Working Title: Who Are You Competing With?

This story came in a dream, and I’ve spent months writing, rewriting, deleting and re-reading. I haven’t written short stories in a while either, which may explain why it took me a long time to spit this out and leave it alone after an acceptable first draft came together.

Writing this was fun and freeing, returning to my start of short stories over novels. There is less intimidation when writing short stories, when the adage of “you must know your main character like the palm of your hand” doesn’t apply as much because you won’t be with this character for very long. I spent a few months with her, and we’re still getting to know each other, and like all relationships, you learn something new about each other every day. At least, every day I went back to re-read and rewrite.

I enjoyed the freedom of this short story, of finding comfort in not knowing what happens next, because the story I wanted to tell begins and ends when it does. There may have been storylines that happened during that time, but I get to decide how important they were. Since it’s up to me, this is the most worthwhile story that she has to share.

Please enjoy and tell me how I did going back to my original medium. Or if you think I did a horrendous job, which I love to hear. My imposter syndrome is feeling a bit starved lately.

Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

The further she was in her pregnancy, the more distant he became. She expected that, since she wasn’t the one who was pregnant.

Joanna had met him when the baby’s mother was four months along, and she took it as a good sign that he’d been open and honest with her from the beginning when they’d only met by chance.

Since then, their relationship had an expiration date for her, the date when she was leaving New York or when the baby was born, whichever came first. That reality made the relationship sweeter, since they would never have to leave the honeymoon phase, the time when they can’t get enough of each other and everything is fun and an adventure, when they meet up with mutual friends for parties that last hours and always end with them pushed up against a corner together. They never had to leave the stage of being the envy of their long-term monogamous friends.

They never had to have the conversation about where this was going, whether they would continue their relationship long-distance, how she would be as a stepparent or whether she’d ever meet the baby’s mom. He liked that about her, she knew he did. She knew he loved how uncomplicated they were, how there were no unanswered calls or texts that a night together wouldn’t make up for. She knew that from how he called her his girl and from how he spent afternoons with her, coming and going as he pleased.

So when Davis told Joanna that he’d met another girl he was interested in getting to know, she said she was fine with it. Because she was. Wasn’t that, after all, the true tell of how relaxed, chill and young-at-heart you were? Who and how you chose to date in your early thirties was more of a status symbol than the clothes you wore or the restaurants you visited. Now, your status was dictated by who was taking your clothes off and which restaurant they took you to afterward.

This other girl was younger, also thought nothing of Davis’ imminent new arrival and looked up to Joanna, according to him. Davis told her multiple times that this younger girl (who had seen Joanna at other parties, but Joanna hadn’t ever seen her or made the effort to meet her) wanted to be like Joanna when she grew up.

The flattery helped Joanna come to terms with her new reality, and made her stick around. She wasn’t ancient at thirty-two by any means, and she hated to think she was too old to at least try to understand Davis’ attempt at polyamory before he became a father. If anything, she respected that he was getting his fun before the baby came. She felt a bit sorry for Davis, who was so clearly trying to hold onto his youth with these three women, and she still knew that their arrangement was still the envy of their long-term couple friends. Joanna’s only rule was that she would never talk to the younger woman or stay in the same party for longer than ten minutes if she was there. She didn’t have any rules for interacting with the baby’s mother other than making herself scarce, more out of respect than feeling intimidated. The other parties seemed to respect those rules without her or Davis having to enforce them. All the more proof that if there were a Dating in Your Thirties Without Being Uptight quiz at the end, Joanna would ace it.


“You’re really still seeing that guy?”

“And you really are having that tone with me right now?”

Joanna’s stepmom was the only one not on board with the arrangement, expiration date or not, and she checked in on it on their weekly FaceTime calls.

“What tone?”

“That judgmental tone. I would have thought you wouldn’t fault me for dating a guy with kids.”

“He doesn’t have kids yet, though. Unless you count that little girl he’s seeing on the side.”

That made Joanna feel better, less old and ancient. A woman’s thirties looked different now than before. A time of empowerment rather than a sentence as a spinster, being single and dating in your thirties wasn’t unusual now and was even celebrated. Joanna wanted to embrace that by staying open to their arrangement.

“That’s gross.”

“Is it though? How old is she again?”

“Twenty-one, I think.”

She knew how old she was. That was the first thing Davis had told her, before he’d told her for the first time that she wanted to be like Joanna when she grew up.

“And he’s thirty-three?”

“Jesus’ age indeed.”

Joanna’s stepmom laughed. It was their private joke. The two women were seven years apart, but in moments like these, when Joanna’s lifestyle choices were obviously alien and too much a product of the current time, the age difference widened. They felt like parent-child rather than friends, as they usually did.

“So he should certainly act his age.”

“Does that mean I’m not acting my age if I’m a year younger?”

“I would say so, but you’d only hang up the phone on me.”

And she was right. The call ended shortly after that when Joanna said she was meant to meet Davis soon.

Joanna was supposed to meet Davis at Bryant Park, which she wasn’t fond of but it was close to where he was coming from after the prenatal appointments he dutifully attended every week. She sat on a bench by the fountain, people watching. Autumn was just beginning, and tourists and influencers took turns looking for the best tree to use as a back drop for their videos or photos.


When she was in eighth grade, Joanna had her first kiss and her first boyfriend in quick succession. Both had ended as quickly as they started. It had happened on a trip to New York, with a lot of flirting back and forth all day, culminating when they were back on the bus to Maryland. With the lights dimmed, the freeway on either side of them and what felt like endless amount of time before they were home, a game of musical chairs, bus edition, let her sit next to the boy she had a crush on, Bobby-Mason. Not soon after they were sitting together, he told her that their other friend, Lester, wanted to talk to her. Lester was taking a break from making out with Mari and had Joanna sit next to him.

“Bobby likes you,” Lester told her. “He wants me to find out if you’d say yes if he asks you out.”

Joanna wanted to play it cool, to act mature and like the girls she saw in movies. She had just seen 13 Going on 30 and she wanted to act thirty. So she told Lester that she would, but that Bobby-Mason would have to talk to her directly and sit with her on this bus trip for longer than a minute. Lester said he’d tell him, and she went back to her now-empty seat.

She looked out the window at the dark, flashing lights coming and going, heart racing, when someone sat next to her. It was Bobby-Mason.

“Did Lester tell you?”


“Alright!” Bobby-Mason said and grabbed her hand. They didn’t say anything to each other, and then Lester and Mari were in the seat in front of them.

“We’re trying to see who can kiss the longest. We got one minute. How long can you guys go?”

Bobby-Mason spoke. “Start counting.”

With that, Bobby-Mason leaned over and kissed Joanna clumsily. Not knowing what to do, Joanna went along, moving her lips in response to his. The cheering and wooing eventually was too much for her, and she pulled away. Bobby-Mason put both arms around her and hugged her close to him, so that she was leaning on him with her feet on the seat.

“Four minutes. You guys win.”

They sat like that for a while, Joanna feeling his heartbeat on her head, thinking they were so mature for sitting together like that. It was uncomfortable and she had to keep shifting her legs when they fell asleep, but subtly so Bobby-Mason wouldn’t see. She got out her iPod to distract herself and Bobby-Mason asked for one earbud. They listened to music together as Joanna smiled at the darkness out the window.

“Want some gum?” His voice was at her earbud-free ear.

She nodded, and suddenly Bobby-Mason was leaning over her and kissed her again, except when he pulled away this time, Joanna had a mouthful of gum. We are so mature, she thought. She’d only seen adults in movies sit like this, sharing earbuds and sharing gum.

The bus trip eventually ended and they were back in Maryland, and Bobby-Mason got in his parents’ car without saying goodbye to Joanna. That’s okay, she thought. In a mature relationship, we don’t have to be together constantly. We are better than that.

That night, as her dad drove home, she thought about how vastly different she was from this morning when he’d dropped her off. Now, she was someone’s girlfriend. She’d kissed a boy. That’s the first thing Jennifer Gardner had done when she transformed into a thirty-year-old in the movie. She’d kissed a boy. Now Joanna was closer to being older too.


“So, listen, babe. I met this girl and I want to pursue something with her. I wanted to tell you about it beforehand though.”

They had been having an afternoon coffee in her apartment. Davis had come over to help her pack, but he’d instead sat on the couch while Joanna took her pictures and frames off the wall and told stories about where she’d gotten each one. Davis had spoken after a very long silence of being on his phone, and Joanna had to stand still and put down the frame she had been wrapping up.

She appreciated Davis breaking up with her so serenely and without drama, without the secrecy and duplicity. Dating in your thirties, she’d thought. Her chest felt tight at the reflex hurt of not being chosen, but she knew herself enough to be sure that she’d be composed long enough for him to leave before she got truly upset.

“Well, thanks for telling me. It’s fair you want to pursue something long-term with someone else instead since I won’t be around for much longer.”

Davis looked surprised and put his phone in his pocket before coming up to stand in front of her. She didn’t want him to do that, to comfort her as he hurt her, because she wouldn’t hold off the tears long enough that way.

“I didn’t mean instead of, babe. I want to see her as well. To get to know her at the same time as I get to know you.”

Joanna’s hurt started disappearing, but it was replaced with confusion. She went through her catalog of emotions to decide how to feel, but she looked at Davis instead.

“That’s cool, right? We never talked about being boyfriend and girlfriend.”

Joanna said no, that they hadn’t, because it wouldn’t be fair to either of them since she was moving to London in a few months’ time. But when Joanna had told Davis that she wouldn’t mind spending as much time as possible with him before she left, she had thought that even though the label wasn’t there, the mutual understanding had been. That hadn’t been very relaxed-dating-in-your-thirties of her.

“So I want to try this polyamory thing, see what happens.”

“I have to admit, I don’t have much experience with that,” Joanna said. “The wildest I’ve gone is dating multiple people at the same time, but not when it got more serious with someone.”

“I’ve done it once,” Davis said. “But I caught intense feelings for one person and had to end it with the others.”

Joanna was conscious not to look too surprised at ‘others’ with Davis holding her so close. This is fine, she thought. It’s another experience. Just like your move to London.


After that conversation, Joanna had seen Davis sparingly. When he wasn’t spending time with her, he was at a doctor’s appointment with the baby’s mother or going roller blading in Central Park with the other woman when the weather was nice. She thought about taking up cycling or rowing or even yoga in Central Park, before she remembered she hated all those things and that she had already sold her bicycle. That had left her with the weekend shift.

“I resent that,” Davis had said when she jokingly mentioned it. “You’re not minding me or keeping me company until your relieve comes.”

“It was a joke,” Joanna had said. “But there are only so many weekends before I leave.”

She had wanted to spend more time with Davis, or to at least spend it doing more than sleeping or watching him nap as she worked or packed or filled out forms for her job in London. She had wanted to feel less like the place Davis came to crash because it was close to the younger woman’s apartment that she shared with five others. But she knew that voicing this would break the spell, ruin the relaxed, twenty-first century version of a summer romance that they were having. Just go with the flow, she’d tell herself. Think of the stories you can tell about this time in your life.


“You’re what Carrie Bradshaw would be in today’s world,” Carly said. They were at a get-together in Carly’s place, smoking a joint and chasing it with wine.

“Are you saying my outfits are ridiculous and I spend too much money on brunch?”

Carly laughed. “No! I mean that you’re having incredible sex with Davis and don’t mind that he’s spending the rest of the week with another woman. And when he’s not doing that, he’s at birthing classes with the mother of his child. Your life is a sitcom’s wet dream.”

Joanna laughed, well aware of how their relationship looked to others. They didn’t know that she had seen Davis only once this week, when he walked into this party.

“You’re just so chill,” another one of their friends said. “I could never.”

“That’s incredibly judgmental,” Carly said. Joanna was grateful for that, taking a puff and a sip to hide how much that comment stung. Not because of the inherent judgment behind the compliment, but because of the nagging concern that she also couldn’t do this for long. She was grateful for her self-imposed deadline of saying goodbye and graduating from the experience.

“This is a modern kind of relationship, allowing our partners to explore their desires and identities. Not clipping anyone’s wings with the garden shears of the patriarchy.”

Everyone braced themselves for the Carly Tirade every party was known for. They only had to wait for her to run out of steam.

“We are beyond the ghosting and vanilla dating of our early twenties. We drink the medium shelf wine and liquor, not because we are snobs but because we know ourselves. We take our coffee black or with an offensive amount of sugar,” she looked at Joanna when she said that. “We know what we want and don’t give a shit how it looks just because we’re ladies of a certain age. At my age, my mother had two kids under ten and hated her life. I’ll be damned if that’s me.”

Everyone took a collective breath as Carly took a puff and sip of wine, ready for the rest of the rant. But it didn’t come, and instead Davis came to wind his arms around Joanna.

“See! Look at that!” Carly said and pointed at the two of them. “Davis came with his girlfriend but is now lovingly showing affection to his partner, after going to a birthing class with the mother of his child. What more can you ask for!”

Joanna froze and hoped that her tactical sip of wine hid her shock. Davis was laughing and held her tighter, oblivious to her reaction. She squirmed her way out of his arms, saying she had an early day of packing tomorrow.

“My closet needs a good seeing to,” she said, as she hugged Carly and kissed Davis on the cheek, hoping she wouldn’t run into the other woman on her way out.


She still waited for Davis at Bryant Park, and as she took out her phone to message him to check in, a pair of their mutual friends spotted her. She waved back at them and started walking over to meet them. It was Gianni and Carly.

“Amore, Davis has told me,” Gianni said. “He told me to tell you he can’t meet you because the baby is coming today.”

Joanna knew the baby would be due soon, just like she was due to leave New York in a month’s time, but she was banking on the last few weeks of sweet goodbyes and simple romance of two people committed to nothing but giving each other pleasure.

“He said it’s not serious, but that she was a lot further along than he thought,” Carly finished. “But he’ll be at the hospital with her for a while.”

“I’m confused,” Joanna admitted. “I was supposed to meet him today. Why wouldn’t he just call me?”

“We were supposed to meet him for lunch, and he said to tell you.”

“But were you already coming this way? Did he ask you to find me and tell me?”

“Amore, we are just telling you what he wanted us to say. It was easier.”

“He could have just called me.”

Gianni and Carly just looked at her, fidgeting and waiting for the polite time to leave. Joanna was angry and confused at how Davis’ mind had worked that morning and how he had reduced her to playing telephone with their friends in the playground.

“Did he put you in charge of telling her too?”

“He said he’d told her already. That he said it could be any day now.”

“So he did know how far along she was?”

“Amore, I do not know. He just said to tell you that he can’t meet you today and that he won’t be contactable for a while when the bambino is here. He said to tell you that you shouldn’t worry if you don’t hear from him for a while.”

Joanna was thirteen again as Gianni was talking, going right back to eighth grade when Bobby-Mason broke up with her three days after their bus trip through one of their friends. She had played it off then and gone to sit on the benches to braid her friend’s hair, but she’d cried in the bathroom after school. At least now she could go back to her apartment to break down in peace.

“Okay, well, thank you for coming to find me. You didn’t have to do that. You could have just called me too.”

“Don’t worry about it. We’re going for dessert a few blocks over and you were on our way.”

“You just came from lunch with Davis right now? You were with him just now?”

“Si, si, amore, before he went to a doctor’s appointment for baby.”

As Joanna was putting the dots together and getting angrier by the second, Gianni and Carly said their goodbyes and walked west, arms linked and stealing glances at her as she stood in the park. Alone and confused. Just as she had stood after Bobby-Mason had broken up with her by proxy.


Two weeks passed before she heard from Davis. The first five days, she was tempted to call him or text him, to like the Instagram picture he’d posted of the small baby feet of the little girl that had made him a dad. To somehow remind him of her existence. But she didn’t.

The anger that had started in the park had morphed into rage over the two weeks. Rage at Davis, at herself, at Gianni and Carly who had nothing to do with this. She avoided the larger groups of friends, fearing she may see him before she was ready. She used the excuse of needing to do some admin before moving to get out of plans or to head home when small three-people dinners threatened to spill over into group-nights at the bar.

She didn’t miss Davis. She didn’t feel lonely. She didn’t miss trading off whose apartment they spent the night at, or having to subtly decline spending the night at Davis’ if all three of his roommates were around. She finally finished reading the book Carly had recommended and completed a yoga challenge. She said a teary goodbye to her therapist and promised to seek her out again if she was ever back States-side. When Davis finally called her to meet up, she surprised herself by noticing that she hadn’t thought of him in days.

As she read Davis’ clipped message asking her to meet up at a place of her choosing, she suddenly thought back to the first time she saw his baby announcement. When she saw the Instagram photo of the baby feet, the congratulating comments and heart-eyes emojis, her attraction to Davis was gone. She felt guilty at first, hypocritical and cruel, at finding a dad so unattractive as soon as the evidence of fatherhood was in front of her. It went beyond her lack of desire to have children herself, and she was suddenly giggling at the idea of having children with Davis. She laughed hysterically at the ridiculous thought, almost feeling sorry for the woman who was linked to Davis forever by way of this child. How long would it take Davis to grow up, to stop wanting to live in an apartment with three roommates just to be able to say he lived in Murray Hill? Would he ever get a job with benefits now that he had someone else to look after?

She was suddenly thankful to the baby for providing her an out of ever considering having kids of her own with him, to absolve her of even having to consider such an improbability. Because of that gratitude, and her own stepmom’s words in her ear, she wasn’t mad at the baby. It wasn’t the baby’s existence that made Davis so unattractive now – it was Davis pretending to be ready for the baby that made Joanna’s attraction fade. If this was part of the quiz, she would have failed spectacularly. Spectacularly and she would have taken her F and been grateful.

She would never have to compete with the baby. She would withdraw herself from the race, and knew that she was the wisest to do so. Of all the women in Davis’ life now, the baby did not have to compete with anyone. Joanna didn’t want to compete for second place with the baby’s mother and the other woman he was seeing, who was keeping him in tender hooks, keeping him interested. He’d lamented multiple times how she wasn’t returning his texts, once even as they were laying naked after making love. He squirmed away from her embrace to check his phone before putting it back with a groan and disappointment in his face. Joanna had thought her cool affect at his actions were her relaxed disposition at their arrangement, but it was really boredom of his disregard for her existence.

She was too old, too exhausted, for that tango. And she didn’t want to compete with herself either, the part of her who egged her on to go with the flow, to be adaptable, lest this opportunity should pass her by. She shook her head at that part of herself who was forever trying to hold onto her youth, her worth, by putting others first. She embraced the maturity of watching some opportunities fly by, of staunchly putting herself first.

So she put on her best armor to go meet Davis at an expensive cocktail bar he always made her pay at, putting on her outfit that she knew would turn heads, and went to tell him precisely that when he finally contacted her.

When she walked in, he was at the bar, looking at his phone. She saw, out of the corner of her eye, a man in a suit and a man in the fringes of the group he was with turn and look at her as she walked in. She kept the smile that was bubbling on her lips away and looked straight ahead. When Davis spotted her, he nodded his head at her before going back to his phone.

“Hey, babe. Do you want a drink?” He already had a drink in front of him, the watered-down Old Fashioned he always ordered and only drank half off before leaving for a chain Irish pub across the street.

“No, thanks. I’m not staying long.”

“Oh, you meeting people after this? What’s the move?”

“I’m not meeting anyone. I just have a few things to say to you and then I’m leaving.”

“But I missed you, babe. I’m learning to be a dad, so I’ve been distracted, but I wanted to talk to you.”

“I’m going to do you a favor and give you one less thing to worry about. You can go be a dad, go chase after that twenty-year-old. Do not worry about me. I’m out.”

“What do you mean? I thought we were having a good time?”

“I was not having a good time. So now, my gift to you, is one less woman to worry about.”

Joanna stood up and noticed the man in the suit was looking at her again. She flashed him a smile before turning back to Davis.

“And don’t bother coming to my goodbye party next week.”

She left then, and she heard Davis sigh, but her stubborn gait away from him in her best heels that weren’t packed yet were louder. She didn’t want him to stop her, to come after her and apologize. She wanted another cocktail bar, somewhere she could drink alone. She smiled at the thought.

In Flux

Well, it’s been a minute. Three months to be exact. Looking at my last entry, it went live a few days before I stopped feeling so lost. On reflection, what I was truly feeling was a mix of lack of direction and impassiveness. I know I’m not alone in being bored of the waiting game the universe started playing with everyone in 2020 that keeps dragging out a year and a half on (#LoveIsNotTourism), but by April, waiting on major life changes I was ready for due to factors wildly outside my control left me feeling restless, angry, and depressive. I was really no fun to be around.

Then the wait was over.

Sitting atop a waterfall in Deep Creek, MD

On the same day, a promotion at work and an apartment landed on my lap. At least, that’s how it looked on the outside. However, neither of those things were given, and I had to put a lot of work in to even get to ‘compete’ for a spot on both things. After a lot of false starts and promises, I got to the point where I had resigned to being stuck until… the universe said I could move forward.

Once those two ‘gifts’ were given, within the following two weeks I moved out of my parents’ house and had an active role in hiring my second direct report. Neither of those things were something I’d done before, and I’d be lying if I said I had a wink of restorative sleep those two weeks. Setting aside the work aspect (because that somehow turned into the less demanding of the two), I spent those two weeks being incredibly scared. And I’m still scared.

Doing it scared.

I don’t do well with change. I’m a routine person through and through, and as I get older, instead of getting more easy going, I find there are less things I’m able to compromise on. I like to think that since I have a set of priorities I never compromise on no matter the setting (any outing has to involve eating at some point), it leaves some gaps for things I am happy to compromise on (I don’t care what we eat, as long as we eat something). So the upset of routine and change that moving brought sent me into an anxious panic for a period.

I’ve never lived truly alone like I do now (a safe thing to admit on the Internet? One to ruminate on later). I went from living at home to living at college, going back and forth for four years, then back at home, then with roommates and a boyfriend, then just a boyfriend, then back at home. Never have I been able to set up a kitchen how it makes sense to me, or know with absolutely certainty that absolutely no one will walk through the door at any moment. Never have I been able to eat brioche and potato chips for dinner because that’s all I could stomach while ill from second dose side effects. Never have I gone days without speaking to another person that wasn’t on the other side of a screen.

I count my blessings daily that I wasn’t forced to self-isolate or self-quarantine during the height of 2020, and I’m sympathetic to those who were isolated in cities far away from loved ones without any indication on when they’d be allowed to reunite. I will always think fondly of the five weekends in a row that my family and I played the same card game until all of us got good and had won at least once. And although the course of 2020 makes me appreciate my time alone that much more, there are things that are 100% more difficult because I’m alone. Loading and unloading the car takes twice as long, assembling a couch cost two broken nails, and hanging up decorations feels like an extreme sport.


I continue to be in flux, even two months in. I’m constantly scared and doubt myself, but I found refuge on an Instagram story that one of my friends probably had no idea would affect me so: if you can’t get rid of the fear, do it scared. That mantra let me carry out a long drive to my best friend’s wedding and back home by myself; it let me get on a mountain coaster despite my fear of heights; it also let me get the pictures on this post. There are bigger waterfalls in the world, but even a small waterfall is tall enough to make me queasy.

The change and the fear is also what’s kept me from writing for three months. During a time I had competing priorities, I was scared to sit in front of a blank page and have nothing come out. Or worse, have something come out that doesn’t deserve to be published. So, here I am, doing it scared. Scared to also give an update to the world should I fail and have to struggle through the changes I asked for, sought out, and received. Never once have I questioned whether I deserved what I’ve been given, but if I would be able to maintain it.

The jury is still out on that one, but the rent this month is paid, all bills are paid, I have food in the fridge, the A/C is working perfectly, and the plants I have managed to acquire are all alive and thriving. More on that next week.

Crystals and Oils

It’s been exactly two months since my last entry, and though I’m not sure my absence has been noticed (not that I started this project to be noticed in the first place), I must admit that I barely thought of this blog in the past two months myself.

As I start this entry, I don’t know what shape it’ll take, how long it’ll be, or if it will provoke any sort of response. I’m not sure I want it to, either, because I’m not making excuses or looking for sympathy. I’m simply writing to write. And I haven’t done that in a while.

I’ve been toying with entry ideas all week, but whenever I thought of one, I thought of a reason I “wasn’t ready to share that yet.” I probably didn’t want to share that idea to begin with and felt like I had to, and I’ve been slowly working to get out of the “I should” mindset and move into the “I want” mindset. There is one idea that I keep coming back to in general, and I think I’m okay sharing that here (if anyone even reads this, but again that’s never been my main goal).

Photo by Daniel Jensen on Unsplash

I’ve been feeling lost. Not in the “finding myself during the pandemic” way, or “trying a different hobby during lockdown” way, or even in “trying the latest workout fad” way, but in the way of looking for lifestyle changes to make myself feel better. That may sound similar to the “finding myself” conundrum, but the difference is subtle. Here are a few examples.

There are days where, at the end of the workday, I feel like I don’t have more energy than what it takes to walk away from my home office and to my bedroom, where I lay down and watch TikToks for an hour, sometimes more. As I keep scrolling, it’s in the forefront of my mind that there’s something I should be doing, some way I should be being productive instead of laying down and scrolling. But I just… can’t bring myself to do it. I can’t put in the effort it takes to get up and find the “something” that I’m neglecting. That ongoing internal conflict is in my head every day, and when I notice that I’ve enjoyed having quiet afternoons because I’ve actively stepped back from side hustles, I wonder if I’m spending too much time doing nothing. Because I don’t know how to just exist. Unless I have something to do, I’m lost, and yet I’m often so exhausted getting out of bed in the morning that the first few hours of the day, I’m on autopilot.

While racking up the hours spent on TikTok, I saw multiple creators talk about moldavite. I know better than to think that’s fate and not the TikTok algorithm, but I still went and read more about it. I went as far as making a mental note to look into buying a necklace the next day because “it couldn’t hurt.” If a crystal could show me the path forward, or show me that I should stay on this path a little longer and be patient, I would fork over however many dollars it took. How did I get to the point where I thought a crystal would help me? I don’t know. While I respect people who respect crystals, I’m not educated enough in the subject to participate, and I know myself enough to know that this is not the right time to start learning. I’m lost, so I almost grabbed the green crystal life raft.

I’m not sure where this next one came from, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was TikTok, too, but I also found myself looking into CBD oil. As I’ve acknowledged my anxiety and its triggers, I’ve looked for ways to manage it and cope with it, and while I’m hesitant to research medication because I’m afraid of the side effects, I thought CBD would be a good halfway house. So I looked up the nearest shop, looked at their products, and thought nothing of dropping at least $60 for a vial of oil that could potentially, maybe, hopefully, take the edge off every once in a while. I never made it to the shop, because I realized it was another avenue I was looking at to make myself feel better. Buying (expensive) oils wasn’t who I am (or who I think I am), but I’m lost enough to wish it would be. I’m lost enough to put my hope in an oil that sits under your tongue and takes your worries away.

Even without the pandemic giving the world a write-off for 2020 and beyond, I know I’m not alone in my feelings. It’s not comforting necessarily to think that there have been others before and there will be others after me who feel just as lost at my age, mainly because if there are so many of us who feel lost during our twenties, it will eventually stop being so, yet here we are. It’s kind of encouraging, however, to come across articles like this, which essentially say that the late twenties are a pain for everyone. “Pain” is an adjective that was carefully chosen: my lower back has been in pain for so long, I can’t remember when it started, and I had an endoscopy yesterday as part of the process for finding out why my stomach bloats without warning and why it’s so painful to eat certain foods I’ve been eating all my life. My insides are as lost as my head, it seems.

Crystals, oils, mindless scrolling, and swearing off pork (after watching the Italian butcher shop episode of Chef’s Table). Will any one of these help me feel less lost? Is realizing that I’m looking for an easy, passive solution the answer itself? Even if I never followed through with any of them, maybe they achieved their purpose in being instruments to help show me “the way,” even if “the way” isn’t any of them. My thoughts are as convoluted as my sentences, but maybe if I acknowledge I’m lost I’ll be on my way sooner.

Quiet Isn’t Always Peace

We have learned that quiet isn’t always peace

Amanda Gorman, “The Hill We Climb”

Gorman’s poem had other, widely relevant and more poignant take-aways than this, but this part of the longer line is what stuck with me. Because that’s what anxiety is. That’s what anxiety feels like.

Photo by Andraz Lazic on Unsplash

I had a complex about allowing myself to say I have anxiety because it felt like a disservice to people who have actually been diagnosed with anxiety. I haven’t been prescribed medication and it’s not an official diagnosis, but I do exhibit symptoms and have done so for as long as I’ve been alive (now that I know to look for them). It’s a term most of us throw around, like saying you have OCD because you need to have your coffee a specific way or you freak out (when OCD really is tugging on the knob of the front door three times to make sure it’s properly closed and look back before you drive away to make sure your cat didn’t run out without you noticing even though you saw her at her food bowl before you left and if you don’t perform this ritual every time you leave the only thing you’ll think about as you drive away is her running away when a dog or loud noise spooks her and how you’ll never see her again because she’s an indoor cat with no collar and no microchip), but most people exhibit different symptoms depending on their different triggers.

The existence of triggers is something I have come to understand and notice the more I notice a specific anxiety symptom. Why does my heart race and extremities go cold after I glance at the clock? Because I registered the time and that a particular meeting with a particular coworker is coming up, a meeting I won’t particularly enjoy and that will most likely demand a lot of my time and energy afterward. All this happens without my saying one word out loud.

When I stay quiet, my thoughts aren’t peaceful. My thoughts race, bounce inside my head like red balls. From a song to a memory to something I need to do back to the song then to what I’m wearing that day to the one thing I must not forget to do back to the song then to what I want for breakfast then how my hair is looking oily even though it’s only day two after washing then back to the song and then to noticing the mind chatter and making myself focus on what I’m doing at that moment. All before I’ve been awake for a full ten minutes.

The mind chatter has been with me for years, and what I thought was me being efficient and using my time wisely by always planning and making the most of all the time I had is actually anxiety. In recent years, I can recall two incidents that triggered my anxious tendencies and put me in overdrive to compensate for the fact that the situation was outside my control. When I wasn’t working at fixing these situations or coming out the other side of them, I was thinking about the work I still needed to do, and when I got back home, I’d take out my laptop and pick up where I left off lest the thoughts I had during my commute home would disappear. It was quiet, with no noise other than keyboard clicking or the noises of the train as it moved from stop to stop. My mind, however, was the opposite of quiet.

The quiet that isn’t always peace is what it feels like every day since that first triggering incident. It was a season of unpeaceful quiet. Of being so out of control and dependent on others even after doing everything I was supposed to do. During this season, I tried drinking black coffee for the first time. I was in an office and someone offered to go on a coffee run. I asked for a soy latte, and the person came back with apologies that the café didn’t carry dairy-free milk (what in the pre-oat-milk-craze hell!) and that he’d gotten me a black coffee instead. I drank it and it was vile. Yet passable. I winced as I drank it and my stomach was cramping within the hour. From that day onward, I take my coffee black. And I enjoy it. It’s been years, but that result of trauma and a trigger incident that became a trigger season has become part of my personality.

Now, I drink black coffee and it’s a toss-up between racing thoughts or simply enjoying the warm beverage (the benefit of being born in South America and drinking coffee since I was eight). All while staying quiet. Quiet isn’t always peace inside my head.

I have heard many times over the years from many different people that I speak too fast. I don’t notice it, on myself or others, and I wonder if that’s another anxiety symptom or just my personality. Like the black coffee. My brain works faster than my listener, so words flow out faster. If I can’t stop the thoughts from bouncing and racing and flowing too fast, why should my spoken words be any different? Maybe my listener should just keep up. Make their brain work faster.

Until my brain slows down, quiet isn’t always peace.

Half-moons, Crowns and Rollercoasters

I started and finished In The Dream House recently, and though it didn’t affect me as much as A Little Life last month, it did made me ponder my own relationships. I then remembered this quote from The Fault in Our Stars: “As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”

Falling out of love is like the free fall of a rollercoaster: all at once, then slowly. You feel like you’re falling to your death and are leaving your stomach behind and forget you’re securely strapped in, that you won’t actually die. But for a quick second, you think you may just fall and die.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

The start of my all-at-once descent was returning the gifts. Jewelry, clothes, knick-knacks big and small. Like the love you had for that person, you don’t know where to put it if not with you. I sold, gifted and gave away, shedding the memories with them. The love in each one. If the love disappeared all at once, the significance of these mementoes should as well.

The first-ever ring took the longest to disappear. I sold it a few months after the free fall, but it was one of the first things I replaced. I replaced it with another ring shaped like a half-moon. I wore it proudly not only because it was a Swarovski (I thought that made it and me better), but because I’d bought the femininity symbol piece for myself to wear on the same finger where once sat the symbol of our first Christmas as a couple. I’d gotten to pick that ring, so it was only right I’d get to pick its replacement.

Every day for over two years, I wore that half-moon sparkly statement piece. It had become a part of my daily routine even after I started dating someone else and he got me a ring that I also picked myself (a dainty crown). One day, the half-moon ring symbolizing my “single woman not by choice” status started oxidizing, the rust a sign of daily wear.

I eventually stopped wearing the half-moon every day, then I stopped wearing it all. Instead, I wear the crown every day, the meaning of that one different as it came from a different person but symbolizing the same thing: here’s a daily reminder of my love.

One day, I decide to wear the half-moon ring and the crown ring together. In an attempt to accessorize, I stack the half-moon ring on top of the upside-down crown on my right index finger. The juxtaposition of my single days with my new relationship looked fittingly fashionable.

After half a day, I hate it. the half-moon ring keeps getting caught on my clothes and makes pulling up my jeans after using the bathroom difficult. The crown sits as it’s told, barely there at all. My single days are well behind me, and any attempt to keep the mindset I had then is irritating to who I’m trying to be now.

Shortly after buying the half-moon ring, I cut my hair. The free fall of the rollercoaster, I chopped my waist-length, box-dyed, damaged hair to a shaggy long bob that sat just above my shoulders. I loved it when I got it, and more than anything I loved how it didn’t pain me to let the hair go. When I looked in the mirror and styled it curly, shaggy or with long-disused hair clips, I wondered what had made me so averse to short hair on myself for years. My senior year of high school, I got a disastrous haircut that took months to grow out, and I wore it in a ponytail every day because of how much I hated how it looked on me. A friend tried to curl it in an attempt to make me feel better about how it looked, but by the end of the day it had transformed into a bushy mess. When I looked at my post-break-up haircut, I wondered if I had just done it wrong back then, and that eight years later I finally knew what my hair wanted and how it looked good (I didn’t).

Two years later, I’m trying to grow my hair back. It’s barely reaching my midback now and the highlights I got with the chop are well gone. As if punishing me for the throw-away decision, it took the better part of those two years to learn what it wanted, what products it tolerates and how to style it to make behave for longer. “Earn my love,” it’s saying. “You want me back? Treat me better.”

My boyfriend loved the short hair. “It’s how I met you,” he says when I look in embarrassment at our first pictures together. But he didn’t see my struggle to navigate it short, like he didn’t see the struggle of making the half-moon ring work with the crown he’d given me. He didn’t see my struggle of re-learning how to be single only to unlearn it again when we got together. He didn’t see the clash of my trying to figure out who I wanted to be, that I didn’t want to be the same as I was in the previous relationship. He missed the all-at-once fall down the rollercoaster but is seeing the slow transition back to a new start.

During this transition, he’s seen the self-sabotage, but he’s far too kind to point it out. He reassures me that he still loves me, that he only didn’t text back because he was cooking dinner. Once, during a text conversation about our future together, he went as far to warn me that he was hopping on a phone call in case I didn’t hear back from him for a bit. That he is very much still invested in us. I wasn’t relieved when he said that. I was skeptical: I would have been relieved if he’d said he was finally having second thoughts. “Ah, there it is,” I would have thought. “I knew it was too good, too easy, to work out.”

The free fall and slow ride back to a new start is messy. Exhausting. Enlightening in some instances, sure, with the odd epiphany about my last relationship (no, it wasn’t very nice that he didn’t do anything when his mom made you cry in front of him multiple times; that wasn’t normal), but mostly exhausting. The self-doubt and self-awareness that often come hand in hand take the wind out of me just like they empower me: realizing that I stayed in a relationship two years too long makes me wonder if I’ve gotten too used to never asking for help, and what kind of partner that makes me now. But at least I’m working on it. And I do not wear the half-moon ring anymore.

“Yeah, you did meet me with short hair,” I say to my boyfriend. “But I hope you like me with long hair just as much. Because I like that better now.”

“I already do,” he says.

Hey Jude, Will You Leave My Head?

First post of 2021, and I’m starting off with something a little different.

I finished A Little Life over the weekend, my last book of 2020 and my first book of 2021. It took me about a month to finish not because, at just over 800 pages, it was a challenge, but because… it was a lot. And not enough, as all good books usually are. This blog won’t turn into a book reviews blog, I promise, but rarely am I so affected by a book that I can’t stop thinking about it, so I’m writing about it. I’m even listening to the Spotify playlist that the author compiled for the book as I write this.

About a week before I actually finished it, I put the book down and didn’t come back to it. I was very close to putting the book in the freezer after one particular plot point, but I made the mistake of stopping on a Sunday night. The first thing I thought of Monday morning after a semi-sleepless night was this book, how I was so sad at what had just happened that I couldn’t keep the thoughts from bouncing inside my head like little red balls. So I have to write about it. I have to process what I just read.

If you’re precious about it, I’d stop reading now to avoid spoilers.

Picture by me

From the first few pages, I didn’t know what I was reading about and there a lot of names from the start. That is, in fact, my only complaint about the book: So. Many. Names. Some don’t come back or are only mentioned once or twice in passing, and some keep popping up but I don’t care enough about the character to try to keep it straight. Think One Hundred Years of Solitude but none of the names are related to each other so you don’t have many points of reference.

It wasn’t until about fifty pages in that I could keep the four main characters straight, and it took me the first section to start actively disliking Jude, the person around whom the book’s universe revolves. And yet as the book progressed and I started finding the breadcrumbs about his past and his traumas, my dislike faded, and inevitably I started rooting for him, if anything because of the people around him who loved him so much and were so invested in his wellbeing. Much like the characters themselves, the people who loved him, I found myself begging him to seek help, to talk about his traumas, to unburden the people who cared for him and just try accepting the love that was given to him.

The book is about friendship on the surface, but as you dive deeper and move through the torturous pages, you find it’s about self-love, self-loathing, pride. How those three aspects work together in a span of thirty or so years to conclude in the ultimate act of sparing your loved ones and yourself from further suffering. It’s not a love story and it does not have a happy ending – when you get to a happy part at the end of a chapter, the author warns you it won’t always be like that by crushing the present she’s just constructed. She warns you that more tragedy is coming. And I appreciate that earnest take of life itself, because you don’t know that you’re in the good days until they’re over.

That it’s a book about trauma is obvious from the first few chapters. The three seasons of trauma that Jude experiences could have been books of their own, but that would have been very predictable and sensationalist sales-bait. You may not see many plot points coming (although I successfully predicted the two main deaths), but you know there will be something horrible. You’ll only be surprised by how terrible a specific event is. But you get insult to your injury when you find out what made Jude be what he is, what he sees himself as, because you see what the trauma and the injury have done to him, what they made his life be like. By the time you find out what happened, you almost don’t care – you’re angrier at what his life has become because of it.

I loved this book, despite the can of worms it left writhing in my brain. Its home is in New York City, but it doesn’t do the annoying thing of making the city a character in itself, inserting homages that only other New Yorkers will appreciate and non-New Yorkers will want to move there to understand. The city is a setting, as it should be, and the characters go to a lot of other places as we follow their journey. They have flats in London and houses in Upstate New York – their happiness and suffering are the focal points and settings in themselves. The story is told around their grief, their happiness, their humility. It’s their lives, not their lives as New York has molded them to be lived.

I will also always appreciate a book that isn’t heavy in description – I have no idea what the characters look like aside from Jude’s eye color, Willem’s hair, JB’s body type and Malcolm’s mixed race because they are used as markers, tools to tell a specific part of the story. I know Jude comes to appreciate tailored suits and loves baking and cooking for others (a man after my own heart), and that Harold teaches him to drive; I know Willem is of Swedish decent and has sandy hair; I know JB gained weight after this meth addiction and that Malcolm struggles with his identity because he feels he doesn’t look or act Black enough. And that’s all I needed to know about them to have me invested, because what they look like wasn’t always relevant to the story.

I loved the narrative of the book. It wasn’t linear, as if the author was telling us scenes as she remembered their relevance to the main story arc, and yet it flowed. This only bothered me until the second section, after which point I started trusting the process and understood I would find out what I needed to find out when I needed to. I found this particularly inspiring because I often have issues sticking to a linear story when I write, getting a bit boxed in by my own pressure to tell the story sequentially while dropping breadcrumbs to the ending. Of course, the story does need to have some structure, but that’s where technique comes in, something this author showed me.

I’m at my most inspired after reading a great new book, and this time is no different. After I get over it, that is. I need to mourn this book and the characters; I have to mourn the feeling that I will never again be able to read this book for the first time.

Steaming Black Coffee

The last blog post of the year…

I’ve inadvertently taken the month off, and in observance of my birthday on Friday and the general write-off this year month has been, I’m calling it a day after this one.

It started more emo than it is here, and it all came from the first line, when I was sipping on a cup of black coffee the other day and enjoying the simple pleasure.

Happy reading! And for those who have stuck by this blog from the beginning when posts came once a week, to now when they come once a month (2020, amirite?), thank you. Here’s to whatever the other blog posts, months and days will look like.

She found comfort in the steam from a hot cup of black coffee.

Though she didn’t actively seek it, she always ended up being alone. At the end of the night, at the end of the day. She hadn’t noticed, but loneliness had moved in with her, into her.

It began at her feet, making her walk away from any group of people at a party after the conversation was over. It stayed at her feet for a while and made her walk the other way from coworkers leaving the office, often walking around the block once to make sure she lost them before going to take the train. The loneliness would weigh her feet down and kept her a few paces behind a person she knew who walked ahead of her – the loneliness knew she hadn’t gotten to the voice yet.

The loneliness then moved up her back, keeping it turned away from everyone else. She could hear people talking and would join in even without being asked. The words would come out and the doubt would come in, and the loneliness fed on that and made her keep her back turned. With her feet secured and then her back, the loneliness would make her turn an about face after a few pleasantries exchanged at a friend’s get-together or a polite glance given at the handsome barista.

The loneliness saved her heart and her head for last. They were easy pray and to be savored as dessert. By then, she had stopped being invited, and colleagues kept their pleasantries to the office. With the loneliness firmly rooted inside her, though, she didn’t even notice. She welcomed the quiet and simplicity of her exterior as a welcome contrast to the chatter of her interior. She wanted nothing else besides what she already had, because she hadn’t noticed that the loneliness had taken everything.

It didn’t pain her to part with everything, though, to be reduced to nothing but her apartment, her clothes, her furniture, her knick-knacks. She started the day alone and she ended it alone, and she didn’t notice. Others noticed for her, told her they admired her bravery at going to dinner alone and traveling alone with a book, some puzzles or an adult coloring book. When she wondered if she should mind, if there was something wrong with her for not minding her own company, she looked for people who weren’t alone at the restaurant, or a couple who was laughing together at the bar, to compare. She felt happy for them. Happy that they enjoyed each other’s company, but she didn’t envy them.

When she did feel anything other than simple contentment at her arrangement, she felt wonder. She wondered what arrangements had been made for those people to laugh and joke and spend time together. She wondered what they talked about and if they ever ran out of topics of conversation. She wondered what it felt like to find that arrangement effortless. The loneliness inside her would dig its claws in deeper, reminding her that this was comfortable, familiar and expected. At the prompt, she would retract and leave the others to their own lives.

So she always enjoyed her black coffee alone, and as she watched the steam rise and disappear and absorbed the smell and felt the warmth of the mug on her hand and tasted the bitterness and heard herself say “Mmm,” she was comforted.

Have I Seen Too Much?

In what has become a biweekly tradition, I will start this post with a poor excuse.

I haven’t neglected this space and have actually thought about this entry for about a week, but I haven’t gotten around to actually writing it because… life. Life and its many commitments (one of them being jury duty) and my newfound journey into being kinder to myself and unlearning the “I must work hard to earn time off” mindset.

A week and a bit ago, I did two things on the same day that were unrelated at the time but now I can’t think of one without thinking of the other. For one thing, I finished re-watching all of Sex and the City on HBO Max (honestly, adding that subscription to my roster probably contributed to my neglectingprocrastinating, not writing). For another, I went to a haunted forest for the first time in my life.

How are these two things related? In the first Sex and the City movie, Carrie and Miranda are walking around a Duane Reade looking for a Halloween costume for Miranda. As the two women browse the aisles side by side, a small child wearing a mask jumps out at Carrie to try to scare her, only for her to be unfazed.

“You can’t scare me after everything I’ve been through,” she says as the boy’s mom ushers him out of the way. I’m paraphrasing, but the point was that (spoiler alert?), after being left at the altar earlier in the year, she was not moved by an obnoxious child left unsupervised.

Although the remark is obnoxious itself and very Carrie-esque, I couldn’t stop thinking about it when I was, also, unfazed when walking through the haunted forest.

I couldn’t help but wonder, had I also seen too much?

(See what I did there?)
Photo by Matthieu Joannon on Unsplash

It has been nagging at me for over a week why I wasn’t scared at the prospect of hiking through a trail, in the relative dark, knowing there were things waiting to jump out and scare me. It was a very odd time to have a first-time experience of any kind, but those who had been during normal (read: not COVID) times told me that actors usually get very close to you, getting right in your face in their creepy costumes and forcing you to stop when you really should keep going. In COVID-19 times, of course, anything closer than 6 feet wasn’t advisable or safe, so no one came too close to me other than other hikers. To make up for that, it looked like the organizers put more budget toward the machines and scenery rather than rely on actors to navigate the trail themselves. One of the first few settings was a pitch-black tunnel that, every few minutes, lit up to show a giant fake spider with strobe lights behind it.

After the spider, there were haunted churches, a haunted cottage setting with two hillbilly farmers with chainsaws chasing us (with a 6-foot lead), a haunted pumpkin patch, a freak show section, a haunted museum section, a spaceship section with alien actors running around, ending with an escaped convicts section with a metal song playing loudly in a loop. Sections to overwhelm the senses and scare you, as the announcer said when we went in.

Except… I wasn’t overwhelmed or scared. I was alert. My heart beat faster, my body’s reaction to perceived danger, but I did not let out one scream. I kept walking, leaving my crowd behind a few times, letting my eyes scan my surroundings and stepping around actors clearly positioning themselves to jump out at the next patron. I was uncomfortable in confined spaces and refused to go first when going through doors (although I inexplicably led the way when we first walked into the trail), and that was the only expected reaction I saw in myself all night.

So, why was I not scared and just alert? It is the nature of my anxious disposition that I do not like not knowing what to expect from something or someone, so why was I happy to walk in first? Comparatively, I was very anxious and nervous when I went in for jury duty on Friday, since I’d never done it before, I didn’t know what to expect and I was afraid of getting something wrong.

I did some digging, and the research done so far added to the confusion instead of providing an answer. The least-contradicting source was this Huffpost article that isn’t too recent and is about scary movies, but at least it’s very much pre-pandemic so that’s as reliable as I’ll get for now. According to this article, there are a few reasons people don’t get scared while watching scary movies:

  1. They experience the stress that the adrenaline causes differently, almost enjoying the reaction.
  2. They are not highly sensitive people.
  3. They may have experienced fear and discomfort (from age-appropriate scary movies and attractions) from a young age, so they’re more or less used to it.
  4. They enjoy connecting with others over being scared.

I do not fit into any of these, starting with my last entry on my realization that I may just be a highly sensitive person. I do not enjoy the stress reaction of being scared, as the near panic attacks I get when I see a rodent or I’m somewhere higher than the first floor would indicate.

Going back to my Sex and the City connection, perhaps I have seen too much. There is a lot of trauma and Trauma I’ve experienced, like anyone and everyone, and it takes specific stressors and fears to trigger an adrenaline- and panic-led response.

Knowing that everyone in the haunted forest was an actor and wasn’t allowed to get closer than 6 feet for their own and my safety didn’t scare me but, rather, gave me a task: to finish the hike.

I saw It: Part Two recently, so I knew that killer clowns are in vogue and very much not real, but seeing a rat in the streets of Baltimore on Saturday night sent me into a near panic and walking faster to the car.

Walking through the haunted cemetery section, eyes alert and open to dodge the next actor, only meant that I had to walk the trail and watch out for loose branches that may have tripped me. That isn’t nearly as terrifying and anxiety-inducing as the paralyzing fear I feel in my gut when I think of any illness, accident or disease that could affect my dad as he gets older and isn’t in the shape he was 16 years ago when I started living with him full time.

So, after doing skimpy research, reflecting and writing this post, I’m still not any closer to figuring out why I wasn’t at all scared during a sensory-overload experience meant to overwhelm and scare. At least I know I have the capability to be scared, paralyzed and overwhelmed. I have but to think of standing on a rooftop with mice and rats scurrying around my feet while my dad is being rushed to the hospital to feel my heart race and ears ring, like the actors wanted me to feel while walking through the haunted forest.


Bloom where you are planted.

If a flower doesn’t bloom, you don’t change the flower; you change the environment.

You’ve come across both of these inspirational phrases before in times of adversity, or in motivational posters in a doctor’s waiting room.

But what if I’m an orchid?

Photo by Jessica Knowlden on Unsplash

When orchids are cared for properly, they bloom, wilt and bloom again for years. They require precise conditions to survive and thrive: too much or too little water can harm them; too much or too little light can make them wilt; too much or too little humidity and they won’t bloom another year. Orchids are the flower that you shift your life around to make sure they live, shifting around furniture to let them receive south- and east-facing light, and even adding a humidifier and humidity meter for good measure. Yet sometimes, even with the right amount of light, watering frequency and repotting, orchids don’t bloom.

I have killed many a plant this year, and some haven’t even grown roots. None of them, however, have died out of neglect. I have watered them or removed their water supply if I was advised to. I moved them closer to the sunlight and away from it. I’ve protected them from the cat’s curious reach and let her have free reign of the one that was safe for her (cat grass; a gift for her twelfth birthday). I even tried planting one from scratch: I planted the habanero seeds and tenderly packed the soil before watering it, diligently ensuring that the soil was moist everyday so it could germinate. I watched as two hopeful sprouts emerged from the soil, only to watch them die over the following weeks. I got a miniscule Venus fly trap as a gift and was commanded not to touch it. Only to look at it. Three weeks later, what I tenderly dubbed Cheryl Blossom withered and died a slow death.

There are plenty more plants in my house, plants I’m not the guardian of. These are all thriving: the small aloe vera grows greener every day, promising to have stems large enough to cut for face masks one day. The money tree had a few singed leaves from too much sun exposure, but a careful shift two feet to the left, and he’s growing teeny new leaves. If you sat and watched these plants, they would mock you with their growth. There is even a small red pepper plant that bore a small pepper even though it was left outside all summer, was never repotted and never watered.

Are my dead plants trying to tell me something? To change the environment? That they can’t bloom where they’re planted – they can’t even germinate. Are they a reflection of me and my lack of bloom this year?

Like many a plant optimist, I have said, “This is the last one. If this dies, I’m not getting any more,” only to grieve and flagellate myself for a few weeks at the failure when one more dies before attempting a different kind. I tried my luck at starting an avocado plant from an almost-discarded pit. All guidance said the pit would take two to four weeks to sprout roots, some taking as long as eight weeks. It’s week three, and there aren’t any roots, just tiny white dots forming a ring on the bottom half of the pit, teasing me at becoming roots. This, too, I tenderly look after as much as I (read I) need to and have the common sense to: changing its water once it gets yellowish and ensuring it’s receiving just enough indirect sunlight.

What if this attempt doesn’t bloom either? I have held off giving it a serious name until I see a sprout.

Bloom where you are planted. My dead never-would-be flowers disagree.

What if, like my plants, I can’t bloom where I’m planted? What if I need a different environment? Like an orchid.

I recently read about orchid children and how they take special care to bloom. Most advice is geared toward parents raising sensitive children, even providing a handy 23-question quiz to determine if your child may be sensitive, an orchid. Curious, I took the quiz myself, keeping in mind what I remember I was like as a child and what I’m like now. The threshold for sensitivity in the quiz was 13 – I scored 15. At almost 28, I may have to accept the fact that I’m a highly sensitive person, one who may have been born wired that way and developed into a highly sensitive adult from the trauma and Trauma I’ve endured.

Orchid children are sensitive to their environments and tend to become overwhelmed in loud places, in front of strangers or after a radical, surprise change. Often confused with being shy, a highly sensitive child may prefer to sit in the back of the classroom and not raise their hand even if they know the answer, may be wary around strangers until they get to know them better and may notice the distress of others and withdraw or get upset.

Classic perfectionists, orchids do not do well when told to toughen up, to deal with the stressful environment they’re thrown into. Parenting advice today encourages routines, grounding techniques when the child seems anxious, and balancing the line between letting the child explore, gently pushing them to try new things, and coddling them when they become overwhelmed with a big change. Most of all, parents are encouraged to nurture the highly sensitive capabilities, not belittle them as if they were a weakness.

Because they’re not weaknesses.

By sitting quietly and playing alone, a child can be observant, noticing the colors of the changing leaves or the sounds in the street. Wary of strangers, a highly sensitive teenager may take longer to make friends, but the friendships they form will be lasting and genuine. The sensitive adult who doesn’t participate in workplace banter and watercooler visits may get their work done quicker and be more focused, but will always remember a coworker’s favorite meeting room dessert or ask deep, meaningful questions in meetings that are impactful and useful. The sensitive child will grow up to be an adaptable adult.

Orchid children, like their flower namesake, are highly sensitive to their environment and, if they don’t receive the right care and attention from early on, they grow to view the world as a place to protect themselves from. They learn to always be on survival mode, to retreat when the environment disagrees with them. At least that has been my experience now that I have a term for my personality.

It seems like survival mode hasn’t just been my default this year, but for as far back as I remember. The last time I think I can recall not being in survival mode to some degree was 2015. When I wasn’t constantly thinking, “Just until X happens, then I can breathe easy.” What if my orchid tendencies have been showing through and I just need to find the right environment to bloom out of survival mode?

“Watch me while I bloom,” sings Hayley Williams in the eponymous Watch Me While I Bloom. But orchids don’t bloom on command. When is it my turn to bloom? What does my “blooming” environment look like and how can I get there?

Maybe I’ll get an orchid when I find out.

An Update, Six Months On

When I joined the blogging community, I was conscious of the crowded space I was joining and how difficult it would be to stand apart from the rest. Although that was never my main intention, I knew that most of my voice would be lost in the void. It would have been nice to be noticed, but I never started this blog for anyone other than myself.

I’ve been noticeably absent for a while, and I have to admit that I’ve only given this blog a passing thought this week. Two weeks ago, I prioritized paid work again, and thought I would devote some attention this past week. Then I sprained my wrist.

The sprain doesn’t keep me from typing (obviously), but it did make the beginning of the week kind of painful. I have a brace now that slows me down in everything including typing and writing long-hand, so I have been preoccupied with that this week, doing the bare minimum to go about my daily life while being mindful of activities that may make the pain worse and recovery longer.

If we trace back the order of events that led to this long-healing, irritating injury, it’s COVID related, which is obvious. COVID has also affected the life of this blog and the plan I had for it earlier in the year. Like it has affected many a thing around the world.

Long story short, I was doing a boxing workout using my at-home gym. I’m being generous – my at-home gym is a freestanding punching bag in the yard. I’ve been using the without major issue all summer (it’s a great stress relief), last week I threw a punch the wrong way (or the right way, if I’m optimistic that I hit too hard) and I sprained my wrist. During that same workout, I under-rotated a kick and hit the top of my foot against the hard part of the bag, but (miraculously) my foot was spared any damage.

Where does COVID come into all of this? The only reason I got the punching bag was because I didn’t feel comfortable going back to the gym once it was allowed to open after quarantine, so I figured I’d add a fun way to workout to my routine. A sprained wrist and constantly-bruised knuckles later…

Besides my workout routine, COVID has impacted my writing schedule, aims and goals. Because I’m always home now, endless distractions, chores and lack of discipline has affected what I envisioned as a weekly task. I planned on working on the new novel (and that’s still a goal), but one of the new aims for this blog is now exploring my writing style and habits, and that often means deviating from the content plan I created at the beginning of the year. Not to mention that lockdown drove my friend to create The Artist’s Way group. After finishing the workbook, I know that what I learned informs how I write and create in general, which means I’ve had to be flexible with my content plan.

I worry that the more I write about this, the more this will sound like an excuse for why I haven’t bothered to write for two weeks, and why I haven’t touched my novel in even more weeks. However, this is the best I can do with my current circumstances, and maybe tomorrow will be different. After all, now that boxing workouts are out of the question for a while, my afternoons are free (until I find another way of gym-free working out that I enjoy) and I will make a conscious effort to write more, even if it’s just a few paragraphs.

If I don’t, no one else will. Or, what’s worse, someone else may.