The Night I Fed a Troll

What an online hater taught me about creativity.

Note: This story also appeared on The Startup at Medium .

The email popped in my inbox with the subject line: “Saw You Online and OMG!”

This was a few years ago, before those words had become a spammer’s ubiquitous tease. Before I’d learned that those words never lead you someplace good.

I took the bait and found my own face smirking back at me. My face and belly, annotated.

I didn’t recognize the email address. The pic was shot by some roaming photographer at the Folsom Street Fair, California’s third-largest single-day outdoor spectator event, which draws a quarter million “fetish enthusiasts.”

Though the street fair had grown in popularity and widened in its demographics, it’s rooted in the gay community, and anyone with a passing acquaintance of (a certain privileged segment of the) gay male culture knows that we’ll strip off our shirts with little hesitation at events for which straight people normally remain clothed. (Brunch? Check. Bowling? Check. Book club? I’m down.)

Anyway, I’d been drafted to sling beers for charity and had been to the gym that week, so I ended up shirtless on the internet (sorry, Lowe’s). When I stumbled across it, I promptly grabbed the pic for an online profile, which may have helped me land a date or two (thanks, Lowe’s).

Since half my life is online, I had no idea which site the troll had pulled it from. I had to Google “turistors” to confirm that they’re luggage. Baggage, bags, etc.

It stung.

With the help of Photoshop, he (I assumed it was a fellow gay dude) had zeroed in on the body parts that gave me shame (two of them, at least). The parts that made me hesitate when stripping off my shirt or posting a pic. Parts to filter. Parts to obscure.

Like he’d jimmied open the back door to my brain and shone a Maglite on the one dark corner where I stash my ego. I could speculate on his motives, but that’s a dull path to take.

I could call myself, with all sincerity, my own worst critic. I didn’t have to internalize the shame he meant to provoke — it had been there for years. The call was coming from inside the house.

But seeing that critic’s thoughts (i.e., my own thoughts) scrawled over my face and body and concretely seconded by an anonymous observer (who may have known me in real life) was arguably worse.

Everyone knows the risks. Sad sacks haunt forums and chat rooms and comment sections, trailing poison with every keystroke. I’d been writing and blogging for years, and I knew the number one rule: DON’T FEED THE TROLLS.

They live off the bloodshed. They feed off the left hook/right hook of threaded comments and retaliatory emails. Faced with no response, they wither to bones, or sniff out the next sucker.

It was a rule I held to for years. I didn’t even read online comments, following one soul-debilitating presidential election cycle. But that night, wounded by the red scrawls staring at me from my inbox, I couldn’t help myself:

Sorry you’re such an unhappy person, I wrote. Good luck with your miserable life. You’ll need it.

Lame, in retrospect. I’ve never thought fast (or cutting) on my feet. Still, it was short, bitter, and to the point.

It didn’t make me feel better.

Two minutes later I got a new email with the subject line: Saw you online and again what the fuck??

Inside was another of my pics:

The bruise on my chest is a good story for another time.

He’d named this pic, “SheThinksShesAllThat.jpg” which, again, was remarkable in its precision cutting.

The thing is, I’d never in my entire life thought I was all that, about anything. At all. But I’d done something I was a little proud of. A lifetime ago, I’d arrived at college weighing 128 pounds. I’d been called Toothpick and Bones so often that if a genie had granted me three wishes, I’d easily blow the first to look “normal.”

Instead, over those many years I’d worked hard to build up to 185 pounds, and if I wasn’t all that (I wasn’t), maybe I was some of that? A slice of that? Enough to encourage moments in which beautiful strangers might want to make out with me in dive bars, Toyotas and shirtless bowling alleys?

Like I hadn’t learned my lesson. But I could taste blood. In 70 words-per-minute haste I shot back:

The image of you spending your days and nights photoshopping other people’s pictures is cracking me up. Fortunately you still have your mother to tuck you in at night, since you’re living in her basement. Please keep spending your time sending me pictures of myself. It’s flattering.

I waited, checking my email every few minutes as I made a dinner that I’d chew in glum righteousness. But that was the last I ever heard from the troll.

I didn’t feel as though I’d won. The emails had wounded me despite the deft construction of a sweet and affable personality. I’d long avoided any fusillade of criticism, forever scanning the horizon for threats, fashioning armor of helpfulness and self-deprecation, to keep me safe. I was nice to dogs and exes and I donated to charity.

And still it came for me.

Women fear being killed by men. Men fear being laughed at by women. I don’t know the top fear of white, privileged gay dudes, but having your shirtless internet pic annotated for laughs could rank high. I should add that including these pics here is the wound that keeps on bleeding. I don’t want you to see them.

As the hours passed, the sting faded, and I began to mull a fellow blogger’s tagline, which I will paraphrase: “If you post anything on the internet, expect criticism.” I have no love for this motto, though I get it.

It’s a stretch to draw parallels between beefcake pics and works of creativity that are posted with less selfish motives than future hook-ups. But that’s where my brain went on the Night of the Troll.

You make something and put it up — a blog post, a painting, a song, an idea — hoping for praise. Hoping, maybe, to connect.

You can labor on it for days, weeks, and longer, dogged by doubt and the multiple calls coming from inside the house. But to post it, to share it, to strip off your shirt — that jump takes guts.

Many never make that jump.

You run the risk of the Facebook take-down. A hundred hours of labor met with a single, Twittered, “Meh.” I’d written online for years, and every time my mouse had hovered over the “Post” button, I’d think:

This time you went too far. This time you said too much. Worse, you said it unskillfully. You’re a crap writer. You’re naked and ugly and they’re all gonna laugh at you, Toothpick.

But somehow I’d jump. Not because I had guts. Only because other writers and painters and musicians had made that jump before me, making me feel, through their best work, less alone with my flaws and faults. The luggage I’d rather hide.

I’m not all that, I don’t know much, but I’d rather exit this life having added one or two things to the world, than dwell in the basement of trolls.

Make it. Post it. Be naked and afraid. Connect with beautiful strangers when they stumble across your creation. Make them feel less alone with their deformities. Make out with them in their dark bedroom, their phone on the nightstand chirping as their inbox fills through the night.

A Fictional Survey by an Unreliable Worker at a Made-Up Company

We at__________would like to express our appreciation for your hard work and dedication. As part of our efforts to attain the GREAT PLACE TO WORK® certification, we invite you to answer the following questions:

What are your favorite aspects of the job?

  • The kitchen that is bigger than my apartment. The espresso maker that costs more than my rent.
  • The half-and-half elf.
  • The main switchboard elf.
  • Working with words for a living because I actually suck at everything else.
  • The gratification I feel when I type on the company-wide instant message app, and five seconds later hear 25 people bust out laughing at my perfectly-timed joke about gay firemen.
  • My modesty and humility.

What are your least favorite aspects of the job:

  • The brand-new, 2012-era interior decorating scheme inhibits my output sex drive creativity.
  • I am literally the only single person in the entire office. I’m not sad. You’re sad.
  • Walking by my headshot every time I have to take a piss.
  • The office Shih Tzu that doesn’t like to be looked at or touched. A dog that doesn’t like to be looked at or touched is a cat. Nobody told me we could bring cats to work.
  • The cat’s owner, who regularly rushes out of the corner office to go on high-decibel, company-wide rants that I suspect are fully funded by Fox News.

What are the most humorous aspects of the job?

  • The rich, white, straight Boss/ Fox News Anchor screaming at us that everyone in this country is treated exactly the same, i.e. everyone gets the same breaks in life regardless of color, gender, orientation, class, etc.
  • The young blonde intern who just started, i.e. the boss’ daughter.
  • You can be fired for being gay in 29 states. Evicted from your apartment in 31.
  • Transgenders/military, gays/religious objections of healthcare workers, etc. etc.
  • Since I had to leave my last job because of a co-worker who sent gay slur texts about me to other co-workers—a  woman who once said she could never vote for anyone with the same genitalia as her own, and since I went to HR, and since that kicked off a months-long ordeal that ultimately led to our union protecting her job, and since I ended up feeling weirdly guilty about the whole thing, and since I’ve been at this new job for two months, and since 24 out of 25 people laugh at my gay firemen jokes, I feel obligated, out of self-preservation, to find the above soul-crushing humorous.
  • When people tell me that Western Massachusetts is super progressive.
  • Wayne in graphic design’s novelty ties are actually surprisingly funny.

We thank you for your contributions, and feel confident that they will help us attain the GREAT PLACE TO WORK® certification.  Now that your 15-minute break is over, we invite you to resume your work, back in your windowless cubicle over by the copier, underneath the “Don’t count the days, make the days count” inspirational quote.

The Dude of Fraudulence

I am a fraud.

The thought shoved through my front door, late one night, hours after I’d come home from a 12-step meeting where a friend had asked me to pass out the chips.

You know chips. The plastic or metal coins ex-drunks and ex-pillheads carry in their pockets that signify how long it’s been since they last got wasted. This meeting focuses on newcomers, and since newcomers struggle to stay clean, and often end up, after six days of continuous sobriety, forging three or four prescriptions for Oxycontin and stealing their nephew’s Xbox—this meeting keeps its overhead low by passing out the reasonable, cheaper, plastic type. So we carry around poker chips. (What do they hand out at Gamblers Anonymous? – Ed.)

My new friend asked me to pass them out at the end of the meeting because he knew that I’d polished off a handle of whiskey a few nights before, that I was new to the meeting, that I couldn’t seem to win friends and influence ex-drunks in the valley or the rooms of local recovery, and that it would be a good way for them to see me as a member of something. That I might even see it for myself.

Like a kind and considerate friend, he ambushed me three minutes before the meeting started, so I had a good hour to sit there and obsess about standing up and talking in front of a large, bleak church basement filled with 125 straight bros who say things like “wicked smaht.”

Then another thought hurried in, like a criminal rushing though a condo security door that an attractive resident in a miniskirt just unlocked on her way in.

The thought that I’d need to give myself—up there at the front of the room—a newcomer chip.

Those chips stand for 24 hours of sobriety, or are reserved for those who slip into the back row with only a mild and conflicted desire to stop drinking. The teetering, terrified, fog-headed folks who lurch up to take the coin and a hug (or a handshake for the misanthropic) and get the full, thundering applause, because every one of us has been that skinny, trembling squirrel, and because we know that without them, we’d be unable to help them, and helping them is what best guarantees your chances of squeezing past squirrel status.

Problem was, I was the squirrel. Again. After 15 years of sobriety and another four years of failed attempts to claw my way back. I don’t care what anyone says about one day at a time—your ego gets attached to that 15. Or mine did. And my fumble of it made me a dud.

Those thoughts spun through my addled brain during the meeting, and whenever I’d picture myself fishing the newcomer chip out of the plastic box and announcing in a voice loud enough to be heard by 125 straight bros that I couldn’t give the chip to anybody else because I had to give that particular one to myself—every time I pictured it, tears ran down my face.

Because I knew that keeping the secret of my whiskey guzzling only shoved me farther into the dark corner I’d painted myself into. If I wanted to squeeze past squirrel, I had to come clean.

And the end of the meeting came way too quickly, and I went up there and with shaky hands handed out the chips to those with greater lengths of sobriety than I’d lately managed, working my way back down through the months, from 11 to 9 to 6 to 3 to the end. And as I fished out the newcomer chip my voice fucking broke and I fought back fucking tears and said the words I needed to say. And the thundering applause followed me back to my folding chair, where I put my face in my hands as a dozen unseen straight bros slapped my back. Because it had been a very long four years of the loneliest days I’d ever known, and I was fucking tired.

Later, at home alone with the walls down, in the company of a chihuahua, the feeling of fraudulence fell upon me.

Oh, hello, I said. Old friend. Hello, old pal.

I knew fraudulence. For 15 years it had followed me home from every meeting where I’d told my story of transformation. It reflected off my laptop screen every time I posted a blog. The truer the tale, the harder it hit. You just fucking lied your ass off, bro, the voice in my brain sneered.

But it was true, I’d reply with wavering confidence. (Um, when have you ever had anything but wavering confidence? – ed.)

You lied like a motherfucker lying liar who gets paid by the lie, it would reply.

And it said the same the night of the chip. I hated him—the inner critic or bitter queen or belligerent and self-righteous Patriots fan or whatever fucking metaphor works best here. I hated the dude. So I’d always block and ghost him.

But in the days that followed the night of the chip, I caught the barest glimmer of light from the crypt he’d crawled from. And this time, I followed it back, broke in, ate its porridge and slept in its three beds and left in the morning like a guilty trick.

I know where he lives now.

Do me a favor. Think of the spontaneous types of the planet’s citizens. The fun-loving, free-wheeling, I-just-go-where-the-night-and-the-next-Uber-take-me types. Now picture their opposite, and you’ve got my selfie. A pic picked from 75 similar pics and put through a dozen filters.

Naturally, I blame my childhood, but I’d always hated not knowing what was coming around the next corner. So for every interaction of every day of my entire life, I’d rehearse. I’d plan my steps. Repeat my lines until they’d lock in. Run optional scenarios. “And, five, six, seven, eight…” I’d write a dozen drafts before hitting “post.”

And spare myself possible pain and probable humiliation. Because looking like a fool in front of others is the greatest sin of life. Duh.

And I’d done the same the night of the chip, sitting on a flimsy folding chair and plotting my words for an hour. And it was the rehearsal that spoon-fed the dude. It kept him dressed in Dockers and paid the rent on his crypt.

Because if I’d rehearsed my lines, then they were void of spontaneity. Which meant that I was insincere. Because spontaneous expressions were the truest expressions. Everyone knows that.

Rehearsals were blatant attempts at manipulating the better people of the world, you fucking drama queen. Stop auditioning for applause. Sit down and fiddle with your phone like everyone else.

So says the dude.

The dude is not me. Just the drunk in my head. He works hard to cull me from the herd, whines from the backseat of the Honda on my way home from work that it’s bottle-time. “Let’s go home, lock the door, mute the ringer, and binge-watch Who the F#$? Did I Marry?

I’m all you need, he whispers from the far end of the couch, then passes out, face-first, in his Value Meal.

I can hear myself think then. I’m not the dude. This is the seventh draft. I’ve cut 300 words and replaced hundreds more. I pick them for effect. To manipulate you. To keep from falling flat on my face. And it’s okay. Rehearsed truth is no less true than spontaneous truth. Human connection works. Late-night calls with other lunatics sustain me.

He snores on the couch. I throw the dog’s fleece blanket over his feet. Brush my teeth and wonder if I could kick him out, or if he’s hard-wired to my head. If the bulk of my life was spent hiding my flaws, my little, incestuous flowers in the attic, then maybe now I can unlatch the trap door and let them roam the house. Give the dude the spare room, rent-free. Just wipe down the kitchen counter, I’ll tell him, give me a check every few months for utilities and maintenance, obey the quiet hours, and keep your hands off the chihuahua.

I’m Just Waiting On a Dude

You take the train to Manhattan. You pick him up at the airport. You drive to his hotel in the suburbs where he waits for you beside his car. You are nervous and you take a wrong turn. You drive 90 miles and you make good time. You wear good jeans and a t-shirt that hugs your chest. You wait in the lobby with one bag at your feet. You meet him in a restaurant on the Lower East Side. He orders a margarita. A microbrew. A Diet Coke. He complains about the heat. Says he has AC back at his place. Ok, you say, sure let’s go. You take the elevator, you take the stairs. A boutique hotel, a Ramada Inn. You bring him home. You’re shaking and thrilled and way too quiet. Are you okay, he asks. We’re okay, he says. We’ll be okay.

He waits till the door closes behind you to lean in for a kiss. Your dog paws at his leg. He bends down to the dog. He ignores the dog. You’re as close as you can get. You’ve got friends waiting. So does he. You’ve got an hour, he’s got two. You’re all alone and you’ve got all day. You’ve got a week, you’ve got two nights. Lie down with me he says and peels off his pants. The TV’s off, the TV’s on. Game shows three decades old. You follow his lead – you always will. He pats the bed and you slide in. You stand making out for a good ten minutes. You put the dog on the couch and you close the bedroom door. He rubs your back beneath your shirt.

He takes you out for dim sum and you stand at the bar. You take the elevator to the top floor restaurant. A view of the Chrysler Building. You buy junk food and cheap cigars at a gas station and you smoke them heading down the coast. He buys you a scratch-off and you win nothing. Next time, he says. You open the bedroom door after three hours and the dog’s leaping at your feet. You meet his friends for drinks. You take him to the neighboring town. He’s from Atlanta, he’s from Jersey. He flew from overseas. He’s a city boy afraid of the dark. He has money, he drives a truck. He eats really strange food. He craves adventure and risk. Sorry, you say, the roads around here are shit. He relaxes at the sight of a Whole Foods. “I’ll buy you dinner,” he says, pointing at a barbeque chain.

The words come easy, you talk all night. You leave him grinning. His friends mess up, mention another dude. A gate falls down in your chest. He follows you back to the room and tries to explain. He teases your dog a little too much, but you keep holding his hand on the couch. You want to see him again. You want to run back home. You suddenly argue over a really stupid thing. He falls asleep first, you fall asleep first. He says that you snore. He’s rumpled and grumpy and you buy the pancakes. You skip the convention and stay all weekend in the room on the eighth floor. The little thing builds into a fight and he’s better at it than you. You’re stunned and ashamed, you snap and you yell. He backs away in fear. He wants to go home but his flight’s in two days. He sleeps in your bed, you sleep on the couch. You both lie awake all night.

He stays four days, he stays two nights. He hugs you beside his cab. You walk to the train, you shoulder your bag. You drop him at the curb. I got sad, he texts you, watching you walk away. He makes the most of an awkward time. What are you going to do, you say, when you go back home? He looks out the car window. Too soon to say, my friend, too soon to say. You note the word “friend.”

He texts you daily, he disappears. He calls you on the video display. Over several weeks you fall in love with his face. In your head you build a future. He makes you laugh. He really makes you laugh.

Try to stay grounded, your shrink warns. Also, how many times in person have you met? Once, you say, but we text every day?

He’s two hours, four hours, a full day by car. He’s a seven hour flight. He lives on another continent. You’re alone again in the lonesome valley and you wonder again how you got yourself stuck. You’re alone with yourself. With nothing but yourself. It’s all up to you, your happiness. You’re in your 40’s, you’re all grown up – it’s time you took the blame.

I’m not ready, he says – it’s the last time you talk. Come see me again, he says. There’s someone else, he says. I just want this with you, he says, meaning friends, meaning FaceTime, is that ok? It’s not ok but you nod that it is. Too bad you’re not closer, he says. Outside at dusk the geese overhead.

You talk every day. You look at his face. You love your new friend and he loves you, too. His calls are the blood of your day. He saves you from the quiet, he saves you from yourself. You’re gutted every time he talks about a dude. Some dude in his city stands him up. You’d slap the dude if you could. You don’t know, you’d say, you don’t know, the chance you’ve got.

Your friend sighs and says, What are we going to do about dudes? You’re busy looking at his face. Oh, you say. Oh, I don’t know.

You’re very intense, your shrink finally says. When you find something you like, you dive all the way in. It sucks, you say. Distract yourself, he says.

You know you should write. You should save yourself. You’re a dude in the country who lives all alone. Save yourself. Wish the best for your friend and let the rest go.

You write. The dog at your side on the couch. You wait for his call and you write.

#$@! you, I’m Gonna Go Drink Some Milk

At least once a week I wonder to myself how the hell I ended up out here. By “out here” I mean the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts, a relatively picturesque region of small quaint towns, five colleges, a few craft breweries, lesbians, trans folk, and more kombucha than could fill Lake Eerie. In moments of particularly intense ingratitude I call it Bumfuck, U.S.A.

I mean, I can trace the path backwards to the job that I was working in Boston, for an enormous online retailer who encouraged us to work from home and, wanting to find a place within driving distance that I could afford – my own place – I looked outside of the expensive city and more or less by accident landed out here. The job ended a few months later and I’ve been employed by a university ever since.

But I’ve struggled to make friends and to carve a life out for myself that is full of any real meaning. I endure rather than live, more or less held together by duct tape, a chihuahua, and a couple of long-distance friendships, and I mean, thank God for them.

A handful of far-flung men have come and gone, and though I’ve recently taken up my still-unfinished book again, I’m way too familiar with the deepest dankest corners of my Netflix queue.

I walk across campus like a ghost, invisible to the fresh-faced youth. I think I was cruised by a gay dude once during my entire time in the Valley, and I mean, c’mon, a dude needs validation.

I never wanted to leave San Francisco. Three years ago (fuck how time grinds), on the cusp of divorce, deep down in PTSD-mode, I couldn’t imagine subjecting myself to an apartment with roommates – the only viable option for staying. So I ran up the coast to Portland, stung and exiled by the gods of money and love. And thinking about the city that I called home for 18 years hurt too much so I forced myself to think of other things.

What I’ve figured out, in hindsight, is that I drastically underestimated the importance of human connection in the place you call home. They’re the reasons to keep living – the bonds we create with others, the folks who have our backs.

And I’ve thought about where I would like to live next, what city is worth saving money for, and I’ve come up with a half-hearted two or three, apprehensively, and I was talking to a good friend in New York City on FaceTime a couple of weeks ago and describing the state of my brain when I left San Francisco, how I couldn’t then imagine living with roommates but that I would embrace them now just to stay in the place that felt like home.

“Then why is San Francisco off the table?” he asked.

I was struck kind of dumb for a second. “Because…it’s so damn expensive?”

“So what? Do something for me. Close your eyes and picture yourself living back there, surrounded by people who know and care about you.”

And I couldn’t help it – I teared up, and I put my hands over my eyes, and then my friend started crying too.

“Fuck you,” he said, walking away from the phone and across his kitchen. “I’m gonna go drink some milk,” he said.  He opened the fridge. “And fuck you again.”

You did it,” I said. “So fuck you.”

“Fuck you.”

“Why are you crying?” I said.

“Because sometimes people being nice is more sad than happy.”

I didn’t argue with him, that for me it was kind of the opposite – my tears were of happiness, or more about gratitude, the future kind of gratitude, when you picture yourself – when I picture myself – rejoining society after a long spell of utter isolation, and rediscovering moments of joy or plain satisfaction. Human fucking connection.

Later he said, “Picture yourself stepping off the plane at SFO,” and I started crying again.

It’s probably not possible. It’s so much money. I’m torn in two – the dreamer and the realist. I have a job more or less waiting for me but I’d probably need two. The city’s changed, keeps changing, has changed too much. Friends have left. I’ve got a (quiet, sweet) chihuahua and landlords hate dogs. I need to save up money. I don’t know what the fuck I’m going to do, but I can’t stay here. I’ve got to figure this out.

French Fries and Four Wheels to Nowhere

Not long after my separation I got stuck in the snow at the top of a mountain. I’d fled San Francisco due to my inability to pay $4k a month in rent, and by my very selfish need to live through my forties without five roommates. With no real plan, I drove north up the coast to crash with my cousin who lived in a little town in the middle of Oregon.

My prospects back then seemed slim – after picking up a diagnosis of chronic PTSD, I’d pushed everyone out of my life through neglect, and now that I’d run out of options there was nobody left to turn to, save for this incredibly gracious relative that I’d only recently gotten to know.

So I packed up a rental truck, grabbed one of our two dogs, and hugged my soon-to-be ex-husband goodbye. He had tears in his eyes because he worried that I wouldn’t make it far in my compromised condition – guided by a head full of dark things and surrounded by a brutal fog.

“I’ll be fine,” I told him. “I’ll be just fine.”

I didn’t know where I wanted to live. Portland? Eugene? Some small cabin way up in the mossy woods? Where would I work? My cousin’s little town struggled, devastated by the decline of the timber industry. By the time I’d arrived it was attempting to resurrect itself as a destination for antiques, but even those stores seemed closed half the week.

I bought an old 4Runner that got me around even with a check engine light that a couple of mechanics couldn’t fix, a light that remains on two and a half years later, and that probably stands for some kind of metaphor that I won’t discern until I trade the truck in.

Adding complexity to my job search was my over-attachment to Agnes, the long-haired Chihuahua who’d picked me a few months before and who I couldn’t stand to be apart from for any real length of time. Thinking about leaving her at home while I worked for eight hours kept me up at night, and registering her as a support animal felt like an embarrassment.

Thinking maybe I could make this small town thing work for me, I applied to a bunch of forestry department jobs and landed an interview at a park on the other side of the Cascade Mountains, which rose to the east of my cousin’s place. I set out on a cool summer’s day with Agnes, who rode shotgun in her little elevated seat, taking a road that skirted the mountains, and an hour later I stopped in the shade of a tree overlooking a park station, told Agnes to wish me luck, and went inside, weightless and awkward in my khakis and dress shoes.

My interviewers held inscrutable expressions as I tried to persuade them that my past office jobs fully prepared me for a job in the woods (they later offered the job to someone else), and with the rest of the afternoon empty and waiting, I set off to explore Mt. Bailey, in the Umpqua National Forest, back near my cousin’s place.

Using my phone’s GPS, I navigated roads that twisted through the dark heavy woods, running alongside lakes and over rivers, driving for an hour or so until I reached an area high up the mountain where the trees thinned out and where my GPS and cell coverage failed. The sun was beginning to fade but I did not yet panic. I kept driving, using my own faulty sense of navigation, which only got me further up towards the peak, where snow still clung to the ground beneath the trees.

Up here at the beginning of June the air was cold and crisp and I steered around a curve which led to a large patch of road where the snow clung. I eased the 4Runner to a stop and considered the snow, thinking it looked passable; all I had to do was hit the gas and barrel thr –

Halfway through the patch the car got stuck, and adrenaline flooded me as the tires spun, throwing snow and mud in the air, working the car deeper into the patch that had looked so thin from a few yards back. I went nowhere. I threw the car in four-wheel drive for the first time ever, but all four tires spun helplessly, getting me good and wedged at the peak of this fucking mountain.

I took my foot off the gas, sweating and cursing as Agnes sat confused and frightened beside me. I rocked the car back and forth. I got out into the cold fading sun, found a few pine branches, and threw them under my wheels. Still I got nowhere, and the light now was fading fast and my phone was searching for reception and I thought back to the last time I’d actually passed another car, a good 45 minutes behind me, 45 minutes when I could have chosen another fucking road.

The sky darkened. I tried to assure Agnes that everything was okay, Daddy was mad at the snow, not at you. I held her till she stopped trembling. My breathing evened out. “Little Girl,” I told her, “we’re going nowhere.”

I had no map of the mountain. My phone was useless. Even the radio was out this far up. I’d been multitasking, busy inventorying all the ways that I’d fucking fucked up getting myself into this fuckery. The countless reasons I was unprepared for the real world, especially alone. I could find only one bright spot; a couple of weeks back I’d tossed a sleeping bag and a heavy wool shirt in the back of the car.

In the morning I’d start walking for help, but for tonight I was stuck. I shared some cold French fries with Agnes that I‘d picked up earlier that day in what felt like a different life. I let her pee outside in the dark before picking her up and climbing into the back of the 4Runner, where I took off my dress shoes (who the fuck wears dress shoes to a forestry job?), pulled on the wool shirt, and crawled into the sleeping bag. With the back seats down, I just barely fit. Agnes curled up at my chest and I told her how good she was and how I’d get us out of this mess.

The night came on cold and fitful. Every hour or so I climbed back in the driver’s seat and let the engine warm the car, trying to conserve the quarter tank of gas I had left. Agnes moved deeper into the sleeping bag. Chihuahuas, I’d recently learned, love to burrow under blankets and pillows, and I softly pressed my feet against her, trying to warm us both.

A few minutes of sleep here and there. I pictured my cousin’s fear as the hours passed and I failed to return. At that moment nobody in the world knew where we were.

Morning came, and the snow at the peak looked blue and the trees gray in the heavy mist as we set off together down the mountain. I figured we’d hike an hour, maybe a little more, till we crossed paths with someone, some local or some ranger who’d rescue the stupid city boy and his little dog too from this mess. My feet slipped a bit on the decline in the dress shoes, and blisters rose quickly, barely thirty minutes into our walk, and I knew that I was bound for pain. Every single step.

I stopped at a stream that ran cold and clear at the side of the road and we both drank. Agnes ran ahead of me and I called her back, sure that at any moment a car or a truck would come around the corner. They’d come and save us. The sky was cloudless, the air clean. Though I could only see the stretch of road ahead of me, to the side I could see for miles, the white peaks and the dark swaths of mountain trees. Hawks spun in the air. Sometimes the brush alongside the road would rustle, and Agnes would freeze in place, her tiny nose sniffing the air.

We crossed below the snowline as the sun climbed in the sky. I peered over cliffs to see the road switchbacking down the mountain, disappearing into the thicker line of trees below us. I passed an overlook where yesterday I’d taken a selfie with Agnes, and I thought how young and naïve that man had been, clueless to what lied ahead.

Every step hurt. An hour stretched into two. Every few minutes I’d try the phone without luck. I limped down the mountain, wondering how the fuck could someone in America find a place in the woods where they wouldn’t cross paths with another person for hours. I thought of how many horror movies start out like this.

Five hours. I slipped Agnes into my empty backpack. She rode quietly for a few minutes, then got restless to walk again. Trees and more trees. Streams. Pinecones. I had to will each step forward, stopping rarely, trying to get myself down this godforsaken road. I could only guess at the miles we’d covered. Ten? Twelve? It felt like twice that.

Agnes trotted dutifully beside me, taking a bunch of tiny steps for each of mine, and her trust in me nearly made me cry. My ex used to say to the dogs, “We’re going to take care of you forever and ever,” and I said this to her now, silently pledging that I’d never disappoint her. Not like everyone else in my life. Not like the others I’d abandoned. I’d protect this damn little dog, this little trooper who would, in the coming months and years, be at my side. We’d sleep in the car and motel rooms and spare rooms in basements. We’d cross the country near-broke, and I’d stop and take selfies with her all along the way. As we pinballed from state to state I swore to myself that no matter how many changes life threw at us, I’d remain for her the one true constant.

The dress shoes dug into my blisters. I wanted to cut my feet off. I wanted to eat everything. I wanted to throw this fucking phone over a cliff. We’d been walking now for eight straight hours.
Yellow lines appeared on the road, and I prayed that they indicated civilization. I prayed that way for another couple of miles, wincing with each step, my stomach now singing a full chorus.

When I saw the first truck behind us on the road I suddenly got embarrassed, and I froze in place for a second before grabbing Agnes, turning, and waving my free hand, locking eyes with the woman riding shotgun. They zoomed right past me. I kept waving but the truck never slowed. I cursed at their tail lights till they disappeared.

We kept walking. Eventually we passed a sign: Oakridge, 24 miles. I’d thought I was actually close to the town. I nearly cried again. The afternoon would soon pass into evening. The sun would go down behind the mountains. Checked my phone again. Nothing.

I heard the second truck before I saw it, coming up fast behind me. I held Agnes and raised my hand and the truck slowed and the window lowered and a young man in the driver’s seat asked if I was okay.

“No,” I said. “I’m actually not okay.” I told him about my car.

“Do you want a ride?” he said, and the relief that flooded me felt like the cleanest, purest river, and I nodded, and climbed in beside him. My feet burned in my shoes.

We set off for Oakridge. He told me his name was Jeff, and he was shirtless and beautiful in that way that young men can be, and we talked for the next two dozen miles, and he told me all about his favorite places to camp and to fish and to four wheel, and somehow the subject of my impending divorce came up, and he confessed to me that he’d just been dumped by his girlfriend.

“It’s awful,” he said.

“The worst,” I said.

“I’ll tell you my head goes to dark places sometimes.” Our sudden intimacy didn’t feel strange, in light of the fact that he was my literal savior. I told him I knew exactly what he was talking about.

“You do?” he said. I nodded. “I’m kind of lucky, though,” he said, “because I’ve got Jesus Christ to turn to. Do you believe in Jesus?”

Fuck. Here we go.

I told him the truth – that I didn’t know what I believed. I thought about the higher power I’d lost faith in somewhere along the way. I wondered if I could even get it back. Strangely, wondrously, he let the subject drop, and told me about the time he got stuck at the top of a different mountain, and then we were coasting into town, and my phone vibrated with a half dozen voicemails from my cousin, each one escalating in fear, and I told Jeff he could drop me at the first open food place, which turned out to be the same DQ I’d stopped at on my way up the mountain.

I slipped Agnes into the backpack, waved at Jeff, then went inside, where I ordered two huge value meals before calling my cousin from the safety of a bright red booth by the window. The next day, after more of my cousins towed my car out of the snow, I’d hit up Walmart for maps and a bunch of camping gear including a portable stove and some freeze dried food, all of which I stored in the back of the 4Runner, and later at my cousin’s I’d check the distance and discover that Agnes and I’d walked together for 18 miles.

But for now I stuffed my face and cooled my heels and waited for rescue, slipping French fries into the hole in my backpack, and she took each one politely with her tiny teeth. “Good girl,” I said. “You’re such a good girl.”

The Terminator of Doom and His Chihuahua

The obsession fades as quickly as it came, draining out of me, a bit more each day, until I have days where I don’t even think about him until the afternoon, until the evening, and it drains, dripping, leaving me where I feared I’d be, alone with myself, with what feels some days like a long list of failures and a sharp craving for connection.

I’ve been crying like a motherfucker lately.

I didn’t cry when my husband left me, or when I had to leave the city I called home, or when I got so broke I didn’t know how I’d pay rent. But now I cry every single fucking day, usually the radio or the television or a line in some book, usually over some kind of gesture towards connection.

I fucking cried, sobbed even, while watching the finale of the Great British Baking Show. I hate the word wept but I fucking wept. I couldn’t stop. I saw a woman won who I wanted to win not just for her talents but also because I now really love to see a minority do really well in life just to piss off the Nazis. And I saw her family and friends jumping with pure joy at her win, and fuck I’m nearly crying now. Because fuck it, damn it, I want to win at something, and I want to be surrounded by family and friends who love the fuck out of me. And instead I’m in Bumfuck, MA wondering many days if I will ever have the strength or the talent again to produce something beautiful and true. Has life thrown too many punches at me in the past five years to keep me down for good? Is it even worth trying to write something beautiful and true anymore in a culture that has stopped reading?

Dread hangs over me daily. I know I need to move again to save myself, but the idea of moving terrifies me. I’ll move to LA and my 2001 4Runner will break down and I’ll run out of money and be without a car and without a job and then without a home, and I’ll be fucking homeless on the streets of fucking Los Angeles, and nobody will know.

I guess this is being an adult, right? Who among us isn’t scared to death of something? Who isn’t whistling in the dark? Who doesn’t feel like an imposter sometimes? And despite the dread I’m not one to give up. I keep going, a bulletproof weeping android, plowing along, taking frequent breaks to dull his existential pain with doses of baking shows.

(I started cooking for myself. And I’ve written five pages of my book again. But enough on that.)

I’m lonely but my life doesn’t suck. I have a couple of good friends here on the East Coast. Sometimes I get to see them. I drive home from my job at UMass and the radio plays pop songs that make me cry, and the crying is real and true and I cry and crave more connection, and I make it home to my little dog, who stands up on her back legs and waves her front paws at me as I call her Little Girl and close in for a hug.

A Dick You Don’t Have

The first time you meet Steven you unlock your photos and he texts you that he would always be inside you, he would stay inside you all day and all night and never leave you. You already feel a bit giddy then about this man on a different continent and that’s when he asks if it would be alright if he flew you to meet him in New York City when he’s there on business next month. I’m not dangerous, I’m a good guy, he says. I’d take good care of you. And those very particular words slip inside and lodge in your chest and you ask him if he really means that and you ask if he could repeat that and he says yes, when you’re with me I’d take care of you.

I’ll take good care of you too, you say.

You’ve never dated a man with that much money and if you’re truly brutally honest with yourself you would have to admit that it helped make you stone cold smitten in a matter of seconds. You’ve never had a man offer to fly you anywhere, and it’s that prospect, along with the words I’ll take good care of you, at this particular point in your personal history, that shreds you and makes you weak and willing and of course you say yes I’d love to meet you.

You talk and text throughout the next few days, telling each other everything, and when you tell him that you’re really kind of fucked up in the head in several important ways he says that honestly he kind of likes that about you and it doesn’t scare him in the least, and by the third day you know you’re in trouble. By the third day you are telling him that it’s too fucking fast but…

And he says I know what you’re going to say and I feel it too.

You have already begun to build something with him, a castle in the sky, a fantasy of a kind of future where he stands beside you, your shoulders barely touching.

You ignore for the time being the distance between you. For the time being you ignore many things, like the fact that falling for a man this fast means a fast end is coming. No – you are giddy and hopeful and you’ve been living in Bumfuck, Massachusetts and isolated and lonely and a handsome rich CEO foreigner is sending you texts all day long to check in on you and your welfare. You have in fact never known loneliness like the loneliness you’ve felt the past four years. And when he calls you from his car on his way home from work he ends up circling his neighborhood over and over because the two of you can’t stop talking to each other.

He tells you several times that when he’s with a man, that man’s happiness is paramount to him, and that he would endure tremendous pain if it meant the other man would be happy.

You can’t quite remember when Steven first talks about the other man.

The other man lives in your old stomping grounds, San Francisco, where Steven also often goes on business, a man that Steven can’t help but express a bit of wonder over, like he can’t believe that a man that hot would be interested in him. Oh, hot in a completely different way than your hotness, he says to you. He says that he’s in love with the other man but the other man is not in love with him. He loves Steven but not in that way.

You feel a tightness in your chest when he talks about the other man, and the castle in the sky kind of blurs in your brain, but you remind yourself that you and Steven feel the same way about each other, and that’s what matters. You’ll accept that the other man is in Steven’s life because you return Steven’s feelings and the two of you are building something important together.

Sometimes you let yourself imagine him inviting you to move in with him on the other continent, and it’s so many thousands of miles away but here in fucking Bumfuck you’d accept all forms of rescue, some exit door leading out of all the lonesomeness.

He buys you a train ticket to New York City where you meet him in the lobby of his midtown hotel, and he looks like his photos and alone in the hotel room on the eleventh floor he puts his arms around you and kisses you and you just lean all your weight into him and let him hold you while your muscles kind of shudder on their own. The distant sound of midtown traffic.

You’re there for two short days. Daytimes he takes meetings and then comes back to you at night. And you fuck and talk and fuck and talk for two nights.

On the last morning you wait with him for his cab and you kiss and hold him and say good bye and later he texts you and says that when he watched you walk away towards Penn Station he got sad.

You return to your outpost alone.

Every single day, all day long, he sends you texts and calls to check on your welfare. And you feel less alone, and the little green notification with his name that pops up on your phone all day long makes you smile, casts light upon the sturdy castle.

But he also talks to you often about the other man, and tells you things about the other man that’ll burrow into your brain and turn into torture. Steven tells you about the first time he saw the other man, who was coming from his job as a prison guard, and he was still in his uniform, with a tool belt, and the way he walked, his swagger, and the whole hot fucking image, and Steven, who had been a top all his life, thought to himself this man is either going to kill me or fuck the shit out of me, and I’m okay with both.

The other man is Mexican and covered in old gang tattoos and is beautiful in exactly the kind of dangerous way that works on you, too. In fact one day you realize that before you ever met Steven you saw random pics of the other man at a pool party that popped up on your Facebook feed, and you thought to yourself who the fuck is THAT?

So much exquisite pain.

Steven tells you that once they were in New York City together and the other man said something so cruel to him that Steven nearly left him there alone. Steven sometimes implies that maybe the other man isn’t very nice some of the time, and that he takes two or three days to respond to Steven’s texts, and you always respond right away, every time, and you’re always kind to him and you think maybe that’ll be enough, maybe that’ll keep Steven beside you.

Then one day Steven tells you that he might be moving to San Francisco because the nature of his job is changing and in order to grow his business he needs to be in the States, and right then and there the slow motion car crash that’ll be your life begins. Because the other man lives in San Francisco, and you imagine the two of them moving in together, even if the other man doesn’t feel the same way about Steven. And you lived in that city for 18 years, until one day you were dumped and the rents had gotten insane and so you left the city, and it felt like an exile, and the thought of the two of them together in your old home, the one that hurts to think about, feels like something you can’t withstand.

And sometimes Steven will say that he wants a triad or something like it, some kind of polyamorous arrangement, and maybe the three of you will be together, and then the other man can fuck the shit out of you too, and you’d all be happy. And because you love this man and because you can’t withstand the lonesomeness much longer, you try to imagine that other kind of castle and how it would feel inside and if maybe you could be happy there.

But fuck. You want to feel special.

And sometimes Steven will get a little sad and weird and say that if you stay with him eventually you are just going to get hurt. And you’ll first get mute and pull away and then later get angry and call him and he’ll stammer and say he’s sorry and that the two of you will work something out.

What that something is, what that castle is, remains murky.

And eventually Steven admits that he hasn’t told the other man about you, that you’ve remained a secret from the other man, that the other man doesn’t have to carry the pain and the burden of jealousy over you, as you do over him, and you know deep down it’s because Steven is terrified of losing the other man. The other man’s feelings remain king.

And sometimes his texts on certain days feel like nothing but small talk, and small talk makes you feel alone and empty inside. And sometimes he tells you that he doesn’t like arguing with you because you’re too fucking intelligent – a genius even – and he always loses, and you tell him it’s not a contest but he won’t listen.

And all throughout your months together he talks freely of the other man, and the frequent pain and jealousy the other man stirs up inside Steven, and sometimes you kind of float up out of your body and look down at yourself and you think, what kind of man puts up with all of this talk of another man? You think you’re being pathetic, putting up with it. But even though your very body harbors multiple jealousies of the other man, you love Steven and you want him to feel free to tell you anything, even if it’s his worries about the other man.

You think maybe this generosity of yours will be repaid.

And the things he tells you about the other man will work their way right into your marrow and will never leave you. The other man, Steven says, can walk into any bar and everyone’s heads will turn, and the other man can go up and talk to anyone, seriously anyone, and people will ask Steven if he’s with the other man and Steven will say yes, and they’ll say man you are lucky.

And how big the other man’s dick is. And the fact that the other man considers all men bottoms, even the ones who say they never bottom, because he can get them to bottom for him.

And these are things you can’t do, and that’s a dick you don’t have.

And despite all of this, despite all of the things Steven tells you about the other man, you know that there are things you don’t know, that Steven holds some things back, and it makes the castle seem blurred and fragile. And the next time Steven comes to the States he doesn’t come to New York City and you don’t see him and instead he spends all his time in San Francisco with the other man.

And those are days you don’t know how to endure. They’re in your city together and all you can do is imagine them, and of course it’s Gay Pride, so there are photos of all the people you used to know popping up on your Facebook feed, and one day you see a photo of Steven and the other man that the other man has posted, the two of them at the parade, the other man shirtless and covered in tattoos, and the other man has included below the photo the hashtag “husband.”

The moon covers the sun. Cities slide into the ocean. You are ruined.

And you saw this car crash coming, and you had every chance to exit, to grab your balls and your dignity and jump and yet you stuck there as your car skidded towards death.

And you text Steven about the photo and all Steven says is yup he posted it, and yup the other man put the word husband in there. And then he says I’m sorry for all the pain I’ve caused you. And you think to yourself that’s not fucking enough. But all you can say is I don’t want to be a second place boyfriend. And he just agrees and says yes you deserve better. He doesn’t beg you, he doesn’t fight for you, he just patronizes you. And the castle implodes, the fucking thing too fragile to withstand the real world. And you should have known that, you should have seen that.

But he’s not in love with you, you say to Steven, and you say I’m in love with you, as if that would be enough. Because you’ve forgotten that men will always pick the ones who resist, men love their pain, and he tells you that his bond with the other man is different and complicated and they’ve known each other a year longer than he’s known you.

And somehow in the giddy rush of meeting, somehow in the first few days and weeks and months, you missed the simple fact that Steven loved you but worshipped the other man.

You stop talking to him.

You confront and try to endure the silence on the other side of the separation, the lonesome roads of your Bumfuck town, the dead end job and the dim apartment and the couch and the television. And you must go through the following days without the man checking in on you. He no longer checks on your welfare.

But you fell in love with me
, you want to say to him.

But you said your lover’s happiness was more important than your own.

And you’re plagued by visions of the two of them together. And all the praise that Steven had put upon the other man. And all the ways you can’t measure up. They haunt you, every single second of every day, and you are fucking torn up inside, and you want more than anything to have Steven back in your life.

You can’t see yet that he’s a schmuck. After two weeks of silence you run back to him and you text him and say that you miss him so fucking much, and he says he misses you too. And you tell him you want to see him and he says it’s complicated and we’ll have to see. Let’s just see.

You’ve run back to your tormentor and begged for scraps.

And in the following days the man gives you nothing but small talk, and the small talk makes you feel worse, it makes you feel alone and empty inside, and you try to get him to open up but every time he heads you off at the pass, and he’ll no longer call you so you can’t hear his voice.

You will never get what you want from him, you tell yourself. Never. You say this to yourself all day every day and yet the pull towards him is relentless because you have your nose pressed up against the glass of their lives together, the two of them, and all you can see is their love and their fucking and the way they curl together in bed every night. And you want inside of that so badly. You want to be both of them.

You want Steven to take care of you the way he now takes care of the other man.

You are a grown man in his mid 40’s and all you want is to be taken care of. Rescued.

I’ll take care of you
, Steven first told you. When you’re with me I’ll take good care of you.

Say that again, you’d told him.

Ah, but there’s the caveat. When you’re with me. Which was two short nights in New York City. Which is not now. Which is not when he’s in San Francisco or flying back to the other continent.

And your head – as usual – is your greatest enemy. You want to be free of this torment, the images wearing grooves within the wood of your brain, the two of them over and over all day long, images that make the breath leave your lungs and spread heat through your head and chest. And the vise around your heart. The image of the two of them meeting for the first time. The two of them fucking. The two of them lying in bed together talking and how that night led to Steven taking care of the other man, flying him around the country to meet him in cities where he does business.

Fuck fuck fuck. They won’t stop. You want to make them stop. How do you make them stop? You keep circling the fucking drain. Fucking make them stop.

Even when you jerk off, you’re enslaved to them.

What are you hoping for? Seriously, what kind of delusion are you holding out for? You keep coming back to this point, over and over: you will not get what you need from him. After the day’s ride through painful images, you pull into the same old station, the same old destination, the same Bumfuck town. Give it up. The futility of wanting Steven. The futility of wanting what he gives the other man. The futility of wanting to be more like the other man so that you could attract Steven and other men. The futility of fucking hope.

Give up the fantasy. You’ll need to do the next part of life alone. You’ll not be taken to San Francisco to live in a big house. You’ll have to do it all alone, like you’ve been doing it, scraping by. You’ll have to rescue yourself. Alone you’ll move to a new city, find a job and an apartment.

There’s no quick fix. This is an addiction. Thoughts of the two men, texts from Steven, all of them are like quick hits off a crack pipe. And there’s no easy way through all of this pain and self-torture. There’s no fucking short cut. You have to feel all of the pain, you have to just walk through it and feel it and feel it and feel it. And feel what life throws your way, and stop hiding from it, stop numbing out with television and cell phone and vodka, stay open and raw to it all, because you’ve been shutting out all the good shit, too.

Is there good shit ahead? Can you believe that, after four years of brutal lonesomeness? It feels like you’ll never get any more breaks in life. You’ll struggle and scrape and live in constant fear, and you’ll compare your lot with others and you’ll always have less.

A hard life ahead. That is what you fear, and are close to believing. None of what you wanted in life has panned out, and it won’t ever pan out, and you’ll keep struggling and kicking, alone, until your death.

No, you want to be free. And you must take a good hard look at your barren life, at all the emptiness you can’t tolerate and so your brain instead whips up an obsession for two schmucks. And if you ever want to be happy again you have to change. Fucking change yourself. Somehow take care of your own fucking self. Figure out how to care for your lonely melancholy ass. Do nothing that comes naturally to you, actions that will care for your haunted fucking soul. Actions other mortals take for granted, like eating vegetables and showering every day.

Who do you want to be in one year? Five years? Think about that for a change. Fuck stupid men. Fuck the schmucks. Sit with the pain and the fear. Stop numbing out. Sit with it. Marinate. Soak it up.

Someday you’ll write all this down, hoping that your obsessive thoughts will fade if forced into a narrative, hoping that then you’ll control them, lead them around like a dog on a leash. And the words will gush out of you and you’ll read them all and think to yourself Man I hope nobody ever reads this shit. It’s like a window into insanity. You’re like a 12-year-old girl strung out on too many pop songs, you think, and your particular kind of craziness, if broadcast, will ensure your solitude.

Better keep this locked up, you think. Better keep this to yourself.

Putting Down Some Roots

Cold Car, Warm ??‘Sup, Internet?

It’s been a while. I’ve been busy climbing out of that mile-deep hole I fell into when I found my father’s incest stories on a website and kind of lost my mind.

I’ve moved yet again, out of Boston, to the town of Easthampton, in western Massachusetts. It’s in the Pioneer Valley with a bunch of other cool towns, and five colleges like Amherst, Smith, and Hampshire. A pretty progressive area with a lot of lesbians, a few gay dudes, and many transgender folks as well. I finally have my own place, a huge loft in a converted factory.

I work from home for the world’s largest online retailer, on a project that I can’t even talk about. That makes it sound much more interesting than the reality. Best part of the job is the company of my chihuahua.

I joined a writer’s group through Amherst Writers and Artists and have been working on a new project that I’m kind of excited about. I’ll keep you updated here. I’m sober, going to meetings, and trying to make friends here, which is not a simple process in New England. Wish me luck with that.

I’m horrified by what’s happening with our country, terrified of what is to come, yet hopeful that we can mobilize resistance. I’m hopeful that on a personal level, the next year will treat me better than the last couple of years have. I’ve got my feet under me now, and I’m wishing you a Happy New Year.

Reveling in Rejection

Black LinesIn the end it was a clean sweep. Five schools, five rejections. A bitter pill for a guy who’d always figured out how to earn an A.

They never give you their reason, though, so I was left with a bunch of presumptions. The only one that made any sense is that the schools didn’t like the ten-year gap between master’s degree and the phd application, a gap in which I was dealing with batshit family trauma and actively trying to stay alive.

I’m tired of counting the costs of depression. It’s taken nearly everything from me. But I’m still here – words I had tattooed on my left arm as a reminder to myself of that mysterious accomplishment.

So good bye to that little daydream of academia. I have no interest in hanging around knocking on a closed door. I’m left with plan B; find a job that doesn’t suck in a city that I like. I miss California, and though I’ll never be able to afford another modest home on the gleaming hills of San Francisco, there are still cities in the southern half of the state where a writer could eke out a living.

But moving from Boston takes cash, of which I had none. I quit working with dogs because dogs just don’t pay. While scraping the bottom of the money barrel I got recruited on a six-month contract to work for the world’s largest online retailer, on a project I can’t even disclose.

Mostly a remote job, which the Little Girl loves because she gets to sleep in the gap between my calves as I type away on the bed. Two days a week I go into the office and work alongside a bunch of other nerdy English and Linguistics majors. I enjoy their company, and find I need my bunker less these days, even though I spend 90% of my free time there. I guess that’s progress.

I’ve had insomnia since leaving Portland, and am possessed by nightmares in which I’m rejected by family or my ex-husband, over and over, most nights. Some of the nightmares are so real I find them tough to shake. I carry them through the following days.

While waiting to hear back from the grad schools I submitted excerpts from my book to a slew of literary magazines, something I hadn’t tried in years, and then collected a slew of rejections.

Out of forty submissions I got one acceptance, a couple of finalist awards for contests, and five or six near-misses, where they tell you they like your writing, would like to see more, but not this particular story, please.  A pretty standard writer’s haul. The trick is not to fight the misery of rejection. The trick is to revel in it. The trick is to endure.