I am writing 100 How-To essays. It is a big project. Here is why I am doing it. This is essay 25 of 100.
Two thousand eighteen has been my biggest, wildest year. I hope I never have another one like this one. And so, selfishly, I want some documentation. But I’ll include my favorite songs from the year, too. If you just want the Spotify playlist, there it is. Here’s to a very boring 2019.
Bury yourself in piles of paper asking hordes of intimate questions you hoped you’d never have to answer, because this is the number one requirement of home ownership. Talk on the phone at all hours of the day to a variety of men named Mike about your decisions in life thusfar, and hear him judging you. (Men often get very soft in the back of their throats when they think you’re sort of a loser. )
For Christmas, your fiancé Luke bought you tickets to see “Wicked,” and he swindled his way into getting a fancy hotel room in downtown Chicago. Wear long underwear when you go. Watch “Four Weddings” on one of the cable channels in the fancy hotel room and be thankful you don’t have a TV (because you’d just watch “Four Weddings” all the time). Your wedding will be different than these women’s weddings. You would definitely not win “Four Weddings.” There seem to be no points for originality.
Put everything in brown boxes. Buy more, even though everyone keeps telling you you can find them for free behind grocery stores. Begin a phase where you spend more money than you have on things you don’t need because there’s a big, metaphysical hole in your gut telling you that this Moving Into A House business is all too much. Ignore that. Ignore everything that feels bad. I know I keep telling you to talk about your feelings and, you know, give them space to breathe. But now is not the time for that. Stuff new things into your rotting old feelings.
Go see the Chicago Ladies Arm Wrestling competition with your girlfriend Kat in Logan Square. Throw all your support behind the wrestler who is loudly in favor of immigration. Feel a little bad for the one who is dressed like Taylor Swift because the room despises her. Everybody needs a villain, especially in times like these. Touch the sides of Kat’s arms and close your eyes. Even in February there will be moments to be full. When you leave, the streets will be all white and you’ll get a Lyft because it’s so cold and you’ll hold hands with Kat in the back seat and that will feel like everything.
Hire cleaners for the house. Get the floors redone. Anything that will make you think you have control. You know as well as I do that you really don’t, but a lot of life is pretending.
Let’s just get this out of the way: your roof is going to catch on fire. The brand new roof. And it’s not going to be easy to get anyone to want to fix it. Actually, a whole year is going to pass and they’re still going to be working on it.
By the way, I hope you’ve gotten all your wedding invitations sent out. Oh, you haven’t? It’s time to get on that. A New Orleans wedding really requires some notice. Some of the people you want to see the most are not going to be able to come, and it’s going to be all your fault.
Hey, now, don’t panic! Don’t sit in the closet crying! There just isn’t TIME! Seriously: get out of the closet. You need to find roommates. You need to get the roof mended. You need to start running again. You need to learn how to tune a piano, because now you have this broken-down clangly piano from Craigslist and it’s too heavy to ever move out of your house ever again. Seriously. Get out of the closet.
Apologize to all your friends, because you don’t have time. Practice language your old therapist taught you like, “I truly wish that I had the space in my schedule to spend time with you today.” Feel terrible anyway.
This month, you’ll start “sitting on the porch with the ladies.” The ladies themselves call it “Prayer Porch,” and it sprung up years ago after Dot’s son died suddenly at just nineteen. They needed a place for their grief. Your grief is smaller and more subtle, and you’re not going to write about it explicitly in a public blog post about the year, but it digs at you. You’re glad to sit on the porch every day at 6:30. You like to walk and watch the trees finally begin to come out of their slumber. Winter was so long this year.
Take your students to see Lingua Franca at the Poetry Foundation. Cry, but don’t be too open about it. You’re the teacher. Still, though, isn’t it amazing how at the end of the day we are all just humans? We are all just longing? We are all just hoping against hope that for all the threads we throw out, something will connect?
You MUST know by now that May is the hardest month. I mean, it’s good but it’s hard. Finish grading, go to that all-day training, plan something great for Luke’s birthday. (It will end up being a party where you grill on the back deck, partially to celebrate that now you have a back deck.) Get plants, build a garden, get a chicken coop going. Keep calling the roofers, keep calling the insurance people, call your mom, call Bob in New Orleans. Keep going.
For your own birthday, get sad. Maybe a turning point happened where now you’ll always be sad at your birthday. We’ll see next year.
At this point, be sure to write the word “onward” at the end of each of your journal entries. What else can a person do?
Listen to: Songs that acknowledge that it’s starting to get sunnier, and everything’s fucked but everything’s fine. illuminati hotties - “Paying Off the Happiness”; Shannon and the Clams - “Onion”; Kate Nash - “Always Shining”
First, Aurora Nealand will stay in your guest room. That’s a big deal because she’s a celebrity to you and Luke, and she and the choreographer Shannon Stewart (also staying with you) will have a sort of lightness that will pull you into summer. Summer is better. Get out your Saltwater sandals. Buy caftans.
Then, you’ll find roommates. Have MK, Freddie, Bennett, Micah move in. Family dinners will be on Thursdays. Everyone who lives here basically has a cat and is good at cooking.
Then, your book will come out. I know I use a lot of superlatives, but this one is true: you’ve never worked harder on anything in your entire life. You’re going to downplay this because what if people don’t like it? What if it doesn’t do very well? Then at least you’ve reserved the ability to say, “Oh, I didn’t work so hard on that, it doesn’t matter if you like it or not.” But the truth is that you lost sleep and gained weight; you cried more than one hundred times. Part of writing a memoir is having hard conversations with people in your life, because you experience things one way and they experience the same things another way. You have spent a year having conversations with these people. You wanted to get it right.
But people will still be upset, and reviews won’t be uniformly positive. The book itself will make a ripple and not a splash. And I guess I’ll break out of this second person voice to say that I feel proud of the work I did on this book, and disappointed at the same time. And of course, I’d do it differently if I started all over again. That’s always how it is. This book felt vulnerable, and having the opportunity to be vulnerable in a big way was the greatest gift of publishing. But also, I cry a lot about all of it. I feel guilty and selfish for asking people to care about my life. I feel sad that I am not a better writer, and I am ashamed that I am often so earnest and unfunny. Even here and now, as I type this blog post, I know the complaints about my writing way better than the compliments. You (and now I’m really talking about you, the readers of this blog) have been overwhelmingly kind. I save all your messages. And still, I want to say this: I’m still scared and hurt and guarded. I haven’t had a baby, and I’ve written in the past that a book is not like a baby. But the book does mean a lot to me, and it feels very personal, and every failure in its pages is a personal failure. This book has been painful, exhausting, physically demanding, psychically destructive.
And still, all I can think about is how excited I am to write another one.
Summer is the right time for all these feelings, by the way. The days are long enough to handle it.
Go to Oxbow — a campsite by a lake in Illinois where for decades (for centuries?) people have done art and slept in drafty camp houses. Get up early every morning and sit by the lake; look at nutria; hope for owls. Pray with Peggy at 6:30, just like you do at home. Prayer while you’re camping in July in the Midwest is mostly only reading Mary Oliver. Work on a book proposal. It’s not good enough. Try to improve your pushups. Write letters near the honey-colored free range chickens.
Go to Portland — a city in which you grew up where it often rains, but not in July. See Trevor Hancey for the first time in more than a decade (but it’s felt like a century, as much as anything can). Read at Powell’s. People will materialize from the past, but they’re all ten years older, and that will be spooky, like from the kind of movie you’d never watch. Wear that stiff striped dress. Kiss your girlfriend in front of your ex-boyfriend at the reading and hope that maybe he’ll feel jealous. (Don’t worry: He doesn’t read your blog.)
Go to Chicago — but take the car. Now you’re going to have a car. Bring Jessica. Watch the water carve illogical lines into the hills. It’s been doing this for centuries (millennia?), and you don’t think about that except when you’re driving through listening to the “Josie and the Pussycats” soundtrack, which your sister Alexis saved in a shoebox along with mix CDs from the days when mix CDs were the best present. Cry a lot on this drive. When you finally get to Chicago, fall asleep on a rock in the Chicago Botanical Garden after watching the bored rabbits consider dying hibiscus.
Go to Tyler and Cora’s camping wedding. It will rain the whole time, except, miraculously, for the outdoor ceremony. Cry a lot at this ceremony. Wow, your own wedding sure is coming up soon! Have you done all the things you need to do? You haven’t. This wedding it going to prove to you, absolutely, that you haven’t. When it storms on the tent while you try to sleep, have the feeling that life is coming at you like an “Indiana Jones” boulder, or maybe that the world is ending.
School will start. Dungeons and Dragons will resume. Your friends will start talking about how they’re excited for fall waaaay too early. Keep apologizing to these same friends, because you STILL don’t have the time — maybe more now than ever before. Start to cry every single day, and you can do it in the closet if you want. It sure is nice to have roomy closets.
Listen to: Transitional dance music. Lost Kings - “When We Were Young”
Your wedding is one month away! People have two questions about this: “Are you excited?” And “Are you stressed out of your mind?” You are neither of these things, which makes you wonder if you’re doing it right. You’re not excited because you’re worried, and besides, you’re really trying to be more present. You’re not stressed because to tell the truth this hasn’t been a stressful wedding to plan. Not for the most part. I mean, you’re going to be paying it off for years. But you’ll be paying the house off for decades, and you’ll be paying grad school off forever, so this seems fine and normal. Of course, this is the time when you find out you need $12,000 of dental work done — and SOON! You cry uncontrollably in the dentist’s office, and you apologize profusely. You tell the dentist about the roof fire. She is understanding, but she still thinks you need to take care of your teeth before they all fall out.
Go to Walla Walla to read your book at your alma mater. Whitman looks the same but feels totally different: It’s sunnier and the grass is more green. The sun and the greenness is more of a feeling than a physical quality. You can see the campus now for what it is: a waiting room with lots of great magazines and those little wooden block-and-wire toys so adolescents can rest and stay distracted while they pupate.
A student who lives at the Writing House has found your diary from 2001. Who knows how it even got there. She asks you to read from it, and the whole house fills up with people to listen and this is the most you will probably ever feel like an actual celebrity. They are all here to listen to you as a 16-year-old writing in her private diary, not you as an adult reciting her public memoir. It’s incredible, because the 16-year-old cared so much more about the attention, but she didn’t really get it back then. Now she’s getting it. Very few 16-year-olds are so lucky. For almost all of us, 16 is just one year. For you, it will be one year and one special day, 16 years later.
Stop apologizing to your friends and start thanking them.
At the beginning of this year, when you made a list of all the things you hoped to accomplish in the next five years, you wrote that you would like to be published in the New York Times. That happens this month.
But mostly you’re focused on the wedding. The word for the wedding — and God, do you ever wish there were another one — is “perfect.” But you need “perfect” to mean: Not always nice, and not always pleasant; not always lovely, and no milky halos around anything; but always exactly what the universe intended for it to be, with every misstep in line with the story that needed to be told. Everyone was right, and it’s mostly a blur. The part that isn’t comes the morning of the ceremony: your friends show up, and your family, and everyone cleans up the public park and sets up chairs and ties ribbons to trees. Mary Fons wears Minnie Mouse ears and leads the charge. You don’t make any decisions — not really — but you’re startled because you see that, although you’ve had nothing to give for months upon months, the people in your life will give to you anyway. Love isn’t perfect reciprocity: it has to do with showing up when the showing up matters. This becomes clear as crystal.
You and Luke drive back to your room to get dressed together. In the van, Luke says the most beautiful thing you’ve ever heard, and it belongs to you and only you.
You and Sammi and Luke go to see Cole Escola at Park West in Chicago. The room is packed. Ten years ago, you and Cole walked through Manhattan together and you bought Pinkberry for the first time and Cole talked about how he wasn’t sure how to make money. Now he has some gray hairs and hundreds of thousands of fans. You notice that this has been a year for looking back through a keyhole at a perfectly-intact world that belonged to you a decade ago. You decide, privately, that things have improved.
By the way, you and Luke keep going to see Broadway plays. He got you season tickets for your birthday and now that’s paying off. “Hello Dolly” is the best one, but it’s the ordeal that you like the best. You get dressed up and you smuggle in kombucha and Skittles and sit in the very back with the other girls with cheap season tickets. They just got the tickets because they wanted to see “Dear Evan Hansen.” They always have juice box-shaped containers of wine. Sitting in the very back row of the Broadway in Chicago theatre gobbling contraband Skittles next to the “Dear Evan Hansen” girls is exactly the line between childhood and adulthood.
Also: you’re tired.
Listen to: Songs of resignation. The Goon Sax - “Strange Light”
Redouble your efforts to get strong. Go to the gym and make twisted up faces while you sit at the huge machines.
Everything has ended, but You’re. So. Tired. You don’t want to do anything at all. Sammi tells you about “Dr. Gameshow” and you listen to that all the time. This is the amount of effort you are willing to expend on social engagements. I think that’s OK. I want to tell you that it’s OK, and you’re allowed to take a break. You won’t listen to me, though: you’ll end up on the floor of the closet again. That’s OK, too. You finally have time to just sit there and feel it.
When you go to Hawaii with your family for Christmas, get into an accident while swimming in the ocean. Let the waves slam your face into the sand and pull your legs over your shoulder. Stumble out of the water, spit out blood and bits of your teeth. Once you know you aren’t going to die, think snarkily that this has been some year for your teeth. Look: you’re going to be OK. But sometimes when the wind gets knocked out of you, you stop and reflect, and you want to repent and thank and mourn at the same time.
Life reminds you constantly how long it is and how short it is. Your body reminds you constantly how delicate it is and how unbreakable it is. The message of so many things seems to be a riddle: both at once. Inside the contradiction is the only truth.
Listen to: Songs that are sad, but accept it. Mikaela Davis - “Delivery”