What about me?
Honestly. I’ve been many things.
I remember meeting a neighbor once. I was about twelve.
(Who am I kidding? I was definitely twelve. I know because social interactions never fade in my memory. No matter how much my awkward introvert heart wants them to fade— they’re solid. Pristine. The truck was blue, the neighbor was wearing plaid. My hair was cut in an unfortunate bob.)
Anyway, I am twelve. (An age I still have not outgrown much twenty years later.) And the neighbor asks me, “So, which one are you?”
Which one am I?
He means he has heard my parents talk about both my sister and I. And like some weird word association I blurt out, “Oh, I am the reader.”
And internally, I was like, you’re the reader? Is that who you are? I mean I know you read a lot but is that your thing? So I added, “Or the artist? I paint. Blair, my sister, she’s the dancer.”
He tilted his head.
“Oh,” I laughed, “I’m Holly. I’m the younger one. My name is Holly.”
And then I melted into a puddle of embarrassment right there on the driveway, like an oil stain with self esteem issues.
Twenty years later, this is a thing I still get asked all the time. Only it’s the adult version of, “What do you do?”
“I’m a playwright. I write school plays for children.”
This usually works. It’s specific enough that it sounds like I know what I am doing with my life. (Who does, really?) And just artsy enough that people are like, “Oh. Well, that’s cool.”
“Oh. Well, that’s cool,” covers a lot. “Oh. Well, that’s cool,” Is that actually a thing? “Oh. Well, that’s cool,” You must be successful, plays are like movies, right? “Oh. Well, that’s cool,” No, really, that’s a thing?
It is a thing. But it’s so niche, that successful is pretty relative term. I had one of my shows picked up by a school in Kazakhstan. That’s neat, right? France, too. And there is at least one school district in northern Illinois that performs one or two of my shows a year, every year. It’s my mom. My mom’s school. She’s a teacher, and sort of my patron. Like I said, success is relative.
Honestly, I mostly live off my husband’s salary while I take care of our adorable son. Very 1950’s, I know. Although have you noticed that stay-at-home moms are always compared to 1950’s housewives— even though it was the norm for most of human history? (I’m not saying this was a good thing. Just was.) Like why don’t we say, “that’s so 1850’s”? Instead of the ruffled apron and percolator you’re picturing me with, why not a butter churn? Why not a bustle? Bustles make the best back porches, if you know what I mean. You probably don’t. Most people don’t know bustles. You’re probably still picturing Lucille Ball with her bandanna tied up around her victory roll curlers. Which, again, if I’m honest, is what I look like while I am typing this. I can’t resist a good victory roll. And I both, own and use, aprons with ruffles. What can I say? Bustles are impractical, and have you ever tried to churn butter? It’s like a shake weight without the sexually charged jiggle.
Lucille Ball is so awesome. I can’t casually conjure her up in your memory without reminding you how badass she was too. She is definitely a girl crush of mine. Wait, hold on, girl crush definition must be stated before I go any further—
Definition of Girl Crush: A woman, dead or alive, so cool, so badass, that she makes you feel like a little girl looking hopefully into your future.
This is an important distinction from crushes on girls. As a bi-sexual woman, I can tell you, there is a difference. Here’s a trick to help you remember: Girl Crush= “I want to be her.” Crush on girl= “I want to be on her.” That might have been a little graphic, (and a shameless Anchorman reference, says John) but it’s important, and one of the only math equations I truly understand.
I have many girl crushes. Lucille Ball, for sure. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler too. Beyonce. Jenny Lawson, for so many reasons. Harriet Tubman. (I know there is no way for me to be Harriet Tubman when I grow up, but as clearly one of the biggest badasses in history, man or woman, I can try to emulate her, right?) Also, Kesha. (She might straddle the definitions of girl crush. Same with Beyonce. If I’m honest.)
“If I’m honest,” you may have noticed that phrase repeating itself throughout my writing. Which is probably because that is the point of all this. All this being “the blog.” I have decided to be completely honest. It’s a big deal, for me. A big deal, because truthfully, I am not an honest person. This is not to say that I am a liar, or that I tell blatant lies. (You know, like the current president.) No, I am not a liar. But I am a bit of a curator.
I’ve always handpicked the parts of myself that I show to people based on my reading of who they are. Shaped who I was based on that singular audience of one. I suppose everyone does this somewhat, this political picking and choosing of ourselves. Polite people and those afraid of conflict most of all (I am mostly the latter.) But two events, two and half really, have led me to believe that this is the wrong way to live.
Event #1. Finding my husband.
We actually met online, on match.com. But it wasn’t the first time I had been on match. The first time, was actually not my idea. My friend, Emily (one of my first girl crushes by the way. An amazing poet. So adorable, that it was occasionally painful to be her friend. Like some Sarte, Zoe Deschanel experiment made in a lab, so talented and charming that it sometimes made me nauseous. Needless to say, when we were in our early twenties and she asked if I wanted to randomly move to Philadelphia with her, I was like, “Sure! Why not? I like history and the fresh prince— what could go wrong?” But that’s a whole other story. Back to the match thing.)
So, my friend Emily wrote my first match.com profile and it was freaking adorable. So adorable that even I fell in love with myself. And I got a lot of dates out of it, some good, some bad, some excellent fodder for later writing including a convent chef who brought leftovers to our picnic in Rittenhouse square. But I did not fall in love. Years later, when I had moved back to Illinois, back in with my parents, I decided to write my own match.com profile. At first I started to write something like Emily, something fun and charismatic, so cute that it practically had bangs, and then I stopped. I was wasting my time, and my money (I got the super duper, love or your money back package. I was not messing around.)
I knew that I had to be honest. I could be charming of course, I was promoting myself after all. But I had to be me. John and I met a week later. I knew from his first letter that he was the love of my life. Don’t tell me how, it was less than a paragraph. But I just knew.
We’ve been together for eight years, married for five, and parents for two. (That’s our son I’m talking about. I’ve been forbidden from naming him because John has had too many years prosecuting child abusers. And is convinced the world would “get him” if it could. So, I’ll just call him the little Prince. His grandparents certainly do already.)
All that, love, marriage and the little prince from just being truly honest.
Event #2: Getting help for my mental illness—
—and reading Jenny Lawson for the first time, again.
I am anxious. In fact, it was my natural state for more than thirty years. After my son, the anxiety got much worse, to the point that a trip to the grocery store would exhaust me. At a check-up, I finally decided to ask my doctor about it. They prescribed me an antidepressant and my world almost immediately got better. Almost. You see, in my euphoric post antidepressant stage I decided that I could handle anything. So, I decided to finally go on the ketogenic diet that had done so much good for my father (you will hear much more about this if you continue to read the blog, so I won’t go into that here. Needless to say it was a low carb, high fat diet originally created for Epilepsy that does simply amazing things.)
I got better. I got a lot better. The effects of the diet clicked in and for the first time in years the clenched fist around my heart opened, my mind cleared, and I felt so grateful. Then, like the bread addled carb addict that I am, I relapsed. The high fat portion of the low carb diet was troubling my stomach and I really missed bread. So, I gave it up. I continued to take my meds of course, but I chased them down with tons of bread, and crackers, and croissants. I am a sucker for a good croissant.
The anxiety returned. Not nearly as bad, I had the meds after all. But it was there, just at the edge of my vision, creeping back in. So, I found other ways to cope. I started listening to audiobooks. After all how can you pay attention to the small voice bad mouthing you in the back of your head if Diana Gabaldon is in your ear, saying beautiful things? You can’t, not completely. (Not to mention blocking out the 90 millionth viewing of Finding Nemo the little Prince has deemed necessary. Trust me kid, they found Nemo, you know it, I know it. The mystery is gone in this relationship.)
That’s when I found Jenny Lawson, for the second time. (The first time was a kindle copy of her first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. I got it from a book recommendation on bustle.com or refinery-something, I can’t remember. It was one of those quasi-feminist fashionable websites that I adored at the time. I started to read it, loved it. Then immediately got super jealous of her writing and quirky taxidermy cover, and assumed that she was way too cool for me to read, like Caitlin Moran and her white streak of hair. Honestly, I may have conflated the two. This was pre-medication, single Holly, so I was not even on the road to recovery yet. Just super anxious, all the time.)
Had I continued to read the life changing Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, instead of doing exactly what the title suggested, I would have realized that Jenny Lawson is just like me. She is one of my tribe— the anxious and mentally ill. She’s a writer too, a good one. Much funnier than I ever was, and still hope to be (girl crush!) But most importantly, she was honest about her problems with mental illness.
Which is hard. That twelve year old girl standing on her neighbor’s driveway trying to decide who she was in that exact moment was terrified. Not because of the nice middle aged man in plaid, leaning next to his blue truck. It was herself. It was me. Because who I chose to portray, the reader or the painter, or whatever, was the only thing that could protect me from the anxiety of being myself. It was a shield.
Those with mental illness will understand what I’ve just said. And that right there is the point. Reading Jenny Lawson made me realize that I wasn’t alone. If I could give one person that feeling and maybe a laugh or two, that’s enough for me. Honestly.
That, and the recipes. There are recipes.