Maria Bamford Is My Muse Out of This Black Hole

There’s no easy way to get into this post.

It’s been two years since I’ve blogged on a consistent basis. Sure, I published a couple of things here and there (…a video of me not-really-telling the story about the time I was raped; a vaguely self-helpish essay about metaphorical seeds we could be planting during times of comfort to aid us through the discomfort of darker seasons of change and transformation…) but basically, after my Keira Knightley post that linked to an unedited photo of her boobs and went the most viral of them all, I pretty much fell off the face of the blogging planet. Because why go on after hitting that high note, right?!?

Somehow I still managed to justify paying $20/year for the past two years to preserve a domain with my name. Eventually, though, even for me it started to feel a little like I was faking something.

But what you, Dear Reader, have not seen are the numerous drafts of unpublished posts I STARTED to write over the past two years. These are collections of ideas and concepts that, at some point in time, I had previously said to myself, “This will be my first book!”

And that’s because I finally resigned myself to the fact that there are some things I’m not good at, and I shouldn’t force myself to do them and expect things to go well or quickly. Like multi-step processes. (By the way, I’ve researched how to publish a book and it seems to require a few steps…)

So, I figured, in case I die before I actually take ALL of the necessary steps to publish a real book (honestly, at this rate, is looking more likely than not), I might as well just get this stuff out of my head and publicly onto the Internet via my own private domain, which hopefully my family would graciously continue to fund with $20/year to ensure that this was not all in vain.

It’ll be a long haul, but you’ve got to start somewhere…

Since the Knightley-inspired reclamation of my own flat chest there have been halfhearted attempts at developing and sharing many things, including the concept of positive philosophy (a.k.a., repackaging the highlights of my dissertation, which has since become a point of nostalgia where I long for the time in my life when I actually felt like I was writing cool stuff out of my own brain!).

(Side note: In case you’re wondering, the title of my dissertation was Positive Philosophy: A Feminist Practice of Affective Therapy and Political Resistance. However, I imagine Positive Philosophy could effectively dupe the Martin Seligman readers of the positive psychology movement into buying it that a publisher might just send me an advance. I’d take it, Publisher. That’s all I’m saying.)

I made a brief attempt at writing about abortion, too. This is actually a topic I could write another whole book on, and at some point, it would be a dream to do so…(or I’ll do it here on my blog, if you’re paying attention and I’m ever good on my word about how much I will eventually write!) I already have chapters outlined. And for the past several years, I’ve collected so many articles about abortion that I have a pretty self-explanatory label for it in my gmail account. Label: abortion-articles. The title for that book would be, Unknown Abortions: Reproductive Rights and Epistemic Injustice. No, you can’t find it on Amazon; it’s not a book yet, it just sounds like it should be.

And then I actually did write and publish several posts about feminist friendship. But I recently took them down because those preliminary posts just needed a temporary home for work-related stuff and weren’t appropriate for this philifesophy stuff. (Kidding! I hope to write about it here in the future, too.)

Feminist friendship is a concept I’ve been working on for the past two years through my teaching and is totally part of my philifesophy! It’s my attempt at reconciling a lot of things in my own experience – feminist theory, white feminism, intersectionality, privilege, replicating systems of oppression, and social media. I created a course on feminist friendship and taught it for the first time last spring. The spring before that (in 2015), I presented my swan song of an academic paper at a philosophy conference titled, “Growing Up White Feminist: Have We Got a Theory For Us Yet?” It’s not a great title, but the point is, feminist friendship is my latest conceptual baby and it still fuels most of what I do in my non-academic job despite having failed to write anything that actually gets into the concept itself. So, if you hear anyone throwing “feminist friendship” around like they know what they’re saying, don’t believe them. Unless they took my class, they’re likely just using the phrase because it’s so damn catchy.

On that note, someone recently told me I should trademark that one. So here: Feminist Friendship™. Positive Philosophy™. And while we’re at it, let’s throw in this oldie, Honest Confidence™. I won’t trademark anything about abortion, though, BECAUSE LOTS OF PEOPLE HAVE AND NEED THEM. If you like numbers, and in case you didn’t know, the average is 1 in 3 women.

In any case, I haven’t stopped thinking about things. As much as I would like for it to change, I just haven’t been writing about them here.

“Well, why not?”

Because life has been full of ups and downs and surprises and transitions for the past three years since I finished graduate school and returned to Colorado.

Take a few deep breaths, because here comes the highlight reel:

Move to Colorado. Be Unemployed. Break Up. Small Business? Still Unemployed. Talk to Psychics About Making It in LA. Get Colorado Job Offer to Thwart Need for Pipe Dreams in LA. Start Dating. Talk Publicly To Straight Guys About Anal Pleasure. Learn What It’s Like To Face Abuse Every Day and Every Night. Start Practicing Yoga. Buy Car. Deal with Disappointment Despite Achieving Your Goals Because Your Life is a Crisis. Make New Friends. Get New Ideas Teaching Cool Classes. Still Deal with Shitty Circumstances Because Bills and Leases Are Real Things. Find Others. Repeat Unhealthy Patterns. Hustle. Grind. Pay Off Car. Pay Off Student Loans. Get New Job Offer. Gratefully Abandon Need/Hope/Desire to Run a Small Business. Believe in Miracles Because Friends Can Save and Change Your Life in 4 Hours. Heal. Start Dating. Best Friend Moves In-State. Pick Up Pilates As a New Hobby. Keep Making New Friends. Wonder About the Sustainable Rate For Learning Something New Every Day About a Job, Leadership, Institutional Politics, and Ultimately Who You Are As a Person. Break Up. Try Online Dating. Have Fun. Break Up. Repeat. Repeat. Renew Passport After 2 Years (because processes…) See Maria Bamford Live. And now you’re basically all caught up!

So, back to noting how there isn’t an easy way to get into this post…

I would describe the summer of 2016 as deeply reflective. Like, really, really deeply reflective.

I'm in a freaking balloon.I turned 30. I took a solo-trip to Taos, New Mexico for my birthday, got in a hot air balloon (despite twice having the option to chicken out and avoid my fear of heights), and felt, for the first time in a long time, a powerful, unadulterated appreciation for myself.

Over the summer months, I continued to reflect on who I am, where I’ve been, the people and paths that have gotten me here, and how to stay strong and act with integrity in the face of adversity.

Nothing was off limits.

I thought back on my childhood and my relationships with friends and family. I reoriented myself with my goals and thought long and hard about what it means to be an effective change agent.

Some really great things came out of this reflection.

img_5411Like a profound sense of inspiration and awe from being surrounded by a house full of passionate, creative, talented people after an overnight road trip with my bestie to another soul-friend’s Utah wedding. (I actually started blogging about this three weekends ago…but didn’t finish it because it felt way too cheesy to write about how these people went out and turned their dreams into realities. Surprise!)

And thanks to a moment of clarity while watching Finding Dory alone in a theater, just moments after experiencing a brand new emotion while being brought to bawling tears by the sheer cuteness of the animated short, I may have even gotten some closure on the heaviest personal baggage I’ve been carrying for the past 12 years. None of that has to make sense to anyone else. The important thing is that it happened.

But some not so great things also started to emerge.

Obviously, I’m not perfect. I can be a jerk sometimes. I make mistakes and can hurt people’s feelings. I don’t send cards and gifts on time even when I obsess about sending them for weeks in advance. And even then, sometimes I don’t send them at all.

I have a queue of texts and Facebook messages that I haven’t replied to. My relationship to money and time is often pretty parallel – maybe it’s a scarcity mindset, but for a long time I struggled to justify spending them in ways that felt like a “splurge,” even when that would have meant being able to do good things with people I love (though I have gotten much, much better at this).

And then, like a stormy confluence of serendipitous events and self-diagnosis, I ordered some books on codependency in the middle of the night from my phone in bed AND binge-watched Maria Bamford’s Lady Dynamite on Netflix. Not all in one night. The binge-watching took three days.

As I progressed through the pages and the episodes, I had a bazillion little sparks flying in ways that made me think, “These glimpses into uncanny metaphorical mirrors might just be enough to mark a life change,” to put it very dramatically.

Which brings me to today. Tonight. Right now, as I write.

I haven’t been doing very well for the past few days.

A handful of people who are close to me know about it. Today, I actually had to apologize to a friend for not responding, for days, to texts about her own duress (which was exacerbated by my own silence) because I had completely forgotten about her messages after I fell into my own “black hole.”

I’ve never really considered myself as someone with anxiety and depression, but I did start to wonder what a nervous breakdown feels like.

Don’t worry, I’m not feeling like harming myself or anyone else – sometimes I just wanted to smoke weed, watch Bob’s Burgers, and fall asleep. But let’s be real, that describes every day for some people, so is that really evidence of a breakdown?

Yesterday, I said to a friend, “How do you know? It’s not like your arms start falling off! Is it only a breakdown if you become wholly unable to function? Or is it when you can cry any second and feel overwhelmed and generally a little bit out of control?”

I mean, damn. How neurotic can one get such that you actually meta-level reflect on your own experience of a nervous breakdown?!

Admittedly, I do believe there is a limit to healthy levels of reflection. Over the course of the summer it felt good and healthy, but this past weekend, I may have exceeded it. My reflection went from thoughtful meditations to frenetic worries. My anxiety bubble popped and I had to retreat to my apartment, be alone, do yoga, go for walks, write it out, take a lot of time to myself, and lean on a few close friends.

I should have known this was going to happen.

After all, I was laugh-crying at dinner in public with one of my long-time friends about all of this a couple of weeks ago and I called it. I warned, through smiles, tears, and laughs, “I think I’m reaching a breaking point,” to which he reassured me that I’m fine, everything is fine, and he’s willing to help walk me through getting pre-approved for a mortgage whenever I’m ready….even if that means two years from now (because processes…).

And yeah, ultimately, I am fine.

I’m fine enough to post about feeling sad lately on Instagram and I’m fine enough to write about it now.

I’m fine enough to share it even though it does feel vulnerable and personal and like nothing that anyone else needs to know about.

I’m fine enough to write about it even though I know others could read this and STILL think, “See, she’s freaking out. She must be too weak to handle it,” whatever ‘it’ is. My job. My personal life. My health. Being an adult or life in general. Go ahead, name it what you’d like. But for people who think that, you’re wrong and missing the larger point here.

Please, keep reading.

One reason why I am okay with sharing this is because I know that A LOT of people are freaking out at any given moment.

Just because our arms haven’t fallen off doesn’t mean we aren’t in the throes of something that feels too big for us in the moment.

And when it comes to my own experiences with difficult things, I usually talk openly about them precisely because we are often socialized to feel shame for having them. I know what I’m up to, and that it may come with repercussions, but sharing these things is my own form of processing and subtle subversion.

The good news is that, most of the time, such moments can pass, even if those moments are longer than just a few hours or days, especially when we can ask for and are given the support we need from others. After all, this isn’t my first rodeo, even if it may be my first time riding out this particular event. And I am fortunate to have a fantastic support network.

So again, yes. I’m fine. I will be fine.

Plus, maybe life is just a process of always trying to get a little more of your shit together.

So be it.

But, to be very clear, this post is not a call for ever more reservoirs of personal strength, resilience, and fortitude. Many of us already know that we are strong and resilient because we’ve had to be.

I also know that a lot of my current anxieties – and those of many others – are not just rooted in personal matters (although they can exacerbate those matters that are personal to us). And this is an important point for people to realize about mental health disparities among different people.

Some anxieties stem from constantly having to negotiate spaces and situations where one’s identities are just as salient as what one does. 

Gender, age, race, class, etc. – they can work for you or against you. Some people have the privilege of not having to always feel hyper-conscious and aware of how they may be perceived by others, no matter how they show up. They can be mediocre. They can even fuck up. But the option to fuck up or not care is not available to everyone.

Depending on who you are, different kinds of anxieties can emerge from the sheer fact that you dared to show up as you (as if you have a choice).

In fact, and quite ironically, during the truly pleasant and beautiful events that precipitated this personal bout of anxiety when there was so much good, so much connection, so much getting beyond “small chat” over some drinks with a few acquaintances, I felt the joy of being able to really be me around them. Other people noticed. I think they even appreciated it.

And then someone mentioned Brené Brown’s notion of a vulnerability hangover.

The next morning, I was sick with a severe vulnerability hangover. The alcohol induced hangover went away in an expected amount of time. The vulnerability hangover, however, lasted for three days and I’m still coming out of it. It wasn’t pretty.

Thanks, Brené Brown, for the great naming of an experience, but there can be more at play in a vulnerability hangover than just bravely putting yourself out there for others to see. Again, when you add social identities into the mix of what it means to be vulnerable by exposing yourself, things get a little more complicated.

It may even lead to a sense of “arms falling off.”

If you don’t know what it’s like to feel truly “damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” then you don’t know the double bind of living a catch-22. Your identities probably grant you the luxury of thinking that all one has to do is “be smart and play your cards right.”

But remember, not everyone gets dealt the same hand. Sometimes it feels vulnerable to play at all (even if you are smart about it), simply by virtue of being you.

“So, why write about it now?”

Because, like another dark, magical storm of serendipitous events, the very weekend when I took a deep dive into my own “black hole” I also had tickets to see Maria Bamford live.

imageShe was great in all of her “laugh with me at my struggle with mental illness” glory, even when she admitted that she didn’t want to perform the show. Even when she described her pre-show pep-talk, where she demanded of herself that she only give 5% effort…because it ultimately didn’t matter. Even when she warned the audience that they may be in for an hour of utter disappointment.

She was especially great when she made references to things that you would have to be equally “mental” to actually get, and I laughed so hard because I’ve been there, done that.

I don’t know about the stars aligning or the Universe conspiring or any of that, but I do know that what felt important about tonight was that in the midst of my own difficult time, I was able to see someone else talk about their difficult times.

And it was helpful to know that her comedy connects with people because they get it, too.

More so, it feels important to be able to still laugh and feel real pain.

Humor isn’t always a cover to simplify complex experiences; sometimes it’s just a way to effectively articulate them. And another good thing about humor is that it can help connect us to each other during those times.

So, to be honest, I don’t know if there’s really a point to this post other than I finally felt like I had to get back on the blog and write (HOORAY!).

Maybe I’ll just wrap it up by saying, I’m still here. I’m still thinking. I’m still grinding. I’m still growing and learning. I always wish I were doing more writing, but while I’ve been “gone” from the blog for the past couple of years working on myself and other things, I haven’t been totally absent. And even though it’s hard at times, and this is one of those times, I’m still laughing.

Finally, big, huge thanks to those in my life who are willing and able to share in the laughs and the tears and share of themselves as we all just keep trying to perpetually get a little bit more of our shit together.

*UPDATE: In less than a year after writing this post, I DID share my abortion story. I did a TEDx talk on Feminist Friendship. And I BOUGHT MY FIRST HOUSE!

2 thoughts on “Maria Bamford Is My Muse Out of This Black Hole

  1. Wow. I stumbled across this trying to read something while stuck under my son who is feeding (on my tiny boobs…loved that writing too!). This is an awesome writing on so many different levels. I read this…and then scrolled through and read 3 others of yours. (Your writing is addicting). I remember how awesome it was to have you as a teacher at FRCC, now reading your writings is just as lovely. Thanks for sharing your brain. You are inspiring in so many different ways. I’m glad you are back. Be well. 🙂

  2. Cori,

    I honor your braveness to be open to the world. This can only lead to self healing and significant personal growth. More people need to be able to take that step you did. Those who never open themselves up can face a life of stagnation and pain. I did respond via instagram w/ more details of my personal thoughts & appreciation for what you have expressed. All of us have those same doubts, & bouts, questions & wonder re: where we are going; what we need vs want; self love, happiness & who’s role is it to insure we achieve it. It is only through self expression & insight & questioning & openness can all this be found. I am 66 & still looking but candidly from what you have said, I now can start my personal journey for it is never to late to reflect to learn to open one’s self to the world. Thank You Cori for being that teacher you are and letting all of us learn from you.

    J. S.

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