Anne of the Apocalypse (Asuka, and Me)

Asuka Langley Sohryu, the spitfire prodigy who enters the story of Neon Genesis Evangelion like a wrecking ball, has never been the character I publicly align myself with. I have folders of images of Shinji Ikari (and sometimes Rei Ayanami) for all my #same and #aboutme needs. My depression and sense of wrong-footedness in the world IS most like Shinji’s, shrinking from others even as I drip with the need for acceptance, borderline self-absorbed in the conviction of my own worthlessness. I’ve always feared taking up space. Asuka makes herself so much larger than her fragile teenage body. She yells, she crows, she storms, and she’s often standing on the highest ground in a given scene to position herself over her peers and adults alike. I take pains to seem emotionally smaller than Asuka in my life, but the difficulty and effort come in part because I am like her. I too am angry at every failure. My self-concept is tyrannical and rigid, sometimes deforming into a profound lack of compassion for others. I also feel bound to Asuka in her angst over growing up; in her uniquely adolescent, girlish despair at the limits of her own body.

Asuka spends most of her time insisting she has nothing left to learn, that she is already an adult. As the most ruthless and well-trained Eva pilot, she balks at the idea that she should be asked to save the world but not be allowed to act as a professionally and emotionally independent person. I mean, fair point. But like the other pilots, she is a vulnerable child. Unlike Shinji’s passivity, Asuka deals with her trauma and fear of abandonment with false bravado. She would rather be seen as angry and hateful than weak, and has almost no filter for lashing out at others. There’s one moment in episode 22, “At Least, Be Human”/”Don’t Be,” where her anger is intimate and heartbreaking. There’s nobody to witness it and I’m not sure she would have shared this particular pain with others anyway.

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But I always thought that I’d see you again

It’s hot and bright in Brooklyn and early enough in the season that it doesn’t aggravate me. My dress is insubstantial, equally valid as a fancy top or a beach cover-up. It looks kind of trashy in a way I realize would keep me from going onto the subway, into Manhattan. “Brooklyn is technically a beach town,” I joked, but it’s true. Actual beach aside, the blanket of Prospect Park is pinned down on most corners by traffic circles. It feels like a vacation spot standing at a red light in the middle of one. The first time I ever saw a traffic circle was on Hilton Head Island and “traffic circles are for beach towns” is one of those childhood truths that won’t quite leave me. They seemed to have a sort of power back then – round and round and the traffic circle itself is what spits you out from the normal world into Vacation. Looking kind of trashy is also for beach towns. In adulthood I managed to love the beach a few times a year, turning into a calmer, languid version of myself content to read and drape my limbs and drink stupid drinks. Certain summer days here can bring that back. Brooklyn is my home, the first place in New York where it doesn’t feel like a lie to call it that. I wonder if it’s because I needed to feel connected to an earlier home, an earlier me.

Home – my embarrassing longing for it and how often I feel without it – haunts me more than almost any other idea. I was always planning to write about my home in Hilton Head, South Carolina. There was always a reason to put it off: I needed to visit and be fully immersed in it to do it justice, or I needed to learn to write better first. I treated writing about it like going there – something that seemed inappropriate to approach with less than my best self. But I waited too long and now this is an elegy.

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Other People’s Windows

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New York City rarely gets the worst of any major weather event, but we love to make a huge thing of what we do get. I was on the street when the fifteen or so minutes of whiteout snow and gale force winds swept through. It seemed briefly possible that I might get blown backwards and away and I found begrudging humor in how in-sync the weather and my emotional state was.

The snow was gone as quickly as it came. Steam puffed upwards into a stunning and unfair sunset. From the huge windows of the Park Slope living room I’m in, snugly tucked among patterned carpets, blankets, and velvet chairs, any wind and single digit temperatures seemed small and quaint. I am the person who lives in the tiny, candlelit house in a snow globe – never in real danger from the dream-of-a-dream of bad weather.

It’s not the first time I’ve been in this room, but it is the first time I’ve been alone, in a crisis, in this room. This beautiful apartment on the top floor of a historic townhouse is inherently comforting. It’s not just because it belongs to dear friends who are absurdly good to me. The warm wall paint, the rich wood – it’s made entirely of things that signify security. It’s a very straightforward version of not-my-home-but-feels-like-home. Other places in my life that feel like home are so because they were built through time and joy and trauma. The things that forged those places can also make them unstable. There’s something easy and soothing about inhabiting a fireplace and sweater catalog image of home instead.

There’s no easy way to short-circuit the worst of human pain, but there are weird and laser-specific moods you discover. The tautness of everything you are as you walk knowingly into an unbearably shitty thing. The rush and melodrama of explaining your sadness to someone when it’s still an Event. And I’ve found the shape of another packaged, artisanal emotional experience in the past few days.

The sun is setting again and I can see nothing but those puffs of smoke and this Brooklyn that feels like it can’t be the same one I live in. In a way it’s a reverse “other people’s windows” feeling. Right now I’m afraid of that feeling. Up here, I’m safe behind a window other people can’t look into. Even the annoying sobs I let out last night felt a step removed; the appropriate crying of a girl in a TV show about wealthy people. Part of me thinks the gutting won’t come if I stay suspended figuratively and actually up here, padding around (in borrowed clothes, which somehow adds to it all) in this version of Myself in Pain that’s edited and polished.

You learn something new every day. I’ll go back down eventually.

On Liking My Middle Name

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My grandmother’s middle name is Christine. My mom’s middle name is Christine. My middle name is Anne. Growing up, I hated that – to me pointless – choice to break tradition. “Molly Christine” was more interesting, more romantic. It could have been a small comfort to me in all the years I hated both my names and longed for something feminine and flowery like Rose or Violet. My mom always said that she wanted to name me something that worked in all stages of life. She wasn’t fond of the popular choices of my era like Katie or Brittany. If not Molly, might have been Anne Elizabeth or Elizabeth Anne (called Liza).

Molly is perky, clipped, and short. It wasn’t common, but it didn’t feel special. The one or two others at school were always sportier or cheerier than I was. Famous examples real and fictional (Malone, Brown, Bloom, Ringwald, et al.) likewise seemed cut from a different cloth entirely. And Anne…well I often prefaced it with “and the most boring middle name ever.”

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A Very Enchanting Christmas

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December 22nd

I’m huddled in an airport bar at JFK, more than three hours before my flight to Albuquerque. Even with the wide margin of error, my anxiety spiked in the car on the way over. This trip has been a fixed mark for months and now, as it’s happening, part of my mind is bracing for something to make it impossible. The giddy, exciting side of anticipation has always been basically inaccessible for me until I cross some threshold that confirms the awaited thing will actually come. This confirmation can be superstitious. It just has to feel safe. There is a point where waiting can feel good. It’s the feeling of sitting in a restaurant when you know someone is meeting you or a theater when you’re seated but the curtain hasn’t gone up. Getting through security at the airport does this, too, even though things could still go wrong.

Besides, I have a soft spot for airport bars. Drinking alone in them still makes me feel special and like an adult in a way that isn’t depressing like most other things about feeling adult. Maybe it’s because they’re so often places where I experience that rare high of waiting. Most forms of travel are romantic, even down to the subway, so it could be that a little of that train station anything can happen aura rubbed off onto the overpriced restaurants at JFK. Airport bars are not glamorous. Look even a little closely and it falls apart, but the illusion persists for me.

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I used to think that this kind of waiting was the happiest a person could be in life; when against our better judgment we let the optimism and potential get to us without the edge and disappointment of reality. I was sort of right. It wasn’t safe to believe you’d arrive or could rest in anything. Maybe I didn’t realize that it’s possible to take it too far and never remember to stop and take inventory of everything. This is the second time I’ve flown to ABQ. This time I’m alone. But I’m going towards (and back) to something. The other day my boyfriend said “you’ll be home soon,” referring to this flight, this day. I don’t know if it was a slip on his part. Either way, it feels true.

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A Thanksgiving Post

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I’m coming up on my third anniversary of living in New York. New York still seems fake, sometimes. It’s probably a common enough experience for the transplants, this feeling that we can’t possibly be allowed to just live here; that it’s going to kick us out any second,  doomed thereafter to try and fail to get back as if New York were actually bound by a Brigadoonesque enchantment. It’s hard to accept that I live here because my life has gone a bunch of ways that no child dreams about and moving to New York is the one thing I said I would do as a unforged young person that I followed through on.

It is, in almost every way, different than I imagined it. The New York I was supposed to move to some day was meant to be the big threshold crossing, tadaima-ass moment. The person who stepped across that threshold was not just me but the best version of me. For a while, that seemed possible, as if the two suitcases I packed and brought with me on that one way flight in 2016 were all there was to it – no looming depression, no eating disorder (at least not in a cool, manageable way), no ill-advised and already dead marriage.

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Fuccboi/Zaddy/Wolf/Retriever

alignmentSome months ago, one of those 1.5x speed, flailing late night conversations life sometimes grants us produced an epiphany and that is – you can’t be both a Fuccboi and a Zaddy. To refresh on the etymologically recent but spiritually ancient concept of the Zaddy: a Zaddy is an attractive, (almost always) older man who is not necessarily a father but gives off that innate aura of responsibility. Do you ever think it would be kind of hot to be sternly told to get your shit together? A Zaddy is the type of person who could fulfill that fantasy. This is not to say that all Zaddies are good partners. I think the dark side of a Zaddy romance is probably be a man who doesn’t cede enough emotional territory, is patronizing in an unsexy way, or makes you feel messy and small. I mean, I am messy and small, but come on. I am already tired of typing the word Zaddy but I will forge on!

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The Endless Moment of Girlhood

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Golden joy, silver sorrow/everything so far/for your sake, for love’s sake alone/let’s empty these two bowls

So ends the baleful, synthed-out theme song to the 1991 anime Brother, Dear Brother as images of carriages, antique clocks, and parasols fade off the screen. The scene is set for something sweeping and operatic, the kind of story where destined love must overcome war, class divides, or even death. It’s a fair expectation from a Riyoko Ikeda story and director Osamu Dezaki, the same combination on The Rose of Versailles, which had all of that stuff. Then the first episode starts and it’s about…Nanako, an everyday 16-year-old, and her first day of high school. Brother, Dear Brother dares to establish a setting where the chasm between epic romance and mundane teenage life isn’t that wide. It may not exist at all. The characters’ minor dramas – being slighted by the school’s most exclusive clique, low grades on midterm exams – are placed up against dark secrets, mysterious terminal illnesses, and the kind of unrequited love that can destroy lives.

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I have a weakness for art that is overblown, baroque, and unafraid to lean into its Too Muchness. My fondness for melodrama is because it actually touches me. Especially resonant nuggets of truth about the human condition are often at the heart of the biggest, heaviest-handed stories. When a character in Brother, Dear Brother is compared to a historical prince, we are rewarded with a freeze frame her dressed as a royal and surrounded by fluttering cherry blossoms. Anger and conflict are punctuated by sudden storms, lightning highlighting wide-eyed expressions. The protagonist’s crush actually has a rose in her teeth at one point. It’s all ridiculous. And very charming. Most of all, it conjures a world of female adolescence that forces the audience to live in its visceral experience instead of gawking at teen drama or hiding behind cynicism.

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Breaking the Waves

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The Affair has relied heavily on drowning and ocean metaphors since its pilot in 2014. Its moody opening credit footage of crashing water fit the rustic landscape of Montauk and set the mood to think about the capricious and overwhelming nature of lust and love. In its four seasons, almost every character has cheated or imploded their relationships in some way, but When Fiona Apple sang “there’s only one thing I can do and that’s be the wave that I am/and then sink back into the ocean” I always had the sense that those lines, or maybe the song in general, were about Alison. Alison who starts the story defined by a literal drowning – the death of her toddler son. A woman who is afraid of the ocean, but is treated as a siren by most of the men in her life. I started watching The Affair to pass time, and because I’m drawn to stories and discussions of infidelity. I wasn’t expecting to be so moved or feel so seen by a character, but Alison has come to be very special to me.

**spoilers for the latest season of The Affair**

I just finished the fourth and latest season and while it expanded far beyond the actions of its original affair and into overly soapy territory, I couldn’t look away. Even at its worst the disastrous orbit of these characters – the “main” couple but also betrayed spouses, children, and new relationships – was bleakly addictive. Most importantly for me, Alison remained the emotional heart of the story. Her extreme choices and darkest turns never felt contrived and campy so much as tragic. No main character hated themselves more or tried harder to have a purpose; to be understood, loved, and chosen. As you may have seen in entertainment headlines lately, Ruth Wilson has left the cast. In the show, this meant the fourth season climaxed in Alison’s death. She never got to rewrite her narrative as she wanted. Her story, in her own words at least, is now over, but I imagine she’ll be on my mind for a long time.

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The Clocks Don’t Sync Up

Next month I’ll be 27. This isn’t a number I’m too thrilled about. Plenty of older people rush to call me young if I verbalize my discomfort, but not as many as in past years. It’s too close to 30 to have many excuses anymore, but I feel like I only stopped being a child in the last, oh, two or three years. It wasn’t marriage, divorce, or physical aging that finally caused the break. It was a slow realization, the remolding and hardening of a series of decisions – not all of them bad but all of them difficult and messy – that I had set into motion on my own. I played with real narrative weight in my own life long enough that the distance between my emotional reality and the ability to go home again became too great. The grief of losing touch with the pre-adult me and the comfort it brought is a brutal amputation. I see other people my age (and much older for that matter) shambling through the same mourning process. The world is bad and we all know it. My generation grew into something far more bleak and doomed than we were ever prepared for. It’s not a world that my friends and I want to be in most days, and the thought of bringning anything else into it seems irresponsible at best and cruel at worst. My body doesn’t care about this at all.

I’ve spent most of my life treating childlessness as a foregone conclusion; an internal imperative so strong that pregnant women and mothers seemed fundamentally apart from whatever I am on a source level. They have different boundaries, as if the lines around them were pleasantly fuzzy. And there’s me, so hardwired to be self-contained within the limits of my own body. I’m sharp; a set unit you would never think to add to or subtract from. If I try to imagine myself pregnant, or with small children, my brain short circuits like the blue screen of death. The mythology of motherhood as a sacred and primordial mystery, the deepest source of feminine power, is not something I’m interested in contributing to. Really, it’s only strange inasmuch as any experience we find ourselves utterly locked off from is.

And yet, after over 26 years of bullheaded confidence, something is wavering. I pass couples with young children in Prospect Park and I try to project onto them, but not because I want it. A snapshot moment of a happy family is of course not the whole picture. Those couples fight and get too tired to fuck and those children throw tantrums. It’s still a slice of something I’ll never know. These moments didn’t use to register as anything, but now seeing parents with a stroller feels like peeking in people’s windows at night. TV plot lines about couples strained over whether to have kids make me sad now, but not because I want it. “We’re pregnant,” announced my brother’s friends at Easter brunch, and I looked away and excused myself. I started crying in the bathroom, but not because I want it. I’ve become consumed by what not wanting it means.

I do not want kids for the reasons that we’ve mostly agreed are bad reasons. There’s no legacy I care about passing on, my parents are fine enough that I don’t have a compulsion to fix their mistakes, and I know it’s selfish to create people in hope that they’ll take care of you when you’re old or sick. So what are the right reasons? No, I really want to know. Those happy kids in Prospect Park will probably grow up and mourn the loss of their childhoods in a world that’s even more unforgiving than mine. Even if the future looked better, it’s hard to imagine inflicting womanhood on another person. Are those mothers who express relief at only having sons, who say “boys are just easier,” actually relieved that they don’t have to pass on that particular millstone? It seems like there may not be a reason right enough to justify the risk anymore. And yet.

Maybe it’s that I’m almost 27 and some chemicals in my brain are nudging me to consider things because they’re attuned to rhythms and deadlines unparsable by my rational mind. My body doesn’t care about the doomsday clock any more than the world cares about me. But maybe it’s that I’m so sad and so bad at handling grief that I fantasize about experiencing hope and innocence vicariously; a fairy tale witch lying in wait to leech a sense of security and optimism from another generation. Do people want to have children because the only way to re-experience the veil of real safety and open-endedness is to draw it over someone else’s eyes?

As so many things do, I was reminded of The Age of Innocence. In particular, I thought about the sum of May Welland, the character most invested in and protective of the status quo. ” …the world of her youth had fallen into pieces and rebuilt itself without her ever being conscious of the change. This hard bright blindness had kept her immediate horizon apparently unaltered…she had died thinking the world a good place, full of loving and harmonious households like her own… ” I have always focused on the other main characters, on Newland Archer and his crippling fear and obligation or Ellen Olenska and the price of her unconventionality. The mutant strain of longing for a family is the first thing that has made May truly click with me. There’s an allure in being so naive that you sail right by the painful severance from your pre-adult assumptions. How lucky to raise children in the glow of your own childhood.

I’ve always liked the word weltschmerz and I think my unpackagable sadness over having children is the essence of that feeling. The world of split-second fantasies and lives I’ll never lead isn’t a reality that actually exists. It’s not even that I want children. I want to think about whether or not I want them in a world where the odds wouldn’t be stacked against them from the start.