Monday, October 28, 2013

Playing Dress-Up, Halloween-Style

In 2010, I blogged about my cousin Emily's incredible "Dunkin' Donuts" Halloween costume, in keeping with our family's preference for punny Halloween costumes (see also: the time I was "fishing for compliments"). Emily's costume has since appeared in a number of Internet round-ups of clever costumes, including a piece this year from Huffington Post. Feeling the heat to live up to some of my old glory days, I decided I needed to step up my Halloween game this time around.

While my end result didn't involve a frosted donut inner tube, & it wasn't my best ever (because "fishing for compliments"), it was a pretty solid effort.


Get it? GET IT? OK, a lot of people actually didn't get it ("Are you an iPhone?!" No.), but those who did seemed to appreciate it. SOCIAL BUTTERFLY, y'all! How appropriate, I know.

Not to be outwitted, Nathan went the clever route, too. He had to do a lot of explaining ("Are you Sergeant Pepper?!" No.), but I loved watching the lightbulb go on over people's head when he told them what his costume was.


SEASONED VETERAN. Genius, I know. And yeah, he smelled like chili powder & black pepper all night, but good costumes sometimes require sacrifice, guys. I, for example, wore a nightgown in public.


Happy Halloween, friends. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Lives Between Lines


I've read so many beautiful blog posts lately. Posts that are compelling & inspirational & encouraging. Powerful posts about people finding themselves, figuring themselves out, following their hearts & going on to find their version of happiness. And every time I read one of these posts, for a split second, they make me feel great - they compel me, inspire me, encourage me. And then, immediately afterward, they piss me right the hell off.

It's just that... either these people are lying, or I'm doing life totally wrong, & frankly, both of those prospects feels equally despairing. If these smart people are all lying, then all that inspiration & encouragement feels like bullshit, pulled from the fantasyland of wish-I-could instead of the reality of I-actually-did. And if they're not lying? Then basically everyone is doing a better job of keeping themselves together than I am, & they've all progressed at a pace that's on par with where society says we ought to be but which I always thought was an exaggeration. I like to imagine that everyone else is terrified & messy, too, because it makes me feel like just another terrified, messy cog in the twentysomething machine, but if they're not? Then I'm alone in this, &... well, that's not what you want to hear, ever.

I have this problem - & maybe it's not a problem, always, but it usually feels like one - where I see every situation from every participants' perspective, whether I know all the players or not. When I read a blog post about someone's relationship gone bad, about the breakup that propelled them into The Best Version of Themselves, I find myself thinking about the ex-boyfriend in question: "I wonder how he feels about being called a manipulative sociopath. He probably thinks she's clingy & weak." When I read a post about someone who moved across the country on a whim & wants to share life lessons, I think, "I wonder if her real-life friends think she's this put-together, or just her Internet ones." I want to know the rest of these stories, because no one is that black or white. Of course, each of us can only tell our own side of any given story - but every single situation is written in the grey space, & as outside viewers, we only get to see one side of the spectrum, depending on which side of the prism we're given to look through.

It's not lying to show people only the pretty parts, in blog posts or otherwise; we do it every day, because it's the perspective we prefer or the one that best fits the narrative we want to construct for the public. But I want to know more. I want to know whether the stories that compel & inspire & encourage me are built on truth or perspective & what's on the other side of them. I want to know what the other people think, the people who are tangential to these stories, because maybe that would give me a fuller picture, help me to better contextualize the narrow angle I've been given.

Slowly, I'm starting to realize that I can't compare one-dimensional views of others peoples' lives to this fully three-dimensional view I have of my own life. Naturally, I have a broader, more complete view of the life I live than I do of anyone else's. How can I compare the bad in myself to the best of what you show me? It's not fair to compare the intimate, messy minutia of my life to the polished, prepared remarks of someone else's.

But behind the scenes, behind those pretty facades, every story - every real, fully dimensional story - is written in the grey space. Especially mine, I know, & even yours, I'm sure. Each of us is more than the words we choose to share, the limited perspectives we allow. There is so much more, but does it matter? All I can concentrate on is my own.

No comparisons. Just live.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

How I Chose My New Blog Name

And this one is certainly an interesting story
It starts with an ending.
And we're both characters in play
On the same stage, but on a different page  
At almost-30, I don't like to consider myself someone who's "been through a lot" - because aren't we all? Haven't we all had our share of hard times, of the sort of times we thought we might not see the end of? Whether they came when we were young or didn't set in until adulthood, I can't think of a single person who hasn't been through a lot. Because life is a lot.

But there was a time in my life when I was a person who had been through a lot, & most of the people I knew weren't yet. When you're 10 & your dad dies of cancer while all your friends still have both parents, alive & well & married, you're the one who's going through a lot. When you're 12 & starting middle school in a back brace, beginning that awkward phase with the usual acne & heartache & also a plastic outer shell, you're going through a lot. When you're 20 & your first love hangs himself in his garage & sends you into a mental & emotional tailspin of depression & grief, you're, you know, going through a lot.

In other words, we've all been through a lot, but a lot of my a lot came before everyone else's - and in so many ways, that defined me, both then & now.

But here I am. I know I'm not necessarily the most stable, well-adjusted, or successful adult (um, are you?), but I also know that I'm doing pretty damn well, especially given all the times I thought I was on the verge of total mental meltdown. Every once in awhile, I remember all of those "a lot" times, & I think, "I made it. Holy shit, I made it."

Like so many others, music helped me make it, standing in as my best friend during the difficult times & guiding me through by reassuring me that others feel the way I do, that beautiful things can eventually come of pain. It was Dave, my high school boyfriend, who first introduced me to the kind of music that jump-started my affinity for connecting the words in the songs to the thoughts in my head. Even now, more than a decade later, the two bands he first introduced me to, Brandtson & Jimmy Eat World, are my favorites. In particular, Brandtson's album "Send Us a Signal" & Jimmy Eat World's "Futures," which both came out in 2004, remain atop my list.

They weren't at the time, though. "Send Us a Signal" was something new for Brandtson, an emo-rock outfit from nearby Canton, Ohio, whose previous sound was grittier, harder, less dancy. I loved the updated vibe, but Dave disagreed heartily. On the other hand, he was smitten with "Futures," and I couldn't get through it because I hated it so much. The AIM conversation in which we argued about those two albums, at the start of my junior year of college, is the last I remember having with him before he died.

There are two songs from those albums that feel personal to me: the title track to "Futures" & Brandtson's "Escapist." They speak to related themes of living a meaningful life, taking risks, looking objectively at loss, and having faith in whatever's coming next. They remind me that I can rise above the difficult times. They assure me that it won't always be like this, as terrible or as scary or as sad as it is right now, whatever right now may contain. And they've always been right.

It's from "Escapist" that I decided to name this blog, representative of the music that has defined & defended me & of the lyrics that have described me so well. "Greatest escapist" signifies that I am more than where I have been or what has been happened to me or even what I have done. To me, "greatest escapist" represents brave exits & bold new beginnings.

And yes, I know that this whole blog post has basically been the cheesiest, most cliched thing I've written in a long time, so it's fine by me if you're rolling your eyes realllllly hard right about now. But I know that you have one of these stories, too, & that even if you're kind of making fun of me in your head, you're also relating. So there.

We've all been through a lot. This is me owning it.
This time around, I’ll meet you halfway
And I won’t spend my life lying awake at night
And I’ll say I’m the fabled one that let you down.
The greatest escapist the world has ever known.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Time I Reclaimed My Old Domain Name So It Didn't Become a Porn Site

There are a lot of things I love about Google, but as it turns out, their ability - or, rather, their utter inability - to be a functional & responsible domain registrar & web host is not one of them.

It wasn't always like this. For years, I wrote at SuburbanSweetheart.com with no problems. Every August, Google auto-renewed my domain, & I kept on writing, like always.

Except for this year.

As in the past, I assumed my domain had auto-renewed, but I never checked on it, because sometimes I'm not that good at keeping up with life stuff. When I decided in September that I wanted to change up my blog, my designer, the fantastic Bobbi of Ready to Blog Designs, quickly ascertained that there were some problems going on behind the scenes - like, for starters, that my domain hadn't been renewed & didn't actually belong to me anymore, even though outwardly, everything seemed to be working just fine.

When Bobbi told me it would cost me $95 to reclaim the name, I made a big decision: I was going to let it go. I was all set to let SuburbanSweetheart.com fade into the Internet abyss, to just tweet you  senseless with reminders to subscribe to the new feed & to just let six years of blogging at the old domain fall by the wayside. Cut the cord, Kate, I told myself, & I was planning to. A new beginning!

But.

The rest of the story is muddled because I'm technology-averse & also because it's not that interesting, until it gets to the part where a random guy emailed me to tell me that he'd stumbled upon my domain in an online auction. He was willing to bid up to $300 to own it, he said, because my existing search engine optimization was really good (yes, yes, it's hard to pat your own back, but not that hard, don't worry). What gave him pause, he told me, was that he realized the domain was still active - you know, because I was still blogging there - and hey, did I mean to put my URL up for sale?

Um, no. I didn't.

Yet there it was, listed on GoDaddy.com with 12 bidders. And when I imagined this guy owning my domain, within days of my blog changing names, I sort of freaked out. I was prepared not to be SuburbanSweetheart.com anymore, but I wasn't prepared for someone else to be SuburbanSweetheart.com - so I decided to reclaim my domain.

When I called the good folks at GoDaddy - who are, by the way, far more dignified & respectable than their company's notoriously chauvinist commercials - my panic ("HELLLLP, IS MY BLOG GOING TO DISAPPEAR?") was met with a heady combination of confusion & compassion. When the tech asked for my URL, I could hear the discomfort in his voice upon my response.

"Oh!" he exclaimed. "Yeah, um, I can see why people would be eager to own that domain. It would do pretty well with, uh, a certain segment of the Internet."

It took me .6 seconds to process that comment, & as soon as it sunk in, I started to cry, because someone was going to use my beloved domain & my awesome SEO to start a porn site. And then I started to cry harder.

The tech was so, so nice, & it probably helped that I couldn't stop crying, because I think he felt even more compelled to help me find a solution. We established a friendly rapport in which I sobbed & then apologized profusely for it, & he kindly offered more reassurance & assistance than his pay grade required of him. Before we hung up, he told me, "All this has made me want to check out your blog!"

"Don't worry," I assured him. "It's not porn."

"Oh!" he exclaimed again. "I... no, that's not why I wanted to read it. That's not what I meant. I'm so sorry."

"No! I was just trying to reassure you, like, just in case, or something, in case you thought I was crying about, like, a porn site." Stutter, stutter, stutter.

He cleared his throat a few times. "Well, now I'm a little embarrassed."

I apologized three times in a row, & then I stopped talking.

Twenty-four hours, $95, & a bucketful of tears later, SuburbanSweetheart.com belonged to me again, & it now redirects to GreatestEscapist.com - because if it's gonna be a porn site, it's gonna be my porn site, goddamnit.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Step Back From That Ledge, My Friend


I was already in my car & headed to Starbucks when I realized I'd left something at home. Rather than re-parking in my complex's lot all the way back down the street, I instead pulled into the courtyard behind my building. Is "courtyard" the right word? It's a glorified driveway for the residents who pay $150 extra a month to park in individual one-car garages. There's a big "NO PARKING" sign there, but if you pull up close to the brick wall & leave your flashers on & make it quick, you'll be fine. Our super, Anthony, is friendly & forgiving, & plus, he likes me even though I don't know how to use my dishwasher.

As I pulled up close to the wall, I spotted my downstairs neighbor, Barbara, who likes me a lot less than the super does. When she started motioning toward the back of the lot, I rolled my window down to talk to her: "There's a man back there!" she told me frantically. "I wanted you to see him. I think he fell. An ambulance is coming."

Indeed, a man was lying, legs splayed, toward the back of the lot. Quickly, my brain calculated options: Park your car here, go wait with him. Park your car somewhere else, come back to him. But before I could process a decision, I heard sirens closing in behind me & three police cars zoomed into the lot, surrounding my car. Carefully, waving apologies to the officers as they navigated the tiny space, I maneuvered my way out & parked my car on the street, away from the growing chaos.

And then I went up to my apartment, ostensibly to retrieve what I'd forgotten... but also to peer out my window, which overlooks the courtyard lot.

I watched for nearly an hour as policemen tended to the man, who was initially unresponsive. Immediately upon awaking, though, he tried to sit up & began to scream - "Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God," over & over & over, echoing off the brick & reverberating through that small, enclosed space & carrying up into the open windows above. More police cars arrived; two ambulances followed. As EMTs tried to load the man onto a backboard, his screams continued: oh my God, oh my God, oh my God. "Stop trying to move," I heard medics tell him. "You're making it worse." Each time, he stopped for less than a minute, & each time, the wailing began again.

I could only hear pieces of the conversations that surrounded his screams - a neighbor yelling down that the man had jumped, the police pointing to a nearby apartment complex where they thought he lived, my super collecting empty beer cans from the area where he'd fallen, a medic mentioning a broken ankle, broken legs. Once he'd been backboarded & wheeled into an ambulance, I watched as they secured him down & stuck him with needles. And all the while, he kept screaming.

I don't know what happened. I don't know who he is or whether he lives in my building or how he ended up lying face-up in my driveway. I don't know if he jumped, or if he fell, or if maybe there was no descent at all - maybe he was drunk, maybe he tripped, maybe it wasn't as bad as it all seemed. Maybe it was something else entirely, something I can't imagine. No, I don't know anything except how scared he sounded, how sad, how utterly racked with pain, & how I felt listening to him & watching, horrified & helpless, as first responders tried to assist him.

Finally, I had to leave, not only because it was the middle of a workday but because I'd begun to feel physically ill, my lack of breakfast roiling in my stomach & threatening to rise. I've always been a little nosy - you've got to be, I guess, to ever aspire to be a journalist - but it's never manifested itself in this way, in watching so closely as another human being suffers so badly. Why did I feel so compelled to look on, to listen? As I exited my apartment complex, I hoped to run into neighbors who might also have overheard the whole ordeal, thinking I could find some solace in "Can you believe it?!" small talk with strangers who were also struggling to place their feelings.

But it was just like any other Tuesday at 10am, no one milling about in the lobby or the front yard or anywhere at all. In fact, from the front of the building, where my car was parked, the bright police lights & chartreuse ambulances were hidden from view, no visible signs of the tumult still happening in the backyard. Everything was silent, just another day, the world carrying on as usual.

Before I shut my car door, though, I heard it again, more faintly this time, carrying from around the corner: Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God...

I haven't stopped thinking about him all day. It's going to take a long time, I think, for those words to fade.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

This Is Why I Can't Have Nice Things

I stood outside my friend Julia’s vacant apartment midday on a Friday, holding a stack of freshly ironed dress clothes & surrounded by luggage, trying to figure out how the gate lock worked. After a few minutes of severe fumbling - the key wouldn't even turn - I realized I hadn't double-checked the apartment number with her. Suddenly, a terrible thought barreled into my consciousness: "Is this the right apartment? AM I BREAKING INTO SOMEONE ELSE'S HOME?"

As it turns out, I was at the right apartment, which was a relief both for my ego & my criminal record. But as it also turns out, the right apartment was much swankier than any apartment where I've ever lived or stayed. That first experience, in which I briefly felt like a fancy hobo (see inset), really set the tone for the rest of my stay, which looked a little bit like this.
  • The apartment is a beautiful English basement right on Logan Circle, with its own entrance, so the entrance is covered by a gated door for added security. The gate’s a little tough to unlock, though (see above), & more than once, I struggled to enter & exit, tugging & pulling & muttering like a crazy person. Perhaps my least suave moment, though, came when I couldn’t get the gate open from the inside (as in, I could not leave the apartment), so I asked the guy delivering my Thai food to just pass it through the bars to me. As though I were imprisoned. Oh, just pass me my food through this wrought-iron gate like I’m a felon & my dinner is contraband, sir, thanks.
  • For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how to turn off the light in the bedroom closet. I didn’t even remember turning it on! And yet there it was, on, bright, mocking me. I left it on for an entire 24 hours (sorry, Julia) before deciding, “Oh! I can at least close the closet door while I sleep to try to block it out.” As it turns out, the two are connected: The light turns off when you close the door. I found that out, um, when I closed the door. So.
  • The massive shower, which is bigger than my entire bathroom, doubles as a steam room with just the push of a button. Eager to relax (is that an oxymoron?), I pushed the button & sad, naked & expectant, on the wooden bench that lined one wall. Anyway, after about 10 minutes of sitting there, nothing had happened, & I was just... a weirdo sitting, naked & expectant, in the shower. (I know, you’re welcome for those visuals.) A text to my friend told me I had to wait a little longer for it to steam up - & confirmed that I didn’t actually need to sit in there waiting for it to happen.
I think it’s safe to say that I’ll never be royal.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Announcement: I HAVE A NEW BLOG!


Oh, hello, there. How are you? I know, I know, it’s been a little while. I’ve been positively itching to write to you, but some things have kept me away. Life things, making-time-for-things things, technology-related things. Related to that last point, my silence has been due, in large part, to some changes around this space, staying quiet until all the kinks were worked out. Now that everything’s mostly settled, what I really want to tell you, in case you haven’t noticed already, is that this blog is no longer Suburban Sweetheart.

Welcome to Greatest Escapist!

This blog is new & different & exciting. This blog is its own person. Errr, its own site. I mean, kind of. It includes all the old content I couldn’t bear to part with (check out those archives on the lefthand side), but it’s also a fresh start. After six years of blogging at SuburbanSweetheart.com, I was feeling restless, as I am sometimes wont to do. I mean, six years. That’s a pretty long time, y’all. Do you know how much a life can change in six years? As it turns out, a lot. But then again, not so much at all.

The thing is, I’m going to be 30 next year, & I guess I just felt like “Suburban Sweetheart” didn’t really suit me anymore. Did it ever? “Suburban,” maybe, though for much of my time writing there, I was a city-dweller - & for all the time I wasn’t, I wanted to be. As for the “sweetheart” part? Well, let’s just say that when I chose my blog name, I apparently valued alliteration over honesty. That’s not to say that I’m not a nice person, because I like to think I am, but I don’t know that anyone has ever described me as “a sweetheart” & meant it.

So here I am, “the greatest escapist the world has ever known.” How did I choose the title of this new blog? It’s a long, personal story, & I’ll write a full post about it some other time, but for now, I’ll give you the basics: I wrote a list of about 50 possible names. I agonized over it. I said every possible new name aloud to determine whether it would embarrass me to answer the question, “What’s the name of your blog?” I consulted via text & email with witty friends whose opinions I value (thanks, Emily & Lindsey & Kristen). I actually lost sleep thinking about it.

In the end, I just jumped. I wasn’t totally sold on this name, which is based off a lyric from a song by the now-defunct, Ohio-based band Brandston, but I went with it anyway. I decided I could live with this moniker for the foreseeable future. I decided it suited me, that it sounded sufficiently badass but also a little bit, I don’t know, sensitive? I decided that it had a nice aurality to it, that it was pleasant to speak aloud instead of embarrassing. In other words, I just decided it would work.

So here I am. And here you are. If you haven’t already done so, please click through to see my clean, fancy new design, masterminded by the lovely, talented, & oh-so-patient Bobbi of Today I’m Bobbi & Ready to Blog Designs. Please note that I’ve changed (most of) my social media handles from @heysuburban to @heyescapist. And perhaps most importantly, please update your reader so that you continue to receive updates whenever I, um, update you.

Oh, yeah: And thank you so much for coming along for the ride with me.

It feels weird to leave Suburban Sweetheart behind, but also, it feels completely right. Let the next adventure begin!
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