One. In the late afternoon of the 14th day of June, on the 3rd day of my internship, on the 145th day of Donald Trump’s presidency, my fellow intern says to me, “Smile like you’re happy, not like you’re in pain.”
It made for a great retweet on the Overheard in the Newsroom account. But I am in pain. I am in pain, so much that it affects my smile so even the most sincere of attempts can’t cover it up.
I have a theory it has more to do with my eyes than my mouth. If you zoomed in, with the Star Tribune’s very nice camera, on my grey eyeshadow-drenched lids, you’d see they’re a little droopier at the corners. I haven’t been sleeping much. Perhaps if I did that more, it’d artificially help my mood.
Nonetheless, I paste on the showing of my top teeth. Yep, this is my smile. I’m not happy. I just am good at forgetting I’m not.
Two. In the early afternoon of the 15th day of June, on the 4th day of my internship, on the 146th day of Donald Trump’s presidency, over braised pork macaroni and cheese that closely resembled one of the last meals I had in Portland a few weeks ago, I blubbered my life story to the lady that sits kitty corner to me in the Features section.
It felt like a laundry list of events that defined me, but I watched her eyes turn into saucers at the last few items. And as I casually mentioned that, yes, the world had given me at age 22 a lot less to hope for, I realized how broken I was. Everything that happened to me in the last few months would have broken any person and sent them into hiding. But not me. In fact, she pointed out, I had used work to distract myself from the facts I’d listed. My best friend had died. Three other loved ones had died. I had worked myself into the ground for 4 years and hadn’t been able to breathe. And now, like victims of suffocation do too soon after air flows back into their lungs, I was taking one too many, experiencing metaphysical panic attacks when I did.
I coped by seizing life aggressively by the horns. It was nice for a kind, mom-like figure to tell me it gets better. I don’t cope well with anyone my age telling me that. I don’t really want reassurance from anyone, but I need it.
Three. I’m worried about dying alone. This is the prevailing thought running through my head as I sit in a Dulano’s in Uptown on the evening of the 14th day of June, the 4th day of my internship and the 2nd day of an existential crisis from unfriending a significant person in my life. I watch couples paired off over beers, looking at where I’ll be in a few years and feeling completely disconnected from it all.
I compensate by being aggressively blunt. People ask me where I’m from and what I do. I try to impress them by sounding blase and self-deprecating. Feel unable to feel anyone’s feelings but mine. A friend once told me my ability to empathize was extremely cognitive but detached; in fact, I never worried about stepping on anyone’s feelings but my own. He was correct. I wasn’t going to step on my feelings, so I wouldn’t explain why I disregarded social norms because of you know, the one person who’d ever understood me dying. If said emotionally, it would look whiny. If said unemotionally, it would look like bragging.
I don’t know why I’m being so reckless with people who I don’t know yet. I’m not used to having judgments of people being so conscious, but that’s what you get when you read too much Gladwell and not enough Schlafly. Judging has become a defense mechanism, beyond writing aggressively or wondering while lying in bed staring at the ceiling what comes next.
Four. Before the Trump presidency, before the deaths, before any of the dread came in, 2016 had already been a steamroller of a year. For the first half, I was proud of myself for kicking depression, the figurative kind that came from losing figurative things, such as a friend. Your sanity. A boy who never spoke to you. I read self-development books, mused about politics, and started molding myself into a person strong enough to handle the loss of physical things as 2017 came in. Your friends. The president who actually acted wisely. Your enrollment at the University of Missouri aka home of the last 4 years. A boy who did speak to you, if only briefly enough to make you feel love. And also, the figurative things still… your identity as a good little newspaper journalist and submissive daughter and so many other things.
Five. Do we deserve what comes to us? Do we “ask for” things? I’ve been reading about the law of attraction lately, and I wonder how much control I really have. I’m glad no one can laugh at my leanings on spirituality before I flatly say, “after you lose 4 people in 6 months, come tell me how you dealt with it and I’ll let you make fun of me.”
I have an infinity sign made up of an arrow tattooed on my wrist. It symbolizes the intersection of predestination and free will, which really just means I don’t know how they play. People far smarter than I have pondered this question for years. Is there any meaning? Hume and Manson say to detach from that. I don’t know if I can right now.
Six. Everything in my life carries more weight right now. Relationships, success, knowledge. Everything is a desperate attempt to balance out the weight of living, where assigning meaning to things means I’ll live more and more life. This weight has been rocking me back and forth for months and unhinged my sense of stability. Nothing gold can stay, and indeed what I’ve given up is my ability to feel control. I used to view life as an adventure. Now I want to take my head out of the sitcom I view my life as, break the fourth wall and tell the orchestra to stop playing the swelling background tracks, the audience to stop their laugh tracks, the writers to let me breathe and stop acting and playing the role of a girl who doesn’t want to be a cliche.
Seven. I think I am a cliche after all. I want so badly to be special that I don’t let myself feel any of the emotions that would indicate I’m not. Fear. Sadness. Love. And I didn’t want to feel the cliche of the fact that I don’t like that there is no guarantee in the future of what’s to come. There is nothing secure or stable for anyone.
And with this admission comes relief. Solidarity. Maybe I am just normal like everyone else anyway, even though the life I lead is not like what most people choose. I can be a part of something bigger than I… better than I. Maybe being a cliche is not bad. In fact, cliches are cliches for a reason.
Eight. Trump is president, and David Sedaris feels badly enough about it to write about how sad he is. Even the comics can’t find the joy in it. Neither can I. It’d be one thing if everyone else’s lives were going smoothly. But they aren’t either.
Nine. I’m horrible at keeping in touch with people who don’t live in close proximity.
But reconnection happens occasionally. On the 25th day before Trump was elected, I visited the happy hour of an old high school acquaintance who just graduated from Yale. He now has his own startup. He turned down an offer with Facebook to move to New York City and follow meaning over money. He isn’t a writer or a motivational speaker, and yet his story inspired me. In between flirting with his attractive friend or trying to pretend I knew how to mingle with Ivy League grads that knew each other, I gazed upon the things people had to do at their computers for this company. Do things like code and worry over numbers for a fraction of the price of their Google, Apple and Facebook counterparts but all for a good cause. And suddenly, I felt a little less alone. And a piece of my heart, about to break in a big way the month after, strengthened. I hang onto this example among others that there’s a lot of people out there struggling to ward off the dread just like me, in their own ways. It doesn’t feel right right now…
But we have our battles. But all we can do is find our own happiness right now. Fight for it, and take joy in that journey.
Ten. That’s hard. Having problems is difficult.