Category Archives: Heart

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10 Years in California

redwoodsWhen I was a little girl in Massachusetts, I often played in the woods with my neighborhood friends, climbing over moss-covered stones in the cool, damp understory to collect earthy trinkets and play adventure games. The boys loved whooping and hollering among the trees, taking refuge in the dim light when the hot summer sun had been beating on our backs all afternoon.

But I was always anxious to clamor back into the light.

My favorite spot was in The Field, 99 acres of wide open spaces and rolling hills across the street from my house. I’d climb to the crest of the highest peak and look out over the town, watching the sun set behind a purple-tinted Mt. Wachusett. There, I was content. There, I was free.

In New York City, I was back in the woods. Adventure happened left and right among the tall skyscrapers that blocked out the sun. It was a glorious nine years in the prime of my young life, full of possibility, full of energy, full of culture, full of people—but I was never quite content.

Exactly 10 years ago today, I moved to California “temporarily.” I leased a small bedroom from near strangers (who have now become two of my best friends). My goal was to work on my dance books while establishing myself as a freelance writer who could tackle more mainstream topics—and I did so by working as a stringer for a few local newspapers.

Of course, I didn’t need to move to the west coast to do that. But I fell in love with a man from California and I figured it couldn’t hurt to experience his world for a little while before we settled back down in the east.

Ten years later, that temporary arrangement has become decidedly permanent. I knew very shortly after I met Alex that I loved him. And I knew very shortly after I came to California—with its wide open spaces and rolling hills and endless ocean views stretching beyond the horizon, and bare, numerous mountains that look like the scruff of a Shar-Pei—that I loved it here too.

beachIt didn’t hurt that my first few years of living in California were in the quaint and dreamy seaside town of Monterey, where I lunched on calamari and clam chowder while listening to sea lions bark their orders (instead of bosses). Big Sur was just a hop, skip, and a treacherously winding cliffside drive away. I strolled though local art galleries in Carmel, watched surfers compete for wave space with the whales in Santa Cruz, took a mud bath in the hot springs outside of Yosemite, and sipped wine in caves, farmhouse wineries, hilltop vineyards, barrel rooms, and cellars from Paso Robles to Napa Valley.

I toured castles, huffed and puffed my way up steep city sidewalks, got drunk at an aquarium and spoke in a Jamaican accent to a sunfish, went to grad school, bought a home, had a baby, bought a second home, got lost in a corn maze, adopted a kitten, hiked across freezing creeks, up redwood-strewn trails, and down into hidden beach coves. I made friends, lost friends, lost babies, and gained a whole new family.

Now I live in Gilroy and work in Silicon Valley, where I’m challenged every day but I’m not burning out, and my future is full of wide open spaces and rolling hills, where I walk hand-in-hand with my husband and son in a place where I’m content, a place where I’m free, a place in the light.

A place I now, 10 years later, can finally call home.

wide open field

 

Are You There Blog? It’s Me, Wendy

WendyFunny thing happened this summer. I died.

It didn’t happen suddenly. It was a slow death I should have seen coming. A series of events, one after the other, that combined to take me away, piece by piece.

It started when I went to Massachusetts with Lucas and left my husband behind for 10 days. Despite being on vacation, a feeling of unrest followed me throughout my stay. No partner to tag in when Lucas worked my last nerve. No warm smile to share across the table.

Then I came home to California and left my son back in Massachusetts with my mom for 12 days. I knew he was having the time of my life, so that kept me going. But a week went by without my child. Then almost two. Without him, the world stood too still. The house was too clean. I felt nothing inside of me stirring. I tread water, barely keeping my head, as waves of loneliness washed over me. I felt myself fading.

During that time, I ran out of the painkillers that I rely on to deal with chronic back pain. I went two and a half weeks without them, powering through just-under-the-skin raw inflammation and bone deep dull joint pain. I had been tested emotionally—now it was time for the physical. My head dipped below the water but I fought to stay afloat.

Then I managed to return to what felt like a hostile work environment—one that threatened to swallow me whole. A particularly hellish two weeks tested my capacity to handle challenges with grace and fortitude. I drowned in work and stress reached a fever pitch.

Then something happened that killed me dead. I’m a writer by profession, but despite cranking out hundreds of words a day, I  stopped writing.

This whole time, I haven’t been me. I’ve either had too much or too little. And my blog, this microcosm of me, has sat at the back of my mind like a tiny nuisance, a phantom hair tickling my arm. How could I write for fun when I had nothing important or funny to say? When my heart was in two different places or my body was exhausted from fighting back pain or my brain was spent from juggling copywriting and product updates and work politics and board of director bios?

A week went by without writing for fun. Then two. Then a month. I thought about giving it up for good. After all, it would be one less thing I’d have to worry about. It made all kinds of logical, practical sense. Why am I even doing this, anyway?

Then I took a huge, gasping breath and felt my heart beat in my ribcage again. It’s faint, but it’s there.

Some things happened this summer that made me forget who I am and what I want. They weren’t big things, which is why I couldn’t tap into grief or anger or frustration or any kind of identifiable emotion that I could capture here on this blog. Little things that conspired to make me give up on my creative pursuits. To doubt in my ability to do or be something more than I already am. I knew I wasn’t content. But for the first time, I was purposefully not pressing forward.

And to me, that might as well be dead. So I’ll keep trying, even though it feels like trudging backwards and in heels through molasses. I’ll put words on this blog, if only to remind myself that I’ve got to find something else left.

My family is back together. My prescription for painkillers has been refilled, and relief is here. Work continues to be stressful, but the worst of it seems to have let up (for now). All is not right with the world, but I’ve got to make it right.

And the first step is talking to you, dear blog. Are you there? It’s me. Wendy.

I Can Haz Write Stuff

IMG_6597
I’m mad as hell but can still sorta take it because what the hell else am I supposed to do.

Things have happened in the world. I have felt sad about them. Sometimes, I’ve felt angry. Other times…nothing.

Things have happened in my life. I have felt happy about them. Sometimes, I’ve felt proud. Other times…shrug.

Things have happened to Lucas and at work and to my family. I’ve thought of things to say about them, but I’ve brushed them aside because I don’t know exactly how I feel. Most of the time…numb.

I thought of writing about the sorry state of political affairs. How everyone’s nerves as are frayed as the ends of my old iPhone charger. How so many of us can’t bite our tongues anymore. But I bit my tongue anyway.

I thought of writing about tragedy. Of unspeakable tragedy and how we process it. How we distance ourselves from it. How we comfort ourselves with the idea that it could never happen to us. How we know deep down that’s not true. I decided not to. Too painful.

I considered speaking out about rape and the culture that permits “normal” white guys to get away with the complete disregard of women’s bodies as their own, the complete disregard of women as legitimate, as worthy, as anything other than holes that, if not kept explicitly shut, are asking to be fucked. I couldn’t do it. The victim herself could. I couldn’t.

I’ve thought about homophobia, misogyny, racism, guns, religion, public shaming, animal rights, women’s rights, human rights. How all of it is not right.

I’ve started and stopped so many posts because what do I say? Why add to the din? What could this possibly do for anyone? I shrug and shut my computer. I’ll write something another time, I think.

I go about my life as a little less of a person. Each piece of news more devastating than the next to the point where I pick up my phone, read that 50 people have been mowed down, robbed of life, and then feel…nothing. I sigh and put it back down. Then I go about my business like it’s any other day.

Because at this point, it’s any other day. And that’s something I’ve just, what…grown to accept? Have you?

I can write things about it, sure. I can go to my tiny corner of the Internet and talk about how unfair it is and get a few people to like my post, maybe even share it. Then I feel better about myself, like I accomplished something. Look, isn’t this cathartic? Let me tell you how I feel about it, Internet. Because you so desperately needed to know. And now the world will be a better place.

Things have happened in the world and I’ve felt bitter. Bitter that this is our reality. Bitter that as much as things change, they don’t just stay the same…they get worse. In one hand, Mexico legalizes gay marriage. In the other, 50 gay people are slaughtered by a semi-automatic gun obtained legally by a known hostile ISIS sympathizer. And because those two things exist simultaneously, many of us can no longer make sense of the world.

What, exactly, do I tell my son? Hey, you’re a mixed-race child in America. Half of you is someone who could get away with raping a girl if I don’t make damn well sure you understand how exactly NOT OKAY it is to touch a person who clearly hasn’t told you or shown you she (or he) wants to be touched. The other half is someone who could get deported or targeted for violence or rounded up and shipped out of the country to go build a wall.

I can write about all this stuff. I can shake and get angry and put it out there for you to also shake and get angry, maybe even at me, but also with me, and we will congratulate ourselves on being “brave” to talk about these things out loud.

I am not brave for writing this. I am selfish. Because I was ready to explode. I wrote this so I could feel better. Maybe it helps you feel better too.

Because, really, what else can we do? We can pick up our phones and sigh. We can make half-hearted attempts at outrage on social media. Then we can go about our lives as a little more of a person because we gave a damn for half a second. We can write stuff.

I’m Going Off My Antidepressants

Yeah, I said it. For reasons unbeknownst to me (but perhaps knownst to you), there’s a huge stigma against psychiatric medication. You’re never supposed to admit that you’re taking pills for a mental illness, an addiction, or an inability to stabilize your moods or focus on the task at hand. (Oh, look at the kitty!)

What was I saying?

You guys know how I feel about stigmas. Instead of tiptoeing around them, I tend to take an exaggerated, Dick Van Dyke-sized step right the fuck over them. There’s nothing wrong with admitting you have a weakness and are taking medication to try and fix it. Do I understand why people don’t go around announcing that they’re taking Lithium to manage their bipolar disorder? Of course. But I wish they could live in a world where people didn’t tsk tsk them if they did decide to share, and instead applauded them for getting the help they needed.

It's been real.
It’s been real.

So on that note, I’m out with it: I’ve been on antidepressants for the better part of a year. I come from a long line of proud Italians who don’t believe in “happy pills,” and for a while, I tried everything I could to avoid anything that could be conceived as giving up (except wine…and giving up). But I was buried under a suffocating blanket of grief. As time went on, and the tragedies kept piling up, the blankets became more and more and heavier and heavier until one day, I was like the pea in Princess and the Pea. I couldn’t continue functioning trying to get out from under it all.

That was a year ago. A year ago when I stood in my kitchen, my eyesight blurred from another onslaught of hot tears, my son asleep in his bed and my husband in his man room playing video games. I don’t remember why I went to the kitchen. But I stood there. And all of a sudden, the medicine cabinet was like: “I’ve got what you need, you know.” No. No, no, no. You’re not going to think about that. So then the knives were like: “We’d work too, if you don’t mind the blood.” Just stop it. Oven pipes in: “You could go Slyvia Plath styles.” Well, that’s just too morbid. 

So I called up to my husband. Through a typhoon of tears and snot, I told him I needed help. I told him I had tried to deal with it on my own, but failed. And he held me and told me I didn’t fail. That I was doing the right thing for me and for my family, who needed me. That he was here for me and he supported me in whatever I needed to do to feel better. And a small crack of light peeped through the blankets.

I called my doctor, who swiftly prescribed me what I needed. She warned that it would take up to a month to really kick in, and she checked in with me frequently. Within two weeks, the heaviness began to lift and for the first time in what felt like years, I felt like myself again. And that’s when I realized: these aren’t happy pills designed to mask the pain. They’re a helping hand, reaching down into the pit and getting you up onto safe land again.

And that’s where I am today.

So it’s time to say thank you for the help. Thank you for giving me my life back. Thank you for delivering me to my family safe and whole. I’m going off my antidepressants now. I know it’s not going to be easy, going it alone. But I’m ready now. Because of you.

Happy Blogiversary to Me!

girl runningIt’s been one year since I started this here blog, and a lot has gone down since December of 2013. There have been some tragedies, including a second miscarriage and the death of my cousin, but there have also been some triumphs like…you know…admitting to making pasta with hot dogs and…wow, I really can’t think of anything else.

I swore 2014 was going to be a better year than 2013, and on paper, it certainly wasn’t. But I had something this year that I didn’t have last year—all of you. Sharing the madness inside my head and finding out that most of you are just as fucked up as I am has made weathering some of these devastating events much more tolerable.

I’m no longer holed up in the storm shelter talking to myself about my morbid fantasies or why the ant problem in my house has given me a permanent tic. Now I’ve got you guys huddled together with me, patting me on the head and, at the very least, feeling a smug superiority that you’ve got your shit together more than me.

But mostly you’ve all been amazing.

Thank you to people who’ve commented and shared their stories. Thank you to those who’ve emailed me with messages of sympathy and empathy. Thank you to friends and family who’ve told me that this blog made them laugh out loud. That’s all I wanted, really. What I ended up getting was much, much more.

Whether things looked bleak or promising, I knew I could always come here and spill, and none of you have judged me for it. Thank you for making this a safe place to bark at the moon, laugh at the devil, and continue making off-color commentary about my crazy Italian and Mexican families. Here’s to another year—and I won’t jinx it by claiming it’s going to be amazing. I’m just going to ask, can it please not suck? And if it does, well…

…you guys know where you can find me.

This Old Scruffy Shelter Dog Stole My Heart

On Monday, I lay on the floor of my office rolling over a tennis ball, trying to break up the tightness still present in my back nearly a week after my second epidural shot. With no warning, searing white pain shot down my right leg, exploding like a lightning bolt through the nerves of my calf and rendering my right foot completely useless.

Needless to say, it wasn’t a great day.

Tuesday, after much icing and ibuprofen, my leg was feeling a bit better, but my hope for finding lasting relief was all but gone. I sat listless at my desk, comfort eating six wheels of turkey wrap sandwiches that were brought in as a treat for a departing coworker. I needed to get moving, to get some air, even if it meant just hobbling around my building a couple times. So that’s what I did.

As I rounded the corner to return to my office, there he was: a sweet gremlin of a dog with tan shaggy fur and ears that made up 40% of his body weight and stuck out at 75 degree angles. He was being walked by a young woman through the brush-lined walkway in front of my office.

“Can I pet your dog?” I asked, ignoring the shooting pain as I bent down and reached out to his adorable fluffy face.

“Oh, he’s not my dog,” she replied. “I’m volunteering for the shelter and taking him out for a little exercise.”

Hearing this news, my reach became a little more longing, a little more sympathetic, and as I touched his downy fur, he flopped his little head into my hand. Perhaps the weight of his ears was too much and he needed to rest. Me and Shelter Dog, though—we had an immediate connection.

shelter dog

At that moment I forgot the pain in my back. I forgot that I should have been due to give birth to my second child this week. I just felt warmth and sweetness flowing through my fingertips to him and back to me.

Sir Didymus
immediately thought of Sir Didymus when I saw him

This little Sir Didymus look-alike. This little awkward, strangely-shaped guy. This bundle that just wanted to be loved. This sweet puppy that would get so many hugs from a toddler boy (and possibly a few kicks), that would curl up at the end of our bed, that would ruin more of our furniture, that would create kinks in our plans when we want to go out or travel, that would drive up costs with vet bills and pet food and insurance…

As I scratched behind his ears and rubbed the slightly more coarse fur along his back, he leaned into me, content. He wasn’t slobbery excited to see me. He wasn’t skittish or defensive, either. He was just there for me, like an angel dog showing up exactly when I needed him.

“Do you need a mommy?” I asked, fighting back tears. “Anyone would be lucky to be your mom.”

I stood up gingerly and said goodbye to Shelter Dog as I dragged myself up the stairs with the grace and agility of Quasimodo. There was another hour left of my day, but I had Shelter Dog on the brain.

I repeatedly messaged my two coworkers who were on the walk with me.

Me: He looks like Sir Didymus from the Labyrinth, doesn’t he?

Me: He was so sweet. He wasn’t really hyper, just kind of hanging out, you know?

Me: That girl said the shelter is right here, right? Like around the corner? It has to be close because she’s walking him around here.

Me: Okay, I think…I think I’m going to go try to find him.

Me: NO! I can’t. I know why we can’t get a dog right now. It wouldn’t be right. We are never home!

Me: I’m going to go get another turkey sandwich.

Me: Okay, it’s time to go home now. I’m going to the shelter first.

I walked over to the vet’s office to find out where the shelter was, and lo and behold, Shelter Dog was actually there! The staff led me to the back and told me he was getting some dental work done but that he was perfectly healthy otherwise, although a little more advanced in age (he’s likely at least six years old if not more). Normally this news would send me packing, as I’ve always wanted a puppy or at least a young dog so that our family could have as much time with him as possible. But I was in too deep. Didn’t matter. I learned that Shelter Dog’s name was Cody.

shelter dog pet

Still didn’t matter.

I have gone over and over in my head why I can’t have a dog for the last several years, but this guy finally did it. He just undid all the logic in my brain and made me fall in love with him in about three seconds flat, and now I can’t think of anything else.

Sadly, Alex doesn’t agree. Always the voice of reason in our family, he said that we really don’t have the resources to provide a good life for any dog right now. We are both away from the house for long hours. We don’t have proper living and outdoor space for him. We are just starting to come out from under a financial cloud for the last couple years. If we brought home a dog for purely emotional reasons, all the practical stuff would eventually hit us, and it could make poor Shelter Dog even more at risk if we had to give him back—something unthinkable, but something that could come to pass if we can’t pull together the support he needs.

I love this dog, of this I’m sure. But as Don Henley and Patty Smyth once crooned, “Sometimes, love just ain’t enough.”

Oh, Shelter Dog. I would come visit you again, but I don’t think I could walk away this time. And I know I’d have to. For your own good, not for mine.

shelter dog

A Week of Anniversaries: A Wedding, a Miscarriage, and 9/11

This week is a tricky one for me. On the one hand, it marks the six-year anniversary of my wedding to Alex—one of the happiest moments of my life, next to the birth of my son and the 2004 Red Sox World Series win. (Not even kidding about that Red Sox business. No sports fan could ask for a more epic win.) I know Alex is not a fan of the gushing public declarations of love, so I will only say this: expect a totally gushy blog later in the week. Sorry not sorry.

weddingpic

On the other hand, it represents the one-year anniversary of my first miscarriage. I’m not sure what else I can say about it that I haven’t already said in this xoJane piece about speaking up after dealing with loss. As much as I have moved on, and as much as I am growing more and more fond of our tight little family unit of three, I’m always going to think about it every year at this time. Someone recently told me that grieving is a lifelong process. You never truly get over a loss, you just find a way to deal with it.

Which brings me to my third anniversary of the week: 9/11. No matter how many years pass and how much I feel I might have grown immune to the event, I always get sucked into the media sensationalism, and I always find myself frozen in a sadomasochistic cycle of reliving the trauma. I do it to myself, I can’t even lie.

I’m told by some that the healthy thing to do is to avoid thinking about it at all costs. Others find talking about it cathartic. Just as I felt that I needed to talk about miscarriage after my second pregnancy failed, I feel like I need to watch the footage, I need to reach out to my New York friends and remind them how much I love them. And I need to tell you all my story.

I wrote this on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. It’s every bit as true today as it was then.

******************

Every year around early September, I become an insufferable grump. I’m irritable, angry, and a bit oversensitive. While usually a social person, I withdraw into myself, preferring the company of wine or TV. Every year I wonder what the heck is going on—until the inevitable documentaries start running on National Geographic. And then it snaps into place.

Oh right, it’s 9/11. And I still can’t believe I was there.

Even just admitting that makes me feel ashamed. I shouldn’t be this affected by it, I tell myself. I survived. Everyone I knew survived. I wasn’t inside the building, like my cousin was. I wasn’t left homeless like many of my college friends were. I just watched it out my window. I was safe in the confines of my lower Manhattan dorm room, and I watched, helpless, as the towers burned and collapsed upon themselves. I viewed it all through this strangely detached lens…one eyeball on the TV, with frenzied journalists attempting the play-by-play, one eyeball out my 14th floor window.

Bits and pieces of the day stand out like the jagged remains of the WTC infrastructure, poking up from a smoldering pile of my memories. But I push them down because I feel unworthy of this level of horror. Like I’m not allowed to feel it. But it happened, regardless of the shame.

The strange part is I’ve told my story probably a hundred times, but if I’m to be completely honest, I can’t even recall if the details are the absolute truth or if they’re just what I’ve told myself is true. Entire chunks of time are missing, and in hearing other people’s stories, those who were with me at the time, I’ve attempted to fill in the blanks.

Why can’t I truly remember on my own? Maybe my brain is trying to protect itself. Whatever it’s attempting to do, it’s not working. Because as each year passes by, I only feel the fear and shame more pronounced. Because I can’t remember. Because I should have reacted with more strength of character. Because I wasn’t a hero, like so many New Yorkers were. Because I didn’t suffer enough.

A week before 9/11, my NYU roommates and I rejoiced in our luck. We had drawn the number one spot for our entire dorm, which meant we could pick any room we wanted. We zoomed up to the top floor and headed to a corner suite. When we opened the door, we smiled and said, “This is the one!” Our view was of the lower part of 3rd Avenue, punctuated by the two largest buildings in Manhattan.

People stopped in just to marvel at the smooth, rectangular behemoths. We toasted to what we thought would be an amazing senior year.

My first class was at 11am, so the plan was to sleep in. But, a little before 9am, I heard a scream and I ran out into our common room. Deep black smoke billowed out from the World Trade Centers. We didn’t know what had happened. Was it a fire in one building or was it two? Wait…there was a plane crash?!

How does a plane crash into a building in New York? One of my roommates had just gotten out of the shower. She had a towel twisted around her hair and she stood next to me watching. Neither of us moved for quite some time.

Despite the thick black smoke, my roommates still left to go to class. I think, at the time, we believed it was just a terrible accident. Did I see the second plane fly into the building? I always remember it that way, though a part of my brain also says no, both buildings were already in flames. All I know is, to this day, when planes fly low near my office (since we are right next to an airport, lucky me), I have intense body-seizing episodes of fear. The angles are too familiar. The sound is too…

The next thing I remember is scrambling. Scrambling to find my friends. Were they in class? Were they in their dorms? So many of my friends lived only a block or two away from the Twin Towers. A couple of them worked in or right next to them. Were they at the office that morning?

Many people started gathering in my room, the room with the view. Our phones were all out, but somehow word go out that girls from my dance team—my best friends—were making their way to us from downtown, attempting to convene at my place.

I remember one friend told us she was instructed to stay inside one of the buildings of the World Trade Center. She said she had a terrible feeling and ran past the guards who were trying to herd the crowds back into the lobby. She got on one of the last subways to leave the financial district and made her way up to us.

Security at the dorms was starting to tighten. They wouldn’t let anyone who wasn’t a resident into the complex. We begged and pleaded and eventually snuck in the girls who had no place to go.

Things started to calm down a bit. Some people went back to their rooms. One roommate came back from class and said that a bunch of people were just standing around in the streets looking up. We did the same, though our view was straight ahead. We just watched and waited.

Through all of this, I felt a strange calm, as though expecting to wake up from a dream. Panic didn’t set in, for some reason, until I heard the terrorists had flown a plane into the Pentagon. Then it was real. Then we were under attack. What building would come next?

As my anxiety built to a fever pitch, I noticed the slightest of shifts in the South Tower building and thought oh no, not possible but before the thought could even fully form, down came the building, pancaking upon itself and taking with it thousands of souls. At that point in time, I knew that my cousin was in the building. Many of our downtown friends had still not been located. Our friend Andy had called only minutes before to say he had been taking pictures. In a flash I thought: they’re all dead.

More time passed. Another building came down. I finally got through to my parents to let them know I was alright. I don’t remember what I said to them, or what they said to me. I have no idea what happened between the hours of 11am and 5pm.

I do know that in the early evening, we realized we had accounted for most of our friends. As each one came up into the room, tears came down our faces. The tears said, You are alive. I can stop mourning you now. But there were still a few more people we couldn’t find. As time wore on, we believed the likelihood of them being alive was pretty slim.

Then…a glimmer of hope.

Word came down (Where the hell did this word come from? With the WTC cell tower down, no one had service. And land lines were clogged.) that a make-shift shelter was being set up at our gym in SoHo for displaced downtown students. So out the door we flew. We ran the mile there in a blink, rushing against the exodus from downtown, breathing in the smoke and the ash, praying, praying that our friends Betsy and Andy were there. I wondered, too, about my ex-boyfriend, whom I last heard had to evacuate his dorm in his pajamas. He brought with him only his keys and his wallet.

We found them. We found them all. Covered in ash. Covered in blood (some not their own). Safe but shaken, severely shaken. My last memory of the day is running across the gym to hug my ex, who was volunteering to help distribute blankets and pillows to students. It may have been 6 or 7pm at that time.

What happened to the rest of the day? Couldn’t say. All I know is I somehow ended up back at my dorm, but this time, I refused to go back to my room with the view. I “slept” in a room with 15 other girls and guys in a huddle of blankets. Someone kicked the remote off the bed and it landed with a crack. We all woke up and cried. Young women and men in their early 20s—we cried when a TV remote hit the floor.

So that’s what I think about on the anniversary of 9/11. In the weeks and months that followed, I lived in a world of missing persons posters, tanks, the constant smell of fire, and a stubborn black dust that always covered my computer screen. If someone mentions 9/11 today, I’ll nod and listen to their story. Then, when they find out I was there, they lean in, expecting drama.

I have none to offer them, and I almost feel sorry. That’s when the shame takes over. I bore witness to a singular event in history, and not only do I feel sorry for, what, not being dead?—I can’t even properly remember it. Instead, I shoved it way down deep in my psyche so I wouldn’t have to deal with it. And now, every year, it rears its head up at me regardless.

It says, here’s a memory: Remember the time you saw people jump 100 stories to their death? Oh, you don’t remember that? Okay, well maybe you really didn’t see it. Maybe you only watched it on TV.

******************

I wrote that account so I could try to retain what memories I had. Re-reading it, I know I couldn’t have told it in such detail if I tried to write it today, only three years later. Our brains are incredible, mystical organs. Sometimes they shine in moments of brilliance. Other times they utterly fail you.

Every year, in this week of anniversaries, I will honor 9/11 by allowing myself to feel the complex emotions it and the other milestones represent. After all, anniversaries are not just about celebration. They are about weathering the storm. And I wouldn’t be who I am today without all three of them.

How Robin Williams Saved Me From Depression

It was the summer after 9/11 in downtown New York. I had just graduated from NYU and, with my fancy degree, was working as a cocktail waitress while I tried to “make it” as a dancer. My roommate was away all day at law school, and it felt as though the rest of the world was moving in rhythm against me. As I took the subway to work, they were on their way home to relax. When I dragged myself through the door at 6am, they were getting ready to start their day.

At first I tried to make my empty afternoons industrious. I’d turn on music and give myself dance classes in my tiny living room, since I couldn’t afford to take many classes at professional studios. I’d pour over casting calls and attend open auditions. I’d write articles for dance magazines, most of which were never published. I’d sweep the floors and dust the cabinets which, no matter how often I cleaned them, never seemed to rid of the grey film of fallen building micro-debris.

After a while, though, I became painfully lonely. In a city of 8 million people, I was isolated and—for the first time since moving to New York four years before—afraid. The gaping hole of the World Trade Centers loomed only a few blocks away. I was not having much success on the audition circuit. I stayed long after hours closing up the bar, drinking whiskey like water. When I’d wake up hungover the next day, I’d close the blinds and stay home from auditions, reasoning that I wouldn’t have gotten the job anyway.

I ordered takeout and holed up indoors, watching the same movies over and over. The movie characters became my friends. And one of those friends was Robin Williams.

Robin WilliamsRobin Williams Live on Broadway—the first time I watched it was the first time I laughed a real laugh in months. In fact, I didn’t stop laughing for 99 minutes. I continued to laugh for 99 minutes every afternoon when I dragged my unmotivated, apathetic ass into the living room to finally put some food in my face hole, and I popped in my Live on Broadway DVD for company. I marveled at Williams’ manic energy, the way he poured sweat, swigging 20 bottles of water, taking giant strides across the stage, swinging his arms around like my Italian grandmother in an argument with a puppeteer.

Williams tackled our strange post-9/11 paranoia. It was the first time we really laughed at the absurdity of our reaction to terrorism, the first time we made fun of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and their conspiracy to whip up our collective frenzy. Plus, he told us about that ugly panda bitch he wouldn’t fuck with a koala’s dick.

Williams quipped, “Every so often Rumsfeld comes out and goes, ‘I don’t know when. I don’t know where. But something awful is going to happen.’ What is it, the Central Intuitive Agency now? Are you working with Miss Cleo?”

Williams’ ability to laugh in the face of darkness showed me that laughter was the key to breaking the cycle of fear—not only the real fear of future terrorist attacks, but also the false fear deliberately engineered by the government in the name of national security. My fear of the future, of failure, of not being able to pay next month’s rent, of, yes, another terrorist attack—it had become my master. In trying to suppress the fear, I had suppressed all other emotions and I was teetering on the edge of depression.

When depression has you in its grips, you are no longer afraid, but you are also no longer alive. You stop feeling to protect yourself from fear or pain or both, and at some point you are unable to access the things that once brought you joy. You are left with nothing but what seems like an impenetrable wall. What cracked that wall for me was Robin Williams’ impression of cats as drag queens.

From that moment forward, I knew my way out of the darkness was to make fun of it. I stepped outside of myself to view the audition scene as the circus that it was, and all of us dancers its unwitting clowns. I chuckled at the irony that I had forgone a full scholarship to a dance conservatory in favor of an expensive liberal arts school—only to embark on a career as a dancer after all. I stopped taking myself so seriously and suddenly…magic. I could feel the life flowing back into my fingers and toes.

Humor is a great mask, a wondrous coping mechanism. It’s what Robin Williams used to shield us from his pain. The fact that he did it so brilliantly makes his loss that much more devastating. Williams taking his own life does not make him weak. It made him gravely and fatally ill. The fact that he kept the demons at bay for so long while also bringing so many others so much joy is a testament to his genius.

This year has been another difficult year for me, and I feel depression eagerly lapping at my feet. But I’ll remember how Robin Williams made me feel safe all those years ago, made it okay to laugh in the dark, and I’ll keep slinging jokes like grenades to stave off the monster. I won’t let it get me. I’ll carpe diem, my captain. I’ll carpe diem.

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Have a Nervous Breakdown

Or very nearly do.

I’d categorize this latest bout of stress and anxiety brought on by the BlogHer conference as a “near-miss.” Over the last week, I bit off a little more salami than I could chew. (That sounded a lot less gross in my head, but I’m leaving it). I had my usual job and motherhood duties, of course, but then I set a course to attend BlogHer and unleashed a wave of self-imposed, unreachable to-dos that sent my brain into LUDICROUS SPEED, and before I knew it, The Olive Gal had gone to plaid.

business cardsIt started small. First, I needed to create business cards because I was told this is sort of the thing that happens at BlogHer. But before I made cards, I would have to tweak my logo to be “just so.” So a designer buddy helped me out and I fumbled my way through Vistaprint to make some cards. Fine.

Then I joined Facebook groups and Skype chats and found myself in a sea of anxious women wondering what to wear and realized, oh shit, I hadn’t really thought about that. So I got a haircut and bought a new fancy bag to hold my plethora of business cards, and I thought, okay, now I can just go and enjoy. But it was too late. The stress-beast had been unleashed.

All of a sudden, I’m practicing my “elevator pitch” and dreaming of signing with agents and wondering if I’ll team up with sponsors (which is sort of hilarious because you need to have TRAFFIC to your website before agents or sponsors consider working with you). I’m going back through every post and tweaking and re-writing and scrunching up my nose at some real stinkers. I’m ramping up on social media. I’m following even more blogs and commenting and watching analytics with a new critical eye.

This is all manageable stress, though, the good kind of stress—the stress that motivates you to become a better blogger, a better writer, to magically transform your little corner of the Internet into a transcendent comedy masterpiece. In the lead-up to and aftermath of BlogHer, I wanted to really push myself, to put my skills as a writer to the test. I found, though, that the harder I tried, the harder it sounded like I was trying.

And then came the voices. (Okay, bear with me. We are going to take a little walk into crazytown. You don’t need to roll up your windows and lock your doors, though. It’ll be alright.)

Fellow bloggers and writers know exactly what I’m talking about: the impostor voice that so many super successful bloggers spoke about as they stood up on stage reflecting on how they got there. This impostor voice tells you that you’re terrible, you’re worthless, you don’t measure up, you will never be successful, you will never write a book, you should just disable the URL now and save yourself the grief.

The impostor voice can be incredibly convincing.

As much as I was inspired at this BlogHer conference, I was also terrified, and the impostor voice saw this as a prime opportunity to slip in and compare myself against the other voices I was coming to admire. Oh, Aussa Lorens! She’s so brilliantly irreverent and sharp and beautiful. Clearly she’s a star in the making.

Impostor voice: Your blog sounds nothing like her. You should shut it down.

Oh, Ashley Garrett! She’s such a lovely storyteller. She captures the mood of the moment by keenly observing her surroundings. She knows how to show not tell.

Impostor voice: Your blog sounds nothing like her. You should shut it down.

Impostor voice: You may try to convince yourself that it’s a good thing that you don’t sound like other people. But the fact of the matter is, you don’t have a voice yet. If you stopped writing tomorrow, no one would care.

Me, in a small voice: I would care.

Me, in a voice getting louder: I would really care. In a way, I live for this. I am compelled to do this, and maybe I have room to grow, and maybe I don’t have an audience, but I have a voice, and it’s me.

Me, in a voice louder still: No, I’m going to do this. I’m going to do this to become a better writer, to dig deep into myself, to discover what my purpose is here, to see if I am somehow, some way reaching others. Even if it’s only to make one more person laugh. Even if it only helps my family and friends know how I feel about them. Even if it’s only a record for my son and husband and friends to remember what kind of hijinks they were up to, and to know how much they mean to me. Even if it’s only for my mom and dad, who I sometimes make fun of mercilessly, but who I couldn’t take a breath without.

Me, now shouting: My blog is my lifeline! It’s my joy, it’s my exquisite pain, it’s my innermost demons, it’s my raw nerves exposed—it’s my humanity!

Third random voice, interjecting: Sooooooo, I came here for the booze?

That blue sleeve is me, walking away from Arianna Huffington, feeling like we totally had a connection, and she's absolutely going to remember me when I email her with a story idea next week.
That blue sleeve is me, walking away from Arianna Huffington, feeling like we totally had a connection, and she’s absolutely going to remember me when I email her with a story idea next week.

I went in and came out of the BlogHer conference hoping to making waves, to see some professional changes take place, and to, let’s be honest, gather more Twitter followers and get more eyeballs on my site. But after the dust has settled and I’ve successfully avoided a nervous breakdown, I’ve realized that what I got out of BlogHer was so, so much more valuable than that.

I now know why I’m here. And I’m not going anywhere.