Anxiety & Mom’s Spaghetti

The Real Slim Shady once spoke about anxiety in such a way that it made me feel like he was ripping out my soul and challenging it to a rap battle. To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of Marshall Mathers, better known as the lyrical genius, Eminem. I always found him rather angry at the world and some woman named Kim. My boyfriend likes listening to him at the gym, which is quite apropos considering the song I’m about to reference has also been credited as the Eye of the Tiger of the modern era. Can someone superimpose this video of Rocky Balboa to the audio of Lose Yourself? I feel like a video like that would convince me to get off my ass and sign up for a gym membership. Anyway, I found myself listening to Lose Yourself on the drive home; even though I’ve never had it on my iTunes, I pretty much could spit verse after verse thanks to a childhood growing up with Myx.

Lose Yourself reminded me of my experience with anxiety. I hate talking about this because I don’t like admitting failures or weaknesses. I cringe at the thought of talking about accomplishments, too. But if I choose not to tell people about the accomplishments, people call it humility; and society gives that a thumbs up. If I choose not to talk about failures, it’s pride. It’s pride because I refuse to acknowledge it and I refuse to persist. The big problem with anxiety is I often place myself in positions where I can neither fail nor succeed. I’m stagnant.

IMG_7839

I combed through folders of jpgs to find a recent pensive shot, but this one from 2011 will have to do.

Every new experience becomes more terrifying than it should be. It’s not necessarily more challenging or insurmountable; it just becomes tougher to get over that first hurdle. I found myself in that position today with my feet planted at the starting line. The flare gun was positioned in the air just ready to blow. My heart was pounding in my chest. My palms were clammy and I could feel my head spin. I knew colour was draining from my cheeks. My throat was so parched I was tempted to stick my head into a snow bank just so I could soothe the burn.

His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy

There’s vomit on his sweater already; mom’s spaghetti

He’s nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready

Now, I don’t know about Mrs. Mathers’ spaghetti; but my mom has been making spaghetti Bolognese with my recipe and she makes it a hundred times better than I do, that it’d be unlikely for me to ever want to expel it out of my esophagus. Catch me on a rare night after a few too many shots of Crown Royal; perhaps the line would be more apt. The two other lines though – those perfectly describe the nerves.

I’ll admit, it’s not the same crippling anxiety that makes people black out or have a full-blown panic attack in the midst of a crowd. What I experience is quiet, internal, bottled-in. But I’m not a shaken, carbonated drink with the cap twisted open. I’m shaken and left alone until I go flat. Nothing. Nothing happens because I don’t let it happen. Maybe, in that way, it’s crippling. But who knows? Let’s call the experts.

Today, though, I didn’t let it incapacitate me. I persisted. I wiped my sweaty palms on my jeans. I pinched my palms to keep myself from freaking out; and it helped me remind myself that I wasn’t detached from reality. I was actually there. The flare shot up in the air and I sprinted forward. If I had failed, this post probably wouldn’t be up (remember that thing about my pride?); but I succeeded. Yet after the fact, my heart kept racing but something about it felt different. Colour returned to my cheeks, and you might attribute it to the February air, but there was an unmistakable confidence in my step. I felt exhilarated.

One leap forward and suddenly I felt like the world was mine. There are no positive aspects to anxiety; but if there were, the high after jumping that hurdle is probably on top of the list. To most people, it would just be a slight level up in their green achievement meter. But to me it’s a green pipe out of the second level of Super Mario. Suddenly, you’re out of that claustrophobic dungeon and you’ve got limitless sky above you, a stack of blocks from which you can leap and grab that flag. It’s one step out of that dark space where there’s no room for success or failure.

I haven’t always been like this. Growing up, I was willing to try anything and do everything. I also rarely failed at anything, apart from the insignificant quiz I forgot to study for. When it mattered, I always did rather well. Someone even once told me, when I was fourteen or fifteen, that they admired how I was so adaptable to different situations and different cliques. Then something happened and a switch flipped in my head. Everything became a bigger hurdle than it appeared. New experiences, new tests, and new people elicited the signs and symptoms – shortness of breath, heart palpitations, that feeling of nothing in the pit of your stomach,  and the glazed eyes seeing but not processing. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel normal again. I don’t know if anyone will ever describe me as adaptable. But I refuse to let it cripple me (call it pride; but I’d rather be proud than defeated).

I keep on trucking. I jump every hurdle no matter how small, even if it makes me feel sick. I want to move forward and find that normal again, or at least get close enough to it. It’s tough trying to keep it together, especially when the thought of divulging my issues make me panic like nothing else. But sometimes, people need to untangle a few knots before they can tie themselves up into pretty, little bows. I need to be vulnerable, and I need to open myself up to opportunities even if it means failure.

Eminem says, “success is my only motherfuckin’ option – failure’s not.” I’ll get there. For now, I’m sprinting and picking up speed. Wind in my hair and red clay on my heels. I’m jumping hurdles, and knocking down a few. Whether I go fast or slow, you’ll see me at the finish line.

Kitsch & Racism

Kitschy racism is historically cute yet persistently damaging. Racism itself isn’t cute and delightful like cupcakes and pennant banners. Live, love, laugh? You’ll probably find a few hundred faux typography images of that, but you’ll be hard pressed to find some racist quotes to pin to your board (please let me know if I’m wrong). I’m talking about the campy images and monuments from the past that were often portrayed as charming and whimsical. I’m talking about seemingly innocuous things from the pre-civil rights, pre-women’s rights era that are so evocative they become exempt from criticism.

IMG_0488

Pedro feigning happiness amidst clueless tourists

 

Less than a month ago, my family and I drove eighteen hours down to Florida to visit extended family. As we drove along I-95 and crossed the border between the Carolinas, we spotted these pun-filled billboards about the ‘best kept secret’ of the highway, South of the Border. The signs told us we’d always be a wiener at Pedro’s, so we gave it a shot. Bright colours and Space Age signs promising Mexican food was appealing after driving a long stretch of road on an empty stomach.

We parked the car and as soon as I stepped out onto the pavement to stretch my legs, I got this weird feeling. It felt like I was in the twilight zone. The place itself was interesting to look at with all the bright colours and the googie architecture reminiscent of the 1950s. It made South of the Border the perfect tourist trap with all the little signs and statues that were ideal for that social media photo-op. Stores were selling kitschy, novelty items that were probably mass produced, but in that particular setting, they could’ve been original, artisanal junk from etsy. But there was also something off about the place. It had this seedy, ghost town vibe; and it was this sad circus quality to it that made it appealing to me as a photography hobbyist (the day I call myself a photographer, I better be published on NatGeo). It had the same sort of appeal as wanting to photograph an abandoned factory.

It felt bizarre. The whole time, I walked around and snapped pictures like a typical, unassuming tourist. I wondered if Dillon, South Carolina had a big Mexican community that I just hadn’t heard about. Maybe they had given the go-ahead on the project. But there were the signs that mocked a bad impression of a Hispanic accent. There was Pedro, the mascot, who was a racist caricature of a Mexican bandido. There were so many negative stereotypes being perpetuated, that I was convinced it was simply a racist tourist trap. I went from being this thoughtless tourist to feeling like my presence in that particular place was supporting something derisive and distasteful.

We intended to eat so we followed the sign that read, in huge red letters, ‘Hot Tamales‘. We went inside and found fluorescent lights, linoleum floors, cafeteria trays, and the most uninspired menu of hot dogs and French fries. At this point, I wasn’t totally surprised; in fact i was a little relieved. I was relieved that we ended up not eating there; and I was relieved that unsuspecting tourists wouldn’t taste South of the Border’s version of Mexican food and let it tarnish their experience of the real thing. We ended up driving further South for food, but not before we passed a sign telling us to ‘back up amigo’ and now ‘Pedro sad.’

Pedro’s not a real person though. Pedro is some man’s racist caricature of a culture and people that are very much real. I can’t speak for Mexicans so I don’t know what the consensus is on South of the Border, but I can only imagine it’s seen as just one of many classically, kitschy attractions from the past that still hold on to vestiges of racism. It’s like the whole Pinterest-approved trend of plantation weddings. So romantic and also simultaneously ignorant. People just latch onto what’s old and aesthetically pleasing without understanding its history or why it’s problematic. The thing is, before anything is said and done (I’m not campaigning for all antebellum-style houses to be torn down or anything), all I want is to have civil, open-minded discussions about race. I want to talk about the cute and kitschy stuff, the traditional team mascot,  and the ‘way things were’ and I want to scrutinize them without retaliation.

“You’re being too PC” or “You’re so easily offended.”

Ouch. That stings. Pass the hydrogen peroxide. No, but really, what are you supposed to say after someone calls you out for being too politically correct or offended? I’m sorry I’m a more enlightened individual? I’m sorry society has prejudices that affect my life? But this post isn’t here to discuss hypothetical scenarios and badass comebacks to obstinate douchebros. We’ll save that post for another day. For now if there’s anything you should leave with, its these words of advice: if you see punny billboards inviting you to join Pedro at the South of the Border, keep driving.

Tessomancy with Bubble Tea

Two 20-somethings, dressed in a carefully curated mix of thrift shop and intentionally distressed Urban Outfitters, find themselves at their local record store. The man behind the register is wearing an ironic pornstache, and it isn’t even November yet. He’s engaging in a discussion with a girl who’s convinced Taylor Swift is the Joni Mitchell of this generation. “She speaks to the hearts of young, impressionable girls all over the world.” The camera pans back to the two 20-somethings. As they browse through the Old Skool aisle, their hands touch, and sparks fly (or it could’ve been a pinched nerve). They look up and exchange that ‘I-just-met-you-but-I-think-I-want-to-breed-with-you-on-top-of-The-Sugarhill-Gang’ kind of look. She giggles and blinks like she’s trying to speak morse code. He awkwardly scratches the back of his head, suddenly mortified by the flakes of dried scalp floating between them.

“So you into old school hip hop?” asks the guy barely old enough to remember a time when MTV played music videos. She nods her head and giggles some more. At this point, he’s in love. They walk out of the record store, because neither one actually owns a record player. The two 20-somethings walk down the street and bond over duck confit tacos and truffle poutine. They realize they have a lot more in common than not being in possession of a record player, or a fondness for anything more nostalgic than what’s currently trending on Buzzfeed. Except the patriarchy; no one’s nostalgic for the patriarchy.

This common thread that coils around their lives and squeezes tight around their throats is this sense of being adrift in a really terrifying episode of Deadliest Catch. Only the reality show is actually reality and the Catch is an identity. Two 20-somethings in the post-2008-recession age without a map, a financial plan, or even an idea of what’s for dinner. He’s got a can of beans in the cupboard and a microwave his roommate refuses to clean; so he obviously won’t clean it either. She can’t check her online banking because she’s forgotten the password. The security question is asking for her first pet’s name, but she can’t remember if her first pet was the goldfish she flushed down the toilet, or the neighbour’s cat that she kidnapped for a week.

It’s the job market. Those baby boomers screwed up the economy and now they’re calling us lazy. It’s those supposedly entry-level jobs that require at least two years experience. Can you believe HR said ‘marching in Occupy Wall Street’ didn’t count under significant achievements? Back then, you didn’t even need a degree to answer the phone. Life is hard. Yeah, it blows. I want bubble tea. Do you want bubble tea? I know a place that does authentic bubble tea and you can ask them to remove those weird bubbles. So you want a sugar smoothie?

Wandering down a road of uncertainty, these two 20-somethings embark on a journey as fleeting as swiping your approval through a dating app on your phone. With promises of future Snapchats, our couple parts ways and resume their extraordinarily ordinary lives. The camera zooms away to an image of the Brooklyn Bridge lit in the evening. Across the bridge, Detective Olivia Benson is kicking ass. The two 20-somethings would fit perfectly into the world of Hannah Horvath. But even if they were played by Joseph Gordon Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, I would still side eye them so hard I’d fix my lazy eye.

I suppose life isn’t so bad once I realize I’m not in Girls. I hate that show. I watched the first episode of season four a few days ago because we have HBO. You pay for cable and suddenly you feel obligated to watch it. Can you sue HBO for entrapment? Anyway, I couldn’t stand Girls. People say it’s brilliant because anyone can totes identify with the characters. If you’re a sadist and you gain pleasure from secondhand embarrassment through the TV, then by all means go for it. But I think that’s what’s so terrifying about this show. I hate the characters so much because they’re entitled and insufferable and they knowingly put themselves in situations where these qualities shine. But in a big-picture kind of way, like me, they’re also adrift.

Watching her characters and cringing at the characters I’ve just written – it’s like staring at the mirror the morning after I’ve slept in my makeup. I’m facing my bad decisions and now I have to deal with my face breaking out. The world is mocking the 20-something Hannah Horvath trope that I’ve assumed. And somewhere in the world, Lena Dunham and Taylor Swift are laughing maniacally over macarons and mimosas. Girls is not a comedy. If anything, it should be renamed White Girl American Horror Story. I’ve cowered more times watching Girls than I ever have watching Japanese children crawl out of household electronics.

It’s not just the secondhand embarrassment; it’s watching the worst things about myself play out on screen without the Brooklyn apartment or the e-book publishing deal. It’s not wanting to be that oblivious 20-something so unprepared for the adult world, she hides her anxiety in giggles and identity pretension (wow, that sounded really pretentious); but being that girl anyway. I suppose the first step to surmounting the identity crisis of realizing I am one of those 20-somethings is acknowledging my faults. Face that mirror and accept that those dark circles are remaining under my eyes forever because a. genetics and b. Netflix instant queue. I need to recognize the things I want to change and make a serious effort towards becoming a totes together adult. It’s a work in progress, and I’ll try to record this pilgrimage to adulthood in this blog. The operative word being ‘try’. I don’t have a good track record with blogs.

If I don’t update, you’ll know that I’ve basically given into the spiel of how life is hard, and it blows, and other sexual innuendo. Then I would heave a sigh of sorrow and say, “Let’s just get bubble tea.”