Monday, September 30, 2019
The waiter at IHOP gathers silverware and a menu after I nod.
“Nothing wrong with that,” he says as he leads me to a booth. “I’ve said that to at least one person every shift. Ain’t no shame in taking yourself out to eat.”
I doubt he knows that I’ve been to IHOP on my own more often that I’ve been here with other people. I do some of my best writing in IHOPs. And I’ve got a 750-word blog entry due by 11:59 tonight, so to IHOP I came.
There’s this small, mature voice inside of me that whispers irritating things about sugar consumption and the fact that I haven’t had a green vegetable in probably a week. I’ve got everything from frozen lasagna to steamed broccoli at home, which would have been both cheaper and healthier, but the atmosphere of home isn’t as ideal for writing.
Another waiter seats a couple a few booths away from me. I listen to the man order for the woman he’s with and I’m filled with feminist irritation.
“Yeah, she wants a Belgian waffle, and two scrambled eggs. And she also wants a hot chocolate, but could you not do the whipped cream on that?”
Oh really, Rob? Are you counting calories for her, too? What a controlling asshole. Look man, I know your type. Narcissistic, manipulative, misogynist punk.
When I see movement, I look up. The woman is returning from the bathroom, and takes a seat across from the man she came in with.
Oh. Never mind. He was ordering for her because she asked him to. Call off the feminism troops. It’s okay. Apparently, I’m a little easily triggered when it comes to gender relations.
I’m sitting underneath a speaker, listening to it blast music that reminds me of being a freshman in college. Not that it’s playing music from 2004, but it’s playing the kind of music that I was listening to in 2004. Jet and Bowie and The Cranberries and Weezer.
The waiter brings my food. My usual—Swedish crepes and a side of ham. I branch out sometimes…pancakes or French toast or a waffle. But there’s something pleasant about the ritual. The sharpness of the lingonberries and the sweet umami of the ham. Enough taste to be enjoyable, but not so much that I’m distracted from whatever I’m writing.
I suppose this is my version of a room of one’s own. This is my own gateway to “Cheyenne, Wyoming,” or whatever you want to call the place in your head where you go during deeply focused creativity. A room that’s different from the room in which I sleep, or the one in which I sit and watch TV, or make dinner.
All day today I had planned to go to a coffee shop to write. Sugar House Coffee or Greenhouse Effect. But when it came time to leave, I didn’t want the cozy artistry of a coffee shop, with hip young people chatting and vaping. I wanted call center employees and middle class retirees chatting in slightly sticky booths. I didn’t want the inspiring. I wanted the pedestrian.
Even if “the pedestrian” means a waiter stopping by the booth every four minutes to ask if “everything still tastes all right.” Yes. Thank you. I don’t look up from my screen as I answer.
I think of all the other items on my “to write” list at the moment. Scripts and poems and marketing emails and social media posts and text responses. I think of the rest of my “to do” list for tonight, for the week, for the month. There are a hundred other things I could be doing tonight. But there’s something really satisfying about just sitting in this IHOP, two empty plates next to me, my FitBit off my wrist so that I can type.
I wrote at least half of my Master’s thesis in IHOPs. I’ve written rubbish scripts and good poems and a couple of really good essays. One journalism piece. And a good handful of blog entries. And now a handful plus one.
This might be one of those pieces of writing that’s more process than product. Something I can treat as an exercise, rather than a finished work. Consider this your peek behind the curtain. It’s really just an ode to a lower middle-class breakfast restaurant chain, to the outdated music and wise-cracking waiters and lingonberry crepes. But I hear that David Sedaris spent a lot of his time in IHOPs in his twenties, so I feel I’m in good company.
Monday, September 16, 2019
The Amazon is being burned. People with PhD’s are being paid poverty wages. Brett Kavanaugh is still a Supreme Court Justice. And I don’t know about you, but I continue to have a visceral negative reaction at any mention of the current President.
The world feels terrible and like nothing is ever going to be okay and it’s effing EXHAUSTING.
And sometimes I need to write about it or talk about it or post about it. But today I’m going to share the things that give me hope when I feel like there isn’t much to be had.
I heard once that the people who fight against justice and progress, who keep trying to prevent society from moving forward to equity, are like toddlers in the backseat of a car that’s being driven to Disneyland. There are times when they are screaming and kicking the back of your seat, even though you keep trying to tell them that you’re going to DISNEYLAND and it will be AWESOME.
And sometimes the screaming and the kicking gets to be too much. It’s exhausting and sometimes even painful. But the thing is that the car’s still f*cking going to Disneyland. Toddlers can be loud and obnoxious but they’re still toddlers who are basically powerless against adults. And adults are the ones driving the car.
So how do you be the adult who’s moving the car moving forward, even when the toddlers are screaming?
I have no definitive answers, but here’s what helps me. All of them are feel-good-y and partly stolen from various self-help books/tumblr posts/Brene Brown/Mr Rogers, and I strongly and shamelessly believe in them.
1. “Physician, heal thyself.”
A lot of the time, my reactions to the screaming toddlers have less to do with the screaming toddlers and more to do with my own un-healed trauma. Because APPARENTLY, almost all of us have experienced trauma. It seems like that’s just part of being human. Ain’t no shame in it. (About a year ago, my therapist asked “Could it be that your parents’ divorce actually had a significant effect on you?” and I replied “NO. Because I’m not a CLICHÉ.” But it turns out I am a cliché and it also turns out that’s actually fine because now I can heal.)
It doesn’t matter if you were physically abused or sexually assaulted or teased a lot as a child. The result is the same. [EDIT: A friend pointed out that it would be good to clarify that being sexually assaulted is not the same as being teased a lot. She used the metaphor of different rooms on a boat. In her words, "Some people get first class trauma like teasing or minor emotional neglect. Others get boiler room trauma where their life is literally hell. But it is all the same trauma boat. We all sailing on the same ship." Which is a way more accurate way to say what I was trying to say. That we all experience trauma in varying levels, and that all of us experience the consequences of trauma.] Your needs weren’t met in some way and your brain decided you were in danger and now it goes overboard in trying to protect you from future danger.
So even though it sounds dumb and counter-intuitive and woo-woo and kumbaya, I actually really believe that healing your own trauma is an enormous empowering step to making the world a better place. It will improve your relationships with yourself and with others, and strengthen your ability to make choices that benefit everyone.
Healing your own trauma won’t stop the toddlers from screaming. But it will help you deal with it. It will help you feel not so helpless. If you can develop coping skills that allow you to acknowledge your needs and fears and also allow you to feel self-worth and self-compassion, you can keep driving that car.
2. Do what you can, and not what you can’t.
I do not have the emotional bandwidth or the financial means to storm ICE detention centers, to picket the capital every day, to never use plastic ever, or to send feminine hygiene supplies to every woman in need. I sometimes feel this need to do ALL THE THINGS.
But I can’t. So instead, I do what I can. I have the emotional bandwidth and financial means to call my representatives now and then, to support Planned Parenthood, and to use public transportation now and then.
And I can create art that teaches empathy. I can write and act and paint and cross stitch the things I believe will bring healing and joy and goodness. Even if it’s just some improv comedy on a Friday night that allows people to take a break from their own emotional exhaustion and trauma.
I’m a big believer that all of us have unique gifts that can make the world better. So figure out what yours are, and do those things.
3. Support those who do what you can’t.
I can’t reform immigration laws or help those in ICE detention centers. But organizations like the ACLU and RAICES can. I can post about them and donate to them. For every problem I see in the world around me, there’s an organization working to solve it. There are people out there doing work that they are passionate about and good at. They don’t need you to do that work, too. They just need your support while THEY do it. Don’t feel the need to do something you are not qualified to do.
4. Remember that things are actually getting better. Objectively.
The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.
Human beings are healthier and less violent than we ever have been in recorded history. Our life expectancy keeps getting higher. Child mortality rates are lower. More people have access to education, and literacy rates are higher. Despite the efforts of some well-intentioned but ill-informed parents in the U.S., more kids are getting vaccinated throughout the world. Fewer and fewer people live in extreme poverty. (For more awesome and hopeful statistics, go here.)
I don’t say all these things to minimize the very real struggles and challenges that face our species. There’s a lot we’ve got to work on. But in moments of discouragement, it’s helpful for me to remember that despite the occasional dip into terrible-ness, humans have done some incredible things.
So while we may experience those dips, and while we may mourn the casualties we fight to avoid, the metaphorical car is actually getting closer and closer to metaphorical Disneyland.
We just gotta keep driving it.