When The End of Summer No Longer Brings a New Beginning (Or: Last Week I Walked Into a Staples Store And Almost Traded My Soul For A New Trapper Keeper and Pack of Glue Sticks)

Back to school season was always my favorite.

I loved summer too, but by early July I’d be longing to go back like a mosquito longs for the sweetness of human blood.

I’d wait for the day my class list was posted (elementary school) or my schedule came in the mail (middle/high school) with an all-consuming anticipation that is now reserved only for… uhh… there’s gotta be something I still look forward to besides the eventual relief of death, right?… hmmm… OK THE JIG IS UP I HAVEN’T BEEN HAPPY IN YEARS. Just kidding. Kind of? Let’s move on.

Back to school shopping was the best part. I am literally almost having an orgasm right now thinking about how it felt to buy new mechanical pencils and white-out pens. (Click here to read about my love affair with Trapper Keepers.)

And the clothes! Oh my goodness, the clothes. The look and feel and smell of a crisp new pair of jeans on your legs after a summer spent in swimming suits.

But it wasn’t actually about the supplies or the clothes. It was about the fantasy. It was about the new friends to whom you would write notes with those pencils, and the parties you’d go to in that new pair of jeans.

And it wasn’t entirely fantasy—there was a lot of truth to it.

Every school year did bring new friends and new experiences and was guaranteed to be vastly different than the last. Every August, the universe hit the re-set button for you and rolled out a whole new expanse of possibilities at your doorstep.

I’ve been thinking about all of this lately because of two events:

1)   I walked into Staples last week to buy a new scanner and HOLY CRAP THAT STORE SMELLS LIKE BACK TO SCHOOL. If the devil had materialized at my local Staples that moment and said “Let’s make a deal,” I hands down would have offered my soul in exchange for a new trapper keeper and pack of glue sticks (and, of course, the promise of a new school year).

2)   Doug and I have been packing to move to a new apartment. Moving apartments was the back to school shopping of college. In college I moved every single year, so I associate the act of moving with new beginnings just as much as I do trapper keepers.

While packing today, I could feel the excitement of new possibilities instinctively rising in my body. I realized that I was physically and psychologically conditioned to be looking forward to the start of something new, just because I happened to be moving in July.

I had to keep pausing to remind myself that—except for a new apartment—nothing in my life is actually changing. I will keep going to the same job, and there is no reason to assume I’m about to make a bunch of new friends or suddenly get invited to cool parties.

This is only the second year that the universe hasn’t re-set itself for me. After college I had two years of grad school. The following fall I started my new life in Iowa. The fall after that, I started my new job.

But now life has plateaued, and one of our tasks at this life stage is to figure out what to do about that. Life will always bring changes, but it will never again be as easy or guaranteed as a fresh start every August. From here on out, it’s up to us to create the movement in our own lives. To be intentional about the way we live so that one year does not blur into the next into an indistinguishable infinity.

My friend Marnie once said, “If you want to live an interesting life, you have to put work into it. It won’t just come to you.”

I’m still sad that the school phase of my life has come to an end. It’s not a small thing to lose the system that raised you, and always promised to keep you safe and hopeful. But I also see it as an important challenge.

So here’s to paving my own ever-changing life, learning how to press my own re-set button when I need to, and occasionally sneaking into Staples to press my nose up against the sweet hard plastic of a trapper keeper. (They’re back, you know!)

FreshmanYearofCollege

^My first week of college, 2005.

Quotes From my Boyfriend 5 (Or: Is my Life the Big Bang Theory?)

Doug Skeleton

**When Doug discovered a forgotten king-sized Snickers Peanut Butter Bar in our pantry**

Doug: What is this? The Anne Frank of candy bars hiding in our cupboard from Adolf Hunger?

***

**When I was opening a package that came for me in the mail.**

Doug: What if it’s a tiny cat tuxedo for Ketos?

Me: I think I would remember ordering that.

Doug: You don’t have to order something for it to arrive. Nobody ordered the Bubonic Plague, but it showed up at Europe’s doorstep all the same.

***

Doug: I can’t think of lyrics for my next song.

Me: Want me to flash you my boobs? Boobs have been inspiring men for millions of years.

Doug: Millions? You must be including the earlier hominids that pre-date anatomically modern Homo sapiens.

***

Doug: I don’t like watermelon. Never have.

Me: But it’s so delicious! It’s God’s candy!

Doug: Maybe if it had more sugar. And if it were made out of the stuff Skittles are made of. You know, the red ones?

Me: *SIGH*

Doug: What? Sue me. I’m an honest man in a world full of lies.

When Dreams Don’t Come True (Or: All I wanted for the 4th of July was a Book Deal, But All I Got Were a Bunch of Unsolicited Phone Calls From Hewlett Packard)

I had two big goals for the week of the 4th of July. The first was to buy and install a new scanner, and the second was to land a life-changing, preferably-six-figure-but-I’d-settle-for-five book deal.

My dream for a new scanner was born sometime around mid-June, when I stood by my old trusty scanner’s side for the last time as it took off for that big open warehouse in the sky.

My dream for a book deal was born sometime in the early 90’s, when I spent my afternoons lying face-down in the hallway outside the upstairs bathroom (I loved the smell of carpeting) and imagined overly dramatic plots for my future bestsellers.

More recently, it was re-born last summer while I was working furiously on what I hoped to be the final draft of the book I’d been working on for years. I was so determined that summer. I had a critique partner, a professional editor, and enough gumption to email my girlfriends to say I had to sit out on that season’s episode of The Bachelorette so I could write. (I even read the spoilers, which I never do, so I wouldn’t be tempted.) I had momentum. It felt like my book could go places, fast.

On the 4th of July last summer I sat under the fireworks with friends in LA and thought, “I wonder where my book will be by the next 4th of July.”

Between January and June I sent letters to many literary agents. And I got five of them to request to read my manuscript! By late June, it was starting to seem quite feasible that I could get news by the 4th. (Once an agent requests your manuscript, the average time span for them to get back to you is between one day and never. That’s one of the worst things about this process: you often don’t even know when you’ve been eliminated from the game. It’s the worst. Even Bachelorette rejects get an awkward ceremony and a limo ride to the airport.)

So I’ve continued life and work as usual.

A few weeks ago I bought and installed a new all-in-one scanner/copier/printer. I was feeling quite pleased and surprised by my success at installing it myself. Until I realized the scan function wasn’t working. (That’s the only function I actually need. How else am I going to upload supplementary documentation for my patient assessments share my pornographic self-portraits with the world wide web?)

So I called HP support, where I screen-shared/phone chatted with a Filipina woman named Faith who tried to fix my problems. For three freaking hours.

We progressed through the three typical conversation phases of screen-sharing/phone chatting with a HP support professional as they try to fix your problems from the Philippines.

Phase 1: Friendly banter about the weather patterns in your respective countries as you ride off your excitement at the prospect of your problem being easily fixed.

Phase 2: Conversation becomes significantly more forced now that you have run out of obvious discussion topics and are coming to grips with the reality that this process might take a long while. (“My friends say in your country there is… Bigfoot?” Faith asked as we waited for a painfully slow re-install progress bar to make its way across my screen at roughly the speed of elderly buffalo with cinderblocks tied to their ankles.)

Phase 3: Frustration so palpable you can taste it as you both sigh heavily into the receiver until Faith suggests she just call you back after the software finishes re-installing for the fifth time.

Now I’m no computer science major, but I couldn’t help but notice that all Faith was doing was uninstalling and reinstalling the software over and over again. Which leads to my theory that HP support people aren’t allowed to just throw their hands up and say, “Screw it! This thing is just a broken, effed-up piece of shit!” but are instead required to go through the motions repeatedly until you, the customer, have to eventually proclaim that you have to pee or eat or return to life on planet Earth. (Or maybe, true to her name, she really was just that hopeful.)

It was surprisingly difficult to cut Faith off between installations/uninstallations, and when I did she was very insistent that I speak to her supervisor so he could send me a new scanner, which I did not want to do because I’d already decided I’d just return it to Walmart and get a Canon PIXMA. But I didn’t have the heart to tell her that, so I just said I’d just call back if I decided I wanted to pursue that. But she wouldn’t let me get off the phone until I at least gave her a time that her supervisor could call me, so I said 5:00 on Tuesday. (Because I would have just gotten off work but not yet headed over to my friend’s house to watch The Bachelorette, leaving just enough time to quickly tell her supervisor thanks but no thanks.)

He didn’t call 5:00 on Tuesday. He called 2:00 on Monday. And 12:00 on Tuesday. And 9:00 on Wednesday. And 1:00 on Thursday. I never answered because I was always working. The calls always came up as UNKNOWN, and he always left a message. It was the week before the 4th of July.

When you’re a writer trying to find an agent, you read a lot of stories about how writers got their agents. Partly because you have to keep reminding yourself it is something that actually happens despite all evidence to the contrary, and partly because you have become a professional fantasizer— always dreaming of the day your writing ship will come in. Stories of writers landing agents are random and spectacular. Writers get that call when they least expect it. At the grocery store. At the bus stop. In the dentist’s chair. That’s how life changes.

When you are a writer whose manuscript is supposedly being read by five agents, you become hyper aware of your phone activity. Any call from an unfamiliar or unidentified number, and you instantly leap into OMG-I’M-QUITTING-MY-JOB-AND-GOING-ON-BOOK-TOUR mode.

That’s how it was all week before this 4th of July. Each time I saw that missed call and Voicemail from UNKNOWN, I became elated with hope all over again. Even though I knew it was almost definitely Hewlett Packard—there was always still that chance. I am a professional fantasizer, after all.

I’d even wait two hours before listening to each message just so I could live briefly in the possibility, semi-believing my ship had come in. There’s something beautiful to be enjoyed about those moments when something could still go either way. It’s the closest we ever get to some dreams.

This 4th of July I sat with a friend under the fireworks in Nashville and thought of the eager hopefulness I’d had last year. I wasn’t depressed or torn up about it—I was genuinely having a good night—but my book was not where I’d hoped it would be, and I had to say that to myself.

There are things I could say here for the positive spin. At least I completed a major revision! At least I got multiple agent requests! At least the 4th of July always finds me traveling with good friends!

Yes, yes, and yes. But that’s not the point. There has been a loss here, and it deserves to be felt. It needs to be acknowledged so I can figure out where to go from here.

I haven’t given up, per say. I’m quite aware that it takes most writers years and years to get published and that most never publish their first book. It’s just so hard to tell in this business when your big break is right around the corner, and when you’re essentially just installing and uninstalling the same scanner software over and over again.

Over the course of writing and attempting publication of my book, I have gradually done all the things I didn’t want to do but that all the writing sites told me I must do:

I built a following.

I found a critique partner.

I executed major revisions.

I got on Twitter (this one was the most painful for me).

I followed each of these steps one by one, as I gradually accepted that I wasn’t going to be the exception to the rules.

I followed all of them except for one. Except for the last step that all the writers say you must do after you have done all the others:

Move on. Write the second book.

I’ve resisted this. I’ve been afraid of giving up and of plunging in. I’ve made several half-hearted attempts.

But I can’t even tell you how hard I’ve been running from writing this next book. Every few days or so for the past year, I’ve gotten this feeling like something is missing from my life. So I tell myself that I need to make more friends. Or volunteer. Or take up that new version of surfing where machines blast you fifty feet into the air.

But it’s none of those things, and I know it. What’s missing is that I need to be writing a book again. It’s my thing. It’s my only thing.

So why do I resist it?

Writing a book is a lot like being in love. It’s nice to be in love, but it’s also nice not to be in love.

The pros are that it’s exciting and all-consuming and dangerous and teaches you things about the world and yourself.

The cons are that it’s exciting and all-consuming and dangerous and teaches you things about the world and yourself.

Last week, just for fun, I wrote out the query letter for this hypothetical second book. Then I sat back in my chair and thought, “Whoa. Now that’s a book agents would want.”

I know there’s something big there, waiting for me, if I can just make myself reach for it.

This week, I started my next book. For real this time.

I also asked Hewlett Packard to stop calling, and I bought a new scanner.

It works.

Nashville Fireworks

Blog Makeover!

“I’m going to give my blog a makeover and make it all about the weird issues we face in our late twenties,” I told Noemi this weekend after we’d had a rousing debate over whether or not to eat a cucumber out of a stranger’s refrigerator.

“What would you even have to write about?” she asked as she popped a hot Twizzler in her mouth.

“Oh, you know,” I said. “Never meeting any of your goals, never having enough money, feeling bored and useless at work, feeling bored and useless after work, watching your ex-boyfriends get married, not having friends, trying to make friends, not really wanting to make friends, watching your parents age, having recurring dreams about your first love, feeling jealous of people whose lives are more interesting than yours, news feed full of babies, fantasies about how life could have gone, trying for three years to buy a couch, summers not being fun anymore, losing your memory, losing your personality, losing your sense of humor, and feeling unreasonably depressed that you’re not as hot as you were when you were sixteen.”

Noemi glared at me. “That sounds super depressing.”

“It won’t be!” I said. “Well, maybe it will. But I’ll also make it light and funny.”

So, here we go. Depressing and light and funny and honest. Welcome to the journey.

QuarterLifeCrisis

This Post Includes a Semi-Pornographic Picture of Me. Or: Why Not To Order Swimsuits From China.

Hi friends. I’ve broken down this review of my week into several different categories. So, like, you can pretend its an awards show or whatever. Here we go.

Most Shocking Fruit-Related Moment of the Week:

Cutting open my watermelon and finding that the inside was yellow.

YellowWatermelon

I was pretty stunned, and figured this is what a watermelon must look like before it’s ripe. But then I saw the sticker on it that said, “I’m Yellow Inside!” Guys, is yellow watermelon a thing that everybody else knows about? Because never in my life have I ever.

Best Prank I Pulled This Week:

Leaving doll heads in my co-worker’s office while he was on vacay. I like pranking this guy most of all, because he has so many military history artifacts to work with.

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Most Educational Moment of the Week:

Learning what a “pannus” (pronounced pane-iss) is.

I was doing one of my hospital assessments and was asking one of the nurses about the patient’s medical condition. “She has open wounds on her thigh and her pane-iss,” the nurse said.

Um, wow. I figured I’d misheard her but didn’t want to ask so I moved on to the next question. But then I came back to it at the end.

“Now, you said she has wounds on her thigh and her… what else?”

“Her pane-iss,” the nurse said matter-of-factly. I nodded. And wrote down the word the way I heard it so I could Google it at home, like I often do with medical terms I’m too embarrassed to ask about. Now that I know what it is, I’d say it’s aptly named. Click here if you’re interested ;)

Weirdest Delusion of the Week:

Doug and I took a pretty hike through Wildcat Den State Park.

Wildcat

It was lovely, but it was so hot and humid that by the end I was feeling confused and delirious. When we got home I took a nap and Witten slept on my legs. When I woke up, my first thought was, “Oh no! I’m going to get sued by the person who invented cats sleeping on people!” I sincerely believed this, and continued to believe it for the next twenty-six minutes.

Most Regrettable Purchase of the Week:

So a while ago, a swimsuit ad popped up on my Facebook feed. It was so cheap and looked so great on the model that I decided to take a chance and order it all the way from China. But when I tried to pull it on this week… well, is everyone in China like two feet tall? I mean, I took the daintiness of Chinese people into account and ordered an XL, but guys, this sucker barely made it up my thighs/pannus and did not even come close to reaching my boobies.

I really wanted to post the photo of me trying to wear it, but Doug said I couldn’t do that because then there would officially be a photograph of me on the internet that people could masturbate to, and apparently you can never un-ring that bell. So I just drew a picture. Who would you say wore it better: me or the model? Please cast your vote below in the comments section.

Picture 3

(Picture on left from SammyDress.)

Quotes From my Boyfriend 4

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Me (on our way to see The Fault in Our Stars): It’s a really sad story. Do you know how it ends?

Doug:  Yeah. Her cancer goes into remission, but then he gets cancer, and it turns out to be butt cancer, so he lives but they have to remove his butt cheeks so all his jeans are really roomy in the back.

***

Doug: You know those dreams where you fall in love with somebody you aren’t really in love with, and then it messes with your head? In the first dream I had like that I fell in love with Melissa Joan Hart. Really threw off my whole morning. I just couldn’t help but wonder if, somewhere out there, she was waking up from a dream in which she’d fallen in love with an unhygienic thirteen-year-old from Indiana.

***

Me: If our lives went on for infinity, do you think we’d never break up?

Doug: I think we’d have to stay together and break up; in an infinite expanse of time, we would have to fulfill all possibilities.

Me: But do you think we’d stay together forever and always live a happy life in a little apartment with the cats?

Doug: *Sigh* If that’s what you’re trying to get out of this, then fine. But if you want to work through the actual logic of infinity, then you’ve got some more work to do tonight.

J-Bo’s Documentary Challenge (2nd Installment)

Welcome to the second installment of J-Bo’s Documentary Challenge! (I challenged myself to watch 52 documentaries in a year-read the reviews for my first 12 here.) I’ve started to really look forward to my Sunday night ritual–me, the TV, and a bottle of nail polish. (Bottle? Is that the right word?) Also, did that make it sound like I’m sniffing nail polish? Because I’m not. I’m manicuring. Because I’ve always felt that the best Sunday night activities are those that benefit both my mind and my nails. Below are the next ten documentaries I’ve watched, arranged in order from favorite to least favorite. I have linked most titles to their Amazon pages, though most are available for free on Netflix. I’m always keeping a running list of recommendations, so please comment with your favorite documentaries and maybe you’ll see them on here next time…

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Mortified Nation

This was hilarious and definitely took the cake on this installment of documentaries. This documentary recorded people reading their adolescent diaries out loud in front of live studio audiences. I so want to go to one of these events, and possibly participate.

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Bronies

Documentary about the “extremely unexpected adult fans of My Little Pony.” I found this pretty fascinating. I had heard vaguely about this phenomenon but figured it was ironic. Spoiler: It’s not. I have no words. Just whip up some popcorn and watch this.

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Life 2.0

After learning about Second Life from another documentary–When Strangers Click–I was fascinated and went searching for a Second Life documentary. Lucky for me, this exists! I’m amazed by the double lives people live online through this game. After watching this I’m really tempted to play the game myself, except I never will, because I’m 100% sure it would result in me becoming addicted and having affairs, which seems to be what happens to just about everybody on Second Life.

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Marwencol

This one was sad but also cool and inspiring. A man works through a major trauma that left him brain-damaged by creating an extremely complex miniature world filled with very real characters.

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Man on Wire

One man’s quest to fulfill his life dream of illegally tight-rope walking between the twin towers. This is a pretty famous documentary, and rightfully so. Freaking impressive. You won’t believe the foresight this required.

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Generation Like

Explores the phenomenon of random teenagers becoming extremely famous via YouTube. Who knew! Also explores other social media related topics such as how companies are now relying on us to do all their advertising for them. Fun fact: the new generation literally does not know what it means to “sell out.”

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American Blogger

I was really excited to watch this one because of the topic, so much so that I ended up watching it on my phone due to technical difficulties. (You have to pay for this one.) It was cool in many ways- very neat cinematography- though there was certainly a lot of untapped potential. The title is misleading since it definitely wasn’t representative of American bloggers as a whole, as it focused exclusively on attractive white female mommy/fashion/lifestyle bloggers. I couldn’t relate very much since that’s not my blogging style. Also it made me realize how lazy I am for not putting in a fraction of the blogging effort that these women do. But then again, none of them seemed to have jobs.

Inequality for All

Inequality for All

An exploration of the widening income inequality in America. Not the type of topic I have an easy time getting into, but filled with lots of interesting information if this is your type of thing.

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Beauty is Embarrassing

This documentary was about the life and work of artist Wayne White. This one was just okay for me. It was somewhat inspiring to see his impressive commitment to his art, but maybe it would have meant more to me if I’d had any idea who he was before watching this. Turns out he designed all my favorite characters from Pee-wee Herman though, so that was a fun throwback.

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Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s

A documentary about the department store Berdorf Goodman. I couldn’t really relate to spending a million dollars on a coat. Just tonight I tried on the coolest pair of shoes of my life and couldn’t bring myself to buy them because they were a whopping seventeen dollars. The whole thing seemed kind of superficial to me. Bored.