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Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

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Entries in brittany julious (24)

Tuesday
Feb172015

In Which This Often Delays The Life We Want

painting by Tadeusz Bilecki

All This Desire

by BRITT JULIOUS

The Naughty Sins of a Saint.

Being Barron.

Forgive Me Father For I Have Loved.

I wish these were the titles of my journal, but instead, they are a few of many books I keep tucked away inside of my kindle. They are not featured in The New York Review of Books or excerpted in the New Yorker. No, they are cheap, quick, impulsive buys meant for late nights when I am lonely.

That happens a lot.

At my old, terrible day job, a girl I never particularly liked briefly mentioned that she secretly worked on a romance novel.

“Really?” I asked.

“I feel like I can tell you this,” she said.

“And why is that?” I asked. “Am I wrong in thinking that you don’t like them, too?” she questioned back. Like me, she was an English major. And like me, she kept the public books and the private books separate. You know, White Teeth by Zadie Smith on a black wooden bookshelf in our living rooms. The President’s Girlfriend by Mallory Monroe on a locked Kindle. But I wasn’t going to let her know about that. Some things we just keep to ourselves … at least until right now.

I turned away in a huff.

“I have to get back to work,” I mumbled. That was the last conversation we ever had. The next week, she moved to a different department, and a month later, she left the company.

“I don’t feel…STIMULATED here,” she used to say a lot.

“Like, what am I doing here?” she once asked.

And yeah, what ARE you doing here? I wanted to ask. SOME of us appreciate our jobs, appreciate the fragility of this situation in the face of this job market.

That was what I used to tell myself. I tried to, at least. But within two months, just a few days after she was gone, I began applying for new jobs and writing whenever and wherever I could. Maybe she was right. If writing – and reading - a romance novel was a method of escape for her, who was I to judge? Especially, you know, because I read them too.

I began reading first romance, then erotic novels during my senior year of college. My interest stemmed from a love of fan fiction and a desire to both write and read beyond the characters I saw on the screen.

I am one of those women you hear about, those weirdos, those freaks who sit in front of their computer screens and keep the fantasies of our favorite characters alive. I guess I understand Harry Potter fan fiction or Twilight fan fiction. I’d never read them though because that’s not me. Those stories are rooted in fantasy. And the fantastical breeds the fantastical.

I prefer expanding on the mundane and the regular. I would rather create a reality that seems possible and in that way, make it more of mine. I have written stories about My So-Called Life and Gilmore Girls, stories about Love & Basketball and other romantic comedies. And also, perhaps worst of all, if you dive deep enough into the archives of the Lizzie McGuire subsection of the website Fanfiction.net, you might be able to find a story I wrote about a love triangle between Lizzie and best friends Gordo and Miranda.

On the show, Lizzie’s internal thoughts were expressed through an animated version of herself. In my fan fiction, this animated self talked about “falling in love” and “making love” and “being in love.”

I was 12. I had barely been kissed. Well, not truly, not of my own accord. But in my stories, there was sex and violence and lots and lots of yelling. These were the things that made adult life for me. This was romance. This was passion. This was a future reality.

In romance novels, I like that the men represent a validation of my fantasies and my fantasies are not merely of the physical, but also of the potential for triumph, for personal redemption, for overcoming the things about ourselves — whether articulated and open or deeply stored within — that often delay the lives we want and the people we want to be.

I think of myself as a woman coming back to her optimism. It was lost for a number of reasons in a number of different ways, but a part of me seeks out an interaction with the world that makes risks possible and chances worth taking. What I fear rests in me is a deeply-ingrained thought practice that ultimately makes living and loving seem like things other people do. I used to think, you are not happy because you are not meant to be happy. You are not in love because you are not meant to be in love. Instead, you get … everything else.

Like ONE.

One summer, the season came late. At a bus stop, I rested against the brick wall of a local bank and waited to head north after a long day at work. A man crossed the street. His face was angry and his eyes bore into mine.

"Those shorts are too short," he said.

I’d never heard that before, at least from a stranger. Every summer before that moment, I thought those same thoughts, worn down by interpretations of flesh. By September, I anticipate the fall. I like tights, I start to think. They reflect my quietness, the “goodness” that exists in me that this man implied did not. I am sexual, but the world does not need to know. I am sexual, and you can’t judge me for it.

"Too short?" I asked that day at the bus stop.

"You look like a slut."

Like TWO.

Years ago, my mother and I went to a Chernin’s Shoe Outlet on the West Side of Chicago to pick up a pair of day-to-day gym shoes. The young man helping me gave these long looks that complicated his deep brown eyes and thick eyelashes. He smiled a lot and was thin, slightly gawky, but in a charming way that made me wish that I would meet a man like that when I was OLDER, when I knew more.

He took off my gym shoes and gave me a small foot massage. I turned around, cautious, but soon realized that my mother wasn’t looking. She was nowhere to be found. I panicked, assuming she had left me in the store with the young man who was quickly moving away from charming to lascivious. He licked his lips and

THREE … it reminded me of a family member from down south that I met, earlier that year, at a reunion.

"I bet you don’t remember me!" the older man said that afternoon at the reunion as I sat on a bench, in the shade, eating a plate full of macaroni and cheese.

"Nope!" I said annoyed, and turned away.

That day at the park, the older man hovered above me and I did my best not to look up, afraid of what he would say or do next to grab my attention. Hoverers always recognize those who hate hovering. They sense it. They take advantage of it. They manipulate those who cower.

"I’m talkin’ to you!" he shouted. He licked his full lips and smiled. I ran away.

BUT, back at the shoe store, the young man said, “You’re very sexy.”

Right then, my mother reappeared. I don’t know where she was beforehand. Perhaps she was there all along, and I didn’t notice her because I was too caught up in the moment with my new shoes and new acquaintance.

"How old are you?" she asked him angrily.

"Sixteen," he replied.

My mother grabbed my arm and squeezed tight.

"Well, she’s EIGHT, so I suggest you look somewhere else." We quickly left the store but came back. I was only wearing one shoe.

Like FOUR.

Two weeks ago, a man masturbated at me on the train. When I saw, he stood up and cornered me in my seat. When I yelled at him, he put his body on top of mine. When I tried to push him away, he kept at it. He was too big. And I am strong, very strong, but not strong enough. He looked me dead in the eye. He came on my leg.

And then he strolled away.

Like FIVE.

The time, at three a.m., when a cab driver said, “You know, if I wanted to, I could lock you in this car and do what I wanted with you.” And then he locked the door and laughed.

Like SIX.

My swim instructor.

Like SEVEN.

The summer after I hit puberty. The man with the blood-shot eyes, with alcohol on his breath. The alley.

These things, they shape the way you look at life and the way you encounter the people around you. If you are like me, it stifles your freedom, creating an existence of confusion. What does it mean to be loved? What does it mean to be happy?

The black heroines in many of the novels I read are not traditionally beautiful, but they are interesting. They struggle and weep alone; keep their heads up and minds focused in private. They do a lot and feel a lot and often find peace through extraordinary circumstances that are more difficult than their lives pushing toward success and the desire to overcome a challenging society, a prejudiced society, an unforgiving society.

Last year, while sitting on my couch with my ex-boyfriend, I noticed my Kindle on my coffee table. I tried to put it away, embarrassed by what it might imply. I remembered a conversation a year ago between my friend Katie and I.

“I used to read romance novels when I hadn’t had sex,” she said.

But I had sex years and years ago. Girls like me, girls who’ve seen it all, crave something real and think we’ve found it when instead, we’ve warped our sense of reality. I dated all sorts of men. My personal stories are long and weird and represent a self wandering again and again for something that will fit if not in the pages of fantasy than through a sense of normalcy.

“I just need to think about something that works out in the end,” I said to Katie. I want happy endings.

Back in that moment with my ex, he quietly asked, “What do you have on that?”

“Games, apps … and lots of books,” I replied.

“What kind?” he asked.

“Well … mostly romance,” I said.

“Why read that when you’ve got the real thing?” he asked. But I knew how it was going to end. This was before the possessiveness, the health scares, the questioning, the ridicule. I could sense it through every inch of me.

“I just need it, OK?” I said.

The ways in which I can overcome the world at large are through myself. I can not depend on outcomes of others, but must instead push myself to work harder, to think more, to pursue more. And in my favorite novels, the heroines must overcome the limitations of affection by challenging their willingness to love and trust. When will I learn?

“I am worthy,” she said.

“I am worthy,” she said.

“I am worthy,” she said.

“I am worthy,” she said.

I took that from four different stories with four different characters who were like and unlike me. What connects them is their visibility and humanity. They are worthy. I forget that.

I am worthy too.

Britt Julious is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. You can find her website here. She is the founder of Inland.

Paintings by Tadeusz Bilecki.

"Pay Attention" - Colleen Green (mp3)

"Deeper Than Love" - Colleen Green (mp3)


Friday
Jun062014

In Which Too Much Performance Remains Exhausting

Of My Own Accord

by BRITTANY JULIOUS

I

In my parents’ home in the suburbs, after a stranger held me down and sexually assaulted me on the train, leaving a literal trail of his destruction on my black velvet skirt and long brown legs, I thought about how, a month and a half earlier, I would have been sitting through a long meeting at work at that exact time. I would have been keeping notes and shaking my head in disagreement and thinking about all of the things I wished I was doing instead of being at work.

A temporary pleasure would have been the ride home on public transportation with the knowledge that the day was officially over. That despite being crammed in an oversized bus rolling slowly down Chicago Avenue past the quiet, industrial warehouses of Goose Island and the quaint Cuban restaurants and the abundance of taquerias, I was near my own little home. But instead, I was alone and it was the middle of the afternoon and I was there, a foreign place, the quiet of mid afternoon.

Instead of being in the office, I am out and about in the world, trying to make sense of my decision. I always thought I would leave my job of my own accord after finding the next perfect thing. But I didn't and I couldn't. Life has never worked out the way I wanted it to and instead, I've had to recreate the things I want for myself haphazardly, shoddily, without a clear idea of what comes next and what the end product or idea or goal will look like.

I made the choice to leave, and the weaker part of me thinks that all of this, even the worst (which I've thrown out in the beginning of this essay to give it less stature than it had these last six weeks) was meant to happen for a reason. I don't know if it made me stronger, but it did make me more curious about the distance between the world in our minds and our realities. I have a few more weeks of playing into the fantasy of my imagined self before reality settles in. I am getting prepared. But hopefully, that won't be an issue.

II

I didn’t realize how much I would be alone when I left my old job. I met some of the greatest people I will ever know and some of the worst imaginable. I fell in love. I was challenged. But I also had to challenge myself. That had never been my reality.

I forgot how much I relied on the consistency of 9-5 to get me through the moments when I am alone, and life does not feel as warm and welcoming as it should. But it settled in soon enough and I began to notice the things around me more profoundly: the dusty covers of my myriad of books, the old containers of food in my refrigerator, the piles of laundry that were organized at some point, but only occasionally attended to during the workweek.

I am the only one responsible and accounting for my life outside of an office. This thought used to cross my mind, but not consistently. Now I think about it constantly. You are responsible for these tasks and these things and where you are, even if you resist again and again.

I live alone and always have. The older I am, the more I profoundly recognize that aloneness. Age asks of us the ability to connect with the few. It asks us to move on.

A night out never feels like enough.

Conversations have changed from, “You will be fine,” to, “What are you doing all day?” These are my friends.

I have friends who have it all and friends who are so hungry, literally. I have friends who only want the things that will give them more. I have friends who create and look at the things around them and wonder if any of it will matter.

Living alone never felt so alone. I enjoyed being able to come home to just myself. But now it is just me all of the time. You are forced to confront things about yourself that were easier to push aside because there was another impenetrable force weighing heavily on your shoulders.

photograph by dieter rehm

Sometimes I leave the house just to go to a store just to talk to someone. When you are emotionally unhappy, you cling to people who make the day better. When I ended a relationship earlier this year, I found comfort in my friends at work. Each night was lonely, but I had something  people  to look forward to everyday. Now it’s just me. That’s a lot to process. I am burdened with my own thoughts and actions. Everything is bottled up for when we are free. By then, nothing feels as grave, but also nothing feels as relevant.

I spend a lot of time in The Winchester, a local restaurant and cafe near my apartment. I’ve made acquaintance with the cafe’s employees. This is something I always do at places I like to frequent. Creating and recreating home feels necessary in a city. There are so many people here. What I need is to make sure I have found a slice of life that challenges me greatly, but also wraps me gently like my grandmother’s arms. I need to know that I can create something for myself, even if it is just a routine. I always say “Hello!” I love a good “Hello!” Talking online is not the same thing. Anyone that says so is lying. I have always been the sort of person that can’t stay in my head for two long. I slip easily into a trail of thoughts. What started off as a question in my mind morphed into a worry, a panic, a terror.

After ending a relationship, I relied on the comforts of familiar faces, people and friends I could trust. What I knew is that they would be “there,” if only because they were required to do so.

You form family and bonds out of strife. You connect with people because you need something greater than your current situation and because that stability is a life force.

I know now that there is always something to believe in during times when we think there is nothing. Life can never be black and white.

What I miss most is the compulsion to speak, the knowledge that I was heard. Everyday, I came to work and spoke to my friends and then began my day. Every moment the night before was a chance for rapturous summary. It was not about what happened so much as the need to engage with others, if only temporarily.

III

After a couple of weeks, my next instinct was to read one of my favorite books. I wrote that when you are lost, you should return to the works that changed your life. I don’t think it’s cliche. Favorites exist for a reason. Seeing is specific. My world is constantly informed and shaped by the voices I once knew and now hold in high, distant regard.

I pulled out my copy of Marguerite Duras’ The Lover. It is beat up, truly. The cover tore off of the seam at some point. I found it in between a stack of bills I stuffed in my black leather backpack. It fit in well, just another thing I didn’t take care of in time and must now face the consequences.

Pages are dog-eared with gusto, especially in the beginning. Despite what other people say, that is when I am most engaged with a book. I feel the need to pay attention to every page and every line. It assures me whether to keep reading. After that, the words and plots almost bleed into one another. The story situates itself in my mind. I don’t need to pay attention to everything. I am in it, completely.

photograph by dieter rehm

Like a job, the diction becomes familiar. I have developed a routine, gotten used to these people, felt connected to the ins and outs of the author’s words. I have read more now than I have in months. It is not because I am free, but because my mind craves that familiar structure of one page after another, one day after another.

I have written all over the margins and formed the basis for essays along Duras’ own thoughts. “That reminds me…” I will usually begin.

I go out more now than I ever did before. The absence of a full-time schedule makes even the most mundane of activities enthralling. I’m revisiting museums, becoming acquainted with their layouts like old friends.

I found the above paragraph written in my half-print, half-chicken scratch while getting ready for another reread. It was written the last time I lost a job, in the summer of 2010. I had a lot of hope. I saw a bright side.

But now, half of the time, I don’t even know what I am applying for during the day. I am more concerned with action than specifics.

IV

I don’t want to be back there. I wish I could tell you what I went through, how I was broken, how I am still broken. A bad situation will continue to sneak up on you for days and weeks and months and years to come. I’m learning that for sure.

I feel betrayed by myself. We have ideas of ourselves and then we have the reality. My goal has always been to combine the two, or to discover that they are one in the same. I would want to be complex, yet valuable or perfect. To know that one outweighs the other, that one practically dominates the other, feels like a failure.

You will end up someplace better. I hate when people say that. Will I? For most people, that is not the case. The things we tell ourselves and our realities are two different things. I would prefer coldness. Shit is scary.

And DAMN IT! Maybe they were right. Maybe they were right all along. If I was in a place of emotional greatness, I don’t know if I would have been able to dig deep into my words. I don’t know if I would have kept writing just to write just to let it flow just to find some relief.

I expected to be able to create all of these pieces as a writer now that I have so much free time, but instead, I feel stunted and scared. It is easier to believe in your voice when the stakes are low. I always had something in the background to sustain me if a thought was rejected. Now it is just me, open and raw.

V

I used to tell people my quarter-life crisis started early. I moved out of my parents’ home at 23 and into an apartment that felt wrong immediately and never quite got better. The following summer was quiet and the winter lonely. I fell in love with a man who, from the beginning, made it explicit that he would never love me. A part of me thought I could change him. A month later, I realized I had never even changed myself. I was still the same woman thinking too much and saying too little.

My true quarter-life crisis is right now. It is in this essay and these words. It is a pivotal moment.

photography by dieter rehm

The outplacement firm assigned to me from my last job said to use this time to figure out what I want, but that suggests that I stayed in a bad place  mental and otherwise  because I was lost. I was not lost. I was trying to make something out of nothing. I have always done that. It is my life.

I want to write. But more importantly, I want to write without the fear of myself. That is holding me back. That is my greatest challenge. What happens next is a matter of confidence and purpose and overcoming the shackles of “no” and “can’t” and “impossible.”

I never cared about edits from my editor before, but each one feels like a personal attack, an affirmation of the sense of lostness one feels in a space like this.

VII

The day after I left my job, I met with my friend Sarah who also left the company at the same time I did. We sat in Lula, a quiet cafe in the Logan Square neighborhood where everyone is thin and beautiful and seemingly without a day job to tie them down. Or maybe they were like me, at a loss of what to do next, but trying my best to look the part of success.

“This is like, a really important moment for us,” I said.

“Yeah, I think I feel good about this,” Sarah said.

Sometimes I feel like I am performing confidence rather than just exuding it. I have always had to fake it until I make it. I have always had to believe in my weirdness, even if it seemed futile, because I saw everything else and I hated it. But too much performance is exhausting. Sometimes I come home and I want to crawl up on my couch and forget this whole month, but instead I keep looking, keep looking, keep looking.

“Now’s the time to figure out what we want to do with our lives. We can actually pursue it instead of going another year outside of it.”

Sarah smiled and I let out a sigh of relief. Maybe if I said these things enough, they would finally come true.

Brittany Julious is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She tumbls here and twitters here.

Photographs by Dieter Rehm.


Friday
Jan172014

In Which We Can Feel It All Over And Through Us

Places of Escape

by BRITT JULIOUS

“I’m a little tired,” I said to Sonia when we met for the first time at a cafe in Lincoln Park. “I stayed out late.”

“How late is late?” she asked.

“4 a.m.”

But really, 4 a.m. is only the beginning. I have danced until sunrise. I have waited and wandered home during the morning rush, a cup of caffeine in hand, walking against the tide of bodies going to while I'm coming from.

This is not a point of pride or contention, but I can recognize it now. Three years ago, I could not feel even black inside. There is a blankness to a state of depression that can only be understood after the fact. Black is absence of light. Blank is absence of order. But my closet was filled with delicate, sequined tops in blues and reds and greens, a balm for something it would take me years to fully articulate.

The night before, Crystal asked if I was attending a performance at SpyBar by George Fitzgerald, a young house musician and DJ. I wasn’t, but all of the lights were on in my home and all I could see was what I saw the night before.

It is so easy to wallow in your own problems. We often forget other people struggle too. I had forgotten until the night before. How many others do we forget until it is too late, until they are gone?

“In a cab,” I typed while still clothed in a bra and pajama bottoms.

The greatest thing I have learned in the past two years is how to escape myself. I envy those people who can stay inside, comforted with their things and self. I will forever be a work in progress. In the future, I hope I can stay home and have that be enough, but right now, my walls close in on me. At first, they are protective, but quickly, they keep me trapped in thoughts born out of 26 years of insecurity.

Not all places of escape are the same for all people. We each develop something that speaks to our everyday, our tastes, our sorrow. I know mine more than many other things in my life: the dance floor; the blinding, shimmery lights; the weight of the bass.

One of the first things Marion ever said to me was that negativity breeds negativity. Positivity does not act the same. No, positivity takes constant effort. Happiness is effort. Joy is work. People who tell you differently are dangerous and lying to you to mask the things they’d rather not be.

I understand that. It is the illusion of attraction and beauty, things that feel less natural, more the work of the self and how it wants to move through the world.

I think that negative memories work in much the same way. Unless the night was truly spectacular, we rarely remember solid pleasantness. Moments that are just good fade until weeks and months bleed into one another. But the bad has a way of staying, an unwanted acquaintance that takes root on the couch of your mind and forever overstays.

The bad can direct the ways in which you move around in the world. I am learning to unravel the negativity in my soul that has shaped me precisely like millions of other young women in the world. Imagine thinking that unpleasantness is born within you. Thinking that your mind and body are made to be used and discarded and your future is to forever watch other people simply breathe and live. This is what I am trying to escape once and for all.   

We ignore our need for places of escape because if one does not work as it is intended to, then what value could we possibly find in the search? The dance floor is nothing new to me, but I opened myself up to it, all of it, as if discovering dark walls of sound and the pleasures of anonymity for the first time.

I see these sidewalks and storefronts everyday. Keep your head down to tolerate the cold. Keep your head down to not seem too proud, too confident, too sure of yourself. Get into the building and sit down and stay there in front of your screen and your work and your things to do.

We are told to believe in the grind and when we finally wake up from that fever dream of things to do, we realize it is too late. All around you is a world that has moved on.

The escape then is the bridge between the grind. It is the pulse. It keeps you moving. I used to think that I could only find it in another person. But the only person you can ever truly know is yourself. Know yourself and your needs and everything falls into grace.

That is the thing about beginning to know yourself. You can see things as they are and stay the same, or you can see them and try to change. Change is rawness, is destruction of the familiar and the usual. And even if you are forever in pain, it is easier to know pain or anger than it is to try for something better. Eventually, you must confront the things that have caused this state of permanence. Most people hide from the truth. I have and will forever refuse to be most people.

George’s set started late and the more I waited, the more frustrated I felt. Is the dance floor the drug or the cure? Is it pure of intentions or masking reality?

If you repeat something enough times, it can grow from what you need to do to what you want to do. That is what the dance floor became for me, a place that I actually liked and understood more than my own home or the job I fear I will never escape.

But I reverted back to its core purpose this time and waiting became a test of the self.

“Is that George?” I asked myself, even though I knew it wasn’t true.

Eventually he took to the booth and what I thought would take hours to feel pleasurable took only moments. “Magnetic,” a song that sounded just OK months earlier thumped through the speakers, the bass a complete jolt to the system. I could feel it all over and through me. To know this feeling is to know it can never truly be articulated. But also, to know it is to love it so fiercely.

“I don’t know how you can go out all the time,” a man I cared for said to me once.

But I don’t go out all the time, I thought. I go out enough. I go out when I need to. I go out sometimes and then I come home and then I keep going about my life.

I left barely an hour into his set. That was all I needed. 

Outside, cabs still roamed the neighborhood as if dawn was not quickly approaching. I got a friendly cab driver, something I find happens late at night. There are stories to share and time to listen. This works both ways with both passengers.

“You had a good night?” he asked. 

“Yes!” I said still brimming with enough energy to last me through the rest of the weekend.

“Yeah, yeah. I can tell,” he said. We locked eyes in the mirror and sped down the expressway.

Chicago has something special in its electronic scene, a specialness that is recognized on its surface and for its history, but not for how it connects people, how it keeps something surprisingly warm alive for music felt to be so cold.

I remember standing on the corner of Chicago and Halsted after coming from a party in the River West neighborhood of the city. It was that biting cold you’ll only ever understand if you live here. It was that cold that makes people move away from here, makes people give up on the city, makes people see the city for what it is and believe that it will never get better.

But the party ran very late and like many times before, I was one of the stragglers refusing to go out from what felt warm and good and pure because of the music. Lots of deep house and UKG. Lots of music that feels instantly familiar. Lots of music that sounds from the future and forever.

The wind whipped against my face and I opened my mouth to breathe in deeply the air that finally felt clear. I saw a young man I met earlier in the night, but had forgotten quickly. He found a cab before I did.

“Here, you take it,” he shouted.

“No, it’s fine. I’m going South,” I said.

“Really? You sure you’re okay getting back?” he said. 

I just nodded my head.

Britt Julious is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She last wrote in these pages about Orange is the New Black. She tumbls here and twitters here.

Photographs by Isabel Muñoz.

"Magnetic" - George Fitzgerald (mp3)

"Bad Aura" - George Fitzgerald (mp3)

"Daily Spirals" - The Cyclist (mp3)

"All I Need" - Daniel Avery (mp3)

"Drone Logic" - Daniel Avery (mp3)