On Self Promotion

A couple of weeks ago, I did two things that were extremely minor to the rest of the world but major to me: 1) I started promoting my work as much as I wanted, and 2) I stopped apologizing for promoting my work. Wait, no! I actually did three things, and the third is the most important: 3) I stopped apologizing for my work, period. Cue a huge side of relief and a little bit of a middle finger thrown up to the world in general. I’m done feeling guilty that some people think it’s “weird” I write about murder. I’m done feeling like I have to hide certain aspects of my success so that insecure people can feel better about themselves. I’m just done! Done with the weird freelancer apology dance: “Sorry for spamming you but here’s another article, it’s kinda long, no need to actually read it, LOL! Oh and while you’re at it, curious when my paycheck will arrive, not to bug you but it’s been four months, sorry for being a nag!” D-O-N-E.

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Minor Stressors

Happy Friday, world! It is I, Tori of Tori Dot Gov, and I want to tell you here and now that if you ever find someone else typing merrily away on this government-sponsored website, chase them down with a pitchfork, because this is MY SPACE TO SHINE. MINE.

Why yes, I will take a refill of that coffee, thank you.

The world very well may be collapsing around us, but I have never been one to fiddle while Rome burns. I do not take delight in chaos. No. Like a deep sea creature, I turn inward, focusing instead on the tiny grain of sand that is irritating my tender fins. I zoom in. I double down. I get petty.

In the spirit of solipsism, here’s a list of things that are stressing me out.

Deadlines of all shapes and sizes.

Oh, you guys. When will I learn? WHEN WILL I LEARN? I recently slashed my hours at an editing job from 30+/week to 15ish, because I wanted more time to pitch and write freelance articles. ALMOST IMMEDIATLEY after achieving that dream, sending out pitches, and getting some of them accepted, I remembered the truly terrible thing about freelance writing: the constant low-grade sense that you are falling behind on not one editor’s deadline, but TEN THOUSAND EDITORS’ DEADLINES. Do the math. That is ten thousand angry editors coming at you with pitchforks. QED, that is TEN THOUSAND PITCHFORKS.


I have never gotten a grant for anything in my life. This is probably because I am always stretching the truth on my grant applications (“I have a team of trained theater professionals ready and waiting to build the set,” I write, figuring that if I do get the grant I will just force my brothers to fly out and build said set for me).

In the spirit of someone who yells “I QUIT!” just as their boss is explaining that they’re fired, I have decided that grants are an absolute scam. I mean, the money it takes to apply for grants. The time. And for a reward of what, $500? (No one wants to give writers more than $500 at a time.) Absurd. I could make $500 waitressing at a sports bar over the course of one weekend when the Blackhawks are in some sort of playoff situation. And then I could turn right around and spend that money on a sweatshirt that says “MacArthur Genius.” GOODBYE, GRANT WORLD, SEE YOU NEVER.

The accounts I now have on babycenter.com and momforum.com.

I’m looking for a few more mothers to interview for an article I’m writing, and I decided that posting in a mom forum would be a good way to get interviewees. Unfortunately, no one wants to join in the fun, AND babycenter.com made me PICK A DUE DATE in order to register. I clicked blindly and landed on May 24, 2017. The whole thing felt wrong.


 I know that getting better at writing happens in peaks and plateaus. Sometimes you advance really quickly (like, when you literally learn the alphabet), sometimes you inch along writing the same damn “poignant ending” over and over. I feel as though I’m on a plateau right now, and I can’t get out of it because I ironically have too much to write and it’s all due too soon. I used to think that simply writing made your writing better, but now I’m not so sure. I think you also need time and mental space to think about what you’re doing and how.

Actually, scratch that, I have changed my belief system once again. Writing will make your writing better. Even bad, dashed-off writing. Doing one pushup will make you microscopically stronger, right? Unless you do it incorrectly and somehow horribly wrench a muscle and then you can’t move for weeks and meanwhile you’re losing muscle mass fast? 

The five minutes last night when I thought my computer was truly dead and I realized I hadn’t backed up my documents in months.

 Actually, file this under “true horror” and not “minor stress.” If my computer ever meets its Maker, you will find me wandering the streets, clad in my wedding dress, holding a soggy notebook, laughing madly. It will not be pretty. I am tethered to reality by this blessed piece of…plastic? (What are computers made of? Angel’s wings?)

What It’s Like to Major in Opera and Poetry and Then Decide Not to Be an Opera Singer, Cry on a Balcony in Rome, Try a Bunch of Other Things, and Eventually Find Yourself: an Interview with Rose Truesdale

photo by @linacaro

BEST FRIENDS AND NEMESES ALIKE, WELCOME. Wait—you leave. (Sorry, that was my arch-nemesis Abraham, he’s not welcome here, I’ll tell you about him later.) The following is an interview with the ever-thoughtful Rose Truesdale, wellness writer extraordinaire. Rose and I went to the same university, and the first few years out of school were spent having a lot of “what do I want to do with this creative writing degree”-type talks. (Okay, talks and cries, let’s be honest.) Rose is a hustler who’s not afraid of a good side gig, which is a trait I prize extremely highly in people. 

I recently wrote an article for Vice about what it’s like to give up on an artistic dream or two, and Rose’s interview was so good that I wanted to post the whole thing here. (The cruel reality of most articles is that you have to cut down people’s interview answers SOOOOO MUCH that it’s hard to capture the entire complexity of any one human being in any one article and still make your word count limit without causing your editor to buy a plane ticket to Chicago, make a copy of your apartment key, and murder you in your sleep. This means that, after most of my articles go live, I feel this pit of anxious guilt in my stomach as I email my interviewees, hoping they won’t feel misrepresented and buy a plane ticket to Chicago, make a copy of—well, you get it.) 

Here’s Rose: 

Do you identify as a “failed artist”? 

Not particularly, although I did for a long time. In college, I double majored in opera performance and poetry (… Right?!), and today I operate in the food and wellness writing sphere. My life is still tremendously artful and imbued with creative expression – I have purple hair for God’s sake – but it fits me better than opera ever did.

For me, there’s a tremendous difference between the roles of “creative” (that’s creative as a noun) and “artist”: Simply, creatives are people that gotta create. They like to dabble, and regular creative expression sets them free. They have taste and vision, which makes them bomb entrepreneurs in the sense that many successful creators create their own lives and professions. Of course, it’s not all glamorous. Every creative has a soul-sucking 9-5 at some point in life, so they have to get creative in how they infuse their otherwise unstimulating day to day with creativity. And ideally that’s a wakeup call that sticks.

I would identify as a creative versus an artist. I’ve learned to work music into a life that serves me. I get paid to write and am building a business that represents my interests and aesthetic. And back to the dabbling piece: I write and sing (although I’ve diverged from poetry and opera and mostly write about my feelings on the internet/ concept weird new bands and rehearse three times before deciding I don’t have time to be in a weird new band.), yes, but I also draw, sculpt, develop plant-based recipes, take decent photos on my fancy camera – the trick is to use natural lighting and take ten thousand photos to get one good one – start podcasts that I never finish, interview badass ladies I admire, program arts events… and I started a zine with my boyfriend! But I don’t feel totally comfortable calling myself an artist.

Because artists are different. Artists commit to a craft. Opera, for instance, is a highly specific path that involves a lot of long, lonely hours in a practice room and as much technique as artistic expression. The path, itself, never felt creative to me at all: you audition for colleges with great music schools where you study for four years. You get accepted into music grad school and hopefully enough young artist programs to sustain you until you start getting hired for small stages around the country. And all of a sudden you’re in your mid-thirties and you’re not even a fully-fledged opera singer yet. Like, that is commitment. Plus, to be very honest, constantly worrying about the health of my voice (I couldn’t drink or eat tomato-based foods or speak too loudly in a bar for fear of losing my voice), was zero fun. Zero. Fun. The life of an opera singer made me anxious, insecure – the scrutiny… oh my God— and so, so broke. I hated it. So I chose to figure out a path that was better suited to the vision I had for myself…. which also wasn’t easy. For the bulk of my twenties, after making the decision to essentially start over, I was very lost. We’re talking daily existential crises and sobbing fits about “wasting my gift”. One time I stayed in an AirBnb next to a music school on a vacation to Rome, and I just sat on the balcony listening to budding opera divas sing their arpeggios and crying. But… I have a really good therapist. And today, I’m really proud of myself for ultimately designing a creative life that allows me to express myself better than opera did, and that I actually enjoy.

Why is the idea of a “failed artist” so taboo? Do you think it’s more taboo than the idea of, say, a failed doctor or a failed businessman?

Because artists are rebels! To become any kind of artist, you sort of have to go out on a limb… it’s a very rare case where an artist’s parents are like, “Sure! We’ll pay for you to go to art school and we’re comfortable with the idea that you might never be able to pay us back!” Pursuing any kind of creative life is brave as fuck. So to try to make it as a painter, for example – knowing that it’s not a practical choice, knowing that there’s nothing more personal than spewing your guts on paper – and to fail, by which I mean… to not be able to pay your rent enough times that you have to admit to yourself that it’s a problem. To get sick of the hustle and balancing four side jobs to fund your existence while also making enough time to paint, or to realize that said hustle is depriving you of human contact and you’re not okay. An artist’s life is her art, and if and when it’s ever over (or on pause! That’s a thing, too), it’s devastating. Failing as a doctor or finance person (I don’t even know what an actual title in finance would be) might still be devastating, but at least they can come back to their families and say: “Look, I made a very sensible choice, but it didn’t work out.”

You have a dual degree in opera and poetry. Was there a moment when you were like, “I’m NOT going to be an opera singer” or “I’m NOT going to be a poet”? Or was it a gradual thing? If you could go back, would you change anything about your path? If you could snap your fingers and be a working opera singer, would you do it?  

The decision to quit the opera life was definitely gradual. It was like a bad relationship – I knew it wasn’t working, but I had already put so many eggs into that basket, and like I said before, I didn’t want that all to go to waste. Finally, I admitted to myself that my life sort of sucked: I lived in a one room apartment, my boyfriend at the time dumped me because I was zero fun (that’s a whole ‘nother story. He can suck it, but he had a point.), I had an eating disorder and chronic anxiety that manifested as illness, largely attributed to the pursuit of perfection. Like, clearly, opera didn’t suit me. So it was just a matter of admitting that and then… accepting it. I use what I learned in poetry in most of my writing today, and I never set out to be a poet, really. Studying poetry was probably me attempting to be more well-rounded, so I never felt like I abandoned poetry.

To answer your last question, no way in hell. The arduous process of becoming an opera singer was more than enough to make me realize that I’m not at all cut out to be an opera singer. Because if you ever do become successful, the pressure’s 2000% greater! What if you’re starring in the Met’s opening night of La Bohème and your personal life is in shambles and you didn’t get enough sleep and you get a horrible review that ruins your career? That happens! Going down the opera path taught me that being required to perform on command doesn’t work for me (and was pretty psychologically damaging, tbh), prioritizing opera above everything and everyone else makes for a solitary life, the demand to be in perfect vocal shape at all times shook my confidence in an unhealthy way, and singing a bunch of dead white dudes’ music isn’t even how I best express myself! Traditional opera just didn’t fit me. Side note: I was in a feminist burlesque opera, and that experience ruled. I made $200 total for those four months, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.


We live in a world where creativity is often accompanied by positivity (the “make art everyday!” mindset, the 100 Days project, etc.). There’s a lot of emphasis on imperfection in art-making, too, and the sort of implication there is that you can’t fail. These attitudes can be really great and liberating. But let’s get really cynical for a moment. Is there a dark side to all of this? Art-making as obligation, perhaps? Sometimes it seems like art-making is almost imbued with this moral quality (like, if you’re not making art everyday…are you being a bad person?). 

Man, perhaps because of my relationship with perfectionism in art, I think this sort of practice is mostly positive. Have you read about Jens Lekman’s Postcards project, where he wrote one song every week for a year? I heard him speak in the fall, and he readily admitted that some of the songs were bad, or at least not up to his standards. But getting into the habit of creating for the sake of creating was ultimately very freeing. When the year was up, he had some really great material to pull from, and some material to forget about.

I do think that if you are a creative person with perfectionistic tendencies, you get attached to the idea of making something every day. You MUST make every day. When I was blogging almost daily and I skipped a day, I know I felt like I’d failed myself. But that’s not the point. The point is to get down and dirty with the process of making and allow yourself to present some truly mediocre work in the hopes that you learned something about yourself or your art form while making it.

Do you have any thoughts on the artist/non artist dichotomy? Like…why does it make people so uncomfortable? Why are people so embarrassed to NOT be an artist? (Maybe this question is a reflection of my own limited circles, because most of the people I know are in creative careers, but…)

Lollll I run in similar circles. Personally and professionally (because those lines get blurry with creatives), I hang with creative entrepreneurial types – freelancers, people that run their own show. Not to get all elitist about that: I have a ton of respect for doctors and engineers, etc., and a lot of my pals, too, have been working in a more corporate setting for years so that they can eventually pursue their dreams of filmmaking or movie scoring or what have you. I think you can be a person in a non-artistic field but have a creative spirit, and I think a lot of people discover that they’re creative later in life. I guess my point here is that everyone’s creative in some capacity, and I think people who do get embarrassed or defensive about not being artistic may actually have some deep-seated, unexplored desire to make art.

How do you see your past artistic studies + projects as helping or hindering your life today? Do you regret any of the artistic paths you’ve taken?

I think I answered this above, but I’ll clarify a bit. I’m not one of those “No regrets!” people. I think those people are full of shit. As noted, the pursuit of opera made me miserable… even though I love wailing onstage in my booming mezzo soprano voice. I love wearing wigs and crazy costumes. I love being the special snowflake, and performing fed that for me. But the lifestyle didn’t feed me at all (literally, you remember how poor I was), and in pursuing opera, I learned what doesn’t work for me. I learned to think for myself and decide what I want out of life. I know that sounds dramatic, but breaking free of a very set artistic path and carving out my own thing – that finely attuned self-awareneness – led me to be able to fully express myself.  So in this one instance, no regrets.

Thank you, Rose! Read more of Rose’s writing right this way and follow her on Instagram here

Plots I Never Finished

CURB ALERT: I’m setting out a bunch of unfinished story plots on the side of the road. First come first serve! If this post is still up, it means plots are still available. Thanks!!!!! Please no phone calls!!!!

The one about a girl trying to lure a boy first into a motel, and then into the woods, for nefarious-lite reasons (e.g., not murder, but lots of shadowy psychological manipulation). I finished several versions of this for workshop and then it just didn’t feel right so I wrote something else.

The one about a brother and sister who move to New Orleans after some unclear tragedy happens in their past. The sister starts hallucinating another self; this Other Self begins to achieve agency. This story has been through so many iterations I don’t even know what to do with it. Free to a good home.

The one where the title was filched directly from a Bolaño novel. It was a good title!!! I just couldn’t bring myself to, you know, steal it. And adding in some sort of attribution (after Bolaño or whatever) makes the page look so messy. Ironically, months later I stole the ending from this story and grafted it onto another story, which was published here. The weird thing is that I don’t really remember doing this. It’s as though I went into a Dr. Frankenstein-like trance, committed the surgery, and then woke with no memory of my horrific kleptomaniacal deed!!!

The one where my former best friend became a cannibal and ate her brother, because it was the apocalypse and everyone was starving. THIS ONE WAS REALLY WEIRD. No wonder a bunch of lit mags rejected it.

The one about Anne Boleyn’s beheading. Who hasn’t tried to write this story?? #Tudoriffic

The terrible one about a guy who ran a store in Highland Park, Los Angeles, where he sold old film cameras and sheaves of developed film. I wrote this one this past summer in a feverish desire to rack up page counts. I was flushed with victory, having just finished a 35-page story in a week, and felt that I could do anything, even write stories about men with MFAs in Performance Art who own old film stores (insert vaguely meaningful social commentary about art here). Alas, the manuscript limps along for a while and then just falls to the ground, exhausted, like a small deer who’s been chased by cheetahs for hours. Note: this simile has not been fact-checked.

The one about the dream I had where I was a journalist who follows Amy Winehouse into a surreal underground funhouse. Note to self: dreams rarely translate well into stories.

The one that began, “Astrid was always very wounded. I never quite knew what she wanted.” If I had a dime for every time I tried to name a character Astrid…

The one that began, “I read history books; I learn from the best.” Note to self: good opening line.

The one about parents who set their house on fire and kids who run away and vanish into the woods. Thematically similar to a lot of my early stories, wherein a Bad Thing happens inside the house, because the house itself is sort of a demonic figure, and salvation is found in nature, or, escape is found in nature, or salvation is escape, or escape is salvation, or something. Weirdly, there is a fish pond in this story and one of the kids accidentally steps on a fish and kills it. Like…that would never happen in real life, right? Fish are far too fast!

The one about the girl who goes fishing with her grandpa for the ghost of her dead sister but then it turns out her grandpa is already dead and her grandma is some sort of witch. A super traumatizing tale that doesn’t make a lot of sense (sample line: “I was scratching at his back, feeling the old fabric of his shirt shred under my fingernails and feeling his dry dead skin come off in strips.” EESH) but what can I say? I was working a 9-5 at the time; my brains were addled by capitalism!

Everything in Moderation Except Listicles


Photo: Joseph Lyons

  1. Hello, Reader.
  2.  My friends and I used to read this incredibly pretentious blog where the blog-writer was always addressing the Reader: singular, and capital-R. It works for Jane Eyre but let me put all doubt to rest right now: it doesn’t work for you.
  3. The longer I let toridotgov.com go without updating it, the harder it felt to update it. It was like I had to break my silence with some magnum opus: Here is What I Think About Writing, Here is What I Think About Love, Here is What I Think About Life. I didn’t want to write any of those opi (?!) at the moment, so I kept not-updating…but now, to cure myself of this stagnancy, I’m breaking my silence with the easiest of all literary genres: a list.
  4. The ENORMOUS IRONY is that I have been thinking about all those big ideas. That’s the thing about freelancing—it really forces you to examine things under a microscope. I mean, you could coast along forever writing listicles for $25/piece, but if you’ve got any sort of intelligence at all you’re gonna want to be constantly growing, expanding your writerly resumé, and usually working toward some vague end goal like Be a Great Writer or Sell That Screenplay or Get Published in The Atlantic. I have goals, some vague, some not…maybe I’ll write them down here someday, so the great choking hand of the internet can hold me to them. Anyway, I’ve been thinking a ton about writing—especially the way writing relates to money—and love and life and religion and the plight of the earth, but either my thoughts are still too vague to blog about or too precious to blog about or too convoluted to bl—HOLD UP, this isn’t a blog, I forgot. This is my “online portfolio,” and don’t you ever forget it.
  5. I have come up with a GENIUS money-making scheme that is already threatening to ruin my life. I sold a book (“Congrats!” “Oh, thanks!” Moving right along…), and in order to fund my extravagant lifestyle while I write said book, I have decided to first write a romance novel, sell THAT book, and live off the profits. It’s a sort of Russian nesting doll of book-selling, if you will.
  6. I’ve lived in Los Angeles for one year now! Whoa. I own only one succulent and a dead air plant, which in this, the city of succulents and air plants, is an absolutely disgraceful lifestyle choice.
  7. In this, my twenty-seventh year, I sold a book and got engaged (to the author of Charlie’s Opinions, no less). I wonder what twenty-six-year-old Tori would have thought of that. Multiple people have told me that massive changes happen when you’re twenty-seven. I love change—in fact I might be addicted to change.
  8. BUT!!!!!! In the six years since graduating college I’ve lived in six different apartments in three cities. I’m tiiiired, guys! Part of me wants to keep moving forever and part of me wants to buy a tiny white house in Marfa, Texas. Guessing I’ll fall somewhere in the middle: a flat in Paris and an apartment in every American city that inspires me (so, all of them).
  9. Note to all potential editors: do you want a piece written about the changing economic climate in Reno, Nevada??? I will gladly fly myself there and pay for my own housing. This is not a joke; I need to write a piece about Reno. No I am not copying Tom Wolfe!! No Vegas is not next on my list!!!!!!!
  10. I’m seeking a partner in crime for something very specific: I want to go to a diner, drink a ton of cheap coffee, stay up all night, and emerge the next morning having both written a film noir script. It has to be diner coffee and it has to be a film noir. Any takers? LET’S PUSH EXPERIENCE TO ITS AWFUL LIMIT!

Human Raising Her Head to the Universe


Oh, my little site, how I’ve neglected you! And if you think I’ve neglected tori dot gov dot com, you should see my actual journal—poor empty baby.

Like everyone else in the world, I have been very busy. I have been traveling so much, it’s like I think it’s tax-deductible or something! HA! HA! HA! IRS, YOU’RE NOT LISTENING, RIGHT? I’ve been struggling to stay on top of work while simultaneously moving forward with “work”—excuse me, MY LEGACY—which would be the most difficult and highly-ranked gymnastics move in the Olympics if I had anything to say about it. I’ve been editing a dissertation about Ecclesiastes (not mine). I’ve been reading a little book called The Grapes of Wrath which is a really great book to read in California, because you will end up watering the drought-ridden soil with your own unstoppable tears! Steinbeck, WHO KNEW YOU HAD IT IN YOU?! And I recently made a spreadsheet only to discover I have nine different sources of income. You say freelancer, I say TRUST FUND.

I’m only here tonight to make a brief point and also to ease my soul of the burden of having an un-updated website (NOT BLOG). Ahem. Tonight, a favorite album reminded me that it’s so easy to go through life with your head down: focused on your work, your friends, your love, your goals. But one of the things I like best about the world is, well, it’s a WORLD. In a UNIVERSE. And there are certain—shall we say—pieces of art that, I find, have the effect of gently opening me up to the world around me. And it feels insane. It’s the best type of vertigo. These particular books/albums/government secrets thrill me in a very specific way, reminding me that there are so many places to go and so much gorgeous unknown stuff in the world. And it’s not just about geography, but about time, too—people in the past! Can’t forget about them! And speaking of time, what about tesseracts? Which reminds me, I really need to re-read all of Madeline L’Engle— who was one of my favorite authors as a child—because I suspect that going back to her novels would feel like a little personal time-traveling of my own.

I can’t tell you what exactly I’m listening to right now that’s opening up my world/memories/perceptions like this. Because it’s cliché, and because you have to find your own stuff. But only a handful of art gives me this feeling. It’s worth seeking it out. And in my experience, that sort of perception-opening-up, human-raising-her-head-to-the-universe experience mostly only happens after midnight—or if you find yourself so lucky as to be sitting outside somewhere in Europe. Or when you’re counting your millions, but that’s a story for another night.

Writing As: An Introduction

A young Tori fresh out of college, considering a career as an oil painter.

A young Tori, fresh out of college and considering a career as an oil painter.

I’ve tried to update this blog—this PORTFOLIO, sorry, this portfolio—a million times this summer and fall, but I’ve been wracked with that weird form of writer’s block that comes from having too much to say and too much money to be bothered to write it down and too many conflicting celebrity birthday party invitations to attend them all which has resulted in a lot of very hurt, very famous feelings, as you can imagine.

The past twelve months have been full of so many changes. For example, I lost some skin cells and grew new ones. I also started washing my hair with yarrow root and researched video games. Exciting statistic: I’ve officially been a full-time freelance writer for a year! Yeah, it was right around the start of football season that I quit my hilariously lucrative, moonshine-soaked waitressing job so that I could write full-time, and by “write full-time” I mean “write fashion news blurbs for almost no money full-time.” But the journey of a thousand miles starts with one underpaid gig, compatriots.

So it’s been a year of thinking about writing in a much more tangible, practical way than I ever thought about writing before. It’s not so much, “Ooh I like writing OOH HERE’S A GOOD TITLE FOR A POEM: EARL GREY RAINWATER,” it’s much more, “What do I want to write? What am I good at writing? What role do I want writing to play in my life? How do I want to write? Is there a void in the world that only my writing can fill?” (Yes there is, and it’s called TARANTINO’S GHOSTWRITER.)

In short, it’s been a year of thinking about my calling, which is sensitive term that I used once in an awkward meeting with an Indiana University administrator. I told him I didn’t want to be a teacher because being a teacher wasn’t “my calling.” He actually laughed at me.

“You believe in callings?” he asked. I didn’t say anything, but what I should have told that sad, incredulous man is, “How can you not?”

So I’ve decided to write down my thoughts on the subject of writing like a bored housewife keeping a diary on the back of her grocery receipts during the awful summer heat of Arizona, 1964. I’ll make it a series: writing as all sorts of different things. I’m sure you’ll disagree with some of them, but this is what writing means to me at this moment in time as I sit in my air-conditioned mansion and count my millions and, well, I could write about it all day.


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.

A Visual Guide to Writers’ Notebooks

HI FRIENDS, I’M BACK! *runs around hugging everyone* Wait, you didn’t know I was gone? Well, I was. I was in Panama. I spoke some Spanish. I went on a zip-line. I made some jokes. I saw some sights. Me me me me me.

While I was on the plane back to this great country we call the US of A (I’ll be honest with you, my heart swelled a little when the kind, buff customs officer said, “Welcome back,” but that’s mainly because I’d been mentally playing out an terrible fantasy wherein I get detained for unclear reasons and spend the rest of my life pacing the floors of the O’Hare airport), I couldn’t sleep, so I drew you a useful chart instead. I hope it helps you understand why you should NEVER USE MY BLACK SPIRAL NOTEBOOK FOR YOUR TO-DO LISTS, CHARLIE. I WAS GOING TO WRITE IN IT SOMEDAY.