Have you ever tried to be an activist when you have anxiety? Spoiler alert: it’s hard.
Sometimes it feels like I’m anxious about everything. Sudden illness. My family dying. Interactions with cashiers and waiters. Voicemails from people I love. Voicemails from strangers. Facebook messages. Auditions. Not going on auditions. Leaving the house. Staying inside. I have anxiety about my anxiety. Is it affecting my work? Is it ruining my relationships? Probably. But what am I supposed to do about it? That question makes me anxious too.
In my journey with my anxiety, though, I’ve come to one very helpful conclusion so far. My biggest anxiety is that one day, I’m going to die. Rational, right? It’s the thought that motivates me most of the time. To do work hard and do everything I can and want to do before that happens. Sometimes – possibly often - to the point of self-detriment. Example: have you ever met anyone who literally doesn’t know how to relax? Like, attempts to do so typically result in freak-outs of the “I’m-wasting-my-time” variety? Hi. My name is Emily.
So you can imagine what this election season has done to me and people like me. It’s been difficult for everyone, to be sure. But I already can’t stop thinking about rights for women, LGBT+, and minorities being constantly challenged and rolled back in this country. When you put that and worse into the realm of actual possibility, it makes that feeling a hundred times more horrifying.
But there’s an upside to my anxiety in this case. Because I am terrified by the idea of not doing anything, especially when it involves something so important to me, I decided to do something.
I started out by donating to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Not much - fifteen dollars here and there. I’m an actor and a writer who has a day job as a preschool teacher, so no real lucrative occupation whatsoever. But I decided I either needed to find time to volunteer to work, or give some money so it could go to other people’s work. And I had less time than spare change.
But then I started to have more time than money. And also, I wanted to do more. I started to get that feeling that I get when I don’t feel like I’m being productive enough, even if I was actually doing something worthwhile. Basically, the feeling went like this: “You should be volunteering for Hillary Clinton right now. Because in the grand scheme of things, there’s nothing more important than this election. Nothing you’re doing could be more important.”
For the past two days, I’ve been phone banking for Hillary. From my own home, to minimize the social anxiety. This went against every instinct I’ve ever had. I have so much phone-related anxiety that most of the time, I don’t even pick up if it’s my friend calling, let alone an unknown number. But a bigger anxiety won out; the one that’s horrified of the idea that a racist, sexist demagogue could be the leader of the free world.
But, really, making campaign calls broke me a little bit. I didn’t make many, not compared to a lot of people who’ve been doing the same thing. But it was all I could manage with out being overwhelmingly depressed. Most of the calls were not picked up, but each time my anxiety would act up in preparation anyway. I got a few wrong numbers. And the rest both lifted me up and slammed me down in almost equal measure.
I called a woman who seemed to support Hillary, but was annoyed with me for calling, insisted she was on the “Do Not Call” list, and interrupted me as I was trying to thank her for her time before hanging up on me.
I called a woman who did support Hillary, but hung up before I could make sure she knew where her polling place was.
I called a man who just said, “I’m voting for Trump.” I said thank you anyway and hung up. I live in a progressive area, so I don’t think I’d heard someone say that in real life yet. He wasn’t hostile, but it was disheartening.
I called a woman who just said, “Gary Johnson” and hung up.
I called a man who said he was not a Hillary supporter and didn’t want to talk about it. “I understand and appreciate what you’re doing,” he told me, “but I’m just tired of talking about it.” I said I understood and hung up. He was kind, truly. But still.
I called a man, 20 years old, who told me yes, he was a Hillary supporter. “Great! So how are you planning to vote in this election – have you already voted or are you voting tomorrow?” He wasn’t. He isn’t planning to vote at all. There wasn’t even an option for that on the response form that I filled out.
The hope that I feel every time I hear Hillary speak, or see a video from her campaign – all that idealism and excitement – just fell flat after those calls. Don’t get me wrong, I am a very strong supporter of her and have been throughout the election. But I can stay in my own liberal bubble, with my young, educated friends who don’t need my posts on Facebook to know who they’re voting for. Talking to people who don’t live in that bubble is hard. Hearing that they really do exist, and there’s nothing I can do to change their minds is hard. Activism hurts.
But there were other calls, of course. Several people who told me they already voted for Hillary. Several who appreciated the information about their polling places. Several who thanked me for the hard work I was doing. The last part was the best – after a sad call, it really made me feel better.
Then, there was this one call. A woman in Virginia, whose husband picked up to say she wasn’t home. I identified myself as a volunteer for Hillary Clinton, just to let him know who I was, and thanked him for his time as I went to hang up.
“Let me ask you a question,” he said, just before I did. “In your heart of hearts. Is she really the right choice?”
“I really believe so. Everyone has their own opinions of course. But I really, really think so.”
He asked me further about what I thought. He expressed that he was an Independent and an undecided voter, and he was trying to figure out who will be best for the job. He told me some things he liked about Bernie Sanders, and he also told me he was worried about putting another establishment politician in office. I explained to him why I support Hillary, that her stance on civil rights for everyone is the most important thing to me.
We talked for a good while, and then his wife got home, so he handed the phone to her. She expressed similar concerns. She is an immigrant, and told me she detested Trump’s rhetoric on immigrants. But she hadn’t heard either candidate speak about the environment, which is the most important issue to her. I explained to her that Hillary supports taking action on climate change, while Trump does not even believe in it. But I encouraged her to look at Hillary’s website to read more details on her environmental platform and see if it aligned with her beliefs.
We talked for twenty minutes. Both of them were undecided voters, and still were by the end of the conversation. But I really felt good about that discussion. I really think that, at least for twenty minutes, I made some semblance of a difference.
Today, just before I started my ‘shift,’ I got two stickers from the Hillary campaign in the mail. They were thank you gifts, essentially, for donating. One of them, next to an old photo of Hillary, simply said, “Let’s make history.”
And I just had a flash-forward to, one day, showing it to my granddaughter in an old scrapbook or something. I’ll be giving her my HRC t-shirt, because it’s vintage and it’ll impress her friends. And I’ll tell her about sitting at my little desk, calling people, and how it sank my heart and made it sing. I’ll tell her how it felt to fill in the little circle on my absentee ballot, knowing I had never wanted anything more in my life than for it to come true. And I’ll tell her how it felt to watch her win.
And she’ll say, “I can’t believe you got to vote for the first woman president!” Or, if she’s a different kind of girl, she’ll say, “Whatever, grandma. It’s 2010s day at school tomorrow and I just need a cool outfit.”
But it won’t matter. Because she grew up in a world where women can do anything. Where the idea a female president is just a foregone conclusion. And that is just worth it. That is worth all of it.
Netflix’s latest original offering, the eight-episode series Stranger Things, is difficult to describe, because it is of a different breed than anything the company has produced so far. At once heavily referential and totally original, the callbacks to the great sci-fi and coming-of-age films of the 1980s work to establish expectations, only for the Duffer Brothers, the creators of the series, to turn them on their heads by seamlessly incorporating something new. Encompassing elements of science fiction, horror, thriller, crime drama, teen hierarchical drama, and coming-of-age buddy comedy, the show’s genre mish-mash is one of its best features. It’s what allows Stranger Things to feel fresh, even while recalling highly recognizable moments ‘80s film history. And the incorporation of these disparate elements creates a complexity in the world of the show that is always exciting to see in any creative work.
Much has already been made of the use of ‘80s movie references in Stranger Things. As evidenced by this video, there are many, ranging from Alien to the Goonies. And I would argue that there are even more, less obvious comparisons to be made; the resemblance of Nancy’s pre-“the upside-down” arc to John Hughes classics like The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink, for example. But while watching Stranger Things, what resonated most with me was not the obvious direct homage to one of my personal favorites, a shot of four children walking down train tracks that begged a comparison to Stand by Me. The element that I noticed above everything else was the show’s conspicuous feminism.
I call it conspicuous because many of the Duffer Brothers’ reference points for Stranger Things are lacking in this particular department. There is, of course, valid criticism to be made about the treatment of women in Stranger Things. There is in almost every cultural work. But I’m here to respectfully disagree with the notion that the show has given us a group of clichéd female characters with no agency, like many of my favorite ‘80s movies did.
First, let me be clear; I love ‘80s movies, and I always have. I was one of those kids that, after watching The Breakfast Club, Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, and their ilk, wore denim jackets with patches on them and aggressively bright costume jewelry in an effort to will myself into the decade. One year I dressed as Mikey from The Goonies for Halloween, and the adults skipped me when handing out candy because I was basically wearing this outfit. I saw Wil Wheaton’s character in Stand by Me wearing white Chuck Taylors, so I bought white Chuck Taylors. I was even avid enough to fish the likes of Weird Science and Soul Man (yes, that one where C. Thomas Howell uses tanning pills to turn himself black to get a college scholarship) out of the $5 bin at Wal-Mart. I was living for those movies. And I still do. Only now, of course, I’m critical of them (especially Soul Man. I mean, seriously?).
I’m critical of them in the way that I am critical of all movies and television and books now, which is to say that I understand now how few spaces there were for minority groups. And (even though Soul Man is terrible and the racial diversity in Stranger Things is a worthy discussion), for the purposes of this essay, I’m going to focus on the minority group that I’m a part of: women. Of all those movies I loved, all those adventures that I wanted for myself, almost all of them were for boys only. Some token girls might be involved, but never really because they wanted to be, or never really in a serious way. There was a reason why I didn’t dress up as Stef from The Goonies for Halloween when I was twelve. It’s because, who cares about Stef? Stef wasn’t the point. She was Girl #2. Girl #1 was Andi, the pretty cheerleader/romantic motivation, and she wasn’t the point either.
In Stranger Things, Joyce, played brilliantly by Winona Ryder, is the point. The casting of Winona Ryder in itself acts as one of the ‘80s references of the show, simply because her work in films like Beetlejuice and Heathers is so iconic. But Ryder has never seemed interested in those token girl roles I mentioned. Almost without deviation, her career has been made of female characters who are fully realized human beings on the screen, both great and terrible, complicated, damaged, and still wonderful. Joyce is no exception. Stranger Things does not judge Joyce Byers. It does not make her a joke. It does not punish her for making mistakes. In another show, she would be relegated to the background, a grieving mess of a mother who gives Officer Hopper the motivation to investigate what’s going on. In Stranger Things, she’s the one who does the work, even when everyone else assumes she is losing her mind. She grieves, and then she puts on a hazmat suit and jumps into oblivion to search for her son. And she can do both of those things, because she’s a real human, not a chalk outline of a feminine tragedy.
Likewise, Nancy Wheeler is far from that wishful Girl #2 caricature. She displays none of the wilting fragility of those girls who unintentionally get caught up in the conflict. She opts into the adventure. Natalia Dyer portrays Nancy with a thoughtfulness that is missing from most of the ‘80s movie teen heroines of whom she is reminiscent. Nancy has found a place between total obscurity and high school stardom, being shunted into the latter by the romantic interest of Steve, a mainstay of the popular crowd. Much like Molly Ringwald before her, she struggles with balancing his affections with the other things that are important to her: school, her friends, her family. But that’s where John Hughes’s modus operandi falls short; the procuration of the boyfriend is the ultimate goal. In Stranger Things, Nancy’s story only begins there. Over and over, Nancy shows herself to be one of the most realistic and complex teenage characters on television, in any decade. When she has to decide whether or not to have sex with her boyfriend, there is no equivocation; she wants to, so she does, and she doesn’t regret it later. When Steve is more concerned with his own petty troubles than the fact that her best friend has gone missing, she tells him off and leaves him. And she makes the effort to team up with the only other person who understands what she is going through to find her friend. She is not the romantic protagonist of John Hughes, and she is not one of the Goonies girls, whose major contributions involve “bad feelings about this” and hesitant assertions that “we should go back.” She drives the plot, rather than being along for the ride.
Back in the day, when I pulled that Weird Science DVD from the discount pile, I bought it without question, confident in that John Hughes stamp of approval and the presence of Anthony Michael Hall, first in a long series of nerd-boy crushes. This is what that movie is about: two boys use a computer and a Barbie doll to create a woman in the image of what they believe she should be. When she comes to life, she has super powers that are mostly used to conjure up expensive cars for the boys. She serves her purpose to them (i.e. getting the popular girls to break up with their boyfriends and date the nerd boys instead), and then leaves them, to inexplicably become a spandex-clad PE teacher being ogled by high school boys. That was what a female lead in a classic comedy looked like in the ‘80s. And that’s what I saw when I watched it at the age of thirteen; two teenage boys debating on how large the perfect woman’s breasts should be, and whether or not she should have a brain at all.
In Stranger Things, arguably the most central female character is Eleven, played with astounding skill by Millie Bobby Brown. She has been treated like a science experiment for what appears to be most of her life. She also has powers, to move things with her mind. She is also trying to help a group of boys with their ultimate goal – to find their missing friend, rather than to find pretty girls to date them. And those boys also make some attempts to mold her to be more helpful to them, more like what they want her to be. This is true. The thing about Eleven is, she’s not what anyone wants her to be. And the crux of her character arc is her own realization that despite that, there are people who care about her anyway. This is why, even though Eleven has been so traumatized by fear of her captors that it’s hard for her to communicate with anyone, she keeps asking Mike about this concept of friendship. She has spent her life being told what to do and how to be, and being punished when she can’t follow those guidelines. So when she takes off the wig she was wearing to pass as a ‘normal’ girl, she asks Mike if he thinks she is “still pretty.” Not because she needs her appearance validated, but because she knows she’s not what he wants her to be, and she needs to know that that’s okay. Because so far, for her, it never has been. And Mike says yes. Of course. Because that’s what it means to be a friend. Yes, Eleven is a badass. She saves the boys countless times by using her powers. She helps them find their friend Will. She flips a van in midair, and it is so cool. But that’s not what she’s there for. Her vulnerability is so much more important than her strength. And her exploration of herself is so much more meaningful than the life-sized doll of Weird Science happily catering to the whims of insufferable teenage boys.
In Lindy West’s memoir Shrill, she writes, “In a certain light, feminism is just the long, slow realization that the stuff you love hates you.” This is the feeling I have every time I re-watch a movie that I was obsessed with in childhood. When I revisit how useless the girls in The Goonies really were, or that Sixteen Candles scene where Jake casually invites Farmer Ted to go ahead and rape his unconscious girlfriend. Even the ones that aren’t openly misogynistic hurt me a little bit; Stand by Me was my hands-down favorite, and now I realize that there were no women in it at all. I’m glad that I dressed as Mikey for Halloween; I’m glad I could see myself as a leader, even though leader equals boy. It sucks that I had to. That I couldn’t come up with a girl I wanted to be.
Stranger Things was made in the image of the things that I loved, the ones that hated me. But Stranger Things doesn’t hate me. It loves me, and it celebrates me, and it wants me to be anything I want. And it makes me so ecstatic that twelve-year-old girls won’t have to try to figure out how to make a Mike costume or a Dustin costume in October. They can be Eleven for Halloween. And they will.
Friends, Romans, countrymen. I am here today because I saw a movie this weekend, and if you have something to say about it, I probably do not care.
If you've spent any time online recently, you will have heard of Paul Feig's reboot of the 1984 comedy classic Ghostbusters. It stars Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones as the eponymous team of paranormal warriors, and man, is it great.
If you've spent any time online recently, though, you might not know that. You might discover that its perfectly fine and normal and entertaining trailer is somehow the most disliked movie trailer on Youtube, a coordinated effort by Men's Rights Activists (ugh, capitalizing that pains me). You might have also seen some questioning, by legitimate news and entertainment sources even, about whether it's worth it, whether it'll make enough money, whether audiences really want something like this (barf), etc.
I hate to break it to you all, but many, if not most, of these projections and reflections, regardless of where they came from, are really gendered. And regardless of the intent of the person writing them, be it a staff writer at Variety or a moderator on the sub-Reddit The Red Pill, they are ignorant.
So, here are just three of the many, many opinions one could have about Ghostbusters that I, frankly, am not here for. And I am not even going to start on "women are not funny." If there is really anyone who still believes that bullshit, they truly need more help than I can give them. Jesus, maybe? Maria Bamford? It's above my pay grade.
Ignorant Opinion #1: A $46M Opening Weekend Is Not Enough.
The morning after I saw Ghostbusters, I wanted to know more about it, so I cheerfully typed the title into Google. I have to stop assuming Googling things will be an enjoyable experience. In the news section, I was met with mostly the same headline, the same question - some iteration of "Is a $46 million weekend good enough?" The argument appears to be that, because Ghostbusters is already a familiar franchise, such a box office performance doesn't justify the amount of money it took to make.
Is a $46 million weekend good enough? For a recognizable franchise film that cost $144 million to make? Interesting question. Hmm. Given that it did surpass original projections for the film, I can see why you would ask (if I could insert the eye-roll emoji, I would). Let's consult the Mission Impossible team. In 2006, Mission Impossible III, also a recognizable franchise film which cost about $150 million, opened to a $47.7 million weekend. Comparable, right? It did worse than expected at box office, granted. It was a bit of a disappointment for the studio. But did anyone publish articles pondering whether that amount was "good enough"? I don't remember any. I do, however, remember that they made another Mission Impossible movie, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, which cost $145 million to make and grossed LESS THAN $13 MILLION in its opening weekend. Yes. It made less than a third of what Ghostbusters made this weekend.
Woah. Man, sucks to be Tom Cruise, I guess. There's no way they would make another Mission Impossible aft--OH WAIT. A few years later they spent even more money ($150M) on Rogue Nation. Another one is slated to come out in 2018.
Mad Max: Fury Road made less than Ghostbusters in its opening weekend, and it won deserved Oscars. American Pie 2 made less Ghostbusters in its opening weekend, and we cannot get rid of that dumbass franchise, no matter how hard we try. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines made less, and they still made Salvation. Terminator Salvation made less, and they STILL made Genysis.
So, what I really want to know is, is a $46 million dollar opening weekend good enough for what? For the studio? For a sequel? Or for Hollywood to stop pandering to white men and start giving us the kickass female leads we deserve?
That's the real implication here, isn't it? No one asks if it was good enough for Mission Impossible. Because it doesn't matter if it was good enough. It only matters when a studio takes a "risk" by portraying women as real human beings.
Ignorant Opinion #2: "God, EVERYTHING has to be about women(/racial minorities/gay people/literally anyone who doesn't look and act like me) now?!"
There's this great exchange in the movie in which the Ghostbusters are confronting the villain, who is actually described as one of "the sad, pale ones" - an entitled, creepy dude who has decided to take over the world because he wants people to bow to his will. They are trying to convince him that the world is ultimately good and worth saving. He responds that if they believe that, they must know what it's like to be treated with respect and dignity, unlike him. Abby, Melissa McCarthy's character, says, "No, people pretty much dump on us all the time, actually."
If you truly, truly believe that "feminazis" are taking over the world, please take a breath and, seriously, literally, look around you. Right now, at this moment. How many books on your shelf are written by women or racial minorities? How many black faces do you see on your TV? Can you identify the female characters in that movie by name? When I say "physicist," are you thinking of a woman? When I say "housekeeper," are you thinking of a man?
When you are used to a world that has belonged to you since birth, it can be difficult to share. But the next time you are at the movies, genuinely, just do some counting. Look up some real, scientific statistics. Still convinced we're taking over?
Ignorant Opinion #3: They are ruining the original Ghostbusters.
I saw the original Ghostbusters when I was a kid. I remember thinking it was okay. I liked it, sure. I didn't ever ask to watch it again. You know what I did ask to watch, all the time? Matilda. I loved Matilda. I couldn't get enough of that story. Because it made me feel powerful. To see this little girl do such big things and help all the people she loved. If a person who was like me could find the courage to do that, I could too.
Here's what we mean when we say, "representation matters": I never once even considered the idea that I could be a real writer, until I found out that J.K. Rowling was a woman. In college, I was very good friends with a guy who wrote and directed his own shorts all the time. But I didn't ever even fathom that I could do that, until one girl, who I knew vaguely because she worked as his camera operator, made her first film. Those were the moments when everything changed for me.
When I was leaving the theater I saw Ghostbusters in, two preteen girls were walking out behind me. I overheard them discussing the movie, one of them in a voice like she had just seen a new color. "You can write a movie, and direct it? So like, if I have an idea, I can write it and direct it myself?!"
That girl probably hasn't seen the original Ghostbusters. But everything is going to be different for her, now that she knows that she can do anything.
Everything bad that happens in the world feels worse to me because I teach young children.
The day job that I chose, in order to make some kind of living while pursuing acting and writing, could have been anything. Waiting tables. Selling tickets. Secretarial work. Instead, I ended up spending my days with members of the most vulnerable population on earth, charged with making the world make sense to them. And sometimes, it’s really, really hard.
Two of the kids in my class are currently on a long vacation with their families in Europe. They planned to visit several countries and places, but they were to begin in Nice, France. I don’t know their itineraries, but I know that Nice was their first stop, and they’ve been gone for over a week, so they probably aren’t there any more. They probably weren’t there on Bastille Day, when someone in a truck killed almost a hundred people while they were watching fireworks. They weren’t, right? Probably not. At this point, I don't actually know.
The thing is, I kind of predicted it. The day after the attack on the Brussels airport happened, I was playing with the girl who would be taking that vacation in a couple of months. I imagined the world without her brightness, her enthusiasm. The songs she sings, whichever one she's learned most recently, weirdly in tune for a five-year-old. At an age when most children can’t fathom that adults have lives outside of their relevance to themselves, she regularly asks me what I did over the weekend, how I am feeling. I imagined a world without that compassion.
She’s going over there, where they can hurt her. Whoever they are. As if they are far away and not everywhere, all the time.
I was on vacation when the attack on Pulse nightclub in Orlando happened. Four days later, I had to go to work and cheerily lead circle time, read stories, prepare snacks. While I explain to these kids that we include everyone in our games, that excluding is unkind and hurts people, they have to overhear, on the news, a person who could be their president make speeches about banning people who are different from him from their country.
The only black child in my class occasionally says to me, casually, as though complimenting my shoes, “I like your skin color!” The only thing I can think to say is, “Thank you, I like your skin color, too!” During the week of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we talked briefly about how a long time ago, the country had rules that made it okay to treat people badly because they looked different from you, and Martin Luther King, Jr. worked really hard to change the rules so that people had to treat everyone equally.
We didn’t talk about race. We don’t talk about race. Even though, when we read books with illustrations of darker skinned characters, the kids always point them out as looking like the one black child. We say, everyone looks different. We put the differences of light-skinned and dark-skinned people in the same category as people with long hair and people with short hair. We do it because we want them to grow up believing that. We do it because we think, we hope, that if they never learn that racism exists, they will sprout up into a generation of unconditional love.
We do it, too, because it’s not our place. Obviously. It’s not my place as a teacher to explain to them how the words “black lives matter” could possibly be controversial. It’s not my place to tell them what the leaders of the civil rights movement had to go through to change those rules. It’s not my place to tell them it didn’t work. To tell them, during our unit about community helpers, that there are some police officers who won’t protect you. Especially you, the boy who looks like Alton Sterling’s children. The boy who is the same age and color as Diamond Reynolds’s daughter, who watched Philando Castile die from the backseat.
One September day in fourth grade, I came into school and my teacher was acting strange, and she was trying to decide if she should tell us something or not. We encouraged her to tell us, smiling because we thought it would be some kind of fun surprise. She had to clarify that it was not a good thing. Then she made the decision to turn on the classroom television and let us watch as the news played footage of the planes hitting the Twin Towers. I didn’t realize this was unusual until I discussed it with friends, years later. Some of them had attended assemblies that broke the news in a controlled way. Some of them went home early without understanding why. Some of their teachers just went on with the school day without letting on, without saying a word. None of them watched like my class did. I can’t imagine making the decision to turn on the TV. But I can’t imagine moving on without acknowledging it, letting everyone goof around and laugh like it was a normal day.
This is different, though. These kids are in preschool. The father of the black boy in my class is much better equipped to talk to him about these things than I am. The two dads of another girl I teach obviously understand better than I do when and how to talk to her about LGBT rights. But what about the white kids? What about the kids with straight parents? What about the boys, who I have to correct when they tell the girls they can’t play Avengers, or when they shame each other for wanting to pretend to be the girl puppy from PAW Patrol? Who is going to talk to them about this stuff?
None of this changes the fact that it’s still not my place, and it never will be. But it makes me feel powerless. I am a parent with no children. I am responsible for feeding them, getting them to sleep, wiping their bottoms, cuddling them, giving them love. I’m responsible for their growth and development, for their intellectual progress, for teaching them to be considerate and empathic human beings. But they are not mine.
So, I do what I can. I talk about how, “If we were all the same, the world would be so boring!” I stop and discuss with them when someone refers to nail polish as ‘girl stuff.’ When I read books to them, I sometimes change the pronouns to ‘she’ and ‘her,’ because I don’t want them to decide that being a boy is a prerequisite for being important enough to have a story. When they ask me tough questions, I answer as honestly as I can. Ghosts aren’t real, so you don’t have to be scared. Dragons aren’t real, either. Dinosaurs used to be. True love is.
Bad guys are real. I try to make sure they understand that.
But good guys are real, too.
This is not a beauty blog. I am not a beauty blogger. I promise you I never will be.
I work in a preschool, which means my everyday existence involves early alarms, long commutes, long hours, paint, glue, glitter, and, of course, the many bodily fluids of the little ones. I love them, but I do not love their puke.
As such, my general morning routine works as follows: wake up about 30-40 minutes before I have to catch the train, think about taking a shower but decide not to, pull on a t-shirt and yoga pants, throw my hair up in a claw clip to minimize the fact that I probably should have taken a shower, make myself some tea, and rush out the door. I literally never even think about makeup in the morning. Why would I even consider wearing nice clothes when nine out of ten days involve some degree of food/snot/watercolor stains? Who am I here to impress? The four-year-olds? Sometimes, if I have an audition right after work, I'll put on eyeliner and mascara and lipstick before I leave, and all the kids are straight-up stunned. I've received such high praise as, "What's that black stuff on your eyes?" and "You look kinda weird!"
This is all to say that, in my daily life, I don't have the time or the patience to think about beauty products. Would I like to look better every day? Of course, said every person ever. Am I willing to sacrifice sleep to a skin-care regimen or my Modcloth dresses to reckless, paintbrush-wielding tinies? Absolutely not. And I'm mostly okay with this existence. It works for me. Mostly.
Except that, I'm trying to take better care of myself, remember? And I guess beauty products are a great way to exercise self-care. Or so the Internet tells me. So I thought I would head to the Lush store one day, when I got off work early, just to see if I could find anything that might help me in my quest to make myself feel better.
Now, you're talking to a woman who, when in need of bath products, goes to the grocery store and buys the cheapest brand of color-care shampoo and conditioner. So, the sticker shock was pretty real. I was first introduced to Lush products through a gift that, ironically, one of the kids gave to me for Christmas - a bath bomb, plus a small box including shower gel and body conditioner (whatever that was). I tried out the latter, after reading instructions, and it made my skin feel super soft and I loved the smell. So I saved the rest of it for special days. Walking around this store full of bright, candy-scented stuff to slather on your body, I figured, let's just assume this is a special day. Let's assume that it's worth it to buy some expensive, nonessential stuff, for no other purpose than to make me feel good.
Over the course of two trips (plus the aforementioned gifts), I acquired seven different Lush products for seven different purposes. And then I thought, 'Why not just use them all at once? Just to see what happens?'
So, that was my night. My entire goal? Literally, just to relax.
I am terrible at relaxing. So, to that end, I began by pouring myself a glass of sangria and lighting a candle. Because that seems relaxing. Then I turned on Jane the Virgin, got in the tub, and started with the infamous Lush bath bomb. As it was a gift, it did not have a label, but it appeared to be the Fizzbanger. My suspicions were confirmed when little notes with the word "BANG" on them fluttered out. I initially thought they might be temporary tattoos (don't talk to me about logic), and was slightly disappointed when I discovered they weren't. In case you were wondering how much I truly need to divorce myself from a preschool mentality.
Watching the bathwater turn from yellowish to blueish to greeny-teal was visually fascinating to me, and it did distract me from the fact that I was being totally unproductive for a little while. I meant to spend more time just luxuriating in the tub, but after the whole ball dissolved, a sneaky feeling of dis-ease began to invade, so I had to actively stave it off.
Full disclosure, I had actually set a notebook within arms reach, in case I wanted to work on the shot list for my short film while I "relaxed." But I didn't cave! Instead, I moved on to the next product, a facial cleanser called Coalface which I bought specifically because it was the only one in a small enough chunk to be priced at under six dollars. It really did make my face feel good, and, placebo effect or not, my face still feels softer today. So that's good news! I started using the Pumice Power foot treatment, which involved scrubbing what is basically a sandy bar of soap over my soles, but I don't think I used enough of it - I was worried of running out too quickly. Alas, my weirdly triangle-shaped toe calluses remain.
After that, I paused Jane the Virgin, drained the bathtub, and got ready for the shower portion. At this point I had been in the bathroom for about an hour and I figured it was time to deal with my gross hair. I've been having hair problems for a while - my first Lush purchase was an expensive conditioner that I prayed would be the answer to my particular problem of oily-top-half/dry-damaged-bottom-half. I started my shower by ducking out of the shower, drying off my hands, and Googling how to use a Lush shampoo bar - the Jason and the Argan Oil Shampoo Bar, to be precise, which I bought half because I loved the smell of the matching shower gel from my preschooler, half because I appreciated the mythological pun. Solid shampoo was simple enough, followed up by the aforementioned conditioner (American Cream, which actually does do wonders for my worst-of-both-worlds hair) and shower gel (Rose Jam, the scent of my soul). Finally, to close it all out, my "special day" Ro's Argan Body Conditioner, which makes my epidermis feel like it has been entirely saturated with lotion.
In short (because this is already way too long to discuss the personal hygiene habits of any individual, barring all Kardashians), I got better at relaxing the longer I did it. And that's consistent with most things, in my experience. I'm a big believer in the idea of deliberate practice - you know, the whole "It takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert" thing. When I wanted to be a better writer, I made it a point to do an hour of focused writing every day. When I wanted to learn guitar, I set aside time every week. So, if relaxing doesn't come naturally to me, I guess it makes sense that I just have to practice. Only 9,998 hours to go, right?
Additionally: I smell AMAZING today.
My name is Emily, and I have a mental illness. I think.
I've only recently started calling it that. I think about and write about and refer to it in my head as my mental illness. There are elements of depression and elements of anxiety, and there's an underlying problem with anger that I'm getting better with but don't want to discount or ignore. But I've never actually been diagnosed. Probably because I've only seen one therapist, for three or four sessions in 2014, right after I graduated college and right before I moved to a different state and never got around to calling a new one.
When you're in a good place, it's really easy not to think about it. When you're not in the middle of an episode, it doesn't occur to you that you really do need help. At least, it doesn't for me. I've always thought of my behaviors as extremely mild. Like, depression has never stopped me from getting out of bed and going to work. There was a time that I would sometimes be socially anxious enough that I wouldn't go out and do something I wanted to do, but that hasn't really happened since high school. I'm basically okay, I tell myself.
The truth is, I have no idea how bad it is. There's no way for me to know if this is normal. Is it healthy to deal with your feelings by crying? As much as I do? Here's a representative sample of things I've cried about recently:
I've always known I was sensitive and vulnerable. I've always been that way. But is this degree of it really healthy? Some of these things seem like they are. Things that just tug on my heartstrings and make me verklempt. That seems okay. But I'm starting to think that a lot of these things cause this reaction in me because, contrary to what I constantly present to the world, I might actually be totally insecure and never feel like I'm good enough.
I think sometimes about how women who have endometriosis are rarely diagnosed early, because when they seek help for their pain they are told that that's what periods are supposed to feel like. Menstrual cramps are normal, so they should just take some Advil and get over it. Or else, they never seek help for their pain in the first place, because they've already internalized that they're just supposed to suffer. I feel like something similar might be affecting my perception of my mental illness. "You've always been emotional, Emily. Crying about stuff is just your thing. Being worried all the time and unable to relax is your thing. It's not like it's real depression." - My brain to me, every time I start to think that maybe I should be happier.
I'm like this about most aspects of my health, the same way my mom is. She works constantly - 80-hour weeks at her company, dinners on the table, clean counters and carpets and coffee tables. She never can convince herself to stop long enough to go to a doctor's office. Similarly, if I choose to watch something on Netflix or read a book instead of write or look for auditions, I kick myself for it almost immediately. The full-time job I have to support myself takes a huge chunk of time away from being an artist. If I waste the only time I have to be an artist (a.k.a., "free time," as it is known to most working adults) on frivolous things like 'relaxing' or 'self-care', I'll never get anywhere. This, incidentally, is a major aspect of the anxiety side of my mental illness.
So, I work, pretty much all the time. So do most women I know. So did my mom. Until about six months ago, when she finally did go to a doctor and was told that she has MS. She's doing pretty well, now that she's on the right medication and has stopped working. But she told me recently that the doctors discovered she has had it for over five years. If she had gone in for a check-up during that time, if she had asked somebody to look into why her legs ached or why her fingers sometimes went numb, she would have known that.
After that conversation (and after I cried about it, natch), I decided it would be a good idea to get out of the habit of ignoring my own well-being. It's incredibly overwhelming, actually. I can think of five doctors, right off the bat, that I should see, if I treated my pain like it was worth fixing (physician, psychologist, ENT, dentist, gynecologist, and this is just my first pass). Thinking about how much time it'll take to go through all these processes makes me extremely anxious about the opportunity costs.
But I've decided to start treating myself like I matter more than my work. That means appointments. That means taking it easy on myself. Vacations. Relaxing. Reading. Journaling. Yoga. Meditation. Whatever it takes. Whatever I have to do to be both happy and productive, and, hopefully, have a long enough life to enjoy both as much as possible.
Next stop: therapy. I've just emailed two psychologists in my area.
Here's to feeling better.