Jessica Scout Malone

director // actor // girl in motion

a brief list of the things teenage me would like to say to my mother, or, the lies i told that you could see through:

Thank you for saving the Britney Spears letter. I’m sorry I started replacing them with dramatic letters left on your pillow. Thank you for knowing I never really wanted to be left alone, and for the lesson in being taken at one’s word.
I’ll always love Kenny Loggins. His voice sounds like early Food Network mornings on borrowed pillows.
The bathing suit shopping trips weren’t all bad- now we have shared trauma that binds us.
I wish I hadn’t used the lock on my door so often.
Thank you for lying about the mushroom cut and for not telling me how bad the bright pink Camden Market knockoff Ed Hardy tracksuit was. Thank you for the outfits I’m sure pained you to buy. I’m haunted by the ghosts of Ugg boots haunted by the ghosts of Juicy knee socks. They’ve taught me something about character building, I’m sure.
I’m sorry about the costumes. I’m not sorry about being the only one without lice.
I wish I had gone to lunch with you guys that day. No amount of time at The Lagoon was worth it.
Thank you for taking me away from everything I had ever known and loved, and showing me how much more there was to know and to love.
I’m sorry about all the money you wasted on softball. I appreciate the lengths you went to to keep up that illusion.
Thank you for not listening to me, for knowing that I was lying, for seeing underneath, for pretending that you didn’t. You have always been too smart for my own good.
There will soon be a day when a trip to Trader Joes feels like the best way to spend a day. I’ll drag my feet to King Kullen until then, so that it really feels like we’ve earned it.
My heart beats to the rhythm of that jaunty run you do when you want a driver waiting at a crosswalk to know that you see them.
One day, when you decide to become a director for your high school, you’ll tell me that all the good ideas you have are stolen from someone else. I will suddenly realize that I have been doing the same with you since I was old enough to know anything.
When I laugh at your use of “the rotation,” it’s because a part of me already knows I will only cook the same 6 things on repeat forever once I’ve left.
I make fun of your aphorisms, but one day I will discover that the voice in my head is not my conscience, but a woman sitting in the dark reading from the book of the advice you’ve been writing for me.
You’re my best friend. I will never tell you, because I’m a self-sabotaging teenager, but you are my best friend. In a few years from now, I will ache at the feeling of being away from you, find every and any reason to call you until you are so bored you hang up on me. I will consult you for every single thing and you will pretend to be annoyed but you’ll listen to me anyway. I’ll be sorry about that one date I didn’t tell you about but it’ll be because I knew you’d think he was a bore anyway, and because I knew what you would have said. I’ll be grateful for all the train talks and I will eventually write you a train play. I will preen under the words “I’m proud of you,” because in the end, it is all I ever wanted you to be.

Statistically, there are more mentions of my mother on this blog than anything else. This according to a study done by me, just now. Because she likes when I write. God knows that no amount of words on a page could stand against the years of silliness, not listening, fear of soccer balls, and need for name brand cereal, but this is what I have, mom, and everything I have I have because of you.

i keep forgetting to put on makeup

My friend Erin is small in all ways except her personality- she’s short and svelte and her register is so high you can tell she’s a trained and professional opera singer. She looks like the kind of girl that would be the perfect top-of-the-pyramid cheerleader- she’d never land a foot on anyone’s head. At least, never on purpose, she’d say with a tight lipped smile. But Erin has a laugh will rip right through your vertebrae, leaving behind a feeling like pouring Pop Rocks into a bottle of Sprite. My phone autocorrects Erin’s name into all capital letters. She’s quick, bright and brash like her red-henna-died hair. And she just decided to stop waiting for her career in comedy and went looking for it at Sally O’Briens. Sunday night we’re leaving Laugh Boston and 10 minutes later she’s drumming her hands on the steering wheel, careening across the seaport, proclaiming to the heavens and inevitably the people in the cars next to us that she is so much better than every Young White Male Boston comic!! and she isn’t wrong. She turns to me (I’d like to say it was at a red light, but.) and says she isn’t gonna wait anymore. Her list of reasons to be scared to break into the Boston comedy scene is long and Really Real and Mostly Named Craig Or Some Other Bland Boy Name, but Wednesday morning rolls around and she has done 2 open mics already. 

Erin is the kind of girl I want to be. 

So many of my generation are trying to get from place to place by doing back walk-overs on a tightrope of Wild Self-Aggrandizing Love stretched across the Grand Trash Canyon Where Self-Love Goes To Die. And this feat of emotional gymnastics is hard enough, but then imagine you’re fully inverted, halfway through your 6th backflip, tired and a little dizzy, when you look up to see the Government Drone of Wealth Disparity floating above you, absolutely still, dart guns trained on you with your back in a C curve and all your soft fleshy bits exposed to the sky. How else are you supposed to cope besides splurging for Spotify Premium and Prime Now-ing a face mask? 

The most dangerous part of all of this, of course, is that the tightrope is anchored not to the ground, but somewhere inside the folds of Mitch McConnell’s neck. 

But I digress. Though you could argue I never actually gress-ed to start with. 

My point here is, does anyone know what we’re doing? Does anyone know why I keep forgetting to drink water between the hours of 12am and 11:59pm but cannot stop drinking kombucha? Does anyone know why I keep making lists of things I want to do but never doing the things on the list? Does anyone know why the only time I remember to trim my bangs is on my break at work? Does anyone know when I’ll have time to do my laundry? And on a separate and definitely not related note, does anyone want to buy me some new Aerie underwear? 

I need a hush-hush church basement meeting for people who keep trying to bend themselves into new and unknown glyphs in the hopes they might accidentally stumble upon a new language spoken only by the boy with the smoldering eyes and the bass guitar at the bar. I need an AA for the ones who know we’re using a sieve as a bowl but just can’t find time to open the cabinet. I need a 12 Step for people who can’t sit still on trains. 

This year caressed the back of my head, ran its fingers through my hair, and then made a fist and pulled tight. The same thing my mother does to me when I have a headache. A dulling of the pain by introducing something worse, the slow pop of hairs divorcing from follicle and the sound sitting on the toothpick-thin edge between pleasure and pain the only song I stop to sing along to between Maggie Rogers tracks. 

I’m living my Modern Dance Teacher Fashion dreams today, layers of boxy soft shirts and toenail polish left on from the week before New Years. (A moment please to wonder collectively how toe nail polish stays on so long. I’m adding it to my list of World’s Most Mysterious Truths, sandwiched somewhere between musings on why you can hear advice you know you need better when it’s sung to you and thoughts about the magic of dancing down the sidewalk like you’re in a music video.) Today I do my warmups to the dulcet tones of a big deep breath in through the nose, and hold, and hold, and hold, and out through the mouth.

Tilting my head back to rest in my hands, palms pressed flat against the curve of my skull to soothe the sting, elbows spread wide to the side, chest open. 

All my soft fleshy bits exposed to the world.

For Tom

The whiskey stings like the phone call.
Keeping it down isn’t nice but it’s necessary.
Somehow both too hot and too cold.
I ask for a glass of water and try not to let the hurt take up residence on my upper lip. 

I have been three different places looking for what I need. 

The first bar has no place to sit. 
The second bar does. I sit and ask for a double Jameson on the rocks. The bartender tells me yes and then turns up with one big ice cube and a no. It’s his first day. I drink a High Life, not wanting to be rude, and leave. 
The third time is almost the charm. Music playing loud in the basement, the bar upstairs just empty enough. No Jameson, but something close enough. I call Dad to make sure. I want to do this right.  

The bartender smiles at me between her braids. She doesn’t know what it means to me. She doesn’t have to. I tip her too much on too much and she calls me very kind. She does not know the part she has played in this my solo service. Just me, a stiff pour of Red Breast, and her, the only mourners at the night’s events. 

The air outside is crisp and clean, a forgotten raspberry jam bar in my bag and Luis the Lyft driver still five minutes away. Each strong breeze blows the pretense away and then there are no benches left outside the theatre that I haven’t cried on. 

There’s Jameson at home. I drink it as you would have, like warm milk before bed. 

We always say there are certain things we can’t hear until we’re ready. This morning, as I was listening to a song I have heard more times than I can count, a song that makes me feel like I’ve been to church, I noticed that I have been hearing the wrong words to this one line every single time. I heard it clearly all of a sudden, as I turned my face up to the sun: 

“I’m trying to find the meaning, letting loss reveal it.”

And even that small moment of knowing shows me it’s true. The golden retriever at the next table seems to know what I need, laying his plastic-coned head on my knees. It seems that in your leaving you have pulled a kind of curtain from my eyes.

And I remember-
One day when you were staying with us for the summer I asked you to tell me some stories. I secretly put my phone on to record. 
You told me about the time you made a blind landing. You told me how the point of the exercise was to take off blind, to learn how to get out of a situation when you may not have a clear view. But the flight instructor had left the hood down the entire flight, and you had not said anything. You had used the instruments and the little sliver of earth you could see, the memory of trees that all looked the same, to navigate yourself to the landing strip, and when on the approach the instructor still hadn’t lifted the hood, you assumed it was part of the training and still said nothing. Your landing was bumpy, unlike your usual work, and the instructor wasted no time in saying so. When you told him what you’d just done, he laughed and laughed and brought you back to base to parade you around to the others. What a feat of idiocy and brilliance. 

That was like you. You never liked to cause trouble. But you always loved a bit of mischief. 

You took off, flew, and landed that plane without ever seeing where you were going. I know this is what you were like. Life had pulled the hood down on you over and over again. But you always just assumed it was part of the training. Flying blind was your specialty. Nothing was ever a problem. Everything was merely a challenge. 

That day, too, you told me about Adeline. 

“Carstairs and coke she liked.  Carstairs was a whiskey. But the three-piece band played the nicest music and we just danced so well together. So that was the beginning of a happy time. She was a sweetie. Oh I loved her, from the very minute I saw her. I walked her up to the bus stop and by that time I was gaga. So before we were married I used to walk from Floral Park to New Hyde Park, probably 4 miles. And we’d hang out on the stoop or in the back of the house, take a walk or whatever. Did a lot of smoochin’. And then it’d be time for me to go home and she’d say “You better hurry up or you’re gonna miss the bus.” Okay, just a couple more minutes. Well there goes the bus. So she’d say “You better go, I have to go in.” So I’d walk a block, run a block, walk a block, run a block … a mile and a quarter…. Still remember those days.”

You got choked up then. 

“We loved each other. Yup. So. That’s some more stuff you can put in your memory bank.”

I know Adeline has missed you, and you have missed her. I hope you feel at home now like you did in the little apartment on Cherry Lane.

It feels like the hood has been pulled down over me. I am not like you, not skilled in the art of aviation. But you would tell me that it’s simple- the only thing to do is keep going. And then, you would forget you had said it and you would tell me again. And you would mean it just the same every time. 

You told the woman at the VA that they owed you nothing. That in fact, you owed them, because they had given you the one only thing you had ever wanted. You told her,

All I ever wanted to do was fly. 
You spent your whole life reaching upwards. 

So the hood is down. But I will turn my face up to the sun, knowing that though I cannot see it, it is there anyway. Like you, Tom. Like you.

there'll be days like this, my momma said

I am writing this to uncurl. To uncurl my back from the pretzels it has turned itself into today, giving coffee and good mornings to too many faces, giving space to the too many people on the train, giving tall shoulders and a way out to a chest that had a hard go of things today. To uncurl my heart from the perfect origami version of itself it has been folded into. To uncurl the breath of rage of wanting of excitement of confusion of frustration of delight from my too shallow lungs. To uncurl my fingers from the small fists they have been in, curled around coffee cups and phones and kettlebells and the anger that has found its way into my palms today.

I have been On the Verge all day. Pulling my heart up out of the sink where it is mingling with dish soap, pulling myself by burnt fingertips up the craggy corners of a well worn smile. 

Today’s rebellion is against Eyes.
My own and other people’s. 
Today, being seen has been exhausting. 

Rachel Bloom talks to Marc Marin about how she has trained herself to be a show pony, so afraid of being seen that she’ll turn all kinds of tricks to divert attention, something flashy over here draws the eyes from the swirly pit opening slowly underneath the sternum. 

How different you look from the girl who normally shows up to this space in front of me, you say. How different you look from the cardboard cutout I have ordered of you, how different you sound from the little plastic voicebox with nothing but the sounds of affirmation I need to make me think you are listening. 
How exhausting it is to make people think you are listening. 
How exhausting it is to think you have to be listening. 

I looked in the mirror today, and saw that I had left the show pony at home, tucked beneath the sheets still living that sweet dream we had last night.

What an assault it can be to be seen. How maddening it is to look up and see two eyes looking and looking and looking and not ever quite looking away, looking to find something you will not give them. Someone else’s eyes accusing you of not being Like You Usually Are, demanding you to be On, eyebrows turning inwards on each other when eyes do not find That Which They Have Come Expect, looking and looking and looking adjusting the angle until your body fits inside the outline of the plastic projector sheet they’re holding in front of you, an outline you never drew and is certainly not in your handwriting. 

I guess I’m trying to find a soft poetic way of saying, I am not the same person every day. Some days, The Part of Me That Bends Over Backwards To Make Other People Comfortable stays at home. And when you look to me and do not see her, do not turn eyes to projectors and put her there without her permission. She is resting. She does not often rest. 

Today, eyes have given me pity I did not need, attention I did not want, supervision that pushed itself down through the middle of my spinal cord. 

Today, eyes have given me secrets and good ideas and thank you’s and other whispered kindnesses, winks when they were wanted and softness when it was needed, glances up through the eyelashes that turn the skin prickly when you catch them, messages I still am unable to decode but I know have love in the cipher. I have been thankful for those today. 

Today, I missed the eyes I used to be accustomed to seeing every day. Today, I missed the way those eyes looked but looked for nothing, just looked to see. Looked to see if it was time to get lunch or watch another episode before bed or just time for a hug. Today, I was jealous of the fact that those eyes get to see each other often and I am here crawling towards the next time. I miss my friends today. 

The irony is not lost on me, that I am writing about being tired of being seen and posting it on the internet. But I guess I just wanted a chance to explain myself. Being a chronic over-sharer was always my curse. Mystery is not something I know well.

I have no problem being seen, as long as I have agreed to all the terms and conditions.

she’d say nothing’s impossible, child

The in-between spaces are usually when we talk the most. Between work and rehearsal, between work and other work, between home and anywhere. You know the sound of the wind in my microphone like you know the sound of my voice. But the in-betweens are more often than not more ephemeral- in between the good and the bad days, the homesick and the independent, the sticky and the smooth sailing. You are the queen of building bridges when I seem to have lost my whole toolkit.

You have taught me most of the things I know in this world, but most importantly how to find out the answers to the questions you couldn’t answer for me. More often then not we both got something out of the bargain. 

You are my idol, my inspiration, my role model, all the other cliches that feel too small to hold what I mean. You made me, and you keep making me, teaching me always how to be better at making myself. 

This morning Emma, one of the kids I babysit, gave her mom a card that read, “For all the times I didn’t say it” and on the inside was plastered the phrase “I love you” over and over again. I told her that if I gave one to you, it would say “you’re right.”

You told me this morning, as I was walking from the train to Emma’s house, about to take all three kids out of the house at the same time, to take a good hard look at what life is like as a mother and then to stay far away from it for a while. We laughed, the way you laugh when you mean something but know eventually it will not be true anymore. Because the truth is, I can’t wait until I can love a whole person with the fierceness and abandon with which you have loved me. 

You are, to me, the paragon of what it is to grow. I have seen you look fear right in the face, give it a kiss on the cheek, and invite it in for dinner. 

I love you with my whole heart, the heart you gave me. Happy Mother’s Day. 

And yes, I wrote this on the T.

jupiter and rain

What really fucks me up about space is that the gaseous planets don't actually have a clear stopping point. What looks to our eyes like a solid surface is actually just the point where the gases have spread out so far that they are no longer dense enough to reflect light. No hard edges, just a soft disintegration, amalgamation with the air or lack thereof around it. There are often days when I feel like this, unclear of where the edges of me stop, the air of the outside world pouring itself gently into my skin, mixing in whispers like cream into an iced coffee. 

What are the right words to ask someone, will you come hover near me for a moment to remind me that my skin is capable of feeling the presence of other people? Like the way babies grab your one adult sized finger with their little paws, without asking but without malice, just to remind you that yes, you are solid enough to be held on to. 

It feels like I've been trying to play a game of soccer with a wiffle ball. Like I've been trying to shoot a bow but I reach into the quiver and all I have is darts. I must be going to the wrong Sports Authority. I feel like I'm using a treadmill to try to win a footrace, and then looking around to see that no one else was running in the first place. And speaking of treadmills, when am I supposed to find time to get on a real one? 

Today a car drove through a puddle and splashed water all over my legs, 95 minutes into my 40 minute commute home, the same song whispering on repeat back and forth through my headphones as the dumb street water wrapped itself around my ankles. I thought this only happened in movies. Or to Alejandra, that one time outside Barons Court.

I forget that we're all cowards, aren't we, waiting for the right thumb to brush the right hand at the right moment, waiting for the right train to pull into the right station at the right time, waiting for The Thing that will tell us The Time is Now. Waiting for the sign we can blame if we make the move and it all goes wrong. I guess I just misread the signals. We're all playing one long game of Chicken, the kind where you sit on someone else's shoulders in a pool and just wait and wait and wait to feel the cool chlorine hit the insides of your nostrils when you fall. And you will fall, face first into the water. 

The first time I ever got caught in the undertow at Jones Beach I thought I was going to die. My whole body being rolled up into the period that would surely end my very short sentence. No one ever teaches you about the undertow until you've met it. What they tell you afterwards is not to fight it, give into it, let it push you, pull you, shove sand into the soft inner corners of your shut-too-tight eyes. It'll give up when it feels it's good and done. When you've been properly roughed and tumbled. And when you pull yourself up, child's one-piece all discombobulated, salt water mixing with your stomach acid, you tell yourself you will never get stuck in that kind of situation again. 

But the ocean has always had a mind of it's own. 

And isn't it just so tempting to jump headfirst into the waves. 

we always say we hope they don't grow up too fast

I think it would be easier if the death was closer.

Tell me, 
how do we process a grief we never feel
a grief that is both not ours to feel and woven into the stitching of our pillowcases.

It would almost be easier if it had happened to me
if it were one of my friends
at least then I would know why I was crying.

As it stands, I'm not sure who I'm grieving for.
Maybe I mourn for any one of the victims of the 58 mass shootings since my last birthday.
Maybe I mourn for Nicholas Dworet, who would have turned 18 yesterday when 800,000 people turned out to mourn his 16 other classmates who died in 6 minutes and 20 seconds on the 14th day of the second month of this year. 
Maybe I mourn for Courtlin Arrington, who would have turned 18 in 24 days but instead was shot dead at 3:45pm inside her 12th grade classroom. 
Maybe I mourn for Stephon Clark, who was shot 20 times by two police officers in his grandmother's backyard, who was 22 years old and leaves behind 2 young sons and a fiance and family. 
Maybe I mourn for any one of the people of color, trans folks, marginalized people who were shot dead and whose names never made it to the front page of any paper. 

I think Emma Gonzáles is a god. I think she was made in a kiln by a titan at the center of the earth, all gritted teeth and stiff shoulders glazed in cargo and patches and lit up to a million degrees.
I think Emma Gonzáles is just a human being. I think she was born to be just a kid. The only kiln she should ever have been near was the one in the art room, provided her school had enough funding for one. Instead of art supplies she got 17 dead friends. Glazed in tragedy and lit up to a million degrees. 
I think Emma Gonzáles was put on this earth to show us what we're capable of. 

I don't have any answers. I don't know what to do besides sit on my bed, tears I didn't ask for right at the edge of my eyes while victims of school shootings vomit on stage in front of the world and continue to speak. I used to be afraid of packs of teens and now I want to be right in the middle of them. I don't know what to do besides follow these packs of teens into the fire. I wish we would have taken the fucking torch before they were tall enough to grab it. 

The kids are going to save us. But we should have saved them first. 

The kids are going to save us. But we should save them first.

a love letter to all the parts of me the supermarket doesn't carry valentines for

I learned pretty recently that the things we should be honoring don't have any mentions in the Hallmark aisles. 

Try as I might, the overabundance of silly silly love gets to me today. But not because I wish it was coming from someone else. But because I wish I knew better how to give it to myself. Self-referential writing feels inherently selfish. No better day to lean into it than a holiday created for the sole purpose of giving the best box of chocolates. 

So on this our most pagan of the holidays, ((which may or may not have roots in a ceremony in which the main act was flaying goats, dipping strips of the goat hide in goat blood, and slapping women and the crop fields with the bloody goat strips to promote fertility)) I'm writing valentines to all the parts of me that won't find their names in any card on any shelf of any card shop peddling overpriced roses and too-big teddy bears.  

Let's start from the top.

To my hair:
You and I have had our twists and turns. But in the end, I love you, no matter your kinks. 

To the little old brain that lives beneath that hair:
It's been my life's pleasure to watch you grow. Sorry you grew to be a smart-ass.

To my blue-but-sometimes-green eyes:
I trust you I trust you I trust you. 

Dear nose:
Mom loves you, so so do I. Keep pointing me towards trouble and helping me sniff my way out of it.

To my lips:
May you keep wearing colors that are too loud for a Sunday afternoon and speaking loudly often and without regard to decorum. Overshare with joy, fill space, it is not unusual for your kind to do so. Those who would shut their ears to you are those who couldn't hear you in the first place. 

Dearest neck and shoulders:
The little "yay" necklace looks so good on you. You keep my head held high, my back straight, as I walk through the world. My pride dresses itself in you. 

To my arms:
You sure never looked anything like I was told I should want you to. But what amazing things you can do- hold a baby, carry boxes of sparkling water, hold open doors, hug my family, place second in the 7th grade dance team plank competition. What incredible things you are capable of, and what an abundance of things you have left to learn. 

To my fingers:
You are the extension of myself. My love to you- for waiting for the words to come, and then dutifully doing the work of sharing them. And for having compliment-worthy nailbeds. 

To my chest and ribcage:
You have such space inside of you- and you choose to give it up to protect a soggy aching heart. You've taught me all about flexibility- no one does give and take like you do. You know all about making space for the good and expunging the bad. I love you because you're where the butterflies live, the ones that go all kinds of crazy when someone looks at us the wrong way, or the very right way. And you blush so easily. Thanks for being soft and protecting me while you do it. 

Sweet heart:
I suppose it would be nice if you would stop falling in love so easily, with things and with people, but I guess that's kinda your job. You are the most non-discerning of us all, your arms are always wide open, running full tilt at whatever will catch you. You are wiggly and pulsing and full of all kinds of stuff I'll never understand. Don't ever change. LYLAS.

Dear lungs:
Just when I think I can't catch my breath, there you are.

To my belly:
I love the way you wrap yourself around me, the way you keep me warm and happy, the way you've always been so stubborn but knew that I wouldn't hate that forever. You trust your gut. Keep reminding me to trust mine. 

To my thighs:
Thanks for holding me up all these years, no matter how many times I wished you'd just quit and walk out on me. 

Dear legs:
Others have written you love letters in varying forms, but I know you best. Without you, I don't get to climb the playground behind the library, I don't get to take up running and then decide running isn't for me, I don't get to get up in front of the whole high school and lift Marina like our lives depended on it (and it sure felt like they did). Without you, I don't have a leg to stand on (lol). Thanks for keeping me upright when everything else seemed like it would fail. 

And last but not least, to my feet:
Thanks for not leaving me even after everything I put you through, even after all the work shifts, the dance classes, the heels that were too cute to say no to, the rehearsals, the hikes, the new pair of doc martens, and the pointe shoes in eight grade (it could have been much worse), through the calluses and the callus remover and the inevitable return of the calluses and the eventual refusal of the callus remover because you need a thick skin to get on in this world. Pedicures are not enough to say thank you, but I'll keep trying. 

 

dear little parts of me-
I find you astonishing. Happy Valentine's Day to all the little you's that make up me. 

 

 

upon reflection, everything's fine

We learned once in freshman year acting class that emotions in their truest form only last for seven seconds at a time. Hold on to the emotion any longer, and you start to look unbelievable, fake. Hold an emotion for any longer than seven seconds and that's exactly what you're doing- holding on. And we can all see it's not real.

I was taught this rule right at the beginning of all of my newness, right when the molotov cocktail of adolescent emotions and being away from your parents for the first time threatened to take me down, leaving me dead as a doornail in my air-conditioned dorm room, right at the moment when I thought I may not ever make it back to myself. This was what I needed to know. One long breath in, one out. Everything is manageable for seven seconds.

But this is not a failsafe.

On January 6th I was eight days into my seven seconds. Right in the middle of a beautiful work of anxiety Spin Art. I reminded myself of this surely immutable law- reminded myself that this wouldn't last longer than a big breath all the way in and hold and hold and hold and breathe all the way out. All clear. Open your eyes, look left and right, check under the bed and the monsters have made themselves a pillow fort.

My seven seconds lasted a month.

I tried everything I could think of. But most of what I could think of was self-pity. So I tried to think of new things. 

Bo Burnham once said, in the middle of one of his comedy/clarity rants, that we've collectively forgotten that happiness is not default. Happiness is not a state of being. It's an emotion. And therefore subject to laws of the universe of emotions that say happiness can only exist in its purest form for seven seconds at a time. And yet there I was  looking for the thing that would knock me back to center, back to less worry, back to not having private moments in public places, back to happy. But I kept failing, and the failing only made it worse and worse and worse.

John Green's latest novel contains the line "the problem with happy endings is that they're either not really happy, or not really endings, you know? In real life, some things get better and some things get worse." And anyone who knows me knows I'm an easy cryer, but the tears that this line (and admittedly, the whole second half of the book) brought to me were because of something somewhere that knew that searching for the happy ending was what was getting me into trouble in the first place. 

When I looked down, I had Happiness clenched in my white knuckles, forcing her to make a home in a hostile environment. 

No wonder it didn't want to stick around. 

I say all this to say that the only thing that ended up working was not working so hard. 
The moment I relinquished my hold, sweet Happiness gave me a peck on the nose and settled quietly into my solar plexus.

She was always just playing hard to get.

And every time seven seconds passes, I know I can find her again. 

 

So, upon reflection, everything's fine.
Until it isn't again.
But all I have to do is wait for those seven seconds to be over,

however long they may last.  

on self-reliance and its opposite

I am experiencing a bout of Overactive Dependency. 
This weird disease that has hit me, brought on by the one-two punch of socio-political misery and weather-related horror.
What I mean is, I don't feel like my days are mine anymore. And I'm exhausted. 

click through for more of rubyetc's drawings that somehow capture any and all moods you might be feeling

click through for more of rubyetc's drawings that somehow capture any and all moods you might be feeling

I started noticing a pattern. Every morning, I would wake up and immediately check my phone. Emails, Facebook notifications, Twitter. The first thing I saw in the morning was whatever other people were getting up to. I noticed that I was taking more time to get ready, getting lazy, leaving the house less often. I knew I had to make some kind of change.  I was becoming so enthralled by other peoples' activities that I was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with my own. 

So I started taking some active steps in the battle against this emotional cold. Snapchat was swiftly removed from my phone, followed a few weeks later by Facebook. I was getting too casual in my consumption of other peoples' lives. (This is not something I feel alone in- Every other new play written by adults about teenagers features some hyper-dramatic lament about how our phones are !!!!Killing Us!!!!) And the truth is, I have immediately noticed how dependent I was on the constant influx of Information about Other People. 

But Twitter brought me more than just fomo in the mornings. It also brought an overwhelming sense of disappointment and anger to go with my morning coffee. Everywhere I looked, it seemed like some new allegation was being made, some new story of a women tearing her life apart just for the chance to speak her truth. And while there were some inspiring stories of their abusers being brought to justice, it felt like more often than not there was just a flash-bang of accusal and then we all pretended like it never happened. And I got tired. Every morning felt like getting a list of who to be disappointed in today, what new ways to be afraid for myself and the people around me who find themselves at the mercy of powerful men. 

And that's what it feels like all too often. Like I am at the mercy of the whim of The Men.

My angry lady brain knows, on most days, to put this thought aside and put on my armor and pretend I can't hear the whistles. But sometimes I just feel so dependent on The Men, in jobs, in politics, on the sidewalks. Sometimes it feels like it doesn't matter how loud we are- no matter what good we accomplish we are always at the mercy of The Men who decide to deem it worthwhile. Sometimes it all starts to weigh to heavy and it doesn't feel like we'll ever win. 

Like as I write this, I'm sitting next to a man reading a newspaper. The New York Times declares "Women in Black Declare Success." And do you know the pictures they choose to adorn the article? The faces of William H. Macy, Sam Rockwell, and James and Dave Franco hug the corners of the piece. Guillermo del Toro and Martin McDonagh hug joyously next to Gary Oldman, smiling with his award, who in a 2014 interview said, in between defending Alec Baldwin calling a photographer a fag and Mel Gibson's anti-Jewish comments, "I just think political correctness is crap. I think it’s like, take a fucking joke" and other such stunning niceties that you'll just have to read to believe. An article about the successes of the women who created the Time's Up movement is literally SURROUNDED by photos of men! Some who have histories of actively WORKING AGAINST the good that Time's Up is calling for them to do. Even when we are being so loud and doing so much good, we are framed by the men who have done less and fared better, put there by the men who write the paper.

What a fucking outrage it all is. 

So I'm tired. And I know it is exponentially worse for people in communities that have so many more battlegrounds on which to fight to just be seen as people. But I feel, in some small way, how it feels to walk through the world and have your body be some kind of point of contention. I know I don't fit so many of the conventional things we're meant as women to fit (do any of us, really?). I know it is transgressive to The Men just that I exist, less than skinny, more than angry, and trying to be loud, not moving out of the way of The Men on the sidewalk. Lately I've even taken to yelling back at men who yell at me in public. A man on a bus touched a young girl and then me and I caused a fucking scene. And in these moments, I feel In Control. 

But if the man on the bus hadn't reacted as he did, immediately sheepish and quietly apologizing, I wonder if it would have felt like such a victory. Even in my forceful acts of self-preservation I am depending on the transgressor's behavior. Otherwise I might not walk away from it. 

I understand that this is the reality right now, but it will not be forever. It is not different for me than it is for any other woman, any other person who is not The Men right now. But we know that Time's Up, and we're going to make them know it too. I know, in some undetermined amount of years, someone will read this post and struggle to remember a time when every single time we wanted to do anything we had to raise our hand and ask The Men for a hall pass. I hope soon they won't remember when we started just snatching the hall passes from the desk and running full tilt, screaming, out of the room. I hope it will be so soon that the balance of power is natural, shared. That our democracy comes back, displacing this devil-figure in a cheap Sexy Democracy costume from Spirit Halloween. Maybe it will be sooner than we think.

And I'm not saying I'm done fighting.

I'm just tired is all.

let's see if this doesn't solve all my problems

I've been alone for 10 days now.

That sounds a bit more dramatic than I mean it to. All I mean is my roommates have been off sunning in Bali since Santa dropped my presents off at my family home and I came back to an empty house. It's just me and the banana bread I made and the wind that keeps knocking and asking to come in. 

I facetime my parents at least twice a day. Surely I am not doing this adult thing right. I've started talking to the pictures that scroll across my TV screen as the Chromecast sits waiting to be used again, or waiting for me to switch back the Food Network. 

So I'm writing this because I'm stuck, I think. I've been thinking about Bo Burnham on Pete Holmes' podcast when he said- 

we've forgotten that happiness isn't a state of being. 

Mom and I talked about this over the cupholders in her Toyota. She sees her students, 9th and 10th grade, from an affluent community in the most expensive place to live in the US. She sees them getting sadder every time they check their emotional pulse and the screen doesn't flash up a big smiley face. She sees parents falling through the middle of a concern spiral, wondering what on earth is wrong with their precious little babies. Which of us did this happen to? It must have happened somewhere between Parents and Children, a passing thought that transferred from car to car on the LIE and ended up a part of our collective subconscious. I don't know who taught us this, but we've started thinking of happy as default, so if we are not feeling Happy, then we Must Be Sad.

This feeling of If Not This, Then That has been weighing on my soft and snow-shoveling-sore shoulders. What I mean is- everything feels very cut and dried. If I'm not at work, then I'm wasting time when I could be earning money. If I'm not booked until next year, then I'm not good enough to get hired. If I'm not working out, then I'm actively getting fat. It feels harsh and wrong to type that, read it back to myself off the screen. But it sounds pretty convincing when I'm repeating it to myself in that whisper of words that you've never said out loud, the drift of a thought between ears that you haven't actually figured out the words to and yet you know exactly what you mean.It's like if I'm not On, then I'm Off. Like the moment I stop Doing Something, then I'm not Doing Enough. 

I've been feeling this everywhere. About everything. And yet this must be common, I can't be the only person feeling this. I can't be the only person feeling like I might just be wasting my time.

It's been the worst when I think about my career. What a shame-riddled spiky word that is. Career. If I'm not spending every moment working towards My Career, then I am just not working hard enough. Every social media post will tell you that the grind never stops. So if you take the time to watch an episode of Law and Order SVU, then you're not on the grind. Every moment you're awake should be filled with pain and agony and working till your knuckles bleed to make Your Career Happen. 

But I can't make art without other people. I need a rehearsal room, stocked with other bodies and a water filter to do what I am best at. How nice, I think, it would be to be the kind of artist who can make the kinds of art you can make alone in your room at 8:30 in the morning. But I can't draw much more than a stick figure family, and I don't play any instruments. So I thought, buck up and finally finish writing that play you've had sitting in your drafts for years. You'll feel like you're making some art again. If you're writing a play, you're making art. And if you're making art, then maybe you'll finally feel like you're working towards Your Career. But call me Ismael- playwriting has always been my white whale. 

I've never been able to finish a draft of a play. I hoard half-finished drafts like one day they'll form a floatation device when I'm sinking in an unknown body of water and no one can hear my screams. Like a teen who bought an adorable pair of shoes even though they're a size too big but maybe the doctors were wrong and she isn't done growing. I just can't seem to get to the end of a play. I've always thought I couldn't finish them because I wasn't committed enough, wasn't good enough at writing, wasn't pushing myself hard enough to "do the thing that scared me." Everyone else seemed to be able to get to the end, no matter how much they struggled in the middle. But every time I close my eyes and think about what I might have to say, I can't think of anything. Everyone else has already said it. They've said it better. They've said it more eloquently, with better metaphors, with themes and through-lines that kids in Drama Lit classes would think about for hours until they finally figured them out, with symbolism that would make everyone in the class go "ooooooh" when the teacher finally explained them. I've never written anything that had to be explained. I felt like I was drawing with crayons when everyone else had been given calligraphy pens.

The theatre is the language I've chosen to speak. So, if I can't write a play, then I must not be able to write at all. 

My New Year's resolution is to do my Artist Pages every day. Every morning, three pages. Pen to paper. More often then not the last few days, I've written about exactly this- how I must be worth nothing as an artist, because I can't seem to make any art. I'd write furiously for three pages, then done. Book closed.

And then it dawned on me. I was, in fact, writing. 

Maybe it didn't look very high-brow. Maybe I wasn't saying anything new, or altogether too interesting, or even true. But I was actually writing. And I said this Mom through our shoddy wi-fi connection and she said- "who said plays are the only kind of art you can write?"

No one.

So then I thought about all the things I've written and finished before. There are plenty. Blog posts, letters, essays, tweets (which are harder now because there's more characters). I thought that I couldn't finish a play because I didn't have anything of value to say. Maybe I haven't finished a play yet because the things I want to say and the way I want to say them don't fit inside a play. Maybe they do fit better inside a little box in 240 characters. Maybe I'll become an expert in avant-garde type-setting poetry. Maybe I'll only write on the inside flaps of Honey Nut Cheerios boxes. I'm not bad at writing, I was just putting on a sweatshirt two sizes too weird.  

So, I'm writing this because I'm gonna take some time to figure out how my voice wants to sound these days, or any number of other analogies for writing. I feel the need to see something concrete. To look and say, ok. We finished something. I don't need it to be good. I don't really even need anyone to read it ("of course you do Jess that's why you're posting it online and will probably share a link to facebook too!"). I need to know that the mush inside my head has turned into something real, something that's orbiting just as fast as me but exists outside my body.

I think I understand the appeal of blogging. There's no templates here. Just open space and a publish button. Thanks for being there for me while I try this on for size.