in recent years

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intrusive religiosity

For about a year in the late 2000s, I became intensely devoted to crossing myself whenever I passed a cross.


 
This started with a steeple cross that was visible to me from the freeway on the drive home from my college. I often sat in a little clutch of traffic near it and it was lit at night, so I noticed it frequently, hovering over the wall that separated the speeding 210 from the neighborhood beyond.
 
I’m not religious. I’ve been to church less than a dozen times in my entire life. I’m unbaptized, un-saved, uncircumsised. I’ve been to Catholic mass once and I spent the entire thing staring at how super naked Jesus seemed on the cross, hanging morbidly above the Filipino priest’s head. I’m religiously curious, so I know a lot about rites and rituals. Plus I’m a writer and I like characters of faith, so I’ve done a lot of research over the years. I’m an atheist though. No waffling here: I don’t believe in god and I have no interest in church.
 
But this cross, it haunted me. I could feel the pull of compulsion each time I passed it, the little tug at me, like there was something my body, my hindbrain NEEDED to do, but I wasn’t getting the message. It probably took a month of this drive, two or three times a week, for me to figure out what it was. My right arm wanted to make the sign of the cross.
 
This is 1. hysterical because with all that lack of religious upbringing, I had no idea how to accurately make the sign of the cross, and 2. disturbing, because it was a compulsion with an intensity I had not yet experienced. I’ve had intensely intrusive thoughts my entire life (flashes of sudden injury, the desire to drive into oncoming traffic, having to back up from a rail because I wanted to jump – all the regulars!) but this was not that. And it wasn’t like the compulsive need to touch and smell things that I inherited from my mother. (Thanks, Mom!) It wasn’t going all the way back to my apartment or dorm door to make sure I locked it. Twice. I knew there were consequences if I left my front door unlocked. I didn’t have any identifiable fear or consequence of NOT crossing myself, I just realized that I had to do it and I had to do it real, real bad.
 
So I did.
 
It became a thing. I drove by this steeple, I crossed myself. Probably incorrectly, but it got the job done. I felt compelled first in my upper arm, then my elbow, then my fingers as I neared the cross. I’d cross myself and I’d feel the minor flood of elation at having satisfied the compulsion. I only crossed myself when I was traveling on the westbound side of the freeway because, I don’t know, these things just happen and the universe in which I live has all kinds of rules I just obey because that’s how it is. I also always did it with my fore and middle fingers extended, which had no reasoning either. It just felt right.
 
It was weird, but it wasn’t dangerous and it was only once a day, twice a week!
 
But then it started happening when I was eastbound as well.
 
And then it started happening any time I passed a large cross. Then any time I passed a church. Then any cross. Then cemeteries.
 
I was living in a Los Angeles suburb and commuting into the Inland Empire. I spent a lot of time in the car and I saw a lot of crosses and churches and cemeteries.
 
I knew it had become a problem when I had to come up with a way to cross myself SECRETLY.

I had started crossing myself so frequently (There are more than 40 churches just in the town of 40,000 where I lived.) that doing it with other people had become unavoidable.

I have been an outspoken atheist since I was thirteen years old, I couldn’t let my friends and family think I had suddenly become weirdly and confusingly Catholic. Also, I still – despite having access to the entire internet at my fingertips – had no idea if I was crossing myself correctly and being seen doing it incorrectly would have been HUMILIATING, obviously. I think I didn’t look it up because the compulsion didn’t want me to. My crossing was organic and it wanted to stay that way.
 
I had learned in like, the third grade, that crossing your fingers for luck came from persecuted Christians giving each other the what’s up, so I tried that. I didn’t like it. First of all, it’s not really an action, it’s an adjustment. Second of all, it didn’t satisfy my elbow or my shoulder. My fingers were okay-ish with the deal, but the rest of my right arm was Not Having It.
 
So I started drawing a cross on my thigh. It allowed for the motion of my entire arm, it seemed semi-holy, and it was pretty easy to do inconspicuously. And I did it A Lot.

The best way to end this story would be to tell you that someone busted me and I had an embarrassing breakdown about how I was an adult woman who couldn’t control my own weird, compulsive, faux-religiosity. Or maybe that the compulsion started to make me feel too out of control and so I forced myself to break it. But, sadly, this story just ends the way most idiot problems I have do: it just went away on its own.

nuclear anecdote

i was trying to shorten this anecdote into a manageable thread for twitter but i couldn’t, so now it’s here. YOU’RE WELCOME.

so there are missiles in north dakota – this is p common knowledge, there’s even an abandoned site called the north dakota pyramid that was literally operational for like three days that you can visit – about 150 of them, minutemen i guess, and they’re just… scattered around this big relatively empty state. fine.

well, there’s a silo p near the highway from williston (where i live) to minot (where target lives) that crystal and i have passed prooooobs about 100 times in the five years we’ve lived here. we talk about it maybe 1 out of every 4/5 times we pass it, mostly bc one of our coworkers had a flat tire near there once and a military vehicle appeared out of nowhere, changed her tire, and escorted her until she was well on her way again, which is, obviously, both kind of understandable and creepy as fuck.

ANYWAY, we drove by last week on our way to get our fog light fixed from when crystal hit a raccoon the last time we drove back home on that highway and i noticed that there were a couple of military vehicles at the silo-ish area and i didn’t think anything about it because there is occasionally one or two there, doing whatever they do to ensure that a freakin’ MISSILE SILO is functioning optimally, i assume.

but then on the way home, i looked again because when i’ve seen vehicles there before, they’re usually only there on one half of the trip, but this time they were still there. like a lot of them. like a half dozen military vehicles at the underground MISSILE SILO next to the highway. and i took mental note of it, but went on with our drive because i have the memory of a goldfish and the tiny attention span of the millennial that old people write op-eds about.

it took me a couple days, but like, there were military vehicles at the side-of-the-highway underground missile silo in middle-of-nowhere bumfuck north dakota because our piece of shit president is a FUCKING WAR MONGER and if he decides to launch NUCLEAR WEAPONS there is a very good chance they’re going to be launched from a missile silo very near me.

it’s one thing to know there are 150 nuclear weapons in the ground near enough to your home. it’s another thing to suddenly realize they might actually be launched, used against other living people across the world.

i am, to say the least, unsettled.

also, just for funzies, minot air force base that is in charge of those nuclear missiles AND bombers that drop the more traditional weapons of mass destruction is one of the worst maintained with the worst morale in the country! drug abuse! domestic violence! missile scandals!

living in a country at the whim of a violent man-baby is just the best!

grieving in the time of facebook

I’ve been on the internet for a long time – since at least 1996, more than TWENTY years – and I have made a lot of friends in that time. I’ve made serious, lasting friendships. I’ve made short but vibrant ones. I’ve had friendships fade away. I’ve followed people as their handles and interests and careers have changed. I married a woman I met on the internet. My internet friendships are really no different to me than the ones that I have because they developed in close physical proximity. Connection is connection is connection.

In the last month, two women that I absolutely adored and knew only online passed away. Both were smart, funny, lively women. Both deaths were unexpected, even if it was in different ways. And I found out about both through Facebook from someone who was not a mutual friend.

I know that social media has complicated a lot of things that used to happen in relative privacy – pregnancy, miscarriage, illness, mourning – because they now happen semi-publicly and surrounded by strangers. I’ve seen a lot of thinkpieces that say this is a bad thing or ones that focus on people who jump the gun and post too soon before the closest people can be told and sure, there are good points to be found about etiquette and timelines, but I feel like a lot of them miss the mark on the power of that public mourning and attribute it to some kind of pageantry. But that’s not at all what I’ve seen.

Watching my friends be mourned by both people I know and people I don’t is moving. It’s painful. It’s joyful. It’s human. My wonderful, smart, funny, kind, talented friends were so, so loved. People are so grateful to have known them that they’re sharing that gratitude publicly, preserved on the internet for others to see. I’ve seen hundreds of tributes to these women, from grand to simple, and they are all so clearly meaningful to the people who post them. To call it pageantry is insulting.

I’m grateful for the public grieving social media allows. It is so joyful and heartening to see that someone you loved was profoundly loved by so many other people, that their life had an impact on people you will never know beyond their post. And because I knew these people only from a distance, it allows me to mourn them when normally I wouldn’t really have the chance.

I can be a crappy friend. I’m in my own head a lot, so I often forget to reach out to the people I love. I don’t engage as much as I want to because I don’t want to leave people hanging when I suddenly find it too hard to keep going. But the internet, through Instagram likes and Twitter faves and Facebook reactions and Words With Friends games, has given me a way to say in small way, “Hey, I’m here. You’re great.” without the risk of disappointing someone because I end up disengaging. And those likes and faves and reactions on my own posts give me a happy thrill of connection.

Being able to read and react to memorial posts has been a powerful source of grief processing for me, which is not at all something I expected. I miss my friends. I miss them so fucking much. Seeing that other people miss them feels cathartic and comforting and human. And I hope these hurting strangers feel the “I loved her too” that I mean with every click.

totally top five 2k16: stuff & things

Ohhhhh my GOD I am SO GLAD TO BE DONE WITH THIS POST. I felt super weird writing this one this year! And that apparently meant that even though I started writing it in like, NOVEMBER, I managed to stretch the process out until MARCH?! For no reason at all?! Books and movies and TV and music feel natural to share in times of duress because we need escape and we need joy, but consumer goods always feel a little different. I love shopping and trying new things, but I feel like, when things are as crappy in the world as they are right now, shopping as relief becomes strangely sinister? Capitalism is bad.

Not all the things on this list are things to buy, but the whole thing gave me a case of the wobblies and that’s partly why it took me so long to put this one together. So, like, buy things when you want to? But find sanity elsewhere? Or don’t! What the hell do I know.

5. Pokemon Go – I flip-flopped SO HARD about putting this one on the list because it has been such a wild ride between SUPER FUN THING I LOVE and poorly-designed frustration. I had no experience with Pokemon prior to this game except that a girl I was friends with in high school called me Jigglypuff regularly and I just stumbled into it since everyone on the entire internet was talking about it. Crystal and I have had a super good time, mostly, but because we live in a rural area the lack of Pokemon to catch (even now with the 2nd gen, there are about six new ones here and that’s it) and the lack of Pokestops kills the intensity and enthusiasm pretty quickly. We play in the car mostly — North Dakota is NOT a walking place — so we wondered if that might be negatively impacting our experience, but even when we have walked, the game doesn’t improve. (Niantic doesn’t care about rural players!! Never 4get!!!) That said, when it’s fun, it’s super fun! And because I don’t have any experience with Pokemon, each addition to my Pokedex is a fun new discovery.


4. Digit is a tool that saves money for you which is the least sexy and exciting thing I could probably put on my list, BUT it does it automatically for you by analyzing your bank activity and then pulls money and just hangs on to it for you until you’re ready to move it. Digit doesn’t earn you any interest, so I treat it as a waystation for savings deposits elsewhere and since October I’ve saved $750 which is well worth it considering I don’t think I saved $50 in all of 2015. If you sign up using my link, I get a kickback, so that’s pretty cool because free money is nice. Even if you don’t use my link, I recommend it 100%.

I no longer recommend digit and actually cancelled my own account because they recently announced that they will now charge $2.99 a month for their service. Though I do really like what digit does, I do not think it’s at all worth three dollars a month. There’s no service that does quite what digit does yet, but here’s a post about some alternatives. Such a bummer.



3. I bought a LOT of makeup and perfume this year. Like, way more than I should have (a lot of it is Crystal’s fault) and more than I will probably be able to finish in my entire life. But a lot of it is very good and I love it a lot and I’m going to recommend it to you because, well, that’s what I’m here for, obviously.


THREE LIPSTICK FORMULAS

Marc Jacobs Lip Crème – The formula on these is lovely, really pigmented and silky. It’s a satin finish, which I don’t normally like, but it isn’t glossy at all, just comfortable. I love Slow Burn and Infamous and Goddess. I highly recommend the apply-blot-apply-blot method to extend the wear of these. So lovely.

NARS Audacious Lipstick – These are sooooo pretty and comfortable! And the packaging is really lovely and minimal and feels super luxe. I LOVE Anna and Rita and Audrey. These are pretty long-wearing and extremely touch-up-able and moisturizing without being glossy or sticky.

Smashbox Always On Matte Liquid Lipstick – If you ever take my advice about lipstick, take it now. These are THE BEST liquid lips I have ever used and I wish there were about 100 more colors. The applicator is perfect for getting a sharp line and an easy swipe of color, the formula is super pigmented, isn’t crazy drying, is thin but not watery, can be layered and touched up, lasts foreeeeeeever, and doesn’t transfer basically at all. These last through meals and even when they wear away at the center, you can just slap some more on without it getting all weird and gross. They are MAGIC. Pricey but super worth it. I love Stepping Out and Bawse and Miss Conduct.


THREE MASCARAS

I started using high end mascara in 2015 and bought… way too many in 2016 after being a 100% drugstore devotee for many years because for me it’s turned out that if I pay more for mascara, it doesn’t clump and it doesn’t flake into my eyeballs! Both qualities well-worth the extra money for me.

Too Faced Better Than Sex is, I think, the first ~high-end mascara I ever bought and it hasn’t steered me wrong yet. I don’t love the brush on this one — though that seems to just be me, EVERYONE seems to love this brush shape and I feel like I see it more and more all the time — but the formula is great and makes my lashes look full and long without a lot of fuss.

Benefit Roller Lash is my other go-to high-end mascara. I like that this one is dark and it makes my lashes look long and full. I don’t know that it necessarily curls my eyelashes noticeably, but I do think it helps hold the curl if I bother to curl my eyelashes first. I also love the brush because if I use it backwards, it gets into that annoying little outside corner that I have so much trouble with.

Guerlain Maxilash So Volume is stupidly expensive, but it makes my eyelashes long and dark with a single swipe, doesn’t clump, flake, or smear, and has lasted way longer than the expiration date recommends I ought to be using it without drying out. I love the brush, though it’s not super special, but the formula is great. It even lengthens the outer third of my eyelashes where they grow extremely curled and fight me on a daily basis. My only complaint about this mascara is that Guerlain says it’s floral scented, but it smells like a cheap, dirty Las Vegas hotel room in the 1990s when you could still smoke in them. Since I spent a lot of the 90s in Vegas, it’s oddly comforting to me, but is still BIZARRE as scents go. Since I can’t smell my eyelashes I don’t care, but YMMV.


THREE SCENTS

I added Thierry Mugler Alien to the favorites list in 2016 after a lot of hemming and hawing about whether or not I actually wanted to buy it. It smells AMAZING, but is for some reason extremely divisive and also really dependent on body chemistry. The notes are sambac jasmine, cashmeran wood, and amber gris which is all meaningless, but on me it’s warm and a little spicy and a little sweet (in a vanilla bean way, rather than a sugary way) and it lasts F-O-R-E-V-E-R.

Dolce & Gabbana Pour Femme Intense was a bottle that Crystal grabbed after I had explicitly told her that we needed to STOP BUYING PERFUME because we have so much and she’s obstinate like that. But since it’s become one of my faves, I guess I’m not that mad. The notes for this one are neroli, orange blossom, jasmine, tuberose, and sandalwood which is mostly meaningless, but it smells warm and a tiny bit sweet but mostly just GOOD.

Yves Saint Laurent Black Opium is so good I’ve used like, half a bottle in less than six months. Another warm, sweet, almost spicy scent, this one with notes of coffee accord, orange blossom, cedarwood, patchouli and I guess there’s sort of a pattern there, huh? It’s rich but not overwhelming and it makes me feel a little ~sexy and also cozy?

These are all what I consider fall/winter scents, which I hate myself for even having mentally categorized, but the older I get, the more I am drawn to those kind of warm, spicy fragrances instead of the clean, fresh stuff I wear in the spring. They all kind of make me feel like a cool, aloof adult though and that’ll be hard to give up as the seasons change.


2. In addition to make-up, I also spent a lot of money on skincare in 2016. I am getting older! And my skin is confusing and fickle and also spending money on skincare feels like an ~investment, so it’s disturbingly easy to justify the expense to myself.

Origins Ginzing Eye Cream – This weirdly makes me feel like an adult woman who has her shit together, but is also still generally pretty cool and stays current with like, pop music and tv shows. I apply this in the mornings all over my orbital bone and under my eye and out toward my temple and it makes my skin look bright and hydrated and also kind of masks my thankfully minimal undereye darkness. It feels cooling and tightening and really does make me look and feel more awake. My eyes are stupidly sensitive, so I have to be careful not to get it to close to my lash lines because otherwise I think I’m in the midst of going blind all day long, but it is otherwise 100% my fave new skincare product I bought in 2016.

Caudalie Lip Conditioner – I am always buying new lip balms because my lips are eternally chapped and miserable and I had been pretty faithful to the Sugar Fresh for a while until I realized that it wasn’t lasting long at all and I was going through it like crazy and when it’s $22 a tube, that sucks. A lot. The Caudalie is similar except it lasts a lot longer and it’s only $12 a tube! It can occasionally give me a weird taste when I’m drinking, but otherwise I love it. It keeps my lips soft and moisturized, but isn’t sticky at all.

CoverFX Clear Cover Invisible Sunscreen – I HATE SUNSCREEN. I hate it so, so much. I hate it hate it hate it. I hate it even though I have spent the last 32 years slathering myself or being slathered in it because I am the kind of fair-skinned that is sometimes transparent and I start to burn in under a minute in direct sunlight. I have tried one million sunscreens and the most positive reaction I have ever had is, “I don’t wish I was dead” because they all feel like they’re trying to suffocate me. UNTIL NOW. This stuff is amazing. It’s bananas expensive, but I will gladly continue to pay it because it is so much more pleasant than any sunscreen I have ever used. It feels a lot like a silicone primer — very slippy and then powdery once it sets — but it applies quickly and I’m actually able to almost immediately forget that I’ve put it on. I used it on my face, arms, neck, and upper body for two solid days at Disneyland and I didn’t even get a little pink!!!!!!!!! And I didn’t even mind reapplying!!!!


1. The only TOTALLY MONEY-FREE thing on this list: NOT REMOVING ANY OF MY EYEBROWS. I have never been good at dealing with my eyebrows. Mine go straight across my face and have no arch and barely any tail whatsoever and I have hated them since I knew enough to know that eyebrows could look nice. I have waxed, plucked, threaded, and trimmed. They’ve been embarrassingly thin and I’ve accidentally taken off the entire puny excuse for a tail that I have and they’ve just always been a mess. But after the wedding, I just started leaving them alone. I mean, I occasionally fill them in some or use some eyebrow gel to shape them, but in the hair removal department I just GAVE UP. And it is GLORIOUS. They still look pretty terrible and have no discernible eyebrow-like shape, but at some point in 2016 I just stopped caring at all. I don’t care that my eyebrows are ugly and that I don’t like them!! If they were on another person I’d probably think they were totally fine!! My eyebrow obsession was completely in my head and just POOF I managed to let it go. I feel so free.

Honorable Mentions: Polk Boom Swimmer Jr | K&H Heated Pet Bed | Alexander Del Rossa Fleece Robes | Polaroid Zip | Noosa Vanilla | Matrix Color Obsessed So Silver | Nest Cam


2K12 | 2K13 | 2K14 | 2K15 | WATCHING | LISTENING | READING

totally top five 2k16: reading

OKAY, now that I’ve finally finished ALL MY REVIEWS of books I read in 2016, I can finally tell you which ones are in my top five! I’m sure you’ve been on TOTAL TENTERHOOKS. I mean, like everyone, I feel partially conflicted about writing about silly, joyful things when it feels like the world is being set freshly aflame every single day, but without joy, what are we fighting for, right? So let’s do this in spite of it all!


5. Julie Murphy, Dumplin’Dumplin’ is only the second audiobook I’ve ever listened to (It is exxxxxtremely hard for me to absorb information aurally.) and I loved both the narration (TBH, the way that Eileen Stevens has Bo say “Willowdean” has irreversibly changed my life.) and the story. It’s fun and sweet and smart and funny. Willowdean grows, the secondary and tertiary characters are awesome, and most importantly, WILLOWDEAN IS FAT AND DOESN’T LOSE WEIGHT. There is a secondary character named Millie who is also fat and DOESN’T LOSE WEIGHT. I have read a lot of books about fat characters and even the ones who decide being fat is “okay” usually lose some weight as, like, a magical side effect of being allowed to feel human? I guess. But Willowdean is fat and thinks that’s okay and pushes back against the idea that it isn’t okay and she stays fat! She never even obsesses over food! What a gift.


4. Andrea Portes, Anatomy of a MisfitAnatomy of a Misfit is a book that frustrated me as I read it because it struck me as so true to the misery of high school, but in a really satisfying way. The writing is very strong and Anika is a really well-rendered teenager with complex feelings about genuinely difficult situations. She’s not particularly likable, which is always unbelievably hard for me to engage with, but she was so fully-fleshed and felt so human. Her narrative voice always felt age-appropriate without ever pandering or falling into that non-young-adults-trying-to-sound-like-young-adults thing that I seemed to encounter a lot in 2016. This is not an easy book and I don’t think it always pulls it’s weight, but it was definitely some of the best reading I did this year.


3. Marie Sexton, Trailer Trash – I think I screamed about Trailer Trash for like, five days straight on twitter after I read it because I was so, so impressed with it. It’s a gay, teenage love story set in the 80s that manages to be sweet, emotional, devastating, and hopeful. The narrative voices feel SO of their time, while also feeling really current. It doesn’t ignore its time period at all — including the AIDS crisis — but manages to stay hopeful in spite of pain, loss, and tragedy. This book is a romance through and through, but it’s cut with real, weighty problems and real, painful experiences and full of real, complicated conversations and relationships. I read it in May and not a week has gone by where I haven’t at least thought about how much I enjoyed it.


2. Sonia Belasco, Speak of Me As I Am – I’ve known Sonia for… more than ten years now, I think, and I have spent nearly all of those years waiting to have one of her books in my hands and man, it was so worth the anticipation. Speak of Me As I Am is beautiful and moving and lyrical and lovely. Melanie and Damon feel like real teenagers, but they’re also smart and sensitive and thoughtful. I love the weight of place in this and the way that characters who are not physically present in the story are so incredibly central and alive. There are also awesome parents in this and good teachers and secondary characters who are lively and fully-formed and worth caring about. I feel like a cheater sharing this one, since you can’t actually read it until April, but I promise it’ll be worth the wait.


1. Stephanie Tromly, Trouble is a Friend of Mine – I LOVED THIS BOOK. I loved it so much. I love-love-loved it. I also listened to the audiobook of this one (the last one I listened to, I think) and Kathleen McInerney is GREAT and kind of sounds like Kristen Bell, which made it all feel very Veronica Mars-y. It was a fun, fast story with great characters. Nobody really sounds like a teenager, but they somehow feel like teenagers anyway. It’s a great caper-y book and it made me laugh a lot. And the end made me squeal in delight with such vigor that I traumatized Crystal while she was driving. It does have some… questionable moments with racial stereotypes and slut-shame-y-I’m-not-like-other-girls type stuff, but the story was worth it for me anyway. Such a fun read!


Honorable Mentions: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda | Bone Gap | The Haters | More Happy Than Not | Vivian Apple at the End of the World | Dietland | Winger | My Heart and Other Black Holes


2K12 | 2K13 | 2K14 | 2K15 | WATCHING | LISTENING