It’s hard to describe how I feel sometimes. About a year has passed since I last posted a blog, since I left my job teaching preschool to work in an office, since I turned 27. I think of writing often. I think about the writing I did as a child. I was always telling stories about historical events that fascinated me, placing myself as a character within the midst of chaos. As a child I survived the sinking of the Titanic, trudged through the trenches of war, and even made it through a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day. That part of me started early: the curiosity of someone else’s shoes. How could I understand if I wasn’t there? The only way to try was to write it.
I think about the writing I did in high school. It was morose and vague. There was poetry about dead birds, rifles, and a boy that was never good for me, because what else was I to write about as a teenage girl? And then there were the snips and snaps that started to happen; the characters that I knew too well becoming the center of each new piece. An idea that perhaps, I was not just an avid reader but also someone with a voice, whatever that voice was.
I think about the writing I did in college. An 8-page analysis of one line in Heart of Darkness that was probably entirely wrong. Stories littered with my past and present. An unfulfilled need to move, move, move. That was always clear.
I always moved. From town to town; from house to house; from person to person; from thing to thing. My roots have never quite settled in one place, yet once I’ve left that place they seem to stretch back as if grasping for mossy rocks or solid ground to hold onto them. A search for something new was always at the forefront of what I wrote, yet my words were set deeply in nostalgia.
I think about how I don’t write now. I don’t write myself out of danger, or out of love, or out of the murky past. I don’t make up names and plots to faces I already know. I don’t even write the images that flitter through my brain.
You know what I write about now? I write about apartments, and how qualified I am for a job, and my five year goals. I write that we should catch up and that things are good and miss you sometimes.
I miss me.
There’s an image I still see some days. It’s of me sitting in a desk amongst classmates, my high school English teacher with my paper in his hands. He has just finished reading and it is quiet, my cheeks are flushed and I’m terrified. And then he nods, and someone else smiles, and my paper is back on my desk and someone else stands in front of the class. My cheeks cool off and I can see clearly again, and I feel good.
I miss me.
Or maybe it’s just that I miss what I used to believe me to be. I was a girl who wrote and wrote well. I was a girl with a voice and a passion for telling stories. I wanted to tell my stories. I wanted to live my stories, like Alice falling into that rabbit hole and landing in a foreign world. I still want to live stories, but I don’t tell them anymore. Not like that.
Recently my boyfriend told me that for someone as scared as I was to share my art, myself, I sure could be judgmental about other art. I suppose it goes hand in hand. Those who can’t, teach. Those who don’t, judge. It’s a viscous, jealous cycle and I don’t know where it stops.
When I started writing tonight, it was all about tips on how to have a good day back in the office after a 3-day weekend. Your typical listicle of overly obvious things you could do to have a good day. And I was bored and sad. Who am I to tell anyone how to enjoy being at work when I just had a tediously miserable day? Why would I write something so uninteresting? I’ve been writing what I think I’m supposed to in a blog. I’m supposed to be witty and snarky and offer valuable insight to your life. But I don’t have it in me today. Today, I just want to write without trying to impress anyone. Younger me didn’t want to give you advice, she just wanted to write something a little sad, and a little sweet. Because that’s me. It’s a big part of me. And it’s the me that I miss.
So here I am, sitting on my couch, sipping a G&T and daydreaming about summer afternoons laying in the park grass in Lancaster and you were there, and you were there, and I was there. We couldn’t read this post online and it probably would have been posted to my Easyjournal which ceases to exist anymore. Thoughts my teenage self put out into the world are now lost in an endless realm of coding, bad URLs and time. But here I’ll put them back out there. I wish to be more than I have been, and I’m terrified but I feel good.
With greasy hair and yesterday’s clothing we boarded the trolley at 7:00 AM on Friday morning. I balanced with a crate in my left hand, holding onto the bar with my right while I squeezed as far down the crowded aisle as I could. My boyfriend scouted for seats, finally snagging one for me after we had already pulled underground a solid ten minutes later. Fast forward to a minute after sitting down. A woman rises from her seat and pushes her way down the aisle towards the back exit, but before leaving she gives me some serious stink eye.
“You brought your cat on the trolley?!”
It sounds innocent enough when written down, but her harsh, judgmental tone cut through my already self-conscious thoughts.
I could have fought back with snark. We thought she’d like it! You know, Friday morning rush hour, just riding the rails with our cat. We’re doing this for her!
Or bitchier. I can’t believe you brought yourself on the trolley.
Or simpler. Fuck off.
“We have to go to the vet,” I responded. As curt as I could. Which, in all honesty, probably didn't sound curt at all. For those that don’t know me, it was probably not in any way evident that I was steaming underneath. I tend to grin and bear it, as they say, or to think of something way better to say after a solid five minutes (and then write it down). The woman of course, repeated herself after she got off the trolley to the man she was with, somehow loud enough that I could hear her through the still open doors.
My poor little feisty ball of fur. It’s not like Claudia, my kitten, was the first pet to ever travel on board Septa, nor will she be the last. For three days I watched as she refused to eat, vomited, and snuggled at my feet. I tried can after can of food. Perhaps she was just being as snobby as I when it comes to brands and had decided that her Friskies Tuna shreds were below her. Perhaps she craved the organic lobster and tuna in a crab meat sauce that I could purchase for quadruple the price. The selections were unending, but her lack of appetite continued.
Now I’ve been taking Septa almost every day for the last five years. I’ve traveled with huge suitcases, grocery bags piled at my feet, and even huge potted plants that would have been really comfortable in their own personal spot. I spent three months commuting with a gigantic boot on my leg and only on a handful of occasions was I offered a seat. Septa even came out with new signs on board the trolley this year that read:
DUDE, IT’S RUDE...
because a whole lot of people refuse to scooch over or put their backpack on their lap. Some days we've got a few people competing over who can play their music louder, or someone’s picking a fight because another person bumped into them, or there’s probably some kids and/or parents yelling. It seems too often people don't offer their seat to a pregnant woman, an elderly person, or someone carrying a young child or a stroller. Instead, (and I am guilty of it too) we sit with our headphones in and our phones out, ignoring the people around us until we see something we don’t like.
You never call. You never write. At most you’ll send me an email when you’ve decided to move forward in your relationship with someone else, which, to be perfectly honest, seems a little callous when we haven’t even had the chance to discuss where things were going between us first. I know these things happen, and people just fall out of touch, but it feels like I’m putting in all the effort and you’re just playing hard to get.
Like last week, when you called and asked me what I was looking for. I told you I wanted to experience life: explore new adventures, learn new skills, meet new friends and collaborators. You asked if I thought I could do that with you and I said yes, without a doubt, with conviction and strength and bravery. You said you would call back within 48 hours and now it’s been an entire week! Every telephone ring I look for your number on the screen. Phantom cell phone vibrations haunt me in my sleep. I can’t work, I can’t focus, I can’t stop thinking about you and the way I imagined your suit and tie and your corner office with catered Friday lunches.
All my friends tell me I shouldn’t call you; that it’s a waste of time and you’re not worth it. Or worse, that you might think I’m desperate or clingy when all I want are some answers. When can I come in to meet you? What hours will I work? Is there room in that office for me? But if I call you’ll think I’m a loser, or just incapable of following instructions, but you, you are worse. You’re a liar who never called! And maybe I shouldn’t harass you with a follow up email, but I just want to make sure everything is in order and that you’re still alive and in business. My grandfather responds faster to an email than you do. I mean, are you really qualified to make this sort of administrative decision when you clearly struggle with responding to your own correspondence?
I know a lot of people are interested in you. How could they not be? You’re successful, talented, creative, and rolling in the dough. You’ve got a lot to offer a girl like me, and that doesn’t go unnoticed. So I want you to know that I’m fully aware that you’re getting a lot of other offers to consider, and you should. I’m not going to be the girl to write you a cliche letter telling you that you are the coffee to my early mornings, the champagne to my mimosas, or the Sriracha to my breakfast burrito. I just won’t. Enough is enough. I’ve told you how I feel--in fact, I’ve told you many times within the last few weeks, within the last few years--and now it’s your turn. Good or bad. I can’t not know how you feel about me any longer.
Will you hire me? (Check yes or no)
All the best,
It’s the digital world, people. We’ve got a lot of things going on, nonstop notifications, and too many things we want to do. It’s hard to get it all done. Sometimes I just want to feel like I’m making a difference without having to do anything. Fortunately, I think I’ve figured out a few ways to do just this.
1. Make a List:
Any kind of list: a grocery list, a to-do list, a list that describes a particular group’s characteristics, or even a list like this! (Hell, I already feel more productive.)
A lot of times I have really high ambitions for my day. The night before my day off, I’ll make a list about what I would like to get done the next day. It almost always begins with waking up around the regular hours between 7 and 8, doing some yoga while laundry runs downstairs in the basement. Next I’ll make coffee and clean while listening to a podcast or the news so that I can stay up to date and current. Then I’ll sit down and crank out some writing. Maybe I’ll write a blog post, or perhaps I’ll work on that play idea I’ve been trying to explore. I’m also going to eat a freshly tossed quinoa salad at lunch with dried green tea. I’ll probably apply for some new jobs and maybe take a walk for fresh air. By evening, I’ll be ready to work on the crafts I’ve been thinking about: learning to knit, making my own cards, sketching out new pottery ideas. Then I’ll surprise my boyfriend with a homemade vegetarian lasagna for dinner and go to bed early.
None of these things will happen, but I feel more productive after just writing it down! Lists make us think about all the things we need to do or get or be. Isn’t thinking where productivity starts?!
2. Instead of watching TV in bed, watch TV standing up:
It doesn’t matter what you’re into, the Daily Show and Scandal will both be enjoyed more if you’re being productive while watching. Don’t lay horizontally under those covers at 3 PM like a bum. Get up and watch those Shonda Rhimes dramas even closer up. If you’re standing, you can get as close to the screen as you want. I guess you could do squats or something while you’re watching, too, but that’s only for the most ambitious of you.
3. Refresh your Facebook newsfeed:
I know, I know! Sometimes you’re looking at your Facebook and you’re scrolling down and you’re like, “Ugh, I’ve already seen this picture!” Or maybe you’ve already commented and liked all the status updates that you relate to. Now what will you do? Just press that little arrow that’s so close to making a complete circle and voila! There’s sure to be at least one or two new pictures to be jealous of or rants to vehemently argue with the poster about. Your next two minutes are covered.
4. Talk to people about your art:
This is the easiest, and the best, way to make other people see you as an artist. Look, anyone can make something and put it out into the world. But it takes a special kind of person to convince others just how great of an artist they are without showing any of it to anyone. Besides, the more you talk about your process and the themes behind your work, the less actual work you have to do. This is productive in more ways than one:
a. Self-promotion, AKA make a name for yourself!
b. Keep your clothes clean of paint or clay or rotten tomatoes, AKA the less laundry to do.
c. Save money, AKA the less time you spend making your art, the less money you spend on materials!
d. Feel superior to others, no AKA needed. Am I right?!
Whoa! I just made a list within a list, not to get all Inception on you, but two lists equals twice the productivity for this chick over here.
5. Use broad strokes:
If you really have to get down to the nitty gritty of making something, the bigger the better. If you’re a painter, use a bigger brush. Some people say the art is in the fine details, but I like to think it’s simply a full canvas.
6. Get back in touch with old friends:
You know what will take up a lot of your time and have no real lasting effect on your life? Sending a quick text or message to that friend you haven’t talked to in like a year or so. Most likely, you’ll get sucked into a back and forth of “how have you been’s” and “pretty good’s” and then you’ll start talking about where you’re working and where you have or haven’t vacationed and how your friend’s getting married and moving to Paris or something, and you’ll remember why you stopped talking in the first place. Another double whammy! You get to catch up but you’re also reminded that you don’t really want this person in your present life. Good thing you figured that out before doing your taxes.
7. Tag pictures:
Look. I realize that this is starting to seem a little Facebook-centric right now, but don’t forget that you can post pictures lots of places! I mean, did you tag your girlfriend in that shot of her and that burrito mid-bite that you posted on Instagram last week? The world needs to know who is eating that colossal food porn immediately! Besides, Facebook’s facial recognition feature makes tagging photos so easy that you can get this done in no time. It’s not creepy that Facebook knows my face from the millions of other users online; it’s convenient.
Daydreams are to us like pollen is to flowers. Daydreams help us realize the things we really want in life. Plus, you’re using your imagination! If imagining that John Cusack is cooking me shrimp and grits for dinner isn’t creative, then I don’t want to be creative. Get really productive by daydreaming outside: lay in the grass and stare up at the clouds, debating internally whether that one looks more like a frog or the Grand Old Duke of York.
I’m going to veer in a direction that might make some of you uncomfortable. Crying is not only a cathartic release of emotions and stress. Tears are actually a necessary part of our lives. They lubricate our eyes and help us see in addition to functioning as germ-fighting antibacterials. So weep, baby, and detox those eyeballs. It doesn’t have to be a lot of work to do: sure you could try and make yourself cry by staring into space without blinking until tears start to cloud your vision, or you could break your own leg or break up with your significant other to spur the tears, but I suggest the easy route of chopping up a really juicy onion. Your eyes, and you, need it!
Cuddling is similar to crying. Our bodies crave the touch of another. Whether it’s a person or a cat, cuddling releases endorphins in our bodies that elevate our mood and our souls. Feed the soul to feed your work. A good cuddle session is also productive because you can do it while doing other things! Cuddle while watching a show. Cuddle while watching a movie. Cuddle while watching youtube videos of people slipping on ice. You can cuddle while watching almost anything!
11. Post a review on Yelp:
Did the server at that dive bar you went to the other night give you a disingenuous smile when you cracked a joke? Maybe the fries were cut thicker than you prefer. I can’t believe they made your margarita too strong! Tell. The. World. about this injustice! Don’t leave out a single detail. Definitely tell me what you ordered and post pictures. I will never go there to get drunk because you let me know what’s up. For real, y’all. When you post a review on Yelp you’re helping me, the consumer, and you’re helping the business. Shame them for their choice in dishware and don’t you ever look back.
If I say it is, therefore it is. In college I wrote a lot of poetry and creative nonfiction about how much I smoked, how little I valued marriage, how things fall apart, and how artists portrayed isolation in urban environments. Those were my themes. In college I smoked a lot, visited a lot of art openings and music gigs, babysat a couple munchkins on campus, and was always holding a cup of coffee. One of my trusted professors--who once called two of my other favorite professors into her office to brainstorm about my writing, who would whip up a fresh French press at my arrival--called me “a true artist” in the way I lived my life. To another professor that I sometimes had coffee with, not to me, obviously. A compliment to the extreme, I thought, a person that knows me and really gets me. Cogito ergo sum. Only: She think I’m an artist, therefore I am.
I used to believe it was a way of life. Art. Living artfully. Observing closely, pulling away from the mundane the most extravagant of details and backstories. Dabbling in paint, or charcoal, or clay, or the theatre, or guitar, or sewing. She who does is! I could justify my quiet and my solitude by living in this idea that I was built like those who inspired me. But a degree, a job, families, and laziness interrupt dreams. Then again, dreams are cut short by overreaching, insufficient talent, and our goddamn heads. If we don’t do, then we aren’t.
But if an artist posts a new piece to Facebook and gets zero likes, does the art make a sound (or a difference, or a meaning, or whatever)? Picasso, Vonnegut, Oscar Wilde and all sorts of infamous artists are quoted defending the importance and necessity of art to our souls. Quotations once absorbed into my character have become questions of their own. We recognize art for its beauty; we talk about what it portrays. Then we go and call it dark; we say art is emotive, that it must make us feel something to be art. Sometimes we simply make art an idea. It just is, even if it isn’t, we say. We’re entertained by the new and unclear. We’re bored by things of convention, even when done beautifully. Often, it seems, we separate art into two categories: what is controversial and what is appealing to the eye, yet we’d be scorned if we were to classify people into the same two categories: those that are pretty and those that cause trouble. Because, as everyone knows, even pretty things can stir up a storm.
In a world where half of you reading this probably have your own blog, where at least 75% of you have a Facebook or Twitter or Instagram to post your own statuses and computer-filtered photographs, and all of you have the ability of creating a blog or website or social media page to show off the work you could be doing, everyone has the ability to portray themselves as an artist. I’m having a hard time justifying, to myself, that I am a writer just because I post on this blog every so often. In fact, I’m having a hard time justifying that I am anything most days. In an ever expanding digital world we have the ability to consume whatever we want but we keep on wanting to be everything without doing anything.
It’s a little late to start talking about New Year’s Resolutions. Christmas lights are packed away, vacation days seem nonexistent, and nobody’s baking anymore! If we’re going to be talking at all about the goals we set just before that last chime of 2014 struck midnight and our wobbly posture and slurred words set in, we’re probably supposed to discuss whether we’ve held up our end of the bargain. It’s January 28th. How’s that diet working out?
I wrote down some goals back at the end of December, too. Before I start preaching, I’ll even share the list with you for all judgy purposes.
Two years ago, my resolutions were just two: make your bed every day and drink the coffee at work instead of buying it out each morning. These are the only New Year’s Resolutions that I’ve ever kept. Probably because they were small. Also, because they helped me build better habits. And they’re now my new model for setting goals. In fact, I think my goal for every year, or better every day, will officially be: do things that make you happier, smarter, and better. Work for progress.
How did a few pressed sheets and Folgers coffee make me happier, though? I know I don’t have a whole lot of support when it comes to making the bed. To some it might seem frivolous, a waste of time, or the worst of all, boring. I am not your mom and I will not make you make your bed, but it is how I start each day. It’s the official, “I’m awake and not going back to sleep,” status. It’s also the comforting invitation to crawl back in at the end of a (hopefully) productive day. Drinking coffee is also a (obviously) long-running morning routine. I’ve simply changed the way I do it. On work days, if I make it to school on time, I’m rewarded with free coffee. On my days off, I’m rewarded with the luxury of not putting on a bra if I put that old French press to work. Both goals have helped me wake up and face my day while saving money. Habits for progress.
Don’t get me wrong, the goals that I listed earlier all have the ability to make my life better. But I think sometimes where I go wrong is by looking too much at the distant future and setting too many restrictions upon myself. A better me (and a better you!) takes more then a flip of a switch to achieve. I’m working on it.
First, and most importantly, I’ve rediscovered things that make me feel at the same time happy, productive, and rewarded. This month, after considering enrolling in a ceramics class for several years, I’ve started throwing on the wheel. Centering be damned; I will make you a giant mug! I’m also remembering how therapeutic working long, fast-moving hours while building with my hands can be.
Working with clay isn’t the only therapy I’ve been indulging in. There’s been more reading and less tv watching. I’m writing my own words down in my notebook rather than quotes spoken by someone more successful. It’s a bit like a renaissance of self, where I’m rediscovering some of the things that make me feel like me, the things that I’ve chosen to define myself by. And I’m finally working on them. Steps 1 and 2 of resolutions: identify what makes you feel good, then put your time into those things.
What It Feels Like (Edition)*: When you’re supposed to be trapped in a blizzard but get less than one inch of snow.
I despise the jinxers out there. There are two kinds of people who jinx in this scenario: those who cry snow day at the very mention of flurries, and those who pray for a fluke, a weather channel prank. Today’s for you, jinxers, may you enjoy your snowless day off. My heart, on the contrary, aches. I stayed awake all night, not caring that the news had already broke; school canceled for what? I waited up like a lover waits for her gentleman’s reply to her text What are YOU thinking? Fair trade organic coffee beans hid in my cupboard while almond milk and local cage-free eggs rested quietly in the fridge. I still waited, even as the forecast kept pushing you back, further and further from my sight, until the chance of light snow at 5am was all that remained. I fell asleep to the whisper of crappy television, knowing in my heart of hearts, it was all gone. My chance at the soft, silent light of the night. The freshest, and the best, the white ground before the corruption of slush and dog piss was, irreparably, lost to the sea. The current no longer drifting in but pulling you further north once more. Say goodbye to the angels, the sleds, whiskey in your coffee. I have not earned today, so I sit inside, hiding from the sun, for it melts all that is left of the evening’s fall.
With only four more days to go until Christmas, I’ve locked myself in my apartment with my sick little body and super-sized bottle of NyQuil where I can safely avoid the swarm of holiday shoppers, sight-seeing “flockers,” and general jerks during this busy shopping weekend and, hopefully, recover from this cold in peace. I put in my hour at Trader Joe’s earlier, and after frogger-ing my way around the post-work crowd and discovering some Trader Schmo had bought up all the semisweet chocolate chips, I think I need to remind myself of my rules of retail shopping, especially applicable during this time of the year.
It’s quite simple, really: have some goddamn respect. This goes for the people waiting on you and the people waiting with you.
As a former retail associate/server/basic bitch at a handful of markets, bakeries and restaurants, I’ve wasted my time trying to help too many assholes. People often say that everyone should have to work in retail in order to better understand how to treat other people. This theory is part of our whole “treat others as you’d like to be treated” mantra. I’m sorry, but I don’t think you need to work as a cashier to know that throwing a handful of empty peanut shells at an employee is a shitty thing to do. Throw your own trash away, get off your phone, and* use your words. This means if you’re unhappy with a product, confused about a sign that said 50% OFF, or just not sure what you want, maybe you should ask. Politely. Because instantly yelling at someone who has little to no control over the situation, and who probably worked on Thanksgiving and probably has to work on Christmas Eve is mean. Don’t be a bully.
Respect your fellow shoppers by not pretending that the concept of a line is totally foreign to you! If a 2 year old knows how to line up, so can you. Respect your fellow shoppers by not ramming into them to get to something or somewhere faster. Seriously, dude at Trader Joe’s, I wasn’t going to grab the last 39 cans of sardines you shoved past me for. Respect your fellow shoppers by getting out of the way if you’re contemplating how many cinnamon scented candles you’ll need for the next week. The answer is one. You only need one candle.
How about we just steal the three rules of every museum and use them everywhere we shop? That means no running, no yelling, and no touching.
If you don’t know someone, don’t touch them. Don’t push them. Don’t ask to hold their baby or touch their fur jacket, ‘cause that’s weird. Don’t yell at someone because they got the last Queen Elsa doll and don’t yell at your kid for wanting to be anywhere but shopping with you (who could blame them?). Don’t run into me and we’ll be cool.
Finally, to go above and beyond all you have to do is say thank you! But don’t fucking smile unless you really mean it, because we’ve already got enough fake commercial bullshit this time of year as it is.
*Preschool Teacher Alert
I stepped into a lot of emotional realms I didn’t plan on dealing with today today. Slightly hungover first. Sleepless and delirious. Sad and broke loser, later and continually. I wasn’t sure if I’d be spending my evening curled in bed watching sappy television dramas about fairytale characters in the real world (oh my god, I can’t stop watching stupid tv) while randomly tearing up at each sappy sentimental scene. Things turned around. Want to know why?
Because it’s beginning to sort of, kind of, slightly resemble Christmas in our teeny tiny apartment. My boyfriend Patrick and I bought our first Christmas tree for our first home! Sure, it’s the biggest thing in our living space at the moment, but the place smells like pine. Yes, we only have one ornament to put on the tree, but it’s a fuzzy squirrel! But once we filled the little guy with those cheap CVS lights, my mood instantly lifted.
Now that I’m feeling the quick approach of the holidays skipping nearby, and even more so the stress that I haven’t bought a single present for anyone yet, I wanted to share the new game of the season. It’s #cheesycheer(s)ing and everyone [me!] is doing it!
I’ve become friends with several people after discovering their fondness for tequila rivaled my own. #cheesycheers was spawned from one of those friendships. As we would raise our glasses, my friend would always cheers to something both simple, and lame. We’d toast to friendship, and love, and dreams. We needed to progress. We needed to cheers to the beach at sunset or candles in the wind! So we did.
I’ve been trying to get this trend going for a while now. And by trying, I mean, I hash tagged a couple of my Instagram photos back in the summertime and proceed to clink shot glasses to “dancing like no one’s watching” on a fairly regular basis. But I think now is the perfect time to bring the rest of the world into the wonder and fun of cheesy cheer(s)ing.
The way it works is simple.
Step 1: Buy someone--anyone--a shot of hard liquor. My drink of choice is tequila, because it always is, and because tequila shots are a whole fun process in themselves.
Step 2: Raise your glass and propose the cheesiest toast you can think of.
Step 3: Drink.
Step 4: Repeat as desired.
You might be wondering why is this perfect for the holidays. Simple! This is that time of year where you’re going to be expected to go out: holiday work parties, family dinners, cookie exchanges, parties in one of your high school friend’s parent’s basement, and the dreaded New Year’s Eve. A lot of these events are going to be dull. But not if you engage in some good cheerful imbibing!
Oh, you’re also probably going to be expected to start exchanging gifts with some folks, right? Fear not, friends! #cheesycheers are the perfect gift! You buy the shot! You cheers some cheesy words of praise to your buddy! If you’re feeling really ambitious, get someone else to snap a picture of you pre-/post-shot and let’s get this hashtag moving up the ranks online. Wahlah! Cheap and sweet in a snap. Don’t be afraid of seeming like the broke friend (If you’re cheer(s)ing, you know you’re the broke friend!) The greatest gifts aren’t the ones we can literally wrap our fingers around. But presents that you can wrap your stomach around rarely go to waste. Here’s to Christmas trees, sugar cookies, and home is where the heart is! Don’t spend this holiday season sober.
Apologies for the disappearing act, you probably robotic visitors you, but it’s happening again. The plague of my West Philadelphia residency has spread. No, I’m not talking about anarchist vegans on the prowl. No, it’s not bearded guitarists crooning from the front porch. No, I’m not even thinking about Omar, the neighborhood court jester. Please, I can brush those all off my shoulder without even breaking into a sweat. It’s those masked critters that are hunting me down--the kind that won’t back off in a draw. Their intimidation factor is at an all-time high, and as I see it, their only goal is to have me peeing my pants.
There’s no specific name for what we’re about to talk about today. There are at least five different big words to describe you if you’re afraid of cats: you have elurophobia, felinophobia, ailurophobia, galeophobia, or gatophobia. Take your pick. Maybe I could say I have agrizoophobia, the fear of wild animals. Maybe better, I’m lyssophobic. You know, afraid of rabies or of becoming mad. But really, I’m already mad and this is strictly about my (not so) irrational fear of raccoons.
Just look at those guys. People make stuffed animals that are fluffy and soft, comforting toys for a child to fall asleep cuddling. Calendar images with their lunar eyes gazing out into the evening sky, climbing trees, and nibbling on scavenged grub. Raccoons are portrayed as cute, cuddly critters and embraced as a symbol of curiosity and exploration. Those aren’t the bandits I know.
Let me explain. It happened for the first time over four years ago. A cigarette break on the front porch overlooking 44th Street. Midnight. Past bedtime. I was alone, inhaling tobacco and staring out at the street rather than laying in bed with a book or resting up for work like I should have been. Perhaps it was a warning: stop smoking, don’t go out alone at night, move closer to your parents. Suddenly, a thud to my left made me jump. My eyes met two more staring straight back, unnerving, a raccoon the size of a pit bull shaking menacingly before me. It felt like minutes that the two of us stared at each other, neither backing down. I refused to unlock my gaze as I slowly rose to my feet on the ledge I had been sitting on and began to back up, climbing slowly over the metal railing to the connected porch behind me. The monster kept staring, kept shaking. After what felt like an eternity, he ran away, down the front steps of my porch and up the sidewalk, looking as though it was running towards the porch I now stood on. I jumped and ran inside, slamming the door, myself now shaking.
Take two. A new apartment, a few blocks away. This evening it’s earlier but still dark. I’m walking home, planning to take the back gate in through the alley and make my way to the front door. There it is. Next to the gate. Smaller than the last, but just as bold. We meet eyes. It knows I’m trying to get past. Instead I briskly change directions, crossing the street and intending to make an unnecessarily large circle back around the opposite direction to get inside. The raccoon follows. I run across the street again, it follows! It’s only 7 p.m., where is the rest of humanity? I sprint back across the street, around, and inside heaving like I’ve just run a marathon. I now know their aggression is building.
Numbers three and four. Yet another apartment. This time and the next, it’s my back fire escape. Luckily, this time and the next, I’m not alone. It’s late. We’re loudly listening to music, debating a world full of sorrow and pop culture, and drinking too many beers, when I feel staring again. If I were to imagine a gaze more intimidating, I might believe I was facing pure evil itself. We stomp. It stays. We stomp again, louder. This raccoon is less ambitious. It backs down quickly and retreats. I retreat indoors, vowing to stay away from my precious fire escape.
Finally, we come to the most recent of encounters. Once more, a new apartment. Once more, a late night cigarette. It’s quiet out. We’ve yet to establish an ash tray out front, so I walk to the alley to toss my butt in the garbage cans. I lift the lid. Two masked eyes hiding in the trash! The lid drops with a thud. You know the rest.
I’m aware that, especially written down, it sounds like this feud is a fabrication that my neurotic self has created. A way of feigning fear and danger into an otherwise boring existence. A misunderstanding of a gathering creature that is simply searching out its next meal. An animal once at home, now being driven out of its neighborhood by the buildings and people and automobiles that have come to stay.
Or maybe I’m the raccoon whisperer. Perhaps I’m being called on a spiritual voyage, a mission of discovery or riches. The seeker in them is calling on the seeker in me. We’re sharing secrets, the things we’ve discovered. Even maybe, encouraging reckless abandon in one another, moving forward without fear of the unknown.
It’s all in my head. I’m being stalked! It’s pure coincidence. This I say to you, raccoons, whatever your intentions may be: It’s time to put an end to my raccoon chronicles. Stop following me, stop showing up at my home, and stop staring me down. Let a girl smoke in peace.
heavy heeled when walking; heavy handed when pouring a drink