life

Goodbye, Little Growing Pains

Dear friends, family, readers, and supporters,

I’ll cut to the chase: I am retiring this blog.

That’s right — retiring. Everything will still be available, but I will not be posting any new content. I will be releasing my domain name, transitioning this blog back to its original host (littlegrowingpains.wordpress.com) where it will live untouched for the rest of time. I don’t know who will buy littlegrowingpains.com in the future. I hope they use it well.

The decision to discontinue my investment in this project is not an easy one, but it does feel like the right one. I no longer feel like this blog is the right way for me to share my writing with the world. I am proud of all I accomplished — entering contests, making friends, building a huge network of supporters, and raising awareness for the mental illnesses with which I was struggling — and I will forever be grateful to each and every one of you for the way you stood by me while I was discovering myself.

So here’s to the next journey. Here’s to the full recovery from anorexia I made while I owned this little piece of the Internet. Here’s to Yeah Write and NaBloPoMo and all the other communities I found, here’s to fodder for the MFA applications I didn’t finish and all the less-than-stellar posts I wrote. Here’s to all of you. I wish you all the best things life has to offer, and I hope your little growing pains lead you to something better than you could have ever imagined. I know mine did.

Love and thirty-second dance parties all around,

Gwen

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My “Why I Write”

As I was putting together materials for my MFA applications, I came across this piece I started about a year ago. It served as the jumping off point for pieces of my personal statement, but it also served as simple confirmation that I was starting on the right path. And I needed that.

I write because I feel alive when I’m forming words into sentences and phrases and ideas. It’s as simple as that.

Sometimes I’m afraid that there’s nothing out there in this world for me. I remain unfazed by so many opportunities, seemingly incapable of caring enough about my life to really start much of anything worthwhile. But then I look at a blank piece of paper or a Word document and I remember what it is I can give to the world. I turn from soulless to substantial. I have no choice but to write, if I want to retain what’s left of my humanity.

I am a painfully insecure person. I constantly doubt the potential of my own contribution to the world we live in, and it hurts every time my suspicions are confirmed. Not good enough. Couldn’t get the words out. Couldn’t hack it in academia. Couldn’t lock down the boy before he got tired of you.

I write because I give voice to the hurt and it hurts less. Because it makes meaningful the things that seem so senselessly unfair. Because it makes me believe that there’s a reason for me to wake up every morning and try, only to fail again.

Talking is difficult. Words never come out the way I want them to. I think about them, plan them out, but they spill out unpredictably until I’ve said something I never meant to say at all. They are untrustworthy. It is only in the act of writing that they make any kind of sense.

I think too much. I overthink the things I do and say, running them over and over in my mind until the intention is gone and they are left devoid of all significance. And if I am full of meaningless acts and sentences that boast some vague air of moral rightness, of safety, what kind of robot am I? But then I take up a pen.

I write because in writing, I discover all the things I cannot know. I find the uncertainty and instead of letting it scare me, turn me into a coward, I let it consume me until I am so exceedingly raw that no one would mistake me for anything but real. It cuts me open and I bleed the kind of honesty I could otherwise never find.

I have been shattered into pieces time and time again, and all the pieces are different shapes and sizes, and sometimes I wonder if they will ever fit together into one cohesive whole. This is my tragedy, that I am contradiction after contradiction and the world wants to fit me into a box that says “creativity” or “analysis” when I’m so fundamentally meant for both. But art lets me fit into more than one box. Art lets me disassemble the boxes and flatten them so I can lay down and look up at the stars.

Writing is the art that makes me human.

I write because I must. Because to stop would be to deny my own reality. Because it is as essential to me as oxygen. Because I am afraid that without it, I am empty of all meaning. I will wither away until my body is nothing but a shell for my wasted soul.

But I also write because it gives me clarity. Because it takes a world full of things that are senseless and unexplainable and terrifying, lays them bare and lets them be. Because it brings peace I cannot know through any other means. I accept my tragedy and live in the understanding that nothing is ever certain and that I am a beautiful, mysterious paradox.

I write because I am alive. It’s as simple as that.

10 Things I’ve Done Since I Graduated from College

I haven’t done a great job of writing for this blog lately. Maybe it’s because my new life is intimidating and time-consuming. Maybe it’s because the growing pains are lesser these days. This year, I’m going to try to write again. But in any case, in the meantime, here’s a non-comprehensive list of some of my latest and greatest accomplishments.

  1. Moved across the country. That’s right, I’m back on the east coast – in Boston, the land of my ancestors. Well, the immediate ones, anyway. As in, my parents.
  2. Threw up five times on the way up Mount Washington. Good news, everyone – I summited, and lived to tell the tale! It was a close call, though, especially at the very end when my hiking partner decided to RUN to the summit with our only water supply in his backpack.
  3. Got banned from a small town in New Hampshire. After an unfortunate night that involved a run-in between a couple of minors that I was responsible for and a local police department, I was informed that I was “no longer welcome” in that town. What a tragedy.
  4. Had mono. Which elicited a lot of responses like, “oh, wow! I had mono in high school LOL” or “who have you been making out with?!” even from the adults I work with. Because really, we’re all twelve years old.
  5. Decided to apply to MFA programs. Who knows if it’ll work out? I’ve heard back from two of the eight schools that I applied to, and it’s looking like a possibility. But if it doesn’t end up happening, that’s okay too. It’s been a fun ride.
  6. Finally bought a pencil skirt (and several other essentials of a business wardrobe). For better or for worse, I’ve gone (kind of) corporate.
  7. Tried sushi for the first time. And let me tell you, my life will NEVER be the same. I’m such a sushi convert, I’ve started ordering raw fish at restaurants. RAW FISH. If you told me six months ago I’d be eating raw salmon steaks, I would have gagged. And yet, here we are.
  8. Looked someone in the eyes and thought, “I could love you.” And then I did. In fact, I still do.
  9. Took my first trip to our nation’s capital. It’s a pretty cool place, I had a fantastic tour guide, and I got to see two of my very best college friends. The White House was kind of underwhelming, but what can you do? At the very least, I got to black out from drinking too much Buffalo Trace. The classiest of activities.
  10. Started to think of “adulthood” as the present. I think this is adulthood — a stunted version, perhaps, where the government subsidizes my food and I’m still on my parents’ health insurance — but on a daily basis, I’m self-sufficient. I’m not a student anymore. I’m a real, human, grown-up person, and it’s not so scary after all.

Five Hundred and Twenty Five Feet

I imagine that she is someone with a story. Someone whose life has been a whirlwind of the kinds of experiences most people only dream about, who’s fallen stupidly in love and disappeared across the world and climbed to the roof of a building just because she could. I imagine that what brought her here, to the summit of this beautiful mountain, to the point where she can drift away in the autumn air, is something mysterious and special.

She leans over to the man standing quietly beside her. “It’s amazing how a mile can change your perspective.”

He hums in agreement. They linger in silence for a moment, lost for words, before they settle back into their sedan and drive away.

I imagine that her words are something more than they are. I imagine that she is more than she is. I imagine that she, and they, and the mountain, and me – I imagine that we all mean something.

I settle back into my sedan and drive away.

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Something Old, Something New, Something…Corporate

I’m afraid my life is over.

See, I wore sensible shoes today. Which means I’m officially a member of the working world, where people sit in cubicles and stare at computers that have more than one monitor, because we are an information-starved society and can’t function with only one screen.

Hold on, what?

I’ve been pretty bad at updating my blog for the past couple (several) (million) months, but during that hiatus, things were happening. I worked long days at a summer camp that paid me less than 75 cents an hour for three months. I spent a lot of time interviewing and applying for positions that would allow me to get paid only a little bit more than 75 cents an hour for the next eleven months. I uprooted myself from my apartment in Evanston only to relocate to an apartment in Cambridge that I can’t really afford (do you sense a common theme here?). I landed a spot in an amazing fellowship program with a really cool nonprofit and committed myself to the world of the nine-to-fivers. In other words, I might be growing up.

Growing. Huh. That word happens to be in the title of my blog!

I know it sounds cliché, and I’m sorry I’m getting sappy, but this is a very, very new chapter in the Life of Gwen. I’m actually self-sufficient now – no more monthly pity-payments from my parents. I have to wear business casual clothes to the job I have. I created an online dating profile. This might be the year I finally pull myself together (keyword: might), and I’m going to need a place to process all of that. So it’s back to the grindstone we go, back to the writing and the thinking and the hoping that my words mean something to somebody other than me. Someday.

Wish me luck on my next adventure! And get ready for an onslaught of words.

After all, I am a professional.

I Was Here

When I was fourteen, I painted my name onto a sidewalk out back behind the middle school. We were painting foam stones for the set of Les Misérables, and my best friend dared me to do it. A few quick strokes of the brush, a G that looked more like a 6, and voila, vandalism complete. For a moment, I was immortalized.

It wasn’t even a week before somebody painted over it. I wasn’t exactly surprised, considering it was public property that I’d defaced. No one came after me or anything, I just kind of disappeared. Before the show even went up.

During the summers I lived and worked at summer camp, I was careful to write my name everyplace I could. The cabins I called home for one or two weeks at a time got a little Sharpie tag on the inside of the cabinet door. The picnic tables by the beach, too. The swim box, the snack bar window, the boys’ bathroom where I used the urinal once (summer camp is a weird place). I was meticulous about it without being too obnoxious. I was just staunchly determined to leave my mark wherever I’d been.

Memories aren’t enough. That’s why we pull out our iPhones every time we come across something beautiful. We’re afraid that without tangible evidence, we won’t have really seen it at all.

So what does that mean for us? How will people remember us, after we’re gone and everyone who knows us is gone and our Facebook pictures are lost in the depths of the cloud forever?

Will they?

Truth be told, I’m pretty terrified of being forgotten. I want my life to have meant something when I’ve gone; I want there to be proof that I spent a good long time on this earth. Even if it’s something as small as a tiny tag on the inside of a cabinet. But preferably something bigger.

That’s why we do it, I think. That’s why we do anything at all. We want, somehow, to believe that we matter beyond what we ourselves can see. We want what we think and say and wonder to be able to change the world, because we’ve heard stories of how, sometimes, it can. We pull out our paintbrushes and write it on the sky. “I was here.”

Where Do We Go From Here?

It’s kind of funny how hard it is to write when I’m not going through some kind of crisis. In some ways, I feel like happiness is boring; like now that I’ve grown closer to accepting the way things are, I’ve sacrificed some of the things that made me interesting. I worry that without the struggles that defined me when I started this blog, I have nothing worth saying.

I hope that’s not true. I don’t want it to be true. I think “interesting” is the greatest compliment I could ever get, and I couldn’t bear it if someone told me I was boring.

I’m worried that you guys, my readers, my crazy huge number of followers, are only here because of the hard stuff. Because there’s something about my journey through several levels of hell that struck you, or inspired you, or made you feel like you weren’t alone. Believe me, it has been unbelievable to be able to share my experiences with all of you. It has been a dream come true to be able to give some glimmer of hope to people who are struggling. This blog has been everything I ever could have hoped for and more.

The thing is, I’m doing well now. My life is pretty mundane. I’m a normal college student, taking a full courseload and working a part-time job. I spend my weekends marathoning TV shows and Netflix or spending time with my wonderful friends. I worry about normal college things, like graduating and getting good grades and finding a job. And being broke. And lamenting the fact that I’m still single. I’ve got a lot of worries, sure, but my health is no longer one of them.

As silly as it is, I wonder why any of you would care anymore. I’m nothing but average now, with nothing remarkable to show for my daily activities. It’s a blessing to be normal, to feel like I belong in the college culture, but as a blogger? Who wants to read about the life of a college math major? Besides the challenges I’ve worked to overcome, what makes me a worthwhile contributor to the WordPress world?

I am terrified that somehow, because I’m “normal,” my life has lost its meaning. That the things I’ve shared are the only things I’ll ever share. That I’ve reached my peak and nothing I do from this point on matters. All I’ll be is that blogger that used to be really insightful but now only talks about her job and her nights out on the town, losing followers left and right because she’s nothing special anymore. (Not that followers define me, but you know what I mean.)

I guess all I can say is that I’m still here. I’m still alive, which is something I never take for granted. I’m living outside of my URL, spending every day pushing toward the next phase of my life, hoping that something I do will matter someday. I still write 1000 words in my journal every day. I still think and wonder and love and cry and everything else humans do. I just don’t know how to say those things to all of you without losing my air of wisdom and courage. Without losing you.

Que sera, sera. What will be, will be. The only thing I can do is live the best way I know how, and I hope that I can take some of you with me along the way. Because God only knows what I’d do without you.

So Thanks For Making Me A Fighter

I’m doing well.

I visited my therapist for the first time since winter break. “You seem to be in a really good place,” she said.

“You sound happy,” a friend told me on the phone. “I love hearing you sound happy.” I love hearing me sound happy too.

I was chatting with my academic advisor in her office, and she told me I had a really great attitude. I don’t think I’ve ever been told that before. I usually have a remarkably disturbing and pessimistic attitude, one that tends to make medical professionals uncomfortable. Twice my therapist has kept me ten minutes after my appointment was supposed to be over because she was worried about something I’d said. Yeah, having a good attitude is new to me.

“Want some chocolate?” one of my fellow interns asked me at work today. She slid the two-pound bag of caramels toward me. “Sure,” I replied. I ate a few. I still ate my entire lunch half an hour later.

I’m happy. Not creepy happy; things aren’t perfect all the time. But relatively speaking, I like my life. I like the people I surround myself with, I like the work I do, I like the hobbies that occupy my free time. I like me.

I think for a long time I was working toward the wrong goal. I spent so much time fighting the eating disorder that I forgot what’s important. I’m important. It’s not about making the ED weaker, it’s about making me stronger.

Eating disorders don’t disappear. The thoughts that drove me to self-decimation still occur just as frequently as ever. I sometimes spend hours agonizing over my reflection in the mirror even when I have better things to do. I still order fish instead of steak at restaurants because I know it has fewer calories. I still get nervous when things don’t happen right on schedule, the way I like them. The eating disorder is strong, and it will probably always be strong. The difference now is that I am stronger.

I write and I know that my writing matters. I study and I know that it does not define me. I sing and it touches people. I goof off and they laugh. Sometimes, just sometimes, I walk past a mirror and I see someone who’s a little bit beautiful. I know that I have the potential to do great things, regardless of whether I meet someone’s subjective definition of “perfect.” Even if it is my own.

Recovery is a lot of really hard work. It’s long days and uncomfortable situations. It’s emotions you don’t want to feel. It’s a battle against something you so strongly perceive as part of yourself that sometimes fighting seems fruitless. It’s not. Because the eating disorder isn’t you, or me. Finding yourself, growing yourself, and loving yourself – that’s the only way to beat it. I had to stand up tall, stare it in the face, and say, “I am stronger than you are.” I had to trust that I was smarter, more important, more worthy.

I don’t pretend that I’m an expert, because I’m not. I’m just happy. And that’s something I never thought I could be. Imperfect, but still happy. I am not a supermodel or a movie star. I am not a genius or a comedian or Beyonce. I’m just me. That’s all I ever have to be. And that’s okay. I can live with that. I can be proud of that every single day, because it’s more of an accomplishment than anyone will ever understand.

Ed

Crippled at Camp: A Love(?) Story

The first time I was wounded at summer camp, I was eleven years old. It was my fault, of course. I was on a sailboat with a couple of other kids, being as obnoxious as you might expect a kid on a sailboat to be, when the swinging boom whacked me full-force on the side of the head.

I don’t remember this event very well, probably as a result of minor head trauma and major embarrassment. I do recall a very panicked teenager who scooped me up in her arms and sprinted to the infirmary. And that the nurse gave me three blue freeze pops while I waited to see if I was going to die.

The summer I was fourteen, I came down with a disgusting stomach flu the night before we were going on an awesome overnight trip. I spent two days in the infirmary that time, watching really terrible movies on a very small TV instead of making s’mores in the woods with my friends. I secretly hoped someone else would get the flu so I would at least have some company. It didn’t work out.

My luck only worsened once I started working there. When I was sixteen and training to be a counselor, I wound up with head lice and a staph infection that had pretty much eroded my flesh from the knees down. When I was seventeen, I got stung by an entire hive of bees. And at nineteen I spent too long standing on the hot sand during lifeguard training and suffered from massive, horrible second-degree burns on the bottoms of my feet. Alright, that one wasn’t all bad; it did necessitate my supervisor literally carrying me wherever I needed to go, which amused the campers a great deal and made me feel like a princess.

In 2012, when I was finally on the leadership staff, I shared this story with my coworkers. We were gathered inside one of the boys senior end tents late at night, watching the candlelight dance on the canvas flaps and talking about what camp meant to us. Our stories were supposed to be meaningful. Mine was about getting maimed.

But they understood what I meant. My story was about strange and improbable injuries, sure, but it was also about deciding that getting hurt wasn’t enough to keep me from going back to camp summer after summer. It was about the knowledge that no matter how tough it got, no matter how many legitimate reasons I had to run away, it was always worth it to stay.

That summer, 2012, had its own share of misfortunes. During the three months I was there, I was caught in a violent downward spiral of anorexia that wreaked havoc on my physical and mental health. And it took me so long to recover from that nosedive that I couldn’t even consider the possibility of going back in 2013.

Three weeks ago, I submitted an application. Today, I called the camp office for an interview. Even after the personal hell I experienced a year and a half ago, I’m going back.

My parents are baffled. And worried. A lot of people are worried. You know what? I’m worried, too. But every year that I’ve been knocked down, I’ve come back stronger. I’m a champion for a cause I love more than anything. Something about it will always be tough, and I might not always come out on top. But as we who have worked there know, it is always, always worth it to stay.

The Empty Journal

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A year ago, I bought this journal at a craft store. I laughed out loud when I saw it, because it was just so incredibly perfect. “The creeping sense of impending disaster and the all-encompassing fears both specified and vague that colonize my mind, body, and soul” – that’s pretty much my everyday life, right? (And in case you can’t read the fine print at the bottom, it says “even though optimism may be unself-aware and ill-placed, I know I’ll be happier as a blind fool than as a clairvoyant apocalyptic.”)

Now if there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I have an uncanny ability to fill a journal. I’m constantly buying new ones because I can never quite keep up with the pace of my own writing. So it is seriously weird that I’ve had this awesome journal for a whole year and only filled five pages.

Here’s my problem…it’s prompted.

The beginning of every page begins with “What I’m hanging hope on today:” and that seems unfair. Because hope is a nice idea and all, but when a page starts off with a heading like that, all of a sudden I feel guilty writing down anything negative. Because how can I finish that sentence? “What I’m hanging hope on today: my body image really sucks”? Or “What I’m hanging hope on today: my roommates and I just had explosive diarrhea simultaneously and we only have one bathroom”? And I can’t just ignore the prompt, because it’s sitting right there staring at me and making me feel worse about feeling bad.

Every time I write in that journal, I say I’m going to do it more often. That I’m going to suck it up and write what I want, prompt be damned. But I never do. Although I am a person who generally craves order and organization, when it comes to writing, I think the best thing I can have in front of me at any given moment is a blank page. No prompts. That way I can write in poetry or metaphor or prose or even draw, and there’s nobody looking down their nose and telling me I can’t. So many times I want to write about things other than hope. I want to write about fear and loneliness and vulnerability and how it feels to fall in love with someone from thousands of miles away. I want to write about my family and how beautiful they are and how much they truly love each other. I want to write about the way I feel when I have too much to drink and the emotions spill out of me like running water and I’m left face-to-face with something ugly and scary. It doesn’t give me hope. It gives me life. It means I’m living. And living is oh so very painful. To quote William Goldman, anyone who says differently is selling something.

I’ve moved on to other journals since I started this one. In fact, I’ve completely finished at least two since the last time I wrote in it. Still, I keep it. The cover makes me laugh, and the sometimes funny/sometimes inspirational quotes inside are fun to look at.

Perhaps my inner optimist is disappointed in me. I doubt it. I usually find some way to see the bright side of a situation, even when nobody asks me to. And maybe I’ll find use for such a book someday, when my thoughts bleed out loud rather than on paper. Until then, well, whatever happens, it’s gonna be okay.