Today, I woke up remembering that when I was 20, I ended up in New Orleans, waiting to meet a guy I’d never met but knew very well at the airport. I’m pretty sure I’d never been so nervous about meeting a person in my life. I remember that, always self-conscious about my almost translucently pale skin, I’d attempted to use sunless tanner. What looked like orange Ben Nye pancake makeup was all over everything and it took a very abrasive exfoliating wash and a loofah to remove most of it. Yet, for all my trying, I ended up showing up at the airport wearing a cute white and blue butterfly dress and had orange streaks on my legs. It was, of course, laughable later. Looking back, it was the unfortunate side effect of caring too much about how others might judge you, and it was ridiculous. It was also an illustration in what happens when you take risks. They don’t all work out, but sometimes, it doesn’t matter much. That particular person was so nervous about meeting me, he scarcely noticed my failed experiment in becoming a Jersey Shore cast member.

I’m not sure why I woke up thinking of that day, except maybe that last night, I wore a wig that I bought during that trip. Last night was full of heartbreak and tears, and discussion about ending a 5-year relationship that has meant the world to me, all prompted by silly string. And, there I was, thinking about a younger version of myself who literally dyed herself orange.

I’ve been relatively quiet over here lately, and my poor little blog has been feeling neglected. You see, although I managed to spend the majority of December stuck inside my apartment—something that has led even my most introverted friends to say they’d have gone stir-crazy— I also felt too unwell to write. It’s odd, the feeling that even the thought of picking up a computer (or a pen and journal) might make one feel completely exhausted. I didn’t do much work, to the chagrin of both my bank account and sense of accomplishment. I certainly didn’t do much on the creative front. I even left my Christmas cards until the very last minute, because they are like all of my correspondence, not simply a name scrawled on a card. I write long and often heartfelt messages to the people in my life on occasions that merit cards, and even some that do not.

This year, whether due to illness or some sense of heaviness in my heart, I simply have not wanted to write. For me, writing is, above all, a type of catharsis. It fills the same space in my life that music or performance or any other type of self-expression does for me. For whatever reason, I have not wanted to handle the overwhelming idea of self-expression. That, of course, means that I have been largely disinterested in confronting and examining my own feelings.

About what, I do not know. On the whole, 2013 has been kind of a roller-coaster of a year. For a majority of the year, I seemed much healthier and energetic than what I was used to. In my second year of dealing with what the doctors call a “chronic illness”, there were times I forgot I was ill. I was able to host social events, hang out at clubs and go drinking and dancing with my friends, and reclaim a bit of that adventurous spirit I used to have. I was able to spend over two weeks traveling the East Coast on a bus during the summer months, dealing with challenges such as a crazy heat wave and going back to the beach where my illness first began. I was able to push through the anxiety of dealing with the reality of what my family was going through, and I cried a lot because although my family hasn’t offered me anything resembling home or affection in a long time, the realisation that the shadows and comforts of your childhood are gone and you’re really, truly alone, it’s a hard one.

Through it all, I was also able to visit old friends I see rarely, but all of whom mean a tremendous amount to me. Although they all seemed to be going through something in their own lives, they were also all there for me in their own way, and remembering I have an extensive and varied support system out there– even in the form of old friends whose lives have taken a different path from mine, and others who imagine that might not always be the case— it made me a stronger person. Coming back to Atlanta also made me appreciate the love and support I have here, because family is not always determined by blood ties. I hadn’t been back two weeks before getting news that my mother had a stroke, either her fourth or fifth. This one was rather debilitating, and led the doctors to the conclusion that she should live out the rest of her life in a nursing home. It is difficult to speak to her, as both her speech and hearing are affected, but I try to remember to send letters, cards, packages, and photos, little things that cheer her up. I know that if I were facing illness and isolation for the rest of my life, it is those little things that would be a bright spot.

I managed to handle DragonCon, marching in the parade in incredible heat, going to the SIEGE conference for the weekend, helping The Guy I Am Currently Dating with his annual fundraiser, and throwing a huge party for him where I sang in public in Atlanta for the first time in a few years. I managed to help my brother try to get help dealing with all the responsibility on his shoulders, and to be someone who is there for him. I managed to make it through fun Halloween celebrations, and even attending a concert with loud music and flashing lights. All signs pointed to the idea that I’d be better. A check-up with the doctor yielded good results; my blood pressure was so low, it might soon be time for me to come off medication, and possibly have energy, vitality, and the ability to lose weight again.

Then, in early November, I seemed to have a relapse. Driving in the car would cause an out-of-control sensation near my kidneys that would move to my heart, my lungs, and eventually my brain. I had panic attacks and blood sugar crashes that my normal medications could not control. Thanksgiving, although a lovely holiday tradition of visiting my former roommate and her family (including two beautiful little girls, two dogs, a cat, and a husband) for turkey and Black Friday shopping, left me physically exhausted in a way that is not normal for someone my age. Nevertheless, I kept on going, singing karaoke, playing trivia, and wandering around the Botanical Gardens for four hours in the freezing cold to look at Christmas tree lights.

After the first week of December, I contracted a really bad cold/flu, which turned into an infection that kept me in bed for almost three weeks. As of today, I am still coughing up a lung, as my body’s immune system seems to have no defence against this particular germ. The illness affected my ear, which meant return of panic attacks and migraines, and the prolonged inability to go back out in the world meant a return of the social anxiety symptoms. I was afraid that every time I went out, I’d have a panic attack–which often happened–not as a result of people, but riding in the car. For a month and a half, the feeling of depression returned, which happens every time I get better and then I get worse. I feel like I will never have my life back, never be the person I used to be. I look at photos of a girl who was young and vivacious and desirable and had a certain spark about her, and I do not remember her. I cry because I feel too young to have lost her, and because it is unfair that the doctors have never been able to tell me why. I cry because I want answers; even if I only have a year, or three, or five left to hang out on this earth, I want to know what to do to make them the best possible. I cry because feeling helpless and not in control of anything, not even your own body, is terrifying and lonely.

During this time, I found out that my uncle—one of the only people who helps in the care of my family—was diagnosed with metastatic osteosarcoma. It is the same disease that attacked an ex of mine, so I unfortunately know more about it than I should to believe, “It’s not a big deal; it’s most treatable”. The long-term odds of survival are a dice throw, and my uncle is only in his late 50′s. After that, my friend’s cat passed away. I started to see things as signs; signs that validated my theory that the next year of my life needs to be a “bucket list” year.

I had a wonderful Christmas and birthday weekend, surrounded by people who matter to me, and really just having fun in the kind of way that–for just a little while–reminded me of what it felt like to be me ten years ago. I barely remember that naive, life-loving person who would wake up in the morning and feel genuinely excited about the world and the anything and everything that was possible. But, once in a while, there is a glimpse and a memory—and when that happens, I am honestly happy.

I expected New Year’s Eve to be a fabulous night, and planned dinner with friends, followed by a trip to a club that I’d visited every month I was in town over the past year or so. Ironically, the only place to get dinner reservations for 10 people on short notice was a restaurant that is personally memorable to me because I’ve been there on the “break-up dinner” with people in my past. Twice. I even joked about the bad karma that seemed to be associated with that place, but I wasn’t seriously concerned.

Fast forward to 2014, and everyone has toasted with champagne, done shots, and cans of silly string are being passed around. In order to celebrate all the good memories, we sprayed each other with silly string and danced. It wasn’t until 15 minutes later that I went to see why The Guy I Am (Or Was) Currently Dating wouldn’t dance, which isn’t out of the ordinary. He told me in a very cold voice that I had hurt his feelings (by spraying him with silly string), and a fight ensued. Fast forward, and he is leaving the club and my friend, who was sweet enough to not want to leave me, is consoling me while I cried a LOT and getting another friend to come pick us up. Fast forward again, and The Guy I Am (Or Was) Currently Dating has returned and closing out the tab, and my friend is angry that she called for a ride for us and I’m going home with the guy that made me cry on New Year’s Eve. But it is almost physically impossible for me to just let things go and forget them; I need closure on everything. Fast forward again, and I am home, and we are talking about how different we are and how, after 5 years, there is not necessarily any sign of moving forward in the relationship. I tell him he deserves more than to settle for someone who isn’t right for him and doesn’t make him happy. He says I make him happy, but for the second year in a row, we’ve rung in the New Year crying and barely speaking, so I disagree.

Now, we’re talking about the details of ending the relationship and changing Facebook statuses, and it’s almost absurd to think a 5-year connection can be broken because of silly string. But, that’s precisely what happened, and today, I have barely moved out of bed.

2014 was supposed to be a really awesome year, and frankly, it’s not looking that way for me.

The reality is, I call this my “bucket list” year because at the end of 2014, I really still hope to be both alive and healthy. If I manage to accomplish that, I’ll have made it to a “milestone birthday”, one of those where you realise that whether you like it or not, you’re the grown-up now. It sometimes still seems hard for me to wrap my head around that. Inside, I still feel like that little girl in the blue and white butterfly dress who wanted so badly to be sophisticated and impressive, and thought she knew everything about everything at the age of 20.

When you are ill, and you’re not sure why, and you’re not sure about either the quality or quantity of your life, milestones matter. New Year’s Eve celebrations matter, and not spending them with tears and heartbreak matters. I have had a good life. I’ve also had a hard life, an adventurous life, a life that some judge and others secretly envy. I’ve loved often and lost often, and my heart and my body have enough scars for someone twice my age. I have packed a lot of living into what many might consider not that many years. In some ways, it seems like it’s been 70. Some days, when everything inside my body seems out of control and all I can do is cry and beg someone to help me and find the answers, I do not know that I am going to be there with my friends or loved ones to celebrate a brand new year. You only get so many chances, so many clean slates. If something should happen to me, I know that nobody will be quite certain why, or they’ll find they didn’t do the test for the right thing, and it’s simply too late. I know that part of my “bucket list year” is being a responsible adult, and planning for that day when I won’t be here anymore.

I am the type of person for whom no amount of time would be enough time. I try to be as vibrant and enthusiastic about life as I can. I am growing more comfortable with being alone, but not for too long. It isn’t something I like in too great a quantity. I am trying to become the kind of person I want to be, regardless of whether or not other people like her. I am no longer willing to dye myself orange to impress anyone.

I feel sometimes like I am working against a clock, and I do not want to spend the years I have left being afraid. If there is anything that would be the most meaningful thing to me to accomplish in 2014, it’s learning to find whatever strength I have deep down inside that allows me to be less afraid. If I am less afraid, I can actually make a difference in the world. More than anything else, I cry when I imagine that I will be forgotten, that I will have left nothing of value behind, that I will have touched no one for being here.

I want to live the next year of my life with all the health and energy I can come up with, so that if somehow it is my last, I will be filled with love and memories and feelings of accomplishment and having mattered to the world. I need 2014 to be full of life and experience and emotion and vitality and challenging myself to be that person I always thought I could become. I want all the moments to matter, no matter how small. I know that’s a tall order to ask from a new year, but I am going to try, because it means a lot to me.

One thing that has changed about me is that when I was younger, I was much stupider, but far more fearless. I took a lot of risks. They didn’t all pay off and they weren’t all intelligent, but in some ways, it is much better than never trying. I wasn’t about to wait around and let life happen to me; I went after it. It didn’t always lead me to the best places, but it didn’t keep me standing still, fearful of choosing the wrong thing or suffering painful repercussions.

If I could have just a little of that back, I think I’d feel like the old Alayna again. That person is just this flighty little redhead who doesn’t see an adult when she looks in the mirror, because even though there are now tiny lines and crow’s feet, she will never reach 5 feet tall or have that “serious face” that comes with a lot of responsibility. She will never be beautiful, or delicate, or understated, or made of the same stardust that most people seem to be made of, and she will not be the one in any social situation that everyone misses when she is gone. But she is intelligent, and imaginative, and lively, and believes in soulmates and impulsive adventures and being overdressed and sparkly, even if others dislike it. I try to keep in mind that girl is the kind who is crazy and determined enough to be certain she’s going to be here to see 40…even if she doesn’t have any more stability or certainty in her life than the day she showed up in New Orleans with a blue and white butterfly dress and orange streaks on her legs. It never occurred to that girl that she would not be loved by many, that she would not be successful, or that she would not be strong enough to grow old. It didn’t occur to her to be afraid or feel inferior—she needed the harsh judgment and actions of other people to teach her that—-and I envy her for being that unencumbered, in a way only the really young are. I would like just a little bit of that back in my life.

I am not having a happy holiday season. I got sick with what appeared to be a cold on December 6th. It’s the 20th, and I am still not better. I had a glimmer of hope when my doctor agreed to call in an antibiotic prescription. I gave the medical assistant the pharmacy’s number, but she never called it in. You can’t get it touch with anyone or leave messages, so the best I can hope for is to get help on Monday. If I don’t, I will likely be sick for Christmas Eve, Christmas, my birthday, and maybe even NYE.

Earlier today, during an online conversation about health care, where I attempted to humanise the benefits the ACA has for those the insurance companies refuse to help, despite medical need, by telling my very personal story—someone wrote, “Alayna seems to get her fair share of partying in, so she must be OK.”

When I elaborated on my story and said it was wrong to judge people based on photographs put up on Facebook, I started to be accused of being a drunk, and was told that I was ill because of my own bad choices (completely false.). The person painted me as a crazy, liberal alcoholic, and when I mentioned that the friend whose page this discussion was on warned me that this person was a troll who didn’t like liberals, I then got yelled at for repeating something someone said in private. Because it’s OK to think those things about someone, to warn your friends about them, but not to say it out loud or defend other friends who are being maligned. This friend said “He didn’t want to get involved” in the conversation.

Sadly, those who don’t like you enough to get involved..well, they just don’t like you enough, and that’s that. In my world, when someone is being mistreated, you say something. It’s amazing, the number of people who choose to look the other way, or call out those who are being bullied…rather than those who are doing the bullying.

Words hurt, and I cried a lot. Just once, I’d like to talk with people who are on my wavelength, respect my intelligence, and don’t result to personal attacks. When I lived in NYC, I was the kind of girl with a lot of guy friends…and some of them got into fights defending my honour. It’s been a long time since someone has come along and said “Alayna is an awesome person, and you have no right to say those things about someone you don’t know”. Honestly, I miss that.

Two weeks ago, there was another internet debate where people were rough on me, and there was no one to stand up for me. It feels incredibly lonely.

I read an interesting article recently about sociopaths, empaths, and apaths. The premise is that, even in logical arguments, empaths (about 30% of the population) tend to get bullied by those with sociopathic tendencies (according to the article, about 20% of the population) because they refuse to keep quiet when they feel someone is being treated unfairly.

Most of the world falls into the “apath” category, people who don’t want to get involved, who want everything to be peaceful, and want to avoid negativity. So, it’s hard to see people just lashing out at you and judging you, and knowing there’s nobody who is going to vocally say “Making those statements about a friend isn’t cool for anyone to do”. is very hard. If you noticed, your friends made judgments about me and my personal life long after I’d left the conversation. I had no more to say…they are the ones who felt entitled to judge me. I didn’t make personal remarks about their lifestyle or their choices. It hurts when you realise people inherently don’t care whether you are sick or well, alive or dead, after you had the guts to put yourself out there and be honest and vulnerable.

The last thing I need is to feel there’s one more person whom I’ve met that doesn’t give a crap if I am alive or not, and will think, “Well, it’s her own fault.” That’s exactly how I feel right now. Words hurt people greatly.

Now even The Guy I Am Currently Dating is yelling at me and speaking to me in a voice that suggests everything I say is wrong or annoying. From the moment he got here, he kept talking to me in this very hurtful voice that said “I’m tired and you’re annoying.” When someone is crying and hurt because of a bad day and a lot of disappointment, the last thing they need is more reminders of how lonely life can be when you’re almost middle-aged, broke, and single. So, screw December. I’ve spent most of my time alone wrapping presents and mailing Xmas cards with thoughtful messages and trying to be a thoughtful person. I’ve missed two weeks of fun stuff that I planned for those around me, and nobody has hugged me or come anywhere near me during that time. My Xmas trees both have burned out lights. The only time I’ve heard from my family is that my uncle has cancer, and my mother wants to talk to me from the nursing home, but she’s deaf. My friends are too busy to return something as basic as “hello” once I’m not really needed anymore, leading me to realise I only like people who find me disposable. I think this might be the loneliest I’ve ever felt, but talking about it just gets me yelled at and asking for the physical proximity of another person I’ve dated for 5 years gets an angry, “Fine, I’ll just get it over with and get sick.” I feel so amazingly loved and cherished. I guess when you’re not married, “In sickness and in health” becomes “In sickness, as long as I can stay far away from you that you don’t get me or my mother sick.”

I did my part for a happy holiday season, but it seems incredibly one-sided. Wake me up when it’s 2014 and I can figure out what to do with my life and how to be one of those sweet, pretty girls everyone just loves and wants to be around and how to find one of those relationships where someone totally wants to live together after a year because you’re that freaking awesome and not disposable in any way. I have concluded those girls have it much, much easier. I have never, ever been one of those girls. I look at them, and so many of them are plain, ordinary, kind of unexceptional, uncomplicated women…and yet, people love them because they are so “nice”, and they don’t end up with people in relationships that are going nowhere for years and years, because when you’re that adorable nobody wants to let you go. (Meanwhile, I spent 2 years with a guy who was planning how our relationship would work when he met the right girl and got married, 2 years with another who told me I wasn’t witty and after 2 hours, the veneer of charm that makes people like me wears thing, and 5 years with a guy whose mother lives with him and enjoys saying the most hurtful things to me possible, like pointing out that we’ll never live together or get married because he just “settled” for me–and so far, I haven’t seen indications to the contrary.)

One day, I will be so fucking sweet and adorable and unopinionated that you just can’t stand it. I will, of course, discontinue expressing all my feelings and modestly avoid attention in a ladylike way that is approved of by all.

It’s obviously just not today.

Many people I know complain that laziness and complacency are their enemies. “I’d get so much more done if I didn’t want to stay home and watch TV”, “I know I should try to cook more, but it’s way easier to order a pizza”, “I went to work today and still didn’t get anything done.” I can absolutely understand this feeling, but I have identified that my enemy in life isn’t being lazy or getting too comfortable with routine.

I come equipped with a built-in sense of restlessness that is rarely ever focused or satisfied. The Zen folks who talk about “Living in the moment” may quit, trying to teach me the art of being “present”. Wherever I am, I’m so often really excited about wherever I’m planning to be NEXT, while also enjoying where I am NOW.

I don’t neglect doing work because I am lazy and would rather do nothing (most of the time.) I neglect work because when I start on one project, my mind wanders, and I end up somewhere else mentally…and I would rather be anywhere but where I am, doing anything other than what I am meant to be doing. I have 70 billion ideas rolling around, and some days, if I try to focus on one, the noise of all the others makes it impossible.

It isn’t only work that is affected by restlessness. On Friday, I had a rare day with no plans, and was feeling tired, so The Guy I Am Currently Dating came over and we were just going to “hang out”. By 10 PM, I was a little bored and wondering what to do with what seemed like endless hours of free time. I have always felt guilty in my various long-term relationships, because somewhere in the back of my head, this seed was planted that “If people are really right together, they’re happy doing nothing.”. I’m a horrible person with whom to be in a relationship. After 15-20 minutes of cuddling, if we’re not doing something or talking, I start thinking about everything else in the world. I start wondering at what point it becomes not rude to want to get up. Sometimes, when I’m considering this problem, I just fall asleep.

I’ve suffered from this problem of “restlessness” ever since I was a kid. I was the one who, three days into summer vacation, was tired of “relaxing”. I was the one who’d insist on seeing and doing everything possible on family vacations, who never wanted to sit still. I drove my mother insane, because she’d happily sit on the beach watching the ocean for an hour, or chill out on a patio to “people watch”. After 20 minutes, I was over it. I wasn’t interested in watching life, I was interested in experiencing it…and when there was nothing to experience, I’d retreat into a world of imaginations. Books, television, theatre, dance—pretty much any form of self-expression and experiencing another person’s story appealed to me, when I couldn’t experience my own.

It is something I thought I’d eventually grow out of, but I haven’t. The odd thing is, I’m not a type-A person by nature. However, there are wheels in my mind that are constantly spinning. The only times this doesn’t happen are the moments when I am really 100% consumed by whatever I am doing, either creatively or activity-wise, or when I am sick and/or tired out to the point of exhaustion.

One of the largest struggles I’ve faced with being ill off and on during the past two years is that I still have the mental and spiritual energy of a teenager. Unfortunately, I do not have a body that will keep up with that. I’ve learned to make the most of things by doing everything I can do to enjoy life during the “good times”, and when the “bad times” hit, when simply riding in the car will trigger a panic attack or I can’t go out with friends without wanting to collapse, it is hard for me. Because, even when I feel at my worst, part of me just wants to break out of whatever is keeping me trapped and *GO*. “Bad times” are often accompanied by very childish outbursts of self-pity and bouts of tears, because I find it heartbreakingly unfair that I don’t feel in control of my life, and that there is no outlet for my restlessness.

It has been suggested to me throughout my life that I suffer from some form of ADD or ADHD, although this doesn’t seem to be the case (my mother took me to be tested as a kid, and I had a neurologist discuss it with me as an adult.) I am actually capable of intensely focusing on things for hours, and grow irritated quickly at any interruption. However, it is often the case that my brain is so overwhelmed by daydreams and things I’d like to do and things I *should* do and all these things that want to be expressed all at once, that I end up doing nothing at all. It’s almost as if I try to ignore the chaos, because it is too hard to organize it.

I have always wanted to live a life “bigger” than my own. I have always had this incredible need for memorable experience, as often as possible, in the way that only someone who has a strong awareness of the inevitability of mortality early in life develops. I am often panicked by the idea of death, not because death in itself might be the most frightening experience in the world, but because I don’t want to run out of time. There is so much world, and so many experiences, and so many people….and such a small amount of time. Especially as you grow older, or start struggling with health, this becomes so much more obvious.

I once had an ex-boyfriend tell me, when he was tired of me looking morose and bored because he was so busy working that we couldn’t go out and do anything, that only boring people were bored in life, because there was so much fascinating about life. For me, the most fascinating thing about the world was being a part of it, interacting with people, going new places, having new experiences, forming new relationships. This ex, who grew up as a very self-sufficient, responsible introvert, could not understand why I was frustrated to the point of tears at being told that my restlessness should be contained and directed towards solitary, intellectual, and creative pursuits. I grew terribly unhappy (and consequently, became a very difficult person with whom to spend time.) because I found it couldn’t. The more my restlessness was constrained, the more it took over everything; I would feel frustrated with and hate everyone and everything.

A decade later, I’m still battling demons having to do with restlessness. The work I do is monotonous, repetitious, and easy. There is no reason I should not be incredibly productive, other than I find myself staring at the computer screen, thinking of other times in my life, other places, other people, other dreams. I have never learned how to enjoy the mundane, or at least, to tolerate it. I’ve read anecdotes about many creative people working in extremely dull, tedious jobs because the nature of a repetitive job helped boost creativity or clarify highly intellectual problems. This is not me. My mind seems to take any opportunity to escape, mentally, if not physically.

The worst thing is when I have all the time in the world and someone asks what I want to do, and I just don’t know. All the answers are unrealistic. I want to do something different, exciting, something that engages body, mind, and spirit 100%. I want to do something I’ve never done before. I want to meet someone who may turn my life upside down. I want to experience really powerful emotions as often as possible. I want to be not here, because I’ve grown tired of here for now, but I’ll probably want to come back in a little while. The kind of life I want requires a lot of money, a lot of robust health and energy, and plenty of willing partners-in-crime. I lack all of the above.

I have packed a LOT of life experience, positive and negative, into the first part of my life. I always thought by now, I’d be happy with the simple things, appreciate living a calm and quiet life, see the value in “alone time”.

Nope. I’m still ready to go. But I know that the $1.25 in my pocket won’t get me terribly far, and at some point, I’ll have to take my medication and want a nap.

It is, indeed, a conundrum. I wonder at what point restlessness will turn into internal stillness and peace. People told me that once I turned 30, a shift would happen, and I’d desire this more. It was true, for about two years.

Now I’m ready to do things, experience things, feel things, affect the lives of others, explore new places, and generally turn the world upside down with the force of being that is Hurricane Alayna. I am ready for more dopamine and all that good stuff. I like when my somewhat fragile body is lying in an exhausted heap, but on the inside, I still want to “go go go”, because it reminds me I am not dead yet. *laughs*

I think I’d rather be lazy and complacent than waking up thinking, “What cool experiences are we going to have today?”…because the answer is usually, “We only do things on Friday, and today is Monday.” :P

On some level, I never stopped being 23. I just drink a little less, my life is much less complicated, and sadly, make less money. My spirit, however, is as inexhaustible as ever. I just wish it wanted to write about lawyers and plastic surgeons on a regular basis. :P

On Thursday night, The Guy I Am Currently Dating sent me a gift on my Kindle: the third book in Juliet Grey’s Marie Antoinette trilogy. By 5:30 AM on Saturday, I’d finished the 400 page book and was lying in bed pondering the French Revolution. *laughs*

I’m not a history buff, by any means, but I love historical fiction. Particularly, there are a few personalities and time periods that intrigue me, and the life of Marie Antoinette is one of them. I own most of the major biographies and works of historical fiction that have been published about her, as well as the court of Louis XVI. I suppose there is just something about her with which I find it easy to identify, something other than her alleged love of fine clothes, parties, and throwing masquerades and putting on plays.

It took me a while to figure out what it was, because the outlandish persona of Marie Antoinette does not much resemble the real person. In reality, she was a petite strawberry blonde who felt self-conscious about not being a natural beauty, not a vain and flamboyant libertine with tall white hair, seeking to always be the centre of attention. She was not very well-read, not academically inclined, and her heart often kept her from following her intuition. She did not drink, did not smoke, ate little, had one long-term love affair outside of her marriage, looked down on mistresses and courtesans, and was actually quite prudish and conservative in her societal views. She loved family life, flowers, and convinced the women of an outlandish French court to walk around in what we call “peasant dresses” because she quickly tired of corsets, stays, petticoats, and the overly adorned way in which both men and women dressed at the time. In short, Marie Antoinette would have had a happier life as a French housewife than as an Austrian queen. Her husband, Louis XVI, was a natural introvert with a terror of crowds of people, a disinterest in sex, drinking, and staying up past 10 PM, an utter dislike of war or violence, and an honest desire to live a quiet life and see everyone happy. It is almost tragic that two people who were so despised that they were used as scapegoats for one of the most senselessly violent times in history were, by nature, ill-suited to everything they were meant to represent.

I think what fascinates me about Marie Antoinette and her life, and what makes it easy for me to identify with her, is this: When it comes to reputation, it doesn’t matter who you are. It is who people think you to be that becomes relevant.

This is something I’ve never really been able to understand, but a way of thinking that has hurt me a great deal in life. I’ve been judged tremendously and lost a great deal in my life simply because of how others perceived me, or what was heard of me “by reputation”. It is easy to say, “Let people talk; what others think of you is not important”. Yet, the story of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI is one of people who were turned into sacrificial lambs on reputation alone. The story of the French Revolution, in its entirety, is that no one person is of more value, respect, or esteem than another—and taking that view to the extreme created conditions where the greatest illustration of equality was that anyone could be killed, on any given day, and no human life meant more than another. In fact, if Juliet Grey’s portrayal is accurate, human life grew to mean nothing at all. The French Revolution began as an “us vs. them” complaint, and turned into a world of mob rule where there were eventually no more sides, no more ideals to fight for, no more plans for a better future, just a daily fight for survival.

It is interesting to note that while Marie Antoinette, Louis XVI, and most of their family, friends, and supporters were executed during the French Revolution, less than a year later, the group of military men and governing officials clamoring for their heads were similarly guillotined. Although the revolution was begun as a statement against the idea of aristocracy and monarchy, and that one class of people should live well while others starved, the death toll amongst all classes of people turned out to be roughly equal. It was death and an utter lack of humanity—to the point where people stopped fearing for their lives as much as they stopped valuing the lives of others— and not politics, that became the great equalizing force.

It is absolutely true that Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI had no idea regarding the proper management of money, or how to avoid war or put an end to a revolution, but they were a pair of teenagers who ascended the throne and didn’t make it to see 40. Juliet Grey describes the various buildings in which the royal family was imprisoned, and even those being full of relics that, if sold, could feed a small town for a year. It is absolutely true that the aristocracy did not consider liquidating a portion of their assets to keep the country from going into debt. However, when Paris and Versailles were under siege, the equivalent of billions of dollars worth of both precious heirlooms and current-day valuables were simply torn apart, smashed, and burned. The idea of holding someone, or a group of people, accountable for unpleasant living conditions was more important that sensibly working together to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

It is an interesting study in how the ideals of compromise and working for the greater good are not the default tendency of society. Society, when acting on base instinct, is self-protective, irrational, and vengeful.

It is also interesting to make comparisons between the world in which we live today, where an “us vs. them” mentality is created at every possible turn and the people suffer more for that divisive mentality, and the economic instability that turned into the French Revolution.

Marie Antoinette, when informed by an angry mob that the peasants were starving, never said “Let them eat cake”. (the offending statement has been attributed to more than one princess, all of whom lived centuries before Marie Antoinette was born.) In fact, she led the royal family to face a mob that stood in front of the palace with every manner of weapons, and threw her own expensive garments into the crowd. Louis XVI ordered that all the stores of bread in France be freely distributed and casks of wine set up in the streets. It would have happened, had a group of revolutionaries not attacked the palace and tried to kill the family, anyway.

Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were degraded in the worst of ways (the charges against her included incest with her own son, who was half-starved and beaten into signing an affadavit that he was molested by both his mother, and the King’s spinster sister Elisabeth. Elisabeth was only 30 when she was executed.), and their “trials” were shams that only prolonged their suffering. There was no doubt that no member of the royal family with any power or connections would be allowed to live. However, since the new regime removed both class and religion from the equation, it paraded around the idea that the law itself was supreme.

This, of course, was an exercise in hypocrisy. Marie Antoinette’s lawyer refuted every charge against her, proved most of the 141 witnesses against her provided false testimony, and did not find a shred of incriminating evidence. It didn’t matter, as jurors feared to not find her guilty or vote for her execution. Shortly after her death warrant was issued, her lawyer was arrested. In the trial of Louis XVI, the jury struggled with the issue of whether or not to execute or exile the former King. In the end, the vote that led to execution was the king’s own brother-in-law, a fellow aristocrat who lived a live of decadence on par with that of Marie Antoinette.

The irony is that both Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were guilty of their crimes. They were both charged with treason, and conspiring with foreign enemies against the state. They did, and often. Every plot devised failed, typically because conspiracies involve trusting numerous people, and many people either turned on the royal couple or abandoned them in time of need. Both the royal families of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette provided little or no assistance to the family in the midst of the revolution, fearing for their own safety. It was Marie Antoinette’s lover, a highly decorated Swedish officer, who accomplished the most in trying to save them.

If the law were really supreme during the Revolution, the royal couple should have been executed, as they were indeed guilty. Marie Antoinette, in particular, clung to the idea that royal blood meant something and her aristocratic birth was one thing that could not be taken from her, even as she was paraded to the guillotine in rags, resembling an 80-year-old woman. The problem is that the couple, often taken for being frivolous and dim-witted, were actually quite clever and not a shred of evidence was discovered to prove a guilty verdict.

It is difficult, when reading the biographies of those who lived during the time of the French Revolution, not to feel an intense sense of empathy. People subjected one another, rich and poor alike, to terrors and indignities unimaginable today. Perhaps only the accounts of the Holocaust reflect a time that is as dehumanizing and full of pointless death and suffering. For those like me, who have cried through the musical Les Miserables 30 times and found A Tale Of Two Cities utterly tragic, it’s important to remember that such stories are fictional—but the tip of the iceberg in reflecting the reality of the Reign Of Terror and French Revolution.

For those interested in the time period, Juliet Grey’s Marie Antoinette trilogy is one of the best reads around. Each book is close to 500 pages, but beyond addictive.

Today’s blog is immensely self-centred, because it’s more about ME! ;P Today, my guest interview is with the quirky and expressive Anita Lewis, who asked me to write about becoming a writer, and how my book came into being. It can look a little daunting because I didn’t double-space paragraph breaks correctly….but I promise it’s entertaining and informative.

I discuss learning to write, being a “gifted child”, feminism, Shakespeare, and the downside to life as a “manic pixie dream girl”. If that’s not a mix of topics to interest you, I don’t know what is.

Please stop by and visit, comment, share, Tweet, and also like on FB, or simply say that I am funny, interesting, or cool!! :P Visit Anita, and hear from your favourite wayward muse

Earlier in the week, I did a guest blog over at Faith Colburn’s page entitled “People Watching”. It’s about my nasty habit of eavesdropping, and then silently mocking others in my head. (or, later, out loud by sharing with friends. Or the Internet. Nobody ever said I was the nicest person on Earth! :P )

If you missed any of my earlier appearances, read Troy Jackson’s well-done interview with me about the writing process and Ophelia’s Wayward Muse. Or, you can read a more in-depth Q & A session,courtesy of the Savvy Indie.

Don’t forget to look for “Ophelia’s Wayward Muse” on Amazon, friend me on Goodreads to talk about what you’re reading and writing, and to leave a review if you’ve got a copy of the book sitting on your shelf. ;)


“My survival is, in fact, the final irony. Everyone was always in better health than me. All my friends, two husbands, my sisters, so many who never complained a day in their lives until death tapped them on the shoulder. The grass is green over them now–and I’m still here.” — “Mozart’s Wife”,Juliet Waldron

A few days ago, I completed an author interview that will hopefully be around and about in the next few months. In it, I was asked about the state of indie publishing, and whether or not traditional publishers were still the only reliable source for for quality literature.

A year or so ago, The Guy I Am Currently Dating bought me a Kindle Fire, which I wasn’t even sure at the time I wanted. As it turns out, I love it, and it’s gotten me into the habit of reading more. Since I don’t live near a convenient library and spending $15-$20 for a new release every time I’m excited to read something can become an expensive habit, discovering relatively inexpensive indie authors is a fun hobby. I’m already somewhat addicted to clothes and jewelry and headpieces and perfumes. I don’t need anything else on which to spend money (but more about me and my 2013 shopping adventures later.)

The truth is, for every 10 “free” or “99 cent” Kindle books I download, one is worth reading. Recently, I downloaded a book that sounded so promising to me in premise, and was written by a retired humanities professor with the requisite letters after his name. I made it through 10 pages. I couldn’t help but remember a time, as a freshman in university who was slacking off and called into the adviser’s office for a “chat about my potential”, the professor speaking to me told me that I was more articulate and visionary than many of his colleagues. Even though I studied in the arts, where graduating with a job offer is considered a success, my adviser expressed disappointment that I didn’t turn it down in order to continue my education. I remembered this episode, with a total lack of humility, because I encountered an instance that proved him right. Not every well-educated person should be self-publishing, at least without an editor.

I’m picky about what I read, in the same way that I don’t have the patience to sit through a bad movie and will fall asleep during a TV show I hate. I don’t mean to be critical. I guess I just am. If I dislike a book within the first 20 minutes, I’ll delete it without a thought. I’m sure plenty of people would do the same to mine. ;)

I downloaded “Mozart’s Wife”, because it was a work of historical fiction (which I enjoy), and because in my years of singing, my operatic repertoire has become particularly Mozart-heavy. Mozart loved his coloraturas, and wasn’t afraid to write very difficult pieces for them. Of course, I know a great deal about the less-than-admirable life of the child prodigy who, like so many child prodigies, did not end his life with the same promise with which it began. However, I know less about his wife Constanze (Konstanze, or Stanzi in this book). She’s always depicted as petite, slightly plump, voluptuous, and bursting with energy that attracted many admirers. Since Mozart has a reputation as a philanderer, an alcoholic, a gambler, and a person of many other vices, it’s widely portrayed in books and popular culture that his wife was of the same temperament. One would assume, especially after watching “Amadeus”, that they were a pair of liberal party-hoppers with high aspirations but little sense of practicality.

This book shows a different side to Konstanze, a woman who struggled to deal with a neurotic, unfaithful, and chronically irresponsible husband whose flaws were to be forgiven because of her genius. She also struggled of living in the shadow of two gifted sisters, one an extraordinary beauty Mozart wanted to marry but instead helped her to launch a career as a prima donna. In the character portrayed, you don’t see a flighty and sensual woman, but one who might have been content with a less glamorous and more stable life. Upon Mozart’s death, she found herself to be 28, in severe debt, prematurely aging, and willing to bury her husband in a pauper’s grave and lock up all relics of his life. You see someone who is not mourning the loss of love, but carrying the burden of anger at how many lives the man she loved destroyed.

I do not know how much of the story is fictional, and how much is based on papers left behind by Mozart himself (which Konstanze later edited and published in order to build a sense of financial security), but the speculation that Mozart had illegitimate children and died by poison at the hands of a fellow Masoner who found his wife seduced by the musician is certainly a possibility, and an entertaining one at that. Regardless of Konstanze’s feelings toward her late husband, if she had simply thrown his stacks of compositions and correspondence into the fire, history would have been denied much. An artist who struggled to earn a living for his family during his lifetime has been turned into one of the greatest legends of all time, and I suspect most of that is owed to the sheer practicality of his widow.

I’ve always adored Mozart’s “Requiem”, and the dramatization of his death surrounding the composition of it in “Amadeus”made it that much more heart-rending for me. At one point, Waldron writes a scene in which Mozart acknowledges the requiem he is writing is for himself, and cries during attempts to create the “Lachrymosa”. (the last part of the “Requiem” most scholars agree Mozart completed completely on his own.) This scene shook me, because it is perhaps the most musically powerful piece ever composed by someone who spent so much of his gift creating entertaining stories and bawdy farces. It is at the very end of his life, you see and hear the true genius that was perhaps never entirely discovered.

I had to look through 20 “free” Kindle books to find something as well-written, well-researched, and engaging as this novel. Fans of Phillipa Gregory, Juliet Grey, Antonia Fraser, and Alison Weir will all enjoy this work.

On a somewhat related note, I experienced something that I can now cross off my bucket list: receiving my first rejection letter. I submitted a series of short stories for publication as a chapbook, and it was rejected with a polite semi-form letter that said “I’m glad to have read it, and while I found much to like in it, I think I’m going to decline the chance to publish it as a title. Please don’t take this as a reflection on you or the work–when making editorial decisions like this it’s more about the larger picture of the vision for the grouping of titles as a whole than it is a singular comment on one particular book.”

I actually took the rejection harder than I thought I would. I am not unused to rejection. You don’t get through a lifetime of working in theatre without knowing how to handle rejection. You don’t live life as the sort of person who will tell someone how you feel about them without the risk that every so often, your feelings simply won’t be reciprocated. You don’t apply for freelance jobs expecting every single person will be awed by you.

Yet, there’s something about a rejection letter that’s extremely personal and final. It is the equivalent of hearing “It’s not you, it’s me, but it’s really you.” I cried and felt inadequate about the whole business. At least when you don’t get a role in a show, it’s often because of a director’s vision, or because you’ve seen with your own eyes that you weren’t right for something or someone was better than you. When you confess your love for someone who replies with “But I’d rather be with someone who isn’t you”, you cry and realise that person is just an emotionally unaware idiot and it’s for the best. When you don’t land a job, it’s a disappointment, but an impersonal one. The real and personal nature of a rejection letter has a way of hitting hard. It must be a little like being one of Taylor Swift’s ex-boyfriends listening to her new album for the first time.

It isn’t even so much that I believed that a chapbook was the right format for what I wanted to put out there. As always, a simple idea of “I should write some stories” turned into a larger project that will likely end up being a 150-page novella with an over-arching theme that 10 people will read. My inability to do anything on a small scale is nothing if not consistent.

I suppose it was more just a case of me hoping to hear validation and encouragement, in the form of “You’re a creative person who isn’t wasting time working on creative things.” When I received the opposite, it felt like quite a blow to my already delicate self-esteem.

On a final, somewhat related note, I’ve had my first author interview published regarding “Ophelia’s Wayward Muse“. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can read it here. Make certain to leave a comment or a “like”, to let both the blog owner and myself know you’ve visited and appreciated what you happened to read.

It’s been an odd week. The weather changes almost every other day, as does my mood, and both have been difficult to handle. I hope to be able to take some time in June to travel and visit a few friends I’ve been missing dearly, as both travel and the company of friends I see too infrequently generally makes me feel more exuberant and less…well…old. *laughs*

On the up side, we have tickets to see Fun. in October, and while that’s a lifetime away, I have something to look forward to. :)

“I gradually realised that I’m just not the muse type. Girls like me don’t inspire people. I’m just not muse material,I finally thought sadly on my 18th birthday, looking at a world wholly non-inspired by me. “I’m not a princess. I’m not a muse. Just being me isn’t enough. I’m going to have to dosomething instead.“—Caitlin Moran,“How To Be A Woman”

It’s been a little while since I’ve felt inclined to post over here. Chalk it up to the winter blues or simply a lack of anything truly different and interesting happening in my life, but blog topics have been few and far between. Sometimes, it comes to transpire in life that you have many thoughts and feelings you could express, but most are things you’re obligated to keep to yourself for one reason or another. When that happens, I notice that my blog gets a little quieter, but it’s easier for me to renew my habit of writing three pages a day in my journal, or to actually send letters to people.

Speaking of letters, I started out my day today by reading a beautifully handwritten letter from Randy of Narrative Urge, a project that’s garnered a lot of local publicity. He’s dedicated himself to writing a letter a day, each one to a different person around the world. It’s a little bit like a daily journal, I suppose, chopped up into bits and pieces and scattered around the world. It would be a very cool project for him to get back copies of every letter sent when the year is out, along with any responses from those he’s written, and turn them into a published anthology. Because I’ve recently become fascinated with the idea of human disconnection in a world that’s obsessed with making connection easier and more instantaneous, I think this is a wonderful idea on Randy’s part, and am happy he took time out to include me.

While I haven’t been the most productive blogger or worker bee, I have been keeping up with some reading and writing endeavours. I’ve completed the first draft of “Sophisticated Nothing”, a compilation of memoirs and short fictional pieces I originally intended to submit for publication as a short chapbook. The chapbook draft is complete, and I may send it off just to see if it is approved by a publisher and the idea is worth exploring. However, after I started work on it, I realised it had potential to be a much longer collection of short stories and personal memoirs. The concept behind it is, as mentioned above, about connection in an increasingly disconnected world. Every story is set in a different bar, restaurant, coffeeshop, or cafe, because these are public places where people interact, often forgetting they’re in a public place. They’ve also been inspirational places for people interested in observing people, or having exchanges with strangers. Once I thought of the overarching theme of the collection, I realised there were more stories to be told than could fit into a 50-page chapbook. However, I have a habit of allowing my projects to get too big, and therefore, never get finished. So, I’ve been debating what to do with my creative vision. I don’t really need another project that serves to make no money from distracting me from what should be a main goal in life—making money. *laughs*

I enjoyed reading two short but extremely witty books over the past two weeks. Both are by women around my age, and are part memoir, part sociological insight on subjects such as feminism, travel, relationships, independence, and self-esteem. It’s always interesting to me to read books by people who started off as bloggers, columnists, or writers for less-than-mainstream publications. They have different and more authentic voices—the kind Elizabeth Wurtzel and Alexandra Robbins got panned for before it became common for journalists to write about “myself and people like me”. It is still a style of writing that is reviewed quite harshly and described as “self-indulgent”, especially when penned by a female author, or one that can land you in the hot seat on Oprah if it turns out you made a lot of the colourful details up. I don’t really care; self-indulgent or not, fictional or not, I enjoy the kind of in-your-face style of writing that today’s version of diarists and essayists are putting out there. So, when many of them were on sale for $1.99 through Amazon, it was a good day.

I started with Caitlin Moran’s “How To Be A Woman”, which has been panned so harshly by critics and readers above the age of 40 with such passion, I determined I’d probably love it. (What are the chances that I’m not going to identify with a controversial book about feminism and being a woman in today’s society, written by a snarky British woman around my age?). I actually loved the book, and I don’t know what people were going on and on about, because there’s very little that’s controversial or shocking in what she has to say. Oh, wait. No. She talks about having an abortion and not feeling too upset over the whole ordeal. And she uses the word “vagina”. I guess that’s “controversial”.

A music journalist for Wired magazine back in the day, Caitlin Moran is the non-conformist cool chick who isn’t afraid to discuss how uncool and insecure she’s always felt about her place in the world. Moran’s stories alternate between being funny, heartfelt, and painful, and sometimes all at the same time. Since that’s rather how life is, I’d say it’s a successful book. It’s easy to read, and I don’t know the last time I used the “bookmark” feature on my Kindle so often, because she’s a quotable woman. I look forward to reading her other book soon, but I’ve added her to my favourites list for the time being.

After that, I moved on to Rachel Shukert’s “Everything Is Going To Be Great”, another happily settled thirty-something writing about her decade or so of finding herself. While Moran is a cool British feminist who hangs out with guitarists in drug-induced fits of being an asshole, Shukert is an American Jewish girl from a wealthy, suburban family that wants to live life outside of the “good girl” role. Needless to say, her exposure to the world without the security blanket of money, family, a supportive relationship, or even the comforts of living in your home country is not a seamless one. There are many points when I am reminded how the best part of the book is the ironic title, although it really isn’t. Even though all the sucky things that might befall someone traveling abroad seem to happen to this one rather lost and directionless girl, things always somehow get back on track and for a while, do indeed appear to be great.

Shukert doesn’t make any pretense about wanting to be a feminist or help a younger generation of women through the painful and funny journey of self-discovery, while Moran writes about these topics outright and seems to not only want to give you a dose of reality, but shock you in the process. These are clearly two very different types of girls, but the common denominator is they’re around the same age, both educated, both great writers, and end up finding a sense of self and stability in a chaotic world. If you’re looking for reading material for your next flight, either or both of these will entertain you for quite some time.

Although I myself haven’t done anything interesting in the past month (first, The Guy I Am Currently Dating was sick for 10 days, and then on the day he recovered, I got sick for 10 days, so February wasn’t the most action-packed of months.), I’ve used some of the down-time to be entertained by and proud of some of the cool things friends of mine have been doing. Dave Leach, a friend of ours for many years via my social group, appeared on the Jeopardy! Tournament Of Champions, and made it through to the semi-final rounds. After winning 6 times in 2012, it was really a fantastic way for Dave to put a cap on his Jeopardy! experience, and we’re all very proud of him!

Later in the month, long-time blogger-artist-friend-and-fellow-Philadelphian Gina Martinelli appeared on Lisa Ling’s Our World” with her rather colourful family. Gina is one of the voices over at Polyskeptic, and they all seem pretty happy about their appearance on the show. They were one of three families profiled about modern-day polyamory, and presented an interesting look at poly marriages and families. outside of the traditional primary/secondary partner paradigm that most people I know happen to embrace. (I’m still personally attached to a little more compartmentalization than these more “familial” relationships allow, because as it turns out, I’m remarkably private for an open and unconventional person who keeps a blog on the Internet. :P )) I have a number of friends who are actors that I’ve had opportunity to see on TV and in the movies, but somehow, it’s a little different when people are just being themselves in real life on camera.

Although I personally have been on the more introverted side of things, and am patiently waiting for the happy 70-degree days to arrive, I have more than a little travel wanderlust. I really just want a bag of cash and someone to watch my dog, and I’ll take off and see friends and family I’ve been missing over the past year or so. :P We’ve had some fun events, including dressing up and partying at The Shelter on more than one occasion, but sometimes, you want adventure and spontaneity that happens to lie outside of your Metro area.

Yes, a life of freedom and not being terribly concerned with money would make me a much happier person. I might even blog more. Perhaps that could be an Indiegogo campaign. :P *laughs*

Finally, if you do not possess a copy of my 2012 poetry anthology, “Ophelia’s Wayward Muse”, you can win one on Goodreads. Simply click below and enter the drawing. You’ll received an autographed copy with a personalised dedication. :)

 

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Ophelia’s Wayward Muse

by Alayna-Renee Vilmont

Giveaway ends March 17, 2013.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

“Men are stoics when it comes to matters of the heart.”
“You seem very stoic to me, too.”
“Yes,” she said. “But I work impossibly hard at it, darling.”

“The Paris Wife”

I’ve been going through a little bit of what might pass for writer’s block over the past few weeks, and I’m not sure what’s inspired it. At the beginning of January, I started feeling really compelled towards spending time with the introverted side of my personality. I watched a lot of movies and television, read a book every two or three days for a majority of the month, and began writing in my personal (private paper version) of my journal. I began work on a new creative project I was initially quite excited about. However, I now think everything I’ve created sucks, and if I open the document, there’s a high possibility I will trash the entire thing.

Not only do I feel the creative spirit has left me, I feel filled with a mixture of ADD, emotional angst, and wanting to go out in the world as often as possible. Restlessness has hit hard, and has not left much in its place. The problem with my creative phases is that they come and they go, as does my desire to party and to be around people more often than the average person. When I’m left with neither, I don’t have much of a sense of what to do with myself, and feel generally bored and frustrated with my life and angry at myself for not being a more interesting human being.

The thing that made me decide to blog today was reading this article, about P.O.S. and the concept of anti-commercialism. I may be anti- any number of things, but I am definitely not anti-commercialism. I love shopping and new and shiny things, and if I won the lottery tomorrow, would be entertained for awhile by the freedom of buying whatever I want, going wherever I want, and being able to adorn myself however I’d like. Yet, I do go through phases where my life feels chaotic and cluttered and restless, and simply throwing away all the extra shit I don’t need and never use makes my world feel like a slightly simpler place. Although I’m about as anti-commercialism as Paris Hilton, there is a part of me that understands the freedom that comes with “not being weighed down”—literally and metaphorically.

The part of the interview that resonated the most deeply with me was this one:

Why is it that you think that no one is happy?

I think a lot of it comes back to the stresses and the pressures of what our lives have kind of become. How many people do you know that are in their forties that like their job? How many people do you know in their twenties that like their job? It’s not encouraged in our culture to find your passion and go after it. It’s encouraged in our culture to make as much money as you possibly can. And that doesn’t necessarily mean happiness for the people that find it, and the people that don’t find it, find the money I mean, that definitely doesn’t lead to happiness. I feel like if you get to the root of it, people don’t feel fucking free.

The times in my life when I’ve felt the happiest have not always been those when I was the most secure, but when I felt the most free. In fact, some of the worst “How do I get over this and start again without this killing me?” kind of experiences have led to a feeling of freedom that happened to be almost euphoric.

There was a point in my life where I absolutely lost everything, all at once. I was not blameless in this happening. It was the culmination of an extended period of bad decision making, not really thinking too much about others, living moment-to-moment, bad karma, bad luck, and allowing people in my life who had their own (many similar) issues with which to deal. But, as the saying goes, when it rains, it pours. I lost absolutely everything I counted on as “security” in my life: my condo, my job, my friends, and all of my personal possessions.

I walked away from the fallout with one or two people willing to be a part of my life and support me, and a few things that fit into a faux-leather travel backpack. Even my family was so pissed off at me and my part in causing the problems I was facing, they temporarily cut me off. Nobody volunteered to send me any money for clothes or food, or even to mail things I’d left behind when I moved out years before, in case they’d be of any use. They made it clear they couldn’t help me rebuild my life and I was on my own. Most of my former friends made it clear I no longer existed, and some wanted me to leave Atlanta. One, who was actually a surprisingly well-meaning person who wanted to stay my friend but felt he was not quite strong enough to stand up and do so, offered to buy me a bus or train ticket and drive me to the station so I could disappear and never look back. He offered the gift of helping me start over, but I didn’t take it. I couldn’t. I didn’t feel strong enough.

Fortunately, I had an ex-boyfriend who was, at the time, every bit as screwed up and lost as I was. He’d also made a lot of mistakes and suffered consequences, and understood. I also had a secondary partner who stood by me, even when the person I was in a relationship with turned his back. This friend was older than me, and despite going through his own stuff, remembered what it was like to be in my position at my age. Between them, they stood by me, and helped me keep the pieces together and provide the basic necessities a person needs to feel an inkling of safety, love, and survival in the world.

One day, I woke up realising I could go anywhere in the world I wanted, be anyone I wanted to be, take any chance I wanted to take. I remember feeling intensely happy, and free. That was the day I realised I was strong enough to handle life on my own again, to crawl out of the minimalistic cocoon in which I’d been hiding.

Mostly everything I owned still fit in my backpack, and what didn’t could be left behind. Over the three months I didn’t care to show my face to the world, I gained 10 pounds, but started to build up my savings. I had a laptop, courtesy of one of the “friends” instrumental in causing my situation, who said “I wish there was more I could do for you.” (and there was, but he didn’t care to, as it was ultimately a gesture of closure on his part, something that absolved him of the feeling that he was abandoning me in favour of his own self-interest.)

I was unhappy in those three months, but I came to value security more than ever. I, who had always been addicted to being at the coolest place with fun people who allowed me to be the centre of attention, found intense comfort in staying in a small one-bedroom apartment, watching TV every night, and eating fast food, or macaroni and cheese, or Hamburger Helper. Most days, I’d fall asleep grateful that I’d had a good day, that nothing bad happened to me. I’d spend time lying in the sun by the pool, reading a book, or being on the internet (where I consciously avoided sites that focused on social interaction.) I knew people were talking about me, that the world did not love me, that I had next to nothing, and yet I was happy because this tiny little world became my solace.

I, who had spent most of my life performing and was constantly conscious (and hopelessly insecure) about my own appearance, suddenly had to rotate through a small pile of garments. I had one piece of dressy clothing, because I realised that eventually, being social and using whatever connections I had left in the world was going to be the thing that helped me put my world back together. The thing that helped me keep my sanity, some days, was that I’d managed to hold on to my iPod, and I had songs that reminded me of when I was a happier person.

The oddest thing happened. As I became more appreciative of living in such a small, portable world, the world started to look a lot bigger. I was able to visit friends in other places who’d stuck by me through all the drama, and made it clear they still loved me. I slept on couches and on floors in artists’ lofts. I traveled through cities with $20 in my pocket. I wrote a great deal; letters that were never sent, journal entries that are painful to look back upon.

When I realised I needed a plan for the future, I started thinking about the kind of things that someone like me would never consider doing. I learned about all sorts of opportunities for people who didn’t have much except youth and an adventurous spirit. The closest I came to embarking on one of those journeys was sending an e-mail to a kindly man, an aging hippie who owned a B & B with his wife and daughter in Asheville, NC. They were looking for someone to work the front desk and answer phone calls, in exchange for modest pay and room and board at the B & B. I was terribly close to taking the job. To this day, I wonder what I might have missed out on by not doing so.

However, fate works in mysterious ways, and a few hours after the job offer, an acquaintance called me out of the blue to ask me to take over his social group. I told him what had happened, and that I was the most ill-equipped person around for that task. He disagreed. I’m not sure if he really thought positively about my personality and my abilities to be resilient, or was simply interested in sleeping with me before he left town, but it didn’t really matter. I took over the social group, and the remaining lease on his apartment. The social group gave me a new group of supportive and understanding friends, including two who became future roommates. I found a new job, and eventually, bit by bit, my world got bigger again.

These days, I am not terribly portable. I have so much to be grateful for, including a boyfriend who is there for me almost unconditionally, friends that have such an important space in my life that they’re like family to me (albeit of the dysfunctional commune variety. *laughs*), a dog who is there every morning when I wake up and every night when I go to sleep, and time to figure out what it is I am meant to do with my life. I have a two-bedroom apartment full of furniture, a closet full of clothing and shoes and accessories, and almost everything I missed so terribly during my times of trouble. Yet, the exchange is that I feel less free. I am constantly worrying about money, and finding not what makes me happy, but a way to pay the bills. I don’t explore my dreams as much, because I feel like dreaming too much or making my world too big will cause me to lose things I love.

I’ve lost some things, too, while I was busy putting my life back together. Along the way, I got terribly hurt and screwed over by someone I wanted to believe in. I lost my health, and for some time, believed I might die. My parents became seriously ill, although not only am I back on speaking terms with my family, my mother calls me at every inconvenient time possible because she’s bored. I lost my youth, my attractiveness, my confidence. Working to rebuild these things is every bit as much of a challenge as rebuilding your life. I’ve had to find myself all over again.

When I travel, no matter how hard I try, I find myself weighed down by luggage that’s over a third of my body weight. I don’t remember how to be simple, how to be without all the comforts I again feel I can’t live without. Yet, some of my happiest days are still when I am away from my world, sleeping on a friend’s couch or a lumpy hotel bed, and watching the sun peek through the blinds. I feel like the world is big, and I am light, and anything is possible.

I like that feeling. I hope there’s no need to go through dramatic loss to get to that, and maybe it’s as simple as, from time to time, getting rid of all your shit.

The next time I travel, I’m going to remind myself I need far less than I think I do, and I will be happier for it.

You may have noticed there was a blog here updating the world on my life over the past week or two, and now it’s gone. On Friday night, a friend of mine contacted me to say “Talking about your problems with other people on the internet isn’t likely to win any friends or help you solve your real-life inter-personal disputes.”

Since I’m usually blogging about people who have no longer decided to be my friend and why that decision was made, I was very confused by this. He then went on to remind me how much he did not like it when I blogged about issues with him, and that, really, nobody likes when I do that. So, I said “Whatever”, and took the blog down. Peer pressure means a lot.

I then went on to do some thinking. The thinking went like this: “OMG! I’m nice and sensitive and smart and entertaining, and yet, people don’t like me. I am shunned by social groups, have people stop talking to me for reasons I don’t understand, have been threatened in order to get me to leave town, embarrassed socially by strangers, know more than one girl who has made “not knowing Alayna” a relationship condition, don’t get invited to parties all my friends are attending, and generally have a small circle of people who really “get” me. What am I doing wrong? I’m a great friend! I should be adored and loved by all! Why is my awesomeness and love of life not apparent?”

I have to admit, I am very perplexed by the world. Apparently, self-expression in the form of sharing what’s happened in your life does not win you friends. Discussing your feelings does not win you friends on FB, because people remind you to stop complaining and how the world has bigger problems. (Yes, but I don’t know the world. These are *my* problems and feelings? Why am I not entitled to discuss them?)

There are a lot of things that don’t win you friends, and I’m afraid I don’t know what they are. However, here’s what I’ve observed during my time in Atlanta regarding the kind of person you’re supposed to be if you want to be someone who is invited to parties and whom others can actually tolerate in a social setting. Please note, this advice is written with a heavy dose of snarkiness and sarcasm (you’ll see this on the list as a quality others may not like about you.). Perhaps, in the future, I will write a new etiquette book, “Surviving the 1950′s Social Scene In 2013″ (or whatever year it happens to be finished.)

1)Don’t have any secrets in your past that may cause other people to judge you, or reflect scandal, impropriety, or imperfection in any way. One of my favourite books is Edith Wharton’s “Age Of Innocence”, about New York society in the early 20th century. One of the characters, Countess Olenska, is charming, beautiful, cultured, well-traveled, and many people secretly admire her or fall in love with her. Yet, as far as society goes, people incessantly whisper about her and are not inclined to invite her to social functions. Despite the fact that she brings a sense of life and adventure and refreshing honesty to those around her, she has “scandal” in her past, and her disposition is too “free-spirited” to suit those around her. She generally feels terribly alone and misunderstood, especially because some of those in her social circle are her relatives, and she can’t figure out why being a charming and lovely person does not win her acceptance, and even her admirers keep their admiration to themselves in “polite society”.

It’s 2013, and society has changed little. Unless you’re famous, having disreputable secrets from your past is the curse of death. If you tell people about your colourful and scandalous life, they are shocked and don’t wish to get to know you. If you wait until you know someone and then thell them, they feel betrayed, because they never would have been friends with someone like you if they’d had all the information that allowed them to judge you based on your past actions, rather than who you are today. This is especially true if you live in the Bible belt, but have broken most of the Commandments. If you want others to like you, don’t do anything wrong. And if you do things that are wrong, either have the good grace not to be caught like everyone else, or act as suitably shamed for your life of sin as your society deems you should. Some people may actually like you and admire you for your colourful life or unconventional outlook, but don’t count on them to ever express that in public, because that is not how society works.

2)If you have feelings, don’t tell anyone. An instant way to not win friends is to have feelings and express them. If someone has hurt your feelings, if you are annoyed, if you feel disrespected, if you are sad, if you are going through a tough time in life, only your close friends and perhaps your relatives will care. (I say perhaps because my relatives made it clear they didn’t care, and told me to take my whining back to Atlanta when I was sick and in need of medical attention.) In social situations, being hurt is “oversensitivity” and being displeased is “high-maintenance”, while being sad or expressing negative thoughts makes you a “downer” and discussing your life openly is just “too much information”. This is especially important on the internet, where the people who know you want to know more about you, as long as it’s suitably happy and superficial and doesn’t allow anyone to really know you.

3)If you have thoughts or opinions, don’t express them. Again, people care about what you’re thinking, but if you start talking about literature or philosophy or the meaning of life, you’ll immediately become “boring”, “heavy”, and “depressing” to those around you. If others are discussing politics and religion and you don’t believe in either, it’s best to nod and smile. If others are talking about their happy personal lives, and you happen to have a happy yet non-conventional personal life, it’s better just to not let anyone know you at all. This will make you liked and socially acceptable. Remember, it’s always better to be boring than scandalous or offensive. If you are a woman, smiling and talking to other women about perfectly neutral topics is the best way to go. Do not flirt with the men around you, even in jest, because you will immediately make estrogen-fueled enemies. Also, do not give the impression that you’re “one of the guys”, unless you actually are a guy, as the idea that you can bond with a guy in a way his wife/girlfriend cannot is threatening and cause for social banishment. Do not spend too much time talking about yourself in an attempt to get others to relate to you or to get them to open up, or because you misguidedly think “People will like me if only they understood me”. False. They will simply think you are egocentric for talking about yourself, and weird for being open about the “real you”.

4)Cut down on the free-spiritedness. You may think your crazy adventures are entertaining because your friends laugh, but every story you tell or crazy night out you plan, there is someone who is judging you for your unsuitable behaviour. Enjoy life within the constraints of the society around you, lest you be disapproved of for being “different”. Don’t talk too much, too loudly, flirt, tell off-colour jokes, try to be witty, or express your personality. Remember when your mother told you “Be yourself, and everyone will like you?” She lied.

5)Make sure your dress, personal style, and mannerisms don’t stick out. You may think you’re perfectly ordinary and non-objectionable, but if you wear skirts when everyone else wears jeans, or polo shirts instead of t-shirts, you’ve provided an instant reason for others not to like you. Conformity, conformity, conformity. It is also helpful if you have a job that others respect or can relate to, yet is interesting enough that others don’t avoid you in case you’re discussing your latest project. If you have a job that is odd or unconventional, avoid mentioning it too much, or others will stare blankly and wonder why you can’t be steadily employed by a respectable corporation, school, or government agency. However, not talking about your job at all is also a recipe for disaster, because people will get curious and Google you to find out if you’re really a drug dealer, car thief, or stripper. These professions may seem interesting, but it turns out, they are not socially acceptable.

6)Do not be snarky, sarcastic, witty, or rude. Most of the time, people will not understand you, and if they do understand you, they are not likely to be impressed. First of all, many people are so self-conscious, they’re afraid that your “joke” may cause them to be judged in the future—as we’ve established, the one thing that brings about social disapproval and ostracism—or that you’re passive-aggressively saying you don’t like someone. This is even true if you’re known to be the sort of person who will just say “I do not like you.”. Secondly, others are likely to feel stupid if your particular brand of snarkiness is something they don’t get, and that makes you wrong. Thirdly, you may think you’re witty, but in reality, others find you obnoxious and tiring. If you write a blog like this one or keep a constant stream of banter going in your conversations with others, you can count on pretty much never being invited to anything, by anyone, ever. Also, you’ll have the vague sense that people don’t like you, but not know why. This is why. Unless, of course, you’ve already done one of the things mentioned above. Then, they already didn’t like you before the snarky remarks you made, so you might as well.

7)Like doughnuts and M & M’s, life is best when sugar-coated, at least in social situations. If people wanted to hear the truth, they’d turn on the news or read a book. Making other people feel like they are the most awesome people in the world and avoiding being the centre of attention is important. When you do speak, you have to be extra careful to ensure that nothing you say may accidentally have a double meaning, or can be taken in an insulting way. For instance, I personally have been de-friended for using the word “crazy” in conversation, and because I proudly called myself an “uber-liberal person”. Ooops. If there is something about anything that you dislike, it’s best not to mention it, because nice people like everything and everyone, at least to their faces.

8)Don’t talk about other people, unless they’re the socially unacceptable individuals everyone else is already talking about. Because that’s just rude, isn’t it? It’s also important to remember that you will call unwanted attention to yourself by expressing you like or admire someone that other people do not. It’s fairly obvious that being socially acceptable means liking and disliking the same people everyone else likes and dislikes, even if that’s not exactly how you feel. Did you not learn anything from high school?

9)Don’t assume that because you think you’re “nice”, others will like you. You may be a very kind-hearted individual who makes an effort to know others and do nice things for them, but there are still things that are fundamentally wrong with who you are and possibly worthy of judgment. You may not even know what’s wrong with you as a human being until you hear it from other people. After all, people are not *born* knowing why they should not like themselves, they must be taught by society to recognise their inadequacies.

10)Know when to concede and accept defeat.If you know that others do not like you and all attempts to win them over or make others see the “real you” have failed, or you’re just so scandalous and/or insufferable that you’ve alienated large groups of people, you have a few options. You can become a really happy misanthropic introvert, use your disenfranchisement from society to launch a career in the arts, or you can become so intimidating to others that they may not like you, but they’re going to shut the hell up about it. Also, you can move someplace where people don’t care about whatever it is that makes you so disliked in your current surroundings, or where people find your personality “normal” rather than “objectionable”. This is not recommended if people have confronted you and tried to bully you into leaving town, because why would you give someone who dislikes you the satisfaction of making their life easier? That would not be a self-respecting behaviour.

Alternatively, you could decide you just don’t care what others think of you or anyone else. However, don’t be surprised when you realise you’re suddenly the least popular person you know. Caring is essential, even if you don’t, not really. After all, deep down inside, you really do. Just don’t tell anyone, because your honest emotional vulnerability makes others uncomfortable 99.5% of the time.

I’m sure these useful tips will ensure I continue to not be invited to social functions throughout 2013, but it’s cool. They may just save you from that social faux pas you were accidentally going to commit, and make certain that you are still seen as acceptable by those around you. And, you don’t have to worry about me. I know that somewhere, someone is reading this…and that person may like me. And if that person doesn’t like me, well, my comments are disabled.

Let the fabulous self-delusion continue! ;)