So Brave, So Cool

I have this idea in my mind of who I’m supposed to be. A brilliant artist type who up and moved to the city that never sleeps on a moment’s notice. The brave, resilient, hilarious Latina, striving to make a change in the way we’re seen in the media. One of many to break down barriers and stigmas. Her journal in one hand and poor social media presence in the other. The light, funny gal with terrible impressions and a heart of gold. The one that people who knew me way back when would say, “Wow, she really did it.”

Okay, so I’m no Betty Suarez. But the real me? I’m a fraud. My story only sounds far more fantastical than it actually is.

You’re so brave. The phrase makes my stomach turn. People say this to me because I moved across the country by myself. And boy, do I hate the stringing of those three words. So what? I got on a plane! I packed my favorite books and clothes! My privileged ass bought a plane ticket. Sure, I put in my two weeks’ notice to move across the country but this plan didn’t come to fruition in one night and bam! Instead, dreaming about working and living in New York City was fodder for my insomnia- for more than a decade. It would keep me up and keep me from excelling in perfectly normal and loving environments. I was a woman obsessed. I spent most of my year in Austin curled up in bed, crying and trying to be normal. Crippled with fear and anxiety and depression and not really having anyone who got it. I’m no hero. Moving was, for me, survival.

Much like my body needing to escape, I type out the things that are stuck in my head because they need somewhere to go. They don’t need to be fed or watered. The thoughts just need to exist elsewhere. Sometimes it’s with the hope of helping another person feel less lonely. Other times, it’s purely self-indulgent. And most of the time, I just to it do walk through my fuck ups. No, really. Ever since I moved here I have had too many “What. Are. You. DOING?” moments to count. Finances? Shitty. But it’s NYC, so I get a pass. Friends? Moved here knowing a lot of acquaintances but still figuring out the friends part, and I’m treading lightly. Health? What is that again? Men? I went from having zero romantic cards to having to buy a rolodex. None of which, have meant more than a punch in the card. Dating sucks but I keep doing it. I’ve learned a lot about myself- it’s not always the men being shitty, I’m pretty awful too. And just when I think I can’t fuck up anymore, I repeat my dumbass decisions. And proceed to write about them. I’m not brave, I’m human.

That’s what your twenties are for. Okay, I get it. I’m young and dumb and broke and now is the time to be ALIVE. But damn it all to hell if I wind up nothing more than a Salinger cliche.

You’re so funny. I often experience a gross physical reaction when people compliment me. And not a good one. I get queasy and then the endless evolving lump forms in my throat. Compliments don’t make sense to me. I don’t feign being humble, I actually get ill. When I tried to explain this to my sister a year or so ago, she gave me a funny look, like she couldn’t fathom someone not liking or even accepting a compliment. It wasn’t until I would share some of my own essays with her that she began to understand what I meant:

This is so well written! I love it dude. Great job! *tears*

No, it really is! Why are you crying? *tears*

I don’t… *tears*

…should I say it’s bad? *more tears*

It’s so difficult to describe this feeling. It’s not just that I don’t believe it, I reject it. And I don’t think I’m wholly inadequate- at least not 100% of the time. That’s why it’s so strange to me. Sometimes I like what I write and oftentimes, like most people, I enjoy (and need) some form of validation. I can get a “Way to go!” on a Tuesday and say “Thanks, Dave! Xoxo.” But by the time Thursday rolls around and Jess just HAS to say “Great work!” Well, all hell breaks loose.

She’s only saying it because of the subject. It was timely. Everyone is writing like this. It was written so simply with zero nuance or depth. Of course it was accessible. I read a piece similar to it once, I think. I lack originality. It definitely has nothing to do with my words or my “talent.” There is no technique. It’s honestly garbage. I think I judge THEM now for liking my work.

It’s fucked up, I know. And I know I sound like a crazy person. While it’s partially my self-esteem issues colliding with my Leo tendencies, it’s something more. There’s a word, no, a phrase for it. Impostor Syndrome. What a fun name, right? Almost like a nerdy, self-deprecating superhero. I like to pretend I’m like the Hamburglar’s cousin with a super cool suit. Maybe a Canadian tuxedo? But like, I steal vegan and gluten free shit because it’s 2018. And I live in Brooklyn.

And ya know what? It’s super common. A lot of us feel fraudulent at one point or another even though we may have earned the respect and/or accolades. While I’m no expert, I’m pretty sure social media doesn’t help us out either. But I’ve found a way, I think, to use it for the greater good. Hear me out here: I use Instagram stories as a way to hold myself accountable. I put very little thought into what I post on there, intentionally, and because it’s public for all to see, it’s like in those few moments, I’m completely unfiltered and natural and beautiful and not hiding from a single soul- the way I wish the world to really see me. I can’t doctor it like I can when I post a photo. There’s no time to create a great caption or capture the perfect image. It’s quick and real and raw. Sometimes I’ll go back and look at the stories after some time has passed (they automatically back up to my phone) and think “I can’t believe I put this out there” and I move on because what’s done is done. In my stories, I cry and laugh and joke and ask for advice and share my opinions and lip sync. Oh man, do I lip sync.  Living life less filtered has helped me feel and see myself as less of a fraud.

Another way I (directed by my last therapist) get out of these cycles is by listing facts. The sky is blue. Beyonce is royalty. Kylie Jenner is pregnant. Okay, maybe not those facts but facts that tie to what is immediately being directed toward me.

So if I were to get a promotion or a new gig, instead of jumping to “I’m their last choice. They literally could find no one else to do this job so they’re stuck with me,” I may try stating some facts:

I applied for the job. I met the skill requirements A,B, C, & D. I was one of three candidates. Etcetera, etcetera until the shit storm going on in my head settles down to a silent hiss. The facts tend to work for me but I have to say, it’s a royal pain in the ass to have to take that time to yourself and convince yourself of your worth. I mean, who has time for that? You. You better make time for it.

Sorry to burst your bubble but I’m not the cool girl. I never will be. In fact, I shouldn’t be writing this because any self-respecting, aspiring comedian is taught to hide their loathing and their pain- “all the greats do it.” Outwardly, we should appear care-free and hilarious, the life of the party. Nothing can keep us down! Here’s your joke! And here’s YOUR joke! My charisma is staggering, my bits unending!   

But this is how the jokes are made too. They come from the real and the painful. I’m just giving you and all-access pass.


Follow the [exposed] Brick Road

It’s been one week since I completely uprooted my life and became a New York City transplant. On this day one week ago, hundreds of others did the same. And for what? To follow the exposed brick road of dreams, of course!

While it’s only been a week, it feels like time has elapsed with the simultaneous speed of a camera flash and clock-stopping anxiety attack. It’s a strange constant state of limbo. I have all this time on my hands, being momentarily unemployed. It gives me the time to become acclimated with my new home, meeting up with old and new friends, applying everywhere and anywhere. I’m even writing this in Bryant Park while a pigeon stares at me mercilessly. He could be eyeing my banana bread but I like to pretend I’m more ~important~.  Point is, I have the gift of time. And it blows.

I thrive off of being busy. My mind works at such a rapid pace that when I do find myself with this luxury, I am often more anxious. It’s something I’m working on, okay? But right now, it’s a bitch.

I know I chose the right city. In fact, I’ve never been more sure of a decision.

I write this not to add to the romantic New York narrative because I am waiting, patiently, for this city to screw me over. And it will. No, I write this to show that there is little more fulfilling or beautiful than following your passion.

At the risk of sounding too corny, let me sum it up: do the shit that makes you happy.

If I had a nickel for each time I did something or went somewhere because I felt it was expected of me, I’d have a heavy bag to take to CoinStar and exchange for a crisp bill or two or five. But you know what? I don’t deserve a nickel or two or five. Hell, not even a penny. No one made me do those things.  No one made me move or take a job or stop writing or compare myself to every millennial on social media or or or. The noise is loud and constant, but not in control. 

To make a decision for yourself is difficult. Honestly, it’s so fucking hard to be truly and completely independent-minded- not influenced by family, friends, media markers, celebrity, someone who’s career path you wish to emulate. In fact, it’s pretty impossible because you will always have some bias in the back of your mind. But it’s possible to get pretty darn close- to follow that gut instinct. It’s always possible to try and fail and try again.

I made the decision to move to the city of my dreams with little money, no family up here and no job waiting for me. Obviously not the “smartest” choice but hey, it’s done. Sure, I’m worried about rent when my funds run out and I have no clue where I’ll be living in a month’s time. Sure, I don’t know how I’m gonna celebrate my first birthday without my family or when I’ll hear back from one of the dozens of hiring managers that have my feather light resumé. But I’m happy.

The choice is mine. I don’t have to take a 9-5 job if it makes me miserable. I don’t have to be in a committed relationship if I don’t want to. I don’t have to measure my life and milestones to anyone else’s. I don’t have to. This post-grad journey is a bit of a shit-show but I think we’re finally starting to understand one another- I wear the pants.

And so, if I have to work two day jobs to make ends meet, don’t pity me. If I serve you coffee or help you find a book or shirt you like, don’t pity me. If I’m older than you and in a lower income bracket, working a heinous amount of hours, don’t pity me. While I’m folding that shirt and steaming that milk, I’m creating stories and growing as an artist on every level. My passion and skills evolve with every order and every question. When I go home at the end of the day, I have words to write and so much to be thankful for.

I’m living the dream, baby.

Level Up

This is it. This is what it feels like to die. You know how they say your whole life flashes before your eyes? Yeah, well the only thing I’m seeing is my damn beanie baby collection. I mean, give me gritty repressed childhood memories, regrets or picture perfect moments. Something. I just got my arm slashed off by some high level half orc and I’m bleeding out. I’m dying here and no one could give a shit, not even my subconscious.

Okay, so I might not be dying dying but this is called Live-Action Roleplaying. I’m in character. Who knows though, I might actually be dying. My lungs could totally give out. My body is not in peak physical condition- I’ve decided to lay off exercise for the 26 years of my life. Who knew this game required effort, stamina. The amount of rules and configurations is just excessive. The confusion, the yelling, the demands, the fighting, the bewildered look on my roommates’ face- it’s all anxiety inducing.

The three of us wanted to do something as a group to bond or whatever. I jokingly suggested LARPing for a weekend. “All the cool kids are doing it,” I playfully added. My sarcasm deficient roommate said I was “too city” for LARPing and would just end up quitting or leaving right away. Rule Numero Uno for being friends with Shannon: You do not dictate my actions or emotions. I will prove you wrong and rise like a fucking phoenix. Maybe I got a little overzealous but I went out and bought costumes, read all the rules, found a league for the weekend, and got all my shit together. This is legit and I was ready. I have to admit, my inner nerdy world was being rocked. I’d never done anything like it before but I had it all planned out. I figured, I’d outrun the nerds, get an ego-boost, tell Drew to suck it and then go home to stream Grey’s Anatomy or something slightly less embarrassing.

Only now, the reality is that I’m lying dead on the ground, recouping and waiting for the horn to sound. I wish I had a milkshake. And fries. Oh god, the ones from the deli on the corner. Yes. I’m sure if I got up and left no one would even notice. I could leave, eat and come back to play dead. First things first though, do my lungs even work?

As I’m still struggling to catch my breath, return my heart rate to normal and soothe my rage for a milkshake, Drew and Becca make their way towards me. Becca lays a flower from her crown on me and Drew whispers, “This is for you.”

The two then charge the remaining opposition, dominating in every sense of the word. Becca is the most beautifully strategic Elven Queen I’d ever seen and Drew is one bad ass humanoid thing just killing it left and right. The skill, the agility- he does the sports thing back at home.

It pains me to lose. I am dying as we speak, still mentally and physically drained, but something about being here on the ground makes me feel like I’m winning. All the cool kids are fucking doing it. I think I’ll try this thing again. My superbly talented friends are avenging my death and I don’t have to exercise anymore, so that’s a plus. If that’s not living, I don’t know what is.