A Life Update so Long you’ll be my Hero if you Finish Reading It

Dear friends and other favorites,

It has come to my attention that there is a new trend going around amongst the kids these days, that of the informative Life Update Group Email.

After reading five of these from various friends and friends of friends, I could no longer resist. Obviously I had to write one of my own. Please, Felicia. Step aside.

Hello and welcome to the group email. Some of you work with me and see me on a daily basis, but obviously I felt you’d benefit from hearing these tidbits anyway. Please, hold your comments to the contrary.

FIRST POINT

Back in August I impulsively deactivated my facebook. DON’T WORRY. THIS DOESN’T MEAN I’M DEPRESSED/KIDNAPPED/HEARTBROKEN/ANGRY/DEAD. I know some of you were concerned. Upward of 10 of you emailed/texted/called to ask about my whereabouts and mental condition. Alas, nothing exciting to report. I just got bored one day and decided I was done. I know. Snooze.

But there are OTHER exciting things happening!

1. I bought a house!*

*Clarification: Mama and Grandmomma and I bought a house. (Small disappointment, my various Get Rich Quick schemes haven’t worked out yet. This is because I actually don’t have any. But I need one. Trusted Advisor Friend Kelsey says the key is to win the lottery and/or become a housewife but sorry to report neither of the two have happened as of yet, and besides that I plan to make a gazillion dollars on my own, no need for housewifery, please.)

Anyway back to the important stuff: The house is by the ballpark on the waterfront. It has four stories including the basement and my floor has a sitting room, a bedroom, and huge windows with arches. We move in late May. Mama may still do my laundry because I’m 26 and still not self-sufficient. I survive on crackers and granola. We’ll get to that later. Holla.

NEXT POINT!

I am working in business development!

This probably has a few more exclamation points than are rightfully due, given that I spend eight hours a day (ok, seven and a half – gotta leave time for lunch) cold calling people and talking to them about Contactually even though they’ve never heard of it and apparently don’t even have five tiny little minutes to see how much more money they could make if they just implemented follow-up systems (brokers are busy yo). Surprisingly, I don’t mind the cold calling aspect, although getting verbally destroyed via Ringio and a headset is not always the most encouraging way to start or end your day. I try to call people in the South because they’re super nice (sorry, stereotypes, it’s true). For example, one guy told me he wasn’t interested in Contactually but he was going to take my call because I was “remarkably aggressive.” Another guy said my persistence was “appreciated” but “daunting.” Listen. I’m polite but numbers have to be made. Peoples gots to pay the bills. Also, administrative work is boring. Emails are also boring. Ima talk to you on the phone whether you like it or not. Haiii.

Work summary:

70% adrenaline from dance remixes/cold calling/potential major deals
20% necessary administrative things
10% total terror

For real, sometimes I love sales.
Mostly I love sales.
Ok, I love it.

IT’S SO HARD THOUGH.

Side note (important): My colleagues are awesome. No but for real. Like I would marry all of them, even the girls. We just came back from a three-day company retreat west of Charlottesville. There were campfires, discussions about hair wanding, breakout sessions to evaluate company values, and serious amounts of alcohol. There was also a concert that pretty much nobody truly enjoyed except for me. I thought it was awesome. And my colleagues, because THEY’RE awesome, said, “This show is for Lizzie D.” That’s what they’ve called me since Day 1. We hang out after work, because we’re friends at work and we’re friends for realz.

Here’s an example of a custom rap Kelsey and I made for our colleague Jimmy. It’s biographical.

Also, side note dos, once Kelsey and I were out brainstorming about how we could better train users on the product, and we found what we thought was an abandoned item, and because we know “see something, say something,” we called the news and ended up getting interviewed. (We got interviewed about something else but that’s not the important part. The important part is Kelsey was on the news!!! (They cut me out. Bai.))

Also, side note tres. We have dogs in the office. And lots of snacks.

3. (Work was point #2.)

PIETRO. 

Pietro is the boy I’m dating. I told him I was going to feature him in this email and he was ok with it, so that’s one reason we’re dating, because writing epic emails and texts that include exaggerated stories in all caps is a fundamental part of my daily activities schedule. SorrysorrysorrymylifeisridiculousandIjustreallyliketexting

Here are four more reasons we’re dating:

Wait, first, important detail. Pietro and I met over gchat. Omg I swear it wasn’t a random chat room. Awesome work colleague Satyam mentioned Pietro back in June. “You’re crazy,” he said. “HE’S crazy. You need to meet!” What instigated this was one night I went out to a show and then had a whole lot of energy afterward, so I came home and sat on the floor and listened to music for three more hours in the middle of the night. “That’s exactly what Pietro does!” Satyam said. Side note, Satyam also once pronounced me the craziest person he knows. He also said if he could choose any one person to smoke weed with, it’d be me (“If you’re like this normally, imagine what you’d be like high!”) Two of my other colleagues seconded this. Clarification: I do not smoke weed. That said, this is quite an honor.

Pietro and I have an uncanny number of things in common. We’re not going to go into them because while I’m sure you’re enjoying this long email, I know you’ve all got Starbucks runs and HBO show binge watching to get on with, but just trust me, when I first met Pietro, I was like wtf is happening, this is weird.

The first time we hung out I almost died. I was gonna get to this later but I might as well get to it now. Winter in DC this year was ungodly horrible. I am allergic to the cold. YES THIS IS A REAL THING. And no I can’t live anywhere south of here because there aren’t any major cities with transportation and I need activities and I CAN’T DRIVE. This is qualification #2 for dating me: You have to either drive or enjoy walking seriously long distances across the city, sometimes at 2:00 in the morning.

Anyway, we went for a walk around the monuments at 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning, I can’t remember which. It was so cold that I couldn’t move my hands and when I got home I had to sit next to the radiator on full blast for hours. Literally hours.

Another time I woke up and the cold weather had caused my face to break out in hives. (THIS HAPPENS.) I walked around all day in sunglasses, even indoors. Pietro thought this was ridiculous but he still wanted to go out with me, the crazy kid. So there was that.

I can’t remember what the original main point of these paragraphs was but the overarching point is that Pietro is great and if you haven’t seen me recently it’s probably because I’ve been spending ungodly amounts of time in Virginia. Now, listen. Anyone who knows me knows that I make it a point, literally a point, not to ever leave the District. It’s far. Also the buses out there are confusing. And the streets all have names and not numbers and I get lost. And there aren’t as many activities. So going to Virginia with any frequency is a pretty big deal. Seriously. Ballston. Holla.

4. Other Things

I continue to navigate adventures in many other areas. For example, I continue to be challenged by properly using the toaster/oven/microwave (the burn struggle is real). I also spill water on myself on average three to four times a week. #get it

Here are some things I’ve been doing:

I crashed a kayak into a tree but didn’t drown

Mama and I went to Puerto Rico, where it was beautiful and hot and there were lots of interesting activities like kayaking in the largest bioluminescent bay in the world. Mama put me in the back of the kayak because I had once, when I was 12, kayaked up Tomales Bay and almost to the Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately this does not mean that I had any kayaking skills whatsoever, so the very first thing that happened in this bay in Puerto Rico was I crashed straight into a mangrove tree. We had gone on a night with no moon so we could see these sparkling underwater creatures, but consequently this meant we could see nothing else. For example, I could see zero of the twenty kayaks in front of me (I was last in line). Nor could I really breathe because a grove of mangrove trees is still and hot and there are lots of mosquitos and the roots are snarling about the entire bank. I crashed so many times that my kayak become known as “DC.” I’d crash and someone would shout back, “Is that you back there DC?” Yes of course it’s me, sorry the instructor had to tow me back all the way to shore because I didn’t have enough arm strength, people have different skills, ok? Some people are really good at kayaking. I’m really good at talking on the phone. Boom.

I recorded a Taylor Swift song with a trash bag and tweeted it at her

Wait, for real. I was sitting on the floor (see the pattern here) playing my ukulele la la la la la AS ONE DOES, singing “Blank Space,” (Please, let’s not pretend we don’t all love Taylor Swift. I tried pretending for a while I didn’t love her but then I realized that I DID, and I EMBRACED IT.) when my mom walked in and started shaking a trash bag as a percussive instrument. I continued singing, she continued shaking, I couldn’t keep it together, and BOOM: Legendary recording. Kelsey told me sometimes she invites celebs over to her house for pizza via twitter, which I thought was a fabulous idea, so obviously I tweeted this at Taylor Swift immediately. She didn’t respond, but I’m sure she saw it. Probably bookmarked it and plays it every day. I know I do. ❤ you Taylor

I’VE BEEN BOLLYWOOD DANCING

Ok, small confession: I really want to be a movie star. Next best thing: Dance star. Combination: BOLLYWOOD dance star.

I found out that Bloombars was hosting a bollywood dance class (“No experience necessary”) every Thursday from 6:30-7:30 pm. I went. I learned. I danced like a NINJA. Jen promised to go with me and she did NOT, but I still love her and send her a shout out for occasionally cooking me dinner, because as previously established I cannot feed myself.

Kyle came to visit

Where you been brotha! Kyle moved to Atlanta but has promised to come back to DC as soon as possible. Chicago is another option, but I told him it’s too cold there. I will die, for real.

Lizzie left me a voicemail

The other day Lizzie saw me walking on the sidewalk, and instead of saying hello like a normal person, called me five minutes later and left me a voicemail. “I think I just saw you walking along and eating an apple.” She was right. It was me.

I went to a medieval knights show … in the mall

Guys, this is real. You can go to the Arundel Mills Mall and between the shoe store and the Chipotle there’s a huge event space called Medieval Times. It’s inside the mall. Like, literally, you go in, go past the Sunglasses Hut and a jewelry store, and then there’s this huge kitschy medieval archway where when you enter they say, “Welcome, my lady,” and give you a colored paper crown. You can then take a photo with a falcon and watch guys throw lances and fake joust on real horses. It’s mostly filled with middle schoolers and Renaissance enthusiasts but there’s also a few normal people (maybe two or three). A woman comes around and tells you she’s your wench for the evening and serves you a whole half a chicken (no really, she comes around with a bucket filled with halves of poultry and puts a whole leg and thigh and god knows what else on your plate, plus a hunk of bread and half a baked potato and some other things that by the way you must eat with your hands (don’t worry there are moist towlettes).

My grandfather and I sang a song together

It’s “This Little Light of Mine,” but every now and then my grandfather throws in a “Hallelujah,” and because he’s 91 years old, it’s very sweet. For those of you who know my grandparents and have asked about them, or who know of them because youknow how much I love them, they are doing fairly ok. My uncle comes every day and serves as their personal Top Chef, and even though my grandmother is losing some of her sight and my grandfather some of his memory, they are still mostly happy, most of the time, which personally I don’t think is a bad place to be. You’ve got to live a full life so that by the time you get to 91 you know it’s been worth it. This is what I think about every day when I’m exhausted and I’m out until 2:00 in the morning. So little time. You’ve got to use it.

And on that note …

 

This email is long enough. I have to get cold calling.

But as a parting list, I leave you with some things I will be looking to do in the upcoming months, should any of you want to join:

  1. Tennis – Now that the weather is better, I will be playing tennis. I am not a varsity athlete, let’s get this clear from the start. However, I can play a solid match, so if you want to play, let me know, I’m down.
  1. La Ti Do – I am still at La Ti Do most Mondays, mostly because my friends are insanely talented and there’s nothing I love more than a night of musical theatre. Last time I was there I practically started crying from complete and total admiration of them, ask David Landstrom. Truly. I don’t know a more talented and dedicated group of people. Also, thanks to all of you who saw me at the Helen Hayes awardsand complimented me on my mad dance skills. Second also: Sherry Berg, you owe me attendance at a klezmer dance classat the JCC, YOU KNOW YOU DO. (Everyone else is also invited. It’s dancing and clapping in circles and doing a fairly sexual move called the “camel.” (Not kidding.))
  1. Mother Moore would like to announce she’ll be hosting monthly dinners at the new casa. You’re all invited. If you want to come, let me know. Or text her. I know you’re all friends with her on Facebook anyway, friend stealer. (<3 u mother bird, thanks for always leaving me dinner on the stove)
  1. Any events any of you want to go to, ever, I’m in. My average sleep hours per night are averaging around five these days, which is not ideal headache wise but certainly serves my social schedule well. Andrés says hanging out with me requires almost a full day of energy reserves, so prepare yourself well kids, prepare.

Ok lovers, I’m out.

Happy almost Friday, see you all soon I hope, let me know you’re alive.

Midnight Birthday Moment

In August, three of my closest friends moved away from D.C. Another is traveling frequently, only here on occasion.

It has been a tough month for looking forward. Usually I’m quick to spout off wise advice about taking everything as it comes and accepting that everything happens for a reason, things change, people come and go.

It’s a little bit harder when I have to apply this advice to myself.

I love D.C. I love that there are so many people, so many different types of people, and always something new to do. But part of this is that it’s a very transient city. And I’m at a very transient age. Some of my friends are in graduate school, others working full time. Some of them are doing gap years … or still doing gap years — three years after the first gap year. Some of them live in fancy apartments and drive expensive cars. Some of them live in shared houses. Some of them live at home. Some of my friends go out to bars every night. Some of them are married. Some have pets. One has a kid.

The point is, it’s hard to find time to meet up. It’s even harder to hold on to the things you once had in common.

The other day I was thinking about all of this and trying to make sense of it, or trying, at the very least, to find the good in it.

I do believe you keep in touch with the people that mean a lot to you, but I also believe that, sometimes, even if someone is important in your life, situations and evolving interests make it difficult to remain as close as you once were. So it’s important, as always, to savor what you have when you have it.

My 25th birthday was my friend Sylvia’s last day in D.C. She had been out all day visiting friends in various places. By the time she finished seeing everyone else and got to me, it was 11:00 pm. I was concerned it was too late, that it was going to be a hassle for her, but one thing you should know about Sylvia is that she’s unshakably loyal. If she gives you her word, she means it, and she’s committed to being there for her friends.

So at 11:00 pm, after a full day of goodbyes, Sylvia drove to my house from Virginia, sat at my kitchen table, and talked with me for over an hour. I have so many good things to say about this girl that I don’t even know where to start. Sometime I’ll write a whole separate post about her because she is truly incredible. But here’s just one example in the meantime:

When it was nearing 12:00, I said she must be tired and asked if she needed to go. She was exhausted. I could tell. I was exhausted. I was already in my pajamas. But Sylvia looked at the clock. “We have to wait ’til your birthday,” she said. And she stayed, fifteen more minutes, and then twenty more minutes after that, so that the first moments of my 25th birthday I spent with one of my most treasured friends, someone who over the past year and a half had been a central part of my life.

This was so precious to me. Sylvia’s last hours in D.C. My last hour of my first quarter century. That we got to spend them together was something really special.

I don’t know when we’ll see each other next, or if things will change, but I do know that that night, and the friendship that it represented, is something I will always remember. I have had so many adventures with Sylvia, so many wonderful times. It was, upon reflection, a poignant moment: The end, for both of us, of one phase, and the beginning, for both, of the next.

Guest Feature: First Impressions in Montreal (Hayley Swinson)

I first met Hayley when she was rooming with another friend of mine in Richmond’s storied district called The Fan. I wanted to be her friend because she spelled her name like my childhood idol Hayley Mills, and because unlike the rest of us broke college students, she had resorted not to IKEA but to an antique store for her bedroom furniture, which included a creaky but still elegant four-poster bed.

I asked Hayley to contribute to The Unfamous because she is exactly the type of person who embodies what The Unfamous is all about: She’s a dreamer, an adventurer, and a constant stream of creativity. After college, Hayley moved to Montreal for a year before returning to her home state of South Carolina to work with small theater productions. Those connections led her to assist with film and television productions in Wilmington, North Carolina, where she worked before leaving for Scotland to pursue a Master in Creative Writing.

This week’s guest feature is a story from Hayley’s initial days in Montreal. Arriving with no job, no connections, no place to live, and, despite 10 years of French lessons, a limited understanding of both the French language and the Quebecois accent, Hayley found herself relying on the help of the friendly Montreal natives after finding herself a victim of robbery. “Though the frustration of my own limitations never completely evaporated,” Hayley told me, “it was often overshadowed by the gratitude I felt towards the many people who went out of their way to help, and that, more than the negative experiences, is what sticks in my memory from my time in Montreal.”

Hayley is currently working on a 30,000-word fiction piece for her dissertation for the University of Edinburgh. The piece is planned as part one of three for a larger novel about a girl with narcolepsy.  She was recently awarded a place in Edinburgh’s City of Literature Story Shop and will be reading at the International Book Festival in August.

Apart from her dissertation, Hayley also contributes to a number of literary and travel websites, including the Slow-Chic blog for French boutique hotels and Love. Writing. Adventure. which features reviews of romance novels and will soon add installments of a serial romantic fiction piece. Hayley resides in Scotland and can be reached via her portfolio and website, http://hayleyswinson.com.


 

First Impressions
Hayley Swinson

Getting robbed was not as bad as I expected it to be. I left the hostel around 9 AM and walked to the lot where I’d left my car stuffed with my belongings while I searched Craigslist for an apartment in Montreal. I’d made the mistake of moving to a foreign city smack dab in the middle of September instead of at the end or beginning of the month when most people move in and out of apartments and more are available. I was staying at the Auberge de Jeunesse just off of René-Lévesque (Renay-Levesssske I said that first week, giving away my newbie status) for five days when it finally happened. Because, let’s be honest, a car with a South Carolina tag packed up to the windows in a lot in downtown Montreal? It was only a matter of time before someone threw a rock through my window.

The last couple of nights I hadn’t slept very well. I knew my car and my belongings were not safe. I took as many precautions as I could: I backed up to the cement wall so my trunk couldn’t be opened. I parked under the brightest light in the lot. I locked the glove box. But my car was a sitting duck, and I knew it. I had to find a place to live in this city I was still discovering—and soon. So when I walked up to the lot on a Saturday morning, it was almost a relief that it had finally happened. The parking lot attendant was standing nearby with a shocked look on his face, “It was like this when I got here…” he trailed off, at a loss for words.

I followed the trail of my things, strewn about the parking lot leading up to my car, who I had lovingly nicknamed “Calvin” after the character from Calvin and Hobbes. Somehow things tend to hold more meaning after you’ve named them. Calvin and I had been through a lot together. A couple weeks prior, I’d experienced the summer from hell working as a camp counselor at an overnight camp in West Virginia. For most of the summer, I’d been at odds with my coworkers (mostly 18 and 19 year olds) and the managerial staff (who didn’t know what they were doing) because of safety issues and other things I won’t get into. Strangely, Calvin seemed to reflect my depression. The car stereo mysteriously stopped working—radio, CD player and all—until the minute I drove off the campgrounds for the last time, traveling to Montreal only a couple weeks later.

And as I stared at the driver’s side window that was completely shattered—green glass littered the driver’s seat and floor-mat—I felt violated. Bits of the stuff was lodged in between the center console and the seats, glittering from the cup holders like jewels. There was a divot in the black rubber on the steering wheel, where the chunk of cement (which I found on the floor) had bounced off. I remembered gazing at the Montreal skyline from that window as Calvin and I approached the city for the first time—lit skyscrapers twinkling in the dark across the harbor, road signs in French first, then English, traffic signals I didn’t understand. I hadn’t left my time zone, but I was somewhere completely foreign. I remembered taking it in, breathing it in, thinking, “This is it. This is my new home.” And when I got lost on the way to the hostel, I felt scared, but I didn’t feel alone. Calvin and I had driven until we settled into the right place, on the right street, in the right city. That was only five days ago. So how did we get here? To this lot on this day with this injury?

The vandals had not taken much. They’d pulled everything from my center console, strewn it into the parking lot in search of—what? Something of value, I guess. Under a neighboring car I found a few CDs and two notebooks I occasionally wrote in. Of all my possessions, I valued these books most, and as I flipped through them, I was relieved to find them relatively unscathed. Then I realized what was missing: my noise-canceling Bose headphones, a Christmas gift from my family as a way to combat my anxiety on airplanes. The tears that had been until now held back by shock pricked at the corners of my eyes. I wasn’t able to identify the feeling until months later, when I left my apartment on the way to work to discover that someone had stolen my bike. I experienced confusion, shock, and finally a feeling of violation. It felt like someone had looked up my skirt. Who did this person think he was? Why did he think he had a right to my things? How dare he?

And so on the verge of tears, I decided to call my dad. He was silent on the other end after I’d explained what happened to my car. Then he took a breath, “You know, Hayley,” he paused, choosing his words carefully, “No one will fault you if you decide to come back home.” I suddenly felt light-headed. I was angry.

“That’s just not gonna happen,” I said, trying to keep my tone civil. How could he misunderstand my reason for calling? I wasn’t looking for an out. I was looking for commiseration, a virtual hug. Instead I had to steel myself. I sniffed away my impending tears and hung up as quickly as I could without being too rude.

I took a breath, sat down on the curb and thought it out. How do I fix this? OK. Step one: put your belongings in a safe place. I pulled out my phone and called a few storage facilities in the area to get rates while I waited for the police to arrive. I found a U-Haul center less than a ten-minute drive away. So now what? Step two: get the car fixed. I called the mechanic closest to me and asked if I could bring the car in right away. “Who gave you my name?” He asked curtly.

“I found you on google maps,” I said.

“OK, well just come down whenever and I’ll take a look,” he said, more politely this time.

After the police arrived and I filed a report, I brushed the majority of the glass off my seat and placed a beach towel over it. Not content with breaking a window and pilfering my belongings, the thief (or thieves) had also knocked Calvin’s right side-mirror off, just for kicks. It dangled from its electrical cords like a limb stripped to its tendons. I rolled down the right window and gingerly placed the mirror on the inside of the door. So, with one broken window and the other rolled down, I pulled out of the lot into downtown Montreal traffic, with the chilly September breeze assaulting me from both sides (“You’re just going to drive it like that?” the parking attendant asked, as if I had a choice).

I pulled into the cavernous garage at the U-Haul center and wandered down a long hallway of storage units into a dim room with a half-moon desk at the front. In front of the desk there was a stool and a concrete support column covered in band posters. As I approached the desk, a man wearing sunglasses (even though the room was dark and windowless) emerged from a hallway carrying an instrument in a case. A keyboard, perhaps? A keytar? He looked vaguely familiar. I wondered if he was a band member from one of the many popular indie bands based in Montreal (Arcade Fire? Wolf Parade? Islands?), and I tried not to look at him. He seemed uncomfortable. We both waited, shifting from foot to foot until an overall-clad man appeared. He dealt with the musician first, then explained their pricing system to me as the sunglasses-sporting man wandered off. I signed up for the smallest unit available, about the size of a coat closet. He gave me directions to the unit and suggested I purchase a lock.

“You don’t provide locks?” I asked, incredulous.

He laughed at me, “Nah, they’re like a buck at the hardware store.”

I didn’t quite follow the logic, but decided not to contest it and spent the next hour unloading my things onto a trolley and wheeling them into my new storage unit. They’d have to live without a lock for a few hours until I could purchase one. Better than stuffed in a car in a public lot, though.

After I finished this task, I got back in my car and called the mechanic to make sure I could bring in the car. “I should be here then,” he said.

I navigated to Griffintown, just south of the main part of downtown. That is, if you’re going by the Montreal compass, which supposedly places Parc Mont-Royal at due north and everything else altered accordingly. When in fact, the mountain is situated more northwest. On my way to the mechanic, I stopped by a convenience store to pick up a lock, but I didn’t realize I’d be practicing my French skills. The man working at the counter spoke little English, and I had to describe to him in patchy French what I was looking for since I didn’t know the word for padlock—un cadenas, as it turns out. And after such an ordeal, I still haven’t forgotten the word, even four years later.

When I arrived at the mechanic’s in Griffintown and drove into the garage, I immediately felt out of place. My car took up what felt like half of the space even though there were six other cars parked inside. But they each seemed tiny compared to mine, miniature. I looked around as I got out of the car. There were British flags hanging on the walls, and BMW paraphernalia strewn around the place. And it hit me: minis. The only other cars in this garage were Mini Coopers. Suddenly, I understood why the man was so brusque over the phone. So when Adam, the friendly owner of Miniac Garage, appeared, looking bewildered, I felt myself blush. He passed me a handyvac to vacuum up the glass as I explained my situation: a recent immigrant to Montreal with a Working Vacation visa, a working knowledge of French, and no connections to speak of. Suddenly, he grew chatty. He told me about his first year in Montreal after moving from Lebanon. He said he’d worked as a busboy at a movie theater. “That was the worst job I ever had,” he said. Then he explained that many people living in Montreal were immigrants, which is why they are so friendly. In fact, many “native” Montrealers are second or third-generation immigrants. “There is a feeling of mutual respect among the people who have settled here,” he explained. “So you’re looking for work, eh?” he asked me of the noise of the handyvac.

I switched off the vacuum and looked at him. “Anything I can get,” I said.

“Well, I’ve just moved into this garage and was thinking of painting. You think you could handle that?”

“Sure,” I said, “I can handle it.”

 

Crooning in the Night

Friday I was supposed to go to the Story League event Story League Sings. If you don’t know what Story League is, you should, because it’s awesome, but I’ll pardon you and explain briefly that it runs workshops and contests for oral storytelling. Think This American Life plus The Moth. Amazing.

I didn’t go, because my friend with whom I was supposed to go wanted to eat Polish potato dumplings and watch Frozen. I hadn’t seen Frozen and I’m certainly not one to turn down potato dumplings, so down the street I went and up into one of DC’s less loved apartment buildings, the ancient manual door elevator serving as a case in itself for some evidently long-needed TLC. But, no matter, because when I arrived on the 6th floor I opened the creaky elevator gate to the silky voice of Ella Fitzgerald, who happens, strictly coincidentally, to be my very favorite singer.

It was coming from down the hall, and I followed it of course. And lo and behold, it was coming from the apartment that was my evening destination (I knew this was going to be a good alternative!)! The drab, beige walls and the glorious voice of Ella.

Into the apartment I went! And what a night it was. Frozen, potato dumplings, red wine, a homemade quiche …

And when all had had their fill we lay back on the bed and turned up the volume, filling the room with Sinatra and Ella and Peggy Lee.

This is the best part about living in the city. In the summer when it’s hot and you’re up late and you don’t want to bother with the air conditioning, you can hear all the neighbors from the open windows. You can sit on your bed and lay back and sing at the top of your lungs and your friends are all there around you, talking low with their heads together or crooning with their eyes closed, dangling glasses of wine.

I love apartment living. Everyone else can have their nights on the town. I’ll be up on the sixth floor, sprawled by the window, Ella and me singing into the night.

Guest Feature: “The Best Time I was Publicly Humiliated by a Colleague”

“The Best Time I was Publicly Humiliated by a Colleague,” this weekend’s guest feature, highlights abrupt confrontation with identity and the realizations, doubts, and affirmations that come with that confrontation. You can read the essay here on its own or at the end of this post.

A few notes about the author, Anna Cherry:

I asked Anna for a photo to include with her essay, and she sent me this one, self-titled “Miserable Farm Animal.”

Anna befriended me in southwest Spain by committing my attendance to a local church service after meeting a group of missionaries very early in the morning on the sidewalk near her apartment. The missionaries were on their way to church. Anna was on her way back from a night out. There’s something to be said about experiences found through contradictions.

Anna is an adventurer. She grew up in Arkansas and spent time teaching in southwest Spain and later Madrid before returning to the States in 2013. She’s outspoken, slightly disorganized, and immensely pretty. Once a photographer stopped her in the streets of London just to take her photo. She’ll talk to anyone. If there were only a ham sandwich in the room, she’d talk to that.

About a year ago, I sent Anna a video of Lily Meyers performing her poem “Shrinking,” a poem about wrestling with social pressures and identity. Anna responded with “The Best Time I was Publicly Humiliated by a Colleague,” an essay she wrote for the literary magazine Penumbra. I asked Anna if I could share her essay on The Unfamous, and she agreed.

In an immediate sense,” she explains, “the piece started as a way to vent about something that had stirred up a lot of feelings—of injustice and resentment, of inadequacy and concern about the person I was. I was pissed off that this girl had felt entitled to publicly condemn my personality and accuse me of being inauthentic, especially since authenticity was a state I’d long worried over and strived for, and who was she to take that away from me? There’s some quote that has stuck with me for years but which I can’t remember the details of. I may be conflating authors, but there was one who had lost a large, or perhaps his entire, body of early work because his wife had left his portfolio of pages on a train. At first he’d been really messed up about it, but then he was like, Ah, probably for the best anyway; the first ___ years of a writer’s work is just revenge-seeking against those who’ve wronged him, and it isn’t until he’s gotten that out of his system that he produces anything of worth. So that comes to mind when speaking about motivation for much of my writing, and this essay in particular. But I also wrote the piece for the same reason I write most of what I do—as a method of working out the ways in which I’ve experienced the world in a more structured, analytical, and distanced context. A context wherein I’m granted control over the situation, and can have the space, time, and freedom to examine it from many different perspectives that might’ve been unavailable to me in the moment. In the meat of some pieces of my writing, there are a lot of emotions I try to process, as if I might be able to pin down a moral or lesson, but often I’ll come out on the other side of writing feeling much less judgmental of everything and everyone in the situation. Arriving there is therapeutic and feels like achieving a sort of justice or balance.”

Anna has since come to terms with and embraced her character as well as the evolving nature of identity and existence. Her currently philosophy she describes as “amorphous and fluid.” She is focused simply on “prioritizing meaningful human connections.” Somewhat spontaneous and always vibrant, Anna is currently freelancing near New York, “living the dream on a pullout couch,” the result of an epiphany she had one day while straightening her hair in her apartment. “I needed to write down a solid timeline for the places I wanted to live in the world or I might not do it,” she realized. 

Like many of us, Anna is living and doing, finding her way. She is currently editor of ¡Vaya Madrid!, an online magazine for English-speakers living in Madrid, and contributes essays and travelogues to publications around the world. (For a particularly entertaining example (and might I add typically chaotic series of unforeseen events), see her travelogue about a week she “accidentally” spent in Greece.) Anna lives and works around New York.


 

The Best Time I was Publicly Humiliated by a Colleague
Anna Cherry

I sometimes say that a woman feels most vulnerable when she is either a.) naked, or b.) eating, so when the sentence dropped into my silence, I was afraid.

“You’re so much hotter than you let yourself be.” She was studying me with a look that felt penetrating, pan-searing.

I’d done an editorial internship the summer after graduating college, and she’d been one of my rope-teaching superiors. While I was no longer associated with the magazine, I was still hanging around town and so continued to be included in the party e-vites. These were events I went to with gusto, and some fear. They were stocked with all the culture I’d generally accused my hometown of lacking; but for all the import beer, Whole Foods, obscure music, and tantalizing literary types, there was the inkling that I was an imposter in such a circle (and furthermore knew nothing about anything). Also, side-room pep talks with the editor—a sporadic mentor—could equal parts inspire and deflate me; telling him that I was still living at home and working at T.G.I. Friday’s was not at the top of my to-do list.

My ex-superior and a guy I’d never met with the Mississippi River system tattooed on his forearm had started speaking French on the back patio, at which point I retreated to the kitchen. Ginger beer (alcohol-free, I would discover after it was too late) required no author opinions nor grungily-romantic hobo stories. Somehow they’d found me here, though, my eyes full of fear, my mouth full of lemon cookies.

“Uh,” I said, laughing, because she was joking, right? “I’m not sure if I should take that as an insult or a compliment.”

I remember it like a matriarchal face-off before a rumble—her directly across, the only other female in the room, flanked by strange men. There was the new associate editor, a gentle-voiced guy from New York; his friend with the tat, who’d come here to write a novel; and a visiting author from New Orleans, camera in tow. I was meeting them all tonight for the first or second time.

“I just mean, you could be so much more attractive than you allow yourself to be.”

Coughing-laugh noises from the audience.

“I disagree, for the record,” the new associate editor offered from his corner of the bar top.

I was regretting my decision to wear the 80s-lesbian-power-suit jacket. I’d wanted it to say “casual and bold!” But I wasn’t all that bold, and maybe I looked better in skirts. Maybe it, along with antisocial snacking, was not becoming. (“Not becoming”: words the editor would use to describe my current lack of direction.)

More nervous laughter from my side. She finally indicated her beef: I didn’t act as intelligent as I was. I only dated dumb, traditionally attractive guys.

I might have pointed out here that her boyfriend had the jaw structure of a 90s rom-com heartthrob and that she had never met a single one of mine. But I had grown up in the Bible Belt and was inclined to submit. Maybe she had my best interest at heart.

“Really? Do you think so?” I did seem to have a thing for men who were into sports instead of reading. Men who snapped, “Spit it out!” in a no-nonsense way that felt justified, if a little jarring.

“Yes,” she said like she was blessing my heart. “You act like a dumbass.”

There was something about the word—dumbass—the texture of it in the room. Toothed, slapping, like a big, cold fish hitting me in the face. I’d noticed that breaths and voices had been sucked up, as if the vents were hoovering tension. Mississippi River guy had made a quiet exit.

“I don’t think that’s fair…” I began.

I’ve been told there’s something about me that invites destruction. Friends and lovers have corroborated the claim, in one way or another. When explaining it to me, my college roommate used the illustration of sibling rivalry. Her younger sister would cry, recoil, fumble words—and this made my college roommate angrier. It fed something in her, a mean little flame.

“You do. You act like a dumbass so boys will like you.”

I might’ve begun with the defining infatuation of my youth: an aloof boy three years my senior who listened to indie music and wore church polos ironically. I’d tried to become more sophisticated. Affect the alluring melancholy of Sylvia Plath. Later I would swear off trying to win the approval of someone who would throw the fourteen-year-old version of myself out on her heart. (Sure, she was bubbly, and posted Avril Lavigne lyrics on her AIM away messages—not ironically—but in many ways she was more earnest than I could ever hope to be.) I might’ve mentioned the time my (female) tenth grade English teacher took me out in the hallway to ask, had I used the Internet for the poem analysis assignment? Had I gotten outside help, maybe a family member? Was I sure? The time my (male) political science professor told me I was a talented writer, but called me a flake and advised me to step up and “stop being a goofball.” (I’d been making As in his classes. Did he possess some sixth sense for my all-nighter crams, my serial procrastination? Or was this just his shtick to keep students on their toes?) I might’ve mentioned that, during the internship, I’d taken to reading articles with titles like “Subtle Ways Women Undermine Themselves in the Office” and trying to be aware of how often I cocked my head or said statements like questions during magazine meetings.

Instead I opted for the panicked, soupy, “I don’t think that’s necessarily true, but I suppose it’s possible—”

“You act like a dumbass, and it’s sad.” She was collecting momentum or righteous indignation. I remember being surprised at the number of times and with what delight she seemed to wield the word.

My mother is possibly the most hard-working, self-sacrificing, kind, and all-around genuinely cute woman I know; taking advantage of her had been like second nature. She’d surrender her portion of dessert, never demand help with the dishes, habitually allow her sleep to be interrupted by us, the dog, my dad’s snoring. It was like her life was spent in hopeful waiting that other people would be benevolent enough to restore her, and the older I got, the more I wanted to grab her by the shoulders and tell her to stop being so ladylike before she withered away. I considered aloud the possibility that I had inherited some sort of learned helplessness.

“Isn’t your mom, like, a professional housewife?” she asked.

Once, I’d noticed this ex-colleague silently wiping tears from her eyes while sitting at her desk, catty-corner from mine. I’d felt for her an intense tenderness, the kind that occasionally punctuates resentment. I’d found her irritating—her frequent use of the word “gauche” and predictable disdain for Kings of Leon songs—and intimidating. She talked back, achieved a charming balance of fierce wit and self-deprecation, seduced hipsters at music events. I thought she was ridiculous and incredibly cool.

“Maybe I do do that, I don’t know. I mean, I could spend forever trying to analyze how much of my personality is authentic,” I said. “But at some point you just have to accept that you are the way that you are, you know?” She had no idea how many times I’d taken this train of self-reflection; it could only wreck itself in the is-your-blue-my-blue? pretentiousness of an intro philosophy class, the kind that could move one to extol the virtues of an Adam Sandler movie.

Here, her boyfriend chimed in. (He’d started listening from the doorway at some point.) He explained in a consoling psychologist’s voice the importance of examining and challenging aspects of yourself in order to improve. This was the second time we’d met.

“I had to spend three months in a room with you, trust me, you do,” she said. “And, I mean, I liked you—but god, you were so annoying!”

I wondered if she’d forgotten that we were still talking about me. My entire personality.

Before leaving with her boyfriend, the associate editor, and the friend, she and I agreed that that we had to have a Guinness milkshake party. After she was gone I was surprised to discover that, more than share in a Guinness milkshake party, I desired to never see her again.

She never apologized, unless you counted the curious embrace before her exit wherein she held my face and assured me that she “didn’t mean it bad.” Later, the author from New Orleans would admit he’d thought we might kiss. It would’ve struck me as an appropriately bewildering finale to the evening.

Monday I got an e-mail from the managing editor of the magazine with a link to an article by the author whose piece I’d obsessively fact checked and co-edited during my internship. It was an ode to fact checkers in which he admitted to taking my work for granted, even apologizing to me by name. I was thrilled by the validation. I even relished his earlier depiction of me as a ruthless, meddling force, since “brazenness” was something I possessed in my face-to-face professional dealings only in my most ass-kicking daydreams. In the forwarded e-mail, I was able to see how the managing editor had been alerted to the piece’s existence. “I don’t have a sub, but is this about what I think it might be ?!?!?!” my ex-colleague had written. It felt deeply satisfying, her discovering the article, one that contained someone’s perception of me as competent, dignified. And, if not like an apology, at least a shared nod—even if there would be no milkshake party in our future.