For me bliss is a room with a door that closes in a house where people are. The muffled noises of everyone enjoying themselves. My solitude is fully optional. I can end it at any moment. And I will: just a minute more, and I’ll go back down and join in.
But for a moment I’m upstairs at grandma’s in my teen years with the music playing from the armoire below. Fog rolling in and the foghorn tooting across the bay. Dishes clattering in the kitchen. That last gasp of childhood, when you let older people wait on you shamelessly, when the world is as fresh as a sharp knife.
Or I’m sitting on the twin bed in the low light of my star-shaped paper lamp in that co-op room in college while a party carries on without me downstairs. Slightly tipsy, with a half a peanut-butter jar pour of cheap wine on my desk. Awash in the relief at a break from being slightly overwhelmed.
Or waking up and the coffee is already brewing in the other room. The morning waiting for me to choose it.
It’s no secret: I, like almost all of you, am struggling with insomnia during this long winter of our dis-COV-tent. (So sorry). My insomnia creates a vicious circle: anxious and alert at nigh, resulting in a sluggish and exhausted day, followed reliably by a burst of energy exactly at bedtime, which makes me anxious and alert at about 2am.
It’s fun! I made diagrams about it, like DIY EKGs.
After all that hot air yesterday about how I refuse to update my hair to be stylish in an attempt to keep the Youths from mocking me, I have something to admit.
I cut my own bangs.
I made it through 11 and a half months of this pandemic without taking scissors to my own hair. But this weekend my streak ended.
Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t do it impulsively. I thought about it for a whole twenty minutes while I watched most of a YouTube video that gave me a pretty good idea of how to do it. Then I went to the bathroom, dug out the shears, and had at it.
Halfway through the big cut, as I was holding the doomed strands in front of my nose ready to sever, I experienced that drop in the belly you may remember from childhood when you were fully locked into the terrifying roller coaster that you weren’t sure you were ready for. Then that click came in the safety vest, and you knew all the screaming in the world couldn’t get you out. The ride was chugging off to whatever kind of doom awaited you.
It was like that. There was nothing for it but to keep cutting.
I flatter myself, though: I didn’t do a terrible job. I followed the tutorial (sort of) and ended up with pretty much what I wanted.
As for my hair, it doesn’t agree yet. My hair is, like me, millennial. It has a long memory of deep side parts. It rejects my halfhearted attempts to update it into a more middle part recently, instead flopping itself over to where it stubbornly belongs.
In the same way, my bangs (cut to fall gracefully to either side of my eyebrows) strongly prefer to skew as a single unit to the right side, as they did in the long swoopy-bangs phase of the aughts.
When I try to force the left half to stay in its lane by my left eyebrow, it gives me the metaphorical finger and curls itself up into the center of my forehead as though arching desperately toward where it wants to lie.
I’m embracing it. Feeling the gentle skimming of hair on my brow puts me right back in 2006-08. There were worse years. And nostalgia is the prerogative of the aging.
Minor pet peeve time: I hate generational stereotypes.
I would like the record to show that I was not on board with “OK, Boomer.” (Before you say it: I know. “OK, Boomer.” You got me.) I was also not down with the Great Tide Pod Slander, and I hope both of these facts are reflected in my permanent file. I’m hedging my bets so that no matter who takes over, I’ll have demonstrated I’m one of the good millennials.
Unfortunately, despite my pacific stance toward my fellow humans of all ages, I’m sad to report that the kids have come for me.
The youths. They’re dunking on us.
“Us” being millennials. We are now embarrassing-parent age, as evidenced by our clinging to our side parts and our skinny jeans and our laughing-crying emojis (which, I agree with the kids, are cringe).
I understand that this is all meaningless and not worth getting mad about. Getting mad is the cardinal internet sin. You should never do it.
But! I’m mad!
With all generational warfare, no matter what tribe you’re in and which tribe you’re dunking on, all you’re saying is that you were born at a specific time and so were your compatriots.
That’s all! Just the bare fact of being a certain age, which is younger and/or older than people you take issue with for also not having been born roughly when you were.
That is such a poor substitute for having a personality. Astrology aside, when we were born is the least interesting thing about any of us. We had absolutely nothing to do with it!
And, whether you’re touting your own time-tribe or laughing at another one, all this does is it highlight how conformist we all are, which is pretty boring. The kids are laughing about ladies of my age still looking samey-samey wearing fashions from the aughts, while they’re all wearing the same fashions from the nows. Is either of those facts interesting? All of us could be fashionable given enough money. That’s not a personality either.
Worse, once someone has pointed out the “tells” of being millennial, I feel like I can no longer be neutral, no matter how much I want to. My awareness of this whole thing started when someone at work declared me a millennial during a video meeting because my hair was parted to the side. Now I can’t escape it, even though I didn’t consent to be a combatant. After all, wouldn’t I be a try-hard Old if I suddenly parted it to the middle?
The only option to stay truly neutral in all this is to keep the hair back at all times in the giving-up bun, refusing to reveal where it’s parted. Refusing, indeed, to part or even brush it at all. That I can do in the name of peace.
Something happens to me when I’m scrolling through the scroll machine. I start to feel a sense of dread, or grief, or nausea.
Rather than concluding reasonably that scrolling is bad for my health in every way possible, I try to scroll back to what bothered me. I have a vague sense that one of the images or words I drifted past planted a seed of discomfort. If I can only find that, I can get rid of the bad feeling and keep scrolling in contentment.
I go back to try to find it. Sometimes it’s there, five slides ago—a joke that reminds me of something distasteful, or a picture that made my vicious little hindbrain remember that I’m a worthless compost heap in comparison to some perfect person on the internet.
Ultimately the scroll-machine giveth dopamine and the scroll-machine taketh dopamine away. It’s a really on-the-nose example of how affected I can be by small events. Little shards of experience can throw me into an emotional state.
Someone says one quiet word and my whole afternoon rotates around it.
Anyway, if you’ve landed here on your scroll journey, take a moment to take a breath. Consider this a digital resting point.
The light falls long across your bedroom in winter. A golden glaze. An unseasonably warm January breeze billows your curtain in the open window. 4:30pm falls through it like massive candlelight, turning everything a deep honey yellow at a steep angle. Nothing to do but lie down and watch it. A little languor before the early dark.
You cross your right leg over your left and I watch the hollow below your right inner ankle. That’s where I can see your pulse. Thump. Thump. Thump under the thin skin right next to that little freckle on the ankle-bone.
It makes me love you with a visceral intensity.
I love the heart that beats so many times every minute for as long as you’re with me.
Close your eyes. What are you picturing? The inner monologue of someone with crippling anxiety?
Open your eyes. These are, in fact, some of the lyrics to “Something’s Coming” from West Side Story, in which Tony (a 50’s Romeo) sings about how excited he is that the completely unpredictable future is coming for him in an unknown way at an unknown time.
As a good thing.
I, like Tony, often think something’s coming for me, DOWN THE BLOCK ON A BEACH UNDER A TREE. But I tell you what: it’s usually not something good that I’m looking over my shoulder for.
Maybe this could be a lesson for me, as I try to be more glass-half-full despite these anxious times. Maybe I should take a page from Tony’s book and recalibrate. Maybe I should reorient myself to expect to CATCH THE MOON, and decide that SOMETHING GREAT IS COMING.
Mindset is everything, some people say.
But then again, I think: look what happens to Tony. It’s not great.
Maybe Tony should take a page from my book and fret a little more.
Multitasking is a myth. It’s very important to understand that no one is physically able to multitask. All we are able to do is switch tasks very quickly and very inefficiently, which provides the illusion of multitasking and also wastes time and attention.
Try to multitask anyway. It’ll probably work.
Here’s what I do:
Start Task A
Task B would help you do Task A more pleasantly. Start Task B.
Remember with a gasp that Task C is pressing. Start Task C. Now you’re walking around literally half-dressed but Task C is very important.
Arrive at a stopping point with Task C, where someone else must provide input.
Who would lose: a twelfth-century sexist or a twenty-first-century presentist?
The book I’m currently writing is set nearly 900 years ago. This poses certain difficulties. Last night, I missed my bedtime falling down an internet rabbit hole trying to figure out whether a specific woman rode her horse side-saddle, or astride.
If you choose to go back this far into history, you’ll find that it’s clouded by all the time that’s passed since. You’re trying to imagine a woman riding a horse in 1140, but you’re actually picturing virginal twentieth-century dorm-room posters reprinted from Victorian paintings imagining late-medieval scenes.
This is not evidence of what the middle ages were like.
If you begin to research a question like “did women in 1140 ride side-saddle?,” you’ll find a lot of websites with vague, unattributed statements like: “Women weren’t allowed to be independent or wear pants until the twentieth century because they were supposed to be demure and chaste.”
Citation needed! It’s not categorically wrong, but it’s wrong categorically!
This kind of assumption obscures the past. It flattens the past into a single “bad old times.”
And—it makes us lazy. There is a common temptation to think about time as a steady march of progress, like so:
But things can, and often do, get worse. New systems of oppression are created. Life-sustaining creations are destroyed.
Women are allowed to ride horses in the most efficient way, until they are told that instead have to ride in a way that only goes slowly and probably feels not great for the horse. From my digging, it looks like that happened sometime after 1140.
So I’m letting my gal swing up on her palfrey, get her skirt bunched up under her. Letting her feel the breeze on her shins.
It’s Monday. I’m idle and frenetic, overwhelmed and bored. I have a list of things to do and I keep rearranging their order but not doing them.
There is a great deal of drama about when I will eat. Before or after I exercise? Will I exercise before or after my meeting? When, in that series of events, should I do that one task that I’m dreading and which will take all of my mental focus?
(That task is now a problem for tomorrow me.)
Then the maintenance team comes and I take that as an excuse to throw the whole list away.
I spend a lot of the day fussing with emails and gearing myself up to answer one, only to realize that I don’t have the answer and need to reply with a question. That takes me two minutes. Another one goes the same way.
I’m hunched over in my chair procrastinating, feeling worse and worse.
At the end of the day as the light begins to fail I start to do it all, all at once, like always. A flurry of activity. I answer a lot of the emails. I finally get my exercise in. I clean the house. I make dinner.
I’m very grumpy about how I never seem to do anything but I also never fully rest.
The snow is falling outside just like the picture of snow falling. The end of daylight is periwinkle and even the streetlights are gold on the glittering white. I’m stretching my hips, sweating out my petty fury, very much alive, and that is all.