But the World Has Never Understood Me

Disclaimer: Every year since 2011, I’ve posted a self-reflection on New Year’s Day, looking back and forward. I hope you’ll grant me this self-indulgence once more. It was a rough year.

I’m adaptable. I have to be.

It seems that every one or two years, I pick up, move, and live a totally different life. Since finishing grad school, I have been an editorial assistant, a communications writer, a professor, and an environmental compliance specialist. A Memphian, a Virginian, a Chicagoan.

The Brutalism of Chicago. Credit: Heidi Samuelson

I’m pretty good at rolling with these external changes. I have to be.

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How Would I Know That This Could Be My Fate

Trigger warning: I talk about suicide in this. And to anyone reading this who knows me and thinks they should worry about me — I’m fine. Really. 

From the Euphoria Morning album artwork. 1999.

I was sad when I heard that David Bowie died. I felt blind-sided when Prince died. It just is sad when people who make music and art that reaches a lot of people die, because collectively we lose something that made existence better.

Thursday, when I heard that Chris Cornell died I felt my stomach drop, but when I found out that it was a suicide, something inside of me broke.

Obviously I didn’t know Cornell. I have no idea what he was like as a person. But I’ve loved his music since I was young. Superunknown and Down on the Upside are two of the most formidable albums for my emotional development, and I continued to follow Cornell’s career, even through Audioslave. I was listening to Euphoria Morning just last week (I still had it on cassette).

But this isn’t about his musical impact. It’s about what I got out of his words.

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To Amy on Her 37th Birthday*

Heidi and Amy. c. 1987.

I don’t think I’ve ever told Amy this, but years ago, probably when I was in college, I internally accepted the idea that my adult life would end up with me living in her basement.

Set aside the fact that I intuitively — and, as it turns out, correctly — knew that I would not be good at being an adult. I also knew that Amy would have a better grasp on figuring things out than I would and that she would willingly house me for an open-ended period of time and not judge me for not having my shit together.

Years have passed since this personal revelation. But during those years, even though her life at times was very distant from mine literally (as she lived on two different continents) and figuratively (because I’m an emotionally distant android-like creature on a good day), I continued to live with this plan in the back of my mind. Even when she did not have a reliable address, let alone a basement.  

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What Do Identity Politics Mean When You Don’t Have An Identity?

maskI had a friend in college who told me that statistically I didn’t exist. And maybe I don’t.

He said it because as an American I’m a bit of an anomaly. But the truth of his off-hand comment has lingered with me for years. Beyond the demographic categories I can’t escape, I’ve tried identities on for size—with varying degrees of accuracy.

But let me go back.

My childhood doesn’t fit me. The child I was is incongruent with how I see myself now. I know I lived through grade school, through college, through job after job after job. Through labels—grounds crew, barista, teaching assistant, cashier, first grader, freshman, senior, summa cum laude, employee of the month, girlfriend, single.

But was I any of those things? Was I an archivist? A graduate student? A partner? A mentor?  Continue reading

Way Down to the Very Bottom of Everything

This has nothing to do with the post. Looking at the ocean just makes me feel better. Photo by me.

This has nothing to do with the post. Looking at the ocean just makes me feel better. Photo by me.

I do this every year. I indulge in the game of time and I reflect on the previous 365 (or 366) days. I don’t think a new year is something to celebrate. For me, it’s a time to reflect.

2016 has been being called a terrible year by many people in my circles—a lot of death, a lot of loss in other forms, what seems like an increase in violence and destruction in the world, a baffling presidential election in my country.

In darker moments, I fear what is to come. I spend too much time thinking about the consequences of capitalism, about war, about bias, about how often it seems people misperceive the shared world around them. I tend to use my intellectual fascination with the ugly aspects of humanity to shield myself in numbness, but in my bleaker moments, I feel that fear and frustration deep down in the pit of my stomach. I fear I’m running out of time.

I wonder sometimes if I live in the same world as other people. I wonder if it’s not the condition of alienation that comes with capitalism, with being defined as a woman, with being a philosophical thinker, but something else. Something active, sinister. I’ve been ignored and silenced and not taken seriously for most of my life, partly by my own doing, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Sometimes screaming into the void is all I can do.

But it doesn’t help. So I feel like I’ve started to disappear.

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Is there no place for them today?

Why do people do such horrible things to each other? When will people stop fighting? When will the threat of terrorism no longer exist?

I see the laments every time a terrorist attack happens in a Western nation, and my own response is–why are these the questions we ask?

What follows isn’t criticism, it isn’t an argument, it’s just a reflection. It’s just another way to ask why.

(Would love to credit this properly.)

(Would love to credit this properly.)

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A Love Letter to Wilco

Last Sunday, I was sitting in DAR Constitution Hall waiting for Wilco to come on stage.

I’ve actually lost count of the number of times I’ve seen Wilco perform. But this was the first time I saw them play “Sunken Treasure.” Or at least, it was the first time since last spring when I lapsed into a funk so deep that the only music I could stand to listen to for a solid month was Being There. For a while, I could only listen to the first disk, but then for a time I could only listen to “Sunken Treasure” on repeat.

But there is no sunken treasure
Rumored to be
Wrapped inside my ribs
In a sea black with ink

I don’t know if this kind of thing happens to other people. I don’t know what other people mean when they say they feel alone.

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