(Warning: Me, being sad).
It’s okay to cry in the shower, because no one can see you, and likely, no one can hear you, unless you’re a wailer. When I was rejected by Marvel Entertainment (after being rejected by filmmaker Susan Youssef) as an intern, I was a wailer, both times, in the shower, punishing myself with my thoughts.
Today, I cried in the shower. As I type this, I am crying (I am also hungry and exhausted).
Being an adult was fun for the first few months, but I want it to be over. I want to go back to school. I want to be in class every day, learning. I want to see my friends and talk about which party we’ll go to (Friday? Saturday? We should party all weekend).
I want to work for the newspaper and have writing deadlines and spar, exchange verbal blows, with anyone who doesn’t agree with me about why my comic should be published in the upcoming issue. I want to go back to being the rock star, the innovator. I want to look up from my manuscript and see the awed faces of my peers. I always liked that. Even when I tried to be humble, I devoured that.
I want to write a screenplay.
But a screenplay is nothing.
I want someone to make that screenplay into a movie.
Then it’ll be something.
I like being a barista. I love making coffee, seeing the same customers everyday. I’m slow at making lattes and cappuccinos because the quality of my work matters to me, and I love my coworkers and the friends I’ve made. I have the best boss and manager in the world. I got so, so lucky in that. And I am grateful for the things I have in life.
But this can’t be it, can it?
I am crying because I’m afraid the best of my life is truly over – and the best was so, so short, and it wasn’t even that great.
The writing doesn’t come to me very easily here. I think it’s because I’m tired, and my mind seems to always be focused on some sort of distraction – like, why did I buy those shoes when I have so little money as it is? I owe $1,200 in rent from the first two months I lived here. We have to buy oil to heat the house during the winter. I have to pay this ridiculously expensive phone bill (fucking iPhone, fucking 2-year contracts). I still haven’t finished any of the history lessons to complete my degree. I walked at graduation (as an Honors Scholar) and never got my degree? What a cosmic joke.
My feet hurt.
I’ve gained about 40 lbs. this past year. I’m almost 200 lbs. (AGAIN). I try to act like it’s no big deal, but it is. It matters to me. I don’t feel beautiful anymore. Camera angles lie. The selfie is likely so popular because it gives us control – control over an illusion. I know to hold my phone above my head to hide my double chin. FilterFilterFilter. Crop out part of the arm so it doesn’t look so fat. Crop out the belly. It’s like virtual plastic surgery. 40 lbs. makes a helluva difference. 40 lbs. is the difference between feeling beautiful and feeling like you don’t deserve anything in the world.
I was content for a bit, knowing I had reached a major milestone in my life – I had finally moved to the city. It’s what I had always dreamed of, and I love it here. But that’s not all I wanted to do. I wanted to write. I was 8-years-old when I decided I wanted to be a writer. I take it back – I didn’t decide. It was in my blood. It truly was in my bones, in the tendons, in everything inside that holds me together. Anyone who has known me that long will tell you.
Everything I write flutters away on the wind. I put it out, and it dissolves into the atmosphere.
Not enough people care about what I do, really.
I can’t pretend to be happy when I’m unhappy. Let me be unhappy today.
Let me be sad as hell.
Tagged by femme-kitten, my new Sister-in-Soul.
1. This song:
2. Zines/Comics/Personal essays, especially related to intersectional feminism, women’s issues, punk culture, etc.
3. Whiskey and coke or a nice Tom Collins garnished with an orange and cherry.
4. My cat, Enid:
6. Art, like this:
"Judith Slaying Holofernes" - Artemisia Gentileschi (1614-20)
7. Artists, like my friend, Amber Perry:
8. This song:
9. Amanda Palmer:
10. Doing portraits of people I admire:
11. Ben Whishaw:
12. Reading things.
13. Meeting new people, like femme-kitten.
14. Self discovery.
15. This song:
I bought a pair of clippers to shear my hair. Once a week now, I shave, shave, shave the sides down, keep them neat and nearly bare. Yesterday, after my weekly haircut, I stood in the mirror with shaving cream over my eyebrows and a razor’s edge to my skin, staring myself in the eyes with a quick-beating heart.
I wiped the shaving cream off.
I put it back on again, wiped it off again.
I covered my eyebrows in makeup and drew ornately squiggled lines in their place, testing the waters. It looked cool, as cool as the mess could look.
I wiped the makeup, reapplied the shaving cream.
I shook and shook and shook.
I took a deep breath, and shaved off one half of my eyebrow. At this point, there was no going back. The razor scratched over the hair, peeling it back. I did both sides.
I thought: “I look like an alien.”
I drew the squiggles over the white brow line again. I was (and am) emulating my favorite musician, Amanda Palmer.
For at least an hour afterward, I felt sick to my stomach, shaky. My heart throbbed. My palms were sweating.
In my mind, I imagined the reactions my coworkers would have, the reactions my customers at the café I work at might have. I worried about being treated more cruelly, with less seriousness, by hypothetical strangers. I worried that by sacrificing my eyebrows to sate a 5-year curiosity about what I would look like without them, I was also sacrificing the validity of my humanity, of what I had to say, the validity of my right to stand at a cash register in a rich neighborhood and ask: “What can I do for you?”
I have had this phrase, “Creative Renaissance,” stuck in my head for a few weeks now. A Creative Renaissance is what I expected when I moved here. Each visit to Boston in the past sparked the writing of some of my most popular performance poetry. During my visits, I spent my days wandering, in a sort of self-imposed isolation, sketching and writing in my journal, reading, experiencing new tastes and watching the people bustle about, bundled in their winter coats.
I was welcomed to Boston by an all-encompassing depression, but after a month, I saw my way out of it. I bought paints and became a card-carrying preferred customer at an art store in Central Square. I took photos and wrote my first blog post in months.
I took all the steps I could think of to have a Creative Renaissance without actually having one. I expected this slow-building pressure, this climatic, orgasmic, sensational sweep of the senses expelled on canvas, on the written page, bellowing from my voice from the open-mic stage at the Cantab. And yet, everything I write leaves me feeling incomplete, and the words don’t rhyme, and the words, they don’t have rhythm.
Every part of myself is brimming, and yet I’m satisfied with nothing I produce.
Last Tuesday, I was languishing this into the bottom of a Collins glass at a bar, alone, scribbling in my journal, regurgitating thoughts just as quickly as they came to me. A loud woman sat down beside me. English woman. Dressed all in black. Fat. Fabulous. Exuberant.
I had just been writing this: “There is nothing like a good bartender, except maybe a great drink.”
I was impressed with myself. What an edgy, interesting thing for me to write, I thought.
The woman knew the bartender by name. She was a bartender herself, 45-years-old. She makes her rent in one night. As a barista, I make mine in two weeks.
She bought my second drink (another Tom Collins, my drink of choice; old-fashioned, gin, club soda, garnished with orange and cherry, or if you’re at home, a lime will do just fine). She ordered the most expensive steak on the menu for herself and her friend. They drank Rosé from the bottle.
Eventually, she asked what I was writing. I told her I was struggling with an existential question: “Am I a barista or a writer?”
She replied: “I’m a bartender. It’s my passion. I love it. I want nothing else. You went to school for writing, no? You’re a writer. It’s your passion. Being a barista pays the bills until the writing takes off. Big difference. Your teens, you’re fucking around without getting arrested. Your 20s, you’re figuring it out. Your 30s, you’re meeting a guy, you’re arriving. Your 40s, you’ve arrived. Your 50s and 60s are for collecting social security. Stop rushing things.”
The first half of her statement gave me the feeling akin to getting a positive message from a fortune cookie, one that seems to come at just the right time. I became misty-eyed, in my tipsy half-stupor. I was touched to hear this affirmation from a stranger. I am, after all, still a stranger myself in this city. My qualms with the second half of her statement was that it seemed to come from a position of privilege, one that I could not understand myself. My teens were about survival. Surviving the impoverished and addict-ridden environment I was born into, and surviving my own inclination to escape it in the most ultimate of ways, and surviving still after a botched attempt at that escape.
Still, Karen Small gave me her card, and I will not soon forget her; a well-intentioned angel heralding the coming of the Creative Renaissance.
The Creative Renaissance was on my mind as I put the razor to my brow.
And to test this city, and my own resolve, I got dressed and ventured out to thrift shop, eyebrows drawn in place, waiting for a judgmental stare or a showering of compliments, or both, depending on which part of the city I was in.
It was at The Garment District that the powers of my magical eyebrows activated, and I evolved to my next form: New Friend.
The struggle of a solo shopper on a budget is that deciding between a leopard-print coat and a classy shawl becomes nearly impossible without recruiting the help of a passerby.
I had been watching a fellow solo shopper with mild interest, noticing her long hair, the lace sleeves of her shirt, the studs on her boots. There was a part of me that wished she would notice my struggle between the two items and volunteer her help. Eventually, I spoke first, saying simply that I was indecisive. Her work in retail had conceived an inclination to quiz me about the pros and cons of the shawl and jacket, and by the end of the process, we were shopping together. (I chose the coat, only to put both pieces back on the rack, declaring that realistically I didn’t have the money for either of them).
She was searching for a dress and antennae for an alien Halloween costume.
"I’ve always felt like an alien," she said.
At first, we exchanged social networking usernames, then numbers. We introduced ourselves. I am Ashley. She is Theresa.
After The Garment District, she accompanied me on the train to Central Square for art supplies, then more thrifting at Boomerangs. She asked if she could treat me for dinner, and we stayed at Veggie Galaxy (an amazing, affordable vegan restaurant with a huge selection) for two hours talking, without a dull moment between us.
We were forthcoming about our pasts, our parents, our pain in growing up. We spoke of our generation, the progressiveness of it, the steps that we’ve taken and the steps that we think need to be taken. We talked about holistic medicine, writing, intersectional feminism and volunteering for a feminist activist group, aspirations that extend beyond retail and beyond being a barista.
When we parted, we hugged.
With the arrival of an unexpected friend comes the arrival of the Creative Renaissance, I believe.
I’ve decided to start work on a new zine after a hiatus that has lasted over a year. I want to turn my painting endeavors into a mixed media project using collage and film.
Eventually, I do want to finish the history class to obtain my degree.
And write, write. I want to write.
It is a strange kind of happiness, in this place filled with strangers. I hardly encounter anyone in this place who is familiar, yet every now and then, something happens, and strangers become single-serving friends, and those single-serving friends enlighten you on the human condition, success, expectation, all those intricacies that make a bartender a bartender, a barista a barista, and a writer posing as a barista a real writer.
And sometimes the strangers aren’t single-serving at all. Sometimes the strangers aren’t even strangers.