Unnatural In Nature

I was always supposed to love camping. That’s how it went in my mind, anyway. I desperately wanted to be thrilled by the thickets of forests, elated by the clear nights and the fresh air filling my lungs. I wanted to find the pleasure of cooking my food on a fire, pitching my own tent, being my own woman on my own Oregon Trail. Leave for the day to hike, come back to eat. Sleep on the ground under an open sky. Repeat.

My dad and I used to go to camping in Wisconsin with a friend of his when I was a kid. For a few weekends out of my young life, I ate canned beans and freeze-dried beef and hiked. I had to learn to pee outside; I pissed all over my shoes the first time for lack of spatial understanding (my dad was able to stand up, I reasoned—why couldn’t I do the same?). We went stargazing at night, but for the life of me I couldn’t reason out any of the constellations. They were just a series of bright dots.

And in the end, canned beans were just canned beans. And when the weekend was over, I would bound into my house, unaffected by the lack of flora and fauna. It was fun while it lasted, but I sure am glad to sit on my sofa again.

Camping as an adult has been a similarly puzzling experience. What am I supposed to be getting out of this? I would wonder as I twisted around on my sleeping mat trying to find a good position, almost crying at the prospect of washing the dirt and sweat and smoke out of my hair and body in a hot shower. Desperate to be able to take a shit in a clean bathroom with a toilet I could actually sit on. Peeing outside loses its charm when you’ve drip-dried for the fifth time that day. Beans aren’t that fucking good.

Is it human nature to seek comfort and ease? Or have we been dulled by a post-agrarian lifestyle, the hunter-gatherer stifled inside us, waiting to emerge—if only we just disconnect. The nobler answer would likely be the second; as Henry David Thoreau conceded in every bearded man’s guide to finding himself, “We need the tonic of wildness.” There are plenty of tales of enlightenment that pour forth from experiments in divorcing oneself from the superficial quotidian minutiae. How much fuller, more rounded we are for stepping outside of our cushy, over-stimulated lives. I get it—I should feel bad about enjoying sleeping in a bed indoors and having fast Internet.

I’ve been camping a fair amount of times. It’s always with an open mind, trying to capture the wanderlust—or whatever ten-cent word a mediocre blogger might use to describe their roaming heart—that I seemed to be missing. I fear my own disenchantment with nature. I worry that the annoyance of gnats clouding my nose outweighing the beauty of sun dapples patterning the trees at just the right angle is an indication of an intense vapidity.

There seems to be a cognitive dissonance: we should all unplug and be better for it—but at the same time, as a friend of mine put it when talking on the subject, “no one wants to fucking do that.” It’s certainly not a universal strife; I’ve met people in my life who truly prefer the company of a forest to the bustle of a city. But should those of us who don’t pretend that we do for the sake of relieving our weird guilt about enjoying the comforts we built for ourselves—comforts that we’re certainly lucky to have, and privileged to give up when it suits us, for a day or two.

I may never discover the secret of the outdoors; that simultaneous vitality and peace that Thoreau wrote about. It’s surely attainable for some, but I think the rest of us may just be scratching at it. And I don’t know that I want to spend the time I have grasping at a concept that doesn’t resonate with me because I feel it ought to.

I’ll go camping with you. I’ll eat freeze-dried beef stew and stumble out of my tent at 3 AM to piss in a bush. I’ll do it, and maybe I’ll have some fun, but I won’t pretend to find myself. Not when I’m right here.

 

 

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Fresh Mouth

I’ve always had a fresh mouth. I don’t mean in the minty sense; more in the fabulous way a shopkeeper in the 1940’s might reprimand an impudent youth on their choice of words. I suppose one would say my mouth is more foul than fresh—but I prefer to look on the brighter side of life.

I’m enchanted by expletives; always have been. When I was about two or three, my parents apparently sat me down and gave me a verbal list of all the words I wasn’t allowed to say. They liked to lay things out early. I listened intently and then replied, in what I assume was a sweet, angelic voice, “So I can’t say ‘fuck,’ ‘shit,’ ‘bitch,’ ‘asshole…’” They cut me off before I could finish the list. I continued to gleefully shout “fucking A!” (my dad’s favorite obscenity at the time) from my bed until I was kindly asked to stop.

It all came to a crashing halt in first grade when I gave my best friend at the time the finger. It was not out of malice. I was truly flummoxed that a gesture, or any word behind a gesture, could carry such weight, and this was my attempt to combat that. Unfortunately, my crusade to crush cultural taboos went unappreciated. I got into trouble. After much explanation and reprimanding, I apologized to my friend in tears.

The literal fear of God was put into me. The nuns at the Catholic school I went to ran a tight ship; no fucks or shits were allowed in school or out—they’d know, you see. They always knew. And if they didn’t, you could bet the Lord above would. I didn’t rekindle my foul mouth until fifth grade, when I switched schools and discovered eleven year olds foaming at the mouth with horrible, vicious, adult words.

And in public! On the bus! At recess! At the corner! I could give the finger any time I wanted to and no one would cry. I could call someone a bitch, or an asshole; tell that the moronic boy who sat to my left in English who asked what my bra size was, “Go fuck yourself, please!”

It’s been that way ever since. Because I love swear words. I fucking love them. I think they accentuate a sentence, make it so your point is so goddamn perfectly heard. They round a phrase. Some might argue that gratuitous use of expletives renders them meaningless. If six-year-old me is any indication, I’ve never thought they had much meaning in the first place. But the fact that it’s so improper to say, “I’ve got to shit,” instead of “go to the bathroom,” so indecent to say, “We fucked,” instead of “slept together,” so jarring to say, “What a fucking cunt he’s being,” instead of “He’s not being very nice”—well, that draws me in.

And it draws other people in. I’m hard-pressed to find anything recent and relevant in pop-culture that doesn’t drop a “fuck” into every tenth sentence. Wolf of Wall Street has 506 of them—and that script was nominated for best screenplay at this year’s Oscar’s. We’ve spent so much time bleeping and censoring and substituting, denying ourselves the satisfaction of raw expression—and for what? Because it’s not nice? Fuck that; neither is life. Innocuously gratuitous profanity is the least of anyone’s problems.

Of course, not everyone feels this way. I’ve gotten a few urgent looks from friends as I talk about all of the fucking assholes driving on the fucking road too loudly in public. I’ve seen eyebrows raise and heads snap back and lips purse in a “shh” gesture. But I don’t care. We could all be Holden Caulfield, scrambling to erase the “fuck yous” scribbled all over the world; or, we could just fucking get over it. Embrace the expletive. I’ve been doing it for about fifteen years and let me tell you: it fucking rules, assholes.

The Seduction of Snapchat

“I love Snapchat,” my friend tells me as we sit on her sunken couch. “I do it all the time.” She is slightly ashamed, like she has admitted to some off-color habit, something not to be revealed unless in deep confidence. Later, she snaps an excellent video of her lifting her old, overweight cat up and down. The caption: “Kitty Kettlebells.” Twenty-odd people receive it.

Evan Spiegel and Robert Murphy, the two Stanford grads who developed the application, tapped into something special with Snapchat. Known to have suspicious origins as a tool for sending easily disappearing nude pictures, Snapchat has morphed into a widely accepted means of communication. There’s an irresistibility in its ephemeral quality.  The way arbitrary images and videos flit into our consciousness for seconds at a time before exiting our minds eye forever speaks to an even newer way of communication that I’m not sure anyone has really explored yet. The future is now, and we’re sending out four-second pictures of our dogs with hats hand-drawn on them.

As I edit this piece, I’m snapchatting. The last one was a selfie, with the caption “I’m going to push you off a cliff,” sent to a friend in response to his enthusiastic picture of a snow-covered ground. Every time I walk onto a train car in the morning, I catch people making goofy faces into their phone. I’m periodically hit, throughout my day, with videos of funny stuff happening at a friend’s workplace, or pictures of cute dogs, or photos of a Red Lobster menu captioned, “Dreams do come true.” I live for this shit.

There’s no true importance in knowing that a friend of mine is ironically enjoying Red Lobster. Most snaps sent are arbitrary shots of peoples’ days and lives, there for seven seconds and then gone forever. That is what makes it an absolutely perfect mode of communication. It allows us to be intimate and distant all at once. It’s an ideal middle ground in a world where people simultaneously spill their guts on the Internet and don’t bother to look up from their phones during dinner.

People of my parents’ time bemoan the fact that no one interacts on a personal level anymore. I’ve always been of the mind that it’s fairly useless to complain about the way culture and advancements in technology collide; the juggernaut is barreling down the road, and there’s no stopping it. We communicate through screens now. That’s the way things are.

But Snapchat is different; it’s almost a response to that impersonality. Its unqualified transience—the potentiality of losing the picture or the video or the message—forces us to truly focus for those six, or eight seconds, on what the other person has sent us. We’re in that instant. I’m here, with you, and your drunk roommate, and your breasts in the bathroom mirror, and the video of you kettlebelling your cat; I’m enjoying a moment with you, no matter how incredibly banal. Triviality is the true spice of life; let’s share it together.

So keep sending snapshots of your pets, or videos of weird guys on the bus, or nude pictures (solicited ones, mind you, don’t make it weird) with abandon. Because it’s fun. And because it makes you laugh. We’ll see how some 45-year-old at Time Magazine frames it in a few months—whether it will be the downfall of modern communication, the representation of increasing superficiality of the millennial generation, or both.

In the meantime, I have snaps to respond to.

People Who Like Snow

Who did this to you?

Who gave you cold, graying, wet mush and told you it was magic? Your lumpy, unfinished snowmen that neighborhood dogs peed all over and the clammy mess that went down your pants when you made a snow angel should be enough proof that this weather is not a benevolent God. Remember standing at the bus station when that clump of snow fell into your face like bird shit from a cumulus cloud? Did you enjoy that?

Listen. When you say that you love snow, you sound like a hostage suffering from severe Stockholm Syndrome. You have been abducted by snow, and you like it. You are sad to see it go when it finally releases you from its icy, damp grip, and you make vague, pathetic excuses. Well, my feet are soaked through and freezing, I can’t park my car anywhere or leave my house, and there’s cold, wet shit flying into my eyes, but it just feels so right this time of year.

I grew up in Chicago. Snow is a regular visitor. It does not just come on December 24th and leave December 26th. No, snow is the empty-handed friend that shows up early to your party while you’re still getting ready and says, “Oh, don’t worry about me, I’ll just make myself a drink!” Snow is that same friend, two hours later, who just puked on your couch and is sobbing into a toilet. The person they like didn’t call them. You are not surprised, but you pat their back anyway.

Snow is the friend who stays over after the party, doesn’t help you clean up in the morning, and reads aloud every text they sent while you try to get their vomit out of the throw pillows. Then they sit there, on that same spot, every day for a month trying to recreate the magic of that party that wasn’t even great to begin with. They start to smell weird and they eat all your food. You hate them. They won’t go away.

That’s what snow is like.

Snow has never done anything good for me. It has, however, caused me to be in a minor car accident, ruined several pairs of my shoes, deterred me from leaving the house on the weekends, and prevented me from wearing tube tops every day—the last hindrance offends me most of all, as I look amazing in tube tops and stupid in large sweaters.

And yet, some feel compelled to defend this weather. A coworker and friend of mine recently expressed his disbelief and shock when I dismissed snow as the Devil’s weather. “Snow is magical!” he exclaimed, before I punched him in the face and set him on fire.  Snow is not magical. Capitalism, however, might be, as it has the amazing ability to turn horror into enchantment. The evils of marketing have warped this dead, cold nothingness into a cozy romance, recapped in 30-second images that flash constantly on our TVs during the winter. We feel like we really should enjoy the snow, because look, look at us! We are sledding down hills, our hair perfectly coiffed, our hands cutely mittened, little flakes adorning our eyelashes. We are sipping hot cocoa and looking into our lovers eyes by the fire while the flurries flurry gracefully outside. We look really great in large sweaters.

We are not sitting in a car for two hours driving seventeen miles an hour, trying not to skid on black ice and yelling, “Hey, fuck you, asshole!” to the dickhead who tries to make a one lane road into a two lane road. We are not shivering uncontrollably trying to scrape frost off our front windshields while snot nosed brats bombard each other with snow covered rocks, barely missing our heads—heads with decidedly uncoiffed hair, and unadorned eyelashes. We are not wearing sweatpants tucked into combat boots and food-stained college sweatshirts.

No, the commercials and the TV specials and the magazine advertisements seem to miss that bleak reality. But we have no excuse; we live this, day in and day out, for months at a time. Even spring isn’t really spring. Once, when I was in high school, it snowed on April 24th. I cried.

You’ll probably tell me to fuck off to southern California, where people don’t suffer this disgusting mess. But I don’t like to exercise, and while I think I would enjoy being constantly surrounded by hot people, I might lose perspective. What do people in California have to write about? Being too fit? Not finding a good bunch of kale? These are struggles that I cannot identify with.

I stay in the tundra to give voice to those whose voices have been snuffed out by the exhaustion of constantly shoveling out their parking spot and placing ugly lawn furniture to mark their territory. They are the ones who spend seven hours trying to get home on slick, unsalted roads only to be barraged with commercials depicting several models piled onto a snowmobile having the time of their lives. This is for those people: those models are not you, and that white stuff is not fun. Step one is acceptance. Take a stand; join the revolution—because you don’t have to pretend to like snow anymore. It’s okay.

Finding Optimism In The Washington Blue Line Station

People like to talk about “the little things” that make life better. There are droves of personal blogs dedicated to the idea that we all need to take some time and smell those roses before the winters of our lives freeze our joy receptors.

Enthusiasts of “the little things” almost always work nine-to-five jobs. These are the people who send excited emails about the organic tomatoes they bought at the Farmers Market and post pictures of their artful lattes on Facebook. They are truly inspired by taking a walk on a nice day, or new shampoo, or a smile from a stranger. These are people who face tolerable monotony on a regular basis. Their lives have periods of excitement; never too much that they’re overwhelmed, and never too little that they’re depressingly bored. These people are most of us, and they—we—are absolutely charmed by the little things.

I am a cynical person. The other day, my best friend tactfully described me as a “realist,” but sometimes I can really be a jaded bitch. I am cynical even about my own cynicism—I think often about how passé it is to be so stupidly world-weary at my age. It’s not as though I’m unable to connect with appreciating “the little things,” but I do internally roll my eyes entirely too deeply when people get excited about hearing Christmas music in November.

I recently started my first job. I work 8 to 5 for a construction journal in downtown Chicago. My coworkers are nice and the job has interesting moments. It also pays, which is not a “little thing,” but a very, very big thing that will help me be able to finance creative ventures that I’m passionate about.

Still, I have entered the humdrum. The commute is a jangly, mind-numbing people zoo. Coming from a collegiate schedule, the hours seem overly long and concentrated. When 2PM rolls around, I feel unreasonably tired and despondent. When 5PM walks in, I’m out the door and thinking about laying on my bed and checking Tumblr.

It was maybe my second or third day that I discovered my little thing. I commute on the Blue Line, and my office is next to the Washington Blue Line stop. The station is similar to most underground stops—poorly lit, with a faint smell of urine. During rush hour, seemingly mild-mannered business-people become foul-mouthed, evil-eyed monsters and pile all at once onto already crowded cars, forgetting that we live in a civilization that relies on patience and order. It’s not a vacation destination.

What makes the station different from others on the blue line is that it’s one of four official busking stations in Chicago. As a result, there is a different busker performing next to the tracks almost every day. One week it’s a woman playing an acoustic guitar and a fiddle simultaneously while tap dancing. Another week it’s a pair of guys who look like they missed the Mumford and Sons audition but are convinced that if they scratch against their homemade güiro heartily enough, they too can make it. A small, elderly woman playing a strange, long necked instrument with a bow along to a recording of a tango song. A man singing Spanish love songs with a nice mix of ebullience and wistfulness.

It’s a center of true talent. Last week, a woman told me that the man singing that particular evening was actually part of a larger band, and that they had put out a record not too long ago. I watched him. He was an older man, hair graying, wearing a white t-shirt and jeans and he paused the song to thank people (in tune) who dropped dollars and change into a bucket in front of him.

I stood and listened as he started with Stand By Me, warming to his scratchy, sweet rendition. Then he began Moon River, and I surprised the shit out of myself by getting rather emotional. The song sounded simultaneously sad and exultant and you know, maybe work sucks, but this guy and his warmblanketlullabybearhug version of this song could make it all worth it and that—that—is when I realized that I had been sucked into the goddamned little things in life.

I don’t mind. If I am to have a little thing, I want it to be observing people doing what they’re good at. What they love. It’s inspiring to see, a bright spot between the drilling tedium of the workday and the prison-complex that is the evening rush hour commute.

So, thank you, buskers of Chicago. While I’m slightly miffed that my acrimonious edge has been sanded down a bit, perhaps I do need a “little thing.” I’m glad it could be you.

It’s So Tragic: She Was So White

I’ve been watching Pretty Little Liars. Anyone who follows me on Twitter is well aware, since I’ve been reacting prolifically and profanely since I started. My friends who don’t watch the show are like, I’m so bored of your tweets, and I’m like, you don’t understand, this bozo-ass shit is emotional for me. Because the show truly borders on the insane. I won’t take too much time to summarize, but essentially, without spoilers, the show focuses on four amateur models high school girls with a host of life-ruining secrets trying solving the murder of their enigmatic best friend, Alison. Meanwhile, they’re getting stalked via text by a mysterious and deranged psychopath who is actively trying to ruin their lives. Life sucks in Rosewood, PA.

I’m being glib, but Pretty Little Liars is so absurd that it’s hard to be serious about it. It’s a generally popular show, with plenty of suspense and romance with attractive actors playing the parts. But what may be the most important—and perhaps the most overlooked aspect of the series—is the well-worn media narrative it is based on: young white woman goes missing; everyone pays attention.

The western media seems to have a deep obsession with the victimization of women; the obsession specifically applies to white women. So much so that social scientists have named this preoccupation “missing white woman syndrome,” or the imbalance of media attention given to white women who have been abducted or murdered.

Back in 2005, people followed the Natalee Holloway case religiously—a pretty, young blonde woman who disappeared in Aruba that year, later declared dead in 2012. “Breaking News,” read broadcast reports: “White Middle Class Girl Missing.” Speculations, not just about her disappearance, but about her moral character—her partying habits being one major discussion point that this deluded article references—swirled around the 24 hour news cycle for months, even after the declaration. Ultimately, though, she was immortalized as a sweet, young tragedy.

Around the same time, LaToyia Figueroa—an African American woman who was five months pregnant—also disappeared, and was later found strangled. Until researching this piece, I hadn’t even heard of her. Clearly, Holloway’s case was obviously much more publicized, giving way to a very brief discussion on the intersection of race and women victims before the two or three outlets making the point quietly moved on.

The entertainment industry capitalizes on these blonde sacrificial lambs that star in 10:00 news. It twists their stories into salacious and scandalous 45 minute bites that we greedily eat—only the producers don’t have to try too hard at that, since the news media has done the groundwork already. Pretty Little Liars isn’t the only show to profit—its predecessors, Veronica Mars and Twin Peaks, also packaged dead white women as a fun plot point.

Every one of these TV women victims follows particular mold. She is blonde and gorgeous, with a face that teeters between sweet and sexual depending on the context. She has a damaged, Lolita-esque charm that appeals to older men in her life. She has vague but dark secrets that always seem to emerge after her death. Flashbacks reveal her to be slightly narcissistic and uncaring—until she inexplicably shows warmth toward other characters. She trusts no one. Everyone in the small and humble town she lives in trusts her. The reason why is unclear, but all we know is that she is magnetic. And her strange magic and darkness compels us as viewers on a shallow but sinister level; it’s a more fun version of the Natalee Holloway story.

In a succinct analysis titled “What Is TV’s Obsession With Dead Teenage Girls?” Sara Bibel says, “Fictional teenagers are both innocents who need to be protected, and mean girls who revel in cruelty to others, flaunting their sexuality and living to party. They’re Disney princesses whose wholesome image is just a façade.” Bibel goes on to say that we as viewers enjoy watching the façade fall, with a preoccupation on the loss of innocence and purity—one that seems only to apply to young white women.

The worst part of writing this was reconciling how I eat this shit with wide eyes, one finger on my phone, furiously live-tweeting. I loved Veronica Mars and Twin Peaks just as much, both of which followed the same formula. I’ll say there’s something about the very Lynchian idea of deep sickness in tight-knit communities that really motivates me as a television consumer. I’m prompted to assert it’s because I enjoy watching Americana drown, but what does it say about me that I see the demise of these women as the ultimate representations of the demise of the culture I live in? And why am I so entertained by the stylized victimization and destruction of young women? The LaToyias are as important as the Natalees, but neither deserves to be packaged as passive, brutalized ghosts to sell a TV show.

I ask more questions than I answer here. I do not know what truly motivates me—only that I will probably finish Pretty Little Liars. I will probably enjoy it. I’m not sure where that leaves me, other than slightly nauseous. Someone else might comment that we’re all just victims of pop culture; I won’t say that. It’s important to recognize how much stock we put into the tropes presented to us; that awareness equips us with the ability to rewrite and rescope those narratives. As a journalist, a writer, a woman and a human being, that’s all I can hope for.

A Window On The World

The men had to wear dinner jackets to get in—or maybe it was breakfast jackets that day. The sun had long risen on the skyline, the iconic view paired with an extravagant Eggs Benedict. They could only see that single skyline on that specific island, and yet the restaurant had the curiously grandiose name “Windows On The World.” As if Manhattan was the entire world.

The breakfast patrons were quiet, enjoying a black coffee and a crossword, or maybe they were boisterous, kicking the day off with a mimosa. There were families, or maybe there were parties of colleagues. The waiters were sweet and friendly, or no, wait, they were tired and grumpy. It was Tuesday. Tuesday, September 11th 2001. 8:45 A.M.

I imagine this because there is no one to tell me about the atmosphere in this place on this day at this time. I do not know if it is my place to imagine this, but I do. I will not speculate about what happens next.

I imagine this because I had always dreamed of going to New York in a vague, fairytale way. I could not have told you the reasons if you asked me—only that I was convinced it had some kind of magic that made life more interesting. New York has that effect on a lot of people; just ask Woody Allen.

For me, New York City seemed to embody all of the glamour of the East Coast—a glamour that was physically unattainable to me, living in the nation’s expansive midsection. I watched countless movies that panned the same skyline that the restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center saw every morning in a reverie, hoping I might see it one day too.

I wasn’t thinking about those movies on September 11. I didn’t see that skyline; the glass paneling on the top of the North Tower facing north and east was not my window, and what the breakfast patrons saw at 8:45 A.M. was not my view. I didn’t look out my window much that day. My mom had picked me up from school after a bomb threat had been called into the bank across the street from her office—cruel fools taking advantage of chaos.

I stayed in my living room with the T.V. on. I looked out the window only once. My mom and I heard planes. There weren’t supposed to be planes and in that moment, I was sure Chicago would be next.

They were U.S. air force planes. I went back to my television and watched news anchors try to make sense of everything while my parents cried.

This is a familiar story to most in my generation. We watched our world become an ugly place through the lens of a camera. New York unraveled while it burned, no longer floating as a fairy-tale. It was a real place, and it was suddenly touchable. Destructible.

As we were quickly discovering, so were we— the generation who grew up in the gated community made by our Baby Boomer parents, condemned as spoiled, over-protected, self-absorbed. 9/11 punched a crude window through the insular cove we were living in. We came to know a world where you had to take your shoes off at the airport, where anti-terror speech was a common vernacular. Safety stopped being a guarantee for me once I heard those planes from my living room.

More than ten years later, the same rhetoric of suspicion, fear, and war persists. But New York continues to be a destination for Millennials. A recent census study shows that people in their twenties are migrating to urban areas in a big way, with New York in the lead. Despite the fact that New York was the central point of the vortex that jettisoned our childhoods far behind us and hurtled us toward adulthood, we seem to feel no residual grief or trepidations. My friends and peers immigrate in droves, still looking for that elusive romance. I think about what opportunities might be waiting there for me if I ever decided to go.

Because Woody Allen’s New York City still exists. The world looked dark 12 years ago, but the city is not broken. Though hardened, we, the 9/11-generation, are not either. To me, the fact that New York can still represent what it did before 2001 means that we can rebuild too. That we already have.

Incidentally, I have been to Windows On The World, although I didn’t know it at the time. My parents were on a brief vacation, and my mother was very pregnant with me. It was summer of 1991, during the first, all-too-swift Iraq War—events and tyrants and locations which, ten years later, would be erroneously connected with the destruction at that very location my parents sat.

But there was no window into that ugly future. There was no window into our trip to New York thirteen years later, when I finally saw the place I had anticipated for so long. When my parents and I looked down at Ground Zero and wished for the Windows On The World.

And yet, there was more to that 2004 visit than that moment. There was Greenwich Village, there was SoHo, a boat ride on the Hudson. There was a pulse beating strongly in that city, like I had imagined it. There were artists, writers, bankers. People I might grow up to be. It was a city; it was the city. It was not a historic site; it was not a tragedy museum. It was a place people lived. It was a place my friends would live. A place I might live.

Windows On The World is gone now. New York City still stands. And we still come.

Your Body in The Dark

It’s hard to carry around your body all day. It sweats and it chafes, and there’s an impossible itch in the middle of your back that you can’t get to because your arms aren’t long enough. Everywhere you look, someone is thinner than you, or has bulkier muscles than you do, or a smaller nose or fuller lips or smoother hair. The sun is a harsh companion, exposing the red blemish on your left cheek, and the fluorescent lighting in the office bathroom is harsher still; your eyes seem simultaneously sunken and bulbous.

And even when the girl behind the counter at Starbucks smiled at you, even when the cute guy on the train checked you out, even when you look at yourself in a mirror and feel a million bucks or more, sometimes there’s still that frustration. That, no matter what, your jeans will always leave indents on your stomach, and sweat will always run down your back in the most uncomfortable way possible, and you will never feel easy carrying this body around. Sometimes you just want to pull your skin off, hang up your limbs in the closet, and float.

And you don’t want to look in the mirror, you don’t want to constantly catch your shirt un-tucked and your skirt riding up, you can’t stand the dissatisfaction seeping from your eyes every time you see your reflection; you are tired. But every time you pass a window, you check to make sure what you’re presenting to the world is good enough. Good enough.

One February night, dark falls. You lay in bed with someone you love. Neither of you can sleep, midnight drifting into 1 AM. The someone looks at you. And looks at you.

“Have you ever noticed how perfect people look in the dark?” they ask. Awe tinges the question; you look down at yourself. You look at yourself. You find that the dark is forgiving. You can only see good curves; the crook of your hipbone, the round of your shoulder, the keel of your calf. Your lay on your back, watching the arc of your stomach rise and fall. Sharpness and soft are balanced in shadows; in dark sweeping lines, night’s charcoal draws you confidently. You look down and see your toes, perfect toes, perched atop graceful feet—even your feet are perfect.

You feel a pressure on your back and a crick in your neck that accompanies a long day, but the feeling seems farther away now. Your skin is soft. Your hair is a little sticky with the sweat of being next to someone, but you don’t mind. It feels natural. You look at the someone next to you and find that their ear slopes delicately, their chin sits strongly, their forehead is a crescent. They stretch their arm up, revealing their hand with five perfect fingers; plush, lithe. It amazes you. It amazes the someone, too. You both revel in each other’s silhouettes. In your own.

You know the sun will rise while you sleep. You know that when you wake up, white light will slant through the blinds. You’ll be able to find that strange yellow, purple bruise on your thigh, the pimple on your chin. When you stand up, you’ll be able to feel the heaviness on your feet again. You will mind. You will miss the dark. But maybe, when you’re putting on your tights or tying your shoes, your eyes will find your calf. And you will see it the way you saw it in the dark. It will be enough. 

Good Enough For the Moment

I am an editor. I edit everything I write, meticulously. I will edit these three lines ten times before I deem them acceptable. I have already edited twice since I started writing this. Anything I write that anyone could possibly see goes through a wringer of cut and pastes. I agonize over Facebook posts, emails, tweets—do I sound cool enough, do I sound down to earth, is this a stupid thing to say? I edit my punctuation, maybe a dash here, oh, no, I already used a dash, try rewriting the phrase and breaking it up with a semi-colon, there; perfect.

For this, I blame the Internet.

Most of my life has been on virtual display. I’ve been building and shedding identities on the Internet since I was twelve. Some old white people working at irrelevant magazines dubbed my generation Generation Y, but perhaps Generation WWW would be more appropriate. The first ones to really take to a second life online, we’ve incited plenty of Lifetime movies on the dangers of chat rooms and the perils of cyber bullying. My mom used to sigh in amazement of the stupidity of it all—how could you put such intimate information on display for millions of strangers to read? What did we expect?

Because of this exposure, there have been countless horror stories that all say the same thing—the Internet is written in stone and nothing can ever really be deleted.  Future employers now check Facebooks, your mom might find that suggestive picture you sent to your jerk ex-boyfriend on some random website, and there’s always a chance someone Googling you could find embarrassing accounts of your life before you were cool (or at least trying to be cool).

For instance, a Xanga account.

Before the Internet morphed into a dangerous place full of mistakes and regrets—before the horror stories—my peers and I were realizing the draw of life on display. There was—still is—something so enticing about the potential eyes of the 2 billion people surfing the web. No one was listening to us in real life; we were dorky twelve year olds with feelings, full of experiences millions had had before us and grown out of. The expansiveness of the Internet made us feel like what we were saying could be worthwhile somewhere.

It was the early 2000s, just around the time LiveJournal and Xanga got big. Some people took to writing dramatic entries, or fan fiction. Others, like myself, recorded their every day lives with such dedication to tedium that it became a delicious, fulfilling act in narcissism.

If you Google me you will probably find my Xanga. It is an unfortunate record of myself at 7th grade, written in what I would call a cross between faux-African American Vernacular English and Valley Girl speak. The worst (or best? I’m still coming to terms) part about all of it was that I labored over these posts. I was ever the editor, wondering how many o’s I could fit into an “oooooomg” before it became redundant. I thought of phrases ahead of time that might perfectly describe my pre-teen angst. Whatever I wrote in there, I was trying to fit a certain mold.

I could have deleted my account. I have gone to the homepage a half a dozen times—even made it halfway through the process. But inevitably, every time Xanga whined, “Are you suuuuure?” I paused. And said no.

Sometimes, when I’m feeling particularly masochistic I like to go back and read it. I cringe at the posts, ranging from dramatic, cryptic gems like “UGH! people are so fucking fake its soo unbelievable!!” to the more informative, “OMG guys, dont see the village!!!! IT SUCKED HARD CORE!” (I stand by that statement today) to the bizarre: “vincent BLEW DEAD SKIN…INTO MY FACE…AND I WAS LIKE eeeeeeeeewwww!!! it was SOGROSS.” (Why and how did Vincent do this? That really is SOGROSS).

I read an article in Vogue by sex blogger Karly Sciortino about the permanence of online actions. Sciortino runs a blog called Slutever (which I highly recommend) that deals with the more unusual aspects of sex as well as a highly detailed look into her personal life.  On writing a feelings-heavy blog post about being dumped, Sciortino says, “But I resisted the urge to delete it, because, really, who cares? If anything, the visibility of our awkward pasts teach us to take ourselves less seriously.”

This idea struck me, in an age where we feel like our online personas have to be absolutely perfect. Our tweets have to be relatable, our blog posts astute, our Facebook posts funny and casual. We should reveal just enough, but not too much about ourselves. Amidst this intense pressure, the idea of accepting a record of our less-cool selves is mildly horrifying.

But cool is relative. What Sciortino is saying is that we probably won’t ever outgrow our awkward pasts and we shouldn’t try. In a year or a month, I could look back on this blog post with a mix of detached horror and vague nostalgia—did I really think I knew what I was talking about?

It’s important to edit. It’s important to think about what we say before we put it out there; consideration of what we write differentiates us from the hicks in every comment section of any online article. But it’s equally important to recognize and embrace the people we used to be—the slightly insecure 7th grade girl in all of us—in order to remind us that we don’t need to constantly revisit the drawing board, write and rewrite. Sometimes what we have is good enough for the moment.

Up In The Air

I’ve spent a lot of time on airplanes. It depresses me sometimes, to try to count the hours of my life I sat in uncomfortable seats trying to pretend I can’t feel the booger flaked kid behind me kicking my seat incessantly. I arrive on flights with a game plan of distraction, armed with two or three books, my iPod, a preparedness to sit through lame rom-coms, because flights are a drag.

Air travel is funny. There’s this sense of urgency surrounding it. The doors to the airplane close when they close, and they don’t open again. We’re all busy trying to find our gate in time, get through security quickly, squeeze past two strangers to sit in your seat. Busy trying to find a way to pass the time while we’re up in the clouds. The hours we spend on planes are days, weeks, wasted worried about where we’ll be next, anxious about how we’ll amuse ourselves in the meantime.

They make it easy for us; in-flight entertainment. A gargantuan list of movie titles, allowing us to watch hours of films to our hearts’ content. Video games, radio, magazines, episodes of 30 Rock—now even WiFi is available: your emails sent down to Earth from thousands of miles above. Distractions abound, because why would it occur to anyone that passengers would want to savor the journey?

And why would you? It’s boring. There are no buildings zooming by, no trees, nothing but the clouds the nose of the airplane cuts through. Nothing but the plane and the clouds. And, I guess, our thoughts.

Sometimes I wonder if people are just terrified of being stranded in the air, thousands of miles above everyone they love, with their own thoughts.  Maybe that— not boredom, not anticipation— is why we have in-flight movies, why we curse ourselves if we forgot our iPods, why we sleep and read and eat and talk instead of just sitting. Instead of catching up with ourselves. Instead of checking in. When there’s nothing but sky—no physically discernable point of origin, no visible destination—it’s easier to watch a movie than to go into your own head.

The last flight I took was coming home from college after I’d graduated. I read a good portion of my book on the plane. I slept a little. But when I woke up, the sun was going down, and I didn’t feel like reading my book anymore. So I looked out the window, something I haven’t done in a long time, and just caught up with myself.

I asked myself how I felt about going back home permanently for the first time in four years. How I was going to deal with being away from the person I loved. How weird it would be to just be floating along in Chicago, no job, no direction. When my flight touched down, I would be once again living with my parents, but this time without anything tangible to work toward. What was that going to be like? I didn’t have any answers, but I knew that now was the time to ask the questions. While I was suspended in space. While I had the time.

 I’ve heard we live in a world where we need constant stimulation. Academics mourn the loss of downtime, an “interruption free space,” a creative pause. They blame our inability to detach from our devices. “Are We Too Connected?” posit blogs and editorials all over the country.

Maybe they’re right. But the fear that we may have to spend some time with ourselves, that we may have to confront truths we don’t want to confront, is a powerful one. It isn’t just a symptom of the information age—it’s the consequence of being human.

Planes get us to where we’re going. Not just in space, though. In time. We don’t savor that transition; we don’t bother to wonder about what will be different —about our destinations, about our departure points, about ourselves—once the plane rattles into the runway. We should. It might make for an easier landing.