The Trouble with Stories

book

Alright, so this is the whole other blog post.

I get overly fixated on narrative. I have no idea how long that has been the case. I stayed up really late finishing books as a kid. When other kids got in trouble for not putting their laundry away, not emptying the dishwasher, ignoring their parents, I got in trouble for those things too but it was usually because I hadn’t heard the instructions. When I read, I stop seeing words and start seeing images. My brain makes a picture and suddenly, that’s where I live.

When the third Harry Potter book came out, I came home, locked my door for three hours, and when I came out I became the only kid I knew to get in trouble for reading. In my youth, I thirsted for adventure, for high stakes, for revolution. I couldn’t find it in the world. I’ve been too lucky and too complacent. But I’ve always found what I needed in stories – trust, honor, sacrifice, romance with both sized Rs.

That said, stories, narrative didn’t always keep me awake. But my first year of college, I fell in love with Veronica Mars, a show about a high school private detective trying to solve the mystery of her best friend’s murder. I was lonely and uncertain. I felt a little like I had failed for the first time in my life, which, for those of you who know where I went to college, is silly. But that’s how I felt.

I watched all of Veronica Mars in a week and a half over winter break. That’s approximately 66 episodes of television in about 10 days. The show had been canceled rather abruptly less than a year before, and it ends on a cliffhanger. For weeks after I saw the last episode, I lay awake in bed trying to write an ending that would satisfy me, that would fill in the holes that I thought the show itself was going to fill.

A day of reading Avengers fanfic gave me fever dreams the like the ones I described in my last post. I chose my major based on the West Wing. The best thing on my resume right now (besides my Masters degree – shout out to a major in reading) is the Harry Potter Alliance, an organization dedicated to engaging fans in activism using parallels from the series. Madeleine L’Engle made me feel less alone. Give me ten minutes with a sports game and a friend who is invested and the battle parallels become even clearer.

I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing. It’s probably neither. We all have flaws. I’m sure many future blog posts will be dedicated to mine. Some people think my investment in narrative keeps me from engaging in my actual life. That may be true. For so many others, it’s a familiar experience to find what you need in fiction. Real life, or whatever you call it, doesn’t have an arc. If it has a purpose, that purpose is not made clear to us. But I find so much of what matters to me in the sharing and telling and creating of stories. I find meaning and power and glory in narrative. And I find comfort there too.

Perhaps it’s a little sadistic. But I hope one day a story I’ve told keeps someone else awake all night too.

image source: http://eileenwilks.com/free-short-stories/#!/

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So You’ve Just Graduated College…

Get a job.

That’s the next step in growing up, right? Go to school, get a job. It’s almost a promise isn’t it? If you go to school, you will get a job, society says. Lies.

I’m kidding of course. Going to school is a very good way to get a job. Most of the people I know who are relatively successful and well paid went to school. So I went to college and a good one at that. But those who know me know I like to make things harder for myself so instead of the coveted STEM majors I chose the dreaded liberal arts and submitted myself to the alter of all the starving artists who had come before me.

By the time I graduated from college I had heard and seen enough to know that the job market was a very scary place that ate liberal arts majors for breakfast. “I can prepare myself for that,” I thought – and that was true. I started to think about what I wanted my life to look like after college. I knew I didn’t want to stick around the DC area for much longer as I had lived there my whole life. So when an opportunity to move to NYC opened up right after I graduated, I took it, thinking if anything New York was big enough that I could at least get a receptionist job. I put on my adventurer hat and moved September of 2014, ready and willing to fight for a place in such an iconic city.

my diploma

my diploma

I want to stress that I knew what I was getting into. Moving to a new place and job searching are difficult things to do on their own and I was doing both at the same time. Navigating a new city, away from my home right out of college is not for the faint hearted. But I also felt like I had a lot going for me. My resume was professional and my cover letters were relatively sharp. I had internships during college, great admin skills, a bachelor’s degree, and the cutest smile the east coast has ever seen. By the end of the year, I thought, that’s when I’ll have something. Of course, that didn’t happen.

The thing about job searching is that, it’s not the rejections that kill you. I want to be rejected. But the way that job searching works now is that we only hear from employers if they are interested in meeting with you. Other than that, radio silence. Sometimes we aren’t even notified if our applications are even received. And after weeks and then months of sending in applications that I worked really, really hard on, for jobs that I had naively gotten attached too was heartbreaking. I would see jobs I wanted to apply for that would then disappear the next day when I was ready to send in my paperwork. Eventually I stopped caring about the type of job I wanted and just applied for anything, as I was quickly running out of financial support. It got to the point where I would dread applying because I knew nothing would come of it.

For a little while there, I felt helpless and stupid and like a complete failure. It was a vicious cycle that combined an odd mixture of self-hatred and righteous martyrdom. In these few months, I slept maybe six hours a night and slugged my way through the day. I didn’t feel like I had a purpose and I would lie awake at night wondering how I was going to get through the next day.

But every time I felt too low to do anything, I thought about how much I wanted to be here, in New York, and how much I wanted to move and to try something new and to live a life that was different than the one I had lived before. And I was doing that, despite not having a job or a plan beyond getting a job. I moved somewhere by myself and I was going to make it work or die trying (hyperbole mom, don’t worry). I wanted this and if I was going to let this defeat me than frankly I didn’t deserve to have this opportunity in the first place.

So I changed the way I search for jobs and how I wrote my cover letters. I took sometime for myself, despite feeling guilty about occasionally spending money. And I really came to accept that if for some reason living and working in NYC didn’t work out and I would have to come home, then that wouldn’t be terrible and I wouldn’t be a failure because of it. I would be a person who tried something new and a better person for it.

And eventually I did get an offer, as so many people told me I would. I felt validated, I felt wanted. But more than anything, it was good to know I wasn’t crazy. “I can do this,” I finally thought.

Of course, I turned down that job in favor of an unpaid internship I was more interested in. You would think after all those months of hardship, I would’ve learned to take what’s handed to me. Unfortunately, I’ve never been very good at that either.

Fever Dreams: The 100 Edition

IMG_1782You know when you’re sick, and your dreams are that weird combination of vivid and senseless? Your sleep isn’t restful, and the dreams feel real and then you wake up and you can’t even begin to explain them to anyone? This happens to me just about every time I’m sick. Once I had a stomachbug and all I can tell you now about my dreams from that night is that it was like being stuck in circuitry, the way it appears in movies when you follow the electrons down the wire. This is, I imagine, where the term “fever dreams” comes from.

Of course, being the giant weirdo that I am, this happens to me when I’m not sick too.

In this particular case, my fever dreams came from watching the first five episodes of The 100, a CW show based on a YA novel by Kass Morgan about a group of teenagers sent back to Earth after a nuclear apocalypse. I’d originally come to this show in part because Kelly watches it, and in part because Bitch Media wrote a really positive review of the show’s treatment of the post-apocalyptic narrative. I was attracted to their discussion of the way the show “takes problems as complex and consequential as anything on Game of Thrones or Battlestar Gallactica and puts them in the hands of a believable teenage girl.”

It also helped that most of my Tumblr dashboard was also watching The 100, so I was familiar with the main ship. It’s a strange tension, to come to a show both because of its powerful feminist slant and because you already know who you want the main girl to end up with.

Luckily, I’m a complex individual.

I don’t know what it is about The 100 that kept me tossing and turning all night, consumed by a post-apocalyptic landscape and the teenagers running around trying to navigate it. Clarke is a phenomenal main character – fragile in some ways, all steel determination in others. She knows when to put up a fight, and when to roll her eyes and do whatever she was going to do anyway. She’s dismissive and righteous and brilliant and a precious baby angel who needs to be protected at all costs. Bellamy Blake, the dark hero to Clarke’s avenging angel style of heroism, starts out the series as a rebel with a really, really dumb cause. But his stupid voice, and his stupid hair, and the stupid way he falls in love with Clarke while she’s performing a mercy killing is just downright unbearable.

IMG_1783I know, I know. Mercy killings are not appropriate places to fall in love. Bellamy and I have that in common though. I fall in love in all kinds of inappropriate places.

I’m not sure what it is that keeps me awake with stories like this. I like circumstances that challenge. I like to watch people win even when they are backed into a corner. And I like to find optimism in the strangest of places. I also like couples that start out hating each other – probably because I read Pride and Prejudice much too young. In this particular case I think the world building really helped. The stories that I become obsessed with are the ones with worlds I want to stay in.

In all likelihood The 100 flooded my fever dreams because of some combination of my love for the show and other unnamable anxieties. But I ignore those other things. Instead, I listen to Imagine Dragons and their anthem for our post-apocalyptic generation. I try to fall asleep by imagining charged moments between Clarke and Bellamy, moments in which Clarke saves the world and also gets the boy. As is her due. Writing fanfiction used to help me sleep. I wrote this like that. And this. But that doesn’t work much anymore. I might be too afraid to lose the story, or I might be less sure of what I’m writing in my head.

Or, it might be that James and Lily definitely got together and had a son who saved the world and I’m not even entirely sure that Clarke (or Raven or Octavia or Bellamy) is going to live.

Right now, however, you’re probably thinking more about why I get so emotionally invested in fictional stories than you are about The 100

But that, my friends, is another blog post entirely.

**A note on the images: If you haven’t gotten texts like these from me while I’m watching television, you’re missing out. 

What Happens to Sleepy Minds

2013-11-16 16.37.42When I first came to Sara and said we should start a blog, the name “What Keeps Us Awake At Night,” was already preformed in my head. It, like most of my ideas, was formed during a moment of sleepiness that refused to become an actual REM cycle (I know…my ideas are appropriate and timely!). I guess there is just something about lying alone in a dark room in the small hours of the night with nothing but your own thoughts that make us all go a little nuts.

Now my sleep problems are not as pronounced as my sister’s. Sleeping has never really been an issue for me, even growing up. One time during my sophomore year of high school, my grandmother decided to pay for our whole family to go on a cruise. I was in a room with my cousin and my sister. We were all chatting one night in our respective beds and one of them asked me a question. I answered it and my cousin immediately followed up with a different question. Only this time I didn’t answer. Because in the space of time between answering the first question and getting asked the second, I was fast asleep.

I can sleep in tents, on the ground, sober, inebriated, hot, cold…as long as I have a decent pillow, I can pretty much sleep anywhere. On average when I am happy and sober, I would say it probably takes me about half an hour to fall asleep. I say “happy and sober” because things like drinking, smoking, and depression all effect my sleep cycle…but luckily it just makes it easier to pass out. True sleeplessness is a rare thing for me to experience.

So if I have no problems sleeping, you ask, why am I writing this blog? Well putting metaphors aside, being good at falling asleep doesn’t mean that the paralyzing fear of failure or the lure of a newly conjured novel idea doesn’t stop my sleep from happening. Nor does it put an end to the 100 miles per hour pace my mind is usually clocking at. Whether I am sleeping, or doing any other task, I am usually thinking about six different things at once and without releasing some of them into the wild, I’m afraid important ideas or thoughts will be lost.

To try and salvage them, we turned to wordpress and Sara and I decided that we should make sure that if we can’t sleep or organize our thoughts, NO ONE CAN. On this blog we will be discussing some of our favorite late night topics that have single-handedly contributed to the enormous bags under our eyes. We will be discussing topic we hate, topics we love, topics we really have no clue what they are. And maybe even a little creative writing on the side.

Sleeping, overall, is one of my most and least favorite activates. If we as humans didn’t have to sleep think of all the amazing projects that could not only be completed – but also thought of in the first place! I think everyone would be more actualized. But even despite this, there is nothing better (and I truly mean nothing) then crawling into your bed after a very long day and just shutting out the world.

So join us as we take a walk through our sleep-deprived brains as we try to figure out just what was so great about the Pitch Perfect Soundtrack that it kept me awake FOREVER (answer: cause it’s made of magic and unicorns.)

If Only 3 AM and I Could Break Up…

2014-10-12 19.37.59

Welcome to the insomnia blog that nobody asked for! What kind of insomnia, you now wonder reluctantly?

Well…that’s a bit of a question.

I’ve never been good at sleeping. It took me a really long time to figure out that this was something that one could be bad at, but there it is. I’m bad at sleeping. On a good day, this usually means that I read for an hour before bed and then it takes me an hour to fall asleep. On a bad day this means that I don’t sleep. I doze, I toss, I turn, I read, I watch infomercials about manna from heaven that comes in a jar. I cancel morning plans. I cancel afternoon plans. I put my head at the other end of the bed. I do breathing exercises. I experience sleep paralysis.

Most nights are some kind of in between, because it takes me a long time to get my brain to forget that we’re trying to fall asleep long enough to actually fall asleep.

When people find out you have sleep issues, they have all kinds of advice. Don’t look at screens. Meditate. Drink tea. Exercise. Write in a journal. Get a mantra. Count sheep. Count by threes. Pick your favorite movie and tell yourself the story. Create a daydream. Stop drinking. See a psychiatrist. Take a pill.

This is because sleep issues have lots of causes, and for many of types of insomnia, these are viable cures. Of course, you should see a doctor because sleep issues can have root physical or psychological causes that require treatment or are symptoms of a bigger issue.

These solutions just aren’t that helpful when the root cause is that you’re bad at sleeping. How do I know that I don’t have, for example, psychological issues keeping me awake at night, you ask? Well, I don’t. I’ve seen a psychologist, but I wouldn’t let him help me with my sleep issues. At the time I was actually sleeping strangely well for what was going on in my life. And I’ll be damned if, when I’m sleeping well, I’ll let someone talk me out of it.

But the possibility that I have psychological issues does keep me awake. Also, like I said, thinking about sleeping keeps me awake. Sobriety keeps me awake. Drinking keeps me awake. Daydreaming keeps me awake. Rich food keeps me awake. Hunger keeps me awake. The Pitch Perfect soundtrack keeps me awake. Any TV show I watch for more than three hours at a time keeps me awake. Recipes keep me awake. The mean thing I said to you in a moment of weakness two years ago keeps me awake.

Sometimes actually nothing keeps me awake. Seriously – the fact that I can’t think of anything to think about keeps me awake. For hours sometimes.

So when Kelly and I were discussing starting this blog, and we came up with the theme, what keeps us awake at night, I realized this was the thing I had been training for my whole life. Kelly’s going to have to tell you about how she gets to 3 AM on her own. As for me, well, here’s hoping that insomnia is not contagious. Because otherwise you’re screwed.