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Entries in brittany julious (23)

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)

Monday
Aug262013

In Which We Follow Her Inside The Prison

True Nature

by BRITTANY JULIOUS

Orange Is The New Black
creator Jenji Kohan

No one holds Piper Chapman’s hand. Not really. Instead, she is groped and ignored and ridiculed. This stays true to the fish out of water narrative of Orange Is The New Black and Piper is a classic fish out of water. Nice, quiet white ladies do not end up in prison. And if they do, it is because things happen “to” them rather than “because” of them. But as Orange Is The New Black unfolds, we soon learn that Piper is not hapless or innocent or quiet. She is certainly not nice. No, like the other women in the prison, Piper is a woman who made choices and must now face the consequences.

Piper (Taylor Schilling) is serving 13 months in prison for helping smuggle drugs across the border for her ex-girlfriend, Alex Vause. It is no surprise then to learn that Piper must now serve her prison sentence with Alex. For the first few episodes, Piper makes her animosity toward Alex well known, ultimately blaming her for her prison sentence. In true Piper form, she has neglected to take responsibility for her own actions and her complicity in the crime.

Orange Is The New Black is about finding the humanity in people we often assume have none. We stigmatize the experiences of people in prison without knowing what led them to this environment. For Piper, the reality of prison has not sunk in. Her only possibility of survival is to accept both what she’s done and her true nature as a woman who is not as perfect and nice as she thinks she is.

It becomes evident as the show progresses that the most compelling characters and stories have little, if anything, to do with Piper. There are no magical negroes or spiritual guides for Piper’s experience in prison. The show is a powerful and overt representation of race relations both in and outside of prison. The stereotypes are thick with vitriol in the show’s initial episodes, though they dissipate as the show progresses. As Piper begins to acclimate herself to the culture of prison, there is a real possibility that for Piper’s sensibilities, even speaking openly about race (prejudiced or otherwise) is a shock.

Elsewhere we are drawn into the romantic yet troubling “relationship” of Daya Diaz (Dascha Polanco) and correctional officer John Bennett (Matt McGorry). We are fascinated by Miss Claudette (Michelle Hurst), Piper’s roommate and an older woman who must come to terms with the possibility of her own parole. And Sophia Burset (Laverne Cox), a transgender woman and a truer protagonist of the show, is all glamour and wisdom and heart. She could certainly warrant a spin-off on her own.

The opening credits of Orange Is The New Black are particularly compelling. Featuring a theme song by Regina Spektor, we view a series of close-ups of different women’s faces. None are particularly “pretty” and really, that is not the point. The credits go on for a long time and they linger.

What we find ourselves more drawn to is the sheer abundance of faces – young and old, wrinkled and baby-faced – that represent the varying demographics of the prison system. Yes, jails are disproportionately filled with black and hispanic men and women. But there are many different “types” of prisoners, and the circumstances that led to their imprisonment are as diverse and distinct as their faces.

In a recent interview for Fresh Air, Orange Is The New Black creator Jenji Kohan noted that a show featuring a rich cast of multidimensional and racially and sexually diverse characters could not “sell” without a protagonist (a white and blonde and pretty protagonist) like Piper. Granted, the initial source material for the television show is the memoir of the same name written by Piper Kerman. But many elements (such as Piper “reuniting” with Alex) were created or altered specifically for the show.

In the interview, Kohan said:

In a lot of ways Piper was my Trojan Horse. You're not going to go into a network and sell a show on really fascinating tales of black women, and Latina women, and old women and criminals. But if you take this white girl, this sort of fish out of water, and you follow her in, you can then expand your world and tell all of those other stories. But it's a hard sell to just go in and try to sell those stories initially. The girl next door, the cool blonde, is a very easy access point, and it's relatable for a lot of audiences and a lot of networks looking for a certain demographic. It's useful.

Still, Orange is the New Black represents a teachable moment for its lead. It is OK to hate Piper. In fact, as the show progresses, the writers and creators have made sure to highlight Piper’s flaws (and there are many). Within these walls Piper finds herself. And as nauseating as that reads, what she unwraps is someone who is not as great or insightful or “good” as she thought she was and what other people have told her she must be. In prison, Piper discovers what makes her like anyone else. That she must be locked up to understand this only speaks to the ways in which her privileged life has sheltered her from the realities of her own adulthood.

Brittany Julious is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She tumbls here and twitters here. She last wrote in these pages about a solitary existence.

"Your Face" - Delorean (mp3)

"Unhold" - Delorean (mp3)