My Favorite Words

As a voracious reader, a writer who prides herself on an excellent vocabulary, as well as an overall nerdery for language, I present to you, my favorite words.

 

1. Evocative

2. Maudlin

 3. Schmaltzy

4. Hutzpah

5. Eloquent

6. Terse

7. Excellent

8. Arduous

9. Eccentric

10. Clusterfuck

11. Cathartic

12. Fuck

13. Spiel

14. Aplomb

15. Minutiae

16. Detriment

17. Epithet

 

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For My Mom, Who Dreamed of Getting Published

Recently, I have been working on a column for a major comedy website. Since I don’t want to jinx its potential publication, I won’t divulge any further information. Getting a by line on a popular website is a huge accomplishment in my writing career, such as it is. I didn’t go to school for writing, but I’d be foolish not to pursue something for which I have a natural talent.

In that way, I am most definitely my mother’s daughter. She was always reading something new, sometimes finishing a book a day. She took us to bookstores, libraries, and instilled in us an appreciation for eloquence and the written word.

Mom’s skill for writing was put to good use when my sister and I were kids. She told us bedtime stories that she had made up, created games for us using her imagination, and even wrote rhyming clues for a Halloween party scavenger hunt. However, her dream was to be published.

My love of words started early, thanks to a mom who was dedicated to making sure that her dangerously-premature twins weren’t developmentally delayed. For all the flaws my mother has, for all the resentment I may have towards her, I have to give her credit for all the energy and effort she put into making sure we were ready to start school. She read to us, taught us, played with us, and in general made sure that we wouldn’t be limited just by having been born so early. As a result, the opposite was true. I learned my alphabet at 3, and I could read by 4. When my sister and I started kindergarten at 5, we were far ahead of the other children academically. While she was proud of us for being so bright, tearing herself away from us was difficult on that first day of school.

My dad worked a lot, and when he wasn’t at work, he was drunk. Therefore, my mother did a lot of the heavy lifting of parenting alone. One child would be difficult enough, but they had twins. How she managed to do this with two children who had such differing personalities is beyond me.

She always believed in writing what you know. So, on that day she saw us off to our first day of school, August 16, 1993, she wrote a poem chronicling our early health struggles, her sleepless nights, and the heartache of being without us for the first time. Her aspiration was to get this poem published in a women’s magazine. You know the kind, the magazines that cater to “domestic goddesses,” with recipes and child-rearing advice, and writing submissions from readers that pay small amounts of money. She submitted her poem, and it was rejected for publication. To my knowledge, she has never tried again to get published. In my house growing up, before my parents were divorced, there was a copy of her poem hanging on the wall by the phone in the kitchen. (I’m really showing my age in that there was only one phone for the family. It wasn’t even cordless!)

These days, my mother still has her artistic hobbies. She makes earrings, takes photos, collects seashells, and delights in decorating her apartment with various beach-themed tchkotches. She seems happy, but I know that she always wanted more for herself. Every time we talk, she praises me for my ambition, resourcefulness, and tenacity. She was always easily discouraged, so she is proud of me for my dogged determination to create a career for myself doing what I love. She has always encouraged my talent for writing and would consider me successful even if this upcoming column is the only thing I ever publish. So, here you go, Mom, this one is for you.

On Depression, Addiction, and Art

It’s hard enough to create meaningful friendships and relationships in this world, to withstand the ups and downs afforded by life all by itself. Alienation, financial instability, loss, envy, and heartbreak are all just a part of life. Every few years, some Old White Man creates a ruckus by stating that “Life’s not fair.” However, for those of us with mental illnesses and trauma in our lives, life can seem overwhelming and insurmountable.

The more that I read about the most famous and notoriously depressed and addicted artists of our time, the more I have sympathy. And the longer I slog through life with the emotional bruises caused by my crosses to bear, the more I understand and relate. Years of pain can contort a person into someone that they never thought that they would become. It twists you into a complete funhouse mirror version of yourself, complete with demons, addictions, tics, and triggers.

Depression is like a cannibalization of the soul. It eats away at you, and sometimes, the only way to stave off the pain is to create art. Oftentimes, this art is melancholic, dark, and weary. To someone without depression or other mental illness, it’s easy to label someone as a “downer.” In my opinion, it is the ultimate strength to grow and create things out of pain.  However, it can feel as if a race against time and a fight against one’s own malfunctioning brain. It’s the eternal question of whether art can save the depressed person from themselves, or will the illness consume them first?

Take for instance, Nirvana frontman, guitarist, and songwriter Kurt Cobain. In high school, I was repelled by what I saw as sub-par lyrics, mediocre musicianship, and grating vocals against a backdrop of the grunge-y, anti-commercial, anti-everything early ’90s. A decade after Kurt’s passing, I had missed the boat on their prime, and I just didn’t get the appeal. I compare Nirvana to Pink Floyd. I’ve often said half-jokingly that a person can’t appreciate Pink Floyd unless they’re a pothead. I didn’t grow to really like Nirvana until I was forced to peer up at the world from my pit of depression. When my perspective changed, so did my opinion on this ground-breaking band.

When I listen to Nirvana now, I find myself a little closer to the headspace Cobain was most likely in. Loneliness, despondency, and anger characterize the band’s music. Finally, the sonic equivalent of the oppressive emotions so many of us are afraid to express. Rather than causing me to wallow deeper into self-pity and pain, somber art gives me hope, a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel of darkness. It’s the thought that one day, I, too, can create art that outlives me, art that others can identify with that validates and relieves their pain, if only a little bit.

Much has been written about Kurt Cobain’s personal life. He was a domestic violence survivor. He suffered intense physical pain due to an undiagnosed stomach condition. He had depression and bipolar disorder, both of which can be debilitating if not treated properly and diligently. Determined to self-medicate, he developed a much-discussed addiction to heroin. Alcohol and drugs, especially opiates like heroin, seem very appealing to a person in physical and emotional pain. Substances dull the senses, and they’re a quick fix for relief. It’s a vicious cycle, one that ultimately depleted Kurt in the end. I could mention a dozen other famous musicians, actors, and writers whose illnesses fed into drug addictions, whose pain helped to create some of the most celebrated art of all-time, but I think you get my point.

Not all mental illness is co-morbid with addiction, or vice-versa. Drugs and alcohol are just another coping mechanism, a particular path, that the depressed often take as an escape from reality. Sometimes this leads to the endless, self-perpetuating catch-22 of addiction that ends in either death or sobriety. And both can seem equally scary for different reasons.

Sobriety means facing your skeletons in the closet head-on, having to not only acknowledge their presence, but to actively work to rid yourself of that anguish. It’s the most intimidating thing a person can do, and it feels so easy just to put it off or push it away. After all, therapy or treatment mean having to relive that pain all over again. It’s much more comfortable to use some kind of substance to block it out, stuff it down until you can’t remember it, can’t feel it, or just don’t care.

While I don’t want to turn this into a political op-ed piece, the way we regard mental illness and drug addiction in this country is atrocious. Those of us struggling with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and PTSD (it’s not just limited to veterans) are labeled as damaged and defective. The stigma associated with mental health is such that someone who is suffering is considered weak. Better to brave it out and be thought of as strong than to seek help is a myth that many people still believe. We also simultaneously lampoon and glorify mental illness and addiction, depending on the public’s view of that particular celebrity. It’s a fucked-up system that helps no one and certainly needs fixing.

But I digress, living with mental illness is gut-wrenching, difficult, sad, frustrating, infuriating, and physically draining. When you can, laugh at it. Many comics have carved out a career poking fun at their past and present afflictions, diffusing the pain and helping others by being able to relate.

When the arduous task of managing my depression and PTSD feels as if it’s about to engulf me, I write about it. Though my writing may be “too honest,” the act of laying bare my burdens is a catharsis that helps to relieve me of that weight. If some readers think my work, and the art of other depression and aching individuals is too heavy, that’s ok. My art is not for them. This is for everyone who needs help finding their way out of the darkness. You are not alone.

The 6 Most Mediocre Songs From Great Artists

Music is my favorite topic in the world. I love writing about it, talking about it, listening to it, collecting records, and reading articles on the subject. Having been inspired by my friend Adam Tod Brown’s recent Cracked article, 10 Great Songs By The Worst Bands Of All Time, I decided to write a little article on its opposite. Without further ado, here are six of the lamest, most mediocre songs from some of the most legendary artists of all time.

6. “Those Shoes” by The Eagles

Thanks to The Big Lebowski, it’s in vogue to hate The Eagles. However, having grown up in the South, and raised on classic rock, I can’t help but be a fan. Smooth vocal melodies, strong imagery in their lyrics, and a distinctive sound have cemented The Eagles’ well-deserved spot in the annals of rock history. The self-titled album, and One Of These Nights, are classic efforts. By 1979, creative and personality differences, as well as drugs, threatened to split up the band. It was in this tone in which they released The Long Run. Featuring legitimately good songs like “In The City” and “I Can’t Tell You Why,” the album was a commercial success. Despite this, the weariness of the band showed through. Nowhere is this more obvious than in side two’s “Those Shoes.” Meant as a send-up of indulgent LA culture, the insipid lyrics and sometimes-vocalist Don Henley’s half-assed effort on this song make it one of their most forgettable tracks.

5. “Not Enough Love In The World” by Don Henley

Speaking of Don Henley, his solo work is among my favorite guilty pleasures. “Boys Of Summer,” from his second solo release, Building The Perfect Beast, is one of my all-time favorite songs. It’s stark, visual, and beautiful. “Sunset Grill,” about a real-life restaurant in one of Hollywood’s coolest sections, is another excellent tune. An easy target for criticism on said album is “All She Wants To Do is Dance.” Cloyingly yet catchy, it’s understandable. But “Not Enough Love In The World” isn’t even catchy. The heavy use of synthesizers belies its age, as it was a mid-80s adult contemporary hit. Ultimately, Mr. Henley can do better, even as maudlin love songs go.

4. “Glory Days” by Bruce Springsteen

Those who know me know that I love me some Boss. Handsome, insightful, and possessing a unique talent for staying forever-relevant, Bruce Springsteen is one of the greatest songwriters and performers of any generation. Everyone has their opinions on Bruce, whether they prefer his more dark and haunting Nebraska, the minimalist Darkness On The Edge Of Town, or the radio friendly Born In The U.S.A. It’s from the latter that this song originates. While this album gets lambasted by purists, there are some really enjoyable songs on this upbeat album. “Glory Days,” however, crosses the line from optimistic to hokey. Simultaneously canonizing the past, and misusing a common drug slang, this song just makes me think of my dad cueing this up on the jukebox at the local taco joint while sipping on a Bud. Something tells me that he isn’t the only one.

3. “Wonderful Christmastime” by Paul McCartney

With the holiday season just around the corner, I know that I’ll be subjected to this awful song. I don’t think I need to inform anyone of Paul McCartney’s history or his influence on popular music. His is a fame so obliquitous that it goes without saying. His incredible body of work makes this Xmas fluff all the more egregious. Boasting the worst synth line this side of a Fisher Price keyboard, the tune gets no better when the lyrics begin. To paraphrase Spinal Tap, “There are four words in the whole song.” I dread hearing this song in every coffee shop, bank, and department store for the next month and a half.

2. “Girl” by Beck

Beck is an acquired taste. I understand why. He’s a weird, experimental multi-instrumentalist who grew up in the Church of Scientology. His ability to transcend genres and defy expectations are exactly why he’s one of my favorite artists. It wasn’t until I heard his “break-up album” Sea Change that I really grew to appreciate him as an artist. I recommend that album to any newcomers to his work. My first introduction to his music wasn’t as smooth. When I was 17, I worked part-time at a Quiznos in my hometown. My unhappiness was increased exponentially by the fact that we only had one CD to play in the restaurant. It was a grating mix of current (in 2005) songs including “Beverly Hills” by Weezer, “Walking With A Ghost” by Tegan and Sara, and “Girl,” from Beck’s 2005 album Guero. (Fun fact: pronounced “WHere-oh,” it’s Spanish slang for “white boy.”) Years later, when I finally became a Beck fan, I grew to like this album, especially the lead single “Hell Yes.” But “Girl” and its violent imagery is still skipped over every time I listen to it.

1. “Into The Great Wide Open” by Tom Petty

Like I said earlier, I’m a big fan of classic rock. Tom Petty is ever-present on terrestrial radio stations that play 70s and 80s music, and for good reason. “Last Dance With Mary Jane” will always remind me of a fond memory of my now-deceased cousin playing this song while he was helping to teach me the guitar. I’ve been known to enjoy Mr. Petty’s work with and without The Heartbreakers, and even with the Traveling Wilburys. “Into The Great Wide Open” is by far his most complacent song. A story song about a boy’s rise and fall in the music industry, it sounds like Tom and Co wrote it while sleeping. I get what this song is trying to say, I just wish it was said better. With hacky forced rhymes and a go-nowhere ending, this song is a disappointment every time I hear it. Excusing this song, however, his material is classic, and I highly recommend it. The same can be said for the rest of these artists. Let me know if there are any I have forgotten. There may even be Part II. Happy Listening!

In The Most Unlikely Of Places

My life is not where I’d like it to be right now. In fact, I have quite a few obstacles that I have to overcome. This is not where I thought I would be in my career at 25. I’m flat broke and relying on public assistance. My depression and PTSD create emotions that I wish I could bury. Despite all of these things, I feel fortunate. I fell in love with my best friend.

 

As I was growing up, I had very few friends. I was often lonely, and I couldn’t relate to many people. Even in more recent years, I didn’t feel as if I was understood. In my last relationship, the guy in question treated me like an eccentric muse whose pain could be utilized for his artistic benefit. He didn’t really care about my happiness. It was during this time that I befriended the guy who is currently a bright spot in my life.

 

We met in May, at a mutual friend’s birthday party. I initially didn’t feel an attraction, but I did enjoy his company. As my relationship with my then-boyfriend progressed, I had a friend and confidante in the slight, bespectacled intellectual with whom I had clicked so easily. Many nights were spent hanging out at my apartment, just talking and drinking tea. More than ever before in my life, I felt that I could share thoughts, feelings, and doubts with someone without fear of judgment. He told me that he had fallen in love with me. While I was slower to that conclusion, the honesty, candidness, and sincerity with which he spoke warmed my heart. Before long, I ended my unhealthy relationship. Fate, destiny, or whatever you want to call it, took care of the rest.

 

I found a deep, abiding love in the most unlikely of places. I’m in love with the most caring, supportive, kind, and wonderful guy I’ve ever known, and it feels incredible. It sounds like a fairy tale, a myth, or a plot to a Nicholas Sparks film. But believe me, no truer words have been spoken.

 

This blog post, a recent viral success on the topic of marrying one’s best friend, couldn’t have been written at more appropriate time in my life. It has tapped into the insecurities of men I know, one in particular, who feel as if they’ve been slighted by this same situation. This friend of mine posted a lengthy screed against falling in love with one’s female friends, saying that it most certainly puts men on the fast track to heartbreak and disappointment. No stranger to unrequited love, he harbors a distinct grudge against women who he views as ready to “friendzone” him from the offset.

 

In one of my previous posts, I delve into the misogynistic concept of the friendzone. In the minds of many boys and men, this is an unfair category in which they are placed, depriving them of all things sexual. If only they could crack the code, or deposit enough coins in the sex bank, they would be privy to the illustrious vagina. Guys like my friend complain that, despite all the nice things that they have done for these harlot jezebels (italics = extreme sarcasm), they have not been rewarded with their rightful pussy prize.

 

I doubt any of those men in question are reading this blog post, but if they were, I would say this: you are not entitled to sex. No one is. Attitudes like these are what contributes to rape culture. In effect:

1. You are only being nice to someone in exchange for what they can do for you.

2. The specific thing you are looking for in exchange is sex.

3. As this article kindly points out, sex is not a commodity to trade.

4. If you use social pressure to obtain sex, that is not true consent.

5. You don’t value that woman as a person, only her potential as a sex object.

 

While my friend used humor to defuse his hurt feelings, he still wondered, via Facebook status update, “How did he do it?” What sort of trickery did my boyfriend use to traverse the tricky friendzone? The answer: Nothing.

 

If we hadn’t decided that our relationship should exist on a romantic level, it would still exist. Everything I love about this guy, I would still love. I appreciate his intellect, his sense of humor, his nerdiness, kindness, and irreverence. The only special trick he used to snag me was treating me like a human. He listened to and remembered the things I told him. He did nice things for me because it would make me happy, not for what it would get him in return. More than anything else, he opened himself up to get to know me and treated me as someone worthy of that honor.

 

It’s unfortunate that these wonderful traits that he possesses are so rare in other men. I’m not demonizing men like some sort of man-hating Feminazi (oh, the horror). Instead, it’s our institutionalized hetero-normative, male-dominated culture that creates this divide. In other words, all this and more can be yours. All you have to do is question the patriarchy and treat women with respect. Just ask my new boyfriend.