Blog #9: For Posterity

Trigger Warning: Everything

I’m pretty sure I’m going to kill myself. Definitely not today and probably not tomorrow. But at the end of the day, no matter how much self-soothing, self-healing, self-whatever I do, I always come back to the same thought: Everyone hates me and if they don’t they will.

I can’t even really express how painfully real that thought is. I want to just dismiss it as paranoid, but as I’m in the midst of that particular mental tornado right now, I can’t. And when I say that, I don’t really mean “everyone”. I am mature enough to no longer care what strangers think, and I’m actively glad if someone I don’t like doesn’t like me.

It’s the people I love, the ones that I thought loved me. When they change their minds, it hurts. And, it doesn’t seem to matter how much I try to avoid letting that happen, it always, always does. The mindfuck seems to be that I am instantly likable but fundamentally unlovable. How do you fix that? I used to think I just had to find the right people, people that I had a genuine connection with. But that doesn’t work either.

My mental illness is like a narcissistic boyfriend, constantly whispering in my ear that the people who I think love me are just being nice or that they secretly want something from me. Or worse — that they only like me because they don’t really know me. Or, and this is even worser — that they only like me because of the person they project onto me; who they think I am. So, I have to figure out who that is, and be it, and never ever share a thought or an opinion that I don’t already know they would approve of.

That’s fun, right? There’s no way to win that argument, either. It’s an un-provable statement. It really comes down to what I want to or can believe. I have a hard time believing a nice lie about myself if I can believe a nasty one.

I saw a homeless man today, and I could smell him from five feet away. As someone who has lived with suicidal ideology for approximately thirty-four years, I can say that it takes a brave person to live at the mercy of humanity. I would literally rather die than need help and risk a “no”. But there are people out there with hope and faith enough to believe that a) humans are basically good and will help if they can and b) vulnerable people have innate value regardless of their circumstances. I am not those people, but goddamn do I respect them.

Blog #8: Goodbye Kind World?

Trigger Warning: suicidal ideology.

This is going to sound arrogant as hell, but I’m going to say it anyway. There is something special about me. I’m not sure what it is, some sort of charisma or likability. Maybe it’s because I look like the human equivalent of a Care Bear — whatever it is. I am the kind of person that people want to believe in. People want to think that I’m a good person, they want to credit me with a higher level of decency than most people.

It took me a long time to figure this out, I think partly because I was raised by a mentally ill mother with addiction issues, partly because of the horrors that I experienced in foster care, and partly due to other unpleasant experiences I had as a child.

You know how, like, you’re in the middle of a nightmare and you realize that you’re dreaming? And you stop, and think, okay, if I’m dreaming, I can figure out a way to make this less scary? That’s what a lot of my childhood felt like. Like, strangers trying to molest me, my little brother being kidnapped and then dying, going into foster care and enduring not only shock and grief and loss but horrific abuse — and me, in the middle of that, figuring out how to steal a measure of control over my own life.

I wish that, once my life leveled out a bit, that I’d been able to relax. My life would have been so much better if I could have enjoyed any of it. I wish that I could have learned to trust people sooner and trained myself to know that love is scary but worth it. I wish that I could brush off intentional cruelty and forgive myself for unintentional cruelty. I wish that I hadn’t wasted so much time with my mom resenting or fearing her. I wish that I could have understood her when she was alive the way that I do now that she’s dead.

I quit my job in September, and damned if I can force myself to get another one. I finally signed up with a temp agency but I’ve only been sent out on one job in the past month-and-a-half. I should be upset about that, but instead, I’m stressed over what’ll happen when I get another gig.

I am not who I used to be. I’m not angry anymore. I think that my major motivation throughout most of my life was defiance, a determination to prove that the few people who treated me like shit were wrong. That I have value, that they didn’t break me. I’ve squandered so much of my life focusing on those shitheads instead of the people who genuinely liked me.

Until I got to Flappers, and then there were so many people who had so many nice things to say about me that they drowned out all of the cruel phantoms floating around in my head. I think that if the business of comedy was as pure as the art form, I might have been cured. Instead, I was promoted. And I became the thing that was wrong with the world.

That’s why I left, or so I told myself. The truth is that I confused virtue with naivety. Also, it had taken me almost forty years to find a community of people who liked me, and I was afraid that if I couldn’t be the cheerleader who gained their affection in the first place — if I had to be the hard-assed disciplinarian, the one who said no — that they would change their minds. I couldn’t risk that, so I walked away with the illusion of my integrity intact.

I was so proud of myself. So arrogant and judgmental and so much better than the person They had asked me to become. What an asshole. This is what I do — poke my head out of my shell, find out life is complicated, and then pull my head back in and congratulate myself for refusing to be corrupted. But my soul isn’t pure; it’s atrophied due to lack of use.

So, what now? I have about three months of rent left on one of my credit cards, and if I haven’t figured out how to support myself by then, I’m out. I’ve done a good job of distancing myself from the people who would care the most. I’m sure they’ll blame themselves; it’s what I would do. But, honestly, unless something changes within the next three months, I can’t see a future for myself.

That sounds grim, but I’m not actually unhappy. I have been writing a lot, and the writing is going well. I’m the closest to creating a readable draft of a novel that I ever have been. If I live long enough, I think I’ll actually finish it and maybe even figure out a way to get it published.

I’m also trying to figure out how to do craft fairs and farmers’ markets or how to sell the stuff that I make online. I haven’t given up, I’m not just waiting for the sand to drain from the hourglass. I’m in a race against time, like all good protagonists. I just don’t know what the end of my story is going to be, or when.

Three months goes by quickly but a lot can happen in that amount of time. I have hope that I can turn things around, and I have hope that I can start being the best version of myself again without feeling like a fraud. Or maybe, accepting that I can still be loved even if I’m just an okay version of myself…maybe?

If worse comes to worst, I’ll leave. It’s not anyone’s fault, except mine, really. I don’t know if I’m strong enough to thrive in this world. And I’m so tired of merely surviving. I guess we’ll see in three months, which of us is stronger, me or the world. Stay tuned, gentle reader. And stay strong.

Blog #7

Spoiler/Trigger Warning: Suicidal Ideology and other dark stuff.

I did a thing. I am almost maxed out on my credit card and I don’t currently have a job, and my bank pre-approved me for a new credit card because I used to have a job, so I applied for the new credit card. Then, I was feeling really depressed yesterday, like, you know, suicidal and stuff, and I decided to take a cruise. So, I bought a ticket for a 4-day cruise and I lied to my brother and told him I won the trip.

He believed me because I don’t usually lie. I kind of don’t even know who I am right now. All I know is that I’ve spent my whole life trying to figure out how to be a person who was good enough to deserve to feel happy and safe. But I was wrong. This world doesn’t reward virtue.

So, I haven’t decided to be a bad person, but I’ve decided to do some bad things. I took out a credit card I have no way of paying back on top of already having a credit card I can’t pay back, and I lied to my closest living family member.

I’m not even sure if I feel bad or if I know that I’m supposed to. I think, at this point, I’m just so desperate to feel like I have any control over my own life and choices, and this was the only thing I could think of.

I know that I need therapy. Bad. I think that when I get back, I’m going to try to find a good therapist. My last experience with therapy was about six months ago and it wasn’t great, so I was a bit gun-shy about trying again, but I know that I can’t figure out how to be okay on my own. I’ve tried.

Plus, I need some sort of diagnosis and medication. The Paxil is helping with the suicidal ideation but it hasn’t cured it, and it may not even be the right medication for me. It was just the only thing my GP was willing to give me upon meeting me for the first time so that I could request drugs.

I’ve been working on my stories, and that feels really good. I feel like I’m making breakthroughs every time I actively sit down to work on them. But sometimes it feels like a race to the finish line. Am I going to kill myself before I get a chance to finish one of my projects?

And if I finish a project to my own satisfaction, will that cure the overwhelming urge to take myself out of existence? I somehow I know it won’t but the lie that there is a thing, a relationship, or a goal that I can achieve is sometimes the only belief that I can hold onto to get me through this bout of depression, just so that I can fight another one. I’m borrowing against future happiness — like a Ponzi scheme based on hope instead of money.

This morning, I found out that a comedian that I used to know died. He was someone that I wouldn’t book because he was someone who never really seemed to get it. He thought that comedy was about getting up on stage and getting people to laugh. He never understood that laughter is sometimes a reaction to discomfort, and didn’t have any other tricks in his bag.

The way that he died isn’t public but he was fairly young and he was a comedian, plus there was always an edge of desperation and fury about him, so I am assuming that he killed himself. Of course, it was my fault. I didn’t do enough to try to get to know him. I let myself be influenced by people around me who liked to laugh at him instead of with him. I never saw through his bluster to his true potential and that is why he is dead now.

It would by hypocritical and dishonest to say that I’ll miss him. In fact, I recently thought about him and was relieved that leaving comedy meant I’d probably never see him again. But there’s still a cigarette butt the size of a fist burning a hole in my solar plexus when I think he might have felt so alone and hopeless that suicide was his only viable choice.

And he left behind a widow and a couple of kids, and I understand the perpetual razor-blades-under-your-skin of loss. “They” say that suicide is selfish, and I don’t believe that. I think that the kind of people who say that are people who have never felt suicidal. I also believe that it’s selfish to ask someone in that much anguish to stick around.

I mean, I’ll ask anyway, because if I have to be here, I need you here, too. I think that it’s a certain type of idealism that leads to a depth of disillusionment with the world, which then makes the world feel like such an unfriendly place to live. I wonder if all of the idealists who are offing themselves right now stuck around, if we could band together and make this a better world. Because, right now, the cynics are outnumbering us, and they are winning.

And I’ll admit that it’s selfish to ask you to stay. I’ll also admit that I hope that this comedian died of an aneurysm so that I can absolve myself of the guilt of his death. I understand that I am not responsible for everyone’s pain. But I also know how simple conversations with people have either nudged me forward on the tight rope of hope or almost knocked me off completely.

We affect each other. We are responsible to do the best we can for each other. I didn’t do my best for this guy. I know that. That was part of the relief at the idea of never seeing him again. I hate thinking that I might be one of the people who helped knock him off of his tight rope. Even if I only made a feather’s breath of difference in his life, my regret is that it wasn’t to nudge him forward.

I’m trying to figure out how to end this on an uplifting note, but all I can really say is, be kind. Be kind to other people, be kind to yourself. I’m going to wander off and try to forgive myself for being human. Do the same.

Blog #6: Support and Vulnerability

I had forgotten, maybe deliberately, how supportive the comedy community can be. I shared my first post about comedy on Facebook some time after midnight on Sunday and after receiving my first like and comment a few minutes later, I was blasted with immediate self-doubt — who did I think I was, what did I think I had to say that Alex Hooper (seriously, check out his writing about comedy — it’s beautiful) or someone else couldn’t say better, who even wanted to hear from me over a year after I abandoned them?

And then there was the guilt. The very club that I’m criticizing took a tattered soul and filled it up with hope and love and words. It reminds me of a scene in the original Roseanne in which Roseanne laments to Dan that they were so excited when Darlene learned to speak. It feels like a betrayal to criticize the people without whom I might not even be alive.

And, yes, a lot of that had to do with introducing me to the comedy community, but the owners themselves invested a lot in me. Neither of them is perfect human beings, but I love them and I know that the debt I owe them can’t ever be repaid. Which means that, of course, I am a monster.

I immediately hid the post from my timeline, thinking that would prevent people from seeing it and then I went back to trying to sleep. I didn’t delete it, because I didn’t want to thank my one commentor by deleting him entirely.

I woke up the next morning to a couple of comments and a bunch of likes. Apparently, even if you hide something from your Timeline, people can still see it in their feeds. Over the past few days, I’ve gotten over 70 likes and a dozen comments. And even though I can’t figure out how to restore the original post to my Timeline, three people have shared it, so now it shows on my Timeline three times in a row.

I even got comments directly posted to the blog, which marks this as the first time I’ve ever received a non-spam comment on any blog I’ve ever started since my LiveJournal days.

A lot of people said that they found my post helpful, and I guess I thought I was just validating things that they already knew, but then I got a direct message from one of my comedy friends and she thanked me for explaining the reason why she was stuck in limbo. She’d wondered why she hadn’t been able to feature or otherwise move up, and my blog post explained that to her. It encouraged her to know that she wasn’t inherently lacking in talent. So, if for no other reason, I’m glad I shared the post.

My post isn’t intended to hurt owners or bookers. I was a booker. I, more than anyone, understand that they’re just people, and with some notable exceptions, they’re mostly decent people. At least, at the club I was working at, the owners worked at minimum as hard as any of their employees, and they were barely breaking even. It never seemed to me that owners and bookers are purposely choosing the most exploitative way to run a business. It’s a desperate way to keep the lights on, and that means that all the talk about comedians “not caring” about getting paid is an attempt at justifying choices that made while backed into a corner.

It’s easy to judge, without the weight of a mountain of debt on my shoulders, how other people should run their businesses. I even, when I first found out that comedians didn’t get paid, wondered why anyone would decide to open a comedy club if they couldn’t pay their performers. And I still think that if I were ever to open a club, I wouldn’t do it unless I was sure I could pay the comedians. That said, if the owners of the club hadn’t opened exactly the club that they did, exactly the way they did, I might not be here.

When I found the club, I was three years into mourning my dead mother, and I was strangling the last shred of my will to live. I’d made a deal with God that I would stay alive as long as my older brother was alive (younger brother was already dead). I wasn’t a person; I was a sister to a dead brother, a daughter to a dead mother. I had no identity outside of that.

When I walked into the club, it was the first time in three years that I did something because I was actively interested in what I might find. Every choice I had made from the moment my mom died until that moment, had been out of obligation or defiance. I didn’t stay long, that first day. My soul was like a foot that had fallen asleep; it tingled with the pain of waking up. But the next morning, for the first time, maybe in my life, I actively wanted to be somewhere. I didn’t know why exactly, I just knew that I did.

I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the club and all of the people in it. I think that people think of me as a naturally nice, supportive person, but any good aspect of my personality was nurtured and fostered by the environment I was in and the people I was around.

The club I worked at isn’t perfect. It’s not run by perfect people who make perfect decisions all of the time. The business of comedy is also plagued by a relatively low percentage of shady opportunists and predators who sometimes seem like a very large percentage. By the time I left, I was so overwhelmed by all of the yucky aspects of the business that I’d stopped seeing and feeling the good. I had to step away in order to gain some perspective.

Now, I can be grossed out by the bad but inspired by the good. I’m still nervous about dipping my toe back in, but the warmth of the welcome I’ve received helps a lot. I hope that I can maintain a level of perspective and help people maintain theirs. It’s a tough business, but most of us didn’t get into comedy for the business. We got into it for the art and we endure the business aspects. I think that the worst aspect of the business have traditionally been ignored, as a sacrifice to continue pursuing the art. But I also have hope that it’s within the realm of possibility to change those aspects so that they become a reward of pursuing comedy, rather than a punishment.

The Business of Comedy in LA

I went to an open mic tonight with a couple of friends. I went to the same mic last week, but was too scared to get up. This week, one of my friends got there early and signed me and my other friend up. It seemed rude to decline.

I hadn’t done stand-up in over two years, and it went as well as could be expected. I used the same jokes I prepared for last week, more or less. I was super rusty but it was nice to get laughs when I expected them, and people didn’t hold their own conversations during my set. It went poorly enough that I definitely want to try to do better next time but not so well that nobody who saw me tonight would expect me to be great next time, which takes the pressure off.

After I calmed down, the mic was fun. I’m glad that my friends like to stay the whole time because I always felt bad leaving mics early back in the day just so that I wouldn’t have to worry about a ride home. Plus, I like comedy.

After the mic, one of my friends let the host know that I used to be a Booker. I don’t like being introduced that way but I’m not sure if it bothers me enough to bring it up. I’d rather just be a person, or, at a mic, a comedian, not a former Booker at a comedy club a lot of comedians have had bad experiences at.

I always feel like I need to explain that even if 80% of comedians have a good experience and 20% of comedians have a bad experience, if you’re talking to one of the 20% and none of the 80%, your perception is going to be skewed. And, although I believe that comedy as a business is exploitative, I don’t know that I would say that my club is more exploitative than any other club.

In fact, they go out of their way to book newer comedians — not for altruistic reasons, sure, but is that better than a club that uses a strong gatekeeper who operates on a system of favorites and favors, or clubs that don’t book bringer shows but will allow “independent producers” to book bringer shows? Oh, yeah, Big Boy, your hands are soooooo clean!

To be clear, I think those are both terrible options, but, maybe due to being part of the 80%, I appreciate a club that goes out of its way to make room for less experienced comedians. I also had a lot of amazing experiences there, despite my reservations regarding the business itself.

Still, I end up getting defensive about the club, and angry at the exploitative nature of the business, and those are two reasons I hadn’t touched a mic in two years. I have more reasons, but those are two of the biggest.

I think I might start blogging about comedy — not just my experiences, but also tips and tricks for newer comedians. I think if I could only say one thing about the business of comedy, it would be that it’s easy to take things personally, but it rarely is. Sometimes it is, but speaking from experience, there are about a million comedians to one Booker*.

All comedians want to be booked. All comedians want to be remembered, all comedians want to be special. And I’ll say this, not as a Booker, but as a Human — everyone IS special. One of my favorite things was watching an unwatchable baby comedian get funny. Every single person has a spark, an essence; something that they bring to the world that no one else does. Watching a comedian tap into that essence is one of the most joyful experiences ever, and not just as a Booker — otherwise comedy wouldn’t be a thing that regular people pay to see.

The sad thing is that people want to believe that comedy is a meritocracy. That those comedians who tap into that essence the best, connect to their audiences the best, will be the most successful. This is not necessarily true. If thousands of comedians are able to tap into their essences and connect to their local audiences, but the world only has room for, say, a hundred legends or superstars, what happens to the other thousands of comedians?

Generally, they tour or do corporate gigs or have side jobs. Not everyone is “destined” to be rich and famous. The reason that baby comedians are so desperate for money and fame is because when they’re starting out, they can’t even get by, no matter how hard they work at it. I’ve known comedians who lived in their cars or other peoples’ couches or floors, for years.

I’ve met comedians who have been doing stand-up for twenty-plus years and are still grateful for a 5-minute spot on any show, whether it be in a club, in a bar, or on a street corner. I’ll be going to a comedy show in someone’s backyard next week. For a couple of months, I hosted an open mic in my carport.

Comedians love doing comedy. They’ll do it for free — hell, they’ll pay to do comedy and subsidize that decision with a job that actually pays. This love of comedy is what is exploited. The fact that comedians will work for free translates into comedy club owners deciding that “comedians don’t care about getting paid”. This is inaccurate. Not caring about getting paid is not the same thing as accepting that your particular skill holds little to no monetary value.

And we can blame the comedians all we want to, for choosing to work for free, as though if they all went on strike, the business of comedy would change. That’s not true. First of all, the overwhelming number of hopefuls desperate for any kind of stage time will always undermine any attempt at a strike. Second, as headliners rarely get paid a living wage to perform, they wouldn’t lose any income from going on strike. All they’d do is lose the stage time they need to be polished enough to go on the road so that they can afford to pay for their time in LA.

We already know that a strike won’t work. We have an alternative comedy scene that was built up by comedians fed up with being censored, under-booked, and underpaid by clubs. They created shows in bars and backyards and in tents. Here, they still weren’t being paid, but at least they could perform, and their type of comedy wasn’t dictated to them by club bookers and owners. But that didn’t fix the system. As stated, there are too many aspiring comedians who are desperate for stage time, particularly in a club, that a club is never at a loss for comedians to book.

Clubs don’t lack their pick of super-talented comedians. Clubs need audiences. In this city in particular, there are a lot of options for entertainment. Headliners who can sell out clubs all over the country, unless they’re Jerry Seinfeld or Kevin Hart or Iliza Schlesinger, can’t pull in crowds in LA.

For me, the solution is obvious: build up a reputation, as a club, for nurturing and showcasing the next superstars. Have every show’s line-up stacked with people who are funny enough to be famous, but aren’t. Hire promoters to make sure that there are at least a few butts in seats so that word-of-mouth has a chance to grow.

Or, you could do what LA has chosen to do. Put on bringer shows. A budding comedian doesn’t have fans yet, but do you know what they do have? Friends and family. So, you can pack a lineup full of inexperienced comedians and they will help sell out your rooms. And the shows are terrible and nobody in the audience wants to go back. The comedians who purchased the tickets for their friends and family, and possibly their two-drink minimum, try to focus on the fact that they got to perform at a Real Life Club instead of on the fact that they were not only not paid, but they (in a lot of cases) lost money on the gig.

These comedians realize that they can’t afford to be amateurs for much longer, and feel urgency to move up to paid gigs. Unfortunately, paid gigs in LA are few, far between, are granted mostly to touring headliners, and don’t pay as much as you would think.

So, what happens? Budding comedians become more experienced and less bookable. Their friends and family lose interest in watching terrible shows, but these comedians aren’t skilled enough to be booked on better gigs. A kind Booker will try to find room for them, but there’s a prolonged period of limbo between bringing and featuring, unless you get very, very lucky.

This business model leaves clubs desperately clinging to whatever audience they can manage to trick into a show, and comedians being bitter about particular clubs or producers. Comedians who once found comedy freeing become disillusioned and doubt their self-worth.

The art of comedy edifies; the business of comedy exploits. If you want to maintain your sanity, surround yourself with decent human beings. Anyone can get funnier. Decency is a skill that takes a lot more time and dedication to develop. Be careful about the environments you let yourself become involved in. If you find yourself defensive, angry, or increasingly cynical, take a step back. Pinpoint the source of this poison and cut yourself off from it, whether it’s a person/people or location(s).

I promise, there are enough decent people to be around and enough decent places to be that you don’t need to subject yourself to any environment that brings out the worst in you. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that purposely dosing yourself with iocane powder will make you immune to it. That has only ever worked for the Dread Pirate Roberts.

*This might be slight hyperbole.

Blog #5

A few minutes ago, I considered going off of my medication again — more responsibly this time — because I’ve been home for almost a week and haven’t written anything. I haven’t felt creative, I’ve been sleeping a lot, and I haven’t cleaned my house. I’ve tried to organize something every day since I got home, but I just don’t have the energy for it that I anticipated. I’m avoiding calls and texts from friends.

And I know I’m going to have to get a job soon, so I’m mad at myself for not making the most of this opportunity to get my shit together.

I wanted to go off the meds because even though I was pretty sure I was going to die, I felt alive. But the, I remembered that there are times I feel really alive even on the medication but the average number of suicidal thoughts have gone down a significant amount, even when I’m crawling through a dark hole.

So I’m going to choose to believe that I have value as a human being regardless of my productivity level and I’m going to choose to believe that the depression will lift and I’ll get my creativity and will to live back.

Blog #4: Wellness Check

Just wanted to check in because my last blog post was a little intense. I was able to get my prescriptions filled yesterday and the heart palpitations and crying have stopped.

I was watching the holiday episode of the Great British Baking Show and the hosts were asking everyone what their resolutions were, and, because the world revolves around me, of course I started thinking about mine.

Generally speaking, New Years resolutions are something I avoid because I already feel bad enough about my lack of achievements. But last year, I kept it really simple. I wanted to not only write more but to enjoy writing.

I figured out that the biggest obstacle to me writing isn’t the tools or skills, but the fact that writing induces so much anxiety. I want so badly to do it Right.

So, that’s what I’ve been working on lately. I think most writers want to write professionally because it’s fun and they don’t want to do anything else. I wanted to write because of how important stories were to me and because of how important I wanted my stories to be to other people.

What I’ve been focusing on lately is letting my stories be imperfect and loving them anyway. Instead of cringing at old writing or putting pressure on every story I try to write to save me from a job I hate, I’ve just been working on letting myself write Wrong.

I think I knew that that was the answer for a while, but I thought that writing Wrong would be too painful, and the truth is that it’s just straight up liberating.

If my dialogue or plots are weak, or if I forget a word or spellcheck doesn’t catch something, it’s all okay.

I’m working on a story right now called, “The Princess with Three Eyes” that started with “Once upon a time….” and that I intend to have end with “…and they all lived happily ever after”, even though I haven’t yet determined whether or not they actually will.

And every time I think about working on the story and tense up, I stop and reevaluate the pressure I’m putting on the story. The thing that gets me excited about writing again, is usually breaking a rule or going in a different direction than I’d been planning.

The reason I’m writing all of this down is because I have a theory that we ask the wrong people for their keys to success. Already successful people have the keys to living with success, which is its own beast. People who are in the midst of the struggle, trying to find their footing in the ether of their dreams, and the ones who stumble upon those keys.

The thing is, trying to figure out how to make writing fun is the part that most people start at. I skipped the fun part, so I have to do it now. Someone else’s path may be a little straightforward. Maybe they’ll start out having fun and then learn grammar, spelling, and story structure later.

There isn’t one path to success, just as there is no one definition of success. We all have our own paths and definitions. For me, success in five years would look like three completed novels with characters that I love and stories that I want to keep exploring, regardless of how flawed the writing is or whether or not I can get anyone else interested in reading what I have to write.

If I have to be a cashier or find some other job to support what I really want to be doing, that’s okay. As long as, when I sit down to write, my chest lifts, and the butterflies tickle my intestines and my characters feel like people I’m continuing a conversation with, I think I can be happy.

My goals and definition of success may be different by then, but this is where I am now.

Blog #3: Excessive Dreaming & Failed Revolutions

It’s been a while since I’ve checked in, and a lot has happened. I quit my job on September 18th after several months of fighting and losing battles with anxiety and depression. I started taking Paxil and blood pressure medication, and despite all of the fear and shame that I expressed in my last blog post, I really hoped that this would fix me.

Unfortunately, although the medication helped with the anxiety and depression, it didn’t cure me. I continued to experience extreme agoraphobia and I continued to miss work. My last week of work before I quit, I missed Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Each morning, I woke up and commanded myself to get up and go to work, and my body refused to obey my commands.

I had thought I understood people when they said they’d experienced depression so bad that they couldn’t get out of bed. In particular, after my mom died, finding motivation to do anything was a severe challenge. In those days, I think that what kept me moving was a combination of morbid curiosity and a refusal to show any vulnerability.

If I had missed work or school or if I had seemed sad, then I would have had to explain why. And, at the time, with “joy” being a grayed-out concept of something I never thought I’d feel again, the only approximation I felt was a perverse satisfaction in being able to trick people into thinking that I was okay.

I understood despair to a depth that I hope that nobody else will ever feel, but I still had a motivating factor to maintain an illusion of functionality. One thing that doing stand-up, and being around comedians for almost five years, cured me of, was the inclination to lead a false life.

This turned out to be my downfall. Now, I have zero motivation to seem functional. This means that holding onto a job is a bit of a challenge. Because the thing is, even if I hadn’t quit, I can’t earn any income from a job that I can’t force myself to go to.

But whereas comedy totally fucked me in terms of displaying an illusion of functionality, it blessed me with genuine relationships with incredible people. I have a friend who got married about halfway through October. October is usually a rough month for me because it’s my birthday and then my dead brother’s birthday, and then the anniversary of my mother’s death.

This year, one of my best friends called me on my birthday. She didn’t remember that it was my birthday, she just wanted to talk to me. I don’t even have words for what a gift that is, particularly coming from a millennial who only vaguely remembers actual telephones. I hate my birthday, and I didn’t want to talk to anyone, even someone I love that much, but two hours later, even though the conversation wasn’t light and fun the whole time — that said, there was at least as much laughter as tears — I hung up with that floaty feeling that only comes from a true connection with someone I love as much as she loves me.

Also this year, someone that I respect a lot got married to what I can only describe as a soul match. This person is not only as incredible as my friend, but he loves her as much as she deserves to be loved, and she loves him equally. There are very few relationships that I can point to as aspirational, and this is one of them. So, on my dead brother’s birthday, I got to celebrate this relationship, the joy that they bring to each other, and how joyfully their families embraced the union.

And after the wedding, I came to stay with another good friend. I didn’t have work to rush back to, so even though I wasn’t feeling like the best company, I agreed to stay for a few days. That has stretched into a month, so I’m still here. But my friend that I’m staying with had been living in her apartment for eight months and had never unpacked. So I helped, and this was the first year since my mother died that I remembered the anniversary the day before and the day after but was completely distracted on the day of. And, on top of that, I got to be useful. If you’ve lived in the same capitalistic cult that I grew up in, you’ll understand how important that is for an unemployed person.

None of this is to say that I didn’t miss my mom or my brother. The pieces of me that left with them didn’t magically regenerate just because I was distracted. It was just nice to celebrate genuine connections rather than focusing on the connections that have been severed, which is generally my habit on those days.

And since I’ve been gone, I’ve received a steady stream of texts from people I love who want to hang out or check in or to tell me that I look pretty today.

However, it’s been a rough month. I don’t have health insurance right now, so I’ve run out of my Paxil and I’m almost out of the blood pressure medication. I ended up staying a week longer than expected, so I thought I’d be back in time to call my doctor for a refill and when that didn’t happen, I just shrugged and decided that I don’t need it.

And I’m almost out of the blood pressure medication. I’d basically decided to just stop taking both medications. I don’t need doctors and it’s not like the medication was really helping much anyway. It’s not worth messing with.

What I didn’t realize was that the side effects for quitting Paxil can be pretty intense. On top of that, knowing that I was running out of the blood pressure medication, I’ve been tapering off of that. So, for the past couple of days, I’ve been crying like a leaky faucet and experiencing heart palpitations.

I’m kind of worried that I’m going to die or cause myself irreversible damage. Fortunately, the friend I’m staying with noticed that I’m not doing great and gently suggested some lifestyle changes — one of which is getting back on my medication. So, I’m going to call my doctor tomorrow to see if she can put in a refill for me. I hope her office is open because it is a holiday and the palpitations are freaking me out a bit.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me, depression can hit like a sledgehammer or it can whisper self-destructive shit at me with my own voice. I’m a little ashamed that I allowed myself to fall into a cycle of self-loathing enough that the idea of reaching out to my doctor because I don’t have insurance right now seemed impossible.

I think I’m sharing this for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it’s easy to talk about depression in the past tense. When I’m feeling okay, and remembering back to how shitty I did feel, I can get a bit cocky. For some reason, when a bout of depression has run its course through my psyche, I always feel euphoric, like I’ll never feel that way again. And I can get a bit cocky with advice to other people who struggle with depression. The advice I give myself when I’m feeling okay is much different than when I’m slogging through my emotional sewer, knee deep in trauma.

Peter Marr once said that when it comes to depression, you win every battle except for the last one. I always thought that was super profound because it put depression into a different context than I was accustomed to thinking about it. I was accustomed to hearing depression described as something people “suffered from” rather than “fought”. Depression is a war. Our battle scars can have physical manifestations or they can be invisible to the naked eye, but they are real either way.

I’ve dealt with suicidal ideology since I was eight years old. I spent most of my life reacting to shame with a wish for oblivion. Over the past few years, life has started to feel like a series of blessings instead of just one curse after another. After my mom died, I resented the very air I breathed for keeping me alive. For the first time in my life, I actually want to live. I think I used to welcome a bout of depression because I hoped that, this time, it would succeed in taking me out. Now, I’m afraid it will.

I’ll say this, too, after quitting my job in comedy, I felt like a failure. There are so many things about the art form that I love, and so many things about the business that I hate. I wanted to stay in the industry so that I could change it. I wanted to revolutionize the way that comedians are treated. I wanted to see comedians paid and valued. Quitting felt like a betrayal to those comedians, to the changes that I would have fought for if I’d stayed. But in order to fight for those changes, I would have had to be a part of the problem for far longer than I was comfortable with. Toward the end, every week I had a new facial tic that I had to try to suppress when I was around other people. I’d be booking shows in one window with a crisis hotline open in a window next to it. Every time I sent a booking agreement with $0.00 marked as pay, I wanted to die.

I felt like a failure when I quit my job as a customer support representative, too. I worked for a subscription-based company. There were so many instances of people being charged after cancelling their subscription, or having thought they’d cancelled, and it just disgusted me to work for a company that thought that it was okay to exploit the fact that people are too busy to scour their bank statements every month. Before I left, we got a new supervisor, one who I thought might be able to make some changes to the billing policies, if only to protect the company from lawsuits. But I left before any of those changes could take place because I couldn’t take one more conversation with one more customer about a company that had zero interest in protecting its customers from being charged for a service they didn’t want. By the time I quit, I had a tic in my lower left eyelid and my upper right eyelid. One day, after phones had been turned off, I was answering emails, and both tics were going at the same time. It reminded me of trying to focus on a Christmas tree with twinkling lights — except less festive.

It wasn’t until, I think, yesterday, that I realized how often I fought for things to be different. When I was promoted to Booker of the smaller room at the comedy club, one of the owners came to me and said that she wanted to hear my vision for the room. I tried to hold it back, but the first thing out of my mouth was, “I want to pay the comedians.” I think I surprised both of us with that statement, so much so that she immediately agreed, and then later decided that it was impossible.

Even before I was promoted, I wrote up a Jerry-Maquire-esque manifesto on how to pay comedians. My supervisor at the time talked me out of sharing it with the owners, but said that we would work on the proposal together. And then he quit. And over the two years that I was a Booker, I fought for paying the comedians any chance I got. I even plotted with one of my coworkers who is a coding genius, who said he could probably create software to track sales and pay comedians based on how many people could get to come and see them.

The most infuriating argument I heard regarding paying comedian is, “comedians don’t care about getting paid, they just care about stage time”. My counterargument is that you can care about more than one thing. Also, accepting the fact that your work is not valued by a club is not the same thing as “not caring”. Comedians “paying their dues” is also a ridiculous argument, particularly when you’re dealing with headliners with twenty-plus years experience who get paid in food.

When I quit comedy, I decided to also quit caring. I had determined that the stress and pain that came from working in comedy came from putting too much of my heart into it. So, I thought that working as a customer support representative at a random corporation would be the antidote to little faith-in-humanity issue. The world being the way it is can’t hurt if you don’t care.

But it didn’t take long to realize that even over the phone, people are just as unique and precious as they are in person. Even in a three-minute conversation, I could develop an affection for the person I was speaking to. It was actually easier to, without the distraction of physical appearance, hone in on what that person brought to the world that no one else does.

I can’t say that I loved my customers as much as I love my comedians. It’s a completely different relationship that is designed to be temporary. But I will say that there are people that I met over the phone who walk around with me in this world. Some of our interactions were edifying, some were heartbreaking, some were frustrating, and some were all three, but they were all real.

And when I realized that a lot of my customers were being charged for months, and often years, for a service they weren’t using, it bothered me. It particularly bothered me to be the person to tell them that I couldn’t refund that money. There were many reasons why a customer might be charged, some of which were customer error, some of which were the company’s error, some were accounts that were created with stolen credit card numbers (rare, but it happened) so they weren’t anybody’s fault (except for the criminal). However, for a tech company, creating solutions to the billing issues were fully doable. It felt like the company was intentionally taking advantage of customer error, and those of us one the phones were the whipping boys for the company’s shitty billing practices.

About a month before I left, we got a new department head. He seemed genuinely interested in improving the customer service experience. He asked every single person who worked in our department what we changes we would like to see implemented, and he did this more than once, in large and small groups, with management present, and without them. I think that he genuinely wanted to improve the department and the company overall. I also think that he was wasting his time and I would be surprised if he lasted longer than a year, but I hope that I’m wrong and that he stays and fixes everything and that the company isn’t as bad as I think it is.

For my part, when he asked, I answered. I pointed out that the lack of site monitoring led to customers being billed unfairly. I did this verbally and in writing. He seemed receptive to the feedback that he got but it didn’t take long to realize that any changes he would have been able to make would have been so gradual, if they happened at all, that it didn’t matter. I was already done.

I composed my “calling out sick” notes from bed and even after calling out, I would immediately start twitching as I dreaded going back the next day. On the Wednesday before I quit, dragging my ass out of bed to get a doctor’s note was almost impossible, even though my doctor’s office is two blocks from where I live.

I went to work the next day and gave my doctor’s note to my boss. She brought me into her office and asked if I really wanted to be there. I burst into tears. I said that I couldn’t afford to not be there and I didn’t understand why my body wouldn’t obey my instructions. She asked if I could try and I said yes. She spent at least ten minutes with me as I cried and she was very kind. (I feel guilty talking shit about the company because the individuals that I worked with there, even the managers, were awesome human beings. It was the upper-upper management that made the garbage decisions.)

Anyway, I went to my desk to clock in and couldn’t even make myself click on the link that would take me to where I needed to clock in. I started crying again, and messaged my brother (the one that is still alive). I said I thought I had to quit and he asked what happened. I said nothing, I just couldn’t do it. He said okay. This is important because my brother is my roommate which means that my income, or lack thereof, has a direct effect as to whether or not he has a home to live in.

The first few days after I quit were incredible. I’d tense up and start twitching, dreading the next day, and then realize that i didn’t have to go back. Then I’d smile and breathe deeply. I decided to take care of all of the household stuff that I had neglected over the past eleven months because I was completely drained at the end of each day and spent my weekends in bed with my phone off.

After a week-and-a-half, the panic set in. And the sense of worthlessness. And then I started to take more naps and fill out fewer job applications. And I started to wonder if my eye tics were permanent. I almost didn’t go to the wedding. I didn’t want to face anyone I knew and have to explain that I was such a dysfunctional adult that I couldn’t hold down a job. But the friend I’m staying with now intuited my hesitation and bought my bus ticket. An older version of myself decided that it would be better to seem like I was okay for a few days than to explain why I didn’t want to go.

I understand that this blog post is kind of all over the place but the heart palpitations are freaking me out a bit so I’m trying to get out all of my wisdom and apologies now. Anyway, you’ll remember from the beginning of this blog post that the wedding was beautiful in every sense of the word and re-connecting with the friend I’m staying with and mutual comedian friends who came to the wedding was pretty great. I was a fucking mess, but in the end, I was glad I went. There is a shortage of perfect couples in this world and it would have been a shame to miss the union of this one.

So, staying with my friend. For the first week, I did a lot of moving around, getting her place together. It was nice to have a sense of purpose. After about a week, I had a bit of a crisis. I still had plenty of medication, so that wasn’t the issue. It was just ye olde depressionne wielding cruelty in a reasonable tone. But hanging out with my friend beat back the voice and I made it through another week.

I started to feel like I was overstaying my welcome around the same time that my friend was starting to chafe under the pressure of entertaining a guest/roommate/house elf. So, we decide that I would go home on November 8th. She bought me a plane ticket (I don’t know if I’ve mentioned that I’m out of work and that she’s a really good friend) and I started panicking about returning home and getting my shit together. But, I knew that if I left on the 8th, I’d only be without my Paxil for a couple of days, so I was okay with that.

Then we realized that my plane ticket was for the 14th, not the 8th. So, I ran out of Paxil on the 5th, and started trying to get my blood pressure medication to stretch by missing doses and cutting back. (I know, good decision). I don’t think I had realized how bad the Paxil withdrawal would be but messing with the blood pressure medication definitely didn’t help.

If it hasn’t been clear, Paxil doesn’t cure depression and anxiety, it just kind of mutes it. Experiencing moments of suicidal ideology or thoughts of self-harm or just straight-up self-loathing still happen, at least for me. So, having all of my feelings turned up to full volume along with the physical withdrawal symptoms has presented a bit of a challenge over the past week.

Fortunately, as I stated earlier, my friend noticed, and just being noticed kind of pulled me out of the self-hate spiral that I’d been spinning in. I want to say a few things about what I’ve learned over the past few months, but I’ll start with the total mess I was when I left comedy.

My secret motto is “you don’t get to know me”. It’s a mantra when I’m obsessing over an awkward conversation I had with someone, or if I think I might have hurt someone’s feelings or any situation that makes me feel stupid or mean or too much. “You don’t get to know me” means a couple of things. First, it means that I’m not going to go out of my way to explain myself if I think you are offended but shouldn’t be but I still feel guilty at the idea that you might be hurt.

Second, it means that who I present isn’t the entire picture. You know as much of me as I let you. This is stupid and untrue, of course, because every single person you will ever meet will have a different version of you in their head. Some of those versions are fairly accurate, and some are way off. But we don’t get to control that picture.

Still, it’s this weird little self-defense thing I do when I’m feeling vulnerable and decide to pull back and not let you know how I’m really feeling about something. I think it comes from when I was in foster care and I pretended to really like my foster sister even though she was a fucking monster. She was so much bigger and knew so much more and it was her house. She had every advantage over me. She could decide that I didn’t get to sleep with a pillow or if I got to keep my Christmas or birthday presents (spoiler alert: I didn’t).

I couldn’t fight her, so what I could do was not let her know how much she hurt me. I could agree with her that I was a fat, ugly, stupid, worthless intruder, and that she was an angel straight from Heaven. It’s hard to fight someone who won’t fight back. Not that she didn’t try. And, honestly, if I could do it all over again, I would have punch her in the face and stolen her shoes my first night there. Hindsight….

But that’s a holdover. To feel threatened, and to emotionally pull back. To hide my real emotions behind a mask, or better yet, find that place in my mind that numbs me from the pain of rejection. I gave so much of myself at the comedy club, more than I have anywhere else in my life. However, it was a constant struggle. I would pivot from feeling like I’d found a home, an entire community of people who got me, who liked me, who loved me. People who I loved and respected and adored, so much that it scared me.

One of the reasons it was so hard to be the person to “hire” comedians to work for free was because I valued them so much. It made me physically sick to recognize how dispensable they were and that I was now a part of that system that exploited and devalued them.

I suppose that if I had had any kind of boundaries or emotional maturity, I would have been able to handle it better. I might have been able to stomach working within the system long enough to make gradual changes. But I found comedy three years after my mom died, and I had, at that point, decided to never love anyone ever again. Tennyson was an asshole who didn’t know what he was talking about.

I vividly remember walking into the club for the first time, telling myself, “We don’t need to know anyone’s names. We don’t need to know their hopes and dreams. We’re here because we want to observe comedy in its natural habitat. We want to be a fly on the wall, not a participant.” (Another of my habits is to give myself pep talks as though I am a team, not an individual.)

So, when I left, I made the same old vow. Cut myself off, stop caring. I was never going to love anyone ever again and I was going to stop loving the people that I had foolishly allowed myself to love. I got a job as a cashier and there may have been two days in that month-and-a-half that I did not run into a comedian. I remember one comedian who didn’t look up the entire time I rang him up. This was a not-funny comedian who had been super nice to me when I was a Booker. I couldn’t figure out if this was his revenge for not booking him more, or if he really didn’t see me.

Part of the identity crisis that I had when I left was that I had become accustomed to being important. Being important, after being essentially invisible except to a few select people for my entire life, was terrifying. I was constantly aware that I didn’t deserve to be treated as special, and as soon as people figured out that I wasn’t shit, I would become as reviled as I currently was adored. To be honest, as much as I hated the business part of comedy, part of the reason I left was because I could not stand the inevitable rejection that loomed larger and larger every day.

The funny thing is that, at the time, I just wanted to step away from being a Booker. Being in a position of authority makes you a person that people try to be their best self around. It’s not about being fake or ambitious, it’s just an awareness that makes it difficult to relax around. I completely understand that. I have severe issues with authority and being in a position of authority freaked me out as much as anything else. It’s so much easier to cause irreparable damage when you’re speaking from a position of authority than when you’re on the same level (imagined or not) as someone else. There are several conversations that I had as a Booker that haunt me, and probably a lot more that I don’t even realize caused damage.

But there were people who saw me as important, not because I was a Booker, but because I was Crystal. At the time, I couldn’t separate those two different types of importance because my job title had become my identity. I couldn’t see myself as a person anymore, so as far as I was concerned, nobody else could either — at least not the comedians who had once been my friends.

Of course, a year-plus later, I’m able to make that distinction again and I recognize that that wasn’t as much of an issue for my friends as it felt like at the time. I dropped by the club the day after I quit my job. It was weird timing but Brandon Stewart was headlining and he was someone I remembered from the very first open mic I watched at the club. It was super cool to watch a baby comedian grow up to be a headliner, especially a comedian who is just a decent human being and was always kind. I knew him when I was just a weirdo watching open mics, and then shows, and then interning, and then working in the office, and finally, booking.

What really amazed me was how strongly the affection that I repressed for a year re-inflated the second I walked in. I just love those motherfuckers so fucking much. I hurt a few people, leaving as abruptly as I did, and then cutting myself off completely, but that’s the thing about family — at the end of the day, the still love you, no matter what an asshole you are. I could see the hurt and I couldn’t fix it but goddamn if it didn’t feel so good to see them and hug them anyway. It’s a weird thing to realize simultaneously what an asshole I’ve been and how valued I am.

I worked as a customer service representative for eleven months, and over that time, particularly after I started having the panic attacks and missing work, I tried talking about the stress and frustrations to the few friends I still allowed myself.

One friend, the one who called me on my birthday, heard me out. She is very careful of my feelings, and she hesitated for a moment, before saying, “I wonder how different your life would be if you didn’t care so much.”

At the time, that was all I wanted. I wanted to care less. It was all I’d ever really wanted for myself. It was what I had tried for with my foster sister, and all through school, and after my mom died. Now, I look back on that conversation, and it still makes me smile, but I don’t see caring as a weakness anymore.

I don’t know anyone who cares as much as I do. If I could choose a different personality, I probably would choose one a little more chill. But, at age forty-two, and recognizing myself as a dysfunctional adult who can’t even hold down a job, I can kind of see my personality as a blessing instead of a curse.

It’s not a choice. I have tried not to care and failed and failed and failed. The combination of losing my little brother and foster care made me see my natural over-sensitivity as wrong, as something that needed to be fixed. Growing up, I kept an emotional wall between my mom and my older brother. I thought I was protecting myself, but my biggest regret when my mom died was every bit of affection that I had ever withheld in order to protect myself.

Even with that being my biggest regret, I still decided that not loving anyone ever again was the best course of action. Working in comedy busted down that wall I had built around myself and made me love so many more people than I ever thought possible with an intensity that I never thought possible. It helped me take that emotional wall down between me and my older brother, and, despite some of the self-esteem issues I’ve described here, it has exposed parts of myself that I really like and don’t want to lose.

It’s funny that’s spent the last year-plus trying to distance myself from the emotional intensity that comedy brought out in me only to find that it continued breaking me down even after I left. It’s also funny how many times in my life that I decided that removing myself emotionally was the answer to all of my problems — AND how I never recognized how much more miserable that made me.

I’m not going to make any vows about how much more emotionally available I’m going to be from now on. I think what I’m realizing is that I have no choice. I am a big ol’ weirdo who has the ability to recognize that spark that makes you you and not anyone else. And I love the shit out of your spark. I still don’t know how I’m going to get or hold down a job because this world is not build to foster the kind of person I am, but wish me luck on figuring it out.

Once Upon A Time

Once upon a time, there lived a princess who was born with three eyes. This wouldn’t have been unusual except that everyone else in the kingdom only was only allowed two eyes each. This deviance, of course, caused some distress to the king and queen. They purchased expensive silk scarves and wrapped them in elaborate bows around the baby’s forehead, but the baby cried and fussed until the scarves were removed.

As the princess grew into a toddler, the princess’ governess cut the princess’ hair so that long bangs would hide the princess’ third eye. But the bangs blocked the princess from seeing through her third eye, and besides which, the hair tickled her eyelashes. So, every morning, after her governess would comb her bangs straight, the princess would pin her bangs back so that she could see clearly.

After a couple of years of this, the queen, frustrated by her child’s rebelliousness, summoned the princess to the throne room. The child, aside from her insistence on using all three eyes, was generally loving and obedient. When she received word that her mother would like to speak to her, she handed the basket of wildflowers that she had been picking to her governess and headed toward the castle.

The throne room, like the rest of the castle, was made up entirely of white marble threaded through with gold. The room was large enough to hold hundreds of subjects at a time. Twin dais’ set against the back wall were home to two elaborately carved golden thrones. Upon the thrones, sat the king and queen.

Other than the few spots of dirt on her dress and cheeks, and the giant eye in the middle of her forehead, the princess was nearly the perfect image of a royal child. Her cheeks were rosy, her eyes bright and intelligent, and she moved with a grace beyond her handful of years.

The queen dismissed the governess and when the princess was alone with the king and queen, the queen set her fierce gaze upon her child. “My daughter,” the queen said, her voice stern. “Why do you insist on exposing your third eye when you have been repeatedly asked to cover it?”

“My third eye has the power to see if a person is good or bad,” the child answered.

“Really?” the queen asked. “How?”

“When people are mean because of my third eye, I can see that they are bad.”

The queen was quiet for a moment, and then she burst into tears. The princess crawled up onto her mother’s lap and wrapped her arms around her mother’s waist. The queen wept into one hand and held onto her daughter with her other.

Before long, the queen pulled herself together. She sniffled and then wiped her nose on the sleeve of her dress. “I have something to show you,” she said.

The queen held her daughter tighter with one arm and removed her diadem with her free hand. She handed the diadem to her husband and then pulled her hair back, revealing a pucker in the skin of her forehead. It took a moment for the princess to realize that this was a closed eyelid.

“My mother was ordered to sew my extra eyelid shut,” the queen said. “But she couldn’t bear to do that to me. So she merely plucked out all of my eyelashes and ordered me to keep my extra eye closed and covered. I haven’t opened my third eye since I was a child, younger than you.”

The princess felt sad for her mother, the child. The princess also felt a guilty relief that she wasn’t the only person in the kingdom with an extra eye. She wasn’t a naturally defiant person; it had just never made sense to intentionally cripple herself for the aesthetic preferences of other people.

However, her stubbornness had consequences. For one, many people rejected her because of her deformity, and that hurt. Second, even people who didn’t mind the third eye found her open defiance offensive. And third, in her secret heart, behind all of her common sense and courage, was a secret wish that she didn’t have to constantly defend her right to be as she was. In her secret heart, she’d always wished to look like her mother, with her two perfect eyes.

And now, it turned out, that her mother looked like her, with her imperfect third eye. Sorrow and joy and words formed a knot in the child’s chest, which moved up to her throat. Unable to speak, she instead reached out and stroked her mother’s closed eyelid, which trembled beneath the child’s fingers.

The queen pulled her child’s hand away from her eyelid and held it to her heart. She had kept her third eye closed for so long that it took several minutes to assure the lid that she wanted it to open, before it budged. The eyelids slid apart and a near lifetime’s worth of tears that had built up behind that closed lid, poured out.

There were tears of shame and anger but also of joy. New tears joined the old ones, cascading down her cheeks, splashing down her shoulders and then her daughter’s, before splashing down the steps of the dais. The princess’ tears joined her mother’s, creating a pool that flooded the throne room and the entire bottom floor of the castle. It then flowed out of the castle, filled the moat surrounding the castle, before forming a river that led to the sea.

The river of tears was full of woe but also every moment of joy that the queen had ever felt. There was the day that she learned to skip, the first time she rode a horse, her first time behind the reins of a carriage. The river frolicked with the memory of first time she decided that she loved the man who would be her king, and every subsequent realization that she loved him even more as the years went by.

When the memories of her daughter’s first step, first word, and the first time she brushed the hair out of her face reached the ocean, the sea level rose five inches. By the time the flow of the queen’s tears slowed, several years had passed.

The marble stairs of the dais had eroded to the point where the queen and the princess had to slide down from the throne to the wet floor. The king, who had contributed his own portion of tears to the river, met his wife and daughter at the base of the dais’. Together, they splashed their way to the door of the throne room.

The servants had adapted to the new state of the castle floors and skated around on small boats instead of walking in shoes. The queen ordered the servants to prepare a feast, and to invite the entire kingdom. The servants rejoiced at the return of their king and queen, and immediately set to work on preparations for the feast.

The morning of the feast, the princess was bursting with excitement. Firstly, because she hadn’t eaten in several years, and now that she was approaching her teenage years, she needed extra nourishment. Secondly, the princess had outgrown all of her old clothing, and a brand new dress designed specifically for the occasion was hanging in her wardrobe. And finally, she was looking forward to the vindication of her third eye. Surely, once the entire kingdom knew that the queen also had a third eye, everyone would be forced to accept that third eyes were completely normal.

This euphoria was tampered by the governess, who, as usual, attempted to style the princess’ hair in the old way — by covering her third eye. The princess ducked the governess’ next swipe and then gently removed the brush from the governess’ grasp.

“Why are you trying to cover my third eye?” the princess asked.

The governess frowned. She loved the princess but she had not missed this old argument. The princess’ bangs had grown out, so the governess was attempting a sweep of hair across the forehead before the princess took the brush away.

“Her highness requested it,” the governess said.

It was the princess’ turn to frown. “I’m sorry, but you must be mistaken,” the princess said. “I will speak to my mother, and she will clarify this matter for us.”

The princess had received a new pair of gem-studded boat shoes for the party, but she preferred splashing through her family’s tears. Each splash that she made on the way to her mother’s chambers was a reminder of the pain that came from trying to seem like everyone else — and that that pain was now over, forever.

The queen’s chambers were decorated in reds, oranges, and golds, with watery blues and green accent that tempered the fiery tones. The queen sat at her vanity. Her dark curls had been captured by a filigree gold crown that rose several inches from her head. She wore no necklace, showcasing her long, graceful neck.

Although the queen’s back was to the princess, the princess could see her mother’s reflection in the mirror. A length of hair swept sleekly across her forehead, obscuring her third eye.

The princess’ disappointment was compounded by the foolishness of her hopes. She had known the truth as soon as the governess had, once again, wielded that hateful hairbrush. The princess felt dizzy and fell back against the door frame.

Her movement reflected in the mirror and the queen turned to face the princess. She didn’t say anything but a flush crept up her bare neck.

The princess took a few shaky steps toward her mother. She looked down, watching her mother’s tears splash against her toes. She stopped and looked at her mother. “I thought….” she didn’t know what to say next.

The queen stood. “I have decided to keep my third eye open in private,” she said. “However, in public, I can see no good in exposing myself to ridicule.”

“Like I do,” the princess said, finishing her mother’s thought.

“Like you did,” the queen corrected.

The princess stepped back. “You’ve never forced me…”

The queen sat again, and picked up a pair of golden shears from her vanity. “And I wouldn’t,” the queen said. “But I think you’re old enough to make the right decision — not just for me, but for you, and for the entire kingdom.” She rested the shears on her lap, and waited.

The princess walked toward her mother, but halted again, a few feet away. “What is so bad about having a third eye?” the princess asked. It was a questioned that had echoed throughout her entire childhood, but one that she had never received a satisfactory answer to.

“The fault isn’t with having three eyes,” the queen answered. “The fault is with having three eyes when everyone else has two.”

This sounded like the same lack of answer the princess had received her entire life, but the princess was too tired to continue arguing with it. She tried to understand that five years was half of her entire lifespan but it was a smaller fraction of her mother’s. And her mother had spent her entire life shamed into hiding that part of herself. It was unreasonable to expect a complete change of heart just because her mother had experienced one good cry over it.

So the princess pretended to understand, and she allowed her mother to cut her bangs. She closed her all three eyes as her mother encircled the princess’ forehead with a diadem made of intricate gold filigree. She opened her normal two eyes to see her mother’s resigned smile.

The princess allowed herself to be led outside to what had once been the castle lawn, but which was now a lake. The servants had set up floating platforms bursting with roasted meats, fruits, vegetables, deserts, and champagnes for the older folk, punch for the younger.

The old and infirm were rowed around the lake by jaunty servants, while the younger subjects glided around in jewel-toned gowns and tunics. Those with gowns allowed their hems to float on top of the water, whilst those in tunics and stockings displayed their gilded boat shoes proudly.

Cheerful chatter and flirtatious laughter that rose up over the band that circled the lake on their own floating platform. It was as festive a party as the princess had hoped for when she had woken up in the morning.

The king was already sitting in a golden throne on a floating platform in the center of the lake. He had trimmed his hair and beard and was wearing an elaborate crown studded with sapphires that matched his doublet and his wife’s gown.

The queen gave the princess a quick hand squeeze before slipping onto the lake with her bejeweled boat shoes. She joined her husband on the platform and took her seat next to him.

“You forgot your shoes.” The princess turned to find her governess holding out the bejeweled boat shoes. The princess expected to find the same old censure in the governess’ eyes, but empathy lurked in their watchful depths instead.

The princess could have handled yet another lecture or another stern glare, but the unexpected empathy brought tears to all three of the princess’ eyes. She took the shoes and turned away. She allowed the tears to fall silently into the lawn lake as she slipped the shoes on.

“Thank you,” she said softly, not trusting herself to look back at her governess. Instead, she tilted her chin up, and slipped into the lake. She glided aimlessly for a moment until a young lady caught the princess’ hand and pulled her into a dance. The dance was intricate and spirited. The dance reminded the princess of ones that she watched as a child, although those had been done on grass or marble rather than water. She remembered the anticipation of being old enough to participate.

She could not help but feel grown up and graceful as she caught onto the movements fairly easily. It helped that her dance partners were gracious and patient. The last time she had seen one particular gentleman had been five years ago. She had chased him across what used to be the palace lawn after he had demolished a flower crown that she had painstakingly woven from wildflowers found at the edge of the forest.

Another young gentleman had been accustomed to throwing sheeps’ feces at her and calling her a Three-Eyed-Freak. It had seemed that, at one point, every other child in the village had had a nickname for the princess, and none of them had been friendly. But as she glided through the water, clasping hands with old nemeses, it almost hurt to realize how good it felt to be accepted.

If she had realized how good this felt, she may have never fought the compulsion to allow her third eye to be closed. Several dances later, the sun had set, leaving the sky dotted with sparkling stars.

The princess, warm from the dancing, slipped away from the crowd and toward the edges of the lake. What had once been the forest was now half underwater, but the princess found her favorite tree pretty quickly. It was the one she had used to climb away from insults and tossed poo.

First 500 Words: Shifting Greer’s by K.D. Bledsoe at Inkitt

(This story was found on Inkitt. I present the first 500 words as the author wrote them, provide notes on what works and what needs work, and then re-write the first 500 words. I try to keep the author’s voice but edit for clarity, formatting, spelling, grammar, etc. No offense in intended toward the original author. This is a writing/editing exercise that I thought would be fun, since this is something that I do mentally with everything I read — until I get lost in the story, that is.)

Original:

How do the stories begin? Oh, right, with once upon a time.

So, so here it goes:

Once upon a time, there was an overlooked, beautiful girl who longed for someone to come and notice her. Along comes a handsome prince on horseback to save her. They live happily ever after in a ginormous castle.

Well, you know what I’ve got to say to those stories? Bullcrap.

Fairy tales are stories written by lonely people that want to deceive the minds of the youth. But listen up kids, no one ever gets their happily ever after. Some messed up shit happens in life. Did you get that? Are you taking notes? You could be because I’m a prime example of someone not getting their happily ever after. Heck, I would even settle for Cinderella’s life before she met Prince Charming or whoever.

Because right now, my story belongs in the tragedy section of the bargain bin.

My castle comes in the form of a one-story house, parked on the side of a busy street, in a small crater in the earth in Washington.

And it’s freaking raining.

I stare up at the brick ranch style house with a scowl on my face. My one suitcase is on the wet ground at my feet. My brunette hair is soaked to my skin. I’m not wearing a jacket, just a think t-shirt. There’s a black pickup truck parked in the driveway. It has a bumper sticker for the high school in town. I can’t help but laugh. I haven’t even been to the school yet.

I can’t get my feet to shuffle up the cracked walkway. This doesn’t feel real. The last few months, I’ve been basically sleepwalking through my life. Standing here in front of my new home starts to wake me up a bit.

“You’ve been standing there for ten minutes now, are you going to go in?” Says a deep voice from beside me.

I gulp, “I’m working up to it.”

“It won’t bite, you know?” He chuckles.

I turn to look at the older man standing to my right. A shot of pain grips my chest tight as I look into his sparkling blue eyes. Leo looks almost identical to my mother. I wonder how long the pain will last every time I look at him. I wonder if it’ll ever get easier.

He gives me a forced smile as he noticed the look on my face, “One step at a time, remember, Greer?”

I nod. It all seemed so simple on the drive over here. I pumped myself up the whole plane trip. I told myself I could do it the whole car ride from the airport. So why couldn’t I do it now?  Why was this such a hard thing to do?

I vigorously nod, shaking myself from my stupor, and put one step in front of the other. I drag my suitcase behind me on its wheels. Leo keeps a safe distance behind me and…

What Works: First, the style is great. The beginning may sound a little cliched with the “once upon a time stuff” but, to be honest, even as a full-grown adult, a story that starts like this will still get my attention right away. Generally, when this opening is used, it’s in a romantic-comedy context, so to have it in the Action section, with the story description being that Greer is a teenage girl in witness protection after her parents are murdered is a fun switch. Also, I just like the voice of the character right off the bat.

What Needs Work: For a book in the Action section, absolutely nothing happens in the first chapter (I read ahead). The author also hints around about “the incident” and how she has a different last name now but if you read the summary before reading the book, this is not a mystery to the reader and it’s frustrating to have that reveal dragged out for so long.

Although the author is good at setting a mood, the writing could be more concise.

Also, the title should probably be “Shifting Greers” instead of “Shifting Greer’s”.

My Version:

How do the stories begin? Oh, right, with, once upon a time…

Once upon a time, there was an overlooked, beautiful girl who longed for someone to notice her. Along came a handsome prince on horseback to save her. They lived happily ever after in a ginormous castle.

Well, you know what I’ve got to say to those stories? Bullshit.

Listen up kids, no one ever gets their happily ever after. Life is full of some messed up stuff. Watch your parents be murdered and then tell me how there is such thing as justice, let alone happiness.

Right now, I’m standing in front of a red brick, ranch-style house, in a small town in Washington.

And it’s freaking raining.

There’s a black pickup truck parked in the driveway. Uncle Leo’s new truck. There’s already a sticker for the high school I haven’t started attending yet stuck on the tailgate.

The wind whips dark, wet strands of hair across my face, casting diagonal prison bars across the view of the house. I’m not wearing a jacket, just a thin, black t-shirt. There’s a sweater in the suitcase next to my feet. The material of the suitcase is not waterproof, so the sweater is probably as soaked as I am.

The cab dropped me off ten minutes ago, but I can’t get my feet to shuffle up the cracked walkway.

The front door opens and Uncle Leo steps out of the house. He fwoops open an umbrella and then jogs down the walkway, toward me. 

I love Leo but I have to fight the urge to run away. This can’t be real. It can’t be my life now.

Leo stops in front of me and tries to hand me the umbrella. I don’t budge, so he hovers over me awkwardly, using the umbrella to try and cover both of us.

“How long have you been out here?” he asked, sounding concerned and exasperated. His voice is deep, nothing like my mother’s, but his eyes are the same exact shade of blue as hers. A stitch cramps up my chest, like when I run too fast without warming up first.

A wry smile quirks my uncle’s lips, though the wrinkle between his brow still displays his worry. “Are you coming in?”

I nod, but don’t move.

His smile turns encouraging. “One step at a time Greer,” he says.

I take a deep breath and step forward. He moves aside and walks with me, still trying to hold the umbrella over both of us as I wheel my suitcase up the path.