Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Why So Serious?

Up to this point in my life, I've been pretty lucky when it comes to discussing my anxiety and depression. Only twice have people asked me, "What do you have to be depressed about?" Since that second time was just a few days ago, I thought I'd address the topic here.

My standard response (if you can call something that's been used twice "standard") is, "That's not how it works." The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that one in ten American adults suffer from depression across a spectrum of socioeconomic factors. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that "Women are 70% more likely than men to experience depression during their lifetime." According to this article over at WebMD, there is a strong possibility that genetics plays a part in depression (i.e., if you have a depressed parent, you have a higher risk of being depressed) and that the illness is not exclusively environmental, though it can be situational--for example, when you're depressed after the loss of a loved one. Here's a handy infographic breaking down some of the statistics.

My generalized anxiety disorder is co-morbid with my mild depression, which sometimes means that one makes the other worse. That's tons of fun, as you can imagine. In spite of having lived through this stuff, it's difficult for me to describe the whole experience of being anxious and depressed. Allie Brosh at Hyperbole and a Half does a great job of breaking down the depression part here and here. She writes in the first post, "Some people have a legitimate reason to feel depressed, but not me. I just woke up one day feeling sad and helpless for absolutely no reason." And there you have the truth, even if you don't have the science to back it up: sometimes there is not a single good fucking reason for this.

The good news is that no one has ever asked me in a malicious way why I'm depressed (or anxious). In fact, the last person who asked named off all of these good reasons why I shouldn't be. He had a point, but his point isn't as strong as genetics or brain chemicals, although I won't tell him that because I don't want to bring him down with me. However, I urge you all to think before you ask the question, because it can be insulting and, frankly, painful for those of us who have been in the great black hole.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Things I Can't Do

You may or may not have noticed that we are in the midst of figure skating season. This is the greatest gift the sports world ever gives me, save for the Stanley Cup making its way back to Detroit. I love watching figure skaters defy the very laws of physics, precisely because I CANNOT DO THAT. 

Seeing people do things that I can't is one of the most fascinating acts of observation for me. My brother used to take telephones apart and put them back together, and I think he was motivated by the same thing I am when I watch others at work: a need to see the magic behind something. Whether it's bingeing on Bob Ross videos (a childhood favorite) or staring at the whirring needle of my mother's sewing machine, it's great to see the process. But even though I want to know how it's all done, I'm also a big fan of viewing the final product, such as when I re-view Oksana Baiul taking home the gold in Lillehammer over Nancy Kerrigan in 1994 by adding an unexpected triple-toe loop toward the end of her program (HOW DID SHE EVEN MANAGE IT). Forgive the pun, but witnessing that kind of on-your-feet thinking is what makes watching worthwhile.

And doing so gives me hope for myself: if I work as hard as the people I see, maybe I'll be the kind of person who gets watched someday. I'd like to be inspiring to someone if possible.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Road

It used to be that I spent a great deal of time in my car or on airplanes. On the one hand, I'm lucky that I don't have to travel as much anymore. On the other, I kind of miss it.

Yes, I get road weary. Yes, it throws off my body's natural rhythms. Yes, it a shock to be suddenly still after so many hours of being in motion. Yes, it is a pain in my ass to pack, unpack, repack, go through security lines, fill up my gas tank, and all that good stuff. But being on the road has its advantages.

I see things all over the place--in hotels, airports, rest areas--that contribute to my writing. It's not just about transcribing these experiences. It's the woman in Brussels who had the perfect hair for one of my characters, or the city lights seen from miles up in the sky inspiring poems about the place I've departed.

And there are other benefits. Traveling opens me up. There's a couple who run the laundromat in Cambridge, MA, who were so nice to me one incredibly hot summer I wanted to hug them both, which is not a thing I do. There's the rainbows that connect me to my college friend Sara, who told me they remind her of her grandmother, and now I think of them every time I see one. There's the random places I've been and stayed with friends, which experiences have allowed me to experience something new: Shelbyville, IN, where I went to a fantastic family diner; Marietta, GA, where I realized it was okay to run away sometimes; Philadelphia, PA, where I experienced my second Fourth of July in a city integral to the beginnings of American history (the first being Boston).

This is the kind of stuff that I can't let go. No matter how many times I get dehydrated from flying or how poorly I sleep at my parents' house, I want to keep moving.


Wednesday, January 8, 2014


I'm currently editing an anthology of young women writers in whose work I strongly believe. (Full disclosure: I went to school with all of them.) When discussing this with a man I know, he casually asked where the anthology of young male writers was and told me that women have just as many opportunities as men because we live in a post-feminist society. The problem is, that's not correct.

Let's not look at every industry or position out there. For the sake of this post, we'll just look at publishing. I have some anecdata for you: when I was in grad school, studying creative writing, there were about five guys out of my semester cohort of just over 30 people. Without doing too much research, I feel it's safe to say that this was the general distribution of male to female throughout the entire program. In spite of the fact that there were far more female than male writers, the numbers compiled by VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, indicate that the male writers are more likely to be published, interviewed, and reviewed. (Again, full disclosure: one of the professors in my graduate program is a co-founder of VIDA, and several of my classmates worked with the organization while they were students.)

Not only are these numbers disturbing, but women also have to contend with people like VS Naipaul, who thinks no woman writes as well as he, and that Canadian professor who--in his own words--isn't "interested in teaching books by women." Fashion photographers are romanticizing the suicides of female writers. There's a trend of women's backs on book covers, visually stripping fictional characters of their identities. 

I recently read two missives by lady writers: the first from Sarah Rees Brennan, who goes into detail about her own experiences and conversations with other women authors, and the second from Jennifer Lynn Barnes, who uses the scientific method to make her point. These reports are from people on the ground in writing/publishing and have experienced sexism and misogyny themselves to an alarming extent. Their words are, unfortunately, not shocking to those of us who know how it works; rather, they are a depressing reminder of how little progress we have made in some arenas.

Sexism in the publishing industry is real. This is why I'm working to improve the percentage of female writers published through my workplace, and why I refuse to hear complaints about doing so. It's not that I think men are evil. In fact, I've never met a male I would label thus. It's that I've experienced the world differently than they have by virtue of being female. As many women can tell you, we're often made to feel that sexism or harassment is our fault, which is rarely the case. And so I'm trying to be proactive and help my fellow females by supporting and promoting them in a way that is viable for me.

Cate: 1
Sexism: 0 (in this instance)


PS No disrespect to the man who started this whole thing. He's an intelligent, reasonable guy. I promise.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year, New Playlist: 2014

I had a tradition on my first blog, What We Covet, of starting each new year off with a playlist of music I intend to take with me throughout the year. As with the previous lists, the songs were culled from my current collection. Most aren't recent, but they certainly sound good to me, and that's really the goal of any playlist I ever make. They come to you in no particular order. I hope you'll check them out, if you're not already familiar with them. Enjoy!

1) "Last Night a DJ Saved My Life," InDeep
The first I ever heard of this song, it was because Madonna had sampled it for use on her Sticky & Sweet Tour. I enjoy it not because of Madge, but because it speaks to something in all of us: the feeling we get when we're a little bit lost and need help pulling ourselves up.

2) "Personal Jesus," Depeche Mode
When Johnny Cash covered "Personal Jesus" on American IV, I started to realize that my strange attachment to Depeche Mode is not that unusual, after all. This is an interesting track in its original form, and Martin Gore swears it's about Elvis and Priscilla Presley, which adds another layer of intrigue. I'm a fan of the way DM draws on Bowie here, of course, and the way they were so often ahead of the curve.

3) "Love Is a Losing Game (Demo Version)," Amy Winehouse
While I've never been overly fond of Amy Winehouse, I do appreciate her vocal skill. The stripped version of "Love Is a Losing Game" is particularly effective and affecting, and I could listen to it many times in a row.

4) "Hot Knife," Fiona Apple
I'm what you might call a casual fan of Fiona Apple. I have all of her studio albums, but I don't follow her career and will likely never see her live. However. There is at least one song on each album that speaks to me as a female, a writer, and this is the track I love off of The Idler Wheel. The layering and consistent fervor are both incredible. I feel you on this one, Fiona. I feel you.

5) "Electric Feel," MGMT
MGMT is very hit-or-miss for me. Having said that, I am a huge devotee of "Kids" and "Electric Feel," both from Oracular Spectacular. "Electric Feel" is a song both for the car and the (chill) dance floor. I love listening to it when I walk to work.

6) "Venus," Lady Gaga
I hate to admit this, but I'm not much of a fan of ARTPOP as an album. There are, however, a few standout tracks, and this is one of them. The contrast between the verses, the bridge, and the chorus shows a certain amount of artistic growth, yet the song is still sing-along-able, and that's a feat in itself.

7) "Crazy in Love," Emeli Sandé
My brother took me to see The Great Gatsby for my birthday last year, and with the exception of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue appearing two years too early (the novel is set in 1922; the first part of Rhapsody wasn't released until 1924), the anachronistic soundtrack appeals to me. Sandé's take on Beyoncé's classic track goes well with both the theme of the novel adaptation and its setting.

8) "Wrecking Ball," Miley Cyrus
Haters to the left. For one thing, Cyrus is much better than you think she is, as we hear in this song. For another, YOU try being a Disney star. See how well it works out for you when you come of age and try to become your own person. Besides which, we've all been where she is in this song. Try to deny it.

I invite you all to make your own playlist for the coming year, and share it with me if you're feeling confessional!