Flawed & Fine

Photo of a toddler in a late 1970s living room, dressed in an oversized white t-shirt, red hat, and one dirty snow boot. She is holding a bucket (like a purse) and a picture book. She looks like she thinks she’s ready to go somewhere.

Five months ago I began a therapeutic method called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. I went into this EMDR journey hoping I might finally forgive myself for bad past decisions so I can enjoy present peace of mind. My therapist had me begin by identifying some of my neurotic fears (everyone is mad at me, I am an absolute fuck-up, etc.). Then I listed a bunch of traumatic memories associated with these fears. In my sessions I revisit those experiences, recalling each one as I follow the hypnotic rhythm of my therapist’s fingers moving side to side across my visual spectrum. And then I notice whatever thoughts or feelings arise in my brain and body. Doing this helps me connect the dots between those awful experiences and harsh lies I’ve been telling myself for years. It’s tough emotional work. The rewards are absolutely worth the discomfort. I come out of every session finding those upsetting recollections to be way less triggering than they were before. And my sense of self compassion, confidence, and calm has grown immensely. 

The processing doesn’t stop at my therapist’s office door. One night following an EMDR session, I dreamt about the student co-op where I lived for two years during college. That house has been a common venue for nightmares in which I’ve somehow gone broke and must go back to living in the co-op, with its low-lit hallways and grimy bathrooms. But this dream was different. I was merely visiting the co-op with a group of alumni who’d called it home during its 75+ year existence. The current young residents were hosting a reception, and most of them seemed pretty standoffish toward us old folks. I was struck by a friendly girl with long brown hair who was buzzing back and forth between the residents and alumni. She seemed to really enjoy all the different people in her presence. Dressed in bell bottom jeans and an olive green sweater, she had a chill, hippie vibe – different from her housemates but amiable with everyone. At one point she said to her friends that she was heading out to the porch for a cigarette. I thought to myself in the dream, “Well, that’s a bad habit. Maybe she’ll let me bum one.” Then I woke up, imbued with a warm, pleasant feeling. For the first time ever, I dreamt about the co-op in a way that didn’t incite a sense of personal failure. I actually felt good being there. Many hours later I realized that the girl in the dream was me.

Right before I began EMDR, I wrote an essay called “People Can Change.” In it, I discussed a triggering memory from my co-op days that spawned the emotional breakdown which led me to EMDR. I’m proud of that essay, because I found a way to share my gnawing sense of shame and self-consciousness with utter honesty. I was also able to connect that sense of embarrassment about my past with a very funny sketch from the TV series I Think You Should Leave. But when I reread that essay now, I can’t help noticing how odd the conclusion sounds to me:

“The sketch ends with a sort of redemption that’s quite funny at first. But upon repeat viewings, I now find it rather profound and beautiful. As the main character keeps insisting, ‘People can change.’ This sketch is a healing reminder that even at my worst, some part of me always wanted to be better.”

While I do think I’ve become a better person since my very confused, mentally ill, and untreated college days, I no longer think I was a bad person back then. That’s what that dream taught me. Yes, I was messy. I drank too much, chain-smoked, ignored my studies, didn’t mind my own business, and made bad choices with the small amount of money I had. I also enjoyed great conversations with housemates from all over the world, laughed a lot with my friends, assisted housemates in crisis, cooked some good dinners, and helped organize a few really fun parties. I was a kind, loyal friend. Still am. I remain imperfect. And I self-improve. I learn from mistakes. Sometimes I’ve had to repeat those mistakes over and over, maybe spiralled a bit. But eventually I got some mental healthcare, and I’ve been on a pretty good trajectory for the past 20+ years. I do not need to apologize for who I’ve been.

I’ve come to the conclusion that this whole shame and morality thing is pretty overrated. I feel reborn, especially since I recently decided to take a big step back from leftist organizing (or at least the way I’ve been organizing over the last eight years). So many people who identify as leftist, progressive, or even socialist get really caught up in moral judgment. I know. I’ve been that person. It’s probably because so many of us came to radical politics by way of liberalism. To the liberal mind, political analysis is more about good vs. bad, rather than who has power and what they’re doing with it. So that leads people to activism out of a sense of moral righteousness. Ultimately, I’m more interested in how the majority of everyday people wrest power away from an ultrarich, patriarchal, white supremacist minority, and then use that power for the benefit of all people. That has less to do with deciding whose heart is good vs. whose heart is rotten. I’m of the opinion that most hearts are decent enough to be given the time of day, and we can achieve great things together once we get over the fact that all of us are flawed and messy. I believe we can build a society where we are more responsible and caring toward one another. And that starts from a place of humility and empathy, not from a place of moral superiority.

This week I’m beginning a new phase of EMDR. Now that I feel pretty confident I’m not a failure (and most people aren’t mad at me), I’m going to begin exploring how I’ve wound up in so many damaging friendships with toxic people who have strong narcissistic tendencies. Fun stuff! I look forward to viewing the vast difference between what I believe about myself now vs. what I’ll understand when I get to the other side. 

Photo of a toddler in a late 1970s living room, dressed in an oversized white t-shirt, red hat, and one dirty snow boot. She is holding a bucket (like a purse) and a picture book. She looks like she thinks she’s ready to go somewhere.
The author, circa 1979. A bit messy, a bit put together.

The Coniferous Difference

The lowest limbs of two lofty pine trees dangle high above a two-story house

In my last essay I talked about quitting my Twitter account on New Year’s Eve. I spent several weeks considering that decision and planning my departure. I assumed that would be my one big change going into the new year. 

Well, on January 2nd I also quit my local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. Leaving DSA surprised me as much as anyone, though it feels like the obvious best choice in a period of big turmoil. This platform isn’t the right place for me to share my reasons why (not now anyway), so instead I’ll just tell you how I feel — hurt, angry, sad, relieved, and very, very salty. “Salty” in the sense that I feel quite irritated by what has happened to me, but also I feel literally salted from all the Doritos, mixed nuts, and cheese I’ve been eating in my time of grief. Doesn’t help that I’m also premenstrual at the moment. What a start to the new year!

Emotionally, I’ve been a wreck. But a very self-aware wreck. Having come from the “squash your feelings because you might get on your drunk dad’s nerves” school of family dysfunction, I’m still pretty new to this “feel it out” strategy my therapist recommends. Sometimes I struggle with drawing the line between feeling deeply and overthinking, because a big part of this emotional tumult involves processing so many personal experiences from the past few years. I guess I’m giving myself permission to ponder a lot of memories that make me scream “WHAT THE FUCK?!” internally while making lots of judgmental Bowie faces at my bedroom wall.

Blurb says “ME: Who am I to judge? ALSO ME:” Image shows a grid of nine different extremely judgmental David Bowie faces

The trouble with all these big feelings is that they exhaust me. Before the new year, I’d been so used to distracting myself in emotionally difficult moments by doomscrolling Twitter. I mean, it’s honestly hilarious that I used to deal with deep disappointment in other people’s bad/weird behavior by… taking a deep dive into the myriad horrors of the world! “No time to consider this slow burn trauma, I’m too busy wondering whether more of us will die from plague or climate change in the next five years.” Focusing on massive, systemic injustice doesn’t necessarily make me feel good, but it can help me feel awful about something other than the ways I personally have been harmed in a bad situation. 

But now my only social media vices are Facebook (ghost town) and a brand new Instagram account (confusing, boring). Sadly, neither of these offer much distraction. So instead I pay attention to all these heavy thoughts and feelings. I get mad and sad. I cry a lot. Yet I can’t stay in that mode nonstop, so I also permit myself to spend time being present for the very mundane and miraculous now.

For instance, I’ve become so aware of sunsets. These days it happens around the time I start thinking about dinner. Almost every evening, I glance out my kitchen window right when the sky is turning hazy pink. Even on cloudy days I notice the light shifting in that southwesterly direction. I’m also very aware that the sun sets about fifteen minutes later than it did a few weeks ago on the solstice. Thank goodness for daily meditation! Practicing mindfulness has brought me to a place of noticing this steady, incremental progression toward the equinox, and it feels good.

But here’s the really big news from my occasionally zen mind — I am newly taken aback by how often I’ve mistaken thuja trees for pines! This Christmas my husband gave me a field guide to trees of the Carolinas. I like to study it before bed, sometimes just to remind myself that deciduous leaves will return in a couple months. But in the absence of leafy limbs, I’ve come to appreciate our region’s abundant conifers and their reliable shades of green. I love to stop and stare at them during long neighborhood walks, the way big city tourists stop to gape at skyscrapers. Some of these trees in our neighborhood are so old and tall that I’ll never get an up-close glance at their foliage. So when I can get a close look, I find myself gawking every time. And I’ll be damned, so many of these local trees I’d lazily labeled as “pines” are actually thujas (commonly known as “arborvitae”). To think all these years I thought I was seeing sharp, pointy needles instead of soft, scaly ones… that’s the kind of detail I missed when I had more of a doomscrolling-brain. 

Close-up view of some soft, scaly thuja tree needles
Soft, scaly needles on a thuja (commonly known as “arborvitae”)

On sunny days I make myself take long walks under the big, open January sky and pay special attention to the conifers. Upon returning from one of these recent jaunts, I found myself googling “cypress trees North Carolina.” And that’s when I learned NC is home to the eastern United States’ oldest trees — the bald cypress on the Black River near Wilmington. According to this Nature Conservancy post, “The oldest identified tree, scientifically labeled BLK69 and locally known as Methuselah, dates back to 364 AD.” I literally gasped upon reading this. I’d already been planning to take a winter beach trip to Wilmington. And now I can look forward to basking in the presence of an ancient celebrity conifer?! I feel so lucky for that.

Thinking about Methuselah helps ground me. Now there’s a living thing that’s seen some shit. Imagine all the creatures that ever came into contact with that tree. Methuselah has outlived them all and will probably outlive me, too. Pondering its longevity helps put both my doomscrolling fears and my personal woes in perspective. In the wake of a couple tough but firm new year’s decisions, I’ve changed my daily life considerably. And that doesn’t always feel good. In fact, the impact of this change feels like A LOT. But clarity brings its own rewards. Because even if it means processing a bunch of painful thoughts and memories, I also happen to notice the difference between the sharp, pointy needles and the soft, scaly ones.

The lowest limbs of two lofty pine trees dangle high above a two-story house
Two of my favorite neighborhood conifers

The Sweet Sorrow

Today is New Year’s Eve and I’m quitting Twitter. Almost 11 years of posting, 1500+ followers, and thousands upon thousands of tweets will soon become a past chapter. Yes, I know I can download an archive. No, I will not. I associate Twitter with ephemeral pleasures and feel no need to preserve all those words I’ve long forgotten. I admit I’ve screenshot some of my biggest hitters (like the viral tweet about an absurd floor plan that got so popular it jumped to various clickbait articles and YouTube channels). But I don’t see myself poring over those old moments of glory. My minor brushes with internet fame had their own short-lived seasons. I guess I’ll miss the occasional thrill of going viral. But way more than that, I’ll miss the patchwork communal space where I’ve shared random thoughts with an assortment of like-minded friends, many of whom I’ve never met in person. 

And then there’s the much fatter list of things I won’t miss about Twitter. Like the way this platform has encouraged us to be so judgmental, resentful, and angry toward one another. It’s especially a big problem among the socialist left. My number one reason for leaving Twitter (or secretly hoping it would implode under Elon Musk’s watch) is that it’s proven to be a very toxic platform for members of the Democratic Socialists of America. While debate is a wonderful and necessary feature of any democratic organization, the DSA discourse that happens on Twitter could rarely be described as debate. It’s more like a putrid stew of projection, conflation, sanctimony, attention-seeking, bullying, passive-aggression, manipulation, and all sorts of other ego-based flaws this website elicits by constantly pushing us to share our opinions. And if you don’t have an opinion on the controversy of the day, DSA Twitter will provide a seemingly endless stream of content to encourage you to formulate an assessment.

I’m embarrassed when I consider the number of hours I’ve spent trying to figure out how I feel about whatever latest left debate was rocking DSA Twitter, but I’m learning to give myself grace around my old bad habits. And I’ve actually been pretty good at resisting the pitfalls of discourse these past couple years (as discussed in this early 2021 essay). I’ve been careful to not comment on the ugliest battles, but I’ve still witnessed plenty of carnage from the sidelines. I find all this mean-spirited sparring very discouraging and not good for recruitment!  In general, I don’t care if random people waste time arguing on the internet, but I think it’s actually very bad for a fledgling socialist organization that needs to build working class power ASAP. All this time and energy we’ve spent could have gone toward building campaigns with people who’ve yet to be organized. 

Ultimately, I don’t think socialist organizer opinions or ideology matter 1/10th as much as how we treat each other. We can only build together through clear, respectful communication. Twitter amplifies the meaner parts of our consciousness, which works against that goal. Social media commenting isn’t a discussion. At best, it’s a thought-provoking message board. At worst, it’s people taking turns screaming at each other. 

Luckily for me, Twitter has been way more than just a DSA-centric experience. I thought for a while that maybe I could just enjoy this app as a place where I can share my writing, some Columbo jokes, or photos of terrifying staircases – you know, the kind of goof-off content that makes social media fun. And at the same time, I could use it to catch breaking news before literally any media outlet (for example: when the last Oscar broadcast froze for a few seconds, Twitter told me what Will Smith did to Chris Rock in less than one minute). When leftist discourse got extra nasty, I would temporarily mute words like “Bernie Sanders” or “DSA,” so I would stop seeing people tweet about whatever infuriating, bad faith argument was polluting the timeline. Even if this website was bad for my organization, perhaps I could prune my content so the yuckier parts of the experience wouldn’t get to me.

Then Elon Musk bought Twitter, and it all started falling apart pretty fast. Following massive employee layoffs and resignations, the app became noticeably glitchy. The algorithm seemed to shift chaotically every few days. For a while, I wasn’t seeing any DSA content (which honestly felt like a blessing). During that time, I was mainly seeing inane content aimed at 20 year olds – lots of bad dating advice for girls and  “women be crazy” content for the guys. For the first time since I joined Twitter, I suddenly found it quite boring. The only consistently entertaining part of this new experience was watching Elon Musk fumble his $44 billion acquisition in real time. Sure, I like seeing one of the world’s richest men humiliate themselves publicly – to a point. Even that becomes dull after a while.

And then it occurred to me – he won’t stop humiliating himself because it brings him attention, which is the one thing a narcissist wants most of all. As the brilliant poster @maplecocaine once said, “Every day on twitter there is one main character. The goal is to never be it.” Elon Musk has been the main character almost every day since late October. And though that burden would break most of us after a single day, I think he actually feeds off of it, because that is the closest he’ll ever come to feeling love. 

That was when I knew I needed to leave. I can’t tolerate the bruises to my political organization once the fun is gone. And I don’t want to feed a billionaire’s demented addiction. It’s been fun watching everyone mock him. That hater energy so often misdirected toward each other can be quite hysterical when aimed at our ruling class. I will miss bearing witness to all those slam dunks. But I have seen enough.

Mostly I will miss sharing all my assorted, silly observations! I never had that big a following for someone who tweeted as often as I did. But for a shy, quiet, forgotten child from a big dysfunctional family, all those likes, retweets, and the occasional viral fame felt like being seen. I made some friends, hobnobbed with some fancy media people, and even got followed by one of my labor movement heroes and a certified genius. If I were more outgoing, I might have more connections to show for all that. Maybe I would have gotten published more than just a few times. My purported goal for joining Twitter was to promote my writing, which was why I always tweeted under my real name. Then I became more of an organizer instead. And now I really don’t know what’s next for me. I don’t know what it will be like to be a DSA member who isn’t on Twitter. I don’t know what it is to be a writer who isn’t posting random thoughts a dozen times per day. I just know I’m ready to move on. 

“The Woman-Bird” by Marc Chagall, 1961

Thank Goodness No One is Back to Normal

Months ago I accepted that for most people living in this country, COVID safety precautions no longer mattered. The virus is still here. Many of those who catch it are dying or developing long term disabilities. But we’re no longer expected to distance or mask up, so most people don’t bother. I’ve made my peace with this state of affairs, even as I’ve continued avoiding indoor crowds while keeping the KN95 industry afloat. Guess I’ve grown used to living in a pandemic under late capitalism in the richest, most socially negligent country on Earth. I do my best to keep my family safe. And I don’t judge anyone for abandoning safety measures that our government no longer mandates.

I wasn’t always so understanding, especially when safety mandates existed and so many fools just ignored them. I also think about the era before vaccines, when some people would post social media pics of their maskless, smiling faces in restaurants or brag about their pleasure travels to faraway places. They weren’t breaking rules necessarily. But it seemed as if they’d carelessly given up on their personal commitment to community protection and just gone back to normal. How could they?

Now that we’re about three years into this thing, I derive an odd comfort knowing that just because people have abandoned precaution doesn’t mean they’re “back to normal.” I barely remember what “normal” looked like before the pandemic, but I know it definitely didn’t look like this. For example, I never worked from home before this mess started. I always assumed that WFH was for professional managerial class people with advanced degrees, not college dropouts who work in customer service. Now I get paid considerably more to do odd political organizing gigs over the internet, compared to the retail job I worked three years ago. These gig hours are limited, but I don’t have to work as much to make the same amount of money. I’d have to be paid well over my current wage to even consider working retail again. This pandemic has obliterated my desire to toil on my feet all day for company bosses who sit in offices and own nice houses while I lose time with my family earning a pittance toward the rent. 

Assuming you’re employed, how do you feel about work? I bet it’s pretty different from how you felt pre-2020. Do you have the same job you had then? What changed? What new boundaries have you established? What illusions have dissolved? If it’s been a rocky road, I hope you are more rooted in the understanding that most work is bullshit and most bosses maintain too much power over our lives. If you’ve reevaluated what really matters to you in your life, I hope you’ve landed on the understanding that work is mainly something we do to make money to survive under capitalism. If your work has little or no social value, and it doesn’t bring you a strong sense of personal satisfaction, I hope you are at the very least “quiet quitting.” Even better, I hope you and your coworkers are unionizing.

Needless to say, I’m thrilled to see unionization on the rise. Starbucks workers organizing hundreds of stores across the country would not have been “normal” in 2019. Sucks that it took a pandemic to push workers to the edge, because this union fever is long overdue. But even for someone like me, who was pretty cynical about work before this all started, it’s wild to reflect on just how little I valued my own labor in the old days. $15/hr used to feel like an impossible dream for someone working retail in a midsize Southern city. Now it feels like an insult — almost twice the minimum wage and still impossible to live on. I cannot go back to believing $10.50/hr was the worth of my labor. That was what I once called “normal.” 

This new normal — wherein so many of us are salty about work — may not always be a pleasant place. Sometimes I miss the comfort of old illusions about work, just like I sometimes miss going out to eat in a crowded diner on a Saturday morning. But on the rare occasions I do dine out, I can’t help noticing how different the vibe is. Every restaurant seems perpetually understaffed. The forced cheerfulness service workers once considered part of the uniform has given way to a more brittle honesty. Their manner makes clear that new standards are in play — you’re gonna have to pull the menu up on your phone, the options are fewer, and it’s gonna take twice as long for the food to get to your table. I take this all in stride and tip even more than I did in the past. I’m no longer paying for theater. I’m just looking out for a fellow worker doing one of the hardest, most thankless and precarious jobs in these dangerous times. It all feels starkly different from how it was before 2020. But in many ways, I prefer this level of realness to that old normal.

Milton, the awkward, mumbling, forgotten worker from the film OFFICE SPACE (1999, Twentieth Century Fox)

Joy in the Harshest Season

We’ve had such a lovely mild-to-warm climate change autumn, but then it went too far. Last week we had muggy, 80° hurricane weather. It felt all wrong. But suddenly a cold front rolled in, which led to the melancholy Axl Rose described (cold November rain). This morning, 30° daylight broke across frosty lawns and shriveled flowers. After weeks of jacket-free days and slightly cool evenings, late fall has finally arrived. And, as usual, I feel a bit devastated by barren trees and an almost constant chill in my hands and feet.

Winter is the season when I struggle most. But if I’ve learned anything from these last few months of intense therapy, it’s that mundane sources of joy reveal themselves every single day when I stop resisting the inevitable and just let life happen. So in the spirit of making the most of this sudden season, here are some things I actually enjoy about winter:

  • A respite from the humidity My crackers stay crunchy, my bread won’t mold so fast, my hair frizzes less, and the wet clothes I hang on the laundry rack will actually dry.
  • The absence of leaves changes the sky in interesting ways I see more sunlight in my home, more blue sky on clear days, more interesting cloudscapes on gray days, more full moon through criss-crossed branches. And it’s so quiet when a breeze rolls over the trees–nothing to flutter.
  • Couch cocooning How I love the comfort of a throw blanket! But not as much as my dog loves to burrow beneath it and curl up against my side. We make great blanket buddies. I get way more dog snuggles this time of year.
  • Savoring hot liquids This is when I get to lean into my love of tea, cocoa, cider, soup, and showers. If I’m not taking a hot shower, I’m probably pressing a warm mug of something against my sternum.
  • The green that remains is so green Thank goodness for the deep, unmissable hue of ivies, hollies, and evergreens. It took me a while to appreciate this about Carolina Piedmont winters. The weather may be chilly, nasty, wet and muddy everywhere, the colors of spring and autumn just distant dreams or memories. Yet there is always some green to be seen, and it is quite vibrant compared to everything around it.
  • Southern snow storms Sometimes it snows, the whole town shuts down, and we all go out and play in this strange, shimmering powder landscape. The prettier it is, the more days off you get.
  • Quality time with the sun My frenemy and I get along way better in winter, when long sleeves and pants are a must and only my face requires SPF 50. No need to worry about sweating off sunblock! I can walk so freely in the sunlight. Winter is the one time of year I crave the beach, so ready to bask in solar glow.
  • No mosquitos ‘Nuff said.
  • My kid loves winter My theory is that everyone hates whatever season was harshest in the place where they grew up. I suspect no matter how long I live in the south, I will always carry within my bones the sensation of sleeping in a cold Michigan basement bedroom. My daughter, on the other hand, is a southern native. She hates summer. She wants to scream every time she enters a sunbaked car on a 90° day. Cold air suits her just fine. And I benefit from her good attitude as we wait for the car to warm up on a freezing morning (even if I’m a bit of a grump).
  • I get to be an awful busybody about how other people dress for the weather Honestly, I groan at least once a day at the things I see. Hoodies are not coats! No hat on a 20° day?! Hypothermia is gonna mess you up way worse than wearing a big, shapeless coat will. Who cares about being fashionable? THIS IS NOT THE SEASON FOR SKIMPING ON FABRIC. (I could go on, but you get the idea — my know-it-all self thrives this time of year.)
  • It’s homebody season I love home. I love domiciles. Always have. I love being in a warm, familiar place with my little family more than anything. I like filling that space with the smell of good food, enjoying a tasty meal at the dining room table, then curling up on the couch to watch TV. I also love hanging out in my bedroom, reading or writing on the bed, or meditating on my cushion. I love to not go out much, except to enjoy long walks around my town. The pandemic has taught me how to expand my sense of home beyond these four walls. I’ve learned that I really love this hilly old town. Perhaps for the first time in my life, I feel really at home and rooted in this city. I love walking and exploring, finding new parks, neighborhoods, and places to love. But the best part, always, is coming back to the house where my husband, kid, and dog reside. The emotional warmth I absorb from the people who love me most feels highly seasoned when I’m literally coming in from the cold. It’s the reward I get for embracing the elements.
A view of downtown Winston-Salem that can only be seen when the leaves go away

To the Left, To the Left

Five of Swords card from the Radiant Rider-Waite Tarot deck depicts a smug man holding two swords while leaning another. Two more swords lie near his feet. He stares wt two men in the distance who seem to have their heads hung in anguish.

Sometimes I daydream about quitting socialist organizing, because I get tired of all the resentment. I’ve felt my share of resentment over the years — for people not stepping up or not following through with commitments. Now that I’m doing EMDR therapy (which I discussed in my last essay), I notice this process of resolving old trauma is freeing me from a lot of that judgment. I’m not giving myself such a hard time about grinding for the cause, which means I’m going easier on other people, too. That part of my recovery feels really liberating.

So now I just have to reckon with another sort of resentment, the kind that comes from bad social interactions with fellow leftists. I’m sick of the knee-jerk snobbery and condescension I often experience, especially from dudes. Their prickliness usually feels like some combination of misogyny and ageism. The immediate assumption that I don’t know things, or require their direction. Lots of talk about their specific tendency, and the implied or sometimes stated understanding that their politics are far to my left. Or sometimes they come at me with a mean, eyerolly sort of hostility, which mainly feels like hatred for middle aged, normie moms. I’ve dealt with these incidents so frequently in the past five years, I sometimes wonder what batshit alternate reality I’ve stumbled into. Why am I trying to be in any kind of movement with these people?

Okay, I know why — the truth is that there are a lot of leftists I couldn’t stand at first who grew on me after a while, and then we did some good work together. This is how it usually goes: we meet, they say something rude to me, and I think, “Wow, what a prick.” But I still deal with them as I see them, and make sure someone (maybe not me) calls them when we’re doing organizational outreach. Eventually they notice I’m a serious and dedicated organizer who’s respected by her peers. They become nicer and we get along fine. And then we do some good work together.

As much as I value all these relationships that begin a bit rocky, I’m now at a point where I’m no longer interested in earning basic respect from someone who just met me. I think it’s important to note the difference between trust and respect. Trust must be earned, especially in political and social justice organizing groups. I don’t expect anyone who just met me to trust me. Particularly as a white woman, I understand that when I’m first getting to know a person of color, or someone who’s experienced extreme poverty, it might be a while before they believe I’m not some fake-nice Karen who’s gonna turn on them. That sort of slow process is just to be expected, and I don’t take it personally. On the other hand, when another middle-class white person that I just met talks down to me because I clearly don’t spend my free time reading obscure philosophical texts, that’s just called being an asshole. Treating others with respect should be a default setting. I shouldn’t need to go through any kind of trial period just to earn basic politeness. 

And for sure, I’m sensitive. I notice slights that perhaps weren’t intended to be rude. Sometimes when a very serious young man with soft hands is calmly explaining to me that his politics are far too radical to be associated with anything I might be organizing, I can tell he’s just doing his due diligence for the revolution. Or so he believes. Who knows, maybe he maintains some personal beliefs that would completely blow my normie mom mind. I rather suspect that he just spends a lot more time thinking about the intellectual stuff than I do. And that’s great! Our anti-capitalist movement needs theory nerds. I’m just not one of them. I do other work for the movement. I get people to show up and do stuff, from phone banking to canvassing to rallying. And I’m good at it. That’s enough for a working mom. I don’t need to beat my brains out trying to learn theory. I hope someday these guys realize that it takes all kinds when you’re trying to defeat capitalism, and maybe we can work together.

On the other hand, some fellow leftists are just plain hostile. And that’s probably because many of us have severe, untreated trauma. People work out their aggression in left organizing spaces because they’ve never received justice for the pain they’ve experienced under various systems of oppression, and too many can’t afford mental healthcare. It sucks! Yet as much as I feel for anyone who’s been screwed by any kind of system, toxic behavior just shouldn’t be tolerated. I’m a real stickler about this. I completely avoid anyone who is chronically aggressive toward other leftists. Most of them don’t act out in person, but they’ll talk a lot of trash online. They’re always bad news! Even when their cause is righteous, you can always tell it’s really about their ego or personal gain. Or I can, anyway. Some of these people are very good at getting into positions of power, because they’re charming or charismatic. They might be friendly at first, becoming more caustic over time.

But hey, we’ve got narcissists and sociopaths in all walks of life. I think what makes all this very rude behavior on the left a special sort of hell is that it’s so often coupled with an air of moral superiority. Hey, we’ve all been there, right? Most of us were liberal activist types at some point, and thought, “Anyone who disagrees with me is bad, and anyone who isn’t fighting alongside me just doesn’t care.” Unlearning that mindset takes a lot of time and effort. For years I thought that when people didn’t show up or flaked out on their tasks, it was because they didn’t care enough. The fact is, there’s simply no way for me to know exactly how much a person cares vs. all the other factors that complicate their time and energy. So why get hung up on it? All I can do is persuade them to take action, and not take it personally when they don’t.

In conclusion, I would love for any leftists reading this to walk away knowing that no matter what your political beliefs are, how hard you organize, how much theory you read, or how angry you are about injustice and oppression, you are not actually better than other people. We’re all just people, and we want at least some of the same things. I want whatever power and goods the working class can get. And I won’t quit. I’ll keep organizing. But just know, the next time someone I never met before decides to give me free advice or a political education lecture, wants to sneer at my hippie nerd mom style or project lots of weird assumptions about me being an anti-revolutionary lib, I’m probably gonna say something really blunt or make fun of them to their face. As someone who is lucky enough to be receiving the mental healthcare she needs, I now understand that I no longer want to be in a movement where anyone working in good faith gets treated that way.

Five of Swords card from the Radiant Rider-Waite Tarot deck depicts a smug man holding two swords while leaning another. Two more swords lie near his feet. He stares wt two men in the distance who seem to have their heads hung in anguish.
The Five of Swords from Radiant Rider-Waite Tarot

People Can Change

As I begin this essay, I’m three months free of alcohol. Hooray! I feel proud. It hasn’t been an easy season. At no point did I have to fight off the urge to drink; even when I’m hit with nostalgia for wine at dinner or a mimosa with brunch, I instantly recall the indigestion and poor sleep that made me quit in the first place. The much harder part of this journey has been the dual impact of short-term depression and my inability to numb my mind the way I did before. Unfortunately, it’s become way harder for me to block out some old voices in my head that tell me I’m an asshole.

If you’ve ever experienced the joy of waking up fully refreshed the day after a massive hangover, it might be hard to believe that quitting booze can lead to short-term depression. Well, it turns out if you drink heavily or even just frequently, your brain gets used to pumping out dopamine. It’s that sense of “WOOHOO party!” you might feel when the waiter brings the first round. Then your brain keeps chugging out the dopamine to counteract the depressant, which is the thing that causes you to slur and get sloppy if you keep going. Before I quit I was rarely drinking to excess, but I did imbibe often. When I went cold turkey my brain quit making so much dopamine, which left me feeling incredibly blah. And then when some other troubling stuff happened, both internal (vitamin deficiencies) and external (so long, Roe v Wade!), my sense of ennui turned to despair.

The hardest part of quitting booze is now I must fully deal with myself. I used to feel enormous regret about my past, mainly all the bad, irresponsible choices I made in my twenties. I thought I made peace with all that a while ago by working on my self-compassion and giving myself the same grace I extend to others who struggle as young people on their own. But it turned out that self-critical voice inside me never went away. I just did a better job ignoring it by gettin’ my drink on. Feeling that dopamine rush is frankly way more fun than listening to some harsh biddy who tells me I’m an enormous fuck-up!

The worst moment in this dreadful reunion with my mean inner voice happened in early August, right after my daughter returned home from visiting her grandparents. My husband was out of town for a conference so I was coming off this glorious weekend staycation where I had the house to myself, plus a break from summertime stay-at-home parenting. And then there I was, parenting alone. I was already feeling a little stressed. My daughter and I settled down to watch her new favorite cartoon series when I noticed a familiar name in the opening credits — an old housemate from my college co-op days. This was a woman I always thought was pretty cool, but I got the distinct feeling she found me kind of annoying. Even worse, I felt like she was a cooler, more sophisticated version of me. We shared similar interests in music, movies, and writing. But she was from a big city and went on to live in Europe, whereas I dropped out of college and stayed in the same town until I met my husband. And here we are in the present — she, the head writer of a really great animated program for kids, vs. me, who struggles to care for one well-behaved child while working a part-time data entry gig. All I could think at that moment was UGH YOU ARE SUCH A LOSER, TARA.

Then a worse memory hit me — I had moved into this woman’s room when she graduated college and left the co-op. She asked if I wanted to take over her private phone line. I was like “Sure, I’ll be totally responsible for that!” and then did not pay the bill because I was a total flake with money and due dates. Since that part of my life is a blur of many bad choices, I do not remember if we’d changed the bill out of her name or if/when I paid it off. Oh the shame! Being a loser is one thing, but fucking up someone else’s credit felt even worse. 

I shared all this with my therapist. I told her I’m self-aware enough to see I’m giving myself an unreasonably hard time. And yet I struggled to not get swept away in these waves of self-consciousness that convinced me I’m an awful person. So she suggested I start a new type of therapy called EMDR, which stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Basically it’s a technique that uses eye movement to help the brain reprocess past traumatic experiences so they don’t maintain a stranglehold on your wellbeing. The way I understand it is that I’ve got that mean old bitch voice on one side of my brain telling me I suck, and then there’s the rational voice on the other side saying, “Hmm that’s pretty harsh, I think you’re doing your best.” This therapy brings the two voices together so the rational voice can tell the bitch voice to shut the fuck up. And then I can move on. The traumatic memory that fuels the bitch voice doesn’t go away. But maybe it won’t send me into a meltdown. 

We’re just getting started with this process but I’m hopeful it’ll help me deal with the internal stew that made me want to numb my brain. In the meantime, I’ve been taking good care of myself in other ways. I meditate, exercise, and drink lots of water every day. My kid’s school started so now I have way more of that solo time I very much need. I’m taking vitamins and feeling my mood shift away from that “meh” withdrawal mindset. 

I’ve also been getting lots of laughs from watching the Netflix sketch comedy show I Think You Should Leave. Every ITYSL vignette features a character whose emotional reaction to a situation goes way too far. My favorite sketch stars series creator Tim Robinson as a dude at a party who asks to hold his friend’s newborn baby. When the baby cries in his arms he says to his friend, “Probably doesn’t like me ‘cause I used to be a piece of shit.” When she says the baby’s just fussy, he insists this infant must know about his checkered past. He begins confessing his old douchebag behavior to other partygoers — “Slicked back hair, white bathing suit, sloppy steaks, white couch… You would not have liked me back then!” This situation escalates in ridiculous fashion, which I won’t even attempt to spoil for you — it’s all too hilariously absurd for me to translate. I will say that the sketch ends with a sort of redemption that’s quite funny at first. But upon repeat viewings, I now find it rather profound and beautiful. As the main character keeps insisting, “People can change.” This sketch is a healing reminder that even at my worst, some part of me always wanted to be better.

Tim Robinson in I Think You Should Leave, S2E2 (Netflix)

An Introvert’s Guide to Saving Ourselves

2022 is rich with calamities. Roe v. Wade overturned. Climate catastrophes burn and flood our planet. Right wing violence and fascism on the rise. Plagues abound. 

You may be wondering, “When will any of this get better?”

Well, here’s what I’ve learned over the past eight years…

You must first accept that no one is coming to save us – not from climate change, fascists, pandemics, none of it. But we are not doomed, because WE will save us! Sounds like a lot of responsibility, right? You might feel overwhelmed, perhaps a bit cheated as you contemplate this massive task. Please know this was always the only scenario that would work in the long run.

We have clear enemies. They are billionaires, fossil fuel execs, arms manufacturers, right wing politicians, useless liberal electeds, and probably also your boss. They possess too much power and too many resources, and care mainly about growing their vast fortunes at our expense. We must build a mass movement to take their power.

The good news is that there are way more of us than them. Hooray! We just have to work together to defeat them, which is also the bad news 😦  Sigh. I so often hate dealing with other people. But I also want a habitable planet, democracy, and free abortion on demand, so I accept my fate and work with others. That’s why I became a member of Team Save Us.

We must do more than voting once or twice a year. “More than” can mean many things, but it does not include yelling “VOTE” on the internet. In fact, yelling anything on the internet barely helps at all, except maybe if you’re famous. And if you’re reading this, you’re not famous. You and I are just the everyday Us. We don’t have big platforms.

The next step is to get involved with an organization that aligns with your values. You probably have no idea what you’re doing and that’s okay, as long as you’re willing to learn. You’ll learn best from other people who’ve been doing this longer than you have. 

We only save ourselves through the combined power of many, many everyday people. That means we have to talk to each other, strategize, and act collectively. You might be thinking, “Surely there must be a more efficient way.” At some point someone will try to sell you an app that saves you the trouble of dealing with other people. You just type a message in the thingie and then others will do your bidding. Easy peasy, right? Haha, this is the exact same thing as yelling stuff on the internet! Nothing will come of it. There are no shortcuts. Building a mass movement means building relationships. You must engage in conversation and persuasion, and that’s a social muscle you have to keep working. 

All this human interaction can be a real mixed bag. There’s a wonderful side to dealing with people, which is finding joyful community — meeting like-minded individuals, bonding over shared interests, making friends, maybe even falling in love. Then there’s the unpleasant part — encountering other people’s bad ideas, bad manners, or their myriad quirks. Sometimes I’ll be interacting with a person I find deeply irritating and ask myself, “Is this person an enemy?” It’s too bad they never are because then I could discard them without a second thought. I used to discard annoying people willy nilly. But if you stick around a community long enough you sometimes see them commit brilliant and brave acts. We’re not going to like all the people needed to defeat our enemies. But we need every single one of us who is willing to work together in good faith.

This isn’t about being a good person, it’s about shifting power. I strive to be a good person. But ultimately this is about taking power and resources away from the small group of Clear Enemies so that Team Us can start running the show. On a personal level, I do feel a moral obligation to participate (mainly because I’m a parent), but that’s just my flavor of motivation. I don’t expect that of everyone. The thing with moral superiority is that it often does the opposite of what we want; it tends to alienate people rather than drawing them into this big, messy work of building relationships. Over time, I’ve come to understand I’m not morally better than anyone who isn’t already on Team Us. I just haven’t persuaded them to join yet. 

None of this is charity. Sure I donate to causes and fundraisers just like anyone with a few bucks and a beating heart. We must find ways to help the most vulnerable people in this moment. But we are all vulnerable. Climate change and fascism will come for us all in the long run. Team Us doesn’t fight for charitable donations. Our goal is to tear down systems of oppression that serve the Clear Enemies’ interests and replace all that with something better — food, housing, education, childcare, healthcare, ecologically sustainable communities, democratic control of our government and economy, and lots of leisure time with people we love. I have an enormous personal stake in all that coming to be. I’m in this for all of us, and that most definitely includes me and mine. I expect everyone else on Team Us to be just as personally invested. We fight together in solidarity, not as an act of charity.

We learn from losing. Underdogs lose a lot. The Clear Enemies have way more money and power, and they’ll play every dirty trick to keep it that way. When we lose it’s okay to bitch about the unfairness of it all for a little while. But then we get together and ask ourselves, “What will we do differently next time?” We incorporate that knowledge and keep going. 

Trying feels better than not trying. Once you fully internalize the truth that no one is coming to save us, you have a couple options – nihilism or action. Personally, I’m no good at nihilism. I believe a far better world is 100% achievable eventually, if not in my lifetime. So I do my little part of this big, messy work. And I feel so much better than I did when I used to vacillate between denial and panic. I do experience occasional moments of hopelessness. I’ve learned that’s just part of the deal. We live in dispiriting times. Lately, I’ve felt a strong urge to retreat within myself entirely, because I’m too sad to be available to others. For a moment, I even considered what it would look like to quit my organization and just give up. I quickly assessed that giving up would hurt me more than anything else has hurt in 2022, and that’s saying a lot. Doing movement work is not about feeling like a good person, but it does connect me to something bigger than myself. I don’t assume the existence of a higher power or an afterlife. My only religion is solidarity, and I have a lot to learn. I’m still figuring out how to be a team player instead of a loner. Our current systems of oppression thrive on millions of us staying lonely. Building with others doesn’t come naturally to me, but it’s the number one best antidote to the hopelessness that makes me want to give up.

Drier Times

I’m currently in a period of not drinking alcohol, an arc in a longer phase of drinking less than I used to. I don’t feel comfortable discussing this with you, which is exactly why I’m bringing it up. No one I know talks about how much they drink except the teetotalers. And when they talk about abstaining, it’s usually just to gripe about acquaintances asking them, “Well, why not?” It seems like a lot of people are imbibing these days, maybe more than they ever have before. Makes sense. Pretty typical response to the world burning.

My therapist once told me, “Shame hates the light.” So I’m gonna shine a light on this truth — I never want to have a hangover again, because they always leave me feeling very ashamed. Part of this comes from growing up Catholic and part of it comes from having an alcoholic dad. In any case, I hate how the after effects of excess alcohol make me feel about myself… like I’m a fuck-up. And I find it very annoying that “too much” looks like nothing compared to what I used to swill. Twenty years ago, a hangover was this wretched, puking, headachey thing that happened when I closed out the bar with friends, continued drinking at one of our houses afterward, smoked half a pack of cigarettes, didn’t take one sip of water, and woke up before noon for some dumb reason. God, I would probably fall asleep at the bar by midnight if I tried any of that now.

This is what a hangover looks like these days: no headache and no vomit, but I’m dead tired. Maybe I had more than two drinks the night before, or maybe I just partied a little too late (after 9:30pm). I’ll get ready for bed by 11, do my healthy nighttime ritual, go to sleep, and then wake up exactly four hours later, fuzzy and confused. Then I either don’t get back to sleep or don’t sleep enough. I feel weird, guilty, and probably a little crabby. And then that opens up the possibility that my drinking becomes someone else’s problem.

Thinking about that reminds me of this really dumb Elvis movie called Roustabout. In the scene where The King first meets his love interest, he makes a bad impression on her surly dad. They’re all rough and tumble carnies, so the mood quickly turns dicey, but then Barbara Stanwyck (the carnie matriarch) says to the grumpy dad, “Cut it out! It’s not his fault you have a hangover!” Just the way she delivers that line, with her classic no-bullshit intonation… maybe I’ll record it on my phone and play it any time someone’s a jerk to me for no good reason. Unfortunately, I have a terribly good memory for the occasions when I’ve been treated that way and have realized in hindsight that the person lashing out at me was probably hungover at the time. And that makes me as mad as a Stanwyck. So I really don’t ever wanna be that guy. Who would wanna be the angry drunk carnie dad at odds with Elvis?

If I’m gonna be a total drag, I’d rather be like Millie. Millie is a character from the ‘80s throwback teen dramedy “Freaks and Geeks,” the former best friend of protagonist Lindsay. Lindsay is a straight-A student who suddenly starts wearing her dad’s green Army jacket and hanging with the burnout crowd following an existential crisis. I was a lot like her in high school. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve come to appreciate the good sense exhibited by her uptight pal Millie, a hyper-religious mathlete who worries about her old friend running with a bad crowd. In one of my favorite episodes, Lindsay’s freak friends convince her to throw a keg party when her parents go out of town. She’s surprised when a disapproving Millie shows up at her door. Millie enters the house and announces with stoic determination, “I’m gonna have more fun than any of you. Sober.” 

Again, the delivery on this line just kills me. The heavy-handed seriousness cracks me up, but then Millie does have a fun time! At one point she sits down at the piano and belts out “Jesus Is Just Alright with Me” backed up by resident stoner Nick. I don’t regret my own experiences with youthful partying, or that I also eschewed religion and mathleticism when I was a teen. But I’m glad I’ve come around to a place where I’m learning the joy of sober fun.

See, the thing with drinking is that it takes up so much space in a day. Once I start I don’t want to go anywhere or do anything that requires extra energy. To make sure I feel okay in the morning I have to follow all these little rules about how many beverages, how late, and how do I get home? Not needing to calculate all that feels so much easier.

I do miss the flavor. I enjoy un-sweet beverages that hit my palate like a sledgehammer, and I can only drink so much coffee. I’m developing a taste for non-alcoholic spirits that are supposed to replicate the flavor of gin and whiskey. But really they just have their own weird, abrasive bite. I figure I’m going through the same process that tricks people into thinking Diet Coke and turkey burgers taste as good as the real stuff. I’ve figured out how to make a decent knock-off dirty martini. It’s fine.

And yeah, I also miss the numbing. We live in very chaotic, scary times! And it’s getting worse! Some days it’s hard to find the joy in life. Booze has this remarkable ability to instantly shift my brain to FUN mode. But the pleasant distraction doesn’t last very long unless I keep sipping.

So instead of numbing, I take long walks and meditate. I try to live in the moment, no matter how unpleasant that may be. It’s rarely as bad as worrying about the future, mourning the past, or feeling guilty because I’m hungover from three beers. It isn’t as easy for me to flip that FUN switch when I’m feeling down. But overall I feel calmer, more ready to be present for others. More than anything, I just don’t want to be a dick to anyone else. I strongly believe — both politically and spiritually — that solidarity will be our only salvation in the days to come. It’s hard to be a good comrade or loved one when you’re crabby because you numbed too much the night before. I just can’t afford that.

The Ineffable Spirit That Healed Me

COVID took my brain to a dark place. Five days after testing positive, I was sitting up in bed, bawling in a teleconference with my therapist about how I’d fallen so far behind in everything. “I feel like I’m failing miserably,” I wailed. She talked me down, saying I must tend to my health first and foremost. I agreed to post a sign next to my bed that said BARE MINIMUM in big print so I wouldn’t forget healing was more important than work. And then she told me something I desperately needed to hear. “Tara, this depression you’re feeling is a symptom of COVID. You have felt joy before, and you will feel joy again.”

I took all of her advice to heart. Whenever I felt overwhelmed over the following week, I’d look at my BARE MINIMUM sign and mind its message. When my body felt weak, I’d lie down. And on several occasions, when I needed to revisit a sense of joy from another time and place, I watched the 1987 romantic comedy Roxanne. 

Roxanne is an adaptation of the 1897 French play, Cyrano de Bergerac. Steve Martin stars as CD Barnes, chief firefighter in an idyllic mountain town called Nelson. Charming, witty, and spry, CD is beloved by neighbors, colleagues, and his best friend Dixie (Shelley Duvall). Yet romance eludes him because of his freakishly long nose. Despite his good humor, CD has little patience for anyone who mocks his face; in the opening sequence he effortlessly beats up a couple of bullying yuppie cokeheads who make fun of his schnozz. Later that same evening he meets ethereal, intellectual beauty Roxanne (Daryl Hannah), an astronomy PhD student who’s come to Nelson to study stars. CD quickly becomes smitten with her, but then she develops a big crush on his newly arrived colleague Chris. Knowing Chris fancies Roxanne too, CD helps his handsome-but-dumb friend write a passionate love letter to her. Moved by this gorgeous prose, she falls deeper for Chris, unaware that he’s just a friendly himbo. CD becomes further entrenched in this triangle, all while continuing to express his true love under another man’s name. 

During the height of my sickness, romantic comedies comforted me more than anything. Once I got through every Reese Witherspoon flick I could find, I stumbled upon Roxanne on Hulu and decided to give it another look. I watched a VHS copy of this movie repeatedly when I was a kid, but hadn’t seen it since then. I figured it was just another pop culture piece kid Tara loved that adult Tara would appreciate mainly for nostalgia’s sake. What a pleasure to discover this movie not only holds up as a classic rom com, but is much improved by the widescreen framing that so beautifully captures its picturesque scenery. (Our cropped videotape version did no justice to the cinematography.) Nelson is a real place — in Canada to be exact — and even if I’ve never been there physically, it’s become my favorite escape as I recover from the plague.

Roger Ebert’s original review of the film said it quite well — “What makes ‘Roxanne’ so wonderful is not this fairly straightforward comedy, however, but the way the movie creates a certain ineffable spirit.” It’s more than the pretty mountain vistas, the Victorian houses, Roxanne’s cascading, ringleted mane, or the agile way CD dances down the road as he sings Fats Domino’s “I’m Walkin’”. Much of the film’s sentimental glow emanates from Steve Martin’s delightful adaptation, full of silly zingers and witty observations about love, relationships, and human flaws. What strikes me most is how truly romantic it is, in a way that reminds me of Jane Austen but from a male viewpoint. I’ve developed a crush on both CD and Steve Martin. Every time I see him immersed in writing his first love letter to Roxanne, it fills the darkest corners of my psyche with warm, honey-colored light. There’s something so pure about it.

The thing about CD (and perhaps Steve Martin, too), is that he genuinely likes women as people. It’s a rare quality in real life, maybe even rarer in fiction. It sticks out when the male protagonist has a sassy best friend like Dixie, who rolls her eyes at his nerdy jokes and gives him shit for not pursuing the woman he loves. But the way CD falls for Roxanne is even more outstanding. 

When they first meet, she comes to the fire station stark naked because her robe got caught in the locked door as she was chasing a cat who’d run out of her house. She asks CD to help her get back in, he grabs a toolbox, and they have an awkward conversation as they walk to her place. He casually jokes about her nakedness — “I notice you don’t have any tattoos. I think that’s a wise choice. I don’t think Jackie Onassis would’ve gone as far if she’d had an anchor on her arm.” Roxanne clearly thinks he’s a weirdo, but then he acrobatically swings and shimmies his way up to an open attic window to access her home. Impressive! And as she gets dressed, he instantaneously prepares a lovely cheese and crudite tray to help revive her after her misadventure. So she invites him to a glass of wine. Roxanne looks otherworldly in this scene — a statuesque queen with gorgeous, golden, mermaid hair, wearing a shimmering ivory robe. Most men would either be stunned silent or making a move. But CD just casually chitchats with her like she’s one of the guys at the firehouse. 

Then he notices Roxanne’s telescope and asks if she knows about M-31. He adds, “Now, see, I like it when they give astronomical objects names, you know, like ‘Andromeda’ and ‘Saturn’ and ‘Sea of Tranquility.’ This whole numbering thing is just too boring for us civilians.” Roxanne replies, “Do you know how many objects are up there?” CD stammers, “Well, I know it’s over fifty.” Realizing she knows more about this than he does, he becomes sheepish. She playfully says, “Well we don’t know everything, do we,” then leans over his shoulder to show him the textbook definition of a quark. And when he looks at her with deep admiration, that is the moment you see he’s falling in love. Not when she’s naked, but rather when she checks his mansplaining and teaches him something new. And the chemistry just gets better from there.

As Sam Cooke said, I don’t know much about astronomy. But I am a smart woman and the idea that a man as charming and handsome as CD would love me for my intelligence and humor enchants me in the same way Mr. Darcy does. Because as weird as his nose is, the rest of CD looks and acts like peak Steve Martin, from the silver hair to his sprightly antics to his Cary Grant impersonation. There’s a lot to love, once you get past the Pinnochio thing. 

I have a habit of revisiting pop culture pieces that comfort me over and over again. I call them my “security blankets.” I’ve seen every episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” multiple times because it’s one of my go-to shows when I want to feel better about humankind. Roxanne has become my COVID comfort. And by that I mean that I’ve had COVID, I don’t know what the long-term effects will be, it took a lot out of me, and I know I can catch it again. That’s scary. So much scares me these days. But love and joy feel eternal, and the stars will last a lot longer than me. And as long as Roxanne is there to remind me about all that, I will be at least somewhat okay.