Sunday, October 28, 2012

Odd Girl Out: On Being Weird & Sad in College


If I ever want to have a good bout of being emo & just generally make myself feel really shitty – because, you know, sometimes you want that?* – all I have to do is reflect on my sophomore & junior years of college. Being as helpful as it always is when it comes to comparing our lives to the lives of others while simultaneously checking in on people who’d rather we forget all about them, Facebook has upped the emo ante, making it even easier for me to click through to see the faces of the people who bring back the harshest memories. I've defriended them all, over time, but they're never more than a click away on the rare occasions that I find myself surfing pictures of girls who are still friends with one another but have long forgotten the time when I was one of them.

Maybe I haven't mentioned it here: I was in a sorority. I don't mention it often or, like, ever because the truth is that even now, nearly 10 years later, thinking too much about that period of my life is almost unbearably painful. It wasn't a good time for me, to put it lightly; I have never been in a worse place, emotionally, than I was at 19 & 20. My freshman year of college, I became particularly close with three girls: my roommate, a girl I'd met at orientation, & a girl that girl had befriended. We were inseparable that first year, slowly adding other girls to the mix but remaining closest to one another. We called ourselves The Clovers because "there [were] four of us & we [liked] to get lucky." Of course, this also lent itself well to what became our motto, "Best friends are like four-leaf clovers: Hard to find & lucky to have." We had nicknames & inside jokes, a broomball team & visits to one another's hometowns. They joined a sorority with me, the sorority I'd chosen because I already had a friend in it. The summer after freshman year, five of us got tattoos together, small four-leaf clovers to remind us of our permanent bond.

Ahem.

My sophomore year, not long after joining the sorority, I began to suffer from crippling depressing & low self-esteem, from a level of anxiety so high that I sometimes couldn't function in public. I began to feel as though I only truly had friends when I was drunk, like the girls I'd become close to didn't like me when we were sober. In truth, I now recognize that most of this was in my head, a side-effect of extreme self-doubt – but it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. I thought they didn't want to be around me, & so they didn't. They said I had become too emo & backed away; my boyfriend of a year broke up with me, saying the same. In the middle of my sophomore year, my roommate (the same one from freshman year) told me she was moving out of our shared room; she took a single down the hall but spent most of her nights at the sorority house crashing with our sisters. By that point, they felt like anything but sisters to me.

The worst part was that they were right. I was “too emo,” but I didn’t know how to not be. Every day felt like swimming through pudding, forcing myself to try to move despite a weight that wouldn’t lift, a haze I couldn’t see through. When no one was around, I cried & wrote in my journal & took razors to my skin in places where no one would see the scabs & scars. As I continued to drown, they continued to look the other way, calling me overdramatic & depressing; no one wanted to deal with me, & I suppose I can't say I blamed them. After all, isn't college supposed to be fun?

My junior year was just as bad – worse, maybe. Our chapter's rules required each member to live in the sorority house for one year, so I moved in with a friend from high school who was well-liked by the other sisters & had just finished serving as president of the chapter. After a healthy summer at home, I felt like maybe I was on the emotional upswing; I felt hopeful about the opportunity to reconcile with my old friends once we were all living in the same place – but they wanted nothing to do with me. After that realization, being in such close proximity to the friends who'd just declared me a social pariah wreaked emotional havoc on me, erasing all my summer hope. Unable or perhaps unwilling to contain my bitterness, I got into arguments with my old friends – sometimes the real, yelling kind, but more often the kind that  college girls are so prone to, speaking passive-aggressively to one another's faces & then ripping each another to shreds behind one another's backs.

I tried to move on, to befriend a new batch of girls, but at that point, I seemed to have a reputation for being a depressing weirdo, so nothing stuck. Truth be told, I have no idea how those girls saw me. All I know is how I saw myself – analyzing too much, digging myself deeper, struggling to stay afloat, planning my own suicide for lack of a better way out of the thoughts that dragged me down – & the way I saw them – annoyed & apathetic at best, judgmental & disgusted at worst.

And then Dave died. Dave died, & I found an escape, an excuse to leave the school I'd grown to hate with people I'd long ago begun to loathe. I've never felt like such a failure, moving back in with my mother & enrolling in the college everyone from my high school seemed to attend – but I also felt relieved to have a legitimate reason to leave what had become a daily hell. My new campus wasn't nearly as beautiful as the school I'd just left, but the opportunity to start anew at a place where no one knew any of my stories or misdeeds was infinitely more appealing than any visuals could've been. At my new school, I joined the campus newspaper & immersed myself in the culture of working for a college daily, praying that the other students who worked there would find my quirks, well, quirky, instead of intolerably depressing or weird. I was lucky; they did, & my story from there on out is largely a happy one.

I didn’t keep in touch with my old friends. Why would I? What would I say? As Facebook grew to include photographs, so grew my lingering bitterness about those ruined friendships. Every so often, despite my contentedness at my new school & with my new friends, I’d flip through the old friends' photos & take a long-distance peek into their collective lives without me – the parties, the vacations, the holidays together. Sometimes I’d let myself cry, imagining what my life would’ve been like if we’d been able to take a magic wand to those broken bonds & clean everything up all shiny & new; for a long time, I think I still believed it could happen. But every time I was hit by the realization that these friendships were never coming back, & I’d ask myself, over & over: How did I mess up so badly? What did I do wrong?

I still don’t know the answer. I mean, I guess I do. The answer is that I was sick & that they couldn’t help me & that I shouldn't have expected them to. I was sick, & I didn’t help myself until I absolutely had to. The answer is that before I realized how sick I was, I did some really stupid things that hurt people & basically screamed to the world, "I am a toxic individual, somebody with serious issues who is to be avoided at all costs!" The answer is also, I think, that perhaps I didn’t have much in common with them to begin with, & that trying to keep up with the collegiate Joneses led me to some of that depression & anxiety in the first place. My self-esteem was at that point so low that I’d always felt surprised & flattered that these high school “popular” people called me a friend, like I’d somehow sneaked into a party I wasn’t invited to but still been welcomed with shots & Natty Lights. I never felt totally comfortable around them, never felt like I was being my whole self for fear of being revealed as an imposter – as a loser. And again, that became a self-fulfilling prophecy. I have never felt more pathetic in my life.

I haven’t talked about this in… God, ever? Maybe in passing a time or two, in a conversation here or there. Why would I? What would I say? No one likes to relieve their darkest moments, right? I guess that’s normal. Part of me has kept from telling this story in this space for fear that one of those girls would somehow stumble across & think, “It’s been a decade & Kate is still obsessed with us!” which is, I would like to clarify, not the case. But recently, my old roommate got engaged, & I found myself looking through some of her photos on Facebook – photos that included all of those other girls, still best friends with one another, my own face long ago blurred from memory. I’m not obsessed with them, but I still can’t help thinking, sometimes, about who I was then & what I did & how I managed my own life (or, as the case may be, didn’t really manage it at all). Most of all, I let myself get caught up in thinking about what college would have been like for me if I'd had that experience that so many others have, if I'd walked away with a close-knit group of lifelong friends instead of innumerable missteps & more than a handful of, yes, regrets.

I still think about what it all taught me – what did it teach me? – and who I am now & whether that sort of thing could ever happen to me again. I know the answer is no, but I get scared sometimes, scared that somewhere inside, I’m still just that depressing, emo sorority sister who doesn't fit in, who went off the deep end & turned herself into a loser just by trying not to be. 

It scarred me, & it’s hard not to obsess over our scars sometimes, hoping they'll disappear. But that's the thing about the deepest & most painful wounds. They heal, but they don't go away.



*No? Just me? Maybe I’m still depressing/depressed after all…**
**I’M KIDDING.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Not Those Kind of Friends!

Life in New Jersey has been significantly better since I identified a few coffee shops that I like working from. There's a Starbucks less than a mile from my apartment, but I quickly learned that it was in no position to become a favorite of mine. It's small & cramped, & only two of the tables are near electrical outlets. Worse, it's practically next door to a high school, so come 2:30, it's swarming with chatty, squealing teenagers who do asinine things like FaceTime their absent friends into very loud public hangouts. So no, thanks.

There's a Starbucks five miles down the road that I like a lot more. Friendlier baristas, bigger space, more outlets, zero hoards of kids - now that's what I call a work space! What I like even more is the cafe I discovered just a couple of blocks from my apartment - entirely walkable with the world's friendliest staff. And they play a radio stations with American music & Danish commercials. Quirky!

The staff is equal parts hipster 20somethings & middle-aged Scandinavian men, all quite nice, & I've already identified a few regulars, people who spend multiple hours there on their laptops like me. I'm determined to befriend a couple of them, though I'm not sure how to accomplish this. "Hey, can you keep an eye on my stuff while I run to the restroom?" does not a friendship make.

Earlier this week, just hours after I tweeted my friend-making intentions, I had a run-in with a dude who, thankfully, I've not seen there before today. He sat down just as I was packing up to leave, talking very quietly & making some hand gestures that I assumed meant he was asking me whether there were outlets nearby for him to plug in his computer. I pointed him toward them as I got up to leave, which was when he got slightly too close & whisper-talked, in a smooth voice with a thick accent, "Take me out for café, you are amazing"& slipped me a tiny piece of paper with numbers on it. And then I mumbled, "I have a boyfriend, sorry" & almost literally ran away. 

What? That's not even a suave move, guy. Ain't no shame in tryin' to have a little game, but if you're gonna try to seduce a lady, give it some goddamn effort. Chat a girl up - & pantomimed requests for directions to the closest electrical outlet don't count. Also, let's not throw around words like "amazing" when we're talking to strangers, OK? I mean, what are you able to deduce is amazing about me? The fact that I'm wearing leggings as pants & successfully balancing a heavy computer bag & a half-full mug of cold tea? My post-bronchitis hacking cough? The fact that I am able to give you directions to the closest electrical outlet? Low standards, dude.

If that's what I get for wanting friends, I think I'll stick to the loner life.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Stop Being Polite & Start Being Real

I'm sick to death of people saying that we need to respect all opinions. Look, I absolutely respect your right to have an opinion that differs from mine - but that doesn't mean I have to think it's an opinion that's necessarily worthy of respect.

I refuse to be so polite that I cease being principled.

I believe that a woman should have full & total control & the final say in all decisions pertaining to her own body. I believe that anything less than full equality for LGBT individuals is institutionalized bigotry. I respect the fact that others are allowed, under this great democracy, to disagree, & I can still show respect for individuals who have differing opinions - but I do not have to respect views that are oppressive & harmful.

Don't let anyone tell you that you're close-minded for refusing to "respect" bigotry, discrimination, or oppression. Stand for something. Speak up. Be respectful, but stand your ground. I would always rather be a principled agitator than a polite blank slate.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Nice Jug(handle)s

I'm scared of driving. Maybe I've told you this before.

I've definitely told you this before.

Last summer, I wrote about all the things that freaked me out about driving in New England. And then? I moved to New Jersey.

Guys, this place is nuts. On the road, perfectly nice citizens become crazed, angry maniacs. Let's discuss. 

The issue here is jughandles. Sounds like fat lovehandles, right? Wrong.

Basically, you can't turn left in New Jersey. The whole state appears to have been laid out by Derek Zoolander. Want to turn left? You have to turn right first, then loop around to the other side of the street, which is presumably a less busy road than the one you wanted to turn left onto, & there you can either go straight (which is, essentially, the lefthand turn you needed to make) or turn left, which is the equivalent of a U-Turn. This also means that if you miss a turn, you have to go down to the next jughandle & drive allll the way back. Here, someone drew you an example!


This guy explains them way better than I ever could. To summarize, though, jughandles were apparently created to ease the flow of traffic in New Jersey, but they mean, essentially, that you have to sometimes almost literally go the extra mile to get wherever you're going.

Furthermore, as that other dude correctly notes, GPS is wholly useless here. My British-voiced Garmin, affectionately named Daniel, has no idea what to do here. No idea. He's constantly recalculating, telling me about it in that judgy robotic UK accent, like I'm doing something wrong when he's supposed to be telling me where to go. "Turn left" doesn't help here, Daniel! And don't even get me started on this shitty new iPhone map, which the other day told me the closest post office was a four-hour drive away.

There are other things that are weird about driving in New Jersey. Like an outrageous number of concrete highway dividers, & yellow lights that last forever, & $12 highway tolls. But now I'm too worked up about jughandles to even tell you about them.

What I wouldn't give for a good, old, New England-style traffic circle right about now.

Welcome to the Garden State. Shut up & drive.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Look at This Stuff, Isn't It Neat?

Nathan & I have lived in Red Bank for three & a half months now (say what???), & our apartment has finally started to feel like home. I may not love Jersey (yet?), but I've finally reached the point where, when I'm traveling, I look forward to coming back to this apartment instead of longing for our place back in New Hampshire.

OK, that's not entirely true. I spend perhaps a disproportionate amount of time missing our old place, which was cozy & familiar. The new place has high ceilings & hardwood floors & lots of sunlight, all things our old place didn't have – all things other people covet, but never me... I'm getting used to it, though, & you know what's helping? Having a ton of wall space on which to hang some of the prints & things I've been collecting for months. And by "collecting," I sort of mean "hoarding."

Quirky, colorful art makes me feel good, & it's great to have wall space for it. I posted a picture of just a corner of this collage wall on Instagram, & someone asked to see the whole thing. The subsequent pic got so many comments & likes that I thought maybe you guys would want to see it, too. And if you don't? Umm, skip this post.


  1. I got this print & the three other wood-framed pieces in the collage from a crazy artsy hippie named Avraham in Tzfat, Israel. Abraham, whose given name was actually something common & American like Michael or Robert, was originally from Detroit & quite fond of elongating the word "awesome."The description for this yin-yang-like piece is "Body and Soul become One in the place of Unconditional Love."
  1. I decoupaged this frame at Wild & Crazy Pearl's "Crafternoon" a few years back. In it is a picture of the house I grew up in. My mom says the photo is too ugly for display, but I disagree. Feels like home to me!
  1. My mom sent me this piece awhile back. It features a girl on a bike & reads, "I am fairly certain that given a cape and a nice tiara, I could save the world." That's probably not true, but it's a lovely sentiment.
  1. This sign naming my beloved hometown is a total mystery. It arrived on my birthday in 2011, sans note or recipe or indication as to its sender... & I still have no idea who it's from!
  1. Another print from the wonderfully crazy Avraham. Did I mention that each of these came with a printout of the story behind them? This one is described as "a mystical map of the 100 sounds of the shofar."
  1. This print from Mandipidy's Etsy shop was a Christmukkah gift last year from my friend Cara, a former coworker & fellow Ohioan, after I blogged about my desperate want for it.
  1. Crazy Abe strikes again! This is my favorite of the bunch; I even considered getting a tattoo of this one. It reads, Ain Od Mil'vado, "There is nothing but G-d."
  1. I can't remember where this print, with the Leo sign & astrology markings in the background, came from, but I think it's beautiful & sassy & regal. ROAR.
  1. My friend Miyuki presented me with this amazing piece on my 18th birthday. Miyuki, who longed to be a Disney animator, hand-drew Belle, Beast, Ariel, Alice, & other familiar animated characters, interspersing them with sweet birthday wishes to me. ten years later & you know what Miyuki does now? She's a Disney animator. That's the power of dreams, kids.
  1. I bought this print from Claude Taylor Photography in Dupont Circle a few months after I'd moved out of D.C. An ex-boyfriend had given me a gift certificate to this local gallery, but I was convinced I'd thrown it out. When I discovered it more than a year later, it was still valid, so I used it to buy something that would remind me fondly of the District - like a photo of one of my favorite neighborhoods.
  1. Weird though it may be to hang this on my wall, this is my Ohio license plate. Because I am an Ohioan through & through, no matter how East Coast I become. Because Midwest is best!
  1. I wish you could see this print better. It's a framed greeting card with drawing of Abraham Lincoln & the quote, "It's not the years in your life that count. it's the life in your years." I am fairly obsessed with it.
  1. My mom brought this print home for me from some conference she went to, presumably one for children's librarians. It includes a great poem & is signed by bestselling Mexican-American author Pam Muñoz Ryan.
  1. The final print from Crazy Abe. The description of it is over my head, though.
  1. I have no idea where this little plate came from, but it has some Hebrew & what's likely a Biblical scene on it. It's also Velcroed to the wall because I'm a little bit into jerry-rigging things.
  1. I bought this card for myself from my favorite shop in Portsmouth & framed it as a reminder to be proactive & positive. It reads, "Go into the world and do well. But most importantly, go into the world and do good.
There you have it, my little collage corner. There are other, smaller photo collages throughout the apartment, but this one is the star of the show. Makes me smile, y'know?
It's the little things, I guess.
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