Hi. My name is Sophie and there are a few things I do that I don’t want anyone to know that I do. Shall we call these “vices”?
I engage with my vices alone. I don’t like people to know I’m doing a vice. For years I lied and said I was doing a scholarly, impressive, non-vice thing when confronted with a question about what I did with my time. Now I just sigh and say something like, “I don’t know what I did with my day.” But this has been a lot to hold. I’ve concluded that it will make me feel better to come clean.
What follows is a list. I don’t hope to be congratulated for the fact that I’m sort of a bad person and I’m coming clean about it. These vices are a big part of who I am, and I’m tired of performing. At the end of the day, I struggle; I get frayed. Maybe all people do; maybe I am making an excuse.
I have a pack of yellow American Spirit cigarettes.
Years ago I smoked quite a lot of cigarettes. I have told many people, hushed, that there was a period during which I smoked a pack a day. I don’t think that was ever true. I wanted for people to think that I had been a real badass, and that when I quit smoking, it was a major accomplishment that I should be very proud of, and yet here I was, brushing this off my shoulder, even though wow, once, I smoked a whole pack of cigarettes each and every day. I don’t know for sure how many cigarettes I smoked per day back then. More than six, I think is fair to say. I did chain smoke sometimes in the morning, sitting on the steps outside our first house in New Orleans, reading the Times Picayune when it still came out every day.
What was going on was this: A boy had dumped me, and actually, I thought he secretly thought it was cool that I smoked from time to time. Now that he had dumped me, I saw this private smoking as one of the most blatantly self-destructive behaviors I could nurture. He’d never see it, but I constantly filmed myself with an imaginary camera that would gather this footage for later, for some Oscar-worthy future montage, and there would be Sharon Van Etton or something playing in the background. And, although yes, you read that right, this was entirely make believe, the boy would see this footage and he would be attracted to my sadness and my smoking and he would wish he had never left me.
Anyway, that was when I had the habit. Cigarettes were so incredibly cheap in Louisiana. Then I started dating someone else, and he was aggressive about his disliking of my smoking. He took it personally that I sometimes smoked. Around this time, I learned to ride a bike. I mean, I knew how to ride one, but I had never really ridden one in the street like a grown up. It was tremendously liberating and honestly, it was as satisfying at least as smoking a cigarette.
And then I mostly quit all the way, except I kept a pack of Parliaments or Lucky Strikes or something hip in my desk drawer for emergencies when I’d need to be proactive about my self-destruction (this is very much a mood), but I almost never did need them, and honestly I kind of forgot about them. Until like three years later, when a new boy, also dumped me. And then I needed to smoke again, and do you know what I found? I found that this most recent boy, who had dumped me, had written on each of my cigarettes in his meticulous, gorgeous Micron script, “Please quit smoking.” Can you believe this? The irony bothered me, but it also made it easier to hate him, which I wanted to do, even though I didn’t really hate him. And then I bought another box, and I kept them in my top drawer for a long time, and sometimes I would briefly date still other boys who smoked cigarettes, and when I did that I would also smoke.
I am realizing just now for absolutely the first time that my smoking habit is almost entirely about boys. I even started because of a boy. He was so beautiful and sullen and he wore one of those black shoelaces around his neck like Conor Oberst and it was silly but I thought cigarettes would make me appear lovely.
I have never considered myself addicted to them. I’ve never had a moment of, like, “I need to have a cigarette.” The moments of smoking cigarettes are more like, “What shall I do to appropriately mark that I am so sad? I know.” Anyway, this is a vice, and it is the easiest one for me to admit to you, because it seems that it has always been a little bit for show.
And yet, I do it privately, and I don’t want the neighbors to see, and it does usually make me feel a little bit better when I am a lot sad, which is, unfortunately, somewhat often.
2. I take superfluous baths.
What is a superfluous bath? It is a bath you take when you do not need one, and the world does not need you to have one, and you’re not going to actually wash yourself in there, and you don’t have a Lush bath bomb or anything like that, and you know you just want your feet to be warm while you keep reading Cosmopolitan Magazine.
Cosmopolitan Magazine has really gone downhill, by the way, and I know that; but I still read it pretty much every month. This is part of the bath, is getting out the magazine and reading the magazine in the bath, and getting the magazine a little bit wet. I subscribe to significantly more magazines than I can read. Can I tell you something awful? I only subscribe to Vanity Fair and GQ and The Atlantic and Harpers and even, sadly, the Oxford American so that people can see that I subscribe to them. I have never read a single issue of even one of those magazines. I read exclusively Real Simple, O Magazine, Bust, Cosmo, and sometimes Better Homes & Gardens. Also this thin, expensive monthly called Birds & Blooms that is only for the elderly. Every ad in Birds & Blooms is for something comically old people-y, such as a Jitterbug phone or orthopedic shoes or statuettes of praying children.
I will take baths when a person is absolutely not supposed to take a bath. For example: I will take a bath when the bath is grimy and dirty and has mold in it. I will take a bath in the EARLY MORNING or the MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT, when no one needs to relax. I will take a bath when I have to be at work in one hour. I will take a bath when there are guests over, only I’ll pretend I wasn’t taking a bath.
I like for my body to get hot. I realized this, sadly, since moving to Chicago. That weather that people complain about in summer that’s wet and humid and a trillion degrees and you step outside and everything goes limp and damp is my favorite weather. A bath can make you feel like you’re in that weather, even when that is not the weather that it is outside.
3. I occasionally eat cheese.
This is hard to write, because I want to be A VEGAN. I try to be a vegan. In public, I am a vegan. Cheese is very bad for the world. Do you know it takes 20 pounds of milk to make one pound of cheese? I learned that in VegNews. That’s another magazine I always read when I’m in the bath. I digress.
The worst part about this confession is that I have always done this. I mean, there have been exceptions, usually when I am in a fresh “be vegan” mindset. Sometimes months will pass; that is true. I really love identifying as a vegan and it is a major part of my personality, and when, for a short while, I decided to identify as a vegetarian instead, knowing that was more honest, I ate SO MUCH CHEESE THAT IT WAS A PROBLEM. And I was not happy and I hated myself. And so here we are.
This is a bad lie, because people work really hard to stay vegan and to nurture their veganism. My girlfriend is a vegan. It is one of the things that initially attracted me to her, and it is a thing that I love a lot about her. I will have to text her and admit this cheese thing to her before I publish this blog (note: I have now done this), because the thought of her reading such a thing on a blog strikes me as a potentially break-up-withable offense.
The only thing that seems to work for me in the world is to say that I am a vegan, and operate as a vegan as best I can, and then to occasionally eat cheese, alone, in the closet, when I am sad. I sometimes do not eat it in the closet. I also eat cheese at the Mexican restaurant when I am all alone and have a magazine with me. (Maybe the magazine is VegNews! The Mexican restaurant is not going to judge me.) Anyway, this is terrible and I hate it about myself.
Once, early on in college, I got caught eating cheese by a boy who was vegan with whom I made out in a car. The making out happened before he discovered I stress-ate cheese from time to time. He told me he could never trust me again, and that he thought I was a pathological liar. I thought he was probably right. He literally never spoke to me ever again.
It is my every intention to operate in the world as a vegan, but I fail at it. Always when I am sad, and (mostly) always when I am alone.
4. Ditto above with Hershey’s Cookies and Cream chocolate bars, which are arguably the worst chocolate bars in the whole world, but of which I cannot get enough when I’m very sad. Maybe I like how they make my tongue taste like chemicals and how this makes me myself. Maybe I like that.
5. I watch a RIDICULOUS amount of television.
I think one of the reasons I took up drawing is because it is one of the only things you can do while also watching SO. MUCH. TV. I feel that TV is actually incredibly addictive and unhealthy and makes everyone’s lives a lot worse, and that probably everyone is watching too much of it. What’s worse is that I keep watching the same shows over and over again, when I know there are better TV shows out there. Do you know what they recently added to Hulu? “Boy Meets World.” So I watch that, and see how all my white supremecist, heterosexist ideals were shaped when I was a child, and I don’t turn it off, even though I see that it has wronged me.
In the past SIX MONTHS I have watched every single episode of every single season of “Grey’s Anatomy.” Do you know how many seasons there are? You probably didn’t even realize that was still a show actively creating new seasons. There are FIFTEEN SEASONS. Intelligent, thoughtful people told me that I would stop watching it at some point, because after season six things go downhill. I mean, I don’t agree. “Grey’s Anatomy” is great television, through and through.
Doesn’t matter. I wish I was reading books. I wish I was reading GQ or Vanity Fair. I wish I was going on walks. But I am watching TV. When I’m drawing things, it’s probably because I want to watch a lot of TV. It is a disgrace and I am ashamed. And I think it only adds to my depression, but I still watch it, because this is how addiction operates.
6. I play this game on my phone that’s called 1010.
I play it constantly. I listen to the news in the morning solely so I can play it while lying in bed. I am a child. Seriously: the children in my high school writing class play this game. When I told them that I also play it, they raised their eyebrows, because I am supposed to be a grown up, and grown ups do other things with their time. You may think this is a compliment, and maybe it is, but the children seem genuinely shocked and a little tricked and cheated when they find out that I am a full 33 years old. I do not think this is because I have a great skincare routine; I think it is because I play 1010 and do other things like that on my phone.
It used to be Candy Crush, by the way. And I gave Candy Crush SO. MUCH. OF. MY. MONEY. I switched to 1010 because Candy Crush kept asking me for more money, and I kept giving it to them, and then at some point my sister sent me a link to 1010, and they don’t really ask for your money at all. So at least around some of my shameful behaviors I have reformed.
7. Ditto above, with the Buzzfeed app.
Except with the Buzzfeed app, I think I also vainly want to understand the children; I want to hold onto childhood; I want to prevent myself from having to grow up at all costs. I don’t know if this is because growing up actually sucks all that much, or because I have secretly bought into the idea that when you get old, you get ugly and irrelevant, so you should try to trick people into think you are young until the day you die. I don’t want to think I believe that, but who knows. The part of me that looks at the Buzzfeed app probably does.
8. I shop on the ThredUp app for hours and hours.
I do not need more clothes. I have so many clothes. I have an amount of clothes that would suggest that I should give a lot more of my assets to charity, and I should. Since I was a child, I bought into the capitalist theory that if you change something about yourself by buying something — a haircut or color, a tattoo, a diet pill, an at-home micro greens grower, a book about weightlifting, a subscription to GQ, clothes — you can become a version of yourself that you like better.
Nothing about seeing this in myself is remotely unique, but I am impressed by how much I can go into a room, stone-faced, and tell other people to act differently than I secretly act. ThredUp sells only used clothes, you know, so I can cheat myself into thinking I’m not doing the exact same thing I used to do at Forever 21. The retail variety of therapy has never, ever worked in any measurable or longterm way (I think that’s the whole point of capitalism), and I have accumulated, over the years, SO MUCH CRAP. And I have written in the past about giving this crap away, but don’t believe me. I keep it in boxes and bins in case one day I get off my ass and learn to embroider / make hardbound books / start a vlog / up-cycle typeface letter drawers. The things in my possession gather dust and I buy new things on new apps so that they too can gather dust; then I go out into the world like I am so evolved and I say, “Things never make you happier.”
My Amazon habit was out of control just a year ago. When we bought our house, my anxiety was through the roof, and I ordered needless things every single night while lying in bed. I ordered trash cans shaped like cats; infinite sets of bins in various sizes; quirky shelving units; little electric lights to put over the sink. We needed none of this. I bought it all.
Since Amazon has been in the news more lately, I see that it is possibly if not probably the root of all evil, and I am trying to quit. I can’t give up my Prime subscription, though, because that’s the only way I can watch “Miss Maisel.”
Likewise, my social media vice is a lot less prominent than it used to be. I turned off notifications on my phone. You know: those default red icons that look like to-do lists that you have to get through. When there’s no to-do list, the social media apps have less of a pull. I do not feel less happy since stepping away, although I have no interest either in theatrically jumping off the grid.
I am writing these things down because these are some of my greatest lies. It’s not like any of this is all that bad; I’m not pushing the button on any nuclear warheads or anything; my carbon footprint is moderate to small. It’s the hypocrisy of it. It’s the going out into the world and saying, “I’m vegan”; or, “I just read soooo much”; or, most commonly and most egregiously, “I’m really busy.” I’m not really that busy. I just prefer these safe, addictive options, and I don’t want to say so, and “I’m busy” fits the bill. I’m sorry.
It’s striking to me that my smoking habit was all about the performance, too, which reminds me that I leave this big dramatic embarrassing serious one off the list:
9. I’m a cutter.
Big, horrible sigh: I started doing this because I THOUGHT IT WOULD MAKE ME LOOK THINNER. This is HEINOUS, but it is true. It is SENSELESS, but it is true. Fiona Apple was a cutter; she was skinny; I should be a cutter; I'd be right on the road to being skinny.
And then I came to really love how it felt to hurt myself, and it became a perverse desire that I felt fairly frequently. Maybe my greatest vice is hating myself. It comes so easily; I’m good at it. And hating myself is easier than telling the truth about the things that I am doing with my time; is easier than being upfront with people about my needs; is easier than both trying to live a better life and also forgiving myself for not doing it as fast as everyone says a person should. It is easier than coming to terms with the possibility of being average in a world where I want to appear extraordinary.
When you’re not smoking regularly, and you have a single cigarette, the sensation is similar to cutting yourself. It hurts a little and you feel like you’re in control, and you get the sense that you are adequately punishing yourself for your failings. And the cigarettes are just so much less of a “white girl crying for help again” statement. So: cigarettes.
This links to another thing, which I have actually never told anyone at all, not even my husband:
10. I spend a lot of money on weight loss apps and weight loss foods and weight loss tools.
Despite my secrecy, you are probably not surprised by this; there are a lot of clues throughout this whole list of vices. The hypocrisy of this, too, is crushing to me. So much time and energy telling the people I love, “your body is good enough; it’s beautiful”; that all bodies are perfect; that beauty is a bullshit aspiration. And then secretly thinking, “But that’s not true, and I still need to win this contest of who is prettiest, and these things do matter, and we all know it but we’re not going to say it.” I’m addicted to that mentality too. It would be hard to let it go. It’s a comfortable demon to hang on to.
The reason I don’t want to tell anyone any of this is that I’m pretty attached to all of it. A well-meaning person might say, as a doctor might say, “Oh! There’s your problem! Simply stop doing X and you will be happier. Why don’t you go hiking instead?” So we don’t tell our doctors how much alcohol we really drink every month, partially because we don’t want them to tell us what we already know. I can identify the things I do wrong, that are bad for the world, and I technically have the power to stop doing them, but I don’t want to. This is a privileged position to be in. Knowing I am privileged, and knowing that I am squandering it — it’s not really excusable, now is it?
But it’s human, maybe, and that is the thing that I am. I want to be better, and I am also not sure that’s realistic. So: I’ll keep trying from here on the ground, where I see that I am limited, but that slow growth is inevitable, particularly where attention is involved. You just get up every day and you try again to be better. I’ve put that on you, because it’s terrifying to think I’m alone in this. The collective second person has lately been bothering me, but whatever: maybe we just get up every day and we try again to be better.
(Also bad: I use Lysol disposable wipes; I drive my car to work in a city where there’s lots of traffic and ample public transportation; I don’t keep our chicken food secure enough and I think I am the source of our whole neighborhood’s rat problem; I don’t know what to do with difficult text messages and I let them sit for way too long; I steal lipstick from the drugstore; I almost never vacuum under the bed; I think that something trivial like vacuuming under the bed is important but I can’t explain what its purpose is; I give my money away sometimes but I truly never research much where the most effective place for my money to go is; I subscribe to a monthly makeup sample; I only brush my teeth once per day; I have masturbated in an office while no one is around; I think I buy most presents out of a sense of guilt that I haven’t shown up enough for the people in my life who deserve my showing up for them; I don’t correct people when they say something a little bit racist most of the time, although I try to think about how to do that in the future, and I have once sent an email about this, and it resulted in a fight; I sometimes throw away Tupperwares that I find in the back of the fridge with something in them that I don’t know what it is because the thing is old and gross and the thought of opening the container and having to smell the old thing and wash it out is so horrible that I can’t do it and so I throw the whole reusable thing away and contribute knowingly to landfills; I sometimes see that our recycling is out of sorts and they aren’t going to accept it but I do nothing about it; when I walk my friends’ dogs I don’t think that I do a good job picking up the poop and I always leave what feels like a splotch; I have put many pieces of gum and even more pieces of snot underneath seats in the world; I think I’ve only ever written to one Congressperson; I always avoid phone calls that I know are coming from the doctor or the dentist or even the union representative; I let my cats eat off the table; I keep the air conditioning on way too much in the summer; before I was poly I cheated on pretty much everyone I ever dated; about half the times I say that I’ve seen or read or heard of something, I have not.)