Theme on a Life (or Who TF Keeps Pulling the Rug)

When I was eleven I got boobs.  By twelve, they were huge.  

There were maybe one or two other girls in my class who had boobs.  Instead of “celebrating” puberty and being excited about getting tits like you constantly see on “coming of age” TV shows, I was mortified.  

I felt like a freak.  More than that.  I felt like a monster.  

I could feel boys staring at me.  I could sense girls criticizing my clothes because…I really couldn’t wear the paper-thin Hollister T’s and Abercrombie blouses that all the cool girls were wearing, because I wasn’t flat as a surfboard like the rest of them. 

So when the boobs came, my self-esteem plummeted.  And it stayed that way for years to come.

In high school, I searched for ways to feel loved and accepted.  I found it in two ways:

  1. With boys
  2. On the stage

With boys…well.  I don’t really think I need to expand here.

On the stage…I stood out in the best possible way.  Because I was the best.  I could sing.  I could dance.  I could act.  I could play instruments.

I didn’t stand out the way I did when I got boobs.  It was a good “stand out.”  It made me feel like people actually wondered what it would be like to be me, and envied me for it.  

When I sang, you listened.  If there was a solo, it was mine. 

By my senior year, I was dating the prom king, and was 100% certain I could triple-threat my way into any college musical theater program.  I’d already been to my first professional “cattle call”, and was ready to go out for blood.  

As I stepped off the stage at the end of the Sweet Charity dance audition at my school, I remember thinking “that was the best I’ve ever danced. I am a triple threat.  I am unstoppable.  I am going to be on Broadway.”

I was finally starting to love myself and my body and what I was capable of doing.  

I was proud.

And we all know what happened a month later.  Life forced my mouth open and shoved a cancer-sized pill down my throat.  

Fast forward ten or eleven years, and you’ll find me in New York City.  I attend the occasional audition, but I’ve never quite recovered the “out for blood” confidence I had before I was sick.  The dancing certainly never came back to what it was.  I have no balance.  And when you’re a female auditioning for musicals in New York City, you’re about a dime a dozen, and (especially when you’re short) they expect you to land triple pirouettes.  Doubles at least.  

You also have to sell yourself…which I cannot do.  In my eyes, my hair is mousy and thin and not like it was before, and so therefore I am ugly.  I am also not skinny, so I’m fat.

Did I mention that in musical theater, if you’re not skinny you’re fat?  That’s very important to understand. Not skinny=fat. 

So I immediately walk into any room mentally apologizing for not being skinny and for having bad hair.  

And that kind of attitude doesn’t really get cast often.

So…I find myself in hospitality.  Which, in New York City, is essentially theater, but with food.  But I find myself enjoying it.  I maitre d’ at a fancy Upper East Side restaurant where I help people with their fur coats, and make sure the menu they’ve planned is carefully set at their private table, and I make sure lawyers from competing law firms aren’t seated close together.  I charm the rich bankers and smile politely at their wives who hate me.  

I end up working as an executive assistant at another restaurant, and eventually find myself in charge of their events.  I meet with all the local hotel concierges, who then call the restaurant asking for me by name.  I stop the hostesses from seating Dr. David So and So at a table that I know he hates.  If they can’t seat him anywhere else, I comp his appetizer.  

I apologize that the consistency of your fish-of-the-day wasn’t up to your liking, and I send you a round of (our cheapest) bubbly as an apology.  You hand me your business card on the way out, and say you like my style.  

It’s not the game I thought I’d be playing, but it’s a game I’ve gotten quite good at.  

I’m becoming impressed with myself and what I’m capable of and WHO I’m capable of holding conversations with.  I’m starting to think…I have a future in NYC hospitality and nightlife.

I am becoming who I am…

And then life forces my mouth open and shoves a pandemic-sized pill down my throat.  

And now I’m here.  Typing this.  Wondering how the recurring theme in my life seems to be that any time I get close to becoming who it appears I’m meant to become, a MOMENTOUS road block is thrown. 

And I know that’s life.  Roadblocks come, and we navigate them.  But like…come on…cancer and then a world-wide pandemic?  Both at precisely the time I’m thinking I’ve got SOMETHING figured out?  Or if not figured out, at times when I’m finally starting to be…okay with myself?  And not feel like 12 year old monster-tits?

The most consistent aspect of the last 12 years of my life has been writing and blogging, and of course, there’ve been gaps of time where I wasn’t writing but it always comes back to this.  And it always seems to come back to cancer, and I’ve been actively rallying against that.

I stopped writing my original blog because I was tired of pigeonholing myself into only writing about cancer.

And then a recent trip to the city triggered a pretty significant meltdown.  Once again ending with me cursing the day I was diagnosed with cancer…and for the first time ever, wondering WHY I survived.  Like what was I spared for?   

And I don’t mean that in a “I should be dead, I wanna kill myself, I wish the cancer had killed me” kind of way.  

I mean it in a “why did I survive only to have the f***ing rug pulled out from underneath my feet anytime I get close to figuring shit out?” kind of way.  

And then, of course, comes the post-meltdown meltdown, titled: Why Oh Why Do I Keep Coming Back to a Cancer That is 12 Years Old?

But here’s the thing.

Now that I’ve been studying end of life care…I think I know why.  I even posted about this on facebook a few months back…and I can’t believe it took until now for me to realize it applied to my cancer survivorship as well.  

I keep re-grieving.

According to therapychanges.com, re-grief is part of the grieving process but occurs as a sudden and unexpected wave of emotion that can hit at any time.  You can read their article about re-grief here:

The way I think of it in terms of End of Life and dying, is that re-grief obviously happens in the recent months and first year or two after a death…the first birthday or holiday without that person, the discovering of an item they left at your house that triggers you into re-grieving. 

But it will continue to happen even in the decades to come.  It’s why grief is truly a never-ending process. If you’ve lost a parent young, it may happen when you have your first child and you wish they could be there to see the baby.  It may happen at a very difficult time in your life ten years after their death, but you SO wish they could be with you to hold your hand during your struggles.  And the fact that they are not causes you to re-grieve.

This has to be no different with cancer survivors.  Certain events in our lives are always going to trigger our cancer grief, no matter how far away we are from treatment, and no matter how much therapy we get.

It’s going to hit us when it’s time to have children and we don’t know if our chemically-treated and radiated body will allow that for us.  It’s going to hit us when we have to start having colonoscopies and breast cancer screenings YEARS earlier than everyone else.  

It’s going to hit us when we hear of someone else who has died of cancer, and we wonder why the they should die when we got to live?  It’s going to hit us when we come across a photo of ourselves pre-cancer and realize that no matter how hard we squint our eyes and focus…we can NOT remember what it was like to be a person who never had cancer.  

It’s going to hit us during a global pandemic, when we’re knocked on our asses by the universe again.  When that feeling of TOTAL LOSS OF CONTROL hits.  When the deja vous of having the rug pulled out from under our feet throws us off balance and we’re, once again, wondering who the fuck we are now?  Wondering why we, once again, feel like the 12 year old with giant tits that everyone is looking at like…WTF.

Who am I now?  Now that I’ve had cancer and am living through a global pandemic?  

I don’t know.

But I do think it’s important that I stop apologizing in my writing for talking about cancer.  Especially in my more recent postings, you’ll notice I often say things like “not to make this about cancer again,” or “I know this happened so long ago, but…”

I know now that I cannot do that.  I am doing a disservice to myself as a cancer survivor and to my fellow cancer survivors.

The person I am today is a person who had cancer during a time of self-discovery, and it will always be part of my identity.

I re-grieve, and I re-greive often.

You can, too.  That’s okay, you know.  

You, too, can grieve the person you were before the pandemic.  You can grieve the person you were before you lost your mom.  You can grieve the loss of your grandfather ten years later.  You can grieve the person you were when you were 18…even if you’ve experienced NO trauma since then.  

You can grieve and re-grieve.  It’s okay.  

The grieving can lead to self discovery.

And that’s what I’m hoping for myself. 

And if you still feel like an awkward 12 year old with giant boobs, you CAN call a plastic surgeon.

I did. 

Infinite Infinite Jest

TW: Suicide, mental health struggles

I’ve been square dancing around David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest since I was in college. It seems to infinitely pop up for me at various times in my life (see what I did there? That’s like, how I got the title of the post and stuff?)

I read one of his short stories in my Fiction workshop class my Junior year—a class that, for me, provided a WELCOME reprieve from the world of pirouettes, belting, and show tunes—and I remember my professor talking about him being a genius…and not just because he’d written an acclaimed 1,079 page novel called Infinite Jest that…people ACTUALLY took the time to read.

I mean, even Harry Potter never cleared 1,000 pages, and I had never even been able to focus myself long enough to read one of those books. I was in disbelief that someone could write a 1,000+ page novel…

…and because I really LIKED the short story we read in class, it occurred to me that maybe—for the right author—I could read 1,000+ pages.

I knew it would take me a very long time, but I thought I could potentially do it.

And then…the mystique grew.

Our professor shared that the author had, sadly, died from suicide a few years ago (in 2008 to be exact).

Well…wow. I thought, here’s this amazing author of whom I’ve read one short story, I’m told he’s written 1000+page novel, but now I’m also aware that his work…is limited. He’s gone. This 1000+ page novel is his LEGACY.

Not that his other work was not good…it’s just…this Infinite Jest is what put him on the literary map.

I didn’t run out right away and buy the book. Over the course of the next few years, I read other works by David Foster Wallace. Some short stories, parts of Broom of the System, and all of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men…the title of which I just was too curious about not to read cover to cover.

I had found a thick book called “The David Foster Wallace Reader” in a bookstore in Brooklyn (I used to cross burroughs weekly for EMDR sessions). I bought the book and consumed more short stories…and actually, a few chapters of Infinite Jest that were included in the “reader.”

One day, probably about 4 years after I’d first heard of David Foster Wallace, I officially purchased a copy of Infinite Jest.

And promptly did not read it.

It sat on a shelf. It moved into giant tubs of books that I hauled from apartment to apartment to parents basement to apartment back to basement.

In the early summer of 2020, when businesses were JUST started to crack their doors open again, my mom and I ventured into a little used bookstore in Syracuse…and atop one of the shelves featured on prominent display was a book called Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace.

I flipped through a few sections of the book, reading bits and pieces here and there (stopping, of course, for the obligatory drop of hand sanitizer every so often, as one with OCD in a pandemic does). It was an extensive interview (transcribed from many cassette tapes) with DFW that Rolling Stone author David Lipsky had done as he accompanied the author on his last leg of the book tour to promote Infinite Jest.

I bought the book, thinking maybe this is what you need to reintroduce you to the possibility of reading that colossal book that is gathering dust on your Mom’s book shelf.

I read half of the interview book…and I can’t remember why I stopped. I enjoyed it very much…I’m not sure if I was just overwhelmed with reading at the time…I had many books I was aiming to complete while I had all this pandemic time. But somehow, after reading only 150 pages, this book joined Infinite Jest back up on a shelf.

And then in December of 2020, the very first friend I’d ever had in this world died from suicide. I had not spoken to him in years, but it felt like a true connection to my childhood was gone with the snap of two fingers.

I recall, one night, staring intently at an old photograph of us as children and thinking…the two children in this photo have just no idea what the world has in store for them. One now gone, and one (if it’s not painfully obvious) still mad at the world over a cancer battle now 12 years old.

As I mentioned, I had not spoken to him for a quite a while…a guilt I still feel pretty palpably some days. I suffered from that “too-cool-to- reach-out-to-an-old-friend-they’ll-think-I’m-so-weird” syndrome, and I can’t take that back.

I recalled he was an avid reader. And so, one day, several months after his death, I asked his mother via text message if she could share with me the title of one of his favorite books.

“Have you heard of Infinite Jest?”

I knew then that I HAD to complete Infinite Jest in my lifetime.

So why am I writing about this today?

Well…I just got around to finishing Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself…the extensive interview with the author that I mentioned before.

I knew I wanted to complete that book before cracking Infinite Jest open again…but I’d been avoiding it.

And I’d been avoiding it because I knew it was going to be…complex for me…to read the thoughts of a man who also died from suicide (whose words were so loved by my friend who died of suicide) and then to reconcile all this with what I’ve been learning about end-of-life support and the death-positive movement.

In other words, I’ve spent months learning to be okay with death as a “THING” that happens to all of us as mortal humans. And I’ve learned ways of being available to those who are ALSO trying to find peace with death and dying.

But most of the content I’ve been exposed to has been about making people feel okay with the concept of death so that they may LIVE more fully with whatever time they’ve got…

I’m not entirely sure how to explain what I’m feeling right now. Something last week compelled me to pull the interview back off the shelf and I finished it. I even cracked Infinite Jest open the other day and read the first fifty pages.

Even just the first fifty pages…I’m overwhelmed by the author’s intelligence, and just can’t get away from the idea of the “tortured genius.”

In other words, it’s hard to escape from the idea that this man was so intelligent and unique in his thinking and really had like…a PULSE on what was ailing the world…it’s hard not to go “well he’s SO intelligent and in touch with his feelings, he must’ve known what was best for himself.”

And like…that is NOT the thing to think about suicide. That is NOT death positivity. That is a human suffering.

And so how do you, as a person who supports the death-positive movement…how do you say “death is okay, it’s okay to be at peace with death” but then also say “Oh, but suicide is still not right.”

Apologies…this is definitely more of a stream of consciousness kinda thing for me. See, I don’t have answers.

I just…I just want everyone to know that death positivity is about bringing a sense of peace about your death so that you can live WITHOUT the weight of dying fears. I hope that is clear.

Maybe there is a way, in cases of people who have suicidal thoughts, to change those thoughts into a force for good…to somehow MORPH them into a peace with an inevitable death in the futureso that living in the current moment feels better and not so painful.

Because living really IS painful. I do not deny that, not one bit

I don’t know, guys.. I just wanted to get a mess of thoughts onto a page.

I have enjoyed reading the first fifty pages of Infinite Jest knowing that my friend read these words, and they brought him happiness in the moments he read them.

There is a movie called “The End of the Tour” which stars Jason Segal as David Foster Wallace, and it is essentially the extended interview in movie/storytelling form. Jesse Eisenberg plays the Rolling Stone magazine reporter.

It’s actually a brilliant movie and I only stumbled across it after completing the interview book and looking up some more info about it. The movie came out in 2015, and I don’t recall seeing ANY publicity for it…but it’s very beautifully done.

I cried at the end…couldn’t help it. Jason Segal really captures the spirit of DFW…especially after reading the book, you feel like you’re watching the REAL guy bring his own words to life.

And it’s…you just really feel kind of lucky that this guy shared parts of his brain with us…and he gave us thousands of pages to comb through over the course of his life.

Just wish he’d stuck around.

Anyway. Thanks for reading the babble.

I can’t be Coco’d right now

Hi I’m in the middle of Starbucks wearing all black like pretending I’m a student or like a writer or something, and like every two minutes I take a sip of the coffee I don’t really like and just…wow it’s January still?

January is making me not want to leave my house, and I think it’s severely impacting my self-esteem cells so I made myself come to this Starbucks so I felt part of a community.

Before I started typing this post, I was actually journaling about how I think chemo killed my self-esteem cells since I was 17 and my id and brain were still developing and fast growing (see? Like how chemo kills all fast-growing cells?)

And like how sad is that even?

“Dear Diary, I think chemo killed my self-esteem cells.”

You know what’s sadder?

I don’t even have a diary, I started one so I could write that.

And I’m afraid to go home because if my fiance isn’t still watching soccer, I think he’s gonna make me watch Encanto, and January has just got me in a head space where I can’t do emotional Disney Pixar that’s going to wreck me.

I have been avoiding Encanto all month because I feel like I’m gonna get Coco’d, and I can’t be Coco’d in January.

I refuse to be Coco’d in January.

There’s not much else I have to share today, I just knew if I was trying not to be Coco’d in January, there are probably others, and if you’ve been Coco’d in January or you’re also still trying not to be Coco’d in January, just know that I see you, I feel you, and if we get Coco’d together, so be it, it’s gotta be February soon, right?

GET OUTTA HERE COCO!

Mufasa Taught Us

QUICK THURSDAY MINUTE:

Currently listening to the brilliant Alua Arthur and Caitlin Doughty talking/answering questions about death (I’m currently taking their MORTAL course. I’ll include the info below).

Caitlin was talking about how we have to remember we are part of a food chain. We are part of nature. We are part of a circle.

By being a human who dies, we are one with the world and the order of things. (Isn’t it great to FEEL a PART of that?)

It got me thinking, y’all…Mufasa told ya.

You can’t love The Lion King and call death positivity “morbid”. We were made to do it.

Mufasa taught us…

Check out the “MORTAL” course info here. <<<——This class is meant for anyone who will die….soo….

Hope you’re having a great week, and happy (almost) Friday!

Well…Now You Know.

Hi. I’m still alive.

And I haven’t wanted to write.

There is no one concrete reason.

By spring 2021, unemployment got me so cray in my own head that I took a full time job, a part time job, and several theater gigs to fill my time and had no time to just stop and fart for myself.

And another reason is…

The pandemic kinda got me in this head space where all I really wanted to say to people when I pulled up an empty blog post was “Well…now ya know.”

And of course…OF COURSE…that ties back to cancer. (If it didn’t, would it be a true Jesse post?)

The perpetual state of total fear that everyone was feeling toward the beginning of the pandemic…like…yeah, I was feeling that, too.

But EVEN more than that was this really snarky feeling of like, “Well…now ya know.”

Well…now ya know” what it’s like to not feel invincible.

Well…now ya know” what it’s like to constantly worry about your immune system and sanitize everything that comes into your house.

Well…now ya know” what it’s like to not want people to hug you or come close to you without your expressed permission, and have to stay home all the time.

Well…now ya know what it’s like to be FORCED to face the possibility of your own death before age 40, 30, 20…18…

And then I thought…wow, Jess, that’s pretty bitchy. You should sort that out.

And so I wasn’t writing. I just let myself work for a little while. Get used to living somewhere new: A SUBURB.

Get used to the idea that you’re not a city girl anymore, that you live in a house, and that you have a mortgage, and you are…*gulp*…getting kind of…domestic…(Christ).

And then one day, I heard the term “death doula.”

Now, I’m not going to sit here and go into detail about the different kinds of things death doulas do. I’m going to reference some lit:

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/24/well/doulas-death-end-of-life.html

But I knew immediately, when I did some research on what a death doula is, that it was something I really wanted to do…and I hadn’t felt certain about “things I’d like to do” in quite a long time.

So push comes to shove, and long story short…I completed a Death Doula certification thru Going With Grace (with the AMAZING, enlightening ALUA ARTHUR), and earned NEDA proficiency…

And it was through the course of accomplishing the above that I discovered the HEALTHY, less catty version of “Well…now you know…and also had a major AHA moment about what truly bothered me about having cancer—besides, of course, the fact that I had cancer):

We are incapable of talking healthily about death.

It’s true. And throughout my whole cancer treatment I really felt that no one could or would look me square in the face and talk with me about death unless we mentioned God or religion.

We can’t do it. Our western society doesn’t want to talk about it. Our med-tech-driven healthcare system doesn’t want you to recognize its existence. It offers you treatment after treatment after treatment in place of saying, when the time comes, “hi, it’s time for your body to stop.”

We can’t talk about how humans die…how unsettling it is…can’t talk about why we die… or what might this all BE for?

Even for a healthy person, the questions exist because…a healthy person is also going to die. They are supposed to.

But if we talk about it, we are labeled “morbid.”

We are not “thinking positively.” If we don’t THINK POSITIVE, we are attracting the opposite.

And the message we give our actively dying folks in America is that DYING is LOSING, and so they’d better not “give up.”

Few actively dying people hear “it is okay to go. It is natural. Your body is done fighting and that is okay.” And so they fight tooth and nail to hang on for their loved ones even when it’s their time…and as a result, they reinforce for the next generation that death is not okay and you must cling on for…dear life.

Is it a wonder we have a complex?

But we cannot, cannot, cannot talk about death. Too icky. Too uncomfortable. Too morbid. Too sad.

-*-

Van Gogh, Skull with Cigarette

I’ve been wondering for years now whether I really want to continue writing a blog that is

A) totally cancer-focused

OR

B) Just…kind of spur of the moment, chaotic blather

Neither feels authentic anymore.

And that is another reason why you haven’t heard from me.

But now I feel a little bit more direction. I want to be part of the conversation about dying and death-positivity, BECAUSE:

Regardless of who you are and what you’ve been through…2020 and the world thereafter has shown us all that we’d best at least entertain the idea that we won’t be here one day.

And you know what?

I know…I know it sounds morbid. But I swear, since I’ve started my death-positive journey…I have been more present and aware of the moments of my life. Of how I am feeling. Of what’s working and what’s not. And of what I’m grateful for.

The death positive movement IS a thing, and one of its leaders is Caitlyn Doughty of “The Order of the Good Death.” Literally, if you google “death positive,” her website is the first to come up. She kind of kickstarted the “movement” and she’s hilarious. Not morbid. She is hilarious (highly recommend her book “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”)

But the ideas behind the movement have been around. I mean…if we’re being real, indigenous peoples have been attuned to them from the beginning.

Recently, I’ve been reading “Die Wise” by “death guru” Stephen Jenkinson…and while Jenkinson can be perceived as a somewhat controversial figure…it’s one of HIS ideas that has been sticking with me most lately (and kind of haunting me every morning).

He talks about how the problem with the western world today is that we expect to live. We wake up every day anticipating that we will live, and nothing else is okay—we are OWED the day.

I mean…you don’t need me to tell you that we are NOT owed the day. We anticipate that we’ve got all this time…and we get depressed by the monotony of our days because we just….figure it’s gonna go on and on and on.

And it quite literally is not. That’s what makes each moment significant. (Yeah, a little self-help-y…but hey…whatever helps the self.)

I could go on and and on about Stephen Jenkinson, really.

But maybe another day.

My overall point here is…THIS cancer survivor wanted to talk about death from the beginning of her cancer diagnosis…and all the well-meaning people in her life wanted to “think positively,” (which has a time and place) or give her a Bible.

And those well-meaning people…have probably not had many open conversations about death before either…so how can they be expected to know what to say about it in an instance like this?

I don’t blame anyone. But the pandemic brought a lot of those suppressed questions and curiosities about death right back to me in a very visceral way. And I think that’s why I was feeling a little…I dunno… SALTY towards people and their pandemic frenzy? (especially toward those my own age, who just couldn’t understand what I was going through way back when). Kinda like….NOW YOU GET IT. I TRIED TO EXPLAIN THIS PANICKY FEELING I WAS HAVING IN 2009.

These are “uncertain times” for everyone. Not just for me, now.

Well, now you know…” I thought.

And, I learned, through the course of the past year, that the full thought is this:

“Well, now you know…we should be talking more openly about dying and not sweeping it under the rug.”

If we talk about it, if we acknowledge it…we can not only maneuver these “uncertain times” just a little more effectively, but we can find our living moments feel just that much more ALIVE.

I intend to blog more as I explore the death-positive movement and where I fit into it.

My blog may no longer be for you, and I understand. I can promise it won’t all be posts like these. I’m sure a lady at Sephora will offend me again and I’ll launch a full-scale campaign.

But I understand if this is where I leave you.

Slouching Towards My Locker

One of the first books I read this year was a collection of essays called Slouching Towards Los Angeles. The essays are all reflections, observations, etc, on different works by Joan Didion (the title itself a spoof of Didion’s own Slouching Towards Bethlehem, further derived from a poem by WB Yeats called “The Second Coming”).

Like many female writers, I love Didion. Cliche-be-damned.

Specifically during pandemic year, I’ve enjoyed the way she writes about location. As the title suggests, she’s famous for capturing a certain essence of Los Angeles through a unique lens of grit/nostalgia/romance/surrealism that I can only relate to the way Lana del Rey sings about Los Angeles.

I’ve never been to California, and while I’d like to go one day, I feel like I’m in no rush, because I’m more than happy living in the Los Angeles that Didion and del Rey have created for me in my head.

It was in those first months of the pandemic that I first read Slouching Towards Bethlehem, and in it, saw myself quite clearly in an essay she wrote called “Goodbye to All That”—essentially, Didion’s goodbye letter to New York City.

Despite Didion and me being vastly different in our New York careers and social circles, she summed up what I’d been feeling about New York City so perfectly that I wished I could have it tattooed up and down my arms:

“…it is distinctly possible to stay too long at the Fair.”

And further…

“All I mean is that I was very young in New York, and that at some point the golden rhythm was broken, and I am not that young anymore.”

Joan Didion, “Goodbye to All That.” Slouching Towards Bethlehem

I felt the beginning of a peace with leaving that I had been desperate for for a while.

But then it occurred to me—rather, it was pointed out by the inner saboteur we all have and struggle to muzzle—that Joan left New York to live in LOS ANGELES where she became an icon OF LOS ANGELES, (and is, of course, a literary Icon in her own right).

I was in…Syracuse… The thought made me wince. Of course, my family was here, and my boyfriend…coming back here was an inevitability I had felt coming for a while.

And I thought…Syracuse…maybe not as exotic a location as Los Angeles. But still a place with history and proud community and burgeoning artistry. Maybe I could write about my life in Syracuse with the same vitality that Didion wrote about Los Angeles (no simple feat, I admit, since Didion is a master).

Only thing is, along with the history and community and burgeoning artistry…came, for me, a lot of ghosts.

Talk about the power a particular location can have on a person—I just stepped into any SUNY Upstate medical building and felt immediately possessed by a nasty, defensive, up-tight demon, ready to lash out at well-meaning nurses.

And so over the course of the past year, I’ve written quite a bit in this blog about my confrontations with the “locations” of my past—and reading Joan Didion helped me begin doing that. Walking through my old neighborhood, driving to houses where pivotal “growing up” moments took place…

…Hell, I even parked and sat in front of my late grandmother’s house at 2 o’clock in the morning, feeling what it felt like to be so near to another time. Willing myself to be 12 again, about to go inside for Sunday supper.

I may not yet be able to write about place with the power of Didion and her Los Angeles prowess, but I’ve certainly been able to feel that power.

It’s an intense power, because you feel so connected, you feel such strong, visceral feelings for these places on a spiritual level, but on the real plane of existence, it doesn’t matter a bit. Someone else is living, loving, grieving, eating, shitting, sleeping in that house now, and they don’t give a f*** about your “visceral feelings.”

Visceral feelings.

Yes, “visceral feelings,” are what I’ve always felt whenever I’m home in Syracuse and drive by my old high school. It’s on the main road, and nearly impossible to avoid.

In 2015–before I’d found Didion, I might point out—I underwent EMDR therapy for PTSD that was manifesting in disturbing nightly dreams in which I’d always be told I had to go back to high school because “you didn’t finish right.” “It doesn’t count.” “You were too sick to do it right.” “There’s a cancer in locker B1385.”

If you asked me to explain EMDR therapy, I don’t think I could. But for a while, it worked. No more nightmares.

Gone. Done. Finis!

But then, after a few years, they’d start creeping in again. Not every night, but often enough.

And then move me back to Syracuse? Where I’m driving by that school nearly every day?

Now they were happening every other night.

As I read Slouching Towards Los Angeles, I began thinking about all my little drive-by trips down memory lane, leading me all over Syracuse. It was her writing that had inspired them after all.

And it occurred to me that maybe there was a place I still had to face down.

I’d been inside the school a few times since graduating—visited a teacher, judged a talent show. But only in one particular section of the school, and for a very limited time.

After my cancer diagnosis, the adults really made it so that I never had to set foot in the school again if I didn’t want to.

And I didn’t want to. I’d attend a chorus rehearsal once in a while if I was feeling up to it. But the reality is, one day I was a regular student roaming the halls, and the next day I had cancer and basically never returned. I couldn’t even tell you (nor can anyone in my family) who emptied my school locker, my gym locker, my band locker…

So this week, with the approval of administration and the accompaniment of a school social worker plus Matt, I roamed the halls of my high school, 12 years later.

I went back to the place with the most ghosts. And the night before, I could feel them swirling around me. My friends and me—the ghosts of our former selves—traipsing to lunch, loitering in a practice room, crying in a bathroom, gathered on the bleachers…

…My ex boyfriend, strolling to my locker, smiling at me and my full head of long brown hair.

All of these memories of the “before.” They were the ones that caused the bad dreams and the sadness and the pity I have for my own former self.

I knew she might be there. That she was the one I was afraid of most of all. The one I could sense was trapped inside each time I drove by the school, and the one I wanted to hug and shield, and somehow protect…

It felt epic. As epic as Joan Didion’s Los Angeles, me walking into that school, to confront this demon that perhaps lived in locker B1385 and snuck out at night to badger me in my dreams.

And then truly inside the school…

It was a building. There were classrooms. There were hallways.

The hallways were somewhat familiar. I remembered my way. I remembered staircases and where they led. I remembered certain days, certain specific memories with a friend or a boy or a teacher.

In the auditorium I stood center-stage, where I’d taken my bow as Millie in Thoroughly Modern Millie junior year. I exited the stage via the chorus risers in the pit, and the path of my trajectory felt familiar. Not sad. Just very familiar, like my brain could place it as a “former thing we did all the time.”

At my locker I stared for a minute—wanted to reach out and touch, but didn’t know if I was allowed during pandemic-times.

I wasn’t moved to tears as I expected I might be.

In fact, I couldn’t even sense a demon. The only sense I had was the sense that Alissa might run up any second to open the locker beside me. We’d been locker neighbors every year since middle school.

Remembering her helium-balloon energy made me smile.

In retrospect, I wish I had just asked for a moment or two longer, to just stand there at that locker. To momentarily align myself with whatever alternate universe was still locked on September 2008, after home room, retrieving my books. To fill that space one more time as ‘pre-everything’ Jesse.

But who knows? Maybe if I had, it would’ve become too much. Maybe there would’ve been a demon in there after all.

As we crawled into the car after the walk-through, Matt asked how I felt.

I took a deep breath, and looked over at the school again, at the doors we’d just crept out of…and then at a bench, erected in honor of a boy who’d been diagnosed with cancer a few years after I graduated. He had passed away in a matter of days.

”Honestly?” I asked.

Another breath, as I let the significance of what I was about to say wash over me…

“It’s just a school…”

Those visceral feelings…

Those “Joan Didion-visceral-location-memory-based feelings” didn’t feel so powerful anymore.

…because in the actual plane of existence, it didn’t matter a bit. Someone else was living, learning, grieving, eating and shitting in that school now, and they didn’t give a f*** about my “visceral feelings.”

I haven’t dreamed about the school in the nights since.

My Name is Jesse and I’m a Gold-Digger

I have a confession to make, and it’s probably going to gross you out. I can just imagine my mom reading this—the gagging sounds she’s going to be making.

But I need a place to work this out, and where better than a glorified diary that can be read by the entire internet?

I have a strange behavior that has developed over the last year—in the months since I moved back to Syracuse…

I’m just gonna say it…

I’ve become a “sleep-miner.”

As in “gold mine.”

As in “mining for gold.”

As in for some f**king reason I’ve started picking my nose in my sleep.

Like I’ll be mid-sleep, mid-dream…and then the dream will start becoming more and more lucid.

And then it’s just me, awake, staring at the ceiling with my finger in my nose.

It’s very strange and I feel dirty.

I googled “I pick my nose in my sleep” to find support.

The most relevant hit was from a website called (I’m not making this up, I will link below): F MY LIFE

http://www.fmylife.com

There is a place to “submit your FML” and also a place to “moderate the FMLs”.

I am not making this up.

See?

Do you see this?

It is entirely unhelpful. In fact, in case you’ve missed it, Emily in Canada picks her nose in her sleep, and her husband has taken a video to post to Facebook.

Instead of offering solutions to this subconscious/unconscious behavior, the site provides a place for you to vote “I agree, your life sucks” or to vote “You deserved it.”

The comments range from calls for her to break up with her boyfriend, to calls for her to kill her boyfriend, to calling her a “literal gold digger.”

There are not any helpful comments offering advice or insight on why one might pick their nose in their sleep and how to stop.

I’m sure this nocturnal behavior could be explored in therapy, but I’m not in a therapy mood right now. I’ve gone to therapy on and off since I was 10, and I like to think I know myself well enough to decide when I feel like it’s therapy-time, and I’m not there yet. I’m due probably next year-ish.

I mean, therapy is amazing, and I highly recommend it, even for people who have not had cancer or OCD or PTSD. In fact, if more generally HAPPY people went to therapy, they would probably be more likely to STAY happy people, and we could have an overall HIGHER functioning society.

Of course, not all people can afford therapy, which is another issue in and of itself…I mean look at the world we live in: non-white people are getting shot and killed left and right, white people are personally offended that you asked them to stay inside due to a deadly pandemic, and some just feel like they should storm and riot our government buildings because they’re feeling disappointment similar to the disappointment that many of us felt in 2016, but somehow managed to survive without invading the capitol and propping our stinky feet on Nancy Pelosi’s desk.

WE ALL NEED THERAPY.

BUT THIS IS NOT ABOUT THAT.

THIS IS ABOUT ME, MYSELF, AND MY NOSE.

And my boogers.

Okay?

Anyway, nocturnal nose-picking seems like something I should be able to manage myself.

I regret even searching the internet for a solution.

The internet is entirely unhelpful and I wish it could be gone forever.

Of course, then I could not have this blog.

But somehow I think we’d all be okay without it.

I would probably be way more high-functioning and just pick my nose during the damn DAY like a normal person.

A Passage I Love

Finishing up “UNTAMED” by Glennon Doyle this week.

Wanted to share my favorite passage as we creep up on a full year of so much sadness and dying.

The scary part of dying isn’t the dying itself…it’s the question it brings, and I find myself plagued by that question a lot lately as we lose so many humans.

This passage brings me so much comfort that I might just have it printed and folded up in my jewelry box for safe keeping and frequent reminder.

Now it will be here, too:

Tish has always understood metaphors best. (That thing you feel but can’t see, baby is like that thing you can see.)

…I told her that maybe when we were born, we were poured from our source into these tiny body buckets. When we die, we’ll be emptied back out and return to that big source and to each other. Maybe dying is just returning—back out from these tiny containers to where we belong. Maybe then all the achy separation we feel down here will disappear, because we’ll be mixed together again. No difference between you and me. No more buckets, no more skin…all sea.

“But for now,” I told her, “you are a bucket of sea. That’s why you feel so big and so small.”

“Untamed” by Glennon Doyle

Hope your week is off to a good start.

Love,

Jesse

A poem I like…

Pater noster 

Our Father who art in heaven
Stay there 
And we’ll stay here on earth 
Which is sometimes so pretty 
With its mysteries of New York 
And its mysteries of Paris 
At least as good as that of the Trinity 
With its little canal at Ourcq 
Its great wall of China 
Its river at Morlaix 
Its candy canes 
With its Pacific Ocean 
And its two basins in the Tuileries 
With its good children and bad people 
With all the wonders of the world 
Which are here 
Simply on the earth 
Offered to everyone 
Strewn about 
Wondering at the wonder of themselves 
And daring not avow it 
As a naked pretty girl dares not show herself 
With the world’s outrageous misfortunes 
Which are legion 
With legionaries 
With torturers 
With the masters of this world 
The masters with their priests their traitors and their troops 
With the seasons 
With the years 
With the pretty girls and with the old bastards 
With the straw of misery rotting in the steel of cannons.

—Jacques Prevert

wish I could say I’ve always known this poem and didn’t just learn it from HBO’s The Sopranos. But alas…

Enjoy the rest of your weekend ❤️

Trust You to Death

Matt likes to watch chiropractor videos on YouTube.

I get to be the test subject.

I often find my arms pretzeled around my head, insisting aloud that I’m very, very, VERY not sure of this thing he’s about to do, but he says I should really just trust him, and I can’t argue with that.

A good relationship needs trust.

Please trust that I’m really feeling like maybe you’re going to snap my neck” is often what I’m thinking, and it puts me in a real tough spot because I’m also trying to work on trusting MYSELF, and trusting my body.

“I just need you to keep your hand on your hip and push back against my hand, trust me.”

“I just need you to know that my body doesn’t twist like that. Trust me.”

“Just trust me.”

“I’m really, really, kind of completely terrified. Please trust me.”

“I trust you, but you should trust me.”

And so on, and so forth. In circles.

A simple hug likely ends with a warning: “TAKE A DEEP BREATH…”

And he squeezes so tightly that my back crackles like crushed rock candy.

Sometimes there is no warning, and the squeeze makes me pee a little and I wonder if it’s the incontinence before death.

I love Matt very much, and I know he would never hurt me or try anything that he didn’t think he could do.

Still, I often walk into the dark bedroom at night, ready to fall peacefully asleep to the sounds of “Forensic Files,” and can’t help but feel my heart drop when I see the little glow of light from the cell phone on Matt’s side of the bed.

As I creep closer, I can hear it:

“…when you do this, gravity is going to help take it and traction open the upper back into the middle back and shoulder blades region…”

There is a tingle up my spine.

I like my spine. I hope it will be okay.

We’ve had honest conversations about this before. I tell him that sometimes I am afraid for my life. But I know he is a smart person. After all, he has a degree in physics—not exactly an anatomy badge (or a chiropractic license), but he is, at least, a man of science.

So I tell him I am relying on him to please, please, please just never attempt anything that could even remotely go wrong.

“Of course! I love you. I would never, ever do something that could hurt you. Half the time, I just want to try it out so I can teach you to do it to ME!

….You know, Jesse, you really just need to trust me.”

I trust you.

To death.

My death.

Happy Valentine’s Day.