Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Holiday Hiatus

Y'all, I am beat.

I'm not just tired in my body. I'm tired in my soul. And I want to take a break, go into hibernation like the animals do. Instead, the most I can manage is taking a holiday hiatus from this blog, which I hardly work on at all in the first place.

Here's hoping 2018 will be better, because I know I'm not the only one who needs to hit the reset button. 

-Cate-

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

On Adulthood

You remember when you were a kid and being an adult seemed so legit? You would get to vote and drive a car and use credit cards, and you wouldn't have a curfew because you'd be in charge of your own damn self. Your mom wouldn't pick out your clothes anymore, you could buy the food you wanted and none of the healthy stuff your parents thrust upon you, and you could finally--finally--live the life you thought you'd have (based on the happy endings of the films you loved).

Well, children, I am *cough*sputter*cough* years old, and I am here to tell you what you have undoubtedly gleaned for yourself: being an adult is bullshit.

I'm not just saying this because I'm in a bad place right now, although that is certainly a contributing factor. I'm also saying it because I've seen it reflected in the faces of friends and colleagues lately. But more importantly, I'm saying it because sometimes life as an adult sucks because you yourself suck.

This isn't my way of accusing anyone else of being lame or terrible. It's actually me acknowledging how awful I am myself, or at least how heinous I can be at times. Last week, when I wrote a post about youth being awesome, it was partly because I truly feel that way, and partly because I was hoping to find a way back to that good, boundless spirit young people often have. 

This past summer was foul, and it bled over into autumn, in no small measure because I've made two huge mistakes this year that altered the course of things and contributed to a deepening of my own depression. The first mistake--job related--is something I may be able to fix in the long run, if I can manage to recapture the drive I had in simpler, younger times.

The second mistake, a personal one--well, it looks like I won't be able to rectify the situation, which is at least 50 percent my fault and sent me into a spiral of self-doubt, anxiety, and pseudo-regret (I say pseudo because I don't actually regret this thing, just the way it turned out). Maybe someday I'll be able to claw myself out of that hole, but I can't count on that, because adults are stubborn and our brains aren't as easily rewired as they were when we were young, and it appears that no amount of passion, belief, or longing can change this.

Because of my brain chemistry, I've never been a naturally optimistic person, as I'm sure you can all tell from reading this. But I said it last week and I'll say it again: it would be great if we could learn something about having an outlook for a more hopeful future from our young people, because adults as a group could use an injection of that from time to time, so we don't end up constantly despairing about our lives.

-Cate-

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

On Youth

People often have trouble believing that I am *cough*sputter*cough* years old. It turns out that the single genetic gift my parents bestowed upon me (sorry, but it's true) is a young-looking face. Sometimes this works in my favor, such as when I was employed by a high school and needed to be able to connect with teenage students. Other times, it's a burden; people decline to take me seriously because I must have less experience or education.

Speaking as someone who is old enough to have finished grad school in 2012(!), though, I assure you that I've been through some shit (both personally and professionally), and the government has been trusting me to drive, consume alcohol, and vote for some time now. I've suffered through my quarter-life crisis, and my childhood pets are long gone. And I've reached an age that even adults consider to be adult-like.

But on the other hand, let's not discount youth! Young people--let's say 16-26--often have insights that full-blown adults do not, simply because adults have too much baggage and experience behind them to look at certain events or problems with fresh eyes. They are also full of energy, and some of them still have that boundless capacity for love and friendship that the rest of us have lost. Oftentimes, I've found that the creativity of young people far exceeds that of adults, because they are still at a time in life when others actively encourage their unusual points of view or their creative bents. 

I think youth is a good thing, and young people are an asset to our society. Let's not give them such short shrift. After all, as Whitney said, the children are our future.

-Cate-

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Process, or, Cate Hates Craft Books

Thanks to some excellent teamwork between Dunes Review, the official publication of Michigan Writers, and Traverse City's Brilliant Books, the unofficial coolest bookstore around, I was recently able to participate in both an in-store reading and an online interview as the author of a poem--"Rn (86)"--featured in the most recent issue of Dunes. Caitlin Marsh, the social media manager at Brilliant Books, gave me the option of answering some or all of the questions she posed, and I exercised my right (write?) to ignore a few of them, because I didn't think I had good answers. They were all about the writing and manuscript-sharing parts of being a writer.

Turns out I hate to talk about process, because it's boring. Not unimportant, mind you: mundane, uneventful. This is probably why I rarely made it to the end of any craft book ever assigned to me (five years out of grad school, now I can say things like this with impunity). Except for John Gardner's On Becoming a Novelist. Fuck that book, which I stopped reading on its own (lack of) merit.

This is undoubtedly coming across as a little hypocritical of me, seeing as how much of my blog content stems from me trying to give advice about how to write. But I'm doing it in a way that makes sense to me: a little at a time, one topic at a time, not unlike the way Writer's Digest and other periodicals address craft. Too much, and it feels either preachy or stifling.

But I recognize two things here: first, that process IS important to all of us who write, and we can't ignore it. Second, that writers are lucky to have people who can--and are willing to--talk about it so we can deepen our understanding of the writing life. Many thanks to those people (yes, even John Gardner). You do important work, even if some of us are stubborn about addressing it.

-Cate-

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Season's Greetings from Retail Land

Throughout my working life, both in retail and academia, I've endured any number of indignities: long hours, truncated lunch breaks, dirty looks, and the like. About two months into my most recent retail experience, however, I was on the wrong end of the worst insult I've ever received on the job.

Let me preface the insult itself by saying that I work in the beauty industry, and of course my employer has a makeup dress code, so I put a full face on every time I'm scheduled. Also, if you've ever met me, you already know the next part: I suffer from what the kids call Resting Bitch Face, and it's genetic; both of my parents look perma-stern. I've accepted this part of myself and moved on with my life. Some people, however, apparently have not.

This terrible customer, for example.

After insulting my brand, holding up my line, threatening me with a mention of my manager, and then berating me for not doing something I was explicitly trained not to do, one disgruntled customer decided that I was smirking at her, and the conversation took a turn for the even worse.

Cate: That's just the way my face looks.
Customer: Well, it's a terrible face for selling beauty.

Yes, the woman actually said this to me. But I have to be honest with you here. The insult itself is not what I found outrageous in this situation. Rather, it was her sense of entitlement. 

I'm not even going to expand on this, except for adding a single comment: DO NOT BE THAT CUSTOMER. Retail workers deserve better than that, and you were almost certainly not raised to be such a piece of trash, especially during the upcoming holiday season.

Please and thank you, from all of us to you.

-Cate-

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

From Whence You Came

My father recently asked me a question that I have sometimes mulled over privately, but which I never expected to have to answer for realsies, given my level of absolute non-fame: do you consider yourself a Southern writer?

First, some background. Some of you know that while I was born in North Carolina, I was raised in Michigan, yet I have also spent the bulk of my adult life living and working primarily in the South (specifically, North Carolina and Louisiana). As a result, I've often--sometimes inadvertently--been immersed in the world of Southern literature or Southern writers. However, I've also spent a great deal of time around New England (particularly Boston) writers because of my grad school experiences.

Also, there is some debate about what constitutes Southern literature, because there is much debate about what actually constitutes the South. The Line isn't always the most effective way of answering this, because there are many out there who will swear to you that Kentucky, Virginia, and even North Carolina aren't really Southern states. Then there is the issue of Maryland, which is tricky because it is now Northern in character but historically was considered Southern.

So how do we categorize someone like Edgar Allan Poe? Personally, I don't consider him to be a Southern writer, but I suspect that he would categorize himself that way, given the opportunity. Meanwhile, I absolutely consider Mark Twain to be a Southern writer, although he spent most of his life in Missouri, Connecticut, and various Northern cities (with stops in California).

As far as that goes, who do we consider to be American writers? Sylvia Plath provides a good example for this question: undeniably American (born, raised, and partly educated in Massachusetts) and influenced in part by other Boston Writers (such as Robert Lowell and Anne Sexton), yet entrenched in British life (studying and living out the most prolific part of her career in England) and surrounded by English and Irish writers (Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney) while still communing with other expatriates (like WS Merwin). Most people would probably categorize her as American, although there is also a case to be made for her as an English writer.

A similar debate can be had about Gertrude Stein, another famous expat. She was American by birth but dwelled in France for much of her life. If anything, I would think the best designation for her is international, as she spent her time moving in artistic circles populated by people from many countries, including America (Ernest Hemingway), France (Henri Matisse), and Spain (Pablo Picasso), among others.

My basic response about my own situation was, "I don't think anyone has ever accused me of being a Southern writer, and I hope they never do." This has nothing to do with my opinion of Southern literature, which I appreciate and sometimes even love (here's looking at you, Faulkner). Rather, it has to do with my perception of myself as well as my priorities and my style. I would categorize myself as a Michigan writer, and a proud one.

What other people call me is, ultimately, their business, I suppose, but I feel like I would be vocal about this one thing, were I in a position to do so, because I do have strong feelings about it. But on the other hand, it's nice just to be called a writer at all, even if I sometimes have trouble giving myself that designation (in spite of my enormous ego and repeated declarations on this blog). 

-Cate-

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Homebodies

Awhile back, Dad and I went to hear a panel discussion/reading by authors from the anthology And Here: 100 Years of Upper Peninsula Writing, 1917-2017. It was a good time, and if any of the authors happen to come through your town, I recommend hearing what they have to say if you are at all interested in the UP or Michigan writing in general.

During the event, one of the authors mentioned that he is always eager to get back to Detroit; he appears to have arrived at a point in his life where he wants to be back in HIS PLACE, which I absolutely understand. Later that night, Dad asked me about this, and I realized something I've never really considered before: homebodiness can take two distinct forms.

The first, of course, is homebodiness of the house, or what we think of as the classic homebody--in other words, someone who enjoys being in their home, would rather stay in than go out, and enjoys solitude. I am this type of homebody at least 80 percent of the time.

The other variety is homebodiness of place--in other words, someone who wants to spend their time in their neighborhood or city (or, I suppose, even specific other places, like a theater or library). The author mentioned above is of the second type.

When I consider it, I'm surprised by the number of people I know who could be categorized as homebodies. But the more I think, the more I realize it's probably a lasting effect of our tribal past: staying in the same location because we know it's familiar and safe.

This isn't a criticism at all; I think it's very beneficial to have a connection to your surroundings, as you can be an effective guide to visitors or transplants, are more likely to keep your dollars in your area and thereby support its economic development, and build a stronger personal community for yourself.

So yes: I am all for homebodiness of place!

-Cate-

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

DO YOU UNDERSTAND THE WORDS THAT ARE COMIN' OUTTA MY MOUTH

I found myself in an interesting position at work the other day, and by "interesting," I mean "frustrating." A woman shanghaied me into demonstrating multiple iterations of the same product, and in the course of this, she asked me a question that made clear how skeptical she was of my expertise. Although I outwardly answered her in the politest way I could, in my head, I went, "The fuck you just say to me?"

And that right there is the thing I want to focus on today. Not the customer's demands, but the response I had and how it is reflective of the difference between a writer's personal life and their recorded words.

Let's parse this out. "The fuck you just say to me" is hardly a correct sentence; if you replace the missing words, it reads, "What the fuck did you just say to me?" I've discussed my Midwestern dialect before on this blog, and it's something of which I've become increasingly aware over the years, particularly after spending approximately a third of my life living in the South. My speech patterns differ from those of the people by whom I've often been surrounded, and on occasion, they have called me out on it, which is fine. 

What I've been more self-conscious about, however, is the disparity between the way I speak and the way I write. Any time I have a meeting or an interview, I start to freeze up partway through, because I know I could respond to questions or make my own points far more coherently on the page, and my anxiety kicks into overdrive, thereby further garbling my speech. I hate this aspect of my personality, and I do try to rein it in, but it's tough. 

In a perfect world, I would have the ability to speak clearly and elegantly at all times, but that's simply not the case, and I suppose it's a flaw I have to accept in myself. Also, I feel like this is a common theme among writers, at least based on conversations I've had with my compatriots and live readings or discussions I've seen throughout the years.

This being a far from perfect world, however, I have to work toward filtering myself better at the outset, and at thinking more quickly so I can form those beautiful sentences I want to utter. Another self-improvement project, then, but at least a (reasonably) worthy one. This way, everyone will someday be able to understand the words that are coming out of my mouth.

-Cate-

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Workflow

Working retail is weird sometimes. 

For example: I'm employed by a company that sometimes has to destroy merchandise. Legally, I understand the rationale, and so I'm not opposed to it. Morally, however, it's more complicated than that.

And the sheer amount of money flowing through stores can be astounding, especially during a time when there has been massive flooding in both North America and Asia, civil rights abuses, and actual Nazis marching in the streets. Sometimes it feels frivolous to me, given the awful things happening here and abroad. This will only increase as we approach the holidays.

But there are other, much better things, as well. You can bond with complete strangers over a sale when you realize you both love a certain product, and I often tell bad jokes at the register with impunity; customers may roll their eyes, but they also sometimes chuckle, and that's good enough for me.

And I love the people-watching aspect of the whole retail enterprise. It's great for a writer, because you can lift tiny aspects from interesting clients and insert them into your own characters, or even use ridiculous excerpts overheard in the store for dialogue later on. This is the part about selling that I enjoy most (considering that I'm such a hardcore introvert, it's difficult for me to enjoy the enterprise at all.)

Yes, retail sucks sometimes. But as with everything else, you have to find that silver lining and run with it if you want to survive. Just some advice from an unwilling shopgirl.

-Cate-

PS YA GIRL IS (not even remotely) FAMOUS (in a strictly local sense).

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Pleased to Meet Me?

"Who am I? Where am I? Why am I?"

These questions were often rhetorically posed to me by one of my former supervisors, who asked them with a dazed look on his face meant to mock the undergraduate students who were seemingly unable to comprehend their coursework or lives. On the one hand, he was onto something, as we didn't always encounter the brightest minds of our times. On the other, "Who am I" is a question as old as humanity, one we often struggle to answer for ourselves, let alone for other people.

Walt Whitman declared that "I am large, I contain multitudes." Here, then, is a man who acknowledges that he is not a single thing but is comprised of many personae, from a patriot ("O Captain! My Captain!") to the ghost of his childhood self ("Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking") to a lover  ("We Two Boys Together Clinging") to an unabashed voyeur ("Crossing Brooklyn Ferry"). Being Whitman, though, he was completely willing to expose all of his inner selves to the world, because he loved us and wanted to share everything.

For the rest of us, it's not always that easy. Sharing our authentic feelings and showing our true colors can be intimidating, especially for introverts. When it comes to writing, though, I find it easier to be open and honest. Yet a dilemma remains: how best to present myself? Or, put another way, what voice am I meant to use here?

Dinty W. Moore puts it best:

Although the personal essay is a form of nonfiction, and thus the self you bring to your essay should be an honest representation of who you are, we are in fact made of many selves: our happy self, our sad self, our indignant self, our skeptical self, our optimistic self, our worried self, our demanding self, our rascally self and on and on and on. But in truth, if we attempt to bring all of these selves to every essay that we write, we run the risk of seeming so uncertain, so indecisive, that we merely confuse the reader.

Here, he's specifically discussing personal essays and memoirs, but I think it can apply to any form of writing, particularly poetry, and even fiction: if you simply take this advice and apply it to a first-person narrator, you will be able to construct a character with a consistent voice throughout your novel or story. 

For my part, I've never spent much time thinking about my blogging persona. Perhaps I have a  singular attitude that comes naturally to me depending on the topic I'm discussing: passionate, skeptical, excited, literary, and so on. When it comes to writing essays, however, things are different. I struggle to make myself coherent. The form somehow affects me, puts more pressure on me, whether it should or not.

So I'm going to take the advice Moore lays out elsewhere in his piece and examine my motivations and the things I'm trying to convey when writing essays so I can share myself more effectively with the reader. After all, a writer is nothing without an audience, and garbling your message can drive readers away.

-Cate-

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Summer Book Report

Last year, I wrote a post about how I spent my summer vacation. While I'm taking a slightly different approach this year, I'd still like to report back to everyone on my literary-centric activities.

- Several months ago, I joined the Book of the Month Club, even though I don't need more books or even anyone suggesting titles to me. But on the other hand, their curated selections allow you to take a step back from the bookstore, which is a crazy thing for me to say, since I adore bookstores, but I recognize the value of this for people who maybe don't have time for shopping but still want to get at least one novel in from time to time. Definitely check out any deals they have, because sometimes you'll be able to get an extra book (or a tote!) for free.

- In July, I visited both locations of The Island Bookstore: Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island, MI. Both have good selections of Michigan titles, and the island location is surprisingly well-stocked with both books and gifts, considering their small retail space and the fact that the rest of the street is lined mainly with souvenir shops and fudge makers. 

- Also in July, I made return trips to both McLean & Eakin in Petoskey, MI, and Schuler Books in Lansing, MI.

- And once more in July: the first annual Detroit Festival of Books was held in the Eastern Market. The event featured local authors and booksellers, and the turnout seemed to be good. While there, I picked up a title from The Porcupine's Quill, whose cover stock was absolutely gorgeous.

- In August, Dad and I went to Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, MI to see a panel discussion about  the new anthology And Here: 100 Years of Upper Peninsula Writing, 1917-2017, which was a good time. Sue Harrison, M.L. Liebler, Phillip Sterling, and Keith Taylor were on the panel, and I appreciate their answers to a question I posed after the reading! (For an interview with Keith Taylor, check out the Brilliant Books website!)

- As a side note, Bookriot has released a list of the best bookstores in every state, and--whaddaya know--Brilliant Books, Literati, and McLean & Eakin are all represented in the Michigan section!

- Through my mother's generosity, I was able to enroll in an online course offered through GrubStreet, the popular Boston writing center. Six Weeks, Six Essays was taught by Grace Talusan, whose prompts, resources, and feedback were great. Although their summer courses are almost over, the center's online offerings for the fall are already listed on the site, so check that out if you'd like to brush up on your creative writing skills but don't want to go back to school.

- As you may have noticed, I actually took some time to blog this summer! Wow, what a concept: keeping up with my own project for once? Never saw that coming, tbh.

- If you haven't seen it yet: I wrote a(n almost) 2,500-word essay here on the blog about Sylvia Plath that is messy and ridiculous and fraught, but it felt good to write something approaching critical territory again. It's rare for me to engage in (nearly) academic composition, but it seemed like the thing to do at that particular moment, so there you have it.

- And to wrap things up, here's a cautionary tale: when I first moved home, the majority of my books were still packed up, so I ran over to the local Barnes & Noble to grab a couple of titles to tide me over. While browsing, I decided I needed more Chuck Klosterman in my life (which is perpetually true), and I bought a copy of I Wear the Black Hat to satisfy myself. I read it, and it was good, and I set it aside to be shelved later. Two or three days after that, I was looking for something in a box and found the book, but I couldn't remember having left it there. Lo and behold, I later saw the book on the bookshelf in my room. 

Yes, kids, I made the mistake all serious readers have made at least once in their lives: I bought a copy of this particular tome sometime in the past (I suspect it was last summer), forgot I had it, and then bought a new copy later. This is, I think, the second time I've faced such a dilemma, and I fully expect it to happen again in the future. #failcatefail

-Cate-

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

FOMO

When I was an adolescent, I was desperately uncool. (I like how I'm saying this as though I've become super-hip and popular in the intervening years. EL OH EL NOPE.) As a result, I always came to fads late. My Tamagotchi was probably one of the last ever sold. I skipped the Furby altogether, and I'm glad I did, because those things are scary. One particularly bitchy classmate made fun of me in the third grade because I still played with Barbies. This is how it went back then.


Today, I'm no better at keeping up with trends, but in a different, more adult way. Gone are the times when I was late to the party; instead, I'm skeptical of the party itself. The hyper-manicured eyebrow? I don't get it at all and refuse to participate. "Festival style" baffles me, both because of its appropriative aspects and because I don't see the appeal of things like Bonnaroo and Burning Man. Reality television in the vein of the Real Housewives franchise holds no interest for me.

This might sound surprising coming from someone who claims to be a devotée of popular culture, and in a way, it is. When it comes to pop culture, I lean more nerdy, more literature-centric, more critical (in the evaluative sense), so I walk a different path, ignoring the things that don't speak to me in favor of topics that spark my curiosity.

As a child, I wanted to fit in badly enough that even something as inane as pogs seemed essential to my life; unfortunately, by the time I arrived at the station, the train had departed and I was left trying to catch the caboose. Now, I'm less susceptible to that impulse, although I do still occasionally seek opportunities to be accepted into the so-called "cool kids" group. That's only human, I think.


Perhaps as I continue to age, I'll worry less and less about that cutting edge. It usually turns out to be ineffectual, anyway, or lacks historical or philosophical resonance. The exception to this may prove to be something like the Kardashian family; if that turns out to be the case, I'll eat my words. For now, though, I'll continue to wonder what I might be missing when I don't consume a given type of media. 

Here's hoping I'm not missing anything at all.

-Cate-

Images via here and here.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Way I Resist

As you might imagine, I've been thinking about politics a great deal lately. 

20 January was an interesting day, for America and for the world. Since that time, the word that's come to mind the most since then is shitshow. I won't even bother listing off the offenses committed by the executive and legislative branches of the government, because it's too depressing and many others have already offered their commentary.

But I will tell you a story about how these past seven months have affected me.

When I broke my book ban, I broke it hard, because my method of helping the world is through reading. Stick with me on this: educating myself about the past, present, and future seem to be the best way I can arm myself to fight the good fight.

During the week after Election Day, I was surrounded by people who were honestly, gut-wrenchingly terrified of what the future might hold for them and their loved ones. And I won't lie: I was scared, too. I remain trepidatious. My focus at that time, though, was on those others, most of whom weren't in a position to put up their dukes, as it were.

One night, I found myself at a bookstore. Though my aim was to find something my brother might like to read--I was in Christmas-shopping mode--I got angrier and angrier the more I saw headlines and magazine covers dissecting anything they could about the election. This was not the America I had been promised. At that moment, it wasn't even one I recognized.

So I marched myself to the history section, and that's where the rampage started.

By the time I was done, my pile of tomes was six high, and I practically dared the cashier to fight me when I rolled up to her register with a scowl on my face and flint in my gaze. She didn't make any comments, however; she simply did her job, and I rolled back into my apartment that night well over a hundred dollars poorer but--I hoped--soon to be richer for my pains.

Due to time constraints and my tendency to slack, I haven't made it through this cavalcade of books, and of course I've made more purchases since that night. Yet I haven't abandoned my self-set task. As often as possible, I make attempts to bring myself up-to-date with the latest disaster reports, and there have been many. And I spread my knowledge when and where I'm able.

Maybe I'm affecting people when I tell them some anecdote or other, or maybe I'm not. But at least I'm trying, and I will continue to resist.

-Cate-

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

What We Talk About When We Talk About Plath

When we talk about Sylvia Plath, we talk about Ted Hughes, the poet-husband who nurtured and tormented her. We talk about the way she died, and occasionally the downstairs neighbor she nearly killed in the process. We talk about her overbearing mother and monolithic father. We talk about her confessional style and how this relates to Anne Sexton and Robert Lowell. We talk about her infamous mental health issues.

What we discuss less often, outside of criticism and academia, is how formidable she was as a writer. The personal struggles she faced have eclipsed this fact in popular discourse, and as a result, the public keeps Plath pigeonholed. Hers is the domain of madwomen in the attic (or, in her case, the basement), mothers needing their little helpers, females who act out when they are spurned. While she was certainly aware of her own issues--she was often medicated and had a close relationship with her therapist--she was far more than a depressive girl crying huddled in her room. 

Just after they met, Plath wrote a poem about Hughes called "Pursuit," in which he is a panther. She knew then that Hughes was dangerous. What she neglects to mention is that she was a God-damned tigress.

*

Tracy Brain, in her essay "Unstable Manuscripts: The Indeterminacy of the Plath Canon," featured in Anita Helle's anthology The Unraveling Archive, makes a compelling case that the reader and/or scholar cannot fully rely on Plath's published works--particularly Ariel (including the Restored Edition) and The Collected Poems--because Plath's archives reveal typographical discrepancies between manuscripts and "finished" products as well as Plath's own working manuscripts and notes, and those notes especially reveal contradictions and changes we can't fully understand, as Plath was dead by the time the bulk of her work fell onto editors' desks.

While this issue shouldn't be dismissed out of hand, we are, thanks to Ted Hughes, largely left to rely upon printed material as "definitive." Even if we can never know whether "Edge" was truly the last poem Plath wrote (Hughes seemed to think so, based on his sequencing in The Collected Poems, but the argument for "Balloons" is equally valid), we must work with what we have been given and rely on Hughes' judgments.

"Her attitude to her verse was artisan-like," he tells us, and "if she couldn't get a table out of the material, she was quite happy to get a chair, or even a toy." This is not the idle speculation of a husband who took walks as his wife scratched away with her Shaeffer pen. It's the keen observation of someone who often wrote by her side and who trusted her with his own words, both as typist and workshopper. He knew her prowess with words, and her capacity to wound with them: he was the subject of many of Plath's more powerful poems ("Daddy," "Burning the Letters," "Words heard, by accident, over the phone," and more), and though he was in a position to suppress their publication, he chose to go ahead with them and make sure that the world knew her name.

*

No one has ever written a truly "authoritative" biography about Plath, because her legacy is complicated. 

Ted Hughes, by his own admission, destroyed her final diaries after her death, eliminating the possibility of scholars gaining personal insights into her final, powerful poems. 

Aurelia Plath, Sylvia's mother, worked diligently to expunge certain unfavorable communiqués from the record when she published Plath's collected Letters Home. (Not coincidentally, this is the same reason Plath delayed the publication of The Bell Jar so long: to spare feelings.) However, the originals remain largely intact, mainly in the Lilly Library at Indiana University but also elsewhere; the first volume of Plath's wider collected correspondence is set to be published this fall. 

Olwyn Hughes, Ted's sister and the executor of both estates until her death in 2016, was notorious for refusing to cooperate with anyone who might criticize her brother too much. Plath herself was not a fan of Olwyn, but Hughes trusted her implicitly.

The net result of this is that most biographies of Plath lean heavily in favor of either her or Hughes, depending on who the author cozied up to during the research process. Aurelia died in 1994, but not before she assisted Paul Alexander while he collected information for Rough Magic. The biography is problematic in some ways for the reasons listed above, yet it remains the best available overview of the poet's life.

Fans of Plath almost uniformly come down on her side, and her grave was repeatedly vandalized; rather than gravediggers, she was disturbed by headstone editors, who would rip the "Hughes" off the marker so it read Sylvia Plath rather than Sylvia Plath Hughes. They would rather Ted Hughes be punished in perpetuity, Plath be rid of him in death.

For my part, I think Hughes made some mistakes. Undoubtedly, a few of them were even cruel and contemptible. And he had no right to do what he did to Ariel prior to its publication, though he was, in general, a capable advocate for Plath's work. And as a poet, he is unassailable; his work is not my style, but he knew what the Hell he was doing.

Further tangling the matter of biographical scholarship are two obvious figures, one innocent toddler, and a much-maligned woman: the Hughes children, Frieda and Nicholas; their half-sister Alexandra, called Shura; and Assia Wevill, the most widely recognized of Ted Hughes' affair partners. Frieda Hughes has gone on record, sometimes in verse form, to criticize those who are obsessed with her mother and who have fired shots at her father. Nicholas Hughes committed suicide in 2009 after pursuing his love of nature and ecology, no doubt following his father's example (Ted Hughes' fascination with the outdoors is one of his trademarks); the younger Hughes was always reluctant to discuss his mother publicly. 

Shura died at the age of four in her mother's murder-suicide. As for Wevill, it's no secret that she was married to a poet (David Wevill, a respected Canadian writer) before meeting Plath and Hughes and later chose gas as her weapon of choice when she killed herself and her daughter. These are not mere echoes of Plath, and Wevill is often a reviled figure in the Plath mythos.

But again: these are things people always discuss when Plath comes up in conversation. Except for the most casual readers, everyone knows at least that the Plath-Hughes marriage was torn asunder and that Hughes' actions after Plath's death--all the way up to his own demise in 1998--led to controversy. What they might better discuss is how each of these people appeared in print. (Shura, born two years after Plath's death, is exempted.)

*

Aurelia  Plath became the focus of a few of her daughter's works, as any parent of a serious writer might expect. Yet she attempted to be even-keeled about the matter, at least publicly. "One observation I can make," Aurelia wrote in 1983, for a piece in Paul Alexander's anthology Ariel Ascending, "[...] involves Sylvia's tendency to fuse characters and manipulate events to achieve her own artistic ends." In truth, this statement might apply to every writer who ever lived, and I believe it is both a fair assumption on Aurelia's part as well as her fervent wish as a parent that it be completely true.

Plath could be cutting when she directed her words at specific individuals, however obliquely. And Aurelia did feel that sting: "[...O]ther poems [...] involve the mother figure as the whipping boy, so characteristic of the Fifties." She also mentions that in The Bell Jar, Plath "transformed personalities into cruel and false caricatures." However, as one might expect of a mother, she asserts that "I had faith in [her] genius."

No amount of faith, though, can change the fact that the title of "Electra on Azalea Path" contains a name that sounds awfully like Aurelia Plath, nor the fact that Mrs. Greenwood in The Bell Jar is, in the main, a character who hews closely to Aurelia as Plath experienced her during that electroshock summer.

*

Ronald Hayman speculated in The Death and Life of Sylvia Plath that Plath intended to kill her children when she took her own life in 1963, but this is based on a reading of some of her final poems, including "Edge," and not supported by the documented facts of the incident. And anyway, the opposite argument can be made using different pieces; Plath often wrote about her children, in pieces like "Nick and the Candlestick" and "Morning Song." It's likely that she did this for the same reason another writer might: they were readily available subjects, like their father and grandmother.

If you subscribe to the notion that turnabout is fair play, it's worth keeping in mind that three out of those four had their own say in various works published later, as we see above. Call it a literary circle of life.

*

In the main, Assia Wevill has been unfairly castigated. Yes, her final act--killing Shura--is unforgivable and must have been the source of much anguish for Ted Hughes (who later dedicated Crow, his 1970 collection of poetry, to the memory of both Assia and Shura). But in life, Wevill was no different from a million other women: a little bit wild, prone to making mistakes, desperately in love.

Of course, one can also understand why Plath despised Wevill. She was a woman who committed the highest form of girl-on-girl violence: man-stealing. But Plath wasn't utterly unreasonable; she also laid the blame at Hughes' doorstep, where it belonged. (Ultimately, neither Wevill nor Hughes can be held more culpable than the other, but Hughes' betrayal was worse, as he broke the vows he made to his wife.) 

As in other cases, though, Plath was vicious in her descriptions of Wevill, particularly in "The Fearful." And Wevill was not unaware of Plath's ire. She--like many others--ended up haunted by the specter of her (ostensible) rival. But like Plath, she was also haunted by her own past and by the invisible scourge of mental illness.

*

I know what you're thinking: "Cate, please. You've only given us examples of poems about Plath's family. So why SHOULDN'T we snoop around and learn things about her personal life?"

And that's totally fair, if you didn't listen to the thing Aurelia Plath said about situations and characters transforming in Plath's--or any writer's--imagination. And again, it's totally fair, if you're willing to ignore Plath's craftsmanship and Hughes' statement about it. And sure: it's totally fair, if you're willing to ignore the criticism Frieda Hughes levels at everyone she feels has co-opted her mother's legacy.

And once more: it's totally fair, if you're willing to forsake all other possible critical responses to Plath's work, or the multiple angles the biographical method could use: an American woman living abroad, a scholarship girl coming up in a privileged environment, a pre-feminist powerhouse, a deeply academic personality, a poet living with and surrounded by other poets. 

This is about so much more than just mental illness and interpersonal drama, and we must acknowledge that, or we are doing Plath, and ourselves as readers and critics, an enormous disservice.

*

Sometimes I wonder if Plath deserves better than us: the avid, trenchant fans who think she is somehow a projection of ourselves and that--as a result--we can claim some ownership of her. I attempt not to be that person, but I admit it: I get defensive of her, and I am often dismissive of those I deem clichés--the sad girls dressed in black trying desperately to be serious--even though I am exactly the same. On the other hand, fame (especially the posthumous kind) comes at a price, and devotees are one item on the bill of sale.

And sometimes I wonder if we deserve better than Plath: a woman who was nearly always on the edge of becoming unhinged, who threw Holocaust metaphors around to describe her own pain, who once destroyed some of Ted Hughes' manuscripts in a vindictive bonfire. On the other hand, if we threw out Plath, we would have to get rid of the Conrads and Hemingways and Fitzgeralds of the world, as well, to avoid committing the double crimes of sexism and hypocrisy.

*

I spend a lot of time thinking about Sylvia Plath.

It's true that I arrived at her doorstep, as most of us do, when I was a moody teenager struggling to fit in. This is a detail I can't help and won't deny. But I think it's worth noting that the bulk of the time I've spent with her was in my early 20s, near the end of my college journey, at a juncture when people were starting to refer to me as a woman rather than a girl. As it happens, I was also about the same age Plath was when she made the suicide attempt later immortalized in The Bell Jar.

It was a time when I loved boys and eyeliner and the idea that my future might actually turn out the way I wanted. But I resembled Esther Greenwood, the protagonist of The Bell Jar, too much for my own comfort, so I chose to focus on Plath's poetry instead.

Years later, I return to her work again and again, and I do so happily. And if I didn't know all the things I know, it never would have occurred to me to write about her now.

I composed this essay, as I compose so many things, in fits and starts between other activities, and it took me about a week and a half to draft. My memory of facts learned over eight years ago was surprisingly solid, which I take to mean that Sylvia Plath has never been far from my mind. I did have to retrieve my collection of books by or about Plath (and Hughes, and Wevill): 18 in all. 

For a complete accounting of my Plath collection, see the list following this post. Some books are either out of print or difficult to locate; many of my volumes came from Better World Books or Thriftbooks, both excellent online sellers for academics searching for titles your average used bookstore doesn't carry. There are many, many more titles out there that I've never seen or read; Plath has her own cottage industry now.

I do encourage readers to seek out resources that will illuminate Plath's craft, as well as those which properly contextualize her in both American and British history as well as in the continuum of literature. There are so many things to explore in her work that lie outside the confines of biography.

And when you talk about her, remember that she was both human and hard-working.

*

Resources

About Plath
Ariel Ascending: Writings About Sylvia Plath (ed. Paul Alexander) 
Chapters in a Mythology: The Poetry of Sylvia Plath (Judith Kroll)
The Death and Life of Sylvia Plath (Ronald Hayman)
Her Husband: Hughes and Plath: A Marriage (Diane Middlebrook)
Rough Magic (Paul Alexander)
The Savage God: A Study of Suicide (A. Alvarez)
Sylvia Plath: A Literary Life (Linda Wagner-Martin)
The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath (ed. Anita Helle)

By Plath
Ariel: The Restored Edition
The Bell Jar
The Collected Poems (ed. Ted Hughes)
Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams
Letters Home (ed. Aurelia Schober Plath)
The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath (ed. Karen V. Kukil)

About Hughes
Ted Hughes: The Life of a Poet (Elaine Feinstein)

By Hughes
Birthday Letters
Difficulties of a Bridegroom

About Wevill
Lover of Unreason: Assia Wevill, Sylvia Plath's Rival and Ted Hughes' Doomed Love (Yehuda Koren and Eliat Negev)

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Why Are You Sad?

Well, the day arrived.

I finally looked a little too off, was a little too slow to smile, and my niece asked me the question I've dreaded answering "Why are you sad?"

In this case, I was able to deflect. "I'm just very tired," I told her. It wasn't a lie; I was exhausted. But it wasn't the truth, either. At least, it wasn't the entire truth.

I've always thought that, when the time is right, I'll be open with Niece and Nephew about my mental health struggles, because I'm terrified that either or both of them will turn out to have the same problems I've faced and don't want them to suffer alone. Neither of them, however, is at an age where they can adequately grasp the depth of anxiety and depression. Possibly they won't even understand the concept; for their sake, I hope they don't, because that would be a horrible thing to know when you're so young.

The thing is, they're inquisitive, and Niece has already been labeled gifted, so I expect more moments like these will arise whether I want them to or not. And to date, this is the worst part of depression I've had to face. Everything else seems easy compared to the anguish of knowing I've let the kids see me this way. 

I hope it will all make sense to them in the future. I just don't want it to have to make sense right now.

-Cate-

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Feeling Ragey

Last month, I was very angry about something.

Although I'm loath to discuss the situation itself here, I do want to talk about that anger and how it affected me. More specifically, I want to explore the impact it had on my writing.

For one thing, I find myself veering away from poetry and toward non-fiction (which is--mostly--to say, this blog). I've made an attempt to write the most uplifting stuff possible to counteract the ire, although I admit I'm not awesome at that part. But the biggest advantage is that it makes me more honest.

That's not my way of admitting I'm a liar. There are, however, times when all writers shy away from the toughest parts, whether that means telling a difficult story or facing a hard truth about oneself. I think I'm pretty good at admitting shit to myself, and sometimes to others, I suppose, but that's not totally the kind of honesty I mean.

Rather, it's honesty about my basic feelings and about the things that matter to me. Trust: you wouldn't be reading posts about the similarities between Madonna and Walt Whitman if those two people held no significance for me. I guess the anger forces me to reevaluate things, in a way. And I'm okay with that.

What I'm less okay with is the anger itself, and I'm working on it. Little by little, I'll calm down and get back on track--even if that track is a new one. And it will be, out of necessity. I hope I can still be so honest on the other side and suppress myself less and less.

-Cate-

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Chester Bennington, Depression, and You

Like so many people in their youth, my brother didn't always have the best taste in music. But every once in awhile, he pulled something great out of his hat, and sometime late in 2000, he showed up with a copy of Hybrid Theory, Linkin Park's debut album.

I know that nü-metal is a controversial genre among music lovers, and I understand why. For my part, I was never a huge fan of any one band from that world, and even Linkin Park wasn't part of my pantheon beyond Hybrid Theory. But that one album is one to which I can still return, 17 years later, and enjoy, and part of that has to do with Chester Bennington's lyrics and vocals.

At the time, I was 14 years old and a freshman in high school. My peers and I were at that awkward stage where we were growing up but not grown up, and that was even more obvious for us underclassmen, not the least because some of us were shedding our middle-school identities and trying to form new--or at least cooler--personas. This was a time when I was getting into rock music rather than the prevailing pop of that era. It was also a time when I'd already had my first run-in with psychology, though many years before I received the diagnoses I have now. 

Something about the way Bennington delivered his words got to me. He could move from angry to vulnerable to sad to enraged in seconds, which spoke to every outcast kid in the country. No song embodied this better than Linkin Park's monster hit "In the End."


Although it's been memed and the chorus provides a nice bit of dry humor when you've messed up some task or other (example: you tried so hard to run a mile and got so far, but in the end, it didn't even matter because it was high school phys ed), "In the End" is quite powerful. It's an anthem about failed friendships and intimate relationships, about letting out your emotions when you want to quit trying, and it's comforting to know that someone else really, truly understands your pain.

What many people didn't know, but surely could have inferred from most of the songs on Hybrid Theory, was that Chester Bennington had walked a difficult road up to that point in his life. Even though he spoke about his challenges and his depression on many occasions afterward, this was the beginning of his career, and he was a newly-minted rock star, which made him cooler than cool.

Now that he's passed away, everyone knows that Bennington had depression. A vocal minority of people out there have been saying the same things they've said about countless celebrities before: how can you be depressed when you have it all? They fail to understand that it's a real illness; you can't wish it away or ignore it into nonexistence, and you can throw all the money you like at it, but it won't bow to capitalism. 

Even if you do all the right things--go to the appointments, take the meds, read the books, do the cognitive behavioral therapy--you might still not feel better. And it's an exhausting experience, both physically and emotionally: depression literally makes you tired, and discussing your inner thoughts can be difficult, especially when you already feel inadequate and stressed. For those diagnosed with chronic depression, this turns into a lifelong battle. You never know when your medication might start to fail you, or when something may happen to send you into a spiral. 

When you're living in such a black hole, it is sometimes difficult to see a way back to the light, let alone drag yourself onto that path. No matter how many people you love or how much money you have, if depression is that pervasive, it can drive you to extremes. So no, I'm not surprised that Bennington chose to end his own life. And I'm not disappointed in him, either. Rather, I feel for him and his family, for his fans, for his friends. They've lost someone dear to them, and he lost his battle.

But I don't condone what he's done. Having been touched by suicide multiple times in my life--sometimes directly, sometimes peripherally--I can tell you that it's a horrible experience for everyone. Because I've been depressed, I completely understand where people are coming from when they consider suicide, and I'll never judge anyone who feels that way. However, know this: the world will not, cannot be the same without you.

And so, as always, I encourage anyone who's feeling suicidal to reach out and speak with someone. There are numerous hotlines and websites with good resources, and if those fail, you can always e-mail me: cateismilesaway@gmail.com. Please stick around. We want you here with us.

-Cate-

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Writing the Stress Away

For the past month and a half, I've felt more depressed than normal, with many of the symptoms you'd expect: lack of motivation, fatigue, tearfulness, et cetera. Functioning well is a challenge. One day, my crying was so hysterical that even my dog thought I was being too extra, so she left me in favor of a quieter spot elsewhere in the house.

One night, I was faring particularly badly, even though I'd watched a fun movie and taken special care to shower well, have a marginally proper meal, and clean my room a little. Uncertain of what I should do next, I finally decided to sit down and write a blog post about something I'd thought of earlier in the day.

And I felt so much better when I was writing.

This isn't always the case. But on that occasion, it worked. I'm not surprised; after all, writing has long been recognized for its therapeutic value, along with art (at this point, I must pause to give my alma mater, Lesley University, a shout-out for their excellent expressive therapies program). In fact, I seriously considered studying writing therapy myself, before other interests eclipsed that one--and after I decided I didn't want to take a statistics class, obviously.

My academic history aside, writing can prove to be a useful outlet for all sorts of people. In my case, it's not something I've ever pursued for that purpose; rather, it's an imperative, something I have to do. But I encourage anyone who might be looking for a way to blow off some steam to pick up a pen and see what happens. It might just be the prescription for which you've searched.

-Cate-

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

MaWhitDonManNa, or Getting Your American On

Let's talk about Madonna and Walt Whitman for a minute.

Maybe it's an unorthodox pairing. But frankly, these two work well together: each taking in as much as they can, whipping it around in their personal brain-blenders, and then spitting something out and sharing it with the masses. Plus they're both uniquely American, albeit in different ways: Madonna the gregarious, outspoken, spotlight-seeking variety in the vein of Benjamin Franklin (don't fight me on this), Whitman the contemplative, wordsmithing, diplomatic type along the lines of Thomas Jefferson (I'm telling you: it's true).

The thing that really unites them, though, is their proclivity for tinkering. Madonna has been on 10 tours--9 of them worldwide--and many of her songs have been rejiggered along the way. "La Isla Bonita" seems to be one of her favorite tunes to reinvent, as she's introduced new versions of it on 5 separate tours, in addition to the album and radio cuts.


Does this sound like anyone we know? Perhaps--could it be--Uncle Walt? He of the multiple revised/expanded printings of his landmark work, Leaves of Grass? Why, yes it is.


And this is also a mark of their American nature: the constant need for improvement. Ours is not a nation that feels comfortable letting something stand if it needs to be fixed. We're at our best when we take what has been good about our past and bring it into the present. That way, we honor both history and progress; that's why the Constitution has had amendments added to it throughout the years.

So maybe let's look to the examples of Madonna and Whitman and try to forge ahead, better than we were yesterday.

-Cate-

Images via here and here.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Best Part of Being a Writer

As you may know, I'm an official Goodreads author, and one of the coolest functions of an author's profile, as far as I'm concerned, is the part where we get to answer questions. Recently, Goodreads sent a question to me that piqued my interest in such a way that I wanted to take an entire post--rather than a short paragraph--to discuss it: what is the best thing about being a writer?

This question is so wide open as to lend itself to debate, and indeed, I can think of several options that may be worth exploring. But for me, the best part is having the opportunity to move people.

For many years, I resisted poetry because I was taught by teachers who espoused some variation on that old saw: "This is the only valid way to interpret this poem." I wasn't about that life, and it put me off the idea of verse. When I was in college, however, new ways of approaching all types of literature, and especially poetry, were available to me. It was then that I decided something important about my own work: as long as the reader gets SOMETHING out of it, I have done my job as a writer.

This doesn't mean that I don't have my own ideas about what an individual poem or story says. Obviously, I know what I was trying to convey. What it DOES mean, however, is that I want to hear what others have to say about my work, and my biggest wish is that they will be able to make some meaningful connection with any given piece. 

Because if I'm putting my writing out into the world, there is no point whatsoever in producing it only for my own sake. There is (I assume/hope) a reader on the other end who may have an unexpected reaction to my words, and that's okay, and I want to hear about it, too! If you're having a bad day and feel relieved because one of my poems let you know that someone else was experiencing the same thing, great! If you're in love and one of my stories speaks to those feelings inside you, fantastic! Even if you're reviled by something I've written, I have still elicited a reaction, and I want to know about your disgust. 

Basically, I most enjoy having the chance to interface with others. As an introvert, it can be incredibly difficult for me to make new friends or even acquaintances, and readers help me as much as I aim to help them. Other writers may say they most love creating their own worlds, or the thrill of seeing their name on the cover of a book, and nothing is wrong with either of those motivations. I'm simply approaching it from a more humanistic perspective.

Read on, y'all. And tell me what you think about my words!

-Cate-

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

From Princess to General

Because I am perpetually behind the times, I have not yet seen Wonder Woman, the first big-screen adaptation of Diana Prince's story. However, the Internet has been awash with discussions of the film and its constituents, from forebears to alternate screenplays, and I've seen enough at this point that I want to highlight one recurring meme in particular:


This is honestly one of my favorite things I've ever seen online. Up top, you have Robin Wright, who first came to prominence as Princess Buttercup in the film adaptation of The Princess Bride and has most recently portrayed Diana's mother Hippolyta in Wonder Woman. Below, of course, we see the late Carrie Fisher, first as the young Princess Leia in A New Hope and then--almost 40 years later--as General Organa in The Force Awakens.

The reason I love it so much is because it encapsulates a mighty shift in our culture. Have we had badass women on screen in the past? Absolutely! From Buffy to Xena to Sydney Bristow to The Bride, and even Leia herself, there are plenty of worthy examples, and I'm happy to give credit where it's due. The difference, in this case, largely revolves around one word: princess.


Having grown up during the Disney Renaissance, and being the aunt of a little girl, I am perhaps alarmingly well-versed in the language of fictional princesses. Don't get me wrong: I was, and remain, a huge fan of Disney, but as an adult, I do recognize the indoctrination I endured. (As a side note, Disney now owns the Star Wars properties, which--in a very technical sense--means that Leia has joined the ranks of Ariel, Aurora, and Anna, as many others have pointed out in the past.)

The dilemma is that we females have spent large swaths of our lives being told that girls are "sugar, spice, and everything nice," that we should be "ladylike," that we need to find our lives searching for our own personal Prince Charming. It's pretty problematic when you consider it, because we live in a society that has ostensibly progressed but often seems to backslide badly.


So when I see images of Hippolyta in action and General Organa working hard to ensure the safety of those around her, I get a little giddy. As I said in a Facebook post just after Fisher's death last December: yes, I love the princess who sasses Darth Vader, keeps herself together even after watching her planet destroyed, infiltrates Jabba's palace, and all that. But I love General Organa more, because she is the end product of all those things followed by 30 more years of hard work and dedication. In other words, General Organa is what daring girls all over the world have the capacity to become if they persevere.

The problem is, our society tends to squash those sparks of personality and ambition, so it is extremely important that we continue to give girls (and boys) good, strong female role models in our media. It lets girls know that the line they're fed about having the capacity to be whatever they want when they grow up isn't just bullshit--even though it feels like that some days, given the typical images with which we are all bombarded on a daily basis.


And I hope, also, that the women out there who think they "don't need feminism" are waking up a little through this journey with two lovely princesses turned generals. It would be fantastic to know that children aren't the only ones affected by more positive portrayals of strong women whose power doesn't stem from their royalty but through the battles they wage to keep others safe and equal (equal being the operative word).

-Cate-

Images via here, here, here, and here.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Another Thing About Anxiety Is That It Fucking Sucks

When I started this blog, my plan was to talk about books, writing, and popular culture. Believe me: I still intend to focus on those things. I've found, though, that it's important for me to share experiences in other areas of my life, as well, because it can be difficult to find people who are open about their mental health (or someone whose words make sense to you and affect you and validate you), and I'd like to help where I can. Being an introvert and a person who sometimes attempts to write, this is the way that makes the most sense to me. This is the second part in a two-part series. Part one was published on Monday.

***

Anxiety is one of those disorders that can have unintended professional or interpersonal consequences. For example, when I've suffered through anxiety attacks at work, I've had to leave a sales floor or hide behind a closed office door until the feeling passes. The most comical of these incidents happened when I was lurking around the quietest corner of a Hallmark store, hiding from a nun because I have a completely irrational, unfounded fear of them. (This strategy worked until we were short-handed at the cash wrap and I was forced to ring up the sister's purchase.)

The majority of my anxiety-related meltdowns, however, affect my relationships. On a good day, I struggle to explain what's happening inside my head, so imagine me trying to tell someone all of the things I'm feeling when I'm also in the middle of an anxiety attack. (Hint: you might reasonably call it a shitshow.) Even my dog ran away from me once when I was sobbing through some anxiety; that's how extra I become, but in her defense, she has a limited grasp of the finer points of humans' emotional anguish.

Once I manage to get on this path of explication, though, it's difficult for me to stop. Hence I dump all sorts of information on people in a short amount of time, attempting to make myself clear and searching for some sort of understanding on the part of the other person(s) involved. I also spend a significant amount of time apologizing, because even though I think my feelings are valid, I recognize how someone else might disagree, and even more so how they might find it off-putting that I'm sharing so many details of my inner life. As my mother once put it, I can be scary.

That is never, ever my intention, but I get it: my emotions are too intense for some people. And no matter my aim, no matter how much I mean what I'm saying--and I always do in instances like this--my confessions more often serve to get me in trouble. Perhaps I come across as unhinged, but I choose my words as carefully as possible and attempt to maintain some logical flow (this is why I usually have to write these things out rather than say them face-to-face).

But once I've gotten it out, I panic and scramble to write a second--or third, or fourth--note to clarify my previous statements, and the cycle of anxiety continues. The longer it takes someone to reply to me, the worse I feel, and the more likely I am to keep going.

Eventually, I will burn myself out, perhaps for a day or two, or maybe even a week. Then it begins afresh, and some other source of anxiety will take the place of the last incident. If I'm lucky, it's nothing serious and I can continue my routine. Other times, not so much. But I do what I can to fight it and advocate for myself, even though it can be difficult to do so when the real enemy is your own brain.

To those who have been on the other side of this, who have ever wondered why or how I get so wild-eyed or who have ever felt bombarded, I apologize. I know that it isn't easy for you, and I realize that I owe you a great deal. I can't offer much in the way of reparations, but I'm usually available to tell a bad joke, if you're into that sort of thing (or if you simply tolerate that sort of thing). 

-Cate-

Monday, June 19, 2017

Emotional Hypothermia

When I started this blog, my plan was to talk about books, writing, and popular culture. Believe me: I still intend to focus on those things. I've found, though, that it's important for me to share experiences in other areas of my life, as well, because it can be difficult to find people who are open about their mental health (or someone whose words make sense to you and affect you and validate you), and I'd like to help where I can. Being an introvert and a person who sometimes attempts to write, this is the way that makes the most sense to me. This is the first part in a two-part series. Part two will be published on Friday.

*** 

I have that cold feeling again.

For me, this is one way in which my anxiety disorder physically manifests itself. When I feel I've done something wrong--regardless of whether a transgression occurred or not--I start to feel icy. But this chill isn't superficial, like when an unexpected breeze catches you. No. This originates within and spreads under my skin.

It started during my childhood, but of course I didn't recognize it as anxiety back then. If I had a word for it at all, it was likely fear--the fear of being in trouble, usually with my mom. Back then, this was accompanied by a recurring need to pee, as if my body was trying to dehydrate itself and shrivel up into nothing to escape the situation at hand.

Right now, I'm lucky--if that's what we're calling it--because I know what's at the root of today's anxiety attack. But I'm also unlucky, because all I want to do is keep picking at the situation until I've resolved it. Think of it as a scab: I feel successful once it finally peels away, but the sting quickly sets in and the process starts anew, because I haven't fixed anything.

The drugs help. A little. But I've never been able to make the cold feeling disappear. I try to leave other people out of it; I've caused some damage this time, though, and of course that contributes to the problem on my end. I wish I had a mental straightjacket to keep my flailing from injuring myself and others, because no apology sufficiently undoes the past. And so I continue to live with the turmoil, like I'm on a roller coaster running an endless loop on a windy night.

-Cate-

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Heat Rising

For many years, I gave away copies of my favorite book, Fahrenheit 451, very sparingly: only to my very best friends, people I love. Recently, though, I gifted 14 at once--the latest printing, with a plain red, cream, and black cover--because the time has come for people to take a stand.

The current American political situation is, in a word, terrifying. Fahrenheit remains timely and prescient, and I can't recommend it enough. My hope in sharing it en masse is that the recipients might follow Montag's lead and not only resist but revolt.

Of course, I realize that revolution is a strong word, but I fear we may have started down that path. The best way to arm ourselves may be through knowledge. At least, that's the way I've always seen it.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Coming Home. Again.

For the second time this decade, I find myself leaving the South and moving home to Michigan. Unlike the first time, however, the choice was mine.

There are the reasons I cite publicly, and there are the ones I mention privately. They overlap, of course: a Venn diagram of quitting. Some are reasonable, others less so. Like last time, I will lose things in the deal. The fact that I have more ownership of this departure softens the blow, but not as much as I'd like.

Here are good things: Mom and Dad, Niece and Nephew, Little Dog, BFF Kate and BFF Charlie. For my own sake, I won't talk about bad things.

But I will tell you the best thing: home.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Historical Preseveration

When I was in elementary school, our curriculum included educational role playing simulations, which is a fancy way of saying that we, unruly children that we were, pretended to be historical figures in the name of learning. One of these programs was about the American Revolution generally, and about the Continental Congress and other such important developments more specifically. The other was a slice of Michigan history featuring Père Marquette, Antoine Cadillac, and others. 

While these activities primed me to appreciate the intricacies of nation-building and the great American experiment, they didn't prepare me for the reality.

For example, no one told me that a man who essentially lied his way into respectability and power--Cadillac--could become such an essential figure in the development of North America as we now know it, and today, I'm facing down the fact that a charlatan holds the highest office in the land. Nor did they delve into the reasons why there were so few female roles for the girls to play; we just had to accept that the men ran the show.

This is part of why I'm so adamant about reading books and exploring historical topics as an adult: it's important for me to find the facts that were left out of the lessons I learned as a child. Especially in this uncertain and tumultuous age, I can't possibly stress the importance of this enough. Go out. Read a book. Learn something. 

It just might save us.

-Cate-