Self Help

A couple of years ago, I had what might go down in history as the worst summer of my life. It was my first year out of college. I’d quit the job I’d gotten before I graduated, the one that was supposed to shepherd me into adulthood like I knew what I was doing even though I didn’t. I was working at pizza place and trying not to think about my life, like, at all, which turned out to be a good idea because shit was getting weirder all the time.  I got addicted to cigarettes! I drank every day! I started dating my coworker, who left me for another coworker! My manager told me he fantasized about having a threesome with me and my roommate! My skirts were sooooo short! 

At the time, I was kinda like wow, my life is like a sitcom, I love it, but looking back, it was horrendous. When I see photographs of myself, I cringe. Such deep bags. Such poor elasticity in my skin. When I think about the summer of 2016, I think about getting drunk at the bar next to the pizza place every night, and watching Sex and the City hungover in air conditioning every day, just waiting for my 4pm shift to start.

I wrote three poems that summer. My favorite was called Self Help.

Every day I wake up and think
Today is the day that i should get my like together.
“And laying there under the covers,
I plan what my great comeback will look like.

Today is a good day to have a good day
Says the sign that Kim and her boyfriend
Have hung on the wall of their new apartment.

I hate their stability, so self-satisfied and smug
The fact that they do things like go to IKEA
And buy Chevron rugs and wall art together
When the rest of us proles cant get out of bed
Or find boyfriends that will text us back.

My good day goes like this:
I call my mom just to talk
I buy lots of green things at Harris Teeter
And make a pact to never eat food
That comes from the inside of a box again.

I bet Kim’s never been caught at Harris Teeter
With a basket of Velveeta and ice cream
Maybe when you’re in a fulfilling relationship
You don’t need milk fat and sugar to feel good about yourself
Or maybe she just gets her boyfriend to buy her vices for her.

I would call mine, but i know he won’t pick up
Which exacerbates the fact that I’m depressed about wall art
That reminds me of myself
Signaling self-actualization through a health food
And a fridge full of kale.

 

At the time, I thought it was brilliant. I submitted it to a literary journal and assumed I would receive an immediate acceptance and embark on my career as an Internet poet. I heard nothing, and I forgot all about it.

Today is a good day to have a good day. That line rattles around in my head, one of those things that gets stuck somewhere within you and never completely dislodges. Whenever I move (which is usually once or twice a year), when I first wake up in my new bedroom, I look at the blank walls, the way the sunlight pours in. I always make the same hopeful resolution: I’ll be happy in this bedroom.

And when the years turn, I do the same thing. Today is a good day to have a good day. This year is a good year to have a good year. On this day, for this year, in this bedroom, I will be happy.

But like… is there really a point to New Year’s Resolutions? Is there a point to dividing time into discrete parts with beginnings and ends? The passage of time is terrifying and exhilarating. When I was home for Christmas, my dad (who has a PhD in physics) started talking about a book he was reading about the Higgs-Boson particle and the way that the universe folds over in on itself. I recently read an article about the expansion of the universe that confirmed that

  1. Yes, it’s definitely fucking expanding, and
  2. The rate at which it is expanding is speeding up all the time.

Where does the universe even have to expand into???

Like soap bubbles expanding in a sink, explains the article helpfully.

“But if the universe is the bubbles, then what’s the sink?” I said to my dad. “I don’t understand what it means.”

“I don’t think anyone does.”

Walt Whitman in Song of Myself. All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses. He wrote that in 1892, and sometimes I wonder if the universe overlapped in a way that allowed him to learn about the Higgs-Boson particle before Higgs or Boson. 

2016, the so-called worst year of my life, ended. It always does. 2016 quietly became 2017 with a party at my apartment. The Jesus and Mary Chain played in the back of my head as the ball dropped on a television set that wasn’t turned on. I wore I don’t remember what. That year, I broke up with my boyfriend from the pizza place, moved downtown, and started publishing personal essays. I went on a road trip, I shaved my head. I had a series of post-breakup flings that amounted to little more than anxiety that lived in the blue glow of my cell phone. A month after my first essay had gone live, a boy I was sleeping with sent me a link to a New Yorker article: THE PERSONAL ESSAY BOOM IS OVER.

Fuck, was my first thought. Fuck that, was my second thought.

2017 became 2018. I drank a glass of Prosecco and cleaned my room while the world was sleeping beneath ice. I was wearing I don’t remember what.

And now 2018 becomes 2019. I’ve seen so many posts on Instagram from friends and acquaintances celebrating their own accomplishments: releasing singles and records, publishing chapbooks, driving across the country, starting or finishing school, falling in love, starting over. It’s a time to quantify, to look inward, to be grateful that today isn’t yesterday or tomorrow or anything else but what it already is. Which is, as I move through spacetime, something I’m learning more and more. It’s not as hard as it used to be.

I think this year I’ve finally been able to sit still with the process of being a human being – the sadness, the heartbreaks, loneliness, content, joy, success, and every beauty small and large. I’m not as angry as I used to be, at everyone and everything that I ever felt had wronged me.

Which is not to say that everything has been so great, so zen and enlightened all the time. The beginning of this year was horrendous. My mental health bottomed out this year. I remember writing in my diary, As I get older my death drive becomes more and more pronounced. I want to become someone else. I want to be nothing at all. I’ve never wanted to die so badly. I don’t think anyone, even some of my closest friends, knew how bad it really was. Professionally, I had a wonderful year, and I don’t think that anyone who follows me on social media would have had any idea. We filter our own narratives all the time. Not maliciously or connivingly, but we do all the same. We tell ourselves the story of the life we wish we were living, instead of the one we really have.

A month ago I got an email: we’re sorry to inform you that we cannot accept your poem “Self Help” for publication.

I didn’t know what the fuck it was even about. I had to sit there and think about it, and then I remembered the poem. I remembered 2016. I remembered everything.

I remember everything. Sometimes it feels like events or people have broken things within me that will never become whole again. Sometimes it feels like there is something inexorably wrong – with my brain, with my feelings, with my outlook on life, with my serotonin levels. To remember, to relive. To relive, again and again, and to let go.

Maybe there are certain things that I will never be able to let go of completely. Or maybe that’s just what I think right now. That uncertainty, too, has become more okay with me. Vulnerability and softness are more important now than ever. The ability to accept your feelings, to inhabit your emotional state, feel your joy and sadness move and breathe with you, as part of you. The willingness to exist in a spaces you’ve been before, and again in spaces that you have never been, while knowing that it, too, will eventually be nothing more than part of your past.

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