Things I’m Genuinely Bad At, Part Two

Some time ago, I bared my soul to the world in the iconic post Things I’m Genuinely Bad At. That was the essay wherein I composed what may be my greatest line of all time: “You are probably never going to be a pop star and I am probably never going to be a neuroscientist, so it’s time to let certain dreams go so that we can focus on what’s truly important: making a lot of money while looking hot.”

O YOUNG TORI!!!!!

Anyway, today is not a day for nostalgia. Today is a day for self-reflection, for self-flagellation, for staring into the mirror and shrieking “WHY, CRUEL SELF, WHY?” And so I present you with Things I’m Genuinely Bad At, 2017 version.

Answering emails and texts in a timely fashion. It’s just too much stimulation, okay? Note that in 2013, I was also bad at this.

Maintaining a healthy level of skepticism about hippie remedies that I read about in comment sections. Now and then I find myself reading an article about Natural Ways to Remain Fabulous in Your 80s, and someone in the comment section says, apropos of nothing, “I eat a teaspoon of coconut oil mixed with lots of cayenne pepper every morning. It stimulates digestion and doubles as a preventative measure against common household pests! Also, I heat rocks in the oven and place them on my temples every time I have a hangover. I swear it works!” If I stumble across a comment like that, I cannot help but believe it. There’s something about the misspelled innocence of certain comment sections, the enthusiasm of crunchy oversharers, that instantly turns me into a disciple. “THIS PERSON IS FULL OF LIVED EXPERIENCE,” my brain shrieks. “HEAT UP ROCKS IN THE OVEN IMMEDIATELY.”

Getting MacArthur Genius Grants. This one’s pretty embarrassing, LOL!

Sitting still for long periods of time. Halfway through an hour-long phone interview the other day, I was leaping around my kitchen like a gnat, silently screaming into the phone. If a sermon is too long, I may sketch out story ideas in the margins of the bulletin. If you are in a band and your set is longer than 45 minutes, I can and will plot your death. How can we as a culture buy into the paleo diet but not understand that humans were not designed to sit in meetings, like, ever???

Longboarding. My fear of “going too fast” really bites me in the leg here.

Staying warm. Left to my own devices, I produce zero body heat. This is why you can occasionally find me sitting in my local gym’s steam room in full winter regalia, despite aggressive signage demanding that people steam in “shorts or bathing suit only.” Put on a bathing suit in January? Are you KIDDING?

 [Formerly] Fighting off fungus gnats. If you spoke to me during a certain few weeks in early December, you know that I was a woman possessed. Charlie and I have many, many houseplants in our apartment and they came down with a nasty fungus gnat infestation, for reasons that I cannot pretend to understand. I waged war against them for a couple of weeks, sobbing at my own futility (there are only so many gnats a lady can crush with her bare hands before going nearly insane!!!!) until finally, a few judicious insecticide purchases from Amazon killed most of the awful little beasts. I like to consider myself a compassionate person; I dislike eating meat for the obvious reasons, I would never crush a baby sparrow underfoot. But when it comes to fungus gnats, I turn into something else entirely—a thing without mercy. In the immortal words of James Cameron’s Terminator, “It can’t be bargained with; it can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity or remorse or fear and it absolutely will not stop—ever—until you are dead!”

Everything

I don’t even know where to begin. Here’s how I’ve been feeling lately: ecstatic, dopamine-fueled, like everything is happening at once, and full of that subtle but deep underlying sadness that I don’t think any thinking woman will ever be able to shake. Example: today, I saw Picasso’s “Guernica” in person. I started crying. I stood close to it for ten minutes. I stopped myself from even thinking about taking a picture. My vision was blurry. I’d had so much coffee, and so little food. I felt: so moved to be in the presence of legend, so moved to be in the presence of great art, so envious of every artist and ex-pat who’s ever lived in Europe among this deep deep artistic history that we will never be able to approximate in the US, so sad about the bombing of Guernica, so intimidated by how perfectly Picasso channeled real human suffering into art, so restless about the fact that I don’t live in a city with Guernica in it, so dreamy at the thought that I was standing in an art museum by myself in Madrid, so confused.

I walked back, buzzing with caffeine and Guernica and work, listening to something just as blood-pumping and confusing as anything: a song that my brother recommended to me for a road trip with my sister but that has come to represent, for me, my first solo trip to Europe. Buzzing is the best word for what I’ve been feeling lately. Sometimes it’s literal (wayyyyy too many gin and tonics in Portugal), sometimes it’s because I’m listening to a great song and walking extra fast, sometimes it’s because I’m angry (I recently got an EMAIL criticizing one of my articles for having a TYPO), sometimes it’s because I’m thrilled, sometimes it’s because I’m making eyes at everyone on the street and I can’t stop. I’m too obsessed with burning imagery, stigmata, flash fiction. I just stopped writing and reached for the screen. See—the big gesture of my life right now is me holding my hands out in front of me and shaking, fingers poised in a gesture that’s half-claws, half-reaching. With joy? With fear? Even I, the trembling mind inside my only body, couldn’t tell you.

The Work of Writing: Week One Update

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In case you missed it, I’m embarking on a month-long project of trying a different writing work style every week. If you’re a non-writer who’s wondering why I’m doing this, STOP READING MY BLOG AND GO BACK TO YOUR FINANCE JOB. Just kidding, I ADORE you. I’m doing this not-so-glamorous experiment because nobody really talks about the pros and cons of different writing styles–people just talk about how Hemingway drank daiquiris. Oh, really? Writers tend toward alcoholism? LOOK IN THE MIRROR, SOCIETY. IT’S YOU. 

Ugh times ten thousand. This week was not only sickeningly hot, it was a study in everything that is frustrating about writing. If you recall, I was planning to write only new content for an hour a day at the same time each day. Some lowlights:

1. I couldn’t write at the same time every day because my schedule is different every day. Where’s the genius who thought up that parameter?

2. I didn’t write at all on Thursday because I was so sleep-deprived that I had to choose a nap over writing during the sliver of free time I had between jobs. I don’t regret it because I was near death, but I feel guilty about skipping a day.

3. On Friday, I began to get frustrated with the sloppiness of the story. The trajectory seemed off–as though I’d taken a wrong turn circa page 15 and was now careening down a terrible highway. As you may recall, I set a goal for myself to only produce new content–and I did, 20 pages of it, girrrrrl–but once things started feeling off-balance, I just wanted to go back and edit. Or drink myself to death.

4. Yesterday’s “writing” was just awful. I’d-rather-be-anything-but-a-writer-level awful. I was at Intelligentsia, it was packed with loud tourists, I have never felt less inspired. I left in a rage and stalked down Michigan Avenue with my best I’m-a-serial-killer-get-out-of-my-way-you-plebeian-scum face on and bought some expensive honey at Whole Foods.

Some highlights:

1. Despite the fact that I am now on the Chicago serial killer registry for kickstarting the Great Fruit Fly Massacre of 2013, I have 20 pages of a brand-new story that simply did not exist a week ago! I want to fling the pages around an Egyptian temple and make my acolytes strew herbs on them. WRITING A NEW STORY IS THE GREATEST FEELING IN THE WORLD. I KNOW YOU FEEL ME! Earlier in the week when I was young and the world was mine, I was feeling pretty high on the whole concept of creation. Coming up with something new can make you feel like you’re that elusive autopoietic machine or whatever it’s called. FREAKING COOL, RIGHT?!

2. I remembered that stories need to have an “inciting incident.” OH, RIGHT. As I wrote, I started asking myself questions as though I was in a bad relationship: where is this thing going? What’s the point? What am I doing here? Why is that man talking LOUDLY ON HIS CELL PHONE CAN’T HE SEE I’M TRYING TO WRITE?

The takeaway:

If you decide that writing every day is your thing, it’s probably going to feel like what it is: a grind. You won’t always feel like an autopoietic genius. There are a thousand things waiting to burst through the seams of your structured day and just overwhelm you. It’s hard to get enough sleep and make enough money for rent. It’s even harder to carve out time in the day to work on your own stuff when you’re constantly getting new emails, tweets, and texts, and the dishes are piling up, and you remember guiltily that you haven’t eaten a vegetable in days, and also you now have cholera and are skidding towards the grave.

Don’t let the frustration of general existence tear you away from putting in a little time to write. Some of what I wrote this week was awesome, since I am a MacArthur fellow. Some of it was stupid, since my brain is 40% 15-year-old boy. It wasn’t the greatest week of my life, but I put in a little time and I got results: a Frankensteinian baby of a story that needs drastic plastic surgery. Nobody ever said fiction was going to look beautiful without a few stitches.

Email Greetings From My Mother or McSweeney’s Rejection Letters?

1. “LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVe, oodles-style.”

2. “Appreciate your giving us a shot with this one, but I’m afraid we’re not going to use it.”

3.  “You are so very very beautiful inside and out!”

4. “I’m afraid I’m going to pass.”

5. “Love love love ya, kiddo.”

6. “Thanks for the look.”

7. “Oh, my dear, I haven’t conversed with you in much too long a while! Culpa mea, culpa tua, culpa tempo fugit?”

8. “Good to see your trying again, though.”*

9. “Love with a capital Hug.”

Email greetings from my mother: THE AMAZING ONES.

McSweeney’s Rejection Letters: THE TERRIBLE ONES.

(If you don’t know what this list style refers to, see McSweeney’s lists such as this one, written by my awesome friend Elizabeth.)

*YES, MCSWEENEY’S REJECTED ME WITH A TYPO.

A Few Brief Thoughts on Being Legit [Video]

Addicted to iMovie and I’m not ashamed.

After re-watching this movie enough times to realize that it’s totally embarrassing genius bipolar, I have come to several conclusions.

Things I need to work on:

1. Talking loud enough to be heard over the rollicking soundtrack that I totally don’t have the rights to.

2. Narrative arc.

Things I don’t need to work on:

1. My hilarious fake-crying. #noregrets

How to Sulk

Apparently I have an easy life, because something petty happened to me recently and I broke down crying and told my boyfriend I wanted to jump off a bridge. I’m almost too embarrassed to tell you about it, because then you’ll think I’m a spoiled, arrogant, delusional fool in need of a reality check. OK, I’M A SPOILED ARROGANT DELUSIONAL FOOL IN NEED OF A REALITY CHECK. Comrades, I have officially been internet trolled, and it doesn’t feel very good.

Two days ago, this article of mine was published on Thought Catalog, and with the flushed enthusiasm of youth, I scrolled down to the comments section, hungry for praise. Any powerful female celebrity could have told me that that was a huge mistake: never read internet comments, people! My article was called “atrocious” and other adjectives that I can’t remember because I WILL NEVER LOOK AT THAT HORRIBLE COMMENTS SECTION AGAIN. The small silver lining is that I’m pretty sure all the insults were from people who took the article literally (which blows my mind: you think I’m serious when I say that one of the 10 Places You Must Go Before You Die is PASTA WITH PARMESAN? DID YOUR BRAIN FALL OUT?). But that didn’t lessen the sting.

I guess it’s human nature to be upset by negative feedback, and no one likes to hear that their BRILLIANT jokes are ATROCIOUS, but I’m still ashamed at myself for sobbing my eyes out and not laughing all the way to the bank with a gin martini in one hand and my leopard-print Louboutins dangling from the other because I’m way too cool to actually wear shoes during the daytime I just prance around like I don’t give a–hold on, this image is misleading, I didn’t actually get paid for the article. EXCEPT IN INSULTS.

To rub salt in the wound, so to speak, these comments came on the tail-end of a day that featured a lengthy emotional email exchange with a close relative, the revealing of a secret to several friends, and general sleep-deprivation. The result? Tori in the Evening: Sulky Misunderstood Self-Pitying Edition. Shockingly, though, my evening turned out to be really awesome. Why? BECAUSE I SULKED RIGHT.

Has the world beaten you down lately, beloved Freudian figment of my imagination? Here’s how you deal, baby. Here’s how you pick up your debit card and deal.

1. Get some sympathy.

Who cares how petty your grievances are? No one likes to feel alone. Make your friends take your side. You’ll feel much better.

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2. Get some perspective.

Are your loved ones in danger? Are you locked in a serial killer’s basement? Do you have any limbs missing? Is the apocalypse currently taking place? No? You’re basically fine then. I’ve found that it helps to lecture yourself until a droplet of perspective seeps into your stubborn little brain, something along the lines of This means nothing in the grand scheme of things, you’re not going to care about this in the morning, PUT DOWN THE SHOTGUN, TORI, PUT IT DOWN RIGHT NOW, STOP TRYING TO DROWN THAT KITTEN!

3. Then get some alcohol.

Dash to the nearest grocery store, preferably while wearing short-shorts and riding your bike super-fast down hills while blasting Michael Jackson. Aesthetic is everything, even in your darkest hour.

4. And also get some other delicious things.

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5. Clutching at your only true friend (A CHOCOLATE BAR), allow yourself to genuinely feel.

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6. Crawl into bed, duh. Turn on a feel-good art-house flick.

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Gnawing at your chocolate bar like a mouse, console yourself with the idea that no matter how low you sink, you will never be the author of Twilight, nor will you be incriminated in the creation of the awful gene pool that resulted in Kristen Stewart’s acting abilities. Voila! Things are looking up already.

Things I’m Genuinely Bad At

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In this age of self-help books and post-postmodern selfawareness and black holes that creep ever closer to our lonely planet, threatening to incinerate us into ash (shh, just go with the imagery), it’s important to occasionally take a good hard look at things we are bad at. File this under Getting Real, my friends. You are probably never going to be a pop star and I am probably never going to be a neuroscientist, so it’s time to let certain dreams go so that we can focus on what’s truly important: making a lot of money while looking hot.

I’ll start: here are eleven things I’m truly terrible at doing. If life were a Ferris Wheel, I’d be on the bottom rung in these vicious arenas (TRIPLE MIXED METAPHOR–HAS THAT EVER BEEN DONE BEFORE?!).

1. Drawing. I can’t even draw a circle, much less forge a Picasso well enough to buy myself a car. Note that I once almost spent $50 at Blick Art Supply. What can I say? I am a creature of delusion.

2. Sight-reading. Musicians, you have my undying respect. HOW DO THOSE LITTLE BLACK SQUIGGLES TRANSLATE INTO SOUNDS IN YOUR HEAD? YES I TOOK PIANO FOR 13 YEARS, I DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT.

3. [FORMERLY] Salting things. I have, however, improved greatly, thanks to a certain incident with homemade apple cider caramels.

4. Throwing away clothing tags. I always feel like I might want to return it, and that if so, I could somehow reattach the tag, even if I’ve already worn the clothing item to the biannual Bloomington Homeless Mudslinging Contest. I realize this makes me 1 step away from a bag lady.

5. Watching horror movies. Cue a bare branch skittering against a frosty window—cue me on the floor in a dead faint.

6. Returning emails. As you know, I hate the Internet.

7. Accepting genuine help from other people. Doesn’t that make me such a brave, tragic figure?

8. [FORMERLY] Waking up/being a morning person. But now that my fabulous roommate is letting me use her juicer, I have lots of incentive to get up early and shove gnarly kale stems through a loud crunching thing that’s sort of like teeth!

9. Finishing large salads. I am just NOT a salad person. And this is NOT me trying to be the “cool girl”–I don’t eat burgers and I hate beer, so you can just let go of the mental image of me in a White Sox hat, shoveling down stadium nachos like one of the bros (OH WAIT THAT HAPPENED). Please note: small salads, I’m cool with.

10. Making regret-free purchases. Anyone who has ever shopped for clothes with me has probably also wanted to kill me. I can deliberate for hours over the smallest incidentals, and I yell things from the dressing room like, “I mean, I’m worried it might stretch out a little?” and “Is this floral pattern too similar to that baggy overshirt I got at Village Discount that I have literally never worn?” What can I say? I’m 50% Scottish, AND WE STINGY.

11. Knowing which of my emotions are real and which are byproducts of delusional perfection fantasies. It’s fun to  be a gUrL.

Now you know lots about me. What r u bad at?

“Why Hasn’t Anyone Commented on My New Haircut?” and Other Emotionally-Debilitating Questions I’m Asking Myself Today

“Does gray nail polish make my hands look wrinkly?”

“How soon is too soon for anti-aging cream?”

“Should I text someone so everyone on the train knows I have a life?”

“Why must you quote incessantly from my favorite novel?”

“Does everyone see the humor in capslock?”

“What are the early symptoms of schizophrenia?”

Décolletage cream?!”

“Is that a mole or a blood-sucking tick?”

“Is that man coming over here?”

“Why isn’t that cute guy coming over here?”

“Why hasn’t anyone talked to me in months?”

“Why is this room so white and small and where is the door?”

“Does that broken arm hurt very very much?”

“Are the eyes really the windows to the soul’s darkest secrets?”

“Does this body bag look like an oversized tote?”

“Do they still make Grape-Nut O’s?”

[after reading an eHow article on weeding your garden] “Will I ever write like that?”