weird-internet

Felicia Day, Fear, Failure, and Me

This past Thursday, I finally read Felicia Day’s new book. Well, technically, I listened to Felicia Day’s new book, for specific medical reasons. But we’ll get there.

To say that I enjoyed You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) would be an understatement. I’d like to think that most people would at least enjoy this book. It’s funny and poignant and extremely weird–all the things you would expect from a memoir by Felicia Day. But I’m not convinced that most people would love it as if Felicia Day and the universe at large conspired to write and publish this one specific book to be found and consumed by one specific reader at one specific point in their timeline.

That’s the degree of my love for this book. It was only a couple days ago, but I’m pretty sure this book changed my life.

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To understand the strength of my feelings about this book, you have to first understand some things about my state of mind while I listened to Felicia Day babble about her weird childhood and ensuing adult anxieties for six and a half hours. Here is my schedule for that day:

6:20 am: I wake up after a paltry few hours of sleep, unable to return to said sleep, thanks to an extensive nightmare in which the majority of my friends are incarcerated* and the only job I am able to secure is a hydroponic rosemary farmer (?) in a remote part of the south of France, which, while very beautiful, is also lonely and depressing, much like my tenure in Scotland.

*I’d spent the previous evening volunteering with an organization that sends donated books to prisoners. No H and I were particularly distressed by a letter in which a prisoner informed us that he had read Harry Potter books 1-5 many times, but he had not been able to get 6 and 7. I am generally saddened by the terrible state of prisons in America, but his particular reality made us both very, very, very upset. Access to Harry Potter should be considered a basic human right.

6:30 am: Lying in bed and realizing that my various ailments from the previous day before have not gone away (some airplane disease from a week and a half of travel, two-day strong migraine), I sadly note that CVS will not be open for a couple more hours.

6:45 am: I vow to get as much work as possible done before the pain from my migraine will inevitably force me to take a “short lie-down” in the middle of the morning. I get to work on an embroidery project that is probably the least important piece of a bigger writing/art project I’m working on, but I also know better than to look at computer screens right now. This at least feels somewhat productive.

8:30 am: Breakfast!

9:00 am: I walk two blocks to CVS, and I want to die. I buy Dayquil, Nyquil, whatever the hell Strepsils are called in this country, and some fancy tissues.

9:15 am: I return home. My head is killing me. I lie down for “one episode” of Reply All, planning to be productive again as soon as my head starts feeling better.

12:00 pm: About 8 episodes later, I feel even worse. I heat up some leftover pumpkin chili for lunch, but only manage to eat half of it before leaving it on the table to lie back down.

1:00 pm: I hobble back to CVS to buy something caffeinated to mitigate my headache, even though I am not supposed to have caffeine, like, ever, according to one of the many neurologists I have seen over the years. On the way there, I am street harassed by a construction worker. I briefly consider throwing up on him, but ultimately, I remember that I just got the sriracha stains out of this white dress and decide that the splash factor from projectile chili vomit would be absolute murder to launder.

1:15 pm: Back at home, I strip off my dress and throw up everything I’ve eaten today.

1:16 pm: I decide that what I’ve been doing–listening to podcasts in my bed with an old black t-shirt tied around my face (so soft!)–is insufficient. I pull the desk chair out of my windowless combination closet/office, make a nest of blankets on the floor, and download Felicia Day’s audiobook.

1:30 pm: I lie on the floor of my dark cloffice, put on sunglasses, and listen to Felicia Day’s audiobook until the cracks of light around the door fade, and night creeps into my apartment. I think I also have a fever at this point (from my mystery airplane disease) because I keep having to cycle through taking off all my clothes, putting everything back on, huddling under a pile of blankets, and then taking everything off again.

Note to future self: the next time you are lying in a dark closet using sunglasses to shield yourself from the few rays of light sneaking in, maybe remember NOT to wear your homemade, glow-in-the-dark, Ready Player One t-shirt.

8:00 pm: I finish the audiobook and get ready for bed in the dark.

This was an unusually bad day, but the general gist is not completely out of the ordinary. Having a chronic illness means a lot of making plans to do things and then chucking half of those plans out the window. Most of the time, I’m a pretty good sport about it. I’ve dealt with this nonsense for 16 years. My pain threshold is ridiculously high at this point, and the situation just is what it is.

Most of the time.

A tiny minority of the time, everything feels like failure. I allow myself to fester in the belief that I will never accomplish anything or amount to anything in life because I am sick and useless and can never finish anything I start.

There’s a chapter in You’re Never Weird on the Internet wherein Felicia takes group theory mathematics in college and then freaks out when she gets a 23 on the first test. She tearfully approaches her professor about how to best preserve her 4.0 GPA while remaining enrolled in his class. To paraphrase his response, “Don’t! Get a B instead! It will be good for you!”

Spoiler: she does not get a B. She works her ass off and is rewarded with a 100 on the top of her final exam, accompanied by a frowny face from her professor. Her 4.0 remains intact. The takeaway is that ultimately, her professor is right; nobody ever cares about Felicia Day’s 4.0 but Felicia Day herself, and a little failure is a healthy lesson on allowing imperfection into your life.

I only kind of buy into this. I’ve gotten that B. I got several Bs, in fact. My first semester of college, I got an A-, a B, a B-, and a Pass (ironically, in the only class in which I could have reasonably earned an A had I actually applied myself, but instead I aimed for exactly 78% for the entire semester, because that’s what I needed to pass). The B was due, at least in part, to circumstances beyond my control, and the A- was in music theory, a class I hated but was forced to take in order to get financial aid for cello lessons, so let’s just focus on that B-.

The B- is the worst grade I have ever received in any sort of academic assessment in my entire life. This should give you some sense of scale of the failure I felt after my first semester of college, especially because that grade was given to me in my first year writing seminar. Up until that point, I had spent my entire life being praised by teachers for my writing. Entering college, I dreamt of the creative writing classes I would take. Creative writing was not considered “academically rigorous” enough for me to pursue in high school (read: the weighting system in my high school would have caused it to drag down my GPA), but I took playwriting one summer at Nerd Camp and I was secretly sure I was going to be a brilliant screenwriter or novelist or something when I grew up.

But then I got my first paper back in college. C. C! Who was this guy!? Could he not see all my high school journalism awards? I WAS NOT. C. MATERIAL. I held back tears in his office hours as he explained to me that my arguments were scattered and my voice as a writer was weak, two things of which I’d never been accused. I worked and worked to cater to the voice I thought he wanted me to have and never cracked anything higher than a B+. I ended up with a B- average, and that was the end of all my writing dreams for a while.

Several semesters later, I realized three things: 1) that professor is both a terrible teacher and an asshole, 2) I am not a bad writer, he just hated my writing style, and 3) seriously, fuck that guy. At that point though, I was pretty engrossed in my majors and finally making A’s. So while I felt confident enough in my ability to write decent academic papers again, I continued to shelve my writing aspirations for another several years.

I guess one could argue that getting that B- was healthy in the long run, and that I’m a smarter, more confident writer as an adult because of it. But it also destroyed a small but significant piece of my identity for several years. And more importantly, it did not, in any way, prepare me for actual failure later in life.

Actual failure came seven and a half years later, and it was a complete fucking disaster.

Basically what happened was this: I was finishing up my Master’s degree, about to move on to my PhD, when two things disrupted that plan. I started having migraine headaches every day, and I began experiencing severe PTSD symptoms related to various sexual assaults in my early 20s. I got a one-week extension on my master’s thesis and received the equivalent of a B+. I was swiftly drummed out of my PhD program for it.

From my perspective, I was kicked out of school for having a mental illness. For obvious legal reasons, I’m sure the school would disagree with that assessment, instead citing my inability to meet certain academic expectations. But that’s especially flimsy logic when you consider that I successfully petitioned to have my grade raised in the weeks that followed.

I was devastated, and my mental illness became all-consuming. I couldn’t leave the house anymore without having panic attacks. I stopped eating or sleeping or getting out of bed. I was also really weirded out by these red splotchy patches that started covering my lower back.

I HAD STAGE ONE BED SORES, THAT’S HOW BAD THINGS WERE.

Anyway, I wrote about all this before. (Well, not the bed sores. That was a deep, dark secret that I’d only shared with like two people until this moment.) I got help, I moved back Stateside, I’m healthier now, I stand up for myself more, I set better boundaries, blah blah blah rainbows puppies sunshine unicorns.

Sort of.

The sexual assault piece of my PTSD is very hard to overcome, and I’m it’s something I’m still working on. But at this point, it’s mostly manageable. What’s more unwieldy, and what I don’t yet know how to deal with, is this overwhelming sense of failure, like I am going to fail before I’ve even get started.

If one B- was enough to strip me of my dreams to be a writer in college, imagine what actually being kicked out of school did to my psyche. You know that scene in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban when Hermione’s boggart turns into Professor McGonagall telling her that she’s failed all her exams? Yeah, that’s me. Even if, intellectually, I know that this entire situation is complete bullshit, I don’t know how to not feel like a failure anymore.

I’ve had writer’s block for two years. I don’t draw, either, except for the occasional birthday card. I have a million abandoned writing and art projects in various states of completion, and a million more in my head that I’m too afraid to start for fear that I will never finish.

Here’s where Felicia Day comes in. Lovely, wonderful, neurotic, anxious Felicia Day, who, in the mid 2000s, was very busy with her reasonably successful but soul-destroying career as a commercial actress, sinking further and further into a crippling World of Warcraft addiction. Eventually, she quit WoW to create The Guild, a YouTube series about gamers. The Guild ran for 6 seasons online and eventually allowed Day to carve out a little corner of the internet for a career of her own making. Now she’s very happy forever and never has ANY CREATIVE OR PERSONAL PROBLEMS EVER AGAIN.

Lulz.

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) IS about Day’s struggle to find creative fulfillment in Hollywood, but it’s also about her struggle to maintain that feeling once she finds it. Anxiety is a hydra­–fell one anxious fear and two new ones grow back in its place. “Ssssooo you’ve created a sssuccesssful webssseriesss, Felissscia.” Says the one head. “Too bad it’ssss over and now you’re going to dissssappoint your fansss for alwayssss.”

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Do hydras hiss? In my head they hiss.

When I saw my therapist this week, I couldn’t stop gushing about how great this book is. All the stuff about anxiety felt like Felicia Day LOOKED DEEP INSIDE MY SOUL AND SAW ALL THE FUCKED UP TRAUMA IN MY PAST AND KNEW EXACTLY WHAT I NEEDED TO HEAR ABOUT MY OWN SENSE OF FAILURE.

Therapist waited for me to stop talking long enough to catch my breath and interjected, “Is it only failure that you’re afraid of, or is it also success? I want you to be able to see them as two sides of the same coin.”

Hmmm, good point, Therapist. Maybe that’s why there’s an entire chapter about Day’s nervous breakdown after she’s found success with The Guild.

I will have to think that one over a little longer, but whether my fear is more deeply rooted in failure or success, the fact of the matter is that what I’m currently doing is not working. Luckily, Felicia Day has some advice for me on that front:

Find a group to support you, to encourage you, to guilt you into DOING. If you can’t find one, start one yourself.

So that’s what I’m doing. I’m on a deadline, though, and I don’t have time to round up a group of supportive women to eat pancakes once a week, like Day had. Instead, I’m just going to tell all my friends what I’m working on, in the form of this blog post, and then welcome your pestering with open arms.

Some of you may remember that 2 years ago, I applied for a travel fellowship through my undergraduate institution. The premise was this: my maternal grandmother traveled a great deal in the last 20 years of her life. She kept journals during her trips. I would take said journals, plan a trip using her preferred methods of travel (trains and boats, mostly), and ultimately use our different perspectives to write a graphic memoir about the experience.

I did not get the fellowship, but I can’t be too sad about it because all the other finalists I met during interviews were amazing women with amazing projects, and one of them even came to visit me in Scotland during her fellowship. I took her to a ceilidh!

But now I’m applying again. Only this time, because I’m an idiot with delusions of grandeur, I’ve decided to show my commitment to the project by submitting my 1000 word proposal in comic book form. Because I want to torture myself, apparently.

I’ve done sequential art before, but never on this scale, never with such a clear idea of my ultimate vision, and never with such high stakes at the end. In short, I’m terrified. Terrified that I won’t make the deadline, terrified that I will hate the outcome, terrified most of all that I will love it, and the fellowship committee won’t.

Which is why I am now a little more than a month out with nothing to show but a (very) rough text draft, zero pictures, and a partially completed embroidery project that is STILL THE LEAST IMPORTANT PART OF THIS APPLICATION WHY DO I KEEP WORKING ON IT FIRST?!

So, friends, I implore you to start haragging (a word of my 3.5 year old nephew’s invention). E-mail, call, send a carrier pigeon. I don’t really care how, just ask me how my project is going. And when I lie and say “it’s going really great, thanks,” don’t just take my word for it. Ask for pictures of artwork, drafts of copy, or demand to know how much time I’ve spent embroidering that day instead of doing actual work. When I stop responding to cower under my shame blanket, I give you full permission to start taunting me relentlessly with texts that just say, “BED SORES! BED SORES! BED SORES!” over and over. I need to finish something right now, and it might as well be this.

My deadline is Thanksgiving. Unleash the hounds.

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