The Honorific “Writer”

Content warning: depression.

Writing doesn’t always wear the same hat.

Steaming mugs, sweaters, an open window with the scent of leaves, your pet warming a part of you. Coffee shops, libraries, bookstores. The sound of music–wordless, to help you focus–and the steady thrum of keys hammering as you slip into the moment. The familiar unease of the first draft as threads of dislike and effort weave themselves into faltering scenes that never translate onto the page as seamlessly as you’d like. But it’s a foundation; you can work with it.

The coziness is part of the appeal of what it means to be a writer. To curl up with a book, with your laptop, with your phone. It’s the artist’s charcoal-smudged hands, the chef’s slip-ups that ruin the dish but make for a good story. It’s what we send out to the world–hey, look, writing is how you imagine! I’m a writer.

That’s the narrative we tell on Twitter. The act of writing is solitary by nature, so these are the scenes we use to know one another. “My cat’s on my keyboard, guys.” “I can’t function without coffee!” “Just renamed my inbox ‘the endless void my queries seem to disappear into.’” It’s comforting, to recognize yourself in others living all around the world.

As with any hobby or profession, however, we only put the alluring parts on social media. The stigma of mental illness and value centric to monetary gain corrals us into keeping our fingers still whenever writing changes its hat.

The room is dark because you forgot to turn on the lamp when the sun set. Shit, were your glasses always this dirty? Rolling clicks of the fridge in the kitchen. The opening and re-opening of documents, the buzzing in your head that you have to do something, you can’t just sit here and feel like a wet parking lot cigarette butt. You’ve made a list (to-do, for your manuscripts), but you’d rather volunteer yourself into a coma than do them, without exaggeration, and that’s not trying to be funny, it’s just the level of dissociation you’re experiencing. The relief that hits when you realize you can edit a friend’s work instead is nice–but that dies, too, because you end up reading the same paragraph over and over. Some critique partner you are.

Did your eyes always hurt this much? Maybe you should turn down the brightness on your screen… oh. It won’t go any lower. You must not be sleeping well, which is crazy, because you got 10 hours last night. Just drink some coffee–after all, that’s aesthetic. If you act the part, it’ll happen! But now you’re mentally exhausted and quivering with caffeine, and your word count is still zero. Your word count is still zero. Your word count is still zero. What the fuck, you aren’t even distracted.

What do you do? Even sitting at a desk seems to take more from you than you initially had to offer, so you move to the couch. Two hours have passed since you sat down to write. Blankets and Netflix and an up-in-years laptop burning your legs. Your mouth has an unpleasant taste from the coffee. Query. Edit. Write. Do something. Your pet joins you, but you’re too much in your own headspace to give them a scratch–it’s okay, they understand. Not like some others you know. What a cruel joke (oh, don’t be so melodramatic), that the activity that gives you the most joy in life also triggers depression, feelings of uselessness, irritability–excuse me, I ordered mania on this?

To other writers who’ve been in this fugue lately, I see you. I know how transparent the glamour feels, how rutted out and cauterized this shit show is sometimes. Waltzing for an invisible audience. Form-fitting silks to a dress form replica of your insecurities, barely keeping up with some fucking wikiHow instructions. I see you. I’m tired, too.

it’s a living #9

Trigger Warnings at the end. Please take care of yourself. 

Deanna sits me down on July 25th, the day after my little sister’s third birthday. She grabs me by the shoulders and steers me to the couch, gentle, like I’m a porcelain doll that she needs to take care of so she can sell me to a consignment shop. She’s perched on the coffee table across from me–determined, grim–and I haven’t been this nervous since senior-year-Zach and sophomore-year-me made out behind the Waffle House.

“Is this a sex talk?” I joke. “Cause like, I did get the talk, but it was a really straight one, so if you wanted to give me the gay version I’d actually really appreciate–”

“Kip, are you suicidal?”

“Um.” Wherever I thought she was going with this, I was wrong. “I’m…”

“We don’t talk about–well–that stuff.” Deanna rubs her eyes. “At least not like we should. And that’s shitty, and… I just. I don’t want to not talk and not talk and then… I don’t know. Something happens. And I’ll think, what if you had just said something, you know?”

“Yeah, sure.” I can feel myself retreating, distancing myself from the intensity of her gaze.

Maybe she can sense that, because she continues to ramble, “I’m not trying to be confrontational, but… I can’t just like, casually bring it up. Or like, I could, but I’m too much of a coward so I gotta like, psych myself up, and–”

“I get it.” I don’t get it, but I want to shut her up. I don’t know why she has to bring this up, why she has to see me. Why can’t she ignore it?

“Oh good. So like, if you wanna talk about anything… um. I’m listening.”

I fidget in my seat. “What do you want me to talk about?”

“Whatever you’re thinking?”

“Wellllll, I was thinking about washing the dishes. Might even dry them if I’m feeling really feisty.”

Deanna sighs. Bites her lip. “Kip, c’mon.”

“What?”

“I’m just trying to make sure you’re okay.”

“Cool. I’m fine.”

She sits back and crosses her arms. “You’re fine.”

“Fine.”

“Fine?”

“I’m fine, and you’re deaf, apparently.”

“Kip, stop it.”

“Stop what, Deanna? You wanted to know how I’m doing. I appreciate that, really, but I told you, I’m–”

“Fine,” She scoffs.

“Yeah. That’s the one.”

“That’s such bullshit, Kip. Why can’t you talk about it? Why won’t you let me help?”

“If this is you helping, I’d hate to see how you hurt.”

Her frown deepens. “Hey–”

“Also, if you wanna help someone why don’t you start with yourself? You spend every fucking day of your life in a stupor, you don’t remember half the conversations we have because you’re never here. You just wander through your life like it doesn’t even matter. That’s not healthy.”

“This isn’t about–”

“You keep saying you’re going to get your shit together, that you’re going to get a real job or whatever, but you can barely get out of bed most days.”

“Kip.”

I’m standing now, hands clenched at my sides. “You spent your teens and twenties fucking wasting away, waiting for life to come and pick you up off the ground. You’re such a hypocrite, Deanna. You’re a fucking–”

“Hey!” Deanna slams her fist down on the coffee table, and the violent sound jolts me out of my anger. I sink back into the couch, fold in on myself. “Oh. Hey.” Deanna’s voice softens. “Hey, sorry.”

I nod, but I can’t look up. It’s not safe yet.

We sit in silence for a minute while Deanna plucks fuzz off her sweatpants and I sit stock-still, waiting for the numbness to wash over me so we can brush past this. When three minutes tick by and still my pounding heart doesn’t settle into a slow, indifferent beat, I begin to panic; indifference is a necessity, the only thing that keeps me from paralyzing anxiety at all times.

“Kip, sweetie, try to calm down, okay?”

I shake my head.
“You don’t have to talk about anything you don’t want to, I swear. I’m sorry, I’m really not very good at this.”

She’s sorry? I’m the one who–

I run to the only other room in the apartment–Deanna’s room, since I don’t have one. I’m still sleeping on Deanna’s couch, in Deanna’s apartment, another reminder that she’s done so much for me and all I can do is yell at her and judge her life like mine isn’t a dumpster fire.

I close the door. Lock it. Even in my panic I feel absurd, like Lucy having one of her temper tantrums.

There’s a muffled thump against the door, and the shadow through the crack lets me know she leaning on it with her full body. “Kip. You don’t… you don’t have to let me in or anything, but um. If you need anything…” She groans. “I’m so fucking bad at this. I don’t know how to make you understand that I honestly just want you to feel better. I didn’t mean to lose my temper, and I’m not mad about the things you said to me either, okay? A little hurt, but not mad. So just–I don’t know–take a nap? And then maybe we can talk about this later. Or not, if you don’t want to…”

I nod my head as if she can see me, lowering myself onto the floor and curling up at the mere mention of sleep. “Okay,” I mumble.

Her sigh is muffled, but I can hear her relief even through the door. “I care about you, Kip.”

My chance to let her know it’s reciprocated slips by as her footsteps fade away.

Trigger warnings: discussion of suicide and depressive episodes. 

it’s a living #8

Trigger Warning at the end. Please take care of yourself. 

I don’t know why it takes over a year for the reality of it to hit me; denial or repression or shock, take your pick. Maybe it’s Gabby, the only real connection to my past, sprawled on my living room floor, setting up her ancient Nintendo 64. There had been such a strict divide, before and after the Incident; a Venn Diagram of two separate circles, but now those circles crossed. The smallest of collisions created a ripple effect of memories and emotions in my head, and it can’t be undone now.

“I’m really glad we were able hang out before I head back to school,” Gabby’s saying as she untangles some cords.

“Yeah, totally.” I wonder if she can hear the hollowness in my voice.

“I ran into Vicki the other day–you remember Vicki?”

“Badass tattoo girl,” I mumble.

“Yeah, exactly. Dude, I really thought you had a crush on her when we were freshies, even if you denied it. But anyways I ran into her the other day and she was telling me about her job at the mechanic’s down on 4th Street, and…”

This is how my life used to be. People came over and we talked about ourselves and other people and we complained about our teachers and discussed the newest Marvel movie and we ate pizza that our parents had ordered without a second thought to how much it cost, and we just were. There was no other way to be. Now it’s as if I’ve lost that ability. I can’t even re-contextualize the me that cares about how much the pizza cost into a situation of sociality that is so much better suited to the old me. I try to fit who I was over top of who I am, but that Kip is a mask made for a different face.

She’s just a person, I tell myself. She’s probably different now too. You’re not the only one who can change.

That helps a little, gets me out of my self-pitying spiral just enough to sit down next to her on the floor and play some fucking Mario Kart, the cure-all for existential breakdowns.

“Where’s your roommate?” Gabby asks after she beats me for the third time in a row.

“Working. She’s a bartender down on central.”

“Cool. How’d you meet her?”

A fuzzy memory of nausea and dulled terror hits me, a glass of water being set it front of me, a voice, tough luck, I don’t enable already drunk underage kids.

“Craigslist.”

Gabby laughs. “Super safe, Kip.”

“I am the model of adulthood.”

“Hell yeah you are.” She starts another round. “I’m like, still fully depending on my parents, and look at you, out here living all responsibly with your own apartment and job and shit.”

“I did a week’s worth of dishes like five minutes before you came over.”

“Well, one step at a time.”

One step at a time. Step one was getting out–was not immediately putting myself into a hole six feet under. Surviving. It’s all I’ve been doing, all I know how to do. Clinging to the edge of the cliff, unable to pull myself up, unable to let go.

“I like your hair longer, by the way. You look older. All cool and hipster. Bet it’s long enough to make a man-bun.”

“Oh yeah, thanks. I’m… trying something new.”

I’m aware of the fact that she’s making all the conversation, asking me all the questions, but I can’t think of a single thing to ask. I try to pull up information on her parents or siblings or an interest she has that I can inquire after, but the only question I can think of is, does your life suck as much as mine?

She wins the next round too. “Dude, you suck. You used to be way better than me.”

“Ah, I accidentally dropped my console and haven’t been able to get a new one yet.”

“That’s no excuse. You can’t untrain your brain how to play Mario Kart. It’s burned onto your hard drive.”

I shrug. “Well then maybe it’s you who’s gotten better.”

“Finally, I can take my rightful place as Queen.”

“You know, when I invited you over, it wasn’t so that you could usurp my throne.”

“That’s the thing about usurping, honey. You’re not supposed to see it coming.”

This, the banter. This I can do. This has been burned into my hard drive, an automatic button that gets pressed and allows me to slip back into something normal for a couple minutes.

 

Right before Gabby finishes packing up, she sighs, back towards me, and begins tentatively. “Kip.”

I ignore the unease in her voice. “Traitor to the crown.”

“I, uh. Heard about what happened.”

My stomach flips. I haven’t done this yet, not even with Deanna, and I don’t want to do it now. “What d’you mean?”

“C’mon, don’t play the Dumb Kip card. ” She turns to look at me, eyes roving my face for answers. “I know you better than that.”

“It’s…” I sigh. “Who told you?”

Gabby looks far too pitying. “Everyone knows, Kip.”

“Everyone?” I sit down on the couch, my head spinning.

“Yeah, man.”

My head nods, a movement independent of thought.

“But um.” She’s looking at me hard now, like she’s really trying to drive her point home. “I just wanted you to know that… uh. I’m cool with it, and. If you ever need anything…”

More nodding. “Thanks, Gabs.” I manage a half-smile. “Hey, at least now you’ll believe that I really wasn’t into Vicki.”

Gabby wraps her cord around her hand, then shoves it in her backpack. “Yeah, you know, maybe it was me who had a crush on her.” It’s a joke, but she’s fiddling with her backpack zipper and no longer making eye contact.

“For real?” Something like happiness bubbles up into my throat.

“I don’t know.” She shifts. “Yeah, maybe.”

“That’s awesome, Gabby.”

“Yeah?”

“Are you kidding?” My happiness bubble bursts into laughter. “This proves the theory that queer kids flock together before they even know they’re queer.”

Gabby’s laughing too now, and I can see a familiar relief in her shaking shoulders. “Wow, I haven’t seen you this happy since graduation. I would have led with this if I had known you were gonna go full puppy dog on me.”

The overlapped Venn Diagram of my two lives–absolutely panic-inducing just a couple minutes before–feels different now; a reassurance that both exist, separate and together at the same time.

“Okay.” Gabby stands up and swings her backpack over her shoulder. “This has all been very cathartic, and I think I’m drown in a pool of my own relief now.”

“Honestly, same.”

She kisses me on the cheek and gives me a big hug, that energy she’s famous for building back up inside her like a balloon. “Text me, my beautiful gay boy. We’re really stuck with each other now.”

Yes, we are.

Trigger warning: brief mention of suicidal thought.