphorical Meatloaf

There is a woman standing in front of me at the deli adamantly demanding her meatloaf be warmed up. The cashier has told her repeatedly this is not possible—they serve their meatloaf cold, as they do not possess the appropriate oven to heat it.

But you have a pizza oven, she says.
Yes, but that is for pizza.
And you have a panini press, she says.
Yes, but that is for paninis.

The conversation continues until everyone behind her is smirking in disbelief, the cashier at a loss for a polite way to dismiss himself from an inane argument about a cold mound of ground beef apathetically awaiting its fate on the counter. Eventually the woman leaves in a huff, empty handed yet full of profanities, and we all stuff the tip jar a bit more generously in commiserative solidarity.

And I can’t help but smile. Because this morning, as I stripped naked to get in the shower, I didn’t do my usual linger-at-the-mirror-to-bemoan-my-upper-arms shtick. On my way to work, when traffic felt like a glacial paced Prius orgy, I didn’t bitch about the fact that it’s only Tuesday. And during lunch, as I waited behind a temperature crazed sociopath, I got stupidly excited that my pizza was slowly becoming lukewarm—the best way to eat it, obviously (don’t even bother fighting me on this). I’m watching this stranger get bent out of shape over a $3 blob, chewing out another stranger for his lack of adequate appliances, and I find myself grinning like a complete idiot. Because I realized I’ve stopped freaking out about the shitty little things—the banal everyday inconveniences that start raining down the second you wake up and don’t stop till the minute your head hits the pillow again (or even after, if you’re like me and have to wear a janky-ass retainer to bed).

I’ve stopped sweating the “metaphorical meatloaf,” if you will. And it feels fucking fantastic.

Which, you know, makes me sound deranged. First of all, that’s probably the dumbest alliteration ever crafted. If Mr. Kahl from AP Comp is somehow reading this, I’m sure he’s retracting every backhanded compliment he’d ever given me on my “elevated language.” Second, no one wants to hear about someone else’s happiness. It’s annoying. We’re all a bunch of miserable saps finding comfort in discomfort, thriving on tragedy, yada yada. I get it. I don’t particularly want to hear how swoony your new boyfriend of two seconds is or what kind of exorbitant raise you just got because you took actual math in college while I dicked around, either. So I get that sharing anything other than an epic fail of existence is kind of an asshole thing to do. My utmost condolences to your inner sadist.

Here’s the thing, though. All those happy happy joy joy, generally gag-worthy fuzzy feelings of overall life contentment? They aren’t contingent on anyone else. Which means I don’t have to feel bad about feeling good. It means as long as I’m not being insensitive or hurtful to anyone else, it is absolutely, 100% OK to just be… OK. Crazy concept, I know. But I used to have a huge problem admitting it—recognizing that valuing your own worth isn’t conceited. Or selfish. Or anything to be ashamed of. I used to think me being happy meant I wasn’t empathetic to those who weren’t, as if it made me ignorant and awful and dismissive of all the problems I could easily latch onto and use to feel hopeless. Normal. Like everyone is “supposed” to feel until they’re too old and senile to put their finger on it and accurately label it as quiet desperation.

And that, quite frankly, is bullshit. Being insecure about being confident makes no sense whatsoever. Nil. Zilch. Republican debate level coherence. I’m tired of trying to talk myself out of a hunky-dory attitude simply because being jaded makes for a more enthralling life narrative. You don’t need to justify your feelings to anyone but yourself. So why the hell would you care what anyone else thinks? Sure, I could give you ten million reasons why right now. I’m aware this all sounds lovely in theory and nearly impossible in execution. But seriously. Think about it. Would you rather spend all day being pissy about an ill prepared hunk of meat, obsessively researching salmonella, considering veganism, sobbing because your ex was a vegan, questioning your entire life trajectory, taking all this out on an innocent store clerk, or would you rather take your $3 and find something else that could make you, like, I don’t know… happy?

“Artsy Fartsy”

[Originally performed at the Berkeley Poetry Slam on January 14th, 2016. Video here.]

When I tell my mother, “I want to be an artist,” she looks at me as if I’m a rotund six year old crying out to be a ballerina. The thought so akin to the absurdity of becoming a stripper-EMT-lottery winner combo, she tells me, “Marry well.” Hitch my wagon to something more stable, for my ambition is full of air quotes, a “profession of passion” instead of security. Don’t I want to support her hypothetical grandchildren?!

Not this instant, no—infants are squishy, big-headed shitbombs—but maybe, someday. So I date tech nerds. Boys suited as men sporting perpetual entrepreneurial boners, with salaries large enough to pay the hospital bills every time I near death by boredom from their bragging. At dinner we play a lopsided game of twenty questions, the first—from me—about his business, the remaining nineteen an internal, “Oh, my god, will he even notice if I start drinking shots instead of beer?” but eventually his lips will run dry from kissing his own ass and he’ll stop to take a sip and return the favor. “So… what do you do?”

And I have thought of so many ways to spin this—the fact that my “career” is both a small child’s recreation and a senior home therapy technique but not an acceptable day job. That I’ve chosen a path where the only way to succeed at meeting expectations is to fail. To preface what I love by assuring him that I know there is no money in discussing the discrepancies between Manet and Monet, as if comparing ancient French dudes like apples and oranges could ever make still lifes less fucking boring. That I, too, think most abstract art looks like the most poetic dribbling of vomit on vinyl. That I am aware I will spend my entire life “exposing” myself under the pretense of networking, only to one day roll over in my grave as some schmuck buys my prints for 50 cents at an estate sale because being appreciated while alive is more of a joke than pissing on a poodle and calling it performance art.

See because when I say, “I’m a photographer,” and my date says, “Oh, cool!” but all I hear is, “Oh, so, you use a filter other than Valencia?” I can’t get mad because the apprehension in his voice merely echoes that in my own. I have mastered the art of self-loathing because I’ve heard that can lead to some profound, visionary shit. And I’ve been told, “Doing what you love means you’ll never work a day in your life!” but most days I am more full of burritos than inspiration, and creating something beautiful when everything around me feels ugly is not in my job description. I’m a “free-spirit” paralyzed by my freedom—too scared to paint because that first stroke on blank canvas feels like defining the relationship and I’ve never been good at the talk; too shaky to draw because who ever knows what the fuck to do with their hands?!

So I stick to the digital world and I cling to the undo, because when I call myself an artist, I see a 23 year old girl crying out for any sense of purpose but can’t seem to get the focus just right, doesn’t know what she’s aiming at, whose pictures are meant to convey more than a thousand words ever could but feels like she has nothing worthy to say. A girl stifling insecurities behind closed doors because it makes people uncomfortable when I try to hang them on walls and yet the first thing my mother sees every time she crosses the threshold into her home, proudly on display for all to admire, is a 4×5 print of everything I’ve been taught to be ashamed of.