The Snow-Sled Effect

When I was 8, a boy named Craig ran me over with a sled.

I was trudging up a slope with a sled that measured roughly twice my height. My then iconic blonde bob was, well, bobbing up the hill, and my outfit incorporated 20 different shades of pink. The ground was unforgiving with cold, but the thought of sledding down this glacier kept my feet from going numb.

I imagined it was the North Pole. White tree branches sagged low, icy dust bit my face in the wind, and everything smelled like a very plain snow cone. Caught in a daydream of Santa and hot cocoa and Jack Frost, Craig’s toboggan met my squirming little body, and I tumbled down the hill, feet meeting face meeting hair meeting… which way is up?

My coral boots thrown downhill, I took my magenta glove to my face and felt warmth. That couldn’t be good.

See, I was used to nosebleeds. For some reason, I used to get nosebleeds constantly as a kid. Once I felt the syrupy fluid gushing out of my nose, I snapped into nosebleed mode. My parents trained me well—Pinch, sit still, hear a story, keep pinching.

Except this time I didn’t have a story. I had a glacial bunny slope. I didn’t have a tissue, either. I felt paralyzed on the hill, but not just cause of Craig. I didn’t have everything I needed. And my nose was still oozing blood.

Then I met the man who saved me from this hillside disaster.

He was a lanky dad, his sweatshirt dangled off his shoulders. He hustled up the icy knoll to me, found my boots and put them on my bare feet (I convinced my mom that Uggs would be warm enough without socks). He reached into his back pocket and handed me a red bandana, folded up like a handkerchief. I knew exactly what I needed to do. I sat on the mound and pinched.

With the few swift movements, this man transformed the icy knoll into my kitchen. Instead of the afternoon sun piercing my eyes, I felt the moon at my back, seeping in through my kitchen window. I was sitting on the linoleum counter with a box of tissues at my side and my mother cradling my head. When my eyes would get heavy, she’d even pinch for me. I opened my eyes and he was pinching.

Sometimes I think back to that frozen moment in time and laugh. 14 years later, I’m generally frantic everyday. I run from place to place, usually carrying 4 more items than I have hands, usually sipping coffee and spilling it over my—oh shit, I’m wearing this shirt again this week?

Through the course of a week, I wake up at various hours of the day in a panic, without fail. My stomach feels like I ate a battery (some days, that’s not too far off—I’m convinced liquor is poison).  Half empty coffee cups litter my bedroom. I mistake my laundry heap for my bed far too often.

I’m usually out the door, still arguing with one shoe and 5 minutes to get to class.

But after college, I won’t have classes to make, but quarterly meetings to attend. I won’t be able to wear the same shirt everyday, because I’ll get those judgy eyes from my cubicle mate. Instead, my alarm will buzz at the same time every morning. I’ll know which slacks match with which belt. I’ll know the bus driver who breaks a little too quickly and sends me and my stylish lunch tote hurdling past the seated school children up front.

Until college ends, though, this whole freak show I perform every morning is my routine. It’s become the sitting and pinching of my young adult life. To some, this is diagnosable.

But I thrive on it.

Morning adrenaline kick starts—no, roundhouse kicks my day. I know what do to, more or less. Wash my face, put shit in my backpack that makes me look important, don’t leave the apartment naked. And there’s always a lot of dancing. Or tripping, I’m not sure which. It’s simple, and it’s just enough to stop the bleeding.

Leaving college, I’m trudging up that frozen hill again. But this time it’s Mt. Kilimanjaro. It’s the real world. I’m trying not to look behind me at all those house parties, papers, unpaid internships below, but I see Craig’s sled in all its pomp and circumstance, coming full force.

As his sled leaps over every rock, a pang hits my stomach:

I won’t be able to stay up until the sun rises.

I won’t find pockets of time to slouch in a coffee shop after class.

My mental health days will be documented now.

Whether I like it or not, Craig’s barreling down that mountain. And I’ve survived this far, so I can learn to adapt, right? If I could impromptu pinch ‘n sit when I was 8, I can make it work 14 years later. But this time I don’t have that hoodied father to steer me back to my habits.

That has to be me. I need to have my tricks in my back pocket everywhere I go. I’ll challenge myself.

I’ll blindly accept the lead role in the theatrical remake of Cristina Wakes Up. I’ll make obstacles courses with my laundry. I’ll transform my shoe hunting into a game of I Spy. I’ll metro surf on the train, determined to defy all of Newton’s Laws or something like that.

And perhaps then not much will change after all.

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Waking Up to You

You remember that time we were laying in bed—still groggy with sand in our eyes—and you rolled over and said,
“Erin, I like waking up to you.”

I made some joke about how you shouldn’t get used to it, but truth is—
I like it too.
I like knowing you’ll be there to start my day off on the right foot,
to sit with me in the baby dawn light
and arm me for the day ahead, the month ahead, my life ahead.
And even if the whole day passes and I don’t find time to check in with you,
I know that, if I ask, you’ll be there again at the end of it,
to help me decompress from whatever came my way.

I like knowing that you’ll be there to make sure I’m taking care of myself amidst the chaos of my life:
to get me moving in the morning
doing my chores—and the dishes I left the night before;
to make me stop working on Friday afternoons
and push me out the door to the yoga class I know I’ll be so happy I went to;
to journey with me to the market on Sunday
so that I can get food for the week while enjoying my dose of sunshine and people watching.

But more—I like the little things:
the crackle, hiss, whistle of the kettle every morning
before warming and waking over big mugs of tea;
the silky touch of lotion smoothing over my skin
after I step out of every shower;
the sticky sweet smell of the strawberry lip balm
that I can’t leave the apartment without.

Not everybody sees you the way I do.
I’ve heard the names people call you.
They say you’re dull, ordinary, unremarkable.
That you’re holding me back, keeping me from being spontaneous.
People tell me to ditch you, go do something different,
see the world,
have an adventure.

I used to agree with them.
I feared that if I let you be part of my life, you’d march in like a schoolmaster,
telling me when I can sit, stand, sharpen my pencils.
And I’d hunch over my desk scribbling down the lines that you fed me with ever dulling utensils.
And all the while I would be dulling, too.

People talk.
And I used to listen to the stories they would tell about you
with open ears, wide eyes, and a spirit that was afraid of being locked in a cage of regularity.

But you were persistent against my resistance,
always showing up when I didn’t even realize I needed you
offering help, comfort—or just something solid to stand on.
I found myself wanting you around more,
craving the time we would spend together.
Before I knew it, you were a regular in my life.

And now, I know that all those people were mistaken.

I know that of all the quotidian things I deal with on a daily basis, you’re not one of them.
You may be regular, but you’re not ordinary.

I know that of all the things that hold me back from taking the world by storm—
the fear, the doubt, the laziness—
you’re not one of them.
In fact, you’re one of the few things keeping me on track and moving forward.

And I know, without a doubt, that I could travel to the four corners of this earth—
follow the fishes to the deepest depths of the ocean,
scale Mt. Kilimanjaro
—but no matter how far I got, I would always turn around and find you following in step.
You may look a little different, more sun-beaten and rugged, but you’d be there.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

See, it’s not that I can’t live without you.
I just know I can’t be the person I want to become
without you there nudging me along.

In times of joy you are there to celebrate with me and remind me revel in the wonder of life.
When I’m successful, you congratulate me,
but remind me to never forget where I’ve come from, and where I’m going.
When I feel lost and confused, you help me draw the map.
And when the world throws sorrow or pain my way—
when it pulls the tears from my eyes and makes me walk across a bed of nails—
you step back and give me a place to mourn,
even though I know you’re still there, holding the bandages and ready to help me heal.

Look, I know things aren’t perfect—I’ll be the first to admit it.
There are times we’ll go weeks without seeing each other,
days I’ll be too wrapped up in my own business to give you the time of day.

But there are so many more things I want to do with you.
I want to get up early and sit in out underwear,
scribbling down the stories we have to tell.
I want to take walks in the middle of the day,
seeking solace from our screens and letting our minds breathe.
I want to cuddle up in bed before we drift off to sleep.
escaping into the teetering mountain of novels that has been slowly growing.

Making you a more regular part of my life is gonna take work—
effort, desire, and dedication—
but it’s work that’s worth it.

And you know why?

When I look a year into the future, where everything is black and uncertain,
you’re under a spotlight in the middle of the darkness, waiting with arms wide open.
When I look a month in the future, where things are still blurry and painted over in big red question marks,
you’re there—clear as day—sitting at my kitchen table and handing me a steaming cup of Earl Grey.
When I look to tomorrow, when I’m laying there with eyes glued shut and brain still in a dream,
you’re there singing Today is Monday, today is Monday, how do you feel today?
and urging me to get up and make something of my day.

Like a thread stitched through
the ins and outs,
ups and downs,
highs and lows—
you hold them all together.
Give me something to grab onto,
something to keep me from floating away,
a tangible reminder that—
no matter how much everything seems to be falling to pieces around me—
I’m still here and this world keeps on turning,
and you’re still holding strong.

I guess what I’m trying to say
is that I want you here
to be my everyday.

What Now? On Leaving the Everyday of Education

I am very scared to graduate from college. It is not because people keep asking me what I’m going to do with my life and I don’t really know yet. It is not because every time I say I’m graduating with a BA in Journalism, people say, “Oh, wow, good luck with that.” It is not even because I’m scared I won’t get a job (although you can keep your statistics and horror stories of Harvard grads working at Jimmy Johns to yourself, thanks). No, I am scared to graduate because after fifteen years spent in the realm of education, I’m afraid I will not know how to do anything else.

School is my art. I have always been exceptionally good at school with three isolated exceptions.

In third grade I did poorly in math because I didn’t understand multiplication tables. In my defense, Ms. De LaCruz wasn’t as invested in teaching as she could have been, probably because she was nearing her mid seventies. I eventually learned them with some extra tutoring.

In sixth grade, I was Going Through A Thing and decided not to do any of my homework for a couple of months. My parents caught wind and told me they would cancel Christmas if I kept it up. I promptly stopped Going Through A Thing and started filling out my pointless boring Reading Logs.

In my freshman year of college, I was hanging out with friends until 3 in the morning every single night, causing me to sleep through my lectures and nod off while I was taking exams. This time, my parents told me if this pattern continued, they’d cancel college. I pulled it together.

In each of these falls from academic grace, there were outside forces telling me what to do. Telling me how to do it. And I am very good at taking direction. And I am very good at school. Because that is what school is all about.

School is based on strategy. It is formed in routine. If you are good at strategy, if you recognize the routine and use it for your own benefit, you will succeed. To do well means to accept certain authoritative structures: teachers and professors, class times, deadlines, exams. To accept direction. To accept instruction. To accept a routine.

If you know when the bell rings or when class starts, if you read the material and can offer a few good insights, if you’ve written a halfway decent paper, if you smile and chat and treat your teachers like they are human beings—if you follow this routine, you can succeed. You can get away with handing in things late, or turning in sub-par work. You build your routine and if it falls short, it’s okay because you’ve already established yourself as a hard working responsible student.

School is easy even when it’s hard because I know what to do. I know how to play. When I am on vacation, I am restless. I am waiting for the grind. My routine is off. I check the back of my mind for a rogue exam or a reflection paper or a forgotten email reminder. When I watch television in August and see back-to-school ads, I am strangely comforted.

Is this strange? Neurotic? I am happy in the nest of academia—the mind-burning routine of researching, worrying about deadlines, coffee in the morning and tea at night, late night library runs trying to cram the entire week’s worth of work into one evening. I crave direction in the form of due dates and validation in the form of grades and comments. It is so distinct, so direct—specific. I am hesitant to leave that. It is one thing I know how to do well.

I have been told many times that I am outspoken. Opinionated. I find those descriptors odd. They don’t seem to fit me; or rather, I feel I wear them falsely. If I were truly any of those things I would be slamming my head against the steel door of academia, my brain begging to breathe on its own. Instead I am so desperate for someone, something, outside of me to tell me what to do with my time that I am terrified to live my own life. I am ashamed of this.

My friends make plans for graduate school, law school, medical school. Not me. I can’t go to school again. I can’t just be comfortable anymore. It’s not helping me grow. I’m not forcing myself to take initiative, I’m not exploring original ideas, and I’m certainly not learning how to judge my own worth and merit. School doesn’t give me the space to propose, to speak out, to demand. I am afraid of that space, but I have to enter it. The routine that I have been so comfortable in for the last eighteen-odd years is suffocating me and I can’t let myself drift off into an easy death.

And yet, education has given me the opportunity to enter that independent space. The bars that trap us are the same sticks that hit us from behind and force us to move forward. I read the texts, I analyzed the books, I wrote the papers and now I have something to say. I just have to find a way to say it.  

My Dad said something to me recently, while we were talking on the phone about my post-grad plans. He told me he understood that it was overwhelming. “When you’ve spent your whole life in school, what the hell do you do now?” I’m not sure. When I’m waiting tables over the summer, or sitting in an office staring at a computer, or riding the Brown Line to oblivion I might still not know—but at least I’m trying.

The Ups and Downs of Autopilot

The only thing I consistently do every single morning is get out of bed. Once my feet are on the ground, nothing is off limits.

Sometimes I crave routine. When I have a slow morning every now and then I think to myself, as I steep some tea and eat oatmeal in my underwear, if only I could do just this, every morning. I would sleep well past seven and let the sun wake me up. I would listen to acoustic covers of all my favorite songs while I put on my makeup. That’s what I would do every morning, if only. These calm moments are rare gems, never deliberately placed but rather stumbled upon.

Most mornings I’m not so fortuitous. Some begin at four-thirty a.m.; I dress and brush my teeth, lucky if I don’t trip into any furniture in the process, and bike to the diner I work at in the dark. Others I might spend on-call for my other job as an RA or meeting a professor. Some mornings follow late evenings at work and don’t begin until well past sunrise, and still others begin with an early morning run. With my schedule about as stable as my footing at five in the morning, the concept of routine is lost on my planner.

I once happened upon somebody else’s routine. One morning I found myself blissfully free, so I joined a friend for a cup of tea as she readied herself for work. I perched on her bed while she methodically curled her hair and her eyelashes, selected some earrings and a pair of shoes. Something intangible caught my attention in that room. So practiced, so rhythmic were her movements. So quiet was the sunlight pouring through the windows. In that still and magnificent moment I had time to notice the dust particles floating in the air. It occurred to me that my presence in the room was all that set this morning apart from any other. I thought of the dust particles that must float through the sunlit air in my room each day, even in my absence.

With me, though, there’s always something disruptive, always a little calamity. I leave my packed lunch on the counter. I realize midday that I’m not wearing deodorant. Once I looked in the mirror to find that I had mismatched my earrings. There is no logic or design to the way I live my life. Sitting in my friend’s room that morning gave me a taste of what I was missing.

In light of my sudden craving for some consistency, I launched a careless Internet search of the word “routine.” Between abdominal workouts and dictionary definitions I found a word, an interpretation of the idea of “routine,” so terrifying and so threatening it brought my search to a screeching halt:

“Autopilot.”

That which is routine is a task we can perform mindlessly. Something we could do in our sleep, without care or consciousness; something we can do on autopilot. By the time I graduated high school I could drive home on autopilot. From the student parking lot to my driveway I would be deeply entranced, unaware of stoplights and crosswalks. I would pull up to my house and awaken, trusting that I hadn’t hit any animals or small children on my way (surely I would have noticed then).

I’d drive home the same way my friend applied her makeup and curled her hair. If I wanted a routine, I realized, I essentially wanted to spend more of my time on autopilot.

Is that something I really want? I’ve got to wonder: if I spent seven mornings a week drinking tea in my underwear, would I eventually forget to enjoy it?

My lack of routine keeps me on my toes. I am wide-awake for every moment of my day. Every microwave breakfast is an adventure, every swipe of mascara an experiment. You might even call my life exciting, my mismatched earrings edgy. I could be proud that I fit it all in and get it all down. I could call myself Supergirl. But most days I don’t feel like Supergirl. Most days, in fact, kick my ass. I euphemize the chaos, opting for words like excitement and adventure, and truck on through.

I am grateful to be young and free of an autopilot setting, to be up for anything and down for everything, but at times I must ask, is this calamity worth the satisfaction I feel knowing I didn’t take the easy route? At times I want to shout out, enough is enough already. Get me an alarm clock and a steady bedtime; sign me up! At times I would give anything for the chance to just tune out, so distracted as I clutch a steaming cup of tea that I can’t feel it searing holes in my palms while I watch those sunlit dust particles float lazily on by.