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When I woke up this morning, I remembered how we used to decorate our friends’ lockers on their birthday. I saw the wrapping paper and curled ribbon tacked to top locker near the room where I took History with Mr. Wilson vividly, and last night’s dream came back to me.

I was in a somberly lit hall, not unlike a museum, with doors to different lecture theaters, and I was reunited with two men I had loved in high school. I say men, because it was the boys I knew then as I imagine them to be now. I was reminded how innocent those feelings were then. How common it was to pine over someone for months, even years, with a passion fueled by the most innocuous interactions. Those years, where all you needed was the feeling of an arm brushing against yours.

How simple it is now, with physical affection exchanged frequently, easily, and thoughtlessly. In the rare cases when I’m forced to wait, I turn to the nearest willing participant and pull them on top of me in order to suffocate those feelings

I don’t know quite how I managed to retain my sanity as I floated down the hallway behind these boys all those years ago, hoping for moments in dark corners backstage, scheming a hundred scenarios that could lead to just one kiss. None of my silly plots ever manifested that kiss, alcohol did. Drunkenness allowed us all to shed our reservations and fears, and swap saliva in an unflattering and ultimately destructive way. The things we wanted to do had consequences.

I’ll never regret those kisses. But, it occurs to me now that ultimately, both resented me for it. And now, I can only think of the times where a victory in love for me was a failure for him, a moment of weakness, a lesson to be learned, about what I couldn’t say.

I recognize the hunger I woke up with. It wasn’t for apples and peanut butter. It was to be back in that lecture hall with those boys from high school who I loved, and who I never questioned, and it sits in me.

It’s my birthday soon, and there is no locker to decorate… I have my own house. I guess I could fill it with balloons if I wanted to.

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The Gun in the Closet

Last night I dreamt I was searching for a gun in my sister’s closet. There were stacks of school supplies on a shelf, and clothes upon clothes hanging from every inch of space. There were shoes, and boxes. I felt suffocated, but I was under instruction to search through everything. It was hot, it was unfamiliar, and I pushed against the sweaters and dresses to open up boxes, slide aside binders, to feel everything that could have a gun hidden inside it. My arms ached as I pushed, attempting to get everything back in its rightful place lest my sister discover I had been rummaging through a space that was not mine. I felt indignant, it was a fools errand. There was too much to look through, and all packed so tightly, and I was so close to everything I couldn’t see whether I’d been thorough that box or not. And why did I have to go through the closet? And what was the point when I’d be as likely to miss the gun as find it? I had vague recollections of the dream before, when I shrunk myself so I could go flying through the air with the man I loved, but had been forbidden to leave with. And there was a forest. And there were living mountains. And it was dark. And somehow I had been sent from there to the reality of the closet to find the gun, and to bring it out.

I did not find the gun, reality rang and I was brought back to my bed and my responsibilities. But the suffocating feeling has stayed. Even in my waking life, I am searching for the gun, suffocating from the oppressive layers of memory and nurture. The gun is my power. The gun is my pride. The gun is control. But oh, it’s a struggle to patiently open up the boxes of my memory, to pat down every pocket. And it doesn’t feel like the gun is mine. And what I would do with it once I found it? Such a powerful weapon, my first reaction would be to give it away. Here, I found this, do with it what you will. But if I kept the gun, if it were mine, there is an undeniable amount of responsibility. My safety, their safety, and what about the accidents and the potential to misfire? But it could protect me. It could strengthen me. It is loaded with potential. But I have to find the damn thing before someone else does.

So I search, now, in my waking hours.

If you were me this is what you’d see

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Welcome to the world I live in.

It’s like walking into a little studio with huge bay windows. The light streaming through is so soft that it makes the concrete floor seem romantic. In one corner of this studio are heaps of pretty fabric with a hundred textures and colors. Mounds of moist clay are piled in another comer. Deep buckets of paint sit in the third. Everything is so bright and alluring that you don’t know where to turn. The walls are clean and bare and you think “I could make this mine.” You want to paint the walls and turn the fabric into dresses and pillows and quilts, and make tea cups and vases out of the clay. You want to dip your whole arm in the bucket of paint because you love the heavy sinking feeling as it clings to your arm and drips off in heavy splotches, not all of which make it back into the paint can.

You are overwhelmed and excited by everything you’ve been given to work with, and start to run around to feel each piece. You jumps into the pile of fabric and pick out the white lace and cotton for curtains, the heavy teal for a couch cover, and then run over to your paint because maybe the colors won’t match. But then you remember the mushy an squishy clay and drop everything to run an grab a handful. You squish it in your hand and savor the cool, dark, smooth potential just sitting there. You want to make a vase but you don’t have a wheel to spin the clay. It starts to dry in your hand as you endlessly rework it, trying to reproduce the piece in your mind. You begin to hate the unforgiving lopsided lump in front of you. So you throw the clay down and go to make curtains because the light streaming in has gotten to bright. But you find you have no sewing machine, not even a needle, or thread, let alone a pair of scissors. So you rip into the beautiful fabric with your hands and teeth, and  you stuff it into the cracks in the bay window frame because, go figure, there’s not even a curtain rod. There is no paint brush, no easel, just the four walls around you. So you dip your hand into paint just to feel it, and you splash the walls just to find joy in color, just to have something to show for your time there, so that something seems to have been done with intention.

But then you look around,  it’s not the clean and calm room you saw when you first stepped into it. It’s not the beautiful and quaint room you envisioned when you saw all your beautiful materials laying in front of you. And now, because you were so hopeful and excited to make something, the room is a mess of paint splattered walls and floors. The pretty fabrics are caked with clay and flecked with paint. Everything is dirtied and you can’t bear to look at it. You can’t seem to reverse it. You flip from anger to frustration because you knew the potential and didn’t have the tools you needed to realize that dream. And then, all you can do is walk out the door and leave the mess behind you because the sight is so unbearably disappointing that if you look at it another minute you’ll go mad.
And then, after some time, you pass another little studio with pretty things on a concrete floor. You’ll tiptoe in cautiously, and convince yourself that this time it’ll be different. As you walk in, you’re so enthralled with the cotton and lace that you’ve entirely forgotten what happened before… and that you still don’t have any tools.

Lessons on Success from a Spectacular Failure

Dear Reader and Friend,

I think I might be the most optimistic disappointed person you’ll ever meet. For someone who is afraid of failure, I’ve fallen on my face with alarming frequency these past few years. I’ve gotten lost on a straight road. I’ve had eight jobs and moved four times in two years. I have tried to lose weight and only gained it. I have slept with, on average, one carefully-ish selected person every six months over the past three years, all of whom I have thought I was doing a favor, and none of whom agreed. My only claim to fame was when they put my picture next to “pratfall” in the dictionary. I am, for all intents and purposes, unsuccessful. It’s the only thing I’ve done consistently and with flair. My mother always told me to specialize, so perhaps this is a field where I have something to offer.

So, let me take the opportunity to share my expertise with you, my reader and my friend. Let’s take a look at the most recent humiliation I experienced over the past few days. Without going into too much detail, I developed the most inconvenient crush imaginable. There was nothing appropriate about the situation, it was fraught with personal risk at every level. And yet, despite being fully aware of the consequences, I lost the battle against every fiber of my being. I finally blurted out to this person that I thought he was the neatest thing since sliced bread and I’d like to hold his hand.

Let me be clear, I knew a huge rockslide of awkward was about to bury us both. I also knew that the combination of my terrible poker-face and flirtatious nature meant my admission wasn’t unexpected. We’d been dancing around the subject for weeks in a painfully obvious way. Conversations about our individual relationships or lack thereof had become more frequent. I suspected he harbored some feelings for me, and almost every interaction became an opportunity to test out that theory. I became flustered, noticeably quiet, and was losing the ability to look him in the eye. I knew once I opened my mouth that there would be no going back. I knew that, regardless of his feelings for me, he probably wouldn’t be on board because he is pragmatic to a fault. There was nothing simple or straightforward about what I was proposing. Every step forward would have brought a new complication. I’d have bet against myself if someone was offering me 10:1 on a spectacular defeat. But I was so attached to the potential that I saw in us. I was so content with the illusion that maybe, just maybe, we could make each other happy. I knew the minute our feelings were acknowledged, the dream would start to disintegrate.

Still I tried, as I have many times before, to bring the fantasy into the real world. And, like many times before, it floundered before it died. Our feelings for each other were aired, the complications were acknowledged. We kissed, and for a moment I thought that this might be the time that I got what I wanted. Maybe I’d met someone who was willing to be brave too, who would interrupt the quiet of their existence to try their hand at a life most people are too cautious to explore. Days passed, and I saw it all slip away. I could only state my position so many times, hoping that his ambition to create magical things would override his aversion to risk. I hoped that he would understand that there is a coldness in perfection, and that beauty comes from nuance. I tried to explain that nothing can be gained if nothing is risked. I tried to lead by example, and I failed. It hurt, I cried, and I seriously questioned how many more illusions I would let someone else shatter. This has happened more times than I can count, and to be honest, I wasn’t really expecting this to go any differently.

So why on earth would I get involved in something so risky when life was trundling along pleasantly enough? Am I a masochist? Am I trying to fail? No, I’m trying to succeed. When I say succeeded, I don’t mean materializing every tauntingly beautiful and intangible fantasy I imagined. I mean not tripping at the starting gun. I mean getting the chance to roll the dice and move past “Go.” After that, every step has to be reassessed. There are new risks to be considered. The result is never going to be how you imagined, but you’re suddenly given a whole new realm of possibility to work from.

You may be wondering why, with constant rejection and disappointment, I haven’t walked out the sixth story window yet. Probably because I’d hit my head on the glass because I forgot to open the damn thing. Also, every failure is a fantastic experience. Don’t get me wrong, being hopeful, then vulnerable, then getting flat out rejected is bruising. It’s humiliating to feel tears stream down your face and have to accept a consolation hug from the person you’re crying about. That being said, the weeks leading up to that confession were ones of tumultuous optimism. For a moment, in the middle of it all, I got to experience what success would have felt like. It was better than I imagined. And, while it was fleeting and the resolution was ultimately disappointing, it stiffened my resolve. I’m limping back to the drawing board, but with a clearer picture of what I want and how to get it.

When it comes to failing, it all comes down to what are you willing to sacrifice, what precious object you are willing to destroy in exchange for the chance of getting everything you ever wanted. I think my buddies on Mount Olympus would agree that I’ve given them some good stuff. I’ve sacrificed my ego and my dignity numerous times. I’ve laid out a future I’m attached to and said “Do what you will.” I’ll do it a thousand times. Nothing of value has ever been gained when nothing has been risked. Pragmatism is fear rationalized. Inaction guarantees a stifled existence. Humiliation is a small price to pay when you think about the reward.

I hope you will all learn from my failures and find the courage to make your own.

Love Lili

Folks, it’s getting real

I’m sitting in a cafe trying to calm the voices in my head telling me I’m a dilettante. I’m overcome with envy when I think about my friends who have managed to find themselves in serious jobs with health benefits and respectable salaries. I envy their security. I envy their discipline. I envy their maturity. I think about applying to something like that and become overwhelmed by a sense of the shame. Nobody’s going to hire me. I’m 24 and I’ve got a CV that’s as patchy as a sophomore’s facial hair. And I hate that shit. I hate offices. After a month sitting at a desk eight hours a day I want to curl up in a ball and roll out of the 30th story window.

I don’t know what’s worse, feeling ashamed of the fact that I’m too old to be relying on my parents for financial support, or the prospect of finding a full-time job and having to leave after six months because I’m going stir-fucking crazy. I try and tell myself that there must be a happy medium. There must be a job that I’d enjoy that takes place in an office setting but that doesn’t involve calendars, meetings and forms. But every job I see requires sitting. Every job wants a ‘self-starter’ with ‘1-2 years experience in x’ or ‘a degree in y.’ I can tell you for sure that there isn’t a single job description in existence that is looking for someone with a degree in French and Italian studies. Find me one and I’ll buy you dinner. No, I’ll cook you dinner. I can’t afford to be wasting money I didn’t earn on over-priced burritos.

The most frustrating thing about this is that I don’t feel like I have any right to be frustrated. This is the epitome of a first-world problem. I’m getting everything I’ve asked for, but instead of feeling empowered I feel helpless. I feel like I don’t have a choice now. I have to get my degree and open my own practice because I’m the only person who’s going to hire me.

But I want to write. I want to write. I want to write. I want to write! I want to do other things that expose me to the world, and to new people, and that give back. But damn, I want to write every day and every night from now till I die. I can’t imagine doing anything else and feeling fulfilled. I can’t imagine abandoning the worlds in my head that I’ve created. I can’t imagine trying to stem the ideas for stories and scripts and novels that are bursting out of me like an uncapped fire hydrant. I try and tell myself it’d be fine. But when I think about a life not dedicated to writing, I feel like I’m losing my best friend. I feel like I’m giving up on the last bastion built from my childhood dreams. I feel defeated, like growing-up is a punishment, not a privilege. I like to work, I always have. And I’m not a dilettante. I’m really serious about what I do, it’s just nobody’s paying me for it yet.

I’m fortunate. I know I’m fortunate. And I’m grateful for everything I’ve been given. But I’m ashamed that I can’t do it alone, or rather that I haven’t insisted on it. And I’m motivated. God, I’m motivated. There’s nothing like shame to make you work harder and faster than you ever thought you could. And I’m beginning to realize what it feels like to have no options. It’s terrifying, and foreign, and weirdly wonderful. It’s the world I’ve always imagined myself in, and one where I hope to thrive.