Sunday, April 15, 2018

In Which I Try Not To Ruin My Own or Anyone Else's One and Precious Life

Hello dream weavers! Guess what? We’ve made it through 81% of yet another semester, and the Turtle Insurrection still hasn’t happened. I mean, plenty of other things have gone horrifically wrong in the world, but at least it wasn’t the turtles. I’m sure that’s what you were all most concerned about.

This morning while I was waddling aimless circles around my 400 square foot apartment, chatting with Boo Face, I casually thought I should really take out the recycling. This thought was immediately nd quite unexpectedly followed by the thought But will any of those materials come in handy in the case of a nuclear event? Maybe I should save things just in case. This led to several more minutes of tortured internal debate, before Boo Face talked me down with her science and reasoning. According to human logic, a 12 gallon repurposed kitty litter container will not do me any good in a nuclear war, even if it is filled with potable water.

So I guess that’s about where I’m at these days: straddling the line between absurd alarmism and generalized despondence. I did not fill the kitty litter tub with potable water, but I also didn’t take it out for recycling because, what’s the point?

There are three weeks between me and the end of my second year of grad school. For those of you keeping track at home, that means the upcoming year is my third and final. Much like the current state of our nation, this thought fills me with existential dread whenever it crosses my mind, so I try to keep it tamped down with to-do lists, alcohol and binge-worthy television (what up, Magicians? Can’t wait to see what happens to all my new friends in Season 4…).

This semester has been some of the most humbling, overwhelming, and if I’m being completely honest just-a-little-bit-soul-crushing months of my life. Remember last semester? When I was like, Yeah I can shower and feed myself and work four jobs and still sleep at night because I can do anything good, better than anyone? I was wrong. There are things that take time and practice. I’ve learned that teaching is one of them. I can honestly say I think my students like me (or at least pity me enough to pretend), so that’s nice. What’s not nice? The constant nagging fear that I’m somehow derailing their educations, their futures, and potentially their entire lives. Not only am I worried that someday (hopefully years down the road) I’ll die alone in my apartment and be eaten by my 47 cats after my dishwashing shift at Applebee’s. No, I’ve also got myself worked up about the theoretical futures of 25 college freshmen.

Is this a reasonable fear? No, not at all, but I think we’ve already accurately assessed my propensity towards reason (see above: recycling quandary). Anyways, I guess most of this was to say that I’m still alive, the turtles haven’t taken over yet, even if I’ve been in that space where I can’t write and I’m afraid I’ll never write again, so I keep Not Writing, because what if I’m no good at it, the way I’m no good at teaching, and so on and so forth.

Now that most of you have forgotten this blog exists (much like I did for the past several months), I’m probably going to use it as my janky, Muggle Pensieve because even Dumbledore needed somewhere to store his stresses, memories, and probably family recipes, favorite song lyrics, and strange observations. SO, internet. Thanks for always being a readily available void for my worthless and self-pitying human angst.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Whooooaaaaa, We're Halfway There!

Hello sweet peas. Tell me, are you all still breathing? I’m about to re-enter the land of the living. I am freshly showered, cuddled up in a blue sweatsuit with my favorite blue blanket, and sipping One Glass of Wine™ (AKA half a bottle), but who’s keeping track? Definitely not me, since around 4 o’clock this afternoon I hit send on my last assignment of the semester. This morning, Facebook decided to remind me that exactly one year ago I was in my bed, surrounded by books. Coincidentally, that’s exactly where I was today, surrounded by different books. Except everything was better because this semester I managed to shower habitually, and I’ve done considerably less crying. I even managed to leave my house not once, but twice this weekend. She can be taught!

Hitting send on that email marked the halfway point of my Master’s program. This semester I wrote a chapbook, the first draft of a full length manuscript, about 25 pages of lit crit, and six pieces that found homes with print and online publications. I also managed to juggle three jobs and watch the entire backlog of “Fresh Off The Boat” episodes.

Next semester I’ll be teaching my own section of Intro to Rhetoric & Writing Studies (RWS 200), which is exciting/terrifying/daunting, because I’ll have students of my own who may or may not like me, and will probably most definitely not like the subject matter, and are being forced to learn it in order to go on and do the things they actually care about, like becoming engineers and doctors and mathematicians, but it’s my job to make sure they can think critically and write analytically, so fingers crossed we can make it fun and use less run-ons than I habitually thrown down in this blog.

Anyways, since I’ve spent the last year and a half getting me some high quality book learning, I thought I’d take this post-semester opportunity to look at some of the Real Life lessons that have been handed to me. Listed in order of importance (just kidding, it’s as they occur to me):

Office refrigerator tamales are a miracle, and should be regarded as such. Do not question where they came from. Do not try to find the glorious human who slaved over their exquisite husks and blessed you with them, expecting no compensation or praise. Do not rush your break room tamales. Savor them. When you return to the office, day after day, and there are no tamales, just stale, store bought cinnamon rolls with a dead fly caught in the sugary web of icing, do not begrudge the cinnamon rolls. Just fondly remember the miracle tamales.

Happy Hour is a trap. Or a lie. Sure, things like “Buy One Get One ½ Off” and “All You Can Eat Tacos, Just $6.95” seem inviting enough. Times are hard, am I right? Anything to save a couple bucks… No. What they forget to mention, as you’re ordering your BOGO margaritas is that each margarita costs the equivalent of one tank of gas, five Double Doubles, or 1/45th of your rent. Plus, Happy Hour always ends too soon, as if bars have tapped into some sort of warp speed time acceleration, and as you’re slurping down the dregs of your first drink, things are suddenly full price again. But of course, by then you’re just juiced up enough to think You know what, I work hard and I DESERVE this $16 craft cocktail, and let me tell you something: you’re so right. You do work hard, and you definitely deserve that cocktail, but you know what else you deserve? To eat for the rest of the month.

**Strategy to avoid Trap-py Hour: set an alarm for 30 minutes before the drink specials end. Not for you, because you’ll just ignore it, but for your friend who doesn’t drink and is willing to scoop you up and buy you five Double Doubles with the money you would have spent on one more margarita. I have not tested this strategy, but I feel as if it is flawless.  

It’s really best to pretend the turtle insurrection isn’t a thing, until it is. A thing. Let me explain. On the campus at SDSU there’s a burbling, tranquil pond next to Scripps Cottage, home to koi fish, decorative greenery, and a whole army of red-eared sliders. This is my favorite place to sit in the sun, eat a chicken salad sandwich, and consider the impending avalanche of responsibilities that I’ve been narrowly outrunning each semester. Generally, the turtles will perch along the rock, soaking up the same sun. Sometimes the turtles are wearing warpaint on their shells. And we just don’t question it. Nope, we sure don’t.

You can blame just about anything on the moon. Feeling melancholic? Well, it’s that new moon energy. You’re just plumbing the depths of your own psychic shadow phase. All amped up and nowhere to go? Chill boo, it’s just the full moon in Gemini. Or Aries. Or something about Mars? Real talk for just a minute: yes, I do believe that the alignment of the planets has something to do with the forces of energy down here on this big galumphing rock we call home. But, I also feel like astrology presents really great opportunities for introspection, and a space to examine your feelings, impulses, and personal growth. Plus, knowing a little something something about all those space rocks is a great conversation starter at your school-sponsored Meet n’ Greets. [Note: my go-tos are Chani Nicholas and Jessica Lanyadoo]

People don’t grow out of being lactose intolerant. Scientifically, it’s just not possible. No matter what your mom tells you, no matter how accustomed you’ve become to the pain, it really just… No. Luckily, science! There’s a handy little capsule that helps your body digest lactose, the natural sugar found in milk and dairy products. So listen, boo. If your internal windmills churn angrily when you eat dairy products, maybe you should look into just not.

The first 20 rows of an Alaska flight board last. Which means you can dally over the visit’s final sushi dinner, and still have an extra five minutes of crying in the parking garage before you have to say goodbye to your sweetie. True, sometimes you will still have to carry your shoes and literally run to your gate, but it’s worth it for those last few soggy sweet nothings murmured into the crease of your neck.

No matter how much you think you know your cat, you don’t. Things I have spent the last 7.5 years assuming were true: Murphy hates wet food, chewy treats, brushing, and catnip. Things Murphy has apparently loved her whole life: see above. It’s not easy trying to sleep with a stranger on my chest every night, but once you relax into the not-knowing, things really get easier.

Overuse of the word ‘awesome’ is a super American thing? For the past six months or so I’ve been the copywriter for a Dutch fitness and nutrition company… Ahem, pardon me. A “premium-lifestyle brand.” In that time, I’ve become uncomfortably aware of how frequently I use the word awesome to describe admittedly mediocre things. Avocado toast? Awesome. Getting out of class early? Awesome. Drinking a protein shake with green tea in it? Super-mega-AWESOME. [Note: If anyone has suggestions for a word that means the same thing as when Americans say awesome, I’d appreciate it. You’ll get a 10% cut of my copywrite pennies.]

Hanging out with younger people is a 50/50 gamble. Sometimes, you get to be the cool, cultured older sibling who pays for the youngsters’ drinks at your sister’s engagement dinner. Other times you’re the hyper-stressed almost-30-year-old who drinks too much at dinner and falls asleep on your sister’s couch, still holding a beer, while watching American Horror Story. If you don’t like those odds, don’t play the game. Also, I’m so sorry for drinking your beer, Emily. I owe you a 6-pack of something that isn’t pineapple flavored.

Caulking guns are a thing. Initially, when you decide to be a Grown Up and recaulk your shower instead of bothering your landlady to do it for you, you may be intimidated by the options on the shelves at Home Depot. Of course you’ll select the reasonably priced tubes of silicone, with their 7 year mold-free warranty. What you won’t realize is that those tubes aren’t meant to test your fortitude, and extracting the caulk from the tubes does not require strength of character. No. It requires a caulking gun. Through some miracle you may manage to caulk your entire shower using a screwdriver, a box knife, and the jammed knuckles of your own determined fingers. This is not advisable.

Ride the roller coaster. Go back for the purse. Watch the awful, hotel room tv movies, and don’t be sad that the bar closed at 11pm. I don’t know how many of you know this about me, but I’m not the best at last minute changes to plans. I like to put off the “super chill, go with the flow” vibe, but I have a habit of getting caught up in expectation. Call it a function of being a wordsmith, when the story is in my head already I have a hard time rewriting. But this past summer taught me that some of my favorite stories are the ones that were rewritten. The “waterfront” room, overlooking that creek that followed the underbelly of the overpass. The 8am hot tub soak, because we missed pool hours the night before. Arriving in San Diego at 2am, because we didn’t leave Santa Cruz until 4pm. Each of these improvisations feels like the perfect, sappy story, when co-written with the human I love.

[Note: can you tell I’ve poured my second One Glass of Wine™?]

I still don’t quite know how to explain the past sixteen months, and I’m not sure I’ll ever really find the words without them being overblown and sentimental. God knows you don’t read this for the overblown and sentimental… right? What I can say, considering Saturn left my sun sign at 10:30pm EST last night, is that I never expected to be this person, living this life. The other night, on the phone with my human I said, You know what? If I DID die and this life is just the story I’m telling, I would be glad because it would mean I finally learned how to be kind to myself. I hope you sweet darlings are still out there, living and loving and being your kindest selves. Feel free to share your life lessons with me, lord knows I need them…

Xoxo, my sweeties.


Monday, December 4, 2017

Tell Me That You Love Me, Baby. Tell Me That It's True.

Tonight, like any good graduate student who happens to be studying, of all things, poetry, which is of course a type of writing, I left my house to do laundry and homework without my computer’s power cord, a notebook, or a pen.

I realized my mistake about the same time that all of the laundry was washed and loaded back into the car, my computer was at 21% power, and I had 3.5 hours to kill at the coffee shop on Adams before my dinner plans. At this point I had a few options. I could drive the 15 minutes home, navigating two different highways and taking my chances with the traffic. But of course, once I was home I’d be obligated to just stay there, diligently working, until it came time for dinner. Or! I could borrow the little green notebook that’s been living in my car and tracking my dog-walking miles (in the perhaps optimistic hope that my deductions would put a dent in the thousands I’m going to owe the government).

Since one of these options involved caffeine, and the other involved extra driving, I think I made the only logical choice. I tucked the little green notebook into my computer case, and headed inside to kill my laptop battery deader-than-dead before starting to brainstorm for my final Creative Nonfiction presentation by hand. What I forgot to remember is that this particular little notebook (green [slightly darker than lime but not quite forest], college rule, 80 sheets), was a gift. And as a gift, it’s a mausoleum to a past me, somebody I haven’t visited in July 24th, 2013.

Sometimes I like to play this game. It’s called, “If I were following the trajectory of X, then my life would look like Y.” For example, “If I were following the trajectory of my mother, then I would have an 8 year-old daughter instead of a 7 year-old cat” or, “If I were following the trajectory of my little sister, then I’d have been married for six years already.” Sometimes this game is comforting, it puts things into perspective and gives me insight into my own personal values. Ya’ll, let’s be real.  I just don’t think I would have been able to keep a child (or a marriage?) alive this long.

Tonight I played a slightly different version: “If I had been capable of loving others as much as they claimed to love me, then who and where would I be?” Another way to phrase this is “If I had felt worthy of the love others claimed to want to give me, would I still be who I am?"

The not-quite-lime-but-not-forest-green-either notebook was a gift from my girlfriend-at-the-time. A gift for the summer she spent in New York City, studying for her MFA in photography. She was going to be gone for 7 weeks. At the time this felt simultaneously easy to navigate and absolutely insurmountable. In the first few pages she wrote maybe we can keep notebooks for each other this summer and she wrote we can exchange them and not feel like strangers and she wrote I’m not afraid of your secrets and she wrote thank you. thank you. thank you.

A year ago, my heart asked How many times have you been in love? and I want to think that I took the time to give her a thoughtful response, but in retrospect I’m almost certain I rushed my answer the way I rush most things, and said, Twice when what I should have said is What does ‘in love’ mean, really? Does it refer to your feelings towards another person, the way they make you feel about yourself, or some strange and incomprehensible amalgamation of the two? What is the difference between loving, and being in love? What is the difference between love and tenderness?

(side note: whenever I know I am in love with my cat, it’s because she’s done something that makes my throat squeeze shut like anaphylaxis and I can feel my pupils dilating, like they need extra space to store all the joy, and even though she woke me up with her Crypt Keeper yowl at 4am, I can’t imagine my life without her)

At the beginning of this semester, I turned in a manuscript of poetry and my professor said The first section is really compelling, then you follow it with three sections of love poems and I wondered how she could see love when all I saw was loneliness. The girl who gave me the notebook said every person she met was a mirror. She was grateful because she needed them to reflect herself back to her so she could see who she was. And I said she was in luck, because I felt made of mirrors. I was perpetually reflecting back what people wanted or needed to see. See also: what people thought was intimacy was just their own need for closeness magnified and refracted, infinitely.

Here is what I know: I have said I love you to nearly every human I have been with, and I have meant it every time. They have said it back to me, and this also feels true in a way I can’t explain. So what is love? The first time somebody said those three words to me, it was a trap that I deserved to be caught up in. Is that why is so often sounds like an apology? Following my 2013 entries is a series of drawings from when I found words ineffectual and started drawing my demons. 2014-2015, these monsters are all open mouths and longing, all ghosts and agency conjoined with need.

I don’t know where all of this is going, except that I read the diary I thought I was keeping for somebody else, so our hearts wouldn’t be strangers, and I can see in it all of the desperate ways a younger me wanted to be seen, but was too afraid. I know, I know, I know that this particular relationship would never be right for me, but tonight I feel a small revived shame at the center of me for not being brave. So. To the poet photographer who viewed people as a mirror, here is perhaps my first honest and heartfelt reflection.

When we met, I was broken and dreaming kaleidoscope. I’m sorry my edges were so sharp. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to contain your big picture. I hope you’ve found somebody who reflects all the best pieces of you.

These days I’m feeling less mirror, and more deep, slow-moving water. There are things even I haven’t accessed, but I’ve been learning how to breathe and I feel more capable of diving deep. Thank you all for going on this journey with me.



Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Hello dream weavers. Guess what? Somehow it’s mid-November.

[note: don’t get bored, I’m going to talk about school for approximately one minute…]

This is significant because it means I’ll be turning in the final research paper of my third semester in just a little over one month, putting me at the halfway point in this crazy grad school adventure. [OK, that’s enough of that!] But perhaps just as importantly, it means we’re only two weeks out from my 29th birthday. I know, I know, hold the applause. Remember how I spent my whole life convinced I wouldn’t make it past my 27th birthday, and then somehow I did? Yes, it’s possible I actually died and this is all some afterlife fever dream (how else do you explain the Stranger Than Fiction situation where a poet named Tana Jean Welch is living in Gainesville, Florida and literally writing my life story as it unfolds?), but maybe, just maybe I’m actually still here and doing the damn thing.

Last week during my tutoring hours at the community college, a very earnest and very concerned student came in to talk to my coworker, her former English professor. Between her wild hand gesturing and aggressive semi-whispering, I deduced this girl was trying to make some Big Decisions. After all, she’s 19 or 20 years old, the age when the Decisions We Make will impact The Rest of Our Lives.

And I laughed, remembering a 21 or 22 year-old me, saying to Lucy I just think we’re at that age where we’re becoming the people we’ll always be, you know? I want to make sure I’m becoming the best me. That conversation went down approximately one year before I would make the series of destructive, drunken, borderline sadistic decisions that led me to Portland, where I floundered along, learning to be less destructive and sadistic. Where I started making the decisions that would eventually lead me here: a Japanese restaurant in the Hillcrest neighborhood of San Diego [note: they have a hell of a Happy Hour and an $8 spicy tuna rice bowl that is literal heaven].

Was I making decisions that would impact me the rest of my life? Yes of course. Was I becoming the person I would always be? No, absolutely not. The thing I’m learning about decisions is that they’re more like altimeters than street signs. They’ll tell you where you are (in all your glorious ups and down), not where you’re headed, or where you’ve come from.

This girl wants to be A Writer. She wants to know if she’s Good Enough. She is afraid of Selling Out and Playing It Safe. She is afraid of Not Having a Safety Net. Ahh, memory lane.

Fact: I only went to college because a high school teacher didn’t want me to die still working at the diner in my hometown, so he literally kidnapped me, hovering over my shoulder while I filled out my application to University of Montana.

Fact: I declared myself an Anthropology major because I had a crush on my friend, who happened to be an Anthropology major (and, unlike an English degree, there was no foreign language requirement for graduation). We dated for nearly three years. We had a dog and a cat. We inevitably didn’t work out.

Fact: After graduation and the breakup, I had no idea what I was doing. I worked as the General Manager for a doggy daycare until depression and alcohol abuse brought me right to the edge of being fired. I dated the first “love of my life,” and spent over half our relationship setting us both on fire. I decided to pursue a career as a rugby player. I promptly blew out my knee, at which point I pulled some David Copperfield shit, and “disappeared” my problems by burning bridges and skipping states.

Fact: In Portland, I worked almost five years as a receptionist in the veterinary industry, but at parties I introduced myself as the “Marketing Director for a local specialty clinic,” because I was ashamed that I spent my days scrolling through Facebook and answering telephones. I learned how to drink a whole bottle of wine without blacking out. I dated. I made some good decisions, and some bad decisions. I started writing poetry, and it was just as angsty as the stuff I filled notebooks with in high school, but I was suddenly no longer afraid to read it on a stage in front of strangers, and they seemed to dig it. I was nominated for some awards, I published some things.

Fact: I applied to grad school because of a breakup. Because the second “love of my life” didn’t love me. Because I was hurt and angry, and I didn’t want to be in that town full of memories. Because I wanted her to see me doing fine without her, even though I wasn’t and didn’t think I ever would [spoiler alert: I was wrong] Because was learning, slowly, that you can’t treat real people like background characters in your stories. They have their own agency.

Fact: Currently, I can say in all honesty that studying for my Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) is the hardest, most rewarding thing I have ever done. I have always been A Writer (link: Floorplan/Rusty), I have always been Good Enough. I don’t regret a single step in this crazy, circuitous journey.

So I told this to the girl making her Big Decisions, and I told her about my cohort: the retired construction worker, and the former librarian, and the mammal fresh out of undergrad, and the mother whose body rejected a job in the beauty industry, and I told her If you want to be a writer, you’ll write, and you’ll never stop writing, and if you’re meant to go to school, you’ll find your way.

I don’t want to act like I have all of the answers. This morning I had a sleeve of saltines and a whole French press of coffee for breakfast. I bribed myself to do laundry with a YA graphic novel and a bottle of sake. Tonight, I’ll go bump elbows with the staff of Fiction International (who happen to be some of my closest friends down here. I know, it’s like totally no big deal) at the new issue release party. In four days I’ll board a plane to spend Thanksgiving and my 29th birthday in Portland with the silly little familia that loves and supports me from 1,000 miles away.

Recently, I texted Lucy. I said I don’t know what to write. She said:

One time you were really drunk when we were dating-- like really blacked out, didn’t know who I was, or where you were. You kept biting me as I tried to put some pajamas on you—like you were incoherent but you were fighting back no matter what. Sometimes I think about that because… I feel like you saw yourself as weak. But you were really strong, you fought for yourself even when you didn’t know you were doing it.

None of this is easy. But it feels right like the essence of purple, which is to say god. It feels calm like blue heron. Like waking up and knowing I’ve been dreaming poetry. Even when I feel weak, something somewhere inside me is fighting.

Happy almost Thanksgiving, kittens.