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(Self-Interested) Notes on Requiem for a Dream

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I.
The junkies in Requiem for a Dream are beautiful. A strung-out Jennifer Connelly lifts her arms like an angel. Jared Leto’s sharp blue eyes have principal roles of their own. Marlon Wayans’ chest is chiseled and glowing as he leaves a woman tangled up in his bed. Their characters–Marion, Harry, and Tyrone– dance to records, smoke on rooftops, lie by the floor, and stare at each other in the dark. They push off by the ocean, where they sit on rocks on the shoreline and talk about life. Even at the height of their addictions, they still look kind of glamorous. It’s true that at the end of the film, Harry develops an infection in his left arm.The wound is gray and black and purple, leaky and swollen and grotesque. But Jared’s hair is still nicely cut, framing his angular face. He looks a little sweaty and tired, but that’s it.

The protagonists of Requiem don’t look quite like the addicts who come into the store late at night, scratching at the sores covering their arms, rapping impatiently at the cigarette counter to emphasize that they need their Bic lighters immediately. Shouting at me because they absolutely refuse to buy a pink lighter and don’t we have more somewhere in “the back”?

(Here’s a tip: there is almost never “a back”.)

They don’t look quite like the addicts in the cold weather men’s shelter I volunteered at last year. The ones who were grateful for a dry pair of socks, who didn’t quite make sense, who had no parents to pay their debts. The ones who refused–or kept forgetting– to get tested for TB, and so often ended up with no place to stay the night.

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II.
Harry’s mother in the film, Sara Goldfarb, feels more real to me than Darren Aronofsky’s maladjusted hot people. Sara is a middle-aged woman who lives alone. She spends her days watching infomericals and buying her television set back after her son has sold it for drug money. Her plot line is simple. She receives a scam offer to appear on TV, and begins taking amphetamines (in the form of diet pills) to lose weight. Her primary aspiration is to fit into a red dress that her late husband loved. She wants to wear the dress on TV, and she wants the audience to find her beautiful. There’s a scene in the film that breaks me in half: Harry asks his mother why she finds it so important to lose weight– why the “red dress” even matters. She tells him, very simply, that it means a reason to continue living.

And so the film develops a set of parallel patterns. Harry and his friends shoot up in their hazy New York apartment while Sara pops a rainbow of pills that make her wide-eyed and skeletal, paranoid and prone to hallucinations. The room where she watches TV becomes a claustrophobic hellscape. Her TV shudders while she trembles in response, and mutters to herself, and becomes convinced that her refrigerator is possessed. Her downward spiral is a lonely chaos. Harry appears to have forgotten her. No one visits her to remind her that the hellscape of her living room is not her real life.

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III.
Do we make every piece of art about us? I know I do. I searched Harry’s despondent cool and Marion’s quiet magnetism and Tyrone’s easy smile for a long time. I did not recognize myself in any of them.
But then I saw Sara Goldfarb, rocking back and forth in the dark, muttering to herself while the television screen flashed like a strobe in her face. That’s it, I thought, curled up on the old leather couch in my own cramped living room, the light from my laptop aging my skin. There I am.


These Requiem for a Dream (2000) film stills are from Letterboxd (1), thefilmgrapevine.com (2), and IMDB (3).

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To the AirBnB Guest Who Felt “Very Unsafe” in My Neighborhood

To the AirBnB Guest Who Felt “Very Unsafe” in My Neighborhood

for Angel; thank you for sheltering me

 

“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it’s nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.”

– Thomas Merton (to Dorothy Day)

Are people the only holy land?

– Naomi Shihab Nye, “All Things Not Considered”

 

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Oak Park, Sacramento. 1994. This is my family.

 


 

A recent AirBnB guest informs us that she had to leave our listing because the person she was traveling with felt “very unsafe” in our neighborhood. She never steps foot on the property, but still finds it necessary to evaluate her stay through the AirBnB rating feature. 2 stars for “Location”. She writes the phrase “very sketchy” in the justification portion, perhaps in the event that we did not understand her the first time.

In the online form’s suggestion box, she tells us that we need to make it explicit in our description of the property that we live in an environment of such offensive squalor and ill-repute.

 


 

As I thought about this woman’s disgust, images of my surroundings naturally entered my mind. It’s true that our neighborhood is not the most well-kept cluster of streets in the area. Many homes are old and run down. Some homes have old cars, furniture, or appliances in their front yards, which are often bordered by chain link fences and protected by large dogs. In other words, there are a lot of people around here who don’t have a lot of money, and sometimes it shows.

But two brand-new homes and two new duplexes have just been built on our street. And just now, at the start of spring, bunches of bright tulips have sprouted all over several of our neighbors’ yards–some still holding their petals together in compact crowns of red or yellow, others falling open widely and loosely, as if to gather up more rays of sun. It’s a particularly beautiful time in our neighborhood, when the seemingly interminable months of Oregon gray give way to more vibrant and explicitly joyful things.

And most importantly, even if all of the above wasn’t true, the people who live in our neighborhood are kind. They are mothers and grandparents, retail workers and long-haul truckers. Faced with more than most of us will ever know, they are just trying to get through each day that they live. And they are the most loyal neighbors I’ve had in my life.

 


 

Something about the incident with the AirBnB guest reminded me of a conversation I once had with my ex-boyfriend’s mother. One afternoon, while sitting in his fancy home in the suburbs–where his neighbors would report his family to the HOA if they left the garbage cans out on the curb for more than one night (oh, the abject horror)– I ranted about the fact that several people in our town had begun to complain about the new extension to the BART line. They believed that because folks from “bad” areas of the Bay Area like Richmond and Fruitvale were now able to enter the pristine upper-middle class paradise that was Pleasanton, California, local crime was on the rise. Oh, and our high school was losing its spot in the national ranking. And, my God, the local mall had become a hotbed of iniquity!

At the time, I primarily (and naively) associated the phenomenon of rich people turning their noses down at poor people, and especially poor people of color, with BBC miniseries characters that used the word “riff raff” and documentaries about segregation. So I was surprised when my boyfriend’s mother quietly replied, “Well I hate to say it, but I agree with them.” At that age, I knew that racism remained a powerful force in the world. But admittedly, it didn’t fully hit me until that moment that racist elitism was very much alive and well in the supposedly progressive and educated corners of this country. It just sounded a lot more polite.

My boyfriend’s mother once cried at dinner while telling me that because her kids were mixed-race, people often assumed that she wasn’t their real mother. Even in bougie, organic vegetable-slinging Bay Area supermarkets, strangers would make comments to this effect. She also once asked me privately, again with tears in her eyes, if her son was doing drugs. She had given her children nice things, a great school, and a beautiful home. She wanted to believe that this–at least in part– both protected them from the worst parts of the world and kept from them ending up like the “riff raff” from Richmond.

It’s true that her kids turned out smart and creative, well cared for and certainly well-dressed. But they were still victims of racism. They still failed classes and did drugs and hurt people. Because more than anything, they were human beings like everyone else.


It’s not likely that I will ever see the AirBnB lady again. But if I did, and I was brave, I would want want to tell her this:

When I was in middle school, I went to Pismo Beach– a popular (and considerably non-sketchy!) tourist spot close to my hometown– to spend the weekend beach camping with my best friend. We were sitting in the crook of a tree in a little coastal forest set back from the shoreline when two teenage boys stumbled up to us.

“Hey!” one said, pointing at my friend, “Hey, you. My friend wants to fuck you.”   

I flinched. I had never heard the word used that way before. I remember watching my friend as she stared blankly back at him–her eyes wide and slightly frightened– before smiling awkwardly and quietly laughing it off. Because I was (always) the anxious one, I immediately suggested that we leave. So we did, climbing the sand dunes back to our nearby campsite. My friend seemed unhurried, and that upset me.

When I looked behind us, I could see the boys following us. Though it was far from the most dangerous moment of my life, it felt like the beginning of something. Images from that day instantly seared themselves into the part of my brain concerned with my safety, my body, and my visibility as a woman. I remember the first boy’s face in particular, his expression of surprise as he lost his footing and slipped down the side of a dune while matching our footsteps in the sand. Over a decade later, that face and that collapsing sand dune are still right here, sticking in the recesses of my memory.

After we closed the door to the RV, I turned around to confront my friend, asking her through tears why she didn’t take the incident more seriously. Though I can now look back at that day and see with adult eyes that those boys were drunk, and that they probably came up to us on account of a joke or a dare, the framing of the incident –even in my child’s mind– carried with it the threat of violence. My friend disagreed with me. She shrugged, and said that she had already dealt with this kind of thing before. So much so, in fact, that it didn’t really bother her. We were twelve, maybe thirteen.

 


 

When I was a sophomore in college, several boxes of my stuff were stolen from the garage of the house I was living in on a nice, tree-lined street in Portland. While walking home one day, a man drove by me, rolled his window down, and called me a whore before driving away. On another occasion, a man standing next to me at a local bus stop told me that he was going to shove vegetables up my vagina.

 


 

When I was a junior in college, a man stalked me in the even more well-manicured “University Park” neighborhood adjacent to my university. He followed me as I walked home. He waited for me outside of my house. Our campus Public Safety referred me to the Portland Police Department, who sent over an officer with experience in sex crimes. He asked me a series of questions to determine if the man might be a violent serial rapist.

Later that year, after a string of local robberies, someone broke into our house.  

 


 

While studying abroad in Spain, I grew used to getting catcalled and propositioned while walking down the street, a daily occurrence known as the culture of the piropo. Most days, I remained unbothered by it. But one afternoon, while walking down one of the most famous, populated (and touristy! and clean!) streets in all of Granada, two men walking in my direction would not leave me alone. I was tired, I was late for class, and I was sick of feeling like I was constantly on display. So, feeling angry, and knowing there were plenty of people nearby, I turned around and held up one middle finger to each of them. I thought they might laugh, or simply grimace uncomfortably and walk away, but instead they started shouting at me again. Louder this time. They shouted, among other things, that they were going to put me in my place by raping me.

 


 

Of course, none of these moments could be labeled anomalies. Most are familiar to women, queer folks, and people who present themselves in ways that offend mainstream culture. People of color, religious communities, and transgender people are frequent victims of hate crimes, street violence, and premeditated acts of violence.

But then again, we all know that people considered anomalous or offensive to mainstream sensibilities are not the only ones subjected to danger. 223 American students have been shot dead in school shootings since Columbine.* Many of them have been killed by white American boys in “good” neighborhoods.

In light of all this, in many ways, I know that I’ve been lucky. But the moments I’ve shared still speak to the fact that violence wears many faces in this world, and that these faces continue to bare their teeth even in places we consider safe.

 


 

I’ll never forget the moment in the Netflix documentary Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, when commentators described the reason that officials let Bundy, the violent rapist and serial murderer of dozens of American women, study law unattended in an Aspen, Colorado courthouse after he was caught. They said it was easy to trust him because he was charming. He was handsome and articulate. A well-dressed, well-educated white man. The documentary suggested that even when people were provided incontrovertible evidence of Bundy’s murders, they could still not quite believe that he was the “kind of guy” to commit such heinous crimes.

On June 7, 1977, Bundy jumped out of Pitkin County courthouse window after the one security guard assigned to him went out for a smoke. After landing on the ground, Bundy ran down the street in plain sight, where he was able to escape for six days before capture.

 


 

 

These are painful stories. But I would want to tell the AirBnB lady more than just painful stories.  I would want to tell her beautiful ones, too.

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My babysitter, friend, and next-door neighbor Angel with me as an infant. Looking through old photos, I continue to be struck by all of the ways she taught, cradled, and protected me.

The day after I was born, I was brought home to a small house in Oak Park, historically one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Sacramento before its rapid gentrification in the 2000s and “revitalization” during the tenure of Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson. There, I lived my first years kissed and carried by folks who were the best neighbors my parents ever had. Though our neighborhood continued to struggle with drugs, and my grandmother would call us in a panic because she saw our block on Cops, we were always okay. That was largely because of the privileges that we had been afforded. It was also because we were surrounded by good people, and because we took care of one another.

During elementary and middle school, I lived in a small city on the Central Coast of California called Santa Maria. For a couple of years, my parents worked for a nonprofit organization that worked with local low-income teenagers– many of whom were first-generation students whose parents came from Mexico– to teach them job skills, help them write resumes, and develop connections in the community.

I remember sitting on threadbare couches, watching Telemundo while my dad helped the kids and their parents fill out paperwork for the program. These families lived in small houses in run-down neighborhoods that looked much like the one in Oak Park and the one I live in today. These families treated me like family. Years later, I majored in Spanish partly because I wanted to make Spanish-speakers who might need a hand in the community feel as safe and welcome as they had made me feel growing up.


It’s 2019. I have grown up. And my country’s president, Donald Trump, has an extensive track record of framing people from “shithole countries” as dangerous, banning people from our country on the basis of their religion, and calling immigrants “drug dealers, criminals, and rapists.”** No,  Trump, you enormous pile of human vomit. The drug dealers, criminals, and rapists are right here, no matter what they look like, and no matter how well you think their curated surroundings and impressive credentials conceal their various and violent sins.

 


 

If these truths are truths you are unwilling or unable to confront (perhaps because you yourself automatically consider pretty white people and their pretty white homes as bastions of safety, or perhaps because you have spent a great deal of money on landscaping yourself), then I advise you to do a bit more research before you reserve a room in the *slum capital* known as Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and consider paying for a nice night at the local Hilton Garden.

 


 

Notes and Further Reading

* Of course, this article came out in April of last year, so this number is larger now. It does not include the number of students who survived their gunshot wounds.

**I was going to call these methods Nazi-esque, but no, they are actually just copied…directly from the Nazis.

Check out this article for a bit of a primer on this issue, which summarizes Holocaust historian Christopher Browning’s essay “The Suffocation of Democracy”. Here’s a little excerpt from author Zack Beauchamp: “Browning’s essay covers many topics, ranging from Trump’s “America First” foreign policy — a phrase most closely associated with a group of prewar American Nazi sympathizers — to the role of Fox News as a kind of privatized state propaganda office.”

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

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Navigating Friendship at a Small University

this post is 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.* Blah blah blah. Quarter-life crisis blah.

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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 decor, 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.

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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 in my dorm 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 profound 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 group 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 down the street. At that moment, I was eating pizza and listening to reggaeton 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 that house on the other end of the street, 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 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 WHAT IS THIS? 1984? THIS IS SOME MAJOR THOUGHT POLICING F****ERY AND I WILL NOT ABIDE BY IT. I did not want to smoke, 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.

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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. For those of you who attended schools with more diverse student populations– particularly at larger universities– how did that diversity impact some of the social politics I discuss above?

> 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 berthamasonsattic@gmail.com. And, for the love of Blue Ivy Carter, at least try to be nice.

.
Notes

 
* 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.

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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. 

Afterword:

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 MY 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

Notes:

* 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

 

Screenshot_20181223-114010_2

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)

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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: https://www.cookingclassy.com/quinoa-chili

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.

 

Tell Me 

Do you struggle with eating? Do you have any cozy and/or life-affirming recipes to share with my family of readers? Comment below. I would love to hear from you.


Notes

* 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:  https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/statistics-research-eating-disorders

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 hippie.blogspot.com