Well, look who it is!
It’s Laura Dern! Specifically, an appropriate photo of her with which to kick off a new chapter in our newsletter adventure. (Pretend it’s me, but instead of wine I’m drinking a very large glass of watermelon sparkling water CHALK FULL of ice. YUM.) It’s the Substack era, friends and strangers I care deeply about, and while TinyLetter served us well for many years, it also didn’t send the last essay I wrote and I’m far too lazy to navigate having to care about things like that. Or about most things, if I’m being honest! I am tired all the time, and if something is even a slight inconvenience that doesn’t need to be, I’m moving on. I have to! I’m too busy, man!
Just kidding: I’m not busy at all anymore. I have work to do and pals to text with, but thanks to months of our current pandemic-centric reality, I’ve taken to whittling my life down in ways I couldn’t have imagined back in the winter. Which, it turns out, is also conducive to a shit-ton of soul-searching. The results?
I’ve learned that ice in drinks is an absolute game-changer
I can admit I was wrong to wait so many years to begin watching Real Housewives
I’ve discovered the best way to shop is to fill your online cart with hundreds of dollars worth of paraphernalia, and then abandon it all at the end of the night
I don’t think I’ve been genuinely happy in many years
Oh shit! Where did that come from? (It’s almost like I planted at the end of that very short list as to draw the biggest possible reaction from everybody reading it! Can you imagine? The audacity!) I mean, I’ll be clear: I haven’t been wallowing in sorrow, wondering where it all went wrong. I’m not lamenting over my wasted life or wishing I had done everything differently. Like most revelations, this was one I knew I had brought down on my myself and would be forced to reckon with as soon as there was enough time to think. So, I avoided doing anything that necessitated doing just that: I made myself so busy all the time that I wouldn’t have to assess the nagging, ever-expanding feelings of “Girl, you’re in trouble.” Because I couldn’t be in trouble. I’d worked SO HARD to get to THIS PLACE, and if I admitted that maybe I wanted (nay, NEEDED) to change a few things, I’d be an even bigger fuck-up than I considered myself to be before.
And not even a car crash could stop me. Two weeks after careening into another car and median (several gorgeous times) on the highway, I hosted an event the organizers had kindly given me an out for. (Because they are normal people who see news of a car accident and think, “Um, maybe the person who was in it may need a break.”) But, no: I was determined to be the Same! Old! Me!!!! under any/all circumstances, pushing down my body’s demands that I please, for the love of all that is good, rest and choosing instead to ride the wave of fear that if I made myself unavailable in any way, I’d be forgotten, friendless, and banned from writing or talking in front of people ever again. Weakness, to me, was an unforgivable offence, and even while bawling on my physiotherapist’s table because I felt so overwhelmed, my mental mantra was to suck it the fuck up and keep going. I WAS AN ADULT!!!
And also a creature of my own making. For YEARS I waxed poetic about the #hustle, building my personality on how much I liked to work and be busy. I could do it! I was the person who did the things! And while at times I’d be so stressed that I literally would have to take four Imodium before eating dinner, I told myself that this was the DREAM, that I could DO IT, BABY, and I’d asked for all of this. Pressing pause? Go fuck yourselves! Just please don’t ask me why I was hoping and praying that my legs and sternum were broken so I’d have an “excuse” not to drive to Toronto from Cambridge 482 times in a week. This was between me and the X-Ray technician.
It was only recently, on a phone call with my therapist did I realize the depth of the hole I’d dug myself into. On our phone session before last, I began freaking out about how I was angry and resentful of the way so many people are pretending the pandemic wasn’t happening anymore. I felt helpless and out of control, and I wasn’t ready to go back to real life because the idea of doing that — for many reasons — made me want to start crying and screaming and flailing my arms around like Cory in Empire Records when she starts yelling, “NO IT’S NOT ALRIGHT!!!!” So my therapist just asked: “Do you think you were happy before March?”
And, well, no.
I mean, I was happy in that I know and knew I am loved by the people who mean the world to me. I’m happy that I can make my car payments. I’m happy that when I go to the Gap, I can afford to partake in their sales instead of buying one sock for $2. I’m happy that when I’m asked to write an essay for a place, the editors who reach out to me are dream-people to work with, and make meeting my deadline feel like an exciting team effort. I’m happy I get to write another book, and that my first book was optioned and it might turn into a TV show. Those things make me happy.
But what makes me miserable/exhausted/annoyed/frustrated/etc. is the idea that to achieve anything, you must be exhausted; that to “get” anywhere, you have to “hustle” and “grind” and if you don’t, then I guess we all know why you didn’t “make it.” I hate all of it so much. I haven’t wanted to live that way for a very long time. But I was more afraid of what would happen if I stopped living that way than I was about the longterm effects of treating “being busy” like some badge of honour I should wear around my neck every day. I’d completely lost myself in that capitalist nightmare and put an obscene amount of pressure on myself to become the person I wanted to be maybe a decade ago. I didn’t factor in growth or changing my mind or even not wanting to drive two hours to a city I’m not even super into (sorry, Toronto) five out of seven days because I didn’t consider it a possibility. Mainly because I had no time to consider it a possibility. Why was I crying for no reason? Why couldn’t I sleep? Why was I desperate TO HAVE A BROKEN STERNUM? Because I was profoundly unhappy. But admitting that, to me, at the time, signalled defeat. And it would mean I didn’t deserve anything good.
For the record, none of us “deserves” shit outside of feeling and being safe, having someplace to live, having food to eat, having clothes to wear, having access to affordable (free!) healthcare, and having people in your life who love you. What, were the gods of what I *deserved* going to fly down and take away my *checks notes* internet essay about a TV show? "You don’t deserve this!” they would say. “You might want to change your life!” No. And also, fuck off to this entire line of thinking. I am not a girlboss. I am not anything other than some woman in her mid-30s who writes for a living. Is that a cool job? I mean, I guess? I like and appreciate it! But also, I’m typing words. I’m not curing covid. My self-importance does not match the job I have. So what if I take a break? Will younger, better writers come up and replace me? I hope so! Would they do it regardless? Absolutely — have you read the writers making their way through the industry? Jesus Christ. The talent! So why would I want to try and compete with or stop them? WHAT A STUPID THING TO TRY AND DO.
Plus, I — like most people — am not her career. I know this because for the last few months, I’ve written barely anything and still feel like a person. And perhaps even more shockingly, I’ve been happy. It’s been nice not to create and then follow a narrative that perpetuates the myth that killing yourself with a million to-dos is going to pay off in some way. It’s been nice to read books, and to hang with my parents, and to be forced to question how I want my life to look. Has the fear of dying from a disease no one has actually figured out yet made this niceness quite fleeting? Of course. But I’ve been forced to look at what’s made me sick and sad and unhealthy and upset and name those things, which is painful but still quite a gift.
Yesterday, I edited an essay and I liked doing it. Then, I did another online thing and liked that too. But today was the first in many where I wanted to actually get back to newsletter-writing. I didn’t know what to say before. I wasn’t sure how to take something I’d used to sing the praises of ambition and being go, go, go and reel it back so I can apply the way I actually feel to my actual life: I don’t know if I’m ambitious anymore. I don’t know what I want life to look like in five years. I know I prefer now to live smaller, and have no desire to attend any events until I know I won’t bring a virus back home to my mom and dad. I know that what entertained me before doesn’t anymore, and that my friends will always be my friends, even if we don’t see each other for a while. I don’t miss dinners out. I don’t miss two hour commutes. I don’t miss setting goals for myself that were built on “supposed to” instead of what I really wanted. I don’t miss assuming my editors wouldn’t understand if I was sick or tired or both. I know that some of the happiest nights in recent memory has been hanging out on my parents’ back deck while the cat plays outside. I’ve turned into someone who likes talking to her friends on the phone, and can’t wait to keep doing that, either. Does any of this negate the perpetual anxiety of a pandemic? Absolutely not, because that would be bizarre and selfish. But this is the type of anxiety I can get behind. It’s normal to be anxious about the well-being of other people. It’s not normal to break out in hives because you need to get pitches in OR ELSE. (Or else: the editor you owe a pitch to is going to be like, “Hey, can you throw those pitches my way when you get a chance?” So: totally reasonable.)
It’s not normal to put the responsibility on yourself not to disappoint everybody.
So what does this even mean? I don’t know! I don’t know, and I’m very relieved. I’m working on Small Tornadoes. (It’s cool!) I’m working on Nobody Cares: The TV Show. (Also cool! Though title TBD) Sometimes I write essays on the internet or in magazines or for the newspaper. I like school again. I have also never not tied my identity to my career before which is scary to me. But it’s less scary than taking on that persona again and lying to myself about how much I was enjoying it. Not when there’s bigger and more important things to worry about. Not when it turns out our careers aren’t a personality trait, and you can make choices to live however you want.
Okay! So this was Substack letter #1! I don’t know how to use it 100% and I certainly don’t know how to make the money happen, but I do know this was a lot easier than TinyLetter, man alive. So I hope you like it! And if you don’t, it doesn’t affect me at all! It’s free! Leave, then! Don’t fight with me!
I now need to find lunch. And we can act like I’m not going to get McDonalds, or we can act like adults who tell each other the truth. I WANT MCNUGS, BABY. YES.
Well this really hit me right where I live. Gah. How DO I define myself not by my work? 🤔
I was just thinking how nice it would be to receive a newsletter from you the other day. Thanks for the deep dive!