It Was the Year Beyoncé Released Her Self-Titled, and I Didn’t Know What I Was Doing on Princeton St.

Dedicated to Deborah “Lil Deb” Harms, whose steadfast commitment to friendship includes sending Josh Ritter an annual holiday card

At this point, many of my readers know that I applied to something like 15 colleges during my senior year of college. I ended up making it into three, all of which were on the very bottom of my list. I’m pretty sure that I applied to my alma mater, the University of Portland, because it sent me a free paper application in the mail. In high school, I wanted to go to an East Coast SLAC like Sarah Lawrence, Smith, or Vassar. After all, my eighteen-year-old icons were the Beats, the confessional poets, and Kat Stratford from 10 Things I Hate About You. But I was no Ginsberg, Sexton, or Stratford, so I ended up at a small Catholic college in Portland, Oregon.* 


Before I get into roasting various social groups at UP, you have to understand something: my university was tiny. Not 1,500 tiny, like my brother’s college on the East Coast, but 4,500 tiny, which is just small enough to feel exactly like high school. Especially seeing as, well, it was the same size as my actual high school. It will probably not be surprising to you, then, when I illustrate how the institutional vibes at the University of Portland could feel decidedly teenage.

As they likely do at many American universities, students at UP locked themselves pretty steadfastly into friend groups during the first month of the first term of freshman year. For the most part, these groups continued on essentially unchanged until graduation. None of this was entirely surprising to me, but it did make college feel suffocating and predetermined in ways I didn’t expect.

That first year, there were a group of girls I tried to become friends with in the first few months of the term. They were really kind people, mostly Education majors, who liked staying in to make brownies, keeping up with Broadway musicals, and watching the Joe Wright Pride & Prejudice. You get it. At the time, I knew that we had many differences, many of which seemed to boil down to unimportant minutiae. These girls were largely the types that had color-coded day planners, clean, brightly-colored dorm rooms with sensible Target décor, and planned, seasonally appropriate group outings to pumpkin patches and ice-skating rinks. By way of contrast, my room was constantly a mess. I was that college student who could barely keep my papers organized in a binder, and who relied on an above-average memory for academic information to make up for the fact that I regularly forgot about assignments. I didn’t get out much, and I didn’t have many hobbies, but I did spend a lot of time staring at the wall and and/or window, dancing alone to Celia Cruz, and watching Battlestar Galactica in bed.


As I’ve noted, these differences were not really significant, and we got along well. But I couldn’t get rid of the nagging feeling that around these girls, I was faking at being more put-together than I really was, and that they knew I was something of a loose thread in their neatly-woven network of friendship.

First Things First: I’m (Not) the Realest

During that early period of college, there was also a group of people at school I was friends with through my roommate, who I instantly liked. She was brave and wild and funny. She had been through more in eighteen years than most people will in their entire lives, and we shared a deep love of fast food and old school rap. Unfortunately for everyone involved, a splinter group of my roommate’s friends was chock-full of a bunch of rich white boys from Seattle who mimicked the speech patterns and personal style of their favorite rappers. While I can’t fully articulate what this was like, I hope it’s sufficient to say that thinking about it still makes me cringe with secondhand embarrassment. These manbaby Iggy Azaleas were friends with a lot of beautiful people who I wouldn’t necessarily label popular– in fact, they appeared to have a shockingly difficult time interacting with people who they weren’t familiar with– but nevertheless acted like edgier, athleisure-wearing versions of the plastics. Side note: if you weren’t wearing black leggings, bright white, expensive kicks, and a perfectly-orchestrated messy bun at UP, then who were you, really?**

The important consequence of my association with this group was that I was spending time with yet another cluster of humans that I felt disconnected from. I was far from wealthy. I didn’t play sports. I did not particularly enjoy themed parties. I never took a curated “front porch steps” group photo. I have bad skin, and I get sad when I drink. In other words, it’s not that I thought I was better or more interesting than those folks, I just didn’t think I wanted the same things out of day-to-day life as they did. It also seemed like there were unspoken standards in place defining what kind of person you had to be in order to be close with them.

Of course, there was a guy in this larger network of friends that I developed an enormous crush on. Because I’m an idiot. One night, he texted me to ask if I wanted to come over for a party his friends were having. At that moment, like on most Friday nights, I was eating pizza and listening to reggaetón with a friend. I was also wearing sweatpants with Classico pasta sauce stains on them. Glam. Anyway, I remember pulling on my boots and racing home as quickly as I could, wincing while I thought about the fact that I barely had any clean laundry. My friend came with me, and sat on the bed shrugging while I threw on approximately 15 articles of clothing. I felt big and greasy and uncool in all of them. I thought about the guy’s house, occupied by a couple of people who I think may actually be models at this point, and I felt my face grew hot. I sat frozen in my grimy little room for just a minute or two before this guy sent me another text to say that most people had left, and that the party had been broken up. As you might imagine, I had spent so much time feeling anxious and gross that I completely missed an opportunity to get to know him better ( : a memoir).

Just Your Average Proust-Loving Woo Girl

A complicating factor in terms of my college social life was the fact that I existed in a weird middle space between those who liked to party and those who didn’t. It’s probably worth mentioning that I didn’t start drinking for a long time in college out of respect for my family, who has been deeply impacted by alcoholism and substance abuse. But I really loved music, dancing, and meeting people. Even more, I loved the conversations you can get into at the edges of the party where someone starts letting their often delicately-constructed guards down, often more easily because of all of the loud noise and dim light, and you get to learn about them in ways that are not always possible outside of those spaces. In fact, I’ve had some of the most interesting and authentic conversations of my life at house parties.

For the record, I’m not trying to say that I am particularly interesting or unique in the sense that I am a Grade A geek who comes alive in the nighttime. We all contain multitudes. But it can be kind of odd being the type of person who loves talking V. Woolf and Wagner’s Lohengrin, but also being that girl who very authentically squeals when Lil Jon’s “Get Low”*** comes on at Brandon’s birthday rager. In fact, the inside of my brain is always jumbled up because it is trying to remember, for example, a specific line in Derrida’s The Animal That Therefore I Am while dutifully reciting “Who that be fly as a Martian? (Cardi)/ Who that on fleek in the cut? (Cardi).” In that miasma of thoughts, my mind (or superego or self) never seems to know which words are most valuable, or which forms of art to prioritize. Indeed, in many ways, my constant struggle with questions of focus and value when it comes to the content of my thoughts reflects the uncertainty I experience when trying to connect with others.

All of that being said, it’s worth noting that despite my complex affection for the social and spiritual benefits of the house party, “partying” at my college may actually have been the dumbest thing I have ever witnessed in my life (before the election of Trump, obviously, but this was a different time). I’ll tell you why:

Given that UP is a small school, and that over half of the school’s students live in university-affiliated housing, the party scene (if you could even call it that), consisted of about five or six active houses that students would rotate among throughout the course of a night. Many of these houses had cutesy nicknames like “the Gingerbread House” or “SeaWorld” or whatever. You were supposed to know the addresses of these houses, as well as who lived in them, because asking was uncool and made you look like a freshman– which, of course, you were, at least for awhile. I hated this tradition, and while I guess it would have been funny to name my house something like Tatooine or the House of Usher, the whole thing reeked of exclusionary posturing.

On most Friday nights, throughout the neighborhood closest to campus, groups of anywhere from a couple of upperclassmen to a horde of 12 freshmen– sometimes pretending to be drunk from the small amount of strawberry Smirnoff they were forced to split with the others– would stumble around looking for houses rumored to be party locations. Because the average lifespan of a UP party was about 25 minutes (if the party got big enough to be fun, then it was definitely big enough to be shut down by Public Safety), most of these groups had to continue moving from one rumored party location to another in order to cobble together anything that looked like a night out. In that sense, with so many groups of kids knocking on various neighborhood doors, scouting around for signs of life and movement, the whole operation looked a lot like trick-or-treating.

Let’s continue with a relevant example:

During my freshman year, there was a house past North Lombard St. called “The Bakery,” supposedly because all of its occupants were stoners. At least in theory, the stoners never let freshmen come to their parties, and even appointed “bouncers” to make sure you were old enough and worthy enough to enter their hallowed halls. The bouncers stood guard in front of a sign that said “NO FRESHMEN” written in red letters, which instantly reminded me of the “Keep Out” signs on children’s forts and treehouses. It all just felt so incredibly adult.

Though I was indeed a freshman the first night I trekked to The Bakery in a bandage skirt and ballet flats, I never really worried about getting in. The whole misogynistic underpinning of the party scene dictates that if you are deemed attractive enough by whoever is manning the door– usually some bro who probably hasn’t even showered that week– you can get in anywhere. Easy. Inside the house, the walls were covered with butcher paper, and strings of green lights (the Great Gatsby kind, the kind that make you confront your existential dread and the masterful lie that was the Jazz Age) cast everything in a hazy glow. Throughout the course of the party, representatives of The Bakery’s tender and time-honored traditions went around marking the foreheads of all those not smoking weed with a large green “X.” At first, I was angry at how authoritarian this practice seemed. Though I had plastered my face in my best cool-girl smile, I was secretly screaming THIS IS SOME MAJOR THOUGHT POLICING FUCKERY AND I WILL NOT ABIDE BY IT. I didn’t want to smoke that night, and I did not want such a visual representation of what I already felt: I was alone, and everyone could see through the fact that I was pretending to have an amazing night.

Later that year, though, when I thought about that cannabinoid scarlet letter, I considered that many people already do mentally what The Bakery boys were doing that night. They habitually draw mental “X”s on people based on first impressions, rumors, and assumptions gathered from their peers. They rule people out. At the very least, I thought, those upperclassmen had the decency to let me know that I wasn’t their people. That way, I wouldn’t have to waste my time attempting to connect.

Anne of Green Gables Ruined Me, and Other Stories

I know that “I love so hard” is a cliche, but that cliche describes me well. In the words of DFW, “Everything I have ever let go of has claw marks on it.”

During my freshman year, I met a girl in the English program who was my straight up kindred spirit. You know those people who seem to physically glow from the inside out? That was her. She was also a gentle person, but that gentleness was stitched through with a thin seam of coldness. Like my roommate, she had been through a lot, and that made her different. She was resilient in a way that a lot of other people our age were not, and I appreciated that. We had nearly everything in common. I was like the goddamn Aeolian harp and she was like the wind. My interactions with her felt so organic, so natural, and so filled with joy. So many of my attempts to connect to others, I realized, weren’t just thankless and depressing, they were exhausting. This laughter and validation were effortless, like a breeze. It was one of the easiest kinds of love I have ever known. But I expected to much of her too quickly: too much time, too much intimacy, and too much of what I perceived of as loyalty. It’s the reason I have always sucked at casual dating. Once I get a glimpse of someone’s gorgeous human soul, I determinedly seal them into my heart with very little chill.

Importantly, I also didn’t realize how considerably unfun I was to be around at the time. Not only was I severely depressed, but I was also in a long-distance relationship that constantly tore at my ability to exist in the present. Later on in my college career, the dissolution of that relationship turned me into a self-effacing, near-catatonic hermit. I didn’t have a lot to offer my kindred spirit in terms of mutual benefit; so, after a year or so, she left me behind in favor of those who did.

It Was the Year Beyonce’s Self-Titled Album Came Out, and I Didn’t Know What I Was Doing on Princeton St.


A photo that accurately depicts me alone in a corner, peak sparrow face, not knowing at all what I am doing.

In my junior year of college, I lived in a house with four other UP students who were smart, artsy types; a lot of people called them hipsters, but that term pretty imprecisely describes their unique backgrounds and personalities. Given that we had a lot of interests in common, I thought that this house would be a good fit for me. For the large part, my housemates were a really kind and talented bunch.

Once, when my parents came to visit, I gave them a little tour of the house. In the kitchen, there was a collage of Polaroids taped all over the wall. The photos showed my housemates with their friends dancing, eating, and smoking hookah–sometimes naked, sometimes costumed, and always captioned with funny phrases and quotations. My dad, being a dad, went to look at the collage, probably to inspect the array of substances featured in the photos.

It felt awkward when I quietly told him that he shouldn’t waste his time. I wasn’t in any of them.

In this case, I was pretty certain that the problem was that I had just moved in with a very close group of friends. As seniors in college, they just weren’t particularly interested in bringing someone into the fold that late. But, because many of them were kind, they would sometimes casually invite me to go out with them, or watch a movie or something. I rarely did, because I always had the sneaking feeling they pitied me, and considered me something of a wet blanket. Even the introverted ones in the group seemed vibrant and unique and carefree– tied to a system of art references I didn’t understand, and party to a catalog of inside jokes that stretched back years. I felt quiet and ignorant, uncultured and lame. (Are you sensing a theme? Me too.)

I’ve Got It All (Most)

If you care to know, here is my takeaway from this mess of anecdotes, all of which I’m sure appear somewhat unrelated:

In Atonement (coincidentally, a novel increasingly assigned to freshmen in college English classes), Ian McEwan wrote, “It wasn’t only wickedness and scheming that made people unhappy, it was confusion and misunderstanding; above all, it was the failure to grasp the simple truth that other people are as real as you.” I know I am guilty of this flaw, and I think I was particularly guilty of it in college. Even though I was much more confident in myself and in my social skills than I was during the years I was bullied in grade school, I continued to see the social politics of any given environment as an extensive game, a complex chessboard requiring hotness, social capital, and an understanding of what any particular group of friends shared, valued, or considered cool. Ostensibly, mastering these categories would allow me to move forward on the board. The end goal of all this, of course, was something like joy or a feeling of belonging, though I could never quite put my finger on what either of those might look like.

In the same way that–while navigating the dating scene–some people are saddled with the feeling of not being enough (not good-looking enough, not talkative enough, etc. etc. etc.), that is, saddled with cultural, economic, and gender expectations of all kinds, I found that in friendship, I also felt not enough– not fun enough, not artistic enough, not approachable or smart or fit enough– for any given social group. And that constant sensation of lack just felt like high school all over again.

There are those who say that not only is college like high school, but that postgraduate life is like high school, too. I don’t know about you, but I am pretty sure I don’t want my limited time on this earth to be subject to the same pressures and anxieties as those I experienced at sixteen. And I certainly don’t want to consider myself part of some Good Place-esque plus and minus system where I move up or down in any given group depending on how much I impress them (+) or reveal too much of myself, therefore freaking them out and/or repulsing them entirely (-).

Thankfully, after graduate school (which also embodied some high school-y qualities, but that’s a story for another time), things have gotten better. I have a kind of “Love Me or Leave Me” thing going on, and I very rarely think about how I come across to other people. Over time, I think the confidence and peace I have started to gather around myself have helped me to develop more beautiful friendships. I have a writer friend who writes me honest-to-God letters, complete with pressed flowers and magazine cut-outs, and a friend who is a walking IMDB, and whose nice sweaters I cry on every few weeks at the movies. I have an anarchist friend I drink mate with who tells me stories about Quito and Nicanor Parra. It seems like things are just easier, now. If someone seems disinterested, including in the parts about me that do not adhere to their tastes, sensibilities, and values, then I let that relationship fade–gently– from the fabric of my everyday life.

Simply put, I care about myself more seriously now, and that simple fact seems to smooth out some of the wrinkles in interactions that used to feel so complicated and stress-ridden. I try to reach out more, self-sabotage less, and endeavor to remind myself that each person is a tiny universe full of histories and anxieties that I will never fully know. 

Moreover, nowadays, I am just too tired to care what Chase the aspiring frat bro thinks.

Food for Thought and Further Reading:

> With time, I have realized that in conjunction with my own failures, UP’s lack of diversity; that is, the fact that so many of its students are wealthy or upper-middle class white folks from the PNW, contributed to a corresponding culture of homogeneity that made me (and certainly many others) experience difficulty achieving a sense of belonging in college. 

> The year before I graduated college, “The Dark Power of Fraternities” came out in an issue of The Atlantic. If you are at all interested in the presence of misogyny, rape culture, and substance use on college campuses, give this one a read. For me, this article elicits not just feminist concerns or important observations about American binge-drinking culture, but also makes me think about what kinds of things we are looking for when we go out at night, and why there often seems to be this enormous gulf, especially during freshman year, between university-sponsored dry events that no one goes to and frat/party culture.

> Do you have any cringe-inducing, vulnerable, or otherwise difficult stories to share about making friends in an institution of higher ed (particularly during freshman year?)? Any realizations or wisdom regarding Pointless Rituals That Seemed Important at the Time (TM)? I would love to start an archive below, particularly for my younger readers who haven’t started college yet. As always, feel free to email me your comments at And, for the love of Blue Ivy Carter, at least try to be nice.


* Does it sound like I still haven’t disembarked from the bitter train? That’s probably because you’re right, Barbara, I still haven’t. So sue me.
** I kid. Kind of.
*** A fun fact about me and Lil Jon: I was publicly castigated in the cafeteria of a Cambria, CA summer camp for teaching my fellow youths the dance to Lil Jon’s 2005 hit “Snap Yo Fingers.” I was 10.

The title of this piece borrows from Plath’s opening lines in The Bell Jar.

The subtitle “First Things First” is a modified version of lyrics from Iggy Azalea’s 2014 “Fancy.” 

The subtitle “I’ve Got it All (Most)” is a song title taken from Isaac Brock. It comes from Modest Mouse’s EP No One’s First, and You’re Next (2009).

Screen caps from 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), dir. by Gil Junger and Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009), dev. by Ronald D. Moore and created by Glen Larson

Millennial Circles of Hell Pt. 2: The Internship

I signed a contract to work with Oregon Bride, a magazine owned by Tiger Oak Media, on 8/17/17.

The issue to which I contributed came out on January of 2018.

Today’s date is 01/20/19, one year and five months after I signed that contract, and I still have not been paid for an ounce of work I did for Oregon Bride.

Who Is That Sad Little Person?

In the summer of 2017, I had just graduated with an MA in English, and had also just embarked upon the heinous job search that I discuss in detail here. Last November, Longreads editor Aaron Gilbreath wrote about about my job-search piece in an article called “The Humanities Marketplace as a Circle of Hell,” an apt description of my post-graduate life. The name of today’s post is a nod to Gilbreath’s title, and an introduction to one of the finest traditions of millennial living: the unpaid internship.*

During the Summer of My Job-Hunting Discontent (TM), I knew that my resume contained more experiences in academia than it did in editing or publishing. So, when the opportunity presented itself, I decided to take on an internship at Oregon Bride, a bridal magazine that my friend had just starting working for that summer. My friend explained that, historically, the magazine has not paid its interns; however, she could assign me to write freelance articles and serve as her editorial assistant for a stipend of $500. The magazine approved the arrangement, and I accepted the terms. I was sincerely looking to forward to the opportunity— not simply to boost my resume, but to learn more about how print publications get made.

I want to begin by stating two things. Firstly, I do not at all intend to blame my friend (who no longer works for the magazine) for any of the events I describe in this article. She is a kind and talented person who, like me, did not know the character of the magazine’s parent company until she began working there. And secondly, (because, according to some of the nastiest commenters on my job search article, I need to articulate this more emphatically), yes, I do realize and take responsibility for my own mistakes in this matter.**No, I am not asking anyone to throw me a “pity party”.*** I am simply here to write about something that happened to me with the hope that someone else might find it helpful. I am also here to roast some higher-ups for not paying the hard-working Americans that create their product. So take that, Trump-supporting malcontents.

The requirements of this internship, for the most part, were not unreasonably work-intensive. Beyond assisting the Senior Editor, I was charged with proofreading, writing a series of brief articles, and updating digital materials (such as the magazine’s Vendor Directory). I was also asked to attend a few days of October photoshoots for the magazine’s Spring/Summer issue.

Although taking several days off of my minimum-wage retail job was not my best financial decision, and I could not stop calculating and recalculating how much losing that take-home pay would affect my partner and I that month, I was sincerely looking forward to the photoshoots. To me, they represented a chance to learn about the process of creating a print publication from a new perspective. I had worked on proofreading, formatting, and editing in the past, but this week would allow me to learn about the real-time creation and design of magazine content– something that higher-ranking editors typically do.

To save money on the October trip, I crashed at a friend’s place, where I was momentarily calmed by pink wine and a (nostalgic, but definitely not ironic) viewing of the Disney Channel Original Movie Cadet Kelly. However, the next morning, anxious about the week’s busy schedule and the high price of food in Portland, I also made a really horrible decision called replacing my meals with high-protein shakes. Friends, family, colleagues: please don’t do this. Unless, of course, you want to wreck your bowels; in that case, be my actual guest.  

Florals? For Spring? Groundbreaking.

I will spare you the details of my “professional” experiences that week, mostly because they primarily consisted of me feeling like Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada: getting coffee for the crew, writing down the names and style numbers of various gowns, and feeling insecure about my cheap clothing and frizzy hair. It was a slightly more fast-paced and considerably bougie-r work environment than I was used to, but it went relatively okay. At one point during the first day, I felt pretty sad watching PAs feed one of the models pistachios like she was a tiny, underfed bird, but c’est l’industrie, I guess?

Everything went okay, that is, until the next day– when my 24-year-old car broke down in the middle of a busy Portland intersection while I was transporting hundreds of dollars worth of flowers in the backseat. Within the hour, I found myself ugly-crying in the Portland rain, knowing I probably didn’t have the money to get the car fixed, and calling my friend/editor thinking that someone else would have to bring the flowers to the set. Except, of course, there was no one else. So I called an Uber from the tow truck driver’s phone (mine had died at that point), placed the flowers in the backseat, and rode to my friend’s house, where I borrowed her car to drive three hours to deliver the flowers.

On my way to the photoshoot location, I was asked to pick up lunch for the crew again: a catering tray of Subway sandwiches, chips, fruit, and a few other things. Unlike the last time I picked up food for the crew, no one gave me a company credit card or mentioned anything about paying for the meal. Knowing that I was already late to the shoot, I was too nervous to call and talk about reimbursement– the people I was working with had made it very clear that they were not to be bothered about little things like that– so I emptied out a large portion of all of the money I currently had in my checking account to pay for lunch.

When I finally reached the set– a plateau somewhere in the Columbia Gorge– I was told that I wasn’t really needed, and that, given what had happened to my car, I should go home and deal with it. I gave a staff member my receipts for the food I had bought, and she said she would reimburse me later. So I promptly drove the three hours back, where I spent a good deal of time plotting to sell my plasma and/or my 1970s Peugeot street bike in order to pay for my fruitless attempts at career-building.

Is There Some Reason My Coffee Isn’t Here? Has She Died or Something?

Interestingly enough, as I look back on this period of time, it isn’t actually the fact that I never got reimbursed for my purchases that frustrates me; instead, it’s the fact that the amount I spent on food and coffee for everyone was such a negligible amount of money to that person that she did not think of how much that purchase might impact me (a definite pattern during those days of photoshoots). I wondered if she, along with the other higher-ups at the magazine, knew what it was like to be making minimum wage with an undergraduate student loan–and, if they did, why they couldn’t transform that empathy into an acknowledgement that it might be difficult for an intern to pick up the check.

As I noted earlier, the issue to which I contributed came out in December of 2017. For the “freelance” portion of my arrangement with the magazine, I ended up interviewing several different winners of our “Real Weddings” feature (a portion of the magazine devoted to describing Oregonian weddings that actually happened, as opposed to those staged in the magazine for advertising purposes), and wrote about them. Was this the most compelling work I have ever produced? Absolutely not. But I did…do the work.


My attempts to contact the magazine about payment resulted in extraordinarily vague and noncommittal responses from several Tiger Oak staff members. I realize that it is not the responsibility of an editorial staff to deal with accounting issues, especially for employees that they have never worked with. But the fact that these employees, by way of a justifying their business practices, continued to emphasize how “transparent” they are about their failure to pay freelancers in a timely fashion angered me to no end. I was also angered by the fact that several staff members blamed my friend for not being emphatic enough about just how late “late” really means for Tiger Oak Media. While I’m a big fan of transparency, transparency is not the issue at hand. Here’s a hot take: being transparent about an unethical practice doesn’t magically make it an ethical one. 

After doing some digging online, I have discovered that this is not the first time a freelancer has been utterly stiffed by this magazine, a fact further supported by comments on job review sites such as Glassdoor and Indeed. According to my research, Tiger Oak’s failure to pay its freelancers has been going on for at least a decade; in fact, this 2010 (2010!) article states that “The situation got so bad that the Minnesota Attorney General sent a letter to Tiger Oak asking about the delays.” Another article published in 2010, this piece by Oregon Live columnist Steve Duin, questions the legality of Tiger Oak’s internship program a.k.a. its propensity to rely on unpaid labor that does not clearly benefit its often-desperate interns.

Look, I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on finance or even the publishing industry, so can someone explain to me how the hell a company like Tiger Oak continues to stay in business without paying those that create its content? I mean, ostensibly, each magazine’s salaried employees continue to make something; otherwise, I’m sure the company would have gone under a long time ago. My guess is this: that the powers that be at Tiger Oak Media know that very few freelancers are going to take them to small claims court when the cost of doing so, in most cases, will end up being more than the freelancer is owed. But you would think that at some point, they could not sustain these business practices. You would think.

But hey, then again, maybe not? Since this has happened, I have started reading a lot of material online about freelancers who simply never get paid by their clients. Even in my own town, this has happened to a group of freelancers who wrote for The Corvallis Advocate. According to the article, they are owed thousands of dollars in back pay. And yet, I still see that paper going out to local newsstands.

According to their website, Tiger Oak Publications publishes “more than 27 magazines” (So… 28? 29? The fact that they aren’t forthcoming about the number of publications they have itself seems a little sketchy…). Because I have come to learn that many of Tiger Oak’s publications take over a year to pay their freelancers, not just Oregon Bride, that means that–potentially– freelancers for 27 (28? 29?) magazines, most of whom are probably already not doing so hot in the finances department, are having to wait a unreasonable amount of time to get paid for their work. In what other industry is this okay?*

Do you want to know what’s particularly funny about Me, Myself, and my Mistakes? Despite having learned some important lessons from this whole situation, I began another unpaid internship this year, this time with Sundress Publications. But I love it, and here is the difference:

* At Sundress, I was told very explicitly that working for the publication was a volunteer opportunity. I was provided with a specific and thorough contract that defines responsibilities on both my part and the part of supervisors. I was also given a very manageable workload (10 hours a week), which respects the fact that when someone who is not a trust fund baby does an internship, they might also need to work a paying job during the day.

* The editors at Sundress have made it clear that they are invested in supporting interns. They created social media posts to introduce us, for example, and collected our bios in order to give us more exposure. The editor that I work with directly created a detailed handbook to help us navigate the publication’s day-to-day processes, and has made herself very available to support us when she assigns us tasks. Did I mention that everyone who works at Sundress is a volunteer? Undoubtedly, that fact contributes to the healthier workplace culture of the publication, but it also reminds me that the editor I work with does not have to do nearly half of the things she does to be a great supervisor. I have already begun to learn about working for a publication of this size and type because of her commitment to mentorship. And isn’t that pragmatic sort of learning supposed to be what an internship is really about? Not just paying for catering platters and crying?

But what do I know? I’m just an overeducated twenty-something who has more degrees than I do positive work experiences. And if the responses to my blog posts are any indication of what life is like for today’s debt-ridden and often-exploited young folks, then I can confidently discern that I am not alone. At least I am not like my brother, whose own “paid” post-grad internship at a large L.A. nonprofit ended up compensating him in a handful of Starbucks gift cards. 


The very day I intended to post this piece, I received a letter in the mail from Tiger Oak. I was momentarily excited. Perhaps today, I thought, perhaps today I can finally address that “check engine” light. Or get some sensible orthotic shoes.

But OH LOL, fam. It’s Tiger Oak peddling some swill about how we “may have noticed” never getting paid for our work, and using some fancy corporate rhetoric to suggest that this event is a fluke– an isolated incident that was caused by mistakes in this year’s accounting– instead of a business practice that has lasted for at least ten years. Oh, and don’t worry, they have worked out a solution that is fair for the both of us. Oh, happy day.

2019-01-20 02.01.16 1.jpg


* Or perhaps, in this case, the “late-paid internship”?

** For example, not signing a contract that stipulates a specific payment date. Way to go, amateur Athena!
*** A real-life piece of textual evidence from a reader like you. Thank you, empathetic reader! Cheers!

**** This is a serious question. I would like to know if you work in an industry in which this is okay. Enlighten me (kindly please, for the love of God) in the comments.

All subtitles courtesy of The Devil Wears Prada (2006), directed by David Frankel.

The Barefoot Confessor, or I Briefly Recount My Eating Problems and Provide You With 5 Excellent Recipes to Ward off the Winter Chill

“Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go.”

– Anthony Bourdain

“People confuse me. Food doesn’t.”

– also Anthony Bourdain


A pachanga of shrimp from a coastal restaurant in Mazatlán, Mexico. 

Salt, Fat, Acid, Shame

Anyone who knows me well knows that I have a complicated history with food. But when I think about this history in its entirety, I find that it’s not so complicated after all. The fact of the matter is, I just really love food.

During the latter half of my time in high school, I developed anorexia. The reasons for this are various, but– another very long story short– I started restricting because I was lonely, and thought that if I was more conventionally attractive, I would have an easier time making friends and *meeting boys*. Like many others who suffer from anorexia, I was immediately drawn to the feelings of control that restricting provided me, especially at a time when I felt entirely unable to control many aspects of my life.

A significant portion of those who suffer from anorexia are smart, high-achieving types from middle and upper-middle class backgrounds; I fit that profile in many ways.* But, fortunately, I made a (mostly) full recovery. Given that research suggests that anorexia has the highest death rate of any psychiatric disorder,** and that the thought patterns associated with the disease are difficult to eradicate, I consider myself lucky. At the time I was sick, I experienced the dual privileges of having supportive parents and undergoing an outpatient treatment plan that included working with a therapist and a nutritionist. Ultimately, I ended up gaining weight, growing my hair back, and reclaiming my previous quality of life.

All of that being said, I continue to struggle with eating. Now that I have stopped restricting, I tend to eat too much. Indeed, when I grappled with anorexia, the compulsion to overeat was always waiting in the wings of my attempts to deprive myself of food. This may seem a bit confusing to some readers, so I will explain.

Since I was a little kid, I have loved the taste, texture, and experience of eating food. Both cooking and eating are vastly comforting activities to me. My childhood hero and first real crush was Anthony Bourdain, and (aside from a brief period of time in middle school, when I tried to teach myself to become ambidextrous, so that I could be a neurosurgeon someday) all I ever wanted to do was travel, write, and eat.

I used to be ashamed of the fact that food is so influential in my consciousness that some of the happiest moments in my life are richly textured with the memories of what I ate on those days. But I’m no longer ashamed of that; in fact, it is one of the big truths of my life.

I spent many perfect days of my childhood, for example, in Sinaloa, Mexico, eating fresh shrimp with lime, pescado zarandeado wrapped in foil, and beachfront tacos that I scarfed down while covered in sand. 

And later, in Tulancingo: the most crispy/saucy chilaquiles the world has ever seen, dozens of tacos al pastor, and a variety of guajolotes best consumed at night (In Tulancingo, guajolotes are not actually turkeys, but the most incredible tortas made with fried bread and a myriad of toppings).

In San Francisco, as a teenager: transcendentally flaky pastries from the Mission Tartine, which my boyfriend and I would eat in Dolores Park while we sat in the sun, and enormous carne asada burritos from Los Pericos that would fill you up for the entire day.

In Spain, studying abroad: cold tintos de verano in the summer, hot rosquillas with cinnamon sugar in the winter, and–of course– the most amazing jamón, all strung up in shop windows like salty Christmas angels (Note: I once had a conversation with my host mother about jamón in Spain. I asked her if there were different words for different cuts of ham, because the kind that we often had at nice dinners looked a lot like prosciutto. She insisted that they were all “just jamón.” I love that woman).

In Greece, while visiting family: thick, silty Greek coffee, melty moussaka with a bubbly, golden-brown top, and crab caught that afternoon in the teal Mediterranean. Also, souvlaki. You should know that in the village where my family comes from, Komnina, there is an old legend about the water fountain near the town square. They say that if you drink from the fountain, you will fall in love with the next person you see. That week in Komnina, the joke among our relatives was that I laid eyes on a plate of souvlaki after I drank from the fountain, and the rest is history…(insert shrugging emoji here).

Is Mastering the Art of *Moderate* French Cooking an Oxymoron?

I wish I could write a beautiful transition here, one that shows my impressive personal growth. But the truth is that there really isn’t a neat end to this narrative, nor this little walk down a gustatory memory lane. I still don’t really know what I am doing when it comes to food. Though I have a much better idea of how to eat healthily now, I still have a hard time occupying the space that exists between bingeing and starving. In The Recovering, a beautiful and extremely well-researched book by Leslie Jamison (who struggled with both alcoholism and eating disorders), Jamison briefly discusses the misconception that people with anorexia don’t enjoy eating; in fact, for many of us, it’s quite the opposite– we restrict because we like to eat so much that our only method of control becomes stopping the action altogether. It’s messed up, but it makes a kind of sense.

I know that Socrates could be a long-lost ancestor of mine, but I’m definitely not a follower of all of his maxims. I’m probably never going to be one of those “eat to live” types. Sorry, Grandpa Socrates. However, as much as I love food, neither do I really want to live to eat. “Everything in moderation” has become something of a nutritional cliche of its own, but I do sincerely want to learn to moderate: to enjoy food without using it as an emotional crutch, a means of external validation, or– you know– a stand-in for a significant other (s/o to the three years I was single but essentially in a romantic relationship with Taquería Santa Cruz).

In humble celebration of this concept, here is a handful of recipes that I have enjoyed lately, and that I find pretty damn cozy during this time of year. Are they healthy? Not really. But at least I try to eat them in sensible portions.

1. Coconut Saffron “Crack Rice” (by Eddie McNamara)


I’m probably committing all sorts of copyright violations by posting this, but it’s worth it to share this amazing recipe with all of you. This rice is so satisfying and easy to make. McNamara says not to use turmeric instead of saffron while making the recipe, but I do, because who can afford saffron in this economy, am I right?

I can’t believe I turned 22 before I learned to start cooking my rice in liquids other than water. Other cultures have been doing this forever, and once you try it, it’s easy to see why. Even if you don’t make this recipe, try cooking a long-grain rice like basmati in coconut milk, and then stirring a tablespoon or so of coconut oil into the finished rice while it’s still hot. Trust me.

2. Slow Cooker Enchilada Quinoa (by La Creme de la Crumb)

At first, Evan was very eye roll about Pinterest, associating it with–I don’t know– the frivolities of the upper middle class or something,*** until I starting finding some killer food on the platform. This recipe is all over the internet, and has several different variations, but this recipe in particular has become one of our favorites. We like to eat it with Juanitas and cilantro, though those additions are totally unnecessary (just kidding, they are totally necessary). In graduate school, we use to get a lot of canned food from the food pantry, and it was sometimes hard to think of delicious food to make from cans. But through the magic of the interwebs, I have learned that doing so is possible with the right recipe. 

If you aren’t into all this cheese, or don’t have a crockpot, this is a healthier stovetop version that we also like:

3. Sausage and Fennel Rigatoni by Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa, aka a God among Humans)

I don’t have too much to say about this one besides the fact that it will make you feel like someone is hugging you from inside your stomach– which actually is a weirder image than I intended. Also, it contains white wine, heavy cream, and pasta, three essential food groups for the establishment of comfort & joy. Even though it may seem unnecessary or annoying to run out and purchase the fennel, don’t skip on it. It really does add something vital to the pasta sauce.

4. “Mom’s” Vegetarian Pot Pie (by Life Currents)

Look, God invented puff pastry because he wanted us to be happy. This blog is all about vulnerability, so I’ll confess that my love and I ate nearly an entire pan of this thing in one night while watching season 5 of Breaking Bad. It happens. The cool thing about this recipe is that even without the chicken, it’s immensely filling and comforting. Note: This blog has a lot of ads and extra content, so just scroll all of the way down to the bottom to read the recipe. Oh, and just in case it isn’t apparent already, this is definitely not a health food. 

5. Brussels Sprouts (by Anthony Bourdain)

Bourdain’s Appetites, a less-complicated offering than his 2004 Les Halles Cookbook, offers some of his favorite recipes to make at home, including those he cooked for his daughter Ariane. This brussels sprouts recipe is amazing, and not just because it features bacon, but because it teaches you how to transform these notorious vegetables into crispy little masterpieces. In his own cookbook, Eddie McNamara explains his conviction that there are a lot of foods that people probably don’t like– like eggplant and quinoa– because they have been served poorly-cooked versions of them. Over time, these brussels sprouts have convinced me that his thesis is probably true.


* My therapist recommended me an excellent book that looks at eating disorders from an intersectional feminist perspective, A Hunger So Wide and So Deep. It complicates the stereotypical rendering of the vain, anorexic white girl by collecting a series of interviews with women of color about their experiences with eating disorders. I recommend it. 

** This fact is taken from the National Eating Disorders Association. Check this page out; it is pretty eye-opening:

Of course, it is always worth noting that most people who suffer from anorexia also suffer from co-occurring conditions. According to NEDA, “A study of more than 2400 individuals hospitalized for an eating disorder found that 97% had one or more co-occurring conditions (94% had co-occurring mood disorders, mostly major depression).”

If you are suffering from an eating disorder, I would give NEDA’s website a look. It features important resources and opportunities for advocacy.

*** my lover is a


13 Songs to Warm Your Frozen Soul: A Life-Affirming Playlist for Companionless Car Trips

This post is dedicated to my dad, who taught me to sing in the car with my whole voice, use the steering wheel as a percussion instrument, and consider any room too quiet without music.

You know that moment when “Karma Police” comes on the radio, and it’s definitely far from your favorite Radiohead song (sorry, Thom Yorke), but then, somehow, you find yourself careening down a country road belting “I’VE GIVEN ALL I CAN AND IT’S NOT ENOUGH” all teary-eyed and croaky-voiced?  

I may know something about that.

I’ve always believed that music is both powerful and corporeal, a true force of nature. I think many of us believe that. Bob Marley’s famous line from “Trench Town Rock, “One good thing about music…when it hits you, you feel no pain” may be a popular quotation on Instagram bios, but I’ve experienced quite the opposite. I feel a lot of pain when I listen to music, and a great deal of of joy, too– indeed, often a whole host of emotions that feel much more imbedded into my skin than abstractly produced in my brain. I love that something inanimate is capable of that.


Science Leads Us to Freddie Mercury, as It Should

According to a 2013 study conducted by the University of Missouri. Queen’s 1978 hit “Don’t Stop Me Now” is the “world’s happiest song.”

I don’t have much to say about this particular study (To be honest, I prefer the soaring joy of “Ooh you make me live!” in You’re My Best Friend.”), but this viral news item got me thinking about the music I find life-affirming. Though I owe a great debt to those artists’ whose songs have at times saved my life,* and certainly to the music that has allowed me a good laugh on a gloomy day,** I have compiled a list of upbeat anthems more suited for driving along the highway, singing aloud to the anonymous humans moving beside you in traffic, rather than laying in your bed and staring at the ceiling after 2.5 glasses of wine. I hope you get what I mean.

There’s no reason, of course, why you can’t listen to this music with a partner or a car full of friends. But for me, they are especially resonant when played full-blast on a solitary and/or quarter-life-crisis-induced car trip. These songs make me feel more joyful, more alive, more confident, and more human. Some are a little angry, but for generally submissive people-pleasers like me, a little anger can be surprisingly good for the soul. In this lonely century, with depression at a national high and self-esteem at a national low, I think that many of us could use more of all of these powerful feelings. So here are just a handful of songs that animate my easily tired bones and my sometimes heavy heart. I hope some of them do the same for you.


  1. “Body Was Made” by Ezra Furman (& the Boy-Friends)

“Body Was Made” is a defiant manifesto about celebrating your soul and your body in the face of ~the man~. In fact, the entirety of Perpetual Motion People, the raw*** and ecstatic album that features this song, is particularly well-suited to times when you are feeling bad about yourself, your appearance, or culture at large. The truth is that I don’t know a single thing about music, but I think that Ezra Furman is one of the most creative rock artists working today.

Also see: “Take off Your Sunglasses,” “Ordinary Life,” and “Haunted Head”



  1. “Man on Fire” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros

Since high school, I have turned to this song for its gentle sense of optimism and community. For an especially tender and light-filled version of “Man on Fire”– rendered in all its magic during a Bloody Sunday Sessions shoot in New Orleans, check out this video:

Also see: “Fiya Wata (Live)”



  1. “25 or 6 to 4” by Chicago

A quick trip to has verified that this song is probably about LSD. But the horn section on this thing. Wow. It gets me. It sounds like the purity of happiness before it gets ruined by life. This one has some nostalgic connotations for me, because it’s one of my dad’s favorite songs. As the dedication in this post indicates, my dad is an excellent car-singer and dancer. It is because of him that I take pride in my own ability to pretend to play brass instruments.



  1. “Smooth Sailin” by Leon Bridges

This is probably the least self-interested song of the bunch, but Leon Bridges’ music makes me feel so good that I had to share it in this playlist. His nods to artists like Otis Redding and Sam Cooke never feel forced or trite, and his style– a fresh-sounding take on old school soul and R&B– is damn catchy. I have danced to Bridges’ debut album more times than I can count, and I nearly always feel better after doing so.

Also see: “Better Man”

Lines to shout into the void: “I LIKE THE WAY YOU SAIL YOUR SHIP. LET ME BE YOUR CARGO.”


  1. “The World Ender” by Lord Huron

In graduate school, my partner Evan taught me what it means to go on a drive. I’m from California, where if you are not driving along the coast, you probably have somewhere to be. And that somewhere often involves a sea of honking cars on I-5. So when I was introduced to the expansive magic that is driving through Oregon woods on a spring afternoon, both getaway car and its passengers dappled in light, after three hours of brain-melting literary theory, I became an instant fan of going on drives without destinations.

On our drives through the woods, we have a few favorite albums we like to play. One of these is Lord Huron’s Strange Trails. “The World Ender” offers not only excellent descriptions of revivification and reanimation– always handy during a depressive episode– but there is also just a lot of yelping and yowling in it. I have found yelping and yowling to be good for the spirit.

Also see: “Louisa”

Lines to shout into the void: “I’M A WORLD ENDER, BABY AND I’M BACK FROM THE GRAVE.”  


  1. “I’m So Free” by Lou Reed

Someday, I would like to write a book-length essay called “Stuff Grunge King Boyfriends Like.” **** In the meantime, though, I will skip a rant about unread copies of Infinite Jest and focus on grunge king boyfriend favorite Lou Reed– in particular, the freeway-friendly majesty of his 1972 song “I’m So Free.” This song isn’t exactly subtle about its thematic relationship to this playlist, but c’est la vie, okay? This is my playlist, and I am not going to be subtle about it.



  1. “Carmensita” by Devendra Banhart

I love the quirky chaos of Devendra Banhart’s music. Like Ezra Furman, his creativity is marked by courage. He writes abstract lyrics, sings, dances, and dresses in feminine ways, and always seems to be experimenting with unconventional themes and sounds. I admire him a lot. Though some of his songs are strikingly beautiful, “Carmensita” is better described as an anthem of wild and undisciplined joy. It isn’t obvious to me whether the lyrics of this song are profound or just absurd for absurdity’s sake, and I like that. The video for the song, ft. Natalie Portman, is notably odd, too.

Also see: “Shabop Shalom”  



  1. “Train in Vain” by The Clash

I knew I would include The Clash in this playlist, but I have to say it was a toss-up between “Rudie Can’t Fail,” which I highly recommend singing to with your own name in place of “Rudie,” and “Train in Vain” I settled on the latter because it’s a classic of self-satisfied anger, and it feels good to sing it with someone who has wronged you in mind as you sail down the American highway. Do you find that petty and/or immature? That’s okay. You are probably a bigger person than me.



  1. “Come Down” by Anderson Paak

Like Leon Bridges, Anderson Paak makes me want to dance. The first time I heard this song, I felt my brain sigh and say Thanks, universe. This is exactly what I needed in this very moment. It’s not necessarily the lyrics in this song that revive me, but its perfect, bouncy rhythm– the kind that only belongs to genres like hip-hop and soul.


Also see: “Celebrate”


  1. S.O.B.” by Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats

I’ll admit that Nathaniel Rateliff’s “S.O.B.” is actually pretty great song to jam to with other folks, so if you want a break from the downward spiral of solipsism, I would pick this one. I love when my Evan and I are tapping out the beat to this song, humming along, and then, as the chorus approaches, we suddenly look over at each other and shout “Son of a Bitch!” It’s cathartic. And communal.

Also see: “Howling at Nothing”



  1. “Send Me on My Way” by Rusted Root

Anyone who knows anything knows that the soundtrack to the film Matilda is a work of art on its own merit, Maybe I just love this song because it reminds me of little Matilda successfully cooking a hearty American breakfast when she can hardly reach the counter, one of the few happy moments in the film’s portrayal of her childhood. But I think it also makes me happy because of the song’s carefree vibes and Burning Man-esque music video.



  1. Normal Person” by Arcade Fire

It was difficult to choose among my favorite Arcade Fire songs. “Wake Up,” though pretty much perfect for these purposes, felt a little too on the nose (even for me), and “The Suburbs”– one of my old high school favorites– a little too reminiscent of the disenchanted hipster. In any case, this song comes from an album that incorporates some disco vibes, White Stripes-y guitar, and teen angst about feeling different. And if that doesn’t call out to the core of my being, I just don’t know what does.

See also: “We Exist” and this fantastic video of “Here Comes the Night TIme,” which features Win Butler’s excellent dance moves and Michael Cera speaking some halfway-decent Spanish:



  1. “One Drop” by Bob Marley

When I was a teenager, my self-care routine primarily consisted of splitting an entire cookie sheet of tater tots with my brother while listening to the entirety of Bob Marley’s Kaya.

Another trip to Genius suggests that “One Drop” refers both to “a reggae-style drum beat popularized by Carlton Barret, the drummer for Bob Marley and the Wailers” and the “one drop rule” used to classify black Americans in the United States’ legal system. As a kid, I did not know about either of these definitions, but I loved the song. I thought that “One Drop” meant something like a soul, a little encapsulation of everything good and holy about you that nothing physical could ever touch. I thought that the “One Drop” could be accessed by feeling the drum beat that Marley sings about in this song.

Also see: “Coming in From The Cold”, “Soul Rebel” … really anything from the Bob Marley & the Wailers discography. Reggae is often so full of joy, and certainly good for these purposes.



Honorable & Miscellaneous Mentions

Kishi Bashi’s “Manchester” (“I haven’t felt this alive in a long time.”), Kendrick Lamar’s “i” (“I love myself.”), The Wild Reeds’ “Where I am Going” (“You think you know where I’m going. The truth is you haven’t got a clue.”), and Kurt Vile’s Pretty Pimpin (“I could be 1,000 miles away. But still mean what I say.”)


An Approximation of a Conclusion

Please comment below with songs of justified anger and unabashed self-love that you might sing on a crowded interstate, with an eye toward what you might play alone or on a spontaneous, beatnik-y sort of field trip to regain your sense of self. Maybe we can create a little archive for those who need to harness the restorative properties of music during a difficult time.  



*The Tallest Man on Earth, Lucy Dacus, Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan, Fleet Foxes, and Wagner, to name a few

** Namely, The Darkness’ “I Believe in a Thing Called Love,” the entire oeuvre of Sugar Ray, and the theme song to the teen drama One Tree Hill, Gavin DeGraw’s “I Don’t Wanna Be.” If you don’t feel better after singing “I DON’T WANNA BE ANYTHING OTHER THAN WHAT I’VE BEEN TRYING TO BE, LATELY” at the top of your lungs, then we have some work to do.

*** I have started to hate the use of this word as a synonym for “gritty” vulnerability, but I can’t think of a better one to describe Furman’s unique blend of roughness and sincerity.

**** Subtitle: “You Don’t Have to Like Them Just Because Your Grunge King Boyfriend Does.” Audience: Me at 17.

What If We Asked Each Other About the Loneliest We Have Ever Been?

Dedicated to the memory of Leelah Alcorn (11/15/97- 12/28/14), who I never had the privilege to know, and Christian Medved (05/13/94- 02/06/13), who I did.

“Without community, there can be no liberation.”

– Audre Lorde, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House”

Dear John & Paul, We Kind of Do Know Where All the Lonely People Come From

This month, a writer and publisher named Kristen Radtke came out with an article in The Atlantic called “What’s the Loneliest You’ve Ever Felt?”

Describing the occasion of her research about loneliness, Radtke explains that Americans continue to suffer under the influence of “notions of self-reliance and the attendant bootstrap-pulling, frontier-conquering, and make-it-on-your-own ideologies.” She writes,

Researchers claim that loneliness will be classified an epidemic by 2030, and the former U.S. Surgeon General has described loneliness as one of the country’s most pressing health risks. The effects of social isolation are so severe that studies have shown that it actually has the power to remap the makeup of human cells. So what happens to a society in which independence is so often the goal and isolation is frequently the result?

I came across Radtke’s project at a time when I have been doing a lot of thinking about the ways in which loneliness and social justice intertwine (hey 2018, you unapologetically fascist tapeworm). The topic has been on my mind even more often lately because I have been reading David Wojnarowicz’s incredible memoir Close to the Knives, and considering the ways in which the AIDS epidemic produced a generation of lonely people by taking their friends, partners, and loved ones away from them.*

Thinking about loneliness in the context of the world around me also makes me think of the immigrant families who are ripped apart from each other by deportation or the threat of starvation and violence in their home countries. I once read about the immigrant mothers who work housekeeping jobs in the U.S. and spend the entire day with FaceTime open so that they can feel like they are at home with their kids. I cannot imagine a deeper kind of missing: the obligation to take care of another person’s home, and perhaps even their children, so that your own can survive another day.

Ultimately, thinking about the social and political sources of loneliness makes the moments in which I have felt most lonely seem shallow in comparison. Eating lunch alone, for example, is nothing like watching purple sores form on the unlined face of the love of your life, to see him dead by winter, or watching your children’s stomachs bloat from malnutrition. Not to mention countless other examples of deep, expansive aloneness in this country of ours: the dehumanization of Native Americans as they were shorn like sheep, forbidden to speak their own languages, violated, and killed until many were the last survivors of their tribes; the isolation of trans women like Leelah Alcorn, who killed herself at 17 after her homophobic parents put her in conversion therapy; and the alienation of the brave people who endure bullying and prejudice as a result of living with disabilities.** But if I have learned anything from my years in therapy, it is that the politics of the “oppression olympics” are never productive. They do not help ourselves or those enduring situations that we perceive to be worse. In other words, we can acknowledge our advantages at the same time as we acknowledge that our suffering is very real to us. In light of that idea, I will (nervously) share some of my loneliest days with you all.

Peep My Privileged Malaise: An Opera in Three Acts

I grew up in a loving family, so most of my experiences with loneliness resulted from the difficulty I had making friends in school and forging the kind of connections I wanted with others. It isn’t easy to write about these moments, but I think that what is beautiful about Radtke’s project is its capacity to bring us together through a very elemental human experience. In these “divided times” (a cliche I find fitting here, but also somewhat gross-sounding), we need to practice vulnerability more than ever, so I will write a few of them here–even if it chips away at my pride a little bit.  

1) In eighth grade, we went a class trip to tour colleges. With “alarming specificity”, as Radtke suggests, I remember sitting alone in the back of the bus on an eight hour bus ride listening to Modest Mouse’s “Dramamine” (a song that appropriately featured on the 1996 album This a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About) on repeat on my pink iPod Video. I remember being stuck on one line of that song in particular: “I think I knew my geography pretty damn well,” even though I didn’t quite understand what it meant. Everyone was singing and laughing together in the front of the bus, a scene that was pretty familiar to me at the time, and I remember feeling like I would never know what it was like to have fun with people my own age. That sixteen-hour trip felt like the longest and quietest period of my life, a single, aching moment stretched over the state of California. Today, it makes me sad that I gave up so quickly on the possibility of an existence that included companionship.

2) I went through a pretty exquisitely painful break up in my sophomore year of college. At the time, I was living in a house that was relatively far away from campus, and I used to walk for thirty-five minutes or so to get to and from my classes. Most days, I would walk to campus, go to class, and then come home to read before sleeping. Sometimes, I would take the bus downtown, so I could walk along the waterfront or go to the bookstore, but other than that, I barely went anywhere or saw anyone socially. During this ghosting era of my relationship, my ex-boyfriend would occasionally leave me messages in the “Drafts” of a joint email account that we used to send each other messages and music. My day-to-day life felt wholly centered on walking to school in the morning and constantly refreshing that email account at night. I was waiting for any kind of message from the person that I loved, feeling pathetic and crazy and lost. At some point, I felt like I was losing the ability to talk to other people casually, as if I could not pretend to relate to their normal, busy lives.  

3) I had the opportunity to study abroad as a junior in college, and ended up choosing to live in Granada, Spain. There, I lived with one of my best friends in a host family’s piso near the Plaza de Toros. One night, we were all at a club that catered to American international students. Lately, I had been feeling like a lot of my friends didn’t actually want to experience the country, its culture, or what people in town were really like, but instead just wanted to party in a foreign city with cheaper drinks. It was sort of frustrating, but the reality was, I was letting my own bitterness exaggerate that reality. In fact, there were a lot of beautiful, exploratory people in my program, I was just too blind and self-interested to see things for what they really were.

Anyway, that night, I left this club feeling sort of angry and off and alone. I was kind of tired of ~the greatest hits of Pitbull***~ and middle-aged pulpos yanking strands of my hair as I walked by. And though I was sober as a judge (as a gopher? as a church mouse? I’m not sure which it is, but the point is was I not drinking at that time.), of course I got lost. Even though I wasn’t all that far from home, and the streets were filled with people, I was already feeling on edge that day, and after rooting around for the right narrow street for a while, I started panicking at some point, tripping over cobblestones in my heels and getting all teary-eyed. It was one of those moments where the trigger for an existential crisis isn’t itself something major, you just find yourself in an inconvenient situation and then, all of the sudden, you find yourself asking what am I doing here?, why am I the way that I am?, and why you can’t I seem to talk or act or exist in the precise way that I want to? It was the straw that broke the lonely camel’s back, or something like that.

At that moment, a young man and his partner, a beautiful woman with a wide, smile, approached me on the street and asked me if I was okay. I said yes, but we both agreed that the answer was probably no. This couple was–incredibly–from Sinaloa, the state in Mexico where I spent the happiest days of my childhood, a sure sign from the powers that be.  It’s hard to explain now, but in the most non-creepy way you can possibly imagine, the man wiped a few tears from my temple, pointed me the way home, and asked me if I needed help finding a taxi.

I end on this slightly maudlin tear-wiping scene to assert that thankfully, not all of the loneliest moments of our lives end in flatness or tragedy or even a more intense form of loneliness, though all of those progressions are common. Instead, by talking and writing about them, comparing them, and studying their contours– the ways in which they are caused by both our own actions and the things about society that we can’t hope to control– maybe we can see something worthwhile in the loneliest moments of our lives.

How Can We Be There for One Another?

We are given so many opportunities to reach out to one another. Just last week, I was substitute teaching at a local elementary school, and I saw a student sitting alone on the blacktop at recess, her eyes full of tears that had not fallen yet. When I asked her what was wrong, she said that she felt left out, and like no one really wanted to play with her. I could actually hear my heart cracking while I thrummed my fingers on the blacktop, thinking of how to respond. I thought of vague platitudes that I heard, sitting alone on a low fence at my own elementary recesses (“Of course they want to play with you!” “Have you asked that group of kids over there if they want to play?”), but I couldn’t bring myself to say any of them to her, knowing exactly how useless they would seem. I sat her with silently, trying to give her company without cliches, thinking of other times I had failed to comfort another solitary human being. Once, for example, in college, another freshman asked to sit down with me at lunch, and I gave a stupid, nervous excuse without thinking about leaving in a just a minute. As I went back to my dorm that day, I felt like a hypocrite. The universe was giving me this chance to show someone community– to remind him that although every person contains a complex and singular universe, our elemental differences are ultimately negligible– and I rejected him because I felt momentarily awkward.

As I drove home from teaching that day, I vowed that I would work harder to extend my hand and heart to those who feel like they have no one and who are convinced that they are insignificant. Sometimes, this requires us to give up little pieces of our own pride– kind of like the old Rainbow Fish methodology, but in a way that allows those pieces of pride to transform, to be worn as a feeling of comfort or solidarity on the skin of someone else. Though he was talking about creating art at the time, David Foster Wallace once wrote about “having the discipline to talk out the part of yourself that can love rather than the part of yourself that wants to be loved.”**** In my mind, as we confront this epidemic of loneliness, that kind of discipline feels less like a virtue and more like an obligation.


* There are so many incredible pieces of art devoted to the AIDS epidemic. For those who may not be interested in Wojnarowicz’s lyrical memoir, I highly recommend the documentary How to Survive a Plague, which focuses primarily on ACT UP. If you are an American who cares at all about issues of public health, the creation of legislation, governmental corruption, and human rights, I believe that this documentary is required reading.

** Some particularly inspiring people in my life have been Lizzie Velasquez, a woman with Marfanoid-progeroid-lipodystrophy syndrome, who internet trolls labeled the “Ugliest Woman in the World,”and Sam Berns, an amazing young man who lived with progeria

***Caveat: “Timber” is the greatest pop song of 2013. Change my mind.

**** This quotation comes to us from an interview with DFW originally published in The Review of Contemporary Fiction:

Further Reading

Though I could include some classic *white-man-experiences-existential-dread* texts here (i.e. Notes from Underground, Walden, or really anything from the Western canon), for further reading on loneliness, I am going to suggest just a few books here that explore uncommon angles of the phenomenon.

Exile and Pride by Eli Clare: I keep returning to this book, especially as the Trump Administration continues to denigrate and devalue the lives of transgender people. Clare does an incredible job talking about what it is like to grow up queer and disabled in a rural town (Port Orford, Oregon), and importantly highlights the ways in which queer Americans living outside of urban centers have survived isolation and exile.

Stranger in the Woods, by Michael Finkel: This work of nonfiction is Finkel’s account of Christopher Knight, who lived in the woods of Maine for 27 years without speaking to another person (with the exception of one brief “hello” to a hiker passing by). Finkel examines famous hermits both religious and secular to examine why Knight may have retreated to the woods. The most fascinating element of the story, though, is the way in which Knight resists classification and negates our attempts to save him from his alleged psychological distress– so much so, in fact, that removing him from his peaceful solitude feels less like a rescue and more like a kind of violence. An easy but provocative piece.

A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit: This book, which I also featured in my last post, made me rethink what it means to be both lost and alone. With her impeccable attention to historical and political detail, Solnit examines everything from Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca’s life among the indigenous peoples of the Americas to the color blue in order to explore facets of aloneness that you may never have considered before.

A Note

If you feel comfortable, share your loneliest moment(s) with me at