Category Archives: Hard to Swallow

On matters neither sweet nor savory.

Eating Disorder Recovery: When “healthy” is a lie.

TW: If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, please care for yourself. None of this is meant to upset you, but if you’re sensitive to photos or talk of disordered behaviors, maybe skip this one. We’ll return to your irregularly scheduled sass soon enough.

There’s never a convenient time to talk about eating disorders. Trust me, I’ve been waiting on it for years. There’s always something: What will X new friend think? What will X future employer think? What if X potential suitor googles me (bigger threat: what if he DOESN’T? What kind of sociopath are we dealing with here?), freaks out and says gurl, bye?

Short answer: GURL, BYE. I need people in my life who can deal. Easy to understand, harder to implement.

The bigger issue is that nearly five years after entering treatment for (what started as) bulimia, I don’t consider myself recovered. Recovering, yes. I go days, weeks, even months feeling like I’m over it. Spoiler: I’m not. Recovery has been far from linear and is complicated by the fact that my ED followed a sizable weight loss. I have no normal to return to. Instead, I have these:

the overweight overeater

the frustrated yo-yo dieter

the out-of-control bulimic

the hyper-controlled health nut

the food-obsessed waif

the gluten-free vegan

the compulsive gym rat

the anxious, run-down shell who said, holy shit, this could go on forever.

And now I’m…what? Tired of thinking about it. Tired of hiding from it. And kind of wanting to talk about it, even if the words are as clumsy and circuitous as the journey has been.

Unless you’re being force-fed in a hospital — and often even if you are — recovery is rarely a simple prescription. I sought salvation from bulimia in “healthy living”: If what I ate was good for me, I could commit to keeping it down. I developed a love of wholesome cooking and got into running and weight training. My binges got fewer and further between. My weight stabilized and actually dropped. I figured out how to incorporate the odd baked good or rich meal, and got a real kick out of publicly Eating While Thin.

Double-fisting Shake Shack! …Followed by a slice of watermelon for dinner.

What I didn’t know is that I was way underfueling my body type and activity level. For YEARS. I wasn’t consciously restricting, but I look back and do a quick tally and guys. It was just not enough. I knew I sometimes went to bed hungry. I knew I kept a food journal and planned all my meals in advance. I knew spontaneous eating stressed me out and my rigidness interfered with my relationships. I knew I spent all day lusting over recipes and restaurants. I thought I was just, I dunno, really into food.

Dead eyes + bones = you’re doing it wrong.

I was fine until I wasn’t. I hit a wall a little over a year ago. I couldn’t understand why despite eating “healthy” (read: tiny portions of so-called clean food), I felt sick all the time. Exhausted, edgy, foggy, bloated, plagued by dry skin and acne I never got as a teen. I was a model of health…and I looked and felt like shit.

“So I says to the guy, ‘Sternum? I hardly know ’em!'”

I confused the bloating with weight gain — unacceptable, since my self-identity had come to revolve around Eating While Thin. God forbid anyone see me looking a little squishy. I cancelled plans and eventually stopped making them, convinced that what little social life I had left was pulling me away from my “healthy” routine. The good times could resume once I got things under control.

Me on a fat day. Def.

I saw a doctor, who basically told me it was all in my head. He said I should focus on reducing stress and give up gluten despite testing negative for Celiac. I realized I could control the bloating by basically never eating more than a few bites at a time. My energy temporarily spiked, which is a biological response to starvation (…so you can find food). Then it got 10x worse.

(Could it have been because I was barely clearing a thousand calories on top of a rigorous workout regimen, and my organ function and hormone production had slowed to a crawl?! Dammit, Emma, you with your spoilers.)

Much swoll. Very muscles. I could barely carry those eye bags.

I spent all my free time googling symptoms and digging through forums for answers. Then I did a few things at once. I quit caffeine, knowing it wound me up tight. I adopted a totally gluten-free, vegan diet — by that point, my digestion was so suppressed that I was convinced I had real intolerances — and I told myself I could eat as much as I wanted, whenever I wanted, as long as it was “healthy.” While plenty confining, it was a system I’d never trusted before. Whole avocados instead of anemic slivers. Almond butter feasts straight from the jar. Full-fat coconut milk with raw cacao and honey every night before bed.

And something wild happened. I gained weight. Not a ton — maybe ten or fifteen pounds — but it came on quickly and settled evenly. Wilder still, I didn’t become hideously unattractive. Quite the opposite. The bloat deflated, my skin calmed down, and my face and curves filled out. This was not the unflattering layer of water that had settled under my skin in response to a chronic deficit. This was straight-up fat – honest and womanly, firm to the touch, and just what my body needed.

My eyes brightened. My cheeks flushed. I had never been hit on more in my life. More importantly, I felt relaxed and silly and social and sensual — like myself for the first time in longer than I knew.

Selfie-improvement.

Unfortunately, I didn’t quite get it yet. I gave my narrow diet’s contents more credit than its flood of usable energy. Upon realizing I couldn’t do the gluten-free vegan thing forever, I fell back into restrictive patterns: small portions paired with a serious cardio habit. Pretty standard — maybe fine for someone without such fraught digestive and nervous systems — but not nearly enough for my barely-healing body. The weight fell off, and my symptoms returned with a vengeance. I couldn’t leave the house without throbbing headaches. I couldn’t run without swelling up with stress-induced water weight for days. Are these my choices? I wondered. Chronic inflammation or morbid obesity?

Well, as it turns out, no.

I’ve arrived at the final frontier: permission to eat, full stop, “healthy” or not. Recovery 2: 4 REALZ THIS TIME finds me trying to reset my metabolism and get to my body’s natural weight on what is, for me, an unprecedented amount of food. On top of my regular meals (which have doubled in size), I’m trying to eat when I’m hungry, even if I just had a full meal an hour ago. The more I resist, the longer it will take for my body to trust me and use that energy for good. There’s science to back it up, but it goes against every tenet of mainstream diet culture — a hard sell for someone not underweight by the scale.

It’s incredibly daunting to eat like a teenage boy after being so careful for so long. But once I stopped suppressing my hunger, I was shocked by how much of it I felt. Far more than I could physically fill with my old staples. I’ve had to embrace fats and simple carbs — which make me feel great — and avoid anything with too much fiber, which makes me want to explode. Instead of overthinking it, I’m taking my multivitamin and hoping my body is smarter than me. As first world problems go, there are worse things than eating a lot of cheese.

I’ve been doing it for about two months — no cardio, to boot — and it has not turned me into Jabba the Hutt. It’s that same fifteen pounds, and that same vitality I lacked as a paragon of “health.” Even without the pristine diet. I can and do eat everything, and my skin and mind are mostly clear. The weight is honest and womanly. I know that it is good.

Not every day is good, though. Water retention can be unpredictable and drastically change my appearance in a matter of hours. I’ll catch sight of an old photo or something that no longer fits and think, Maybe I was just doing it wrong. If I tweak my macros. Load up on fruits and veggies. The “Bad Blood” music video, while epic, was triggering as fuck. I went to bed hungry three nights in a row in pursuit of uber-svelte Swiftyness. Lo and behold: Headaches! Joint pain! A fresh crop of zits! My body simply will not do it anymore, and neither will I. Anyone who judges the weight gain does not have my best interests at heart. I am not letting myself go. I am letting go of a compulsion that kept me from living fully.

My body feels awkward right now, but I’m finding my peace with it. I also know I may need to gain more, and I have to accept that too — even if that weight comes from eating cake for breakfast, or having three snacks in the time I’d have formerly allowed myself one. The definition of “healthy” changes after an eating disorder. Finding that mental freedom — challenging my fears and my systems — is so much more important than a little bit of vanity weight. The best thing I can do is focus on developing value markers outside of my size and surrounding myself with people who couldn’t care less.

No witty bow to tie up this one, friends. Thank you for letting me share. I hope for your sake you can’t relate, but if you can, I hope this spurred you toward a positive change, or at least made you think. If you want to talk more, I’m only an email away.

Gluten-Free Tortilla Soup for a Southern soul.

My grandmother, Leah, died in August. Let’s get that out there right now. It was sad in the way that losing grandparents is sad and watching parents lose parents is sadder. It was also okay, in that she was old and possessed the kind of fire better suited to a snuff than a slow fade.

We weren’t close. In fact, we were nemeses at the holiday table, my family’s nervous eyes on me through her railings against social leftism and women who work outside the home. I could barely be bothered to snort. There was no point, I thought. We had nothing in common, I thought. I wrote her off and swore I’d never become so bitter and out of touch.

Leah was a product of her time. It’s not an excuse, but it’s an explanation. And the truth is, if she’d have been born 60 years later, I think she’d have been a lot like me. She was sharp-tongued and stubborn. Charming when it suited her. Loved to entertain; then loved to be alone. Type A to a fault. A regular card shark. And as no one, least of all me, would argue: a damn good cook.

A southerner via the southwest, Leah had a way with Mexican food. Her tortilla soup tastes more definitively of childhood than things I ate on a daily basis. It’s what always appeared the first night of a visit, a restorative tonic for jetlag and tension. What we slurped before trick-or-treating on Halloween, the calm before the sugar rush. A stab at comfort on Sunday nights at my Dad’s house, drowning the strangeness of packing to leave a “home” that never quite felt like ours.

I flew to Arkansas for the service and came back with a recipe box. The hits are all there: her biscuits and gravy, her scalloped potatoes, her carrot cake. Lots of alarming Jell-O salads and tuna casseroles. I had my mind on one thing.

I made her version first: all-purpose flour, stick of butter and all. Then I made our version: that same sultry Southwestern flavor with a whole-grain base and a hit of veggies, as is my way. The result is something that would have been laughed out of a potluck 60 years ago. But times are different now. We get our comfort how we can.

Sorghum Tortilla Soup with Collard Greens

You can sub all-purpose or corn flour, but don’t sleep on the sorghum. It’s a super-nutritious, gluten-free grain whose mild flavor plays well with the smoky ancho chile. Making a paste with hot broth helps the flour melt into the soup, eliminating the need for a roux; if you skip this step, you’ll wind up with clumpy sorghum “dumplings” instead of the voluptuous broth that makes this bowl so soul-soothing. Serves 4.

2 tablespoons neutral oil or lard (I used duck fat)
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup ancho chile powder
4 cups chicken broth
1 can white hominy, drained and rinsed
1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
A handful of cilantro, roughly chopped
1/4 cup sorghum flour
1 bunch collard greens, thinly sliced
Avocado and/or corn chips, for serving

1. Heat fat over medium-low. Add onion and cook until soft, about five minutes. Add garlic, and cook for another minute or so. Add chile powder. Stir to coat, and add one cup of water.

2. Add broth, hominy, beans, and spices. Bring to a boil. Skim a few tablespoons of hot broth off the top and set aside. Add cilantro to pot and reduce to simmer.

3. Whisk flour into reserved broth to form a paste. Make sure there’s more flour than broth, or you’ll have a hard time getting it smooth. Return flour paste to pot and stir to incorporate. Simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, slice your greens. Extra-thin, because collards are as tenacious as Ms. Leah. Add to pot and simmer for another 10 minutes. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

5. Spoon into bowls. Top with avocado and corn chips. Slurp and be soothed.

The gentrified side of the street.

This one.

I live in what brokers would call a “up-and-coming” area. (There’s no G-word in Brokerese.) It’s scrappy, but not slummy — a true neighborhood, with enough general stores and Pinterest-y cafes to feel sufficiently Brooklandia. I’m feet from fast trains to and from the island, blocks from Prospect Park and downtown, and minutes from dollar oysters and expertly made Manhattans at my spot around the corner. The essentials, you know?

For as much as we love to hate on the G-word — and as ill its effects on longtime residents who can no longer pay the rent — it’s not all bad news. Gentrification is as much about the cop stationed outside the ATM as the landing of Starbucks (for the record, we’re all mad about that). It’s a conscious effort the city makes to improve communities formerly underserved and overrun by crime. As intended, it makes life better for everyone.

But it’s a process, and not without its tensions along the way. My block pays witness to that: one side new-age gentry, the other a raucous bastion of hood. I’ve never felt personally threatened, but I’ve spent a few nights tossing and turning in my front-facing apartment as the street action raged into the wee hours. 2am. 3am. 4am. Good God, are these people still awake, filling the night with cackled obscenities? I were true gentry, I’d huffily slam the window and swan back into my air-conditioned apartment. As it is, I need the breeze.

So I hear a lot. A lot of “fuck you,” a lot of “FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!” and a lot of open-window domestic disputes. The vibe errs more rowdy than violent, but a few sound effects have made me wonder if I was turning a blind eye — or pillow-smothered ear — on humanity. A recent night left no doubt in my mind that something was off. I awoke to a dreadful chorus: rhythmic hoots, piteous feline yowling, and shouts of, “My money’s on the black one!”

I cracked. I called 911, slurring a half-conscious explanation from under my covers. In the moment, I knew I was doing the right thing. This wasn’t about stifling the community. It was about protecting it from destruction that arose — however organically — from patterns that could and should be changed.

By the time the cops came, the crowd had dispersed, but the guttural meows had not. No arrests were made, to my knowledge. The cats were removed from the scene. I wasn’t contacted for more information, but by then I was far from sleep, so I made bread pudding. The next day, my girlfriends came over for brunch. What a princess, right? Why don’t I go back where I came from?

That’s not the solution. Nor is my keeping my mouth shut when shit gets real. And that’s the undisclosed cost of life on the gentrified side of the street — a responsibility to see the evolution through. What’s more, I can’t expect my catfighting neighbors to see things my way, no matter how pleasantly we wave as I pass in my business-casual attire. Things look different from over there. One man’s cup of sugar is another’s trod-on petunias.

There’s nothing to do but wave when the waving’s good, and follow my gut when it’s not. And to know that being neighborly isn’t as simple as doling out bread pudding. Luckily, we’re moving into a season when I can close the window. I just hope we can find a way to keep the door open.

The C-word.

Three weeks ago (give or take), between the hours of 12am and 2am (the final window for action), I was hanging out (in bed) with a (not so platonic) friend when a certain C-word escaped his lips.

The kickback was instant. “Don’t call me that,” I snapped.

“But you are,” he protested, sadly watching my lady boner deflate.

You can probably guess which cockblockingly offensive C-word I’m talking about. It was..oh gosh, I don’t want to type it. All right, fine: curvy. As in, Look at that gorgeous, curvy body. Well, I never! How dare you, sir!

Summer 2008. The prime of my curves and the winter of my discontent.

Curvy. The more glamorous cousin of “big boned” and “sturdy” (see also: “appears to consume solid food”). Controversially applied to figures ranging from Lively to Sidibe, the jurisdiction of curvy is as tenuous as it is subtly offensive. Curvy, my ass.

Well. Exactly.

My (not so platonic) friend is right. I’m a small person, but a curvy one. You’ll never catch my jeans hanging off my hipbones; no matter how many miles I run, I’ll always lay claim to a thick-thighed hourgl@$$ shape. And please, know that I say that with appreciative self-awareness. My body works hard for me, and it doesn’t seem to pose a problem for anyone else. I also fall down a lot, so all that padding serves a practical purpose in the end.

And yet. And yet. The C-word awakens a shallow, defensive impulse. While misguided, it makes sense when we consider the many faces of curvy women:

A 70-pound gradient of curves and hair.

From my perch at the far right end of this spectrum, I can look to its Botticellian left and see an attractive girl—albeit one who might be called “curvy” in lieu of less generous terms. Having been on the wink-nudge side of curvy, I find it hard to shake the connotation. To shrink from double-D’s to barely-B’s is jarring; for the two to share a common label seems unequivocally wrong. Put me back in your thin bin, dammit. I was born this way!

But why should I care? Beyoncé is curvy, and I don’t see anyone complaining. Blake Lively is curvy. They’re curvy because their bodies have curves. “Curvy” wasn’t meant to be a euphemism for “fat”; politically correct society has made it one in recent years. While good intentions may drive our use of the C-word over the F-word, what about the consequences for those on curvy’s slighter side? If so-called curviness can lead me to question a healthy figure, is this linguistic revolution really for the best?

I don’t always love my body, but I respect it, curves and all. In my rational mind, I feel no shame about looking like a grown woman who eats. I don’t weigh myself. I care about my jeans size, but mostly because I can’t afford to buy new pants. If I can ignore a number, why can’t I ignore a word? Perhaps semantics carry more clout than we realize. The pen may well be mightier than the scale.

I don’t know what the solution is, and I won’t deny my heightened sensitivity to the language surrounding women and weight. I think “real women have curves” is bullshit – what are skinny women, imaginary? – but “skinny” is a vague and, for me, unrealistic ideal. I’m not a skinny girl. I’m a curvy girl, and I’m fine with it. I swear. Just don’t, you know, say it to my face.

Does the C-word bug you? Why or why not?

Hot potential.

I recently read an essay on the merits of being ugly. The author describes the relief she felt upon accepting that beauty was not her lot. After freeing herself from the arbitrary standard of “pretty,” she felt more confident than ever.

You know what I felt? Jealousy.

I’m not going to mince words here: I know that I’m attractive. I don’t think I’m a beauty queen or anything, but I see how people react to the way I look, and I use it to my advantage. I don’t walk around with a paper bag over my head. My mind may be the main event, but I’m not above backing it up with my face.

For me, the question was never pretty. It was pretty enough—as pretty as I could be if I did X, Y and Z. In the same way I know that I have clear skin and straight teeth and high cheekbones, I know that I have thick thighs and a somewhat graceless nose. My features are classic but not textbook. I clean up good, but I clean up, if you catch my drift. I’m pretty enough that my strong personality takes people by surprise, but not pretty enough to make a living off of my looks.

If you are naturally pretty, there is a societal expectation that you will cultivate that gift. My grandmother used to call me “the pretty one,” and it always made me mad—not because it marginalized my intellect, but because it meant I had to care. Sure, I wanted to be pretty, but I wanted it to be incidental and irrelevant. Calling me “the pretty one” set me up to fail at, well, being pretty. It gave my appearance more clout than it deserved.

Like many women, I hung my self-worth on my weight for many years. That value judgment stemmed from a discrepancy between my actual appearance and my “hot potential”—an idealized, self-invented portrait of what I could look like if I weren’t so hungry/lazy/weak-willed. Falling short of my “hot potential” seemed like a grave personal failure. After all, why be pretty when you can be The Prettiest? I’ve never been one to do things halfway. My belief in my natural attractiveness led me to feel more insecure, not less.

Defeating the tyranny of the “hot potential” boils down to economics. The effort required to maintain my appearance has diminishing marginal returns. For the sake of my point, let’s assign me a set point of attractiveness—let’s say I’m a seven at 0% effort. If 100% effort – when I’m doing everything perfectly and spending tons of time and effort on my appearance – still only puts me at eight and a half, surely there’s a point at which that effort begins to constitute dead weight loss. Maybe I can put in 50% effort, get myself to eight, and call it a day.

I’m not lamenting the “burden” of being pretty. The only arena in which I’ve found it to be limiting is my mind, which we all know is a bit of a circus anyway. So I’m telling it to STFU. Instead of getting hung up on the fact that I’m only pretty pretty, I increasingly strive to be grateful for my skin and my teeth and my cheekbones, and appreciate that my thighs and my nose keep me humble. Ish.

Do you compare yourself to yourself?

Empire State of Self.

Being happy in New York City is the best thing ever. The old cliché about stepping out into infinite possibility is true. You wake up on a Tuesday and put on, oh, I don’t know, a hot pink cropped blouse with four tiers of neck ruffles that makes you look like Flamenco Barbie. You contemplate fixing your usual coffee and oats, then decide to throw caution and financial solvency to the wind and head to your favorite espresso bar instead.

When you arrive, you see a new offering on the menu: iced blueberry lemon loaf. It looks mouthwatering. You see someone eating it, so you ask if it’s worth choosing over the famous olive oil cake. Before you know it, you’re clinking espressos and splitting olive oil cake and blueberry lemon loaf with a fellow patron, debating the relative merits of each.

You become so enthralled by good food and the kindness of strangers that you have to sprint to catch the bus, leading its goateed driver to ask if he saw you in the Olympics. “Actually, yes. I’m cross-training right now,” you reply. You beam at your fellow commuters, leading them to instinctively smile back in surprise and mild alarm. Hot damn, everyone loves me, you think to yourself. I am so good at New York!  You gaze out at the hulking skyline that has inspired so many movie montages, Jay-Z’s skittish chuckle echoing in your ears. As you hop off the bus, ruffles flapping in your wake, the driver yells, “Keep running, girl!” This is all before you start your workday at 9am.

Being depressed in New York City is the worst thing ever. If you’re sad or self-conscious or otherwise down on your luck, this city is a great place to circle the drain. You wake up on a Tuesday and find that nothing fits because you fell asleep eating your feelings again, so you put on a forgiving sundress that does little to hide your swollen eyes or greasy hair. You feel unattractive. Insufficient. Stuck. You hate everything, but you hate your wimpy attitude most of all. You decide that you’ll take a step back from the world to right yourself, just until you can be the person you want to be again—the person who deserves to live in New York City. Maybe you spend a month burying yourself in work or workouts or the covers of your queen-sized bed.

The first half of this summer was tough for me. I alluded a few times to the fact that I was struggling, but I largely tried to keep my emotions under wraps. I didn’t think I could write with enough distance to produce something that was more than just whiney, and furthermore, I didn’t really understand what was going on. On a surface level, nothing was wrong. I had a job, an apartment, friends and family who were as baffled and frustrated by my unhappiness as I was. It wasn’t that I had unrealistic expectations of what living in New York would look like—I’ve long made peace with my logistical constraints. But even within those, I felt like I was failing at being young and broke. I wasn’t having enough fun to justify the fact that I was barely scraping by.

In retrospect, I can see that my big mistake was trying to build an exact replica of my Chicago life in NYC. Since I graduated nine months late, most of my friends were in different places during my final year – geographically, metaphorically, or both – so I had social opportunity but little social obligation. I knew exactly which temptations were and weren’t “worth it,” and my heavy courseload was more than enough to occupy any remaining mental space. I graduated with a reasonable but rigid balance in effect.

When everything from the structure of my day to the nature of my friendships changed, the same habits that had kept me afloat in college began to drag me down. I felt like I was constantly falling short of my own high expectations, and I found myself resenting the experiences and relationships that stood in my way. I struggled to maintain balance in the only way I knew how: by devoting a questionable amount of mental energy to “health.”

New York City, with its raging nightlife and general domestic apathy, was an easy scapegoat. Most people here spend the occasional night in, and some even know how to cook, but neither activity is particularly New York. If you want to be a homebody, you can do it far more comfortably elsewhere—so where did that leave me? Suddenly, even the frenetic speed upon which the city’s reputation is built – the blind ambition, the conspicuous consumption, the tendency toward stimulation over self-reflection – seemed at odds with a post-recovery me. I understood my needs and my triggers well enough to know that my systems were non-negotiable, and changing myself for a city seemed as irrational as changing myself for a man. Maybe we need to spend some time apart, I thought. I love New York, but I think I hate living there.

It was a freeing revelation, but a frightening one. Losing New York felt like losing part of my central identity. Having planned for aspirations in theatre and journalism, it had literally never occurred to me that I could live anywhere else. I became briefly enamored with the idea of nannying abroad, then announced that I was moving to Portland—a city, but a smaller one, with a gentler pace and a more health-conscious culture. Having never so much as set foot in the state of Oregon, I became convinced that the West Coast held the answers, scouting Craigslist for apartments and plotting the purchases I would make with my new, roomier budget. I was so busy fantasizing about my nonexistent life in Portland that I neglected the more important issue: fixing my real life in NYC.

Fortunately, a combination of old and new faces helped jog me out of my mind vice. People will save us, man. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s this. I realized that even if I did eventually decide to relocate, I had to figure out how to exist in the interim, and I had to accept that what I was doing simply was not working. It was time to let some of my trusty systems go. Balance could still be a priority – it would have to be – but it would have to look different, and I would base this new version on what made me feel good rather than what I believed to be “right.” In short, I had to find my Empire State of Self.

And I have. Well, I am. I’m inching ever closer. I consider myself to be happy, but even on days when I can’t quite get there, I can almost always bring myself to be grateful. I have a job and a lease and a life here. I have a strong, active body and a mind that’s the quietest it’s been in quite some time. Now is not the time for heady self-reflection—not this week, anyway. Now is the time for dicking around and seeing what sticks. For me, maybe “health” means more drinks and less sleep; more leaning and less planning. Moderation is a broad spectrum, after all, and the stakes of exploring it are fairly low. Existing in the gray area is harder, but more rewarding than either black or white.

Today is September 11, 2012, and I am a proud resident of New York City—eleven years out of a tragedy and just shy of six months into my latest chapter. Portland isn’t off the table, but neither is New York. Let’s face it: I was never going to go anywhere else until I came here. And for worse or for better, I’m lucky to have had the chance.

Would you change yourself for a city?

Sorry I’m sorry.

Have you heard that today’s youth are under a lot of pressure to be perfect?!

You know it. I know it. The New York Times knows it. Cosmo knows it, though you’d never guess they cared. My generation – especially my generation of women – is bending over backwards to be perfect. We are running ourselves into the ground in pursuit of an ideal that doesn’t exist.

Except that I don’t buy it. Most of the women I know are over being perfect. Instead, they’re “quirky.” They’re “owning it!” They’re “#realtalk.” They’re “such a Liz Lemon.” Aggressive imperfection has become the new perfection, and we are sorry we’re not sorry.

“Sorry I’m not sorry” has released us from responsibility for our actions. We can be as obnoxious as we want, just as long as we’re self-aware. We can sling snark like we’re doing each other some kind of favor—after all, someone had to say it, and besides, it was witty. We can tell racist jokes, because we’re so unracist that racism itself has become a punch line. Only a racist would think that racist jokes are racist! Self-censorship has become its own taboo, and “sorry I’m not sorry” has become a catch-all excuse for cultural Tourette’s.

Ironically, in this age of delete buttons and Internet personas, we have more control than ever over what we project. We call people out on being fake and unapproachable, but in laying it all out there (while disclaiming that we are sorry we’re not sorry for whatever we’re laying out there), we end up talking out of both sides of our mouths. I have this information, but I am choosing to ignore it. I know this is rude, but I am choosing to say it anyway. Oh, you think I’m a bitch/bigot/idiot? Guess you just don’t get me. Sorry I’m not sorry.

Are we becoming more genuine, or are we just becoming lazy and immature? I’m not talking about doing that tee-hee-I’m-so-weird Zooey Deschanel thing, though that can be grating as well. I’m talking about flouting established norms of ethical human conduct. “Sorry I’m not sorry” has inflated the value of shock value. Kind is important. Fair is important. Informed is important. In my opinion, acknowledging a discrepancy between what’s right and what you’re doing is not enough. If you’re sorry you’re not sorry, you are just not sorry.

For much of college, I prided myself on telling it like it is, aka being a huge asshole. So smug. So judgmental. Call it an overcompensation for years of doormatty behavior—whatever it was, it was not cute. When I got knocked off my high horse, I became less of an asshole, but I also started to care more about where all that attitude was coming from—about the line between being sassy and, well, being a huge asshole. It exists for me, and it exists for other people, and they may not be the same line. Am I allowed to care? Does empathy have to go hand-in-hand with self-doubt?

I’m sorry. What more, I’m sorry I’m sorry. I wish I could just own that I’m a jerk some days or a mess most days and not analyze it all to pieces. My need to extract value from my shortcomings is exhausting for everyone around me. It’s self-involved. I’m sorry I’m self-involved. I certainly hope that other people can relate to and/or benefit from my self-involvement, but I get really tired of thinking so much. I can put it out there and still judge myself for not having it more together.

I guess what I’m saying is, sorry I’m not sorry I’m not sorry. Life is complicated. So is sentence structure.

Are you sorry?