goodbye is a bitch

As I write this post, I am sitting on my parents’ screened-in porch, listening to the sounds of the neighborhood, covered in a thin but ever-present layer of dog hair, drinking a Diet Pepsi (sorry Mary, I have no idea why there is no Coke in this house, please don’t be ashamed of me), and batting away the occasional advances of two loving and eager dogs whose attention-seeking behavior is clearly a ploy to steal my prime spot on the loveseat where I’ve been sprawled all afternoon.

It feels good to be home. Really, it does. And I know it will be hard to leave again when I load up my car this fall to drive all the way out west, but getting back here was hard. Over the course of one week, I watched my students graduate and move out, then gradually said goodbye to each of my friends and coworkers as they headed home — some for just the summer, some for only a few weeks, but all of whom I had no idea when I would see again. After the residence hall had emptied out, I began the daunting and stressful task of cleaning out and packing up my apartment — a collection of furniture, clothes, and knick knacks that have made two adjoining dorm rooms feel like home for the past three years. All I could take with me were the things that would fit in my sedan, so a giant purge was in order. However, in case you hadn’t noticed by now, I’m a pretty sentimental person. Getting rid of things was an ordeal. I didn’t want to part with the six dollar end table I’d picked up from the thrift store or the throw pillows I’d sewn that matched my bedding. I wasn’t ready to sort through my nail polish collection and decide between two shades of lavender, or throw out the half empty bottle of perfume I never use, or reduce the size of my mason jar collection to just a couple. As I sorted through donations, trash, and things to keep, I watched my life collect into piles. Stuff. Things. Objects. Things that could be considered meaningless but meant something to me.

As much as I wish I could be the kind of person who can throw her life into a few suitcases and boxes and be ready to move across the country, I’m not. I like to be at home, wherever I am. I like decorations — little random jars filled with things, pictures on the walls, fuzzy blankets draped across the couch, shelves filled with books and movies and frames. I like comfort and coziness, and I’d built that for myself at my home in Michigan. It felt safe. As I looked ahead at the next chapter — moving to a new city, a new region, going back to school, taking a bunch of new risks — I wanted all of that safety to come with me. I wanted to pick up my living room, with the shelf on the wall filled with books and records, the squishy couch where my kids curled up and told me their secrets, and the old tube TV that I bought before my freshman year of college, and bring it with me to Spokane. I didn’t want to sort through it, I just wanted it all to come with me. I wanted to walk into my new apartment, turn on my same twinkly lights, and see all of my things there, greeting me like old friends.

In the end, I emptied my two rooms into my tiny car. It wasn’t easy. I got rid of things I didn’t want to, but I kept all the basics, the things that were irreplaceable (and plenty of things that are, but I’m stubborn). I had no less than three major meltdowns. One such meltdown occurred two days before I was scheduled to drive back to Minnesota, as I sat surveying the refugee-like state I was living in, half-packed boxes and trash bags surrounding me, and sent a panicked text to my friend Mary, who promptly responded with “Where are you? I’m coming.” (She showed up no less than five minutes later with a bar of chocolate. I don’t know what I’m going to do without her next year.) And it was among those boxes and bags, as I cried to Mary about everything left to do the next day and my fears about leaving and how my mom hadn’t been home when I’d called her earlier, that I realized it wasn’t just my stuff I was attached to. It was everything. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to my friends who were still here, to say goodbye to this place. I had spent so much of my last days there tearing through my belongings, throwing things in trash bags and deciding what was worth the space, and not enough time making my peace with leaving.

That final night, with my car loaded up, my walls bare, and only some blankets and a massive bag of laundry left in my bedroom, I cried a lot. I said goodbye to some of the most important people in my life and sobbed. I brushed my teeth while crying. I tried to calculate if there would still be room in my car for my laundry and I cried about that. I hugged my teddy bear which I had purposely left unpacked and cried some more. But I let myself cry because, fuck, the whole thing sucked, and I wasn’t about to pretend that it didn’t.

I drove the whole twelve hours back to Minnesota in one shot, the first time I’ve ever done that alone without splitting it over two days. I filled up my gas tank and shelled out the $4.25 for an iced mocha because that’s what you do when you’re about to drive all damn day and you’re on the constant verge of tears. And even though I had been dreading the drive and I cried a lot during the first few hours, I survived it. I sang through countless Broadway soundtracks, I made up a bunch of weird harmonies to old John Mayer songs, I cursed my car for its lack of air conditioning and cruise control, I got stuck in countless construction zones, I refused to stop for fast food and instead subsisted on snacks, and, with four hours left, I crammed the raggedy blanket I’ve had since infancy under my ass to try and elevate my partially-numb right leg and keep going. But when I got home, my mom had bought four different flavors of Ben & Jerry’s to welcome me. My dogs jumped up and down. My dad told me we didn’t have to unload the car until tomorrow. I collapsed into the comfort and familiarity of a place that wasn’t my usual home and I knew it would do for the summer.

So now I’m here, with another chapter of my life behind me (and most of it still in boxes, because I hate unpacking). And I still feel a little bit like there’s a Michigan-shaped hole in my heart, and I know it’s going to feel that way for awhile. Until I move to my new apartment and I fill it with new old thrift store tables and mason jars and twinkly lights. Until I find the new people who will play Cards Against Humanity with me on a Monday night or sit at the coffee shop for hours on end. Until I have time to let my feet sink into the new soil around them and my eyes adjust to the streets and buildings so that they become just another familiar sight. Until it feels like my home.

I have unending thanks for the things I gained in magical northern Michigan over three years and four summers. I don’t think I would be sitting here, writing this post, dreaming about the future if I hadn’t taken a chance and gone there in the first place. So even though goodbye is one of the hardest words I’ve had to say in that place, I’m thankful that I got the chance to say it at all.

my last Lake Michigan sunset. for now, at least.

my last Lake Michigan sunset. for now, at least.

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on being alone

Sometimes, weekends are hard.

On certain weekends, I love being alone. I wake up in the morning and stretch my limbs across my bed, feeling the coolness of the sheets beneath my skin and reveling in the quiet of being the only person in the room. I make a plan for the day that is only mine. Maybe I’ll go for a run, maybe I’ll sit at the coffee shop after lunch, maybe I’ll read my book for hours without worrying about anything else. Maybe I’ll straighten my hair or maybe I’ll let it go wild and wavy. Maybe I’ll wear yoga pants all day or maybe I’ll put on a push-up bra and that pair of jeans that makes my butt look good. Maybe I’ll meet up with my friends or maybe I’ll just lie in bed, lazy and dreaming and doing nothing at all until the sun peeking through my curtains finally tempts me up and out. It doesn’t matter, because I am the only one I’m responsible for. And it feels so damn good to be alone, to make my own decisions, to not worry about relationships and the future and forever. To just be me.

But on other weekends, it hurts. It hurts to be alone, to wake up after a restless night of sleep and not know what’s in store for the day. To lack structure, to wish someone would call and tell me where to be when and for how long. To stare at my to-do list and not know where to start. To read a chapter in my favorite book and be so distracted by the utter silence surrounding me that I can’t even swallow the words on the page. To pick out an outfit but not know who I’m wearing it for. To cry and not know why, and then cry some more because I don’t know why I’m crying. To wish there was someone to grab coffee with, even for a quick 20 minutes. To wish there was a someone at all.

I’ve prided myself for so long on being “okay” with living a single life. I’ve made my own decisions, I’ve changed my mind, I’ve made a path for myself that is all me — I take comfort in knowing all of that. And in the midst of those things, I’ve loved, I’ve made mistakes, I’ve found friends, I’ve gotten hurt, I’ve kissed boys I shouldn’t have kissed. I’ve had experiences and I’ve learned from them, which is no small thing. I don’t know if I would be picking up and moving across the country to go back to school if I had someone else to worry about. I don’t know if I would have worked for three amazing years at a place that has totally and completely altered the way I see my life and the path that I’m on. I don’t know where my life would be, but even while I try not to focus on the What Ifs of life, it’s hard not to. What if I had met the man of my dreams in college? What if I had gotten married at 22? What if I wasn’t alone?

Relationships are complicated and messy and they make you see your life through a lens other than your own. For so long I tried to convince myself that one lens is all I need right now. But I finally believe that’s true for me — at least, most days. Other days, while the rain softly drips outside my window and I sit on my couch, wrapped in a blanket and surrounded by the scent of coffee and nail polish, I wish there was someone there to pick out a movie on Netflix with me and make fun of my dorky boxer shorts.

But I can take solace in the fact that not every weekend feels this way. And I’m proud that I’ve learned how to be my own person, that I’m not afraid to make choices for my own life. I’m not the girl sitting around, waiting for my somebody to show up. Sure, I have my moments where I feel totally and completely desperate and wish more than anything that I had a partner next to me, and I don’t think that’s wrong. When I feel like a pathetic single mess, I will own that and embrace it and allow myself to feel that way. I will allow myself to feel sad and alone on that rainy Saturday, because in the long run, I’m doing something. I’m going somewhere. I’m not letting the idea of love keep me from accomplishing the things I want in life, because you have to be your own person before you can be someone else’s.

And I know that a relationship, that love itself, won’t solve my occasional feelings of loneliness. It’s not the solution. It’s hard and it’s work and it hurts sometimes. But that’s the funny thing: being in love hurts and not being in love hurts. The presence and absence of love is an all around pain in our asses as humans, but it’s obviously important enough to us that we overlook how obnoxious it is. And I mean, I’m not one of those cynical girls who believes that “love is dead” or we’ve killed the idea of it by twisting it into something that it’s not, because what good is that belief going to do anybody? (Also, it’s a cliché.) No, I believe in love, and I’ve seen proof of its existence every day. So while I haven’t found it yet (and I have a relatively convoluted view of it that was born from viewing too many romantic comedies at a very impressionable age), I have hope that I will. But I’m not going to make it my life’s mission to find it right now, because I can’t find love until I’ve truly found myself. And at least I’m on my way to that.

portrait of a rainy day in a single girl's apartment

portrait of a rainy day in a single girl’s apartment

going

I’m not a risk-taker.

A year ago, I bought a GRE study book and began brushing up on my high school algebra for a test that, during undergrad, I had never even envisioned myself taking. I crafted a spreadsheet comparing the various costs, application requirements, and deadlines for nine different graduate schools. For ten months, I made checklists. I ordered transcripts. I filled out countless online forms with my personal information. I wrote. I deleted. I revised. I cried.

I waited.

And now, as I sit here eating microwave popcorn directly from the bag and listening to Nick Drake on vinyl, I’m done. It’s all over and I survived. I made it to the portion of the process that I didn’t ever really think about.

I spent so much time editing my writing sample, talking to current MFA students, contacting my references, and painstakingly finishing each application. It was so easy to think about each school, each choice, in theory. Yeah, I could live in Chicago or New York City. Sure, I’d move across the country to go back to school. No problem. It didn’t seem real. It didn’t seem tangible. When I thought about the future, the concept of place was this big blank space in my life. I pictured myself at work in a generic, nameless library. I pictured school, being a student again, but not a specific city. Even though I wanted so badly to get accepted, for someone to read my voice and pick me, I hadn’t thought past the arrival of the acceptance and rejection letters. I hadn’t thought about picking my life up and going somewhere completely new to study something that is, in most people’s minds, impractical. I hadn’t considered learning to navigate a new city, buying furniture, finding my new favorite coffee shop.

And now that’s where I’m at.

So I’m going. I’m moving to Spokane, Washington this fall to attend Eastern Washington University with a teaching assistantship. I’m going to be a writer and a teacher and a student. And I’m proud. Nobody forced me to do this but me. I made it happen. But beneath all of the relief and excitement, there is just as much stress and anxiety as there was while I hurdled through the application process. I might get there and be the worst writer in the class. I might not make any friends until January. I might get lost trying to find the grocery store. I might hate my life.

It’s finally starting to hit me that this place, this haven I’ve called home for the past three years and several summers before that, won’t be mine anymore. I won’t have trips to the beach in the dead heat of late August, or infuriating April snowstorms. I won’t lie awake in my bedroom on Sunday mornings, watching the light filter in and out of my curtains that aren’t quite dark enough and listening to teenagers whistle outside my window on their way to brunch. I won’t recount the hazy events of the night before with my friends, slumped in a booth in my favorite coffee shop. I won’t spend my evenings listening to eighteen year-olds pour their lovelorn hearts out while they sit on my couch and eat leftover donuts. It’s scary to think that something I’ve known so well, my life for three unbelievably formative years, will be gone. It’s even scarier yet to think that someone else — someone I may not even know — will be living it, taking naps on the couch I painstakingly selected for my living room and taking pictures of the snow-covered campus from my bedroom window right before Christmastime.

But I realize that leaving is just as much about saying hello to my new life as it is about saying goodbye to my old one. I can’t stay here forever, and if I’m going to leave . . . well, this is the best reason for me to do that.

I’m trying to be realistic. I know that I’m committing to at least five to seven emotional breakdowns over the next six months. I know that in the beginning I’m going to want to hide in my apartment and call my mom crying. I know that my workload will be stressful and I’ll say to myself “you chose this” while I pull an all-nighter highlighting passages in yet another collection of essays.  But I also know that I will settle in eventually. I will find friends to sit with while we stare at our respective computer screens in our favorite coffee shop. I will bake gluten-free muffins to take to my writer’s workshop. I will come to love my new home. It just might take a little while to get there.

I’m taking a risk, and I don’t normally do that. So . . . at the very least it will give me something to write about. Right?Green Lake

zits, emoji, and toaster strudels: reasons my brain is too young for my body

I recently took a test online that was supposed to tell me my mental age. One of my coworkers sent it to our staff, and we were having the time of our lives comparing our results (it’s winter in northern Michigan, what else is there for us to do?). Seeing as I’m turning 25 in a month and I regularly oscillate between having the energy and maturity level of my 17 year-old students and wanting to call it an “early night” whenever I go out with my friends, I was quite intrigued to get the results of this quiz.

Personality tests are one of my biggest guilty pleasures. I love them in all forms: the extremely accurate and enlightening Myers-Briggs, the slightly simpler True Colors, the Love Language survey, the Gallup StrengthsQuest I was recently assigned to take for work, all of them. I devour any test that will give me a self-definition, because lord knows defining myself without an equation-based set of probing questions is just too difficult for me at this stage in my life. Throw in a pop culture phenomenon that I’m obsessed with, and I’ll lose my shit even more. Which Lord of the Rings race do I belong in? What would be my Hunger Games combat style? What’s my Hogwarts house? I NEED TO KNOW ALL OF THIS IN ORDER TO KNOW MYSELF.

It turns out my mental age is 20. Twenty. Two-zero. As in, nearly five years younger than I actually am, and only two years older than most of the kids who live in my building. My brain was apparently held back in school several times while the rest of my body continued to age. My brain would probably attend a midnight showing of any of the movies in the Twilight saga. My brain would willingly engage in a friends-with-benefits relationship because it doesn’t know any better. My brain still thinks UV Blue vodka mixed with lemonade is an appropriate drink of choice. Actually, my brain isn’t even old enough to legally drink alcohol!

Of course, I take the results of most tests like this one with a grain of salt. (Some of the questions were pretty weird anyway.) It’s not like I was expecting my mental age to be 35, because I don’t feel 35. Hell, sometimes I barely feel like a college graduate, because I live in a dorm and eat all my meals in a cafeteria. So you know what, I guess 20 is pretty accurate. I’m still young, I’m still figuring out what I want to do with my life. When I actually was 20, a sophomore in college, I thought I had figured out what I wanted to do. I had the bare bones of a plan for the rest of my life and career. But now, five years later, I’m back to the drawing board and wishing and dreaming and hoping I can make it in the world doing something I love. That sounds pretty 20ish to me, so I’ll take it.

But just for good measure, I compiled a list of additional things that may be contributing to my barely-a-twentysomething mental age. Maybe this will help me redirect the anger I feel for all the people throughout my past three years as a school employee who have asked me what grade I’m in.

1. My frequent use of emoji. I also use exclamation points a lot. If you’ve ever had a text conversation with me, you’ll understand. If you haven’t . . . well, I just like to make my enthusiasm known, okay? It is extremely hard to convey tone in a text message, so I try to make it very clear. My personal favorites are the kissy-face and hearts-for-eyes emoji. On the flip side, I also use the poop emoji, though its negative connotation is somewhat convoluted since the poop appears to be smiling. I don’t know why that poop emoji is the only one to choose from, I can’t imagine I’m the only person who would like to have a full range of emotions available within my poop emoji, but whatever.

2. My affinity for young adult fiction. I’ll take a John Green novel over Jane Austen any day. Sorry I’m not sorry.

3. My addiction to Toaster Strudels. I used to eat these any time I stayed at my grandma’s house as a kid because my parents wouldn’t buy them. It wasn’t until I reached adulthood that I rediscovered their flaky, toasted, fruit-filled, icing-drenched goodness. I was also reminded that it is damn near impossible to cook them perfectly without some kind of fancy ass toaster. You just end up with dark, burnt pastry outside and still-partially-frozen (lukewarm if you’re lucky) fruit filling inside. But I eat them anyway, burnt pastry flakes and all, because the little icing that comes in the plastic packet is so damn fun to squeeze out.

4. My tendency to use abbreviations in spoken conversation. Actually, they are “abbrevs,” and it took all of my strength to type out the full word in the previous sentence. Also, I am fully aware of the irony that I am an aspiring writer perpetuating a trend that it is slowly destroying the English language as we know it, so you don’t have to point it out every time I use the word “totes.”

5. My complexion. As a young, starry-eyed teenager, I took my blemish-free, porcelain skin for granted, and now that has come back around to bite me in the ass. I thought I had survived the zit-mageddon stage of my life and emerged unscathed, but it was apparently just delayed. Well, kudos skin, for trying to spread out the sources of my emotional turmoil between different decades of my life, but I don’t think you realize that I’m still as lost and confused now as I was at 16, just for different reasons. So, in short, your little acne-explosion is still ill-timed and unappreciated. Thanks for nothing.

6. My Netflix recommendations. My to-watch list contains an impressive lineup of indie dramas, dark comedies, and cutting edge TV shows. My recommendations tell the real truth, with categories like “because you watched Pretty Little Liars” or “reality TV shows.” I’m sorry I don’t live up to my film critic facade, Netflix, but calling me out like this is kind of passive-aggressive, don’t you think?

7. My Suave Kids green-apple-scented detangler. I realize this list is getting downright embarrassing, but what do you want from me? I don’t care if the bottle has a picture of a cartoon octopus on it, it costs less than three dollars at the drug store, and I’m too lazy to get my hair cut more than twice a year. This stuff helps me comb out the rat’s nest on my head each morning. It’s crucial. And it smells like a Jolly Rancher. What’s not to love?

8. My complete and utter incompetence when it comes to relationships. I’m not sure this one will ever change, even if my brain ages 15 years overnight.

9. My love of glittery nail polish. My nail polish collection is embarrassingly large and includes many shades usually not worn by anyone over the age of fourteen. One time, I painted my fingernails a pretty shade of sparkly bright blue, and the next day I saw a middle schooler at the mall wearing the exact same shade.

10. My teddy bear. Yes, I still have my teddy bear. His name is Norman. I got him as a newborn, and I have no wise-cracks to make about him because he is the best.

lessons in adulthood from a 1999 Chevy (and my dad)

Some people have an emotional attachment to the first car they drive. Some people have memories of being sixteen, driving around in the sticky July heat, singing along to Cat Stevens with their best friends at midnight, or making out with their first love in the backseat while parked in the driveway of their parents’ house, or buying that first car freshener that is supposed to make the interior smell like “Hawaiian breeze” but really just makes such a small, enclosed space wreak of old lady perfume. Some people look fondly at the small dent in the door and remember the time their best friend crashed a bike into the side of the car during spring break.

I am not one of those people.

For the past three years, I have driven a 1999 Chevrolet Lumina, and for the past three years, I have loathed that car with my entire being. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to have a car that my generous parents graciously allowed me to haul all the way to Michigan, because living at boarding school in the woods without a mode of personal transportation would have made me certifiably insane. I don’t know what I would do without my little old Chevy. I just don’t have any warm fuzzy memories about this car in particular.

My car is named Oscar, a name that my sister gave it as soon as she got her driver’s license and inherited it. In addition to me, Oscar has been driven by both of my sisters, my uncle, and my grandfather, who originally owned it. I feel the need to explain this to anyone who rides in Oscar, based on several factors:

  1. It is extremely obvious that this car used to be owned by a senior citizen. The color is what I like to refer to as “tumbleweed,” a muted tan-brown color that only a senior citizen would select when purchasing a vehicle. You know the color. Tumbleweed is the safe choice, because black and white show dirt too easily, and red and blue are just too flashy. You don’t want people to get the wrong idea when you’re driving to church or the pharmacy.
  2. This car was made when car phones were still relevant. I know this because there are two forms of car phone devices inside Oscar. One is a plastic receiver that looks like a toy phone sprouting out of the floor between the driver’s and passenger’s seats. It doesn’t stay mounted to anything in particular, so it just gets kicked around because the curly cord that attaches it to the floor is ridiculously long. The other is an arm-shaped mount and/or charger from 1999 – when cell phones were still the size of a ketchup bottle – coming out of the (mostly non-functioning) car stereo. It doesn’t fit the floor receiver because that would make too much sense, but instead just interferes with most of the stereo buttons on the right side and makes it impossible to see the clock from the passenger seat. However, it does function as an excellent hanger for trash bags and other miscellaneous items.
  3. There are two bumper stickers on the back, neither of which I selected myself. One reads “world peace” and the other “I (heart) sushi.” While the former is obviously something I support, and the latter is an absolutely true statement about my feelings toward raw fish rolled in rice and seaweed, neither of these proclamations are things I would have chosen to state publicly by slapping stickers on the rear end of my vehicle. I don’t even have a problem with the overall concept of bumper stickers. In fact, there are many nice stickers I’ve come across that I have considered adorning my car with. But, since my sisters both drove Oscar before I moved to Michigan and took him with me, the world peace and sushi stickers are stuck there for the entire world to see. Sometimes, I imagine someone driving behind me and cursing me when I suddenly slam on the brakes because a rabbit is crossing the road: “GODDAMMIT! What’s your problem, sushi lover?!”
  4. The car still smells like old people, despite the fact that it hasn’t been driven by anyone over the age of 25 in almost ten years.

Oscar is not the kind of car I thought I would be driving at age twenty-four. But he is fully paid for, so while my friends who drive flashier, newer vehicles are emptying their bank accounts every month to pay off their cars and undergrad student loans, I’m able to spend excessive amounts of money on nail polish, clearance-priced sweaters, air fresheners, and shampoo every time I set foot in Target. I’m effectively still a broke-ass twentysomething, but at least it’s not because I drive a car that’s too fancy for me.

While I like to think of myself as an independent woman most of the time, the truth is I have my dad’s number saved in my phone favorites for the exclusive purpose of calling him whenever something goes wrong with my car. Eventually, my dad purchased Triple A for our family, and I am convinced it is because of the number of times I have called him from Michigan because my car won’t start. I still call him out of desperation every time, though, and he still replies every time, “Sorry. Call Triple A and have them jump it for you.”

On one recent night, as I made a treacherous winter drive into the closest town to where I live, my turn signals mysteriously stopped working. Instead of shrugging it off and figuring I would deal with it once I got to my destination, I veered off the road and into the first gas station parking lot I could find. I pulled my fingers out of my mittens, still frozen from scraping the daily layer of snow and ice off of Oscar, and frantically dialed my father.

“Dad!” I exclaimed when he, surprisingly, answered the phone. My dad hates talking on the phone more than anything. He is notorious for not answering, and when he does, our conversations usually last no longer than two minutes before he asks if I want to talk to my mom.

“Hi, Maddie,” he said, his voice echoing suspiciously.

“Am I on speakerphone?” I asked.

“Yeah. I’m, uh, I’m playing MarioKart,” he replied.

My family owned no gaming systems until I was ten years old. Then my parents gave me and my sister a PlayStation for Christmas. My dad, who picked out a few games for us to start out with, ended up playing a game called “Spyro the Dragon” all night on New Years Eve, and it became clear that the gift was more for him than us. Years later, when the Nintendo Wii was released, my mom gave him one for his birthday, along with the newest version of MarioKart, which was really exciting because you could use the controllers as actual wheels. Five years later, my dad still plays MarioKart for at least a half hour a day (usually during his lunch hour – he comes home, makes a sandwich, and plays a few races before heading back to the office), despite the fact that he has beat literally everything you can beat within the game. Instead, he races online against other players who, for some reason, are also home in the middle of the day. I suspect that my father’s main opponents are college students and competitive stay-at-home moms whose children are napping.

All things aside, MarioKart is some kind of release for my dad, and I guess that’s not a bad thing, really. He doesn’t have many other hobbies, unless you count watching The History Channel, reading political blogs, and making specialty drinks with his expensive, state-of-the-art espresso machine.* Plus, his MarioKart addiction has led me to acquire mediocre skills in the game because of the number of times I’ve played against him. Skills that I have been able to unveil at several different parties, much to the surprise of most of my male friends, who assume I’m useless at video games** because, well, I spend most of my free time writing, pining after fictional characters, and painting my nails. I’m also not a competitive person by nature, hence my aversion to team sports of any kind, but put a Wii Wheel in my hands and I will cut a bitch.

“Okay, well, I have a question about my car,” I said, choosing to ignore the video game sound effects on the end of the line. “I’m not sure if you can even help me, but I thought I’d try. The turn signals aren’t working. Like, even when I try to use them, they don’t blink on the dash at all.”

Victorious music erupted from the game before my dad said, “Hmmm, yeah, it’s probably either a fuse or a switch.”

“What does that mean?”

“Well, you will need to replace the fuse if that’s what it is.”

“I don’t know how to do that.”

“Well, you might have to wait until morning and go to an auto shop, then.”

“Dad, I’m on my way to town! I promised John I would go to his gig!” I had reverted back to my teenager-y speaking tone. But in my defense, I was on my way to town to see my friend John play drums in a local band, and I was already running twenty minutes late.

“Just drive carefully and brake slowly anytime you’re going to turn,” my dad said. He sounded only mildly exasperated with my helplessness. “You can always use hand signals, too.”

“WHAT?!”

“Hand signals. You know how to do that, right?”

“Well . . . yeah. But I’m not doing that, Dad.”

“Why not? It’s a perfectly legal option.”

“Nope, not happening. Um, how hard would it be to change the fuse myself?”

So my father, nearly 700 miles away, talked me through finding the fuse panel (on the dash, next to the passenger side door), reading the key in the manual (page 6-56), and where to buy extra fuses at 9:30 p.m. on a Wednesday night (a superstore that is open 24 hours a day). And in the parking lot of Meijer, wearing skinny jeans and boots that were made for fashion, not function, I knelt down in the slushy parking lot and singlehandedly located and changed the appropriate fuse in an attempt to get my turn signals working.

The fuse in question did not fix the turn signals and I ended up having to take my car in to the mechanic the following week, but the entire experience of hunting for the fuse panel, buying the right kind of replacement fuse, and managing to yank the old one out like a decaying tooth in a dark parking lot at 10:00 p.m. made me feel undeniably like a grown up, independent woman. Despite the fact that I had to get step-by-step instructions from my dad from two states away, I had managed to troubleshoot a problem on a car that I usually held nothing but lukewarm feelings for.*** Driving home from town that night, I started to think that, after three years of having a full-time job and living far away from my family, I was finally starting to become an adult. I was able to do my taxes without my dad’s help (thank you, TurboTax!), I knew how to get basically anywhere in town without using my GPS, and I had finally learned how to cook eggs beyond scrambling them. I could make it on my own . . . as long as I had my dad on speed dial.

Tune in next time, when I use my newfound empowerment to change a tire**** and shop for household appliances.

* I’m not joking when I say this is the most complex piece of equipment in my parents’ kitchen. When I was home a few months ago, my dad was tinkering with it, and when I asked him what he was doing, he replied simply, “Upgrading the software.” Leave it to my father, the computer programmer, to have an espresso machine with software.

** An assumption that is mostly accurate, with the exception of MarioKart and any rhythm-based dance or music game. Go ahead, challenge me to Guitar Hero. I dare you.

*** But a few days later, when the cigarette lighter that I plug my iPod transmitter into (the only feasible way to play my own choice of music, because the CD player in Oscar’s stereo skips madly every time I make a left turn) crapped out on me, I was able to fix it by locating and replacing the fuse . . . no phone call to my father necessary!

**** HAHAHA.

how to be a writer in 15 steps

I don’t really like to call myself a writer, because it still sounds kind of boastful to me for some reason. I haven’t yet tried to make a career out of the fruits of my labors, and I don’t know that much about what it takes to “make it” as a writer, so I have a hard time seeing myself as worthy of an actual title. But, as someone who finds solace in the power of the written word and uses it as her primary creative outlet, I’m learning to embrace the term. The creative process, however? I have yet to really embrace that as a writer. Ironically though, I had no trouble enumerating my personal writing process. So here it is, in all its distracted, self-indulgent, Generation Y glory. In order to complete a piece of writing that I actually feel proud of, these are the things I must do:

1. Brainstorm a list of topics I want to write about in a ragged old notebook I found at the bottom of my desk drawer. Even add little checkboxes next to each item, so that I can be organized and check them off the list one by one as I finish writing about them.

2. Make a pretentious playlist on Spotify that I can listen to while I write and simultaneously broadcast to my Facebook friends that I am cool and artsy because I listen to an eclectic mix of Paul Simon, Bon Iver, and Tracy Chapman.

3. Make myself a cup of coffee and drink half of it before deciding that the real inspiration I need is to get a cup of $4 French roast from my favorite coffeeshop that is a 20 minute drive away.

4. Pack up my laptop, ragged old notebook of ideas, and a handful of random gel pens from middle school and get ready to go to the coffeeshop, but in the process decide that what I really need to be productive is a new notebook and writing supplies because what kind of serious writer writes down all her ideas using a sparkly pink pen in a notebook with a Lord of the Rings collage on the front?

5. Spend $117 at Target on a new notebook, some fancy rollerball pens that will break or be lost a week later, three dresses from the clearance section that I was too lazy to try on but have a 60% chance of fitting my boobs correctly, a new pair of heels that I will wear once before I realize the reason I don’t wear heels is because they hurt and I walk like a drunk baby camel in them, some lipstick that Emma Stone told me I should buy, and some trail mix.

6. Get to the coffeeshop, order one beverage that I plan on refilling for several hours, scour the place for the perfect spot to sit, and finally settle in at a little table that is near both an outlet for my laptop charger and the bathroom, which I will visit several times due to the amount of caffeine I will consume while I’m here.

7. Open my word processor and web browser at the same time. Check my email, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr accounts so that I can focus without them distracting me later. Come across a recipe for a cake you can make in a mug, a picture of Ryan Gosling in glasses that I somehow have not seen before, and an adorable video of a hedgehog yawning that I must send to my coworkers. Spend 15 minutes composing a perfectly witty Facebook status. Check in on Foursquare so all my friends will know I’m at this specific coffeeshop, then put my phone on silent because my Justin Timberlake ringtone would definitely get some glares in this hipster-filled café.

8. Write a couple sentences, then get distracted by a guy walking by who looks like the boy I had a crush on during sophomore year of college. Look up said former crush on Facebook, click through all of his recent pictures to find that he shaved off his beard and his hair looks good short, then notice he’s in a relationship. Subsequently Facebook-stalk every boy I have ever loved to discover most of them are engaged. Start thinking about how I will die alone, then hold back my tears and order that chocolate muffin I decided against earlier, but only after checking the time to see if it is too early in the day to order a glass of wine without the barista judging me. (It is.)

9. Check the viewer statistics on my blog and wonder why I haven’t gotten many hits in the past two weeks, then realize I haven’t published any new posts in that time period. Write furiously about nothing at all and get mad at myself because everything I am writing sucks and I am no closer to publishing a new post than I was half an hour ago.

10. Send some awkward selfies to my best friends via Snapchat. Get mad when they don’t respond within five minutes. Glare at the guy sitting two tables away who totally caught me taking selfies.

11. Realize that I have to pee so badly my bladder feels like it’s going to explode. Run to the restroom, then kick myself for wearing a romper because I picked literally the most involved article of clothing when it comes to going to the bathroom. Practically rip off the buttons on my romper in my frantic, rushed effort to pee.

12. Write a little bit more, check Facebook 72 more times, find out about a sale on ModCloth, buy a retro dress that’s on sale for $45 (and some hair clips so that I can get free shipping on my order of $50 or more), and finish my fourth cup of coffee. Finally give up and drive home, with only a couple disjointed paragraphs to show for my trip.

13. Get home and change into sweatpants and an oversized tshirt I got for free a few years ago. Probably take off my bra, too, let’s be real. I’m home, you can’t judge me for that. Then kill time by watching three episodes of a TV show on Netflix and drinking 18 glasses of water to make up for all the caffeine I forced down my throat throughout the day. Pretend to clean my room, while really just moving around all the stuff on my floor into a different arrangement. Have a mini dance party to that Taylor Swift song I pretend to hate but secretly love.

14. Finally get struck by inspiration at 11:24pm, while I’m brushing my teeth, about to go to bed. Rush to my laptop and begin writing with the fervor of a small child chasing a chipmunk in the backyard. Stay up too late, slumped over my computer in bed, writing a blog entry/essay/short story that I’m actually proud of. Press “post” or “print” or “send” on said bit of writing. Sleep soundly, reveling in the power of the creative process and dreaming of eventually becoming a famous writer who has a fancy office (filled with fancy notebooks and pens) in which to get distracted and frustrated while writing . . . but who still escapes to the coffeeshop every now and then.

15. Repeat steps 1-14.

profile of a desperate single woman who lives in the woods with teenagers

I’ve never been a “dater.” I’ve always called myself a hopeless romantic, a lover of love, a believer in the power of relationships, but when it comes to actually going out on dates, meeting people, and just casually browsing this vast world for the person who “completes me” (so-to-speak), the very thought makes me want to hide beneath the huge pile of laundry in the corner of my bedroom.

I would rather sit at home alone on the weekend, watching Friday Night Lights on Netflix and eating Nutella with a spoon, than go out on a date with someone I barely know. As a notorious overthinker, the anxiety that plagues me from the moment the date is planned until its final seconds is something I just don’t want to deal with. There’s too much prep work involved, especially considering the slim chances that this person will actually end up being the person I want to spend the rest of my life with. There’s the research phase, trying to learn as much as possible about this person without knowing so much that you have nothing to talk to them about. Then there’s the panic that follows the research, when you discover the person is either too good for you or potentially not good enough. Then, since I’m a girl who buys into socially constructed gender stereotypes once she has caught the attention of any man ever, I need lots of time to plan out an outfit, decide the outfit makes me look like I’m trying too hard, plan another outfit, try on six more and text pictures to my friends to get their input on whether my cleavage is “tasteful” or not, decide on a makeup scheme that makes me look subtle and somewhat natural, shave my legs, pluck my eyebrows, and starve myself, not because I want to lose weight before my date, but because I have so much anxiety bubbling in my stomach that I physically can’t force anything down my throat. And all of these stressful activities occur before I’ve actually gone on the date. The date is a whole different beast. A constant stream of self-analysis is running through my head, and it’s so distracting that I’m probably not even noticing how cool and nice this guy could actually be. He could open doors for me, compliment my dress, and listen attentively as I blather on and on about my weird job, and I would still be focused on the fact that the shoes I picked are too high or worrying about whether ordering a salad for dinner will make me seem like a shallow, insecure idiot. Dates suck, ok? They just do. I want to skip ahead to when I’m comfortable enough with someone that I can wear jeans and a v-neck, and we’ll go to a pizza place and split the bill. I want the comfort and familiarity of a relationship without going through the hard work of meeting someone and learning all about them. I’m too lazy to date.

Recently, one of my friends suggested that we try online dating this school year. First, I laughed at her because I thought she was kidding. Then, when I realized she was dead serious, I immediately shot the idea down. What could I possibly have to gain from online dating? What men are going to want to date me when my home is in a boarding school residence hall? Why would I put myself through the hell of dating anxiety when I probably won’t be living here a year from now? Even worse, what if I do meet someone I’m legitimately interested in and then I have to move across the country in June? I came up with every excuse in the book to explain why online dating would be a nightmare for me. But my friend simply countered that with, “It doesn’t have to be a big deal, but it could be fun!”

Then I realized I was being a complete asshole about it. Online dating is what people do now. Without taking into consideration my main fear of going on a date with an axe murderer (which is very real because I’ve watched enough Dexter to know that you can’t trust anybody anymore), it seems like a relatively low-risk way to meet somebody new. Sure, I don’t flirt well and I don’t date because it makes me want to throw up. I apparently just sit and wait for my knight in shining armor (or Jim Halpert in a white button-down, rather) to come find me and sweep me off my feet, which I’ve finally realized is completely ridiculous and the opposite of everything my feminist mother taught me as a young girl. I was raised to disapprove of the Disney princesses who sang melancholy songs and waited for a prince to save them. I was told real women find their own way in life and love, and they don’t need men to be their saviors. Well, I guess that’s a concept I need to reacquaint myself with.

Whether I will actually attempt online dating remains to be seen, because I still get that pukey feeling in my stomach whenever I think about going out with someone I’ve never met in person, and I am also really afraid of filling out an online dating profile. How much do you reveal about yourself on those things, anyway? I don’t want to end up being a huge disappointment to a guy who reads my watered down biography online and assumes I’m super cool, but I also don’t want to “undersell” myself like a high school kid with low self-esteem. They should teach you this kind of stuff in school. Five paragraph essays? Those are useless once you have your diploma. How to find the area of a trapezoid? COME ON. I now feel cheated by the public school system because for some reason I remember how to conjugate most Latin verbs but I don’t know how to catch myself a fella on OkCupid. If I were to fill out a profile right this moment, it would probably read something like this:

I am 24 year-old who works in residence life at an arts boarding school. When I’m not mentoring/mothering/wrangling the teenagers who live in my building, I enjoy binge-watching TV shows on Netflix, hiding out at coffeeshops, and making playlists on Spotify. I studied vocal music and education as an undergrad student, but eventually gave up that dream and now aspire to join an even less fruitful arts discipline by becoming a writer. I have restarted the second book of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire three times and haven’t gotten past page 70 yet, but I watched all three seasons of Game of Thrones in less than a week. I own an ice cube tray shaped like little penguins. I post on Twitter and Instagram far too often. I am mediocre at playing the guitar and piano, but probably above average at the ukulele. I watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy (extended edition, duh) at least twice a year and yes, I dressed up for the midnight premiere of the first Hobbit film. I enjoy colored felt-tip pens and three-hole-punching documents. I can run 4 miles without stopping but I am slower than molasses. My favorite Bob Dylan album is Highway 61 Revisited and I am very glad he decided to include the acoustic version of “Desolation Row” as the final track.

Would you date me after reading that? It’s ridiculous, I know. But I guess the bottom line is, if I ever do try to meet my soulmate online, they’d better be okay with all of the things listed above, even if I don’t go into this much detail in my actual profile.

…I should also probably get somebody to write my profile for me.