Worst

2020 has been the worst year of my life.

28 years in, and 2020 broke me. It broke me down, chewed me up, spit me out, then stomped all over me. Maybe it’s a quarter life crisis. Maybe the whole quarantine lifestyle got to me. Maybe the state of the world wore me out. Maybe the election (despite the favorable results) took a toll. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m deeply unhappy with where I am in my life. Maybe it’s the ever increasing persistence of my dysthymia. Maybe it’s Maybelline.

Kidding, it’s definitely not Maybelline. It is, however, likely a combination of all those other things. A big ol’ toxic cocktail. It’s very fortunate that I don’t really drink, because that would probably just make it all worse.

I mean, I totally get that I’m privileged. I have a job that was not majorly affected by the pandemic. I have a wonderful family, and my sister recently gave birth to my baby nephew, who is adorable. I have a nice place to live that is near my sister, and close enough to my parents. I don’t face persecution for the color of my skin or my sexual preference because I’m a straight, basic white girl. The Mandalorian is back. Starbucks holiday drinks are out.

But I find things difficult these days. More difficult than ever. My job is stressing me out and I can’t focus on anything for more than five seconds. I can’t even muster up the energy, when I am home, to do adequate chores or the typical life things I am supposed to do. Some days, when I’m not at work, I don’t even get out of bed for more than five minutes at a time. My health isn’t super great and I’ve gained 15 pounds. I had to make a heartbreaking personal decision. And, as the cherry on top of the terrible sundae, I have not written anything in months. MONTHS. Writing, and creating, is my passion, and I have done none of it for almost the entirety of 2020 because my mental state is so poor and I keep beating myself up about it.

So, yeah. 2020 fucking sucked. Did good things happen? Sure. Like I said, I have a brand spankin’ new nephew. Tr*mp will be out of office in January. I spoke to a book club about my book for the first time since it was published. But, in spite of these glimmers of positivity, that dark cloud is brewing over my head, and the storm has continuously blocked out the sun.

So, I don’t want to dwell on it. I’m not really a ‘woe is me’ person because I am fully aware that many, many other people have it much worse than I do. I know 2020 still has a little over a month to go, but I am, as cliché as it is, gearing up for 2021, because I don’t see much of a chance of it turning around in that time. And I know I’m not the only one.

I want to drag myself out of this hole I’ve fallen into. It won’t be easy, and I’ve spent a lot of time wallowing, and I am seeking help. But I’ll make 2021 the year of the climb, and I know I must take steps to make it so. So, for my fellow folks who have been broken by this past year, let’s get ready to put 2020 behind us, and let the sun in.

Homebody

I am, by my own admission, a homebody.

Going out really isn’t my “thing.” Sure, I like to go out to dinner or partake in a social event or two as much as the next person, so I’m not hermit-level, but 6/7 days in the week if I’m not at work, I’m probably at home. I also get burned out from too much social interaction, so one might say the introversion is real.

This pandemic, however, has amped up my homebody-ness. My #1 favorite hobby is going to the movies – I typically go at least 50 times a year – but that is not possible right now, and for good reason. And I did not foresee, when all of this began, the impact not being able to “do things” would have on me. Since I am a homebody, I thought hunkering down wouldn’t effect me too much. I was wrong.

I do still have to go to work, so I’m not stuck in my house or anything, but I am also trying to be cautious when I must venture out. I’ve been to a restaurant twice since my state reopened, and both times sat outside, six feet away from others, and wore my mask before and after sitting down to eat. I’ve bought Star Wars masks, so I can brighten up my days a little. I am stocked with hand sanitizer. The only folks I’ve seen face to face to “hang out” are other folks who have been as careful as I have, which are mostly my parents and sister/bro in law.

But… I never thought I would miss doing things. My depression/anxiety has hit a major spike over the last couple of months. I haven’t read a book in months. And I know I’m not the only one affected like that, considering the current state of the country/world. Plus, I am very grateful that I have not gotten sick, and, fortunately, no one close to me has either.

This Sunday, the weather was hot, but not as humid and muggy as PA has been recently. It has been truly disgusting, but there was actually a bit of a breeze that afternoon, so my best friend and I took advantage and went on a nice long nature walk because, in my own words, “if I stay inside one more effing day I’m going to scream.” I prepared adequately, with my mask, lots of water, a protein smoothie, and big spray / sunscreen.

We trekked for eight miles, and it was beautiful. I felt, for the first time in a while, like I had found a tiny pocket of solace, and was able to funnel negative energy into something positive. I’d trod that path before, but it felt new and exciting. My calves are still burning three days later, but it was well worth it to indulge in nature for a bit, to feel the sun, and crunch the soil and stone beneath my sneakers.

And it gave me hope that we will reach the end of this trail, even if it seems a long way off.

Then, I’ll go back to being a homebody – on my own terms.

AF

So, my real name isn’t Allie Frost.

My real name is not a huge secret or anything, so I don’t particularly care if folks know it, but my actual initials are still AF. And I sign everything with my initials. Documents, emails, etc. I do have very poor, distinctive penmanship though, so forgery would be quite hard.

The other day, before a meeting at work, as I was settling down in a chair with my notepad and pen ready to go, my boss asked me, “Did you know your initials are internet slang for ‘as f*ck’?”

To which I replied, “Why do you think I sign everything with my initials?”

I mean… that’s not really why I do it, I do it because I’m lazy and my handwriting is atrocious, but still. I am fully aware of what my initials indicate in the internet/social media world. And my boss thought it was funny, so…

But now, hearing it aloud, it has struck me. The weight of those two letters.

I need to try to live my life not only as AF, but live my life af.

Try

I think it’s a safe bet to say that most folks have heard the saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.”

I must admit, I am someone who has been known to try and then give up at the first whiff of an undesirable outcome. Contributing factors often include fear of failure, lack of confidence, severe anxiety, and, perhaps most common, a toxic combination of all three. Kind of a “why bother trying if you’ll probably fail,” type of mentality. And that mindset has plagued many facets of my life. My writing, my personal life, my career. Etc.

Well, obviously, “you can’t win them all,” is also a true statement, but that does not mean that one should not try. And I have decided to keep trying. Obstacles may be many, and they may be dire, and they may make me want to back down – but I’ll try. And I certainly won’t back down without even giving a solid attempt, as I’ve been known to do.

In an effort to take a small step in this direction, I have bought myself a bonsai tree growing kit.

This may seem bizarre, but I have long considered myself a failure at keeping plants alive…because I killed one once. So, I figured it was time to try again. I spotted a bonsai tree grow kit on a clearance shelf at Marshalls and thought it was perfect.

It will be a long journey – bonsai trees are not swift growers – but I am hopeful. Even if the seeds fail to sprout, it will be worth the effort, and I can always try again. And considering the first plant I killed was a succulent, I also decided to buy a new succulent, and make the effort to care for it properly so it can flourish.

This may be the first step… but I’m using it to move forward, and not backward. And maybe tomorrow I’ll take another step forward, too.

I’ve Got Plans

Hours at my job vary depending on a multitude of circumstances. Some days I can (allegedly) trek home after 9 hours, which is the standard length of a shift for a salaried executive at my workplace. Though, to be honest, I don’t think I’ve worked a 9 hour shift since I started, and the other day I pulled a 6AM to 9:30PM, then Sheetz forgot to put tater tots in my made-to-order burrito I bought on my way home, which really capped off a wonderful day, but I digress…

Last Friday, I went to work at 6AM and aimed to leave by 5:30 at the latest because I had plans. I’d mentioned it in passing to my coworker, who also had plans, so we both vowed to leave “on time.” The day wore on, hitting the same type of beats they always do, maybe a couple of snags, until the sun went down and reinforcements arrived, allowing us to wrap up and prepare to head off into a nice weekend off.

As we were preparing to leave, my coworker asked me, “So, what movie are you going to see?”

I was about to answer, but paused. When I’d mentioned having plans, it had been only a brief thought – I’d not divulged any details. So I furrowed my brow and asked, “How did you know I was going to see a movie?”

She laughed, and said something to the effect of, “Well, no offense, but what else would you be doing?”

I took no offense at all – because she was 100% right, and I was meeting my parents for an opening-night screening of 1917. My actions may be predictable, but it’s a comfortable sort of predictability, one that I can happily accept as a part of my identity. Movie-going, and film-watching, is my thing. In my circle, it’s what I have come to be known for, and I like that. When I say, “I’ve got plans,” those who know me can say with about 90% certainty (sometimes I just go to dinner) what exactly that means.

Yesterday

Yesterday, my alarm went off at 4:30AM. I smashed the snooze button until 4:50, but it was technically my day off, so I wasn’t under much pressure to be on time to work.

I brewed my coffee into a “Do or do not, there is no try” travel mug emblazoned with Yoda on the side, grabbed a protein bar, donned lazy-day yoga pants and a sweatshirt, and climbed into my car as the sun began to break over the horizon. For about the fiftieth time since I bought it, I thanked the car gods (and the previous owner) for blessing me with a vehicle that was customized to have a seat warmer installed in the front seat. It will be a blessing on cold winter mornings.

I lamented that the Radio Classics station on XM Satellite Radio was playing a comedy, and not one of my favorite detectives, like Philip Marlowe, or a good creepy show like Suspense or the Witch’s Tale. So I settled for music on the long commute to work, hating the bits and scraps of poor, car-struck deer littering the sides of the highway.

I strolled into work, determined to fly under the radar, but still said hello to a few folks as I hastened by, though I reminded them that it was my day off – not to brag about my “dedication,” but to hopefully inspire them not to bother me too much with the usual day-to-day shenanigans since I was putting in my own time. For three and a half hours, I managed to get a good chunk of work done, but left before I could get too sucked into a project. Also, my supervisor told me I looked terrible when I walked by, so I figured I should leave and hopefully alleviate some of the haggard-ness from my face.

I nabbed Starbucks breakfast – the spicy chorizo sandwich and a caramel cloud macchiato – and made the long drive home. This time, Gunsmoke was on the Radio Classics channel, and though I normally shy away from Westerns, I decided to give it a go, and was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed it. Not as much as my favorite detectives, but my ears have been opened to a new genre, at the very least.

Once home, I made a couple of phone calls – endured the tedious wait times and horrible hold music – and set up my utilities for my new apartment, feeling proud to see new account numbers written down in my name. Then my mom and I went to the gym, where I was able to knock out a few chapters of my latest read, and reached the first few pages of the final installment in Claire Farrell’s Chaos series, which I am absolutely loving. It makes me look forward to the tiring treadmill sessions, as all great books should.

After a quick drive home and an even quicker shower, my mom and I drove over to the movie theater for an afternoon showing of Harriet, the biopic starring Cynthia Erivo. Though I yet again cursed the inefficient way the theater conducts their concessions lines, especially on $6 Tuesdays, I was thrilled to see that the female-driven movie about a heroic black woman was showing in theater #1, which is the largest and often reserved for the hotly-anticipated blockbusters, even though it came out the same day as Terminator: Dark Fate. Despite some audience annoyances, we were both thoroughly engrossed in the film and enthralled by the powerful performances.

Still pondering the messages of the movie, we ran a couple of errands, grabbed another Starbucks (don’t judge me) – me a venti pink drink, her a pumpkin cream cold brew – and then, before returning home, we decided to do our duty and vote in the local elections. I am personally a long way from being fully informed, but I made my choices and cast them, and felt proud to receive the little “I voted!” sticker at the end of the line. The sun was going down as we drove home – the curse of the dreaded daylight savings – and I started the first of what would be three loads of laundry in an effort to get a few chores finished before the close of the day.

After a salmon dinner, I scrolled through my FB feed, rife with “Remember, remember, the fifth of November” posts, and just as many posts lambasting them – and then my mom and I tuned in for The Little Mermaid Live! on ABC, while my dad left the room to watch NCIS upstairs. I was charmed, watching one of my favorite Disney movies come to life onscreen, and I was personally pleased by the performances and the production value. Still humming the familiar tunes, I turned in to my bedroom for the night, watched a few Youtube videos, then drifted off to sleep.

Yesterday felt like a simple day – not a waste, per se, but maybe a little dull, not too jam-packed, nothing to sneeze at. An average November day. But when I write it out… sometimes, even the simple things can have more meaning than we first believe.

 

 

Fly

Another addition for Olde Poetry Monday, this one circa 2009. Please enjoy.

 

I don’t get why people tell me, “never change.”

If I stayed the same, my biggest dream
would still be to sprout wings and fly away.

It’s cute when you’re five,
but I don’t think they have a major for that in college.

Experience is the heart of change,
and change is the center of growth.
So why do people remain locked up in their homes,
afraid to see what else is out there,
and see who they could become,
if they spread their wings?

I don’t get why people say, “you’ve changed,”
like they’re disgusted by it.
I find out all too often,
that those very people,
appalled by the thought of change,
are the ones who close their eyes,
cross their arms,
and never see beyond the ends of their noses.

Just because I changed,
does not mean I will forget.
Sometimes, I look up at the sky,
reach one hand toward it,
and remember exactly how it was,
when my biggest dream was to fly.

 

 

Me Too

I know that many people look at the world today and see it as a volatile place. I’m more or less the definition of a standard-issue, Starbucks-loving, nonreligious, straight white girl, so obviously, my life hasn’t been riddled with the kinds of difficulties faced by those who are discriminated against because of their sexual orientation, skin color, religion, gender identity, what have you. I am very fortunate, in that regard – and I am fully aware of that.

But in the wake of the “Me Too” movement, I realized that there are some experiences in my past that have affected me and have influenced my behaviors around members of the opposite sex. You can say you’re tired of hearing about these “Me Too” stories, but it’s always going to be relevant, and if people have a story to tell, then they should tell it. I only recently told this story to my parents, and they were shocked that I hadn’t told them about it before, so I thought it might be therapeutic to get it off my chest. However, if personal stories aren’t your cup of tea, you may want to pass on reading this post.

I played on a coed soccer team when I was around seven or eight years old. We had three coaches – my dad (the best one, and no, that’s not bias speaking), one of the other dads, and a bald guy with a beard who I will call “Frank,” for the purposes of this story. Basically, it was a bunch of kids in green shirts running around occasionally kicking a ball in the right direction. One kid never took off his parka. We were terrible. I later had a briefly successful venture into more competitive soccer, but this was my first year playing, and nearly my last.

There was a kid on the team named “Sean,” also a fake name for the purposes of this story. Sean played defense, I played offense. When we had scrimmages during practice, and I found myself opposite of Sean, he would waggle his eyebrows at me and pull his shorts up to show me his underwear. My reaction to this was to basically make a “WTF” face, because why on earth would I want to look at his Scooby-Doo undies. He did this fairly often. I didn’t engage with him. I gave no indication that I wanted him to do that. I said nothing to him. I was there to play soccer, and that was it. That sort of unwanted attention was uncomfortable for me. I’m certain my father never noticed him doing this, or he would have for sure taken that boy to task.

As mentioned before, we were not good. We were, to put it bluntly, dreadful. We lost most of our games, but really, when you’re that young, the purpose is to have fun and to learn, not to wreck the competition. Two of our coaches understood that we were spindly-limbed novices still learning how to play the game – Frank did not. Frank treated U-8 soccer like it was the world cup.

One day, after a particularly rough loss on our home field, I was walking to the bathrooms (a generous term, as they were really a pair of port-a-johns) when I overheard Frank talking to some of the parents. He said, with malice in his voice, “Allie flirts with all the boys!”

I stopped walking, because I couldn’t believe it – and I didn’t understand. First of all, I didn’t know what flirting meant. Frank sort of clarified it, as he went on to claim that I distract all the boys so they can’t focus on the game. He accused me of being the reason we lose games, the reason for the poor performance of the boys on the team. I assume this mainly meant Sean, the underwear showing weirdo, but he said, “all.” I thought boys still had cooties at that age, so I didn’t understand where that accusation came from. I wanted to score goals – I wanted to be a good player. I went to practice to play. I wasn’t doing anything intentional to “distract” the boys – if I spoke to them, it was usually about cartoons or Pokemon cards, and only at breaks. But Frank’s words hurt; they made me feel terrible and I went into the foul-smelling port-a-john to have a nice cry.

I look back on that now, and I see it as a middle-aged man blaming an eight-year-old girl in pigtails for the poor performance of a U-8 soccer team. I was a child who did nothing wrong, and yet, my existence was a reason for his ire. Even though I was being paid unwanted attention by a male player, it was my fault that our team was terrible. I was made to feel guilty, to feel responsible, to feel… ashamed. And for what?

I know it looks tame compared to many of the other stories – and thankfully, it is. There have been a couple of other instances in my personal history, but those are not stories I care to tell at the moment. But this event from two decades ago had a profound impact on the way I interacted with boys for years. I didn’t want to be blamed for any male’s shortcomings, and I also developed a steep distrust for male authority figures that I have only recently begun to get over. I generally avoided the attention of boys/men for the next, oh… fifteen years. And it’s something I still grapple with, twenty years after I was sent crying into a portable bathroom by the overheard accusations of an incensed soccer coach. I know that it wasn’t my fault, but I also won’t deny that there was long-lasting damage done to my psyche that day, which I have only been able to unpack and process over the last couple of years.

I hope that this movement – the “Me Too” movement as it has been called – will help other girls, boys, men, women, and anyone else who has been affected in a similar way, cope with what they’ve gone through, regardless of the severity. I know that hearing others speak up about their experiences has made me more comfortable with sharing mine, and I can only hope to do that for someone else out there.

 

 

Simple

The first whiff of coffee in the morning.

A new book on a rainy day.

Fleece-lined leggings in winter.

Singing a song you love at the top of your lungs.

Popcorn at the movies.

Hitting snooze on your alarm and not having to actually get up.

Finishing a really strenuous workout.

Finding out your favorite movie is on TV and you have time to watch it.

A stranger complimenting your outfit.

Beating the hardest boss in a video game.

When a bill is less expensive than you expected.

Catching a beautiful sunset or sunrise.

Lazy afternoons with a fuzzy blanket and a latte.

Unexpected praise.

Getting a new haircut.

Browsing various homegoods stores, despite not needing to buy anything.

The smell of fresh spring flowers.

Collapsing into bed after a long, arduous day.

When your favorite song comes on the radio.

Bagels. Fresh bagels.

Winning at cards. Especially Uno.

Sitting at the fireplace on a cold night.

Making somebody else laugh with a lame pun.

The smell of new books. Alternatively, the smell of old books.

Getting a long-awaited email.

When somebody understands your obscure references.

The scent of freshly-cut grass.

When your favorite sports team wins.

Rose of Autumn

(I wrote this poem a few years back for an unfinished fantasy story that will likely never see the light of day. It’s about a woman who eventually became a queen,widely revered for her beauty and feared for her skill with an ax and her prickly attitude. I actually like how it came out, so I hope you enjoy!)

 

Amid fields and forests kissed with leaves of red and gold,
a flower grew, of whom so many stories have been told.
A Rose quite fair, with sunset hair and eyes of vivid green,
her heart so bold it seemed that she was destined to be queen.

She was taught to dance and sing, as any proper lady should,
her beauty flourished as she blossomed into womanhood.
But she was no dainty maid kept locked away up in a tower,
for she could wield an axe with grace to rival any flower.

Many journeyed ‘cross the land to gaze upon her face,
yet none who dared to seek her felt the warmth of her embrace.
But all the stories failed to tell the reason for their scorns,
for she was called the Rose not for her petals, but her thorns.

The first lord asked, and then the next, but all were turned aside,
no man could tame her wild heart and claim her for a bride.
Thus many souls fell victim to her brambles and her glares,
until the Rose of Autumn crossed the gallant Lord of Bears.

 

(This poem was intended to have a companion piece, entitled “Lord of Bears,” but I never actually wrote it – if you like this one, maybe I’ll give it a shot!)