Angst and Eyeliner

I have been in an angsty period for the past few months, though recently things are starting to come together.  An unrequited crush, an unsuccessful interview, and, honestly, a little persistent headache.  No, I haven’t gone crazy with eyeliner and I am still wearing a few colors every once in awhile.  I’ve gotten pretty good at battening down the angst-hatches and only bringing it out in phone conversations with my friends.

06-ways-to-wing-your-eyelinerOne upside to the internal drama is that all art suddenly starts to speak to me.  It’s kind of hilarious, actually.  Rock music that I usually find nauseating suddenly is meaningful and deep.  I grab onto everything that even slightly references emotional pain and slip it on like a mink coat.  “I Want You To Want Me”?  Wow.  They’ve really gotten to the pulse of humanity.

It’s kind of amazing how much our internal landscape shifts from day to day, week to week.  Things that occupied every waking thought are inconsequential within six months.  In a way, it’s comforting that these things are temporary, but it’s also sad.  What if I want this pain to linger?  What if I’m holding on so tightly because I know that otherwise the whole experience will disappear?

I think that dynamic is especially true of our hopes and dreams.  Anyone who reads self-help literature (and I count myself among that lucky, enlightened, self-righteous number) knows that dreaming is a positive thing.  It’s just that attaching to that dream makes things hard.  I like someone and I imagine us married.  I have a job interview and I imagine my next promotion, what my office will look like, how I’ll be invited to barbecues and christenings.  When those things fail to materialize, it feels like a strange sort of failure.

But, as I’ve asked before, does that mean you don’t imagine your future?  Some people would say that, I guess.  I’m not sure.

Yesterday I opened my ‘Resumes!’ folder and counted my job applications: twenty-five.  TWENTY-FIVE?!?  And guess how many nos have graced my professional email inbox?  TWENTY-FOUR!  (Actually probably more like fifteen, thanks to that weird not-getting-back-to-you-even-though-you-spent-days-on-the-application thing.)

With every application, you send in a cover letter, a resume, references, and a little piece of yourself.  How can you apply to something and not want it to be a part of your future?  That seems like a total waste of time.

imagesSo my angst, I guess, is a response to those little pieces of myself being returned wrapped in a dented package.  But interestingly, angst, in its own way, is moving me slowly forward.  It shows that I care about what will happen to me.  I care about my internal dramas!  Maybe angst itself is not the most mature response to those kinds of feelings, but even maladaptive responses seems to serve a purpose.  Composted mayhem, perhaps?

I’m doing my best to keep my eyeliner firmly zipped in my  make-up case, and I’m trying to rein in the attachment.  Music may be blaring my things-aren’t-working-out songs and I might be caught up in the drama, but at least I’m applying!  At least I’m crushing!  At least I care!  And at least slowly, slowly, slowly, I am moving forward.

*If you missed my YouTube video and feel like emoting with me, check out it out here. And if you’re up for some seriously fascinating tweets, follow me at @srellisboo!*



Wild Thoughts and Songs

When things start to be too much and I’ve finally exhausted my Netflix queue, I start to write music.  Somehow writing a song helps me distill all my wild thoughts into a few phrases that resonate deeply with me—and then, of course, I imagine singing them to a packed house, and that imagined validation doesn’t hurt.  

I thought I would share one with you!  I am cheap and am not into paying for things that I can get for free, so the powers that be at WordPress won’t let me add it right in.  Here’s the link!  It is written about a previous unrequited crush, so be kind.

Yesterday I walked around the lake by Smith College during my lunch break.  As I’ve written before, walks and Sarah’s mind are an electric combination.  I was thinking about all the things I want in my life and was imagining a bright future ahead of me.  Brighter than now, of course.  Much shinier and more colorful and special.

I started to think about our own weird ways of having wild thoughts.  Every individual seems to have a unique brand of neuroses and vulnerabilities.  (And strengths, of course, but the neuroses are so much more interesting!)

I walked past couples laughing and students with their pink iPhones out taking pictures of the foliage.  Every single one of them had their little inside voice directing them.  Isn’t that fascinating?  On some level, we will never know the complete reality of the person sitting next to us.  Even our best friends have wild thoughts that we can’t entirely understand.

That can be overwhelming when you have a crush on someone, let me tell you!  When you like someone, you have incredibly weird neuroses and vulnerabilities just below the surface, and the fact is that you have no idea what the other person is thinking.  It could be about you, but it could also be about elephants.  There is really no way to know.

And so I write songs.  And sing them on repeat until the wild thoughts are a little more manageable and a little less toxic.

I’ve realized that there is no way for us to take a vacuum and suck up all our weirdness.  We’re stuck with it.  The sooner we realize it the sooner we start writing songs and doing whatever else we do to take our electric, shiny, colorful, weird vulnerabilities and neuroses and turn them into something more manageable, less toxic, and much, much, much more interesting.

And now a question:

What is your way to distill your wild thoughts into a few phrases that resonate deeply with YOU?  Tell me!  I want to know, because I could use some new techniques.  Comment, email, send a carrier pigeon… And I’m going to shamelessly plug my Twitter feed, @srellisboo—be all high tech and TWEET it to me!

Over The Net

Picture this: You’re sitting on the dock finishing off a can of lime seltzer when a ball whizzes past your face. You look up, and in front of your eyes a gaggle of brawny athletes plays a game involving rakes, old bottles, tennis rackets, and an inner tube. What do you do? Where do you go? What are you made of? What do you care about? These are the questions I ask every time I step up and play an Ellis family game.

I have a love/hate relationship with sports, made-up or otherwise. On the one hand, in my fondest memories of JV soccer I sit on the bench with hot chocolate.   On the other, I stayed up until midnight to watch the Red Sox win the World Series. In middle school, I took gym every day of the week and actually had a good relationship with the gym teacher (who, it turns out, was sexist, racist, and homophobic… who knew?). In high school, lacrosse practice made me cry.

The half of me that loves sports doesn’t really make sense for someone with questionable coordination and an aversion to competition—and yet I cannot join the ranks of the artists around me and eschew all athletics, because rejecting soccer, Nordic skiing, baseball, basketball, and track means rejecting the backbone of the Ellis family.

 Still, the raw athleticism that courses through my relatives’ veins lie dormant in mine, and however often I whisper to myself, “but you can sing,” the consistent losses sting.

But since when should stinging stop you from playing the game? Last Sunday I went to my fourth afternoon of pick-up volleyball. I left last week with bruises tattooed on my forearms, and this kind of badassery propelled me past my anxiety, into my car, onto the interstate, and into the Smith College gymnasium. Now I know to climb the stairs all the way up to the third floor, past the pool gallery and into the open gym with blinding wooden floors.

When I got there, I did a little lap around the gym and pretended to know how my body worked. I did high-knees and butt kicks and grapevines and lunges. I did drills and forgot over and over how to bump the ball to my teammate. When the game began, I wanted so badly to impress the people around me that I failed to hit the ball over the net once.

It was embarrassing and I wanted to run to the bathroom and lock myself in a stall. But over and over again I had to bring myself back to the point of it all: I was not there to become a great volleyball player. I was there to put life in my Sunday afternoon. I was not there to be perfect. I was there to have fun!

I came to the volleyball court as a hopeful member of the Ellis clan, with a fear of competition and a love for a team. And I think that might be what runs in my veins: beneath all the rakes and inner tubes and tennis rackets is the desire to put life in your days. When I can hold onto that mission, the rest doesn’t matter.

And one day I might even hit the ball over the net!

We Don’t Talk Anymore

“We Don’t Talk Anymore,” by Charlie Puth, just played on the radio for the thousandth time.  It’s a silly, overplayed song about teenage love, but those words—we don’t talk anymore—feel so real to me at this time in my life.

In your twenties—maybe in your thirties, your forties, your fifties?— friendships start to shift around.  People who you loved aren’t a daily part of your life anymore; you start to scroll through your phone and wonder whose numbers to keep, whose to delete.  I know that even small losses feel tragic to me sometimes, but small losses can add up and leave you feeling confused.

It reminds me of this section of the poem “The Layers,” by Stanley Kunitz:

Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way
bitterly stings my face.

Or “Orbiting” by The Weepies:

And I’m out of your range
Now it’s kind of strange
How we change orbit in our lives
You were kind of a moon outside of my room
I could just feel you nearby
Now I feel you gone
‘Cause I know which side you’re on
And it’s not mine

My tribe is indeed scattered, and that is hard to take in. People have lodged themselves in my brain and in my heart, and they will always be there, but now that is complicated by the present.  How do you reconcile a rocky, distant present with a vivid memory? None of us are done changing, whether we’re fifteen or ninety-five.  And moving forward necessitates loss.  There is no way to move forward without leaving something behind.

That loss is inevitable is not news to me or probably to anyone reading this.  What is news to me is how complicated loss can be. I am not new to having my life unexpectedly thrown off course, but my experiences have been pretty clear-cut into before and after.  A shift in relationship is usually nobody’s fault, but it’s subtle; suddenly you are in completely new territory without ever having noticed a change in direction.

In a way, loss the price we pay for loving people and still being willing to forge ahead. Some people stay with you in human form and some are with you always in thought and action. I think of one of my friends every day at 11:11, her favorite time of day. I eat vitamin C because one of my friends loved the heart-shaped design and had me buy it for them in our co-op.

So is it really a loss if an influence sticks around? I still love those people, all the people I loved—even those who in some ways I now dislike—both for who they are and for what they represent: a fixture in my past that I can hold onto when the present feels overwhelming.  These people have cared for me and pushed me to be who I am now.

Here’s the next section of that poem:

Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.

I am sure that vivid, present memories are ahead of me, that they are ahead of everybody.  And life is long!  A move, a phone call, and some of our relationships might slip right back into orbit.  We get many tribes in our life, and even if they continue to scatter, they are here for a while.  We just need to keep our “wills intact” to go wherever we need to go.  We need to honor the love we had and still move forward.  We need to pick up our suitcases filled with the past and walk toward our future.

I guess that’s all we can do.

We are not done with our changes.



Here’s the whole poem, in case anybody wants to print out and hang on their bathroom mirror, which I may or may not have done:

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon wa covered
and I roamed through the wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

Kunitz, Stanley. “The Layers.” The Collected Poems of Stanley Kunitz, edited by Stanley Kunitz, W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2002.

Yelping, Not Meowing

Reo the cat has started yelping instead of meowing.  He stands outside closed doors and says, essentially, “Get me the hell out of here or else!”  Luckily, he weighs about five pounds and doesn’t have opposable thumbs, so I don’t have to take him that seriously. But there is something impressive about how explicitly he makes his needs known.  “I need this.  Now.  And you are the one who will get it for me.”

If only it were that easy to know what we wanted!  If we could just stand on the corner and declare our requests, we would walk taller and smile longer. If we could spit out what we wanted, we could move on.

In my senior year at Mount Holyoke, I lived in a beautiful single on the first floor of Wilder Hall.  There was a huge window, tall ceilings, and a full-size closet.  In other words, the opposite of your worst nightmare.  I had a weeknight nighttime routine:

  • 9:15 PM Homework away
  • 9:30 Dessert (that I sneaked away during lunch or snagged during the nightly “Milk and Cookies”)
  • 9:35 An episode of The Mindy Project
  • 10 Brush teeth
  • 10:15 Lights out!

Except that starting mid-January, my upstairs neighbors started moving furniture at 10:30. Or if they weren’t moving furniture, they were doing Pilates courses online.  Or if they weren’t doing Pilates courses online, they were inviting the whole second floor into their room to watch YouTube videos at top volume.

These nightly noises infuriated me.  How could they be so ridiculously inconsiderate?  Didn’t they know that people were trying to sleep? Couldn’t they work out when vampires were in their coffins?  I stuffed my pillow in my ears and turned on Harry Potter on tape.

But finally, mid-February, I marched upstairs to put an end to fun in room 207.  Two young women in bras and short shorts opened the door, and I yelped, essentially, “Quiet down or else!”  They didn’t look nearly as sheepish as they should have given the circumstances, but they apologized.  And stopped moving the damn furniture.

Those kind of clarifying moments help you know what you want or need.  When there is noise and confusion above you and you are trying to sleep, it’s pretty clear that you need quiet.  If you’re locked outside, you need to be let in.  So many times, though, it’s hard to know.  Sometimes I feel weird and sad, and I know I need something, but I don’t know what.  And how can you ask for something that you don’t know you need?

When that happens, I do one of two things.  I either freak out and scurry around my mind trying to figure out what the heck is wrong, or I sit down and tell myself: “I need something.  Now.  And I am the one who will get it for me.”  That kind of self-reliance and introspection is calming, because when I can say what I need, to myself or to other people, then I can let it go.

In some ways, I am like Reo, with his animal instincts and moodiness.  But human nature is so complicated and often our needs are shadowy and unclear.  A straightforward “MEOW” gets the attention, but then it’s up to us to figure out— what am I yelping about, anyway?