- It’s so tempting to measure your life in decades once you feel like you’ve collected enough of them.
- As if there are clean lines between 9 and 10, between 19 and 20, between 29 and 30. And corresponding labels that say, “This is where you’re less of a child.” “This is where you’re more of an adult.” “This is where you realize 40 is next.”
- When I was in high school, in the throes of undiagnosed depression, I decided I probably wouldn’t make it to 30. (The only reason 20 was in the picture was because I knew I had to finish college.)
- But after that? What comes after college? When housing and meals and your friends aren’t assigned anymore, but you’re not ready to make your own way, what happens? What happens if all you want to do is revert to your high school self and all its desperate, relative ease?
- Still, when I thought about the third 10 years, it sounded pretty straightforward to me: Adulthood. Do that.
- “Adulthood: Do that” was the command for a period of time the length of which I’d just completed wherein I both started fifth grade and finished my sophomore year of college.
- If someone asked me if I wanted to redo that span, just to see if I could fare better — I always feel like I could have fared better — I would say no. Go through puberty and middle school and high school again? That’s a joke, right?
- On good days, I buy hard into the philosophy that I am where I am, and every decision I made along the way helped get me there, and as long as I’m not in prison or dead, relatively speaking, I’m probably doing okay.
- (I can’t help but think of the people I’ve lost in the last 10 years, the ones who were doing okay, too, until they weren’t.)
- I know that sounds very much unlike what the friends I met later in my life must think of me. It sounds optimistic. It is, isn’t it? Or is it resigned apathy?
- On bad days, I think back to 16-year-old me IMing my friend about how I go to bed at nine o’clock every night not because I’m tired or because I want to get enough sleep, but because I don’t see the point of being awake anymore.
- “sleep is as close as i’m going to get to death,” I write. “i probably won’t make it to 30.”
- Not because I wanted to die, but because I assumed by some point in my 20s, I wouldn’t see the point of being alive anymore, and could just slip away.
- When there is nothing to look forward to except what you make for yourself, and your depression masks any possibility of forward movement in search of happiness, how do you face that?
- I found myself clinging to my 20s instead of living them, each new year bringing dread and impossibility. I did not feel blessed. I did not feel happy. In the paint by numbers of my life, every space was pitch-black. Instead of trying to start with another color, I skipped to the end, when the paints ran together and the sum total of my year was, simply, “bad.”
- But I went through the milestones anyway. Graduated college, got engaged, got married, went back to school once I figured out what I really wanted to learn. Each time I hoped one of them would fix me, and each time it did, for a few days, a few weeks, a few months, a few years.
- Growth, though, isn’t just measured in the moment something becomes a milestone. I’ve been working the same job since I left school the second time, waiting for some opportunity, some prize for inching closer to the end of my third decade.
- Clinging to the idea of living, not living.
- The meaning we assign to taking another trip around the sun feels so arbitrary. Even when part of me is jealous that someone who would have been finishing eighth grade when I graduated college has now reached some career milestone (i.e. had something to call a “career”), I never really think, “What if I’d appeared to have had things figured out that early?”
- But maybe I did.
- I graduated college “on time” despite losing nearly a full semester to severe depression and anxiety. By 21, I was able to walk across the stage at Carver-Hawkeye Arena and pose outside with the Dan Gable statue knowing I’d finished the credit requirements for my degree. And then what?
- And then what?
- And then the years passed as I wondered “what’s next?” instead of living “what’s next.” I supplemented the milestones with haphazard new goals and failed to meet them and wondered why I still bothered.
- And then some big, scary, unprecedented things happened and I thought, This is what I was waiting for? This is what I’m still living to see?
- My dad was 30 when he met my mom, 31 when they got married, and 32 when I was born. Three years, bam, bam, bam. (And that’s only if you count by age; this all happened in about a 16-month span.)
- What will my next 16 months hold?
- My next 16 days?
- My next 16 hours?
- I had been counting down to this day with the same morose anticipation as any other August 8, as if awaiting my execution. Counting down to the end of my life as I knew it, because I hadn’t prepared for anything more. For half my life, I hadn’t prepared to see this day. And then the gap closed for good, and somehow, I was still here to see it.
- And then I had no choice but to look forward.
Welcome to my own personal hell! Again!
This is a list of final sentences of papers I’ve written, from graduate school in 2013 to bachelor’s degree #2 in 2017. It picks up where my last edition of this post left off, and while I can’t say I’ve gotten any more interesting, maybe I’ve gotten better at writing? Maybe not. Maybe I’ve just gotten more wordy. You tell me.
(Also, here’s a fun game: See if you can guess which program/class each of these was written for. It gets especially entertaining near the end.)
While the current approach toward mental health appears to be geared toward merely diagnosing and treating the PTSD itself, addressing adverse health behaviors such as substance abuse and sexual risk-taking may lead to better outcomes for those suffering from the disorder.
But if the health educator maintains their foundation, that open-mindedness and basic awareness of cultural issues and norms are the keys to good communication, then they have a much better chance of seeing positive health outcomes.
It is not enough to wait for change to arrive organically – as long as it is needed right now, the overhaul of women’s and LGBT healthcare must come with the force it deserves.
Considering the glaring issue of suicide in this age group, not to mention among female veterans, it seems to be obvious that further outreach is a necessary step to take.
By maintaining an open mind in the face of large-scale legislation limiting women’s healthcare options, the Center truly saves lives by maintaining a comprehensive view of women’s health.
While practicing prevention and aiming for the enigmatic “healthy lifestyle” are theoretically sound principles, affordable health care is what people need most.
In order to truly have an effect on the rate of workplace harassment, changes must be made both at the public policy and organizational levels so that harassment that remains can be reported safely and without risk of the harassed losing their job, simply for wanting to work in a safe environment.
Since it is unlikely that diseases that can be caught with BSE will be cured in the next few decades, there will always be some semblance of need for this program, especially in areas where health care access is limited.
However, the comfort I found that year in writing provided an ample foundation for my enduring feats of communication.
As long as powerful humans keep creating monster stories and are able to convincingly assert that it is “them,” and not “us,” to which the stories refer, the unconscionable divide between humans and monsters will persist.
Indeed, the true “plague of meaning” is what befalls those who look for meaning in popular commodities, and are instead met with the harsh truth that meaning only exists when one is first willing to critically examine one’s heroes.
Likely, the aim of continued talks is not to come to a solution that every side supports, but to make the best of the current conditions by analyzing the arguments in play.
I hope that future meetings involve nuanced discussions of these issues, along with guest speakers who represent a more diverse audience and who take these issues into consideration.
It was a true pleasure to not only share space with these reporters, but to hear them relay their work directly to us in a one-of-a-kind setting.
On the other hand, Crest initially used the incorrect hashtag in their tweet, and chose to remedy it by hastily replying to themselves with the correct hashtag.
However, a critical examination of the piece in the context of mainstream media’s portrayal of white domestic terrorists and Muslims in general reveals much greater deficiencies in her chosen angle that were overlooked during the fallout of this piece’s publication.
And then, with sincere Texas geniality: “Now, bless y’all’s hearts.”
On another note, it is interesting that while the film is called The Hobbit and ultimately is about Bilbo’s journey of self-discovery, strength, and bravery under Thorin’s guidance, Thorin is the character that gives this adventure film its gritty, authoritative tone, making it all the more appealing to men watching it in the theater.
Overall, KCCI is probably not the only station in Iowa that features these demographics predominantly, and should likely work to increase diversity within their telling of the stories.
Therefore, I am unsurprised that an American correspondent would take the time to cover this story in particular; they wanted to maintain and uphold this small-town, almost fanciful view of Iceland.
The contrasts between racial dialects highlighted throughout “A Worn Path” thereby create separation rather than cohesive relationships between Welty’s narrator, Phoenix, and the characters with whom Phoenix interacts.
While dialect appears to predominantly reflect one’s class, it is clearly influenced by factors including race and social status, and “The Sheriff’s Children” edifies this idea in a manner that has aged all too well.
Trees may be inanimate objects, but to the pure and good, they represent an outlet for their veiled negative feelings.
As Jim vows to end his treasure-hunting days and Alice moves on with her life, likely only to “visit” Wonderland again as she tells stories of it to her own children, the tricksters’ purpose is complete: they have crossed boundaries of their own in order to affect these characters, and in the end, the characters are left within these boundaries, never to cross back to their past selves again.
In the end, it is worrisome that their story ends with such happiness when there is so much left in their seemingly new lives to examine and address.
In “Day Million” and “All You Zombies,” the gender binary is rightly and appropriately contested, giving life and providing acceptance to characters whose stories may not be entirely relatable, but whose lives are elucidated in a manner that normalizes their existence.
In the future, it is vital that this work be supported and allowed to continue.
As a result of this murkiness, the abstract idea of “free speech” seems to be prioritized over victims’ reasonable expectations of safety.
We hope the court takes our requests into consideration.
For me, moving away to college meant the opportunity to reinvent myself after growing up in a town of about 9,000 people where the opportunity to change was only granted as we started new schools in 6th and 9th grades. Because this was the late 2000s, the majority of my reinvention happened on social media. And because I was trying as hard as I could to be the biggest stereotype of a depressed English major possible, this was further pigeonholed to my Facebook quotes section, where I could prove I was worldly, had friends, and had great taste all at the same time.
TL;DR, peep this (vaguely edited) ancient relic, interspersed with a Photo Booth shoot I did between my freshman and sophomore years of college, as I figure out what my next real post should be. Italicized bits are comments I’m adding as I read through this before posting; usernames are all from AIM (RIP). Enjoy!
“I heard he dressed up like Josh Hamilton for the 1st and 2nd rounds of the home run derby and bombed a bunch of homers, then went to save 55 orphans from a burning building during the finals, letting the real Josh bat for himself. I’d be dehydrated too, after that.” —Scott Johnson [some guy in some comments section somewhere], on why Timmy [Tim Lincecum] was hospitalized [before the 2008 All-Star Game]
jjasperse: besides, most of what i write is crap and you know it
jjasperse: but even crap can be made into something like paper from Baksheesh [a local store with certain enlightened products]
“My love for you is like my quiver of arrows…endless.” —Legolas in a LOTR parody I watched once [one of the “One Ring to Rule Them All” flash films by LegendaryFrog]
“The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourself in, but you cannot for ever fence it out.” —J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” —Dr. Seuss, The Lorax
“Ecclesiastes is really emo.” —Lee
“(holds up ballpoint pen) These things can KILL. I saw it on Oprah.” —Angeline
Me: “‘Español’ done got a ‘g’ in it in French, it’s ‘espagnol.'”
Gelly: “Whatchu done do to our language?”
Me: “Well how’s do ya say ‘French’ in yo’ language?”
Me: “WhatCHU done do to our language? You dun pronounce the ‘s’!”
Gelly: “Well, at least we din’t put a ‘g’ in it! ‘FRAGnes…'”
(we were speaking in Southern accents)
“I like rice. Rice is great if you’re hungry and want 2000 of something.” —Mitch Hedberg
“They are sweat shorts, they are not man capris!” —Random GU guy
“It’s hard to spell at 210 beats per minute.” —Wayne Brady
Me: “The high school’s musical this year will be ridiculous, I feel bad for the people who will spend money to see it.”
ADWS [a friend’s nickname]: “What is it?”
Me: “Fiddler on the Roof. With no male singers in the entire school and no fiddlers!”
ADWS: “ABSURD. Very absurd. Bad Mac [music director].”
Me: “I know! Way to choose a musical with no female leads when that’s all you have, Barb [also music director]!”
ADWS: “Yeah, that’s lame.”
Me: “Well, I suppose they could have fucked themselves more. I mean, they could have done RENT.”
ADWS: (laughs emphatically) “That would have been a good end to the department!”
“On a large enough time line, the survival rate for everyone will drop to zero.” —Fight Club (novel)
“Apparently Oprah is not a Geodude.” —ADWS
“McMansion, McMansion, McMansion, McDonalds? McDreamy, McSteamy, McMansion, Fleetwood Mac, and Macaulay Culkin!”
“You have not lived until you’ve found something worth dying for.” —Whale Wars trailer
From the 10/19/2007 IRQ-a-thon [when our AP Lit teacher asked us each questions about the reading]:
Aldy [teacher]: (begins to ask me an IRQ question about King Lear)
Me: (confused look)
Aldy: “Well, is that a pass?”
Me: “No, finish what you were saying.”
Aldy: “Yes, dear. Guys, you should work on saying that, I have to say it to my wife a lot…1, 2, 3, yes dear! Yes, comic relief is nice at a time like this!”
“Synec…douche?” —[a friend] trying to pronounce “Synecdoche”
“Why not admit that my dissatisfaction reveals an excessive ambition, perhaps a megalomaniac delirium? For the writer who wants to annul himself in order to give voice to what is outside him, two paths open: either write a book that could be the unique book, that exhausts the whole in its pages; or write all books, to pursue the whole through its partial images. The unique book, which contains the whole, could only be the sacred text, the total world revealed. But I do not believe totality can be contained in language; my problem is what remains outside, the unwritten, the unwritable. The only way left me is that writing of all books, writing the books of all possible authors.
“If I think I must write one book, all the problems of how this book should be and how it should not be block me and keep me from going forward. If, on the contrary, I think that I am writing a whole library, I feel suddenly lightened: I know that whatever I write will be integrated, contradicted, balanced, amplified, buried by the hundreds of volumes that remain for me to write.” —If on a winter’s night a traveler
*** [ellipses because of the lengthy quote above, I suppose]
Why I am a complete and utter nerd:
Upon hearing Philip Glass’s “Metamorphosis One” during the Academy Awards (this is how the conversation began, I guess we can just read each other’s minds):
scalpelixis [me]: OMG
jjasperse [not me]: OMG
scalpelixis: I JUST TEXTED YOU
Something horrible like puns being turned into something amazing like LOTR:
scalpelixis: why didn’t you do anything for my birthday
scalpelixis: except that pun thing
scalpelixis: i hate puns
scalpelixis: I THOUGHT YOU KNEW THAT
scalpelixis: I THOUGHT WE WERE FRIENDS
jjasperse: AREN’T WE FRIENDS
jjasperse: SO WHAT’S THE PROBLEM
jjasperse: LEMME BARROW THAT TOP?
scalpelixis: Barrow-wights or Barrow-downs?!!?!?!??!
scalpelixis: omglotr [help me]
scalpelixis: I dreamt a dream tonight.
jjasperse: And so did I.
scalpelixis: Well, what was yours?
jjasperse: That dreamers often lie.
scalpelixis: In bed asleep, while they do dream things true.
jjasperse: Oh, then, I see Queen Mab hath been with you.
scalpelixis: and then he rants for a really long time
jjasperse: “Queen Mab, what’s she”
jjasperse: then rant
scalpelixis: since when
jjasperse: since 43V3r
scalpelixis: lemme check it off angeline’s complete works of shakespeare
scalpelixis: I’m right
[the two links showed different things]
“Everything is more complicated than you think. You only see a tenth of what is true. There are a million little strings attached to every choice you make. You can destroy your life every time you choose. But maybe you won’t know for twenty years! And you may never ever trace it to its source. And you only get one chance to play it out. Just try and figure out your own divorce…
“And they say there’s no fate, but there is, it’s what you create. And even though the world goes on for eons and eons, you are only here for a fraction of a fraction of a second. Most of your time is spent being dead, or not yet born. But while alive, you wait in vain wasting years for a phone call or a letter or a look from someone or something to make it all right, but it never comes. Or it seems to, but it doesn’t really.
“So you spend your time in vague regret or vaguer hope that something good will come along, something to make you feel connected, something to make you feel cherished, something to make you feel loved. And the truth is is, I feel so angry! And the truth is, I feel so fucking sad! And the truth is, I’ve felt so fucking hurt for so fucking long and for just as long, I’ve been pretending I’m okay, just to get along!
“I don’t know why. Maybe because…no one wants to hear about my misery…because they have their own.
“Fuck everybody. Amen.” —Synecdoche, New York
“It feels like a moment I’ve lived a thousand times before, as if everything is familiar, right up to the moment of my death, that it will happen again an infinite number of times, that we will meet, marry, have our children, succeed in the ways we have, fail in the ways we have, all exactly the same, always unable to change a thing. I am again at the bottom of an unstoppable wheel, and when I feel my eyes close for death, as they have and will a thousand times, I awake.” —Everything Is Illuminated
Me: (drops a bag of chocolate on the floor, one falls out) Aww. Now I have to eat it. (does so; goes back to original position on bed, camera falls on the floor)
Angeline: Aww. Now you have to eat it.
Mrs. McElroy: “We’re meeting in the band room at 5 AM.”
ADWS: “There’s a 5 AM??”
“I felt like such an ADULT walking out of the bank, using the ATM and getting my own money, going to my CAR and driving to go buy food with my money!”—Andy
“Now the standard cure for one who is sunk is to consider those in actual destitution or physical suffering—this is an all-weather beatitude for gloom in general and fairly salutary day-time advice for everyone. But at three o’clock in the morning, a forgotten package has the same tragic importance as a death sentence, and the cure doesn’t work—and in a real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning, day after day.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
“During his [U.N.] address, Gaddafi renewed his call for ‘Isratine,’ which would be one state made up of Israelis and Palestinians. Or as it’s known here: Queens.”—Seth Meyers
“What better cover than a business trip to Nebraska? Like that’s REALLY a place.” —Dr. House [I had a certain…personal hatred for Nebraska at the time, so this was very intentionally chosen]
*** [stop it, Christine]
All from Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close:
“The mistakes I’ve made are dead to me. But I can’t take back the things I never did.”
“What about little microphones? What if everyone swallowed them, and they played the sounds of our hearts through little speakers, which could be in the pouches of our overalls? When you skateboarded down the street at night you could hear everyone’s heartbeat, and they could hear yours, sort of like sonar. One weird thing is, I wonder if everyone’s hearts would start to beat at the same time, like how women who live together have their menstrual periods at the same time, which I know about, but don’t really want to know about. That would be so weird, except that the place in the hospital where babies are born would sound like a crystal chandelier in a houseboat, because the babies wouldn’t have had time to match up their heartbeats yet. And at the finish line at the end of the New York City Marathon it would sound like war.”
“I like to see people reunited, I like to see people run to each other, I like the kissing and the crying, I like the impatience, the stories that the mouth can’t tell fast enough, the ears that aren’t big enough, the eyes that can’t take in all of the change, I like the hugging, the bringing together, the end of missing someone.”
“Why are you leaving me?
He wrote, I do not know how to live.
I do not know either but I am trying.
I do not know how to try.
There were some things I wanted to tell him. But I knew they would hurt him. So I buried them and let them hurt me.”
All from Of Human Bondage:
“‘Partly for pleasure, because it’s a habit and I’m just as uncomfortable if I don’t read as if I don’t smoke, and partly to know myself. When I read a book I seem to read it with my eyes only, but now and then I come across a passage, perhaps only a phrase, which has a meaning for me, and it becomes part of me; I’ve got out of the book all that’s any use to me, and I can’t get anything more if I read it a dozen times. You see, it seems to me, one’s like a closed bud, and most of what one reads and does has no effect at all; but there are certain things that have a peculiar significance for one, and they open a petal; and the petals open one by one; and at last the flower is there.'”
“‘I was examined yesterday,’ he remarked at last. ‘It was worth while undergoing the gene of it to know that one was perfectly fit.’
Philip noticed that he still used a French word in an affected way when an English one would have served.”
“Philip himself asked desperately what was the use of living at all. It all seemed inane. It was the same with Cronshaw: it was quite unimportant that he had lived; he was dead and forgotten; his life seemed to have served nothing except to give a pushing journalist occasion to write an article in a review. And Philip cried out in his soul:
‘What is the use of it?’
The effort was so incommensurate with the result. The bright hopes of youth had to be paid for at such a bitter price of disillusionment. Pain and disease and unhappiness weighed down the scale so heavily. What did it all mean? He thought of his own life, the high hopes with which he had entered upon it, the limitations which his body forced upon him, his friendlessness, and the lack of affection which had surrounded his youth. He did not know that he had ever done anything but what seemed best to do, and what a cropper he had come! Other men, with no more advantages than he, succeeded, and others again, with many more, failed. It seemed pure chance. The rain fell alike upon the just and upon the unjust, and for nothing was there a why and a wherefore.”
*** [I give up]
“Melinda Pratt rides city bus number twelve to her cello lesson, wearing her mother’s jean jacket and only one sock. Hallo, world, says Minna. Minna often addresses the world, sometimes silently, sometimes out loud. Bus number twelve is her favorite place for watching, inside and out. The bus passes cars and bicycles and people walking dogs. It passes store windows, and every so often Minna sees her face reflection, two dark eyes in a face as pale as a winter dawn. There are fourteen people on the bus today. Minna stands up to count them. She likes to count people, telephone poles, hats, umbrellas, and, lately, earrings. One girl, sitting directly in front of Minna, has seven earrings, five in one ear. She has wisps of dyed green hair that lie like forsythia buds against her neck.
“There are, Minna knows, a king, a past president of the United States, and a beauty queen on the bus. Minna can tell by looking. The king yawns and scratches his ear with his little finger. Scratches, not picks. The beauty queen sleeps, her mouth open, her hair the color of tomatoes not yet ripe. The past preside of the United States reads Teen Love and Body Builder’s Annual.
“Next to Minna, leaning against the seat, is her cello in its zippered canvas case. Next to her cello is her younger brother, McGrew, who is humming. McGrew always hums. Sometimes he hums sentences, though most often it comes out like singing. McGrew’s teachers do not enjoy McGrew answering questions in hums or song. Neither does the school principal, Mr. Ripley. McGrew spends lots of time sitting on the bench outside Mr. Ripley’s office, humming.
“Today McGrew is humming the newspaper. First the headlines, then the sports section, then the comics. McGrew only laughs at the headlines.
“Minna smiles at her brother. He is small and stocky and compact like a suitcase. Minna loves him. McGrew always tells the truth, even when he shouldn’t. He is kind. And he lends Minna money from the coffee jar he keeps beneath his mattress.
“Minna looks out the bus window and thinks about her life. Her one life. She likes artichokes and blue fingernail polish and Mozart played too fast. She loves baseball, and the month of March because no one else much likes March, and every shade of brown she has ever seen. But this is only one life. Someday, she knows, she will have another life. A better one. McGrew knows this, too. McGrew is ten years old. He knows nearly everything. He knows, for instance, that his older sister, Minna Pratt, age eleven, is sitting patiently next to her cello waiting to be a woman.” —The Facts and Fictions of Minna Pratt
(Note: Spoiler-wise, I don’t think there’s anything here that isn’t referenced in a trailer or review of Lady Bird. Let me know if this ends up not being the case and I will happily edit the post.)
I’ve written five novels, three of which feature high school-age girls navigating life, the inevitability of change, and the tumults of coming of age. The first time I workshopped a few chapters of one of them, my peers’ main feedback was that they didn’t like my protagonist. She was realistic, they said, but also annoying, uncaring, and most of all, “unlikable.” Inevitably, I’d reveal that this character was semi-autobiographical, based on myself in high school, and half my workshop would stare blankly, and at least one person would apologize.
This comment didn’t really bother me, all things considered. I didn’t need the apology. I know that in high school, especially, I could come off as possessing any of these three characteristics. This criticism wasn’t reflective of me now, but more likely the way I wrote her. However, as I’ve recently learned, a big reason for not being able to write unlikable yet relatable characters to the standard I wanted was that I’m not Greta Gerwig, the writer-director of Lady Bird.
In trying to cram all the good things I’d like to say about this film into a spoiler-free paragraph that will provide context for what I’m about to discuss, here’s what I’ve got: It’s incredibly well-written, but not forced. There’s no “how do you do, fellow kids?” about it; the teenagers sound like teenagers. It’s fast-paced, but each scene feels entirely fleshed out and also necessary, even the ones that are only a few seconds long. The characters and settings and storylines alike are given the right amount of attention for the story that’s being told.
My main impression, though, was something I was instantly convinced of while watching for the first time, that I ever-so-eloquently put into words upon exiting the theater: Gosh, this is so real.
And the basic “real”-ness of Lady Bird is no coincidence. Reading about Gerwig, I learned about the similarities she shares with the titular character: they both grew up in Sacramento with a nurse for a mother, they both went to all-girls Catholic high schools, they both attended college in New York City. And then I read this quote of hers in a Rolling Stone article about the film:
“Writing this character was an exploration of all these things I didn’t have access to or I couldn’t be. In that way, it almost felt like this fairy-tale invention of a deeply flawed heroine, but one who I admire. I think she shows courage and a lot of character even when she’s flailing.”
Reading this is when it clicked: Lady Bird is the young-adult novel—and more importantly, the protagonist—that I’ve always wanted to write.
I don’t exactly have escapism fantasies of returning to my senior year of high school. But in all of my novel-length works that feature teenagers, I’ve based characters, places, and even conversations on my own experiences. For example, as a 17-year-old, I didn’t think that I could get into a college in New York City, so I sent a character to a small liberal arts college in Vermont that mirrors where I first ended up, Gonzaga University. If I write a best friend character, she’s almost certainly based on one or two of my actual closest friends from that time—that way, I can draw upon our most naïve conversations, our most trivial arguments, and our overall friendship dynamic (how often did we see each other? were we huggers? did we mostly hang out right after school or plan activities for the weekend? and so on).
And it’s not that I can’t write “original” characters or scenarios. In fact, seemingly like Gerwig, I use my own experiences to set the tone for my stories, whether it’s a small town like the one I grew up in or a “borrowed” character or two, before introducing new ideas. To me, this kind of freedom isn’t restricted by the limitations of place or people I’ve set, but is in fact made wider by my extensive knowledge of the universe I’ve established. Being able to draw from my own life in order to tweak a scene or a line of dialogue and make it more authentic is a fantastic privilege.
I can’t describe well enough how empowered I felt after each time I saw Lady Bird. Here’s a writer-director who’s come up with a character, and a mother-daughter duo, who cycle between BFF-style bonding and familial bickering in the way that only mothers and daughters can, but who, more than that, are allowed to be as “unlikable” as they want. My favorite part is that what Gerwig has accomplished with Lady Bird and her mother has spurred reactions online ranging from enthusiastic relatability to abject annoyance. Which, not to compare the execution but rather the basic content, is pretty much how my own foray into the young adult genre has gone. My main shortcoming, though, is not letting my characters know well enough that they can be wholly unapologetic about their real-life qualities. Just because it’s fiction doesn’t mean it has to be fake.
Finally, I’d like to talk about the reason I’ve seen Lady Bird five times in the theater (as evidenced by the above photo). And best way (or at least, the way I’ve chosen) to do this is to list my general thoughts going into each viewing:
- 1: My sister said I’d like this. I’m a big fan of Saoirse Ronan. It got good reviews. Why not?
- 2: I know someone who MUST see this movie, and I enjoyed it so I won’t mind seeing it a second time.
- 3: I’ve decided I want to write something about this lovely, lovely movie. But what? (Here’s where I realize that it’s very much like a young adult novel.)
- 4: No, seriously, what? (Worth mentioning: this is the first viewing where I cried almost all the way through. I knew all the jokes and the emotional moments and what happened and whose performances would affect me, and it all hit me at once.)
- 5: Here’s what I want to write about. Here’s how I want to view the film this time around; what I want to get out of it. And look, it’s only $6.
A fifth viewing may have solidified the topic I’ve chosen for this particular writing, but it still only scratches the surface of my attempt to learn more about and begin to emulate everything I love about this film, this script. I want to nail Lady Bird’s voice in my own characters. I want to learn to balance the unlikability of teenage characters with their (nostalgic) relatability. I want to balance how high schoolers present themselves with how they think, how the things that they never tell anyone influence how they see the world. I want to be able to write a mother-daughter relationship that takes the inherent volatility, love, and “like” and makes it feel effortlessly real.
It’s always been somewhat therapeutic for me to almost “rewrite” my teenage years through my characters, whether it’s working out a part of my personality that I was never able to figure out then by finally putting it into words, or so pettily finally getting to say what I wanted to say in a ten-year-old argument with a friend that hasn’t left my memories. But now, thanks to Lady Bird, I have a new wish for my future as a writer: I hope that I can develop the confidence and the skill to have my own characters reach out to others in the way that Lady Bird‘s have to me. As long as they’re well-written, then the more unlikable, the better.
All Lady Bird screencaps come from the trailer, which can be found here.
One of my favorite longform pieces I’ve ever read is about Madison Holleran, a young woman who died by suicide about halfway through her freshman year of college. It discusses how her Instagram feed served as a façade for her true feelings and experiences, so those who viewed it could see the type of life she wanted them to see. After reading it again more recently in light of the book about her that was recently published by the same author of the article, Kate Fagan, I ventured to her Instagram account. It likely has quite a few more followers than it did before she died: more than 14,000. As a result, many of the likes and comments below each photo are from people who didn’t know Madison, though her story had touched them, like it had for me, to the point that they felt they needed their voices to be heard.
That day, I clicked on one photo, a striking yet heavily-filtered sunset. After the caption, she had posted the hashtags #finals and #someonesaveme. As if on cue, the barrage of over-thinking, over-analyzing, began:
“The hashtags in this picture speak volumes.”
“Like that last hashtag. It wasn’t about finals.”
“God I wish I could’ve saved you and I never even met you.”
“You could have been saved!”
But what are these well-meaning people envisioning exactly? That they would take every (probably) haphazardly-posted hashtag so seriously that they might stage an intervention each time the common and often colloquial “someone save me!” appeared during finals week? That this young woman’s friends weren’t the type of friends she needed to help her fight her mental illness? That if these complete strangers been friends with her, she would still be alive today?
• • •
For me, going to Gonzaga University meant proving to myself that I could thrive not just outside my hometown, but far away from the state in which I’d grown up. Almost by default, all the friends I’d make would probably not be from California, but from states in the Pacific Northwest. And for the first few weeks, that’s how it was: my roommate was from Washington, a few other people I met were from the Seattle area, and even the Californians I came into contact with were either from southern California or way northern California – far enough from my hometown that in almost any other part of the country, they would have been from other states. We friended each other on Facebook, tagged each other in photos, and for a while, the illusion I’d wanted so badly, that I could leave my hometown and thrive, was intact.
When my depression that had been festering in some form since the beginning of high school got a lot worse very quickly, it wasn’t like I could let anyone back home know. Admitting that maybe Gonzaga wasn’t the right fit for me, that the friends I’d made those first few weeks of classes had found new friends, that I was more excited than ever for Thanksgiving break or winter break because those vacations came with a trip home, not only meant to me that I wasn’t happy, but that I might even be homesick. And admitting that I was homesick felt like a betrayal to the person I envisioned myself becoming in college: the person that was sad to leave campus because it meant leaving friends behind, who couldn’t want to get back to see those friends, and so on.
So even though inside I knew that being at Gonzaga meant fueling my depression – which wasn’t necessarily related to being homesick, but just being there – I kept up the charade on social media. I posted Facebook status after Facebook status about how excited I was for the next basketball game, how annoying the snow was, how prestigious the theaters downtown that I performed concerts in were. Every time a friend from home posted about their California college, the comment I posted would involve something about Washington, reminding them that I had left the state for no reason other than to justify my decision, to trick myself into believing I was happy.
Of course, I was drowning. But looking at my social feeds, aside from the occasional ambiguous sad song lyrics, even my closest friends from home (or the few friends at school) wouldn’t have guessed how bad my depression had become.
At the end of the fall semester of my sophomore year, after a lengthy hospital stay a few months before had essentially forced me to open up to people on both sides of my life – home and college – I was the most candid I had ever been online in a Facebook note I wrote titled “Ten Things I Learned in 2009”:
Never go to the emergency room on a Sunday night. Ever. Even if you have to. Wait until Monday morning or call an ambulance instead, so you’ll at least bypass the waiting room.
Reach out to someone who can help, even if it’s your professor. Even if they’re not technically allowed to handle the issue themselves, they’ll do everything they can and make sure that they hand you off to someone with whom you feel equally comfortable. Then after your issue is resolved, you can go back to your professor and become best friends and they will buy you coffee.
But while the hospital stay had taught me a lot about my mental illnesses and how to better address them, I wasn’t cured – and I will never be, as the clinical term for “depression that’s a little better now,” just like for cancer, is “remission” – but I still wanted everyone to think I was. Because even though many people had heard by then that things weren’t going well, all they’d have to do is read these items on this list and be content with the fact that things were, at least, better than they were.
In reality, for every #someonesaveme, there’s an #everythingisgoinggreat, and as much as we truly care about the people in our lives, by design, one of those expressions tends to outweigh the other in life, and one tends to outweigh the other after death.
• • •
It feels like after someone dies by suicide, everyone who knew them – and if their story extends outside of their immediate circles, everyone who wished they knew them – begins philosophizing about what could have been. If their friends had done this differently, then this would have happened instead. If they’d known the person better, had reached out to them at the right time, they might have been able to stop them. Much of this is a natural part of the grieving process and the guilt that comes with it. But for those who simply want to insert themselves into a stranger’s experiences, it can quickly become a circlejerk of living, often able-bodied people proselytizing that they knew what was best for this person they didn’t know. It can quickly turn into a whole new list of grievances for the ones who did know the person, further compounding their guilt: if so many strangers see their dead friend as “saveable” now, how could those close to them not have seen the signs before it was too late?
The further removed you are from a person who’s died by suicide, like the strangers posting comments on Madison’s Instagram, the easier it is to wildly speculate. It is easier to assign meaning to someone’s life, to the hashtags they post with a seemingly benign photo, if the person is no longer here. It’s a morbid game played only by those who see it as such – a true-crime mystery to unravel. It’s House trying to figure out who killed Kutner, when all the signs of a suicide are right there, so simple and therefore so easily ignored.
You can be intimately familiar with the signs of suicide, from personal experience or research or both, and still not foresee this outcome. You can pore through a friend’s social media history, wondering where something shifted, if something shifted, if something could have been done, if there’s something you should have noticed. If there was a singular way to define mental illness, then perhaps fewer people would see suicide as an option, but there isn’t. Because of this, so often in the wake of a death by suicide, there’s only an endless supply of questions left that can never be answered. But equally often, the most authentic realization one can have is when to stop asking these questions and mourn in peace.