Author: Axiopoeticus

My Internet Friends are Real! This and Other Things I Learned Because of Amanda Palmer

When I was 11 years old, I met my first Internet Friend.  Her name is Katelyn.  We met on Neopets.  I was hestitant at first because I didn’t know if I would be allowed to have an Internet Friend if I could not prove that she was real.

The thing is… I didn’t have any real friends.  I was part of a group of people who didn’t exactly fit into any obvious social setting or clique.  We would sit together sometimes, go to each other’s birthday parties, but I did not feel known.  I liked them, they cared about me, but I knew at a very young age that my world was just a door further down than anyone was really capable of walking.  I thought, someday someone will knock and I will have a friend that wants to know what it looks like inside, someone who wants to see what I’ve collected.

All of my friendships were unconventional—  Fictional characters, neighbor’s pets, stuffed animals, little old ladies, the bad kid in class that chose me as the one person he would be nice to, friends who would eventually move away, the now obviously also queer kids, my crooked-beaked bird and hairless dogs.  I wasn’t sure if I didn’t have friends because I was Fat, because I was Weird, because I couldn’t Ride a Bike. I didn’t know if there was a reason, I just knew I was alone. 

My great aunts, Peg & Ruth, my best friends (age 5)

My first dog, Beaker & me (age 11)

Every time I met a new person, I immediately wanted to know if we could be friends.  I thought that to have a friend was to be known, to be known was to have a friend, and that was the feeling I searched for from the time I was able to communicate (god, I love communicating).

I met Katelyn on Neopets through her sister.  Her sister’s profile said “My sister makes CUSTOM BACKGROUNDS for LAYOUTS!!!” I wanted a custom background (and a friend, but a background could do).  I messaged her “Can you make me a Freddy vs. Jason background?”  I thought she would say no, because, well… It’s a weird ask, 11 year old to 11 year old, and all.

She responded, she made the background, I made it my wallpaper, and she added me on AOL Instant Messenger.  My first AIM friend that I did not know “in real life”.  What would my parents think?  I made up a fake name and age to make it feel like I was being “safer” online. Katelyn and I talked on AOL everyday for at least a year, maybe two.  One year, we spent New Years Eve “together”, excited to say “Happy New Year” in each other’s time zones. It felt so nice to have something certain to come home to, I could tell her my school lunch menu or my feelings about Spongebob, send her my angsty middle school poetry, be enthusiastic about anything at all and she would write back.  The AOL Messenger “ding” and “sign in” noises meant, to me, I could take a break from feeling alone for an hour or two.  A lot of my thoughts, feelings and experiences as a kid were unseen, intangible and enormous, and I finally had the freedom to articulate it to another kid online in a way that no adults or school friends seemed to want to understand.  She didn’t always know what to say, but she was there.

It wasn’t long until I had more than one Internet Friend.  I had about two dozen. We met on Neopets and my Warrior cat roleplay forum, Forgotten Pawsteps.  We were friends on AIM, MSN Messenger, and eventually MySpace.  Although having Internet Friends didn’t always take away my loneliness entirely, I could at least login to a little world where I felt a little more known and say hello to people who looked forward to me signing in (Cameo, Macalaugh, Shania, Sara, Liza, Kelby to name a few). 

When I was 13, I met a boy.  He wore makeup, Hot Topic shirts and he had a piercing. I thought he was so cool and I wanted to get to know him.  I wanted him to be my Internet Friend in Real Life.  It took time for him to warm up to me, but in the summer before ninth grade, we became friends. I felt like Dyllon was the first person I did not have to exhaust myself giving translations to.  I could be authentically strange, and have that strangeness reciprocated.  We were beautiful together.  He wanted to spend time with me.  We shared our authentic selves with each other, not excluding any art or trauma, no matter how difficult it was to talk about.  He didn’t make me feel like a burden.  He became a constant, my companion, my best friend, someone who accepted the Internet Me (which is the real me). We spent all of the time together that two people could at that age for nearly two years, and he influenced me so much that I finally was able to come into myself, and find a way to sometimes (bravely) be the person I am on the Internet in front of other people.

Dyllon & I in 2009 (age 15)

I didn’t listen to a lot of music before high school.  I basically rejected anything “mainstream”.  I didn’t even know there was music for someone like me out there.  I had dial-up Internet that was too slow for me to even search. However, Dyllon found new music all of the time, and was eager to share it with me.

In the fall of 2008, Dyllon said to me, “You HAVE to listen to this band!!”  I immediately assumed I wouldn’t like it, but he put his iPod earbud in my ear and played Girl Anachronism.  I didn’t want to like it.  I told him I didn’t like it.  But really? I think I was afraid that this meant that I was known.  Not just by Dyllon, but by someone who exists somewhere else and has never met me.  That someone was Amanda Palmer.

I went home, waited for my AOL to sign on, YouTube searched for “The Dresden Dolls”. I waited thirty-something minutes for The Kill video to load, and I watched it. I listened to it. I waited another 30-something minutes to listen to Coin-Operated Boy, and so on.  Dyllon gave me a flash drive with the rest of the songs, I put them on my metallic orange iPod, and they became a permanent part of my life.  I don’t think it’s something you can ever expect.  For four minutes, one song, one person eagerly asking you to listen to it, one iPod  earbud, to change everything, but it really, really did.

I became more open to letting music be shared with me, so Dyllon also gave me Regina Spektor, Placebo, Marilyn Manson, Otep, Jack Off Jill… all of the artists that sound like what being 15-16 for me felt like.  I loved them all in different amounts, at different times, but one thing remained true: I loved Amanda the most.

At Dyllon’s mother’s house one day, he couldn’t wait to tell me that “Amanda has new music.”  I didn’t know because, well, you know, dial-up.  This New Music was Who Killed Amanda Palmer. He told me it’s her first solo album, and that it was so beautiful. He pulled up the videos on a laptop.  He was enamored by “Strength Through Music” but for me, I think something in me changed the first time I heard “Blake Says”.

One of my Internet Friends, Macalaugh, drew this for my MySpace in 2009.

As MySpace began to end, I was so reluctant to conform, I joined Twitter before Facebook.  I joined Twitter in April 2009 (age 15) for Amanda and two Internet Friends (that I met on MySpace).  I stay on Twitter now in 2022 (age 28) for Amanda and five-hundred-or-so Internet Friends.

Although Amanda’s music and art always showed that she knows, understands, and gets it, I felt even closer and more known following her on Twitter for years because it made her human and it’s an amazing feeling to not only love someone’s art, but also their humanity.  When I would feel as though there was no relief for my loneliness, I could just get on Twitter and see What in the World is Amanda Palmer Doing? and felt a little more like a part of something, even if she didn’t always know I was there.

The first time Amanda tweeted me back was on her birthday in 2012.

I only made it 4 days without shaving because I was sure that no one in Real Life would get it, but it’s the thought that counts.

My relationship with friendship and being known stayed complicated.  Dyllon remained a very important part of me even if we spent more time apart than together. I had other friends to spend time with even if I had to sacrifice being known, I masked my true self a lot when I had to.  No matter how many people I surrounded myself with in person, I always knew my Real Life was who I could be online, and that life had Amanda Palmer in it.  I told my in-person friends about her, but never too much.  I felt like I could tell right away if someone was going to have the capacity to know, understand, and get it, so I usually would only share enough about Amanda to make sure she was a known facet of me. Some of my more unconventional friends usually liked Coin-Operated Boy.  One of my friends let me write lyrics from Backstabber on her math folder all four years of high school as a tradition.  I put a lot of Amanda Palmer references into my twelfth grade Art Journal, just because I wanted to be asked about it when it was time to present it.  I even titled the journal “A is for Accident”.  My math teacher, who played music on his iPod while we were given homework time during class, added one Dolls song for me, and when it played, everyone looked at me.  That was the closest thing I got to integrating my Real Life (Online) with the life I performed for the sake of others.

Despite “growing up”, I still couldn’t learn how to drive, I still didn’t belong to a community, and I still lived in a place where I felt unlovable all of the time.  I thought maybe no one would ever love me for any number of reasons, the same reasons I had considered as a child… Was it because I’m fat, because I can’t drive, because I am depressed, because I’m still weird? I even sometimes worried that I was boring.  I spent all of those years searching for an answer as to why I felt like nobody liked me, loved me, or wanted to know me, only to discover that there wasn’t really one answer.

In August 2012, I went to a community college.  I figured I would at least have a greater chance at finding friends who wanted to know me at a college since I would meet other queer people, other (current and former) cutters, other writers.  I still had a good set of Internet Friends (the original Neopets ones and ones I picked up on Twitter, Instagram and tumblr through mutual interests).  During the first week, I joined The Writer’s Club.  As an introduction, we all had to write our favorite author on the white board.  The first person to go up wrote “Neil Gaiman”.  I was so excited to be able to bring Amanda up that I could barely contain myself. I said “DO YOU KNOW ABOUT AMANDA PALMER?!” They all nodded, and said “yeah, I’ve heard of her.”

That was something, right?  It was enough.  The one guy eventually told me he had a friend who LOVED Amanda and that we would be such great friends, and that he wanted to introduce me to her.  Later on, a new person joined the club and I walked her to her car, enjoying the conversation.  She had a ukulele in her back seat. I said “Oh, have you heard of Amanda Palmer?”

She said: “OF COURSE, I LOVE AMANDA PALMER.”

Britney & I (2014)

So, we met by accident, although her friend had intended for us to meet intentionally, and she told me that her favorite musicians were Amanda Palmer and Marcy’s Playground, and I said mine were Amanda Palmer and Lana Del Rey, sometimes (the year was 2013).  That week, I skipped a class and we drove around the campus parking lot and listened to Mandy Goes to Med School, Good Day, and Half Jack.  I felt amazed that, even if it was just in this moment, the entirety of my life had the possibility of being known by another person just because we, at one time or another, both had something missing that brought us to the same band. I liked having this connection, another Amanda-knowing-friend who could understand my references and have context for my experiences. It was a relief for me to have this and I put a lot of love into that friendship. (Also, B is a really good musician. Like, I wish she had an EP. I would buy it twice.) 

October 16, 2013

At the beginning of 2014, I felt lonelier than normal.  The first year and a half I spent at my community college was really beautiful and healing but once it ended, I didn’t have any replacement to fulfill my sense of belonging. My depression was coming back worse, with a vengeance.  I tried to find anything to alleviate it.  The normal things weren’t working.  Trying to be known was only giving me more wounds than bandages.  Spending my usual amount of time on the Amanda Side of the Internet, I found the video for Bigger on the Inside, performed live.  It was originally posted in 2013, but I discovered it in January 2014.  

This is the video I mean, if you don’t know what I am referencing.

In this moment, I felt everything.  I had spent a little over five years pouring so much love into Amanda, I thought I loved her as much as I could love anything, and then I watched this and it was in that moment that I knew, now, for certain, I could not love her more.  I loved her so much and I really felt loved back.  “Somewhere, some dumb rockstar truly loves you,” became my saving grace time and time again.  I knew she meant it. I knew it was for me, and the hundred, thousand, million, other people whose wounds may be shaped like mine.  I made this pixel art, which she posted on her tumblr.

Shortly after this, I was suddenly in a relationship with someone I met in high school. We had a history that I supposed we just resumed.  I felt like I should keep Amanda separate from anything romantic in my life, because I never wanted to lose what she stood for or have it be tainted by an inevitable broken heart.  However, the Ukulele Anthem video came up and we watched it a few times together.  I thought there was a safe amount to share.  I felt amazed that she liked the song to begin with.

And then, I had my heart broken. Really, really bad.  As a gay person, the first time you love someone like that, your first gay relationship, it’s the most intense and fascinating thing, and the end of it is devastating.  World-shattering.  I went back to watching and listening to Bigger on the Inside a lot.  I remember writing lyrics over my cuts.  I remember wanting to die and (sort of) trying to (but not really, because I was more scared than I wasn’t).  I remember looking for a sign every time I opened my eyes that this pain was temporary.

So, I did what I usually did.  I followed Amanda, and I hoped that someone would know me, and that being known helped.  I tried to let people know me, made more Internet Friends, became obsessed with another band (Otep), befriended other fans, quit cutting, started again, got Straight A’s, fed my dogs, tweeted at the void.  Survived it.

I made it to my next birthday (a miracle! as Sylvia would say).  I turned 21 and graduated from my community college on the same day. December 10, 2014.  Big day. I also had period cramps.  As a tradition, my birthday cake was themed after whatever thing I was most invested in that year.  This one seemed like a no-brainer.  Amanda replied “why isn’t your name on it?”  Probably because nobody knew me, kid.  My birthday was always a very sad, hard day and having cramps and leaving college was sad…and hard.  The only test I had that day was a poetry final.  The metaphor isn’t lost.  I didn’t really see myself in the future anymore.

My “A is for Accident” tattoo from 2014.

March 2015 painting I did of Amanda in celebration of the Patreon.

I remember walking around outside listening to the audiobook of The Art of Asking. It was cold.  I remember feeling so deeply seen by it.  I bought and gifted half a dozen copies to people and to our libraries, because I felt (and still do feel) that everyone should read it, even if they don’t know Amanda. Actually, almost especially if they don’t.  At the beginning of 2015, I got back together with my ex-girlfriend. (Not really a plot twist, if you know any lesbians.  The fourth date is also our second break-up).  This was a bit of a turn of events for me, because I had been planning to kill myself. However, the distraction presented itself. This time, I didn’t share any of Amanda’s music with her, although I would tell her when Amanda tweeted me back and she would be supportive.

I drew the lyrics to Blake Says on her back once.  A full circle thing, I think. It wasn’t permanent.

At the same time this relationship was happening in my “Real Life”, something else was happening in my Online Real Life.  Amanda was starting her Patreon.  What did this mean? I didn’t know… yet.

There was a major Webcast / Patreon launch event, which I happily attended from my bedroom with 3 dogs.  Shortly after that, a couple other Webcast attendees made a “AFP Patron Facebook group”.  I joined.  I could simply say “I clicked ‘Join Group’ and then the rest of my life happened as a result” and end this here.

So, I’m out of school for the first time ever. No school meant having nowhere certain to socialize. I had a girlfriend (although things were always hard) who moved in with me, I’m 21 and I can’t drive (which made me always excluded) and I still constantly wonder if I have any friends who love me like my Internet Friends do, still constantly wonder if I’m known, if anyone gets it, and really, if anyone would want to get it, if they could.  My life was just as much online as it was ten years before, when I met my first Internet Friend on Neopets.

The Unofficial AFP Patreon Patrons! group was created March 11, 2015.  This is what became known as the “Sloth group”.  This group started out with people sharing how they found Amanda’s music, sharing their own art, and then it turned into something bigger.  A small corner of the Internet that allowed people to be themselves.  People sent each other “I see you” cards in the mail, gifts, money, supplies, and endless love.  I used to post in that group all the time when I needed advice on absolutely anything.  I was out of school for the first time, utterly unsure of what to do and navigating my first serious relationship badly. I felt I needed constant reassurance that I deserved to exist and this group gave that space to me.  Eventually, there were Art Exchanges, Gift Exchanges, SO MUCH MAIL, crowdfunding, life saving, collaborating, knowing, seeing, experiencing, LOVING, all within a 3,500 member Facebook group.  I received hundreds of pieces of mail from people all over the world, thoughtful cards, gifts, art made for me specifically, sloth-themed things, and I sent hundreds of pieces of mail and art all over the world just the same.  

One of my boxes of Slothmail, although many pieces are hanging around the house.

My “Real Life” started to look a lot more like my Online Life and I suddenly had FRIENDS who wanted to read my poetry, see my bad art, I wanted to read their poetry, hear their music, see their good art, and buy it.  It was reciprocal.  We made art for each other, with each other and we enthusiastically made space for each other. There were collaborative projects.  I was given an audience for my poetry, relationship advice, video games, birthday presents, a dress for a Halloween costume that turned into a very important friendship, so many stickers, so much art, and all of it was out of love.  I finally had a Place to exist where the Amanda-ness of my life accumulated into something solid and I wasn’t just carrying around a beautiful thing that I could only hope people believed if I told them about it.  It felt Real in a way that I could prove to others, Real in Real Life and Real Online.  We were the living Art of Asking.  

One of a few times I “crowdfunded” postage and sent mail to 200-300 people at once.

Being a patron meant getting more “insider” Amanda stuff.  It was a live action Fan Club, like the Lisa Frank Fan Club I was a part of that used to send me rainbow stationary six times a year, except cooler.  I loved feeling like I had a real part in this thing I had always been a part of (at least for the last seven years, at this point).  I already knew I loved her the most, now I loved her community the most and the love was real.  It means a lot to me to have been able to be a part of her community during some of the most significant times in her life, the death of Anthony, the birth of Ash, All the Haters Refusing to Get It, Dolls Reunions, a miscarriage, There Will Be No Intermission, podcasts, art projects, hundreds of conversations, an inconceivable amount of love, and everything in between and then… New Zealand.  I’ve always been there (here).

Me as the Bride, the week Ash was born, 2015.

From my lonely childhood to miserable adulthood, I never felt like my Real Life was a good place to be, but now my Online Life could be.  Even as the art exchanges, $10 donations, and collaborative projects slowed down, I still had very good, nurturing friendships to lean into that I didn’t have before.

One of my best friends from the group, Alexandra Jones, passed away in December of 2019.  I miss her a lot.  We used to talk all night.  She would ask about my dogs, write songs about them and then sing to them.  She even crocheted one of them a blanket. She was silly. I loved her so much.  There have been a handful of group members who passed away over the years, and each time, everyone comes together for them and the grief is real.  It made me realize that I’m also a Real Person to my Internet Friends and that my life matters to them.  When someone dies in real life, they also die online.

From March 2015 on, the AFP Community became a constant in my life, it got me through the death of two dogs, my relationship ending again, gaining weight after having an eating disorder, all of my mental illnesses and trying to figure out how to be a good human.  I had always wanted Friends.  Some people have a group of ten girl friends that they drink wine with, I have a couple hundred people who like my favorite band and know my greatest fears and how many cavities I have.  It was something, it was ours.

Steph & Mia, two of the best people I met through the Sloth Group.

Two of the closest, most significant Sloth Group Friends I made are Steph & their child, Mia.  They both put so much care into loving me, knowing me, and taught me (whether they know it or not) how to give it back better. How to love better and be a better friend.  In May 2016, they were traveling through PA and went out of their way to stop by and see me.  This meant, for the first time ever, I met my Internet Friends in Real Life.  I had Internet Friends for eleven years, and I knew they were all Real, but now I could say, look mom, they’re really, really, real.  Over a decade of Neopets, forums, AIM, MSN, MySpace, Twitter, Instagram, tumblr and Facebook became real in one single instance.  I connected with Steph online because I had asked if anyone in the group had an old prom dress I could use for a Carrie costume. They sent me one and then we just ended up talking everyday for a couple of years.  Most of my Sloth friendships started that way… Hey, how are you, what do you need? I love you.

Carrie, 2015.

So, what now? What have I learned?  That Internet Friends are Real? That I may be worthy of love? That somewhere, someone wants to read that poem, buy that art, listen to that song?  That no one is alone?  That someone will actually want to talk to me almost everyday?  That knowing someone who loves your favorite musician means you can tell someone how you feel without explaining why, because they already know?  That you can ask for a dress, a card, a candy bar, a dollar, and if someone has it to spare, they will?  That people would care if I died, even people living on another continent? I did learn all of that and it didn’t end there.

In all this time, I liked a lot of things a lot. Movies, shows, actors, singers, things— but I always felt Amanda was different.  When I would tell people about her, about the community, I think they automatically thought of other “fandoms” like Gaga’s Monsters.  That I was just a fan who really liked a band and this singer was some Product that made cool things that I could consume and I stood in a crowd like Yes, girl, I love your music! This song saved my life! but that has never been the case.  It’s okay that they misunderstand because you have to be invited to the party to see what we’re serving, anyway.  The door here is always unlocked.  You just have to knock.  

In 2017, two years after the Patreon and group started, my relationship was over, I had a full time adult job, I had another dog, I had depression (still), I had a hell of a lot of poems, and the world’s best Internet Friends that a $10 subscription of Amanda Palmer’s Patreon could buy (really, I love you all so, so, so much).  I wasn’t doing well but I would’ve been much worse without a support network of a few thousand people who also like my favorite band.

Amanda announced that she was going on tour with Edward Ka-Spel.  There would be two shows in a row in NYC.  A bunch of my friends were going and I was so sad that I couldn’t go.  Mia told me I should go but I said I couldn’t because I was too afraid to travel alone. Then I asked Britney.  She wanted to go.  Not only could we go, we could go to both shows.  Not only would I be seeing Amanda Palmer for the first time, I would be seeing her twice.

May 20, 2017.  Bowery Ballroom.  I’m in New York (a place I love) with B (a person I love), to see Amanda (the person I love the most), and all of this is possible because I asked for something and I had a community to support me through my indecision and feeling like I didn’t deserve it.  Despite my anxiety, we made it on time, we were really, actually there.  I remember seeing the piano on the stage, I started to cry and I said “Amanda is really going to be here.”  Not long after that, someone came up to me and said “You’re Angel, right? You’re the first sloth I recognized!”

That night, I met over fifty of my Internet Friends in Real Life.  Yes, mom, they’re real.  I actually think Strangers on the Internet are probably one of the least dangerous things now, despite what we were told about MySpace in the 2000s.  Strangers on the Internet actually love you.  They give you hope.  Well, maybe that is dangerous.

I knew Amanda was mostly playing songs from I Can Spin a Rainbow, but that she would play at least a couple of her own songs.  I am not sure I can even articulate what it feels like to hear Half Jack and Mrs. O for the first time in person after nine years of listening to them on an iPod, on a school bus, in a hallway, laying in bed with a broken heart. When Amanda played Machete, I cried so hard that someone had to fetch a bottle of water for me, I was inconsolable.  It was a decade’s worth of love coming to the surface of my heart.  It was love becoming Real, saying, “please believe me, I’ve been here the whole time”  all in the matter of one song.

I got to the meet and greet line pretty early.  I think I was in shock, but in a good way, because I met so many beloved Internet Friends, I saw Amanda IN REAL LIFE, and now, I was going to finally be able to say I’m real, please see me and it had to mean something.  After all this time, it had to matter.  I walked up to Amanda and said how much I love her, we took a picture, and I gave her a little wooden circle that I burned letters into that said “You Are Real”.  I told her that I feel she spends so much time telling us that we’re real, that she forgets to remind herself, and I wanted to reminder that she is Real, too.

As I walked away, someone I didn’t know (yet), told me she took a picture of me with Amanda & wanted to know if I’d like to have it.

May 20, 2017, taken by Laura.

The next day, Britney & I met up with some Sloths at a vegan brunch place.  The group separated, and my half explored NYC a little bit.  We went to a bookstore. I bought “The Ocean at the End of the Lane”. I finally read it in 2021.

Me, Krissy, B, Gavin, Sam (Photo by Jade Slater)

When it was time to leave to go to the venue, we left over an hour early to make sure there was enough time to schedule in the possibility of being bad at navigating the subway.  We ended up getting off at the wrong stop just like I had anticipated.  As we were walking in the subway station to find the next correct train, I heard a familiar laugh.  I spun around.  I froze for a moment and then said “Look, there’s Amanda!”

I was wearing a playing card & a vest with cards (per a tweet, Amanda requested Patrons wear cards or card-themed things). Amanda asked if we were going to the show tonight. I said that we were already on our way and  I asked if we could walk with her.  I also met Michael that day, and he is very lovely and I felt calmer because of how welcoming he was of my enthusiasm.  There is something you could say about years of Twitter-following and Facebook-grouping leading up to Spending an Hour on a Subway in NYC with your Favorite Singer All Because You Got Off at the Wrong Stop.  I was really living in the moment.  They always say don’t meet your heroes, but like I had always expected, Amanda was different, because her humanity was never a secret.  It was never an alter-ego.  The Artist Amanda Palmer and The Human Amanda Palmer are the same person.  She asked us about our jobs and lives, listened, I felt like I wanted to shove ten years of my life story into thirty minutes, but I was really just happy to be there.

May 21, 2017 outside of Rough Trade

I think one of the most magical things about this weekend and the experience of Finally Seeing Amanda, and then getting to Accidentally Spend an Hour Together was that an entire group of people from all over the world wanted nothing less for me.  I had a group of people in my corner who understood how meaningful this was to me, and one of them experienced it with me.  Maybe no one back home would understand, but the Sloths did, Michael did, Britney does, Dyllon does, and Amanda does, too.  I spent nine years paying love into something, unsure of what would happen with all the love I spent, but the act of paying it was a gift itself.  Then one day, I see, I do get it back, it’s all around me.  When I paid love into this space, it didn’t go away, it became universal.

Photo by Vivian Wang, May 21, 2017, Rough Trade

October 31, 2017.  9:30 Club.  THE DRESDEN DOLLS ANNIVERSARY SHOW.  I was so lucky that B was able to travel again to see Amanda, and not only was it Amanda, it was THE DRESDEN DOLLS on HALLOWEEN.  Could anything be more perfect?  I got to see my Internet Friends in Real Life (yes, they’re real) again, dress up in a costume, see The Dresden Dolls for real and they would play Bank of Boston Beauty Queen for me specifically (or so it felt).  If I could write a perfect day… This would be the opening paragraph.  Amanda had asked people attending the Halloween show to dress up as Zombie Madonnas, so I did.  She did not, however, tell us why.

October 31, 2017

She called me, Leandra and Laura up on stage and then asked for “all other passing Zombie Madonnas” to also join.  I was so awkward up there, but it’s still one of my favorite memories.  She played Material Girl (video here).

The day after The Dresden Dolls show, I got to see the Sylvia Plath Exhibit at the Smithsonian in DC.  Talk about all of my lives coming together.  Four days later, Amanda did a Webcast and she read Fever 103° because I asked for a Sylvia poem.   

That same year, someone in the group suggested that I might be autistic.  I thought… Well, that isn’t possible?  After a few quick Internet searches, I realized that explained everything… The lack of friends, my intensity, my obsessions and collections, my Otherness and why it had always been so hard.  It’s funny how you can be something your entire life but nobody loves you enough to want you to know, nobody cares enough to observe it, then someone on the Internet tells you the truth about yourself in a loving way.  I was diagnosed with Autism when I was 24 as a result.

In 2020, alongside the beginning of the pandemic, I released my first poetry book.  It’s called Aurelia.  I don’t think this would’ve been possible if I hadn’t had this community love me, make space for me and show interest in my art.  So, I did it.  I said Fuck the Fraud Police. I make good art, I’m a real poet.

A 2016 drawing: Anti-Fraud Police (AFP)

I attended a Webcast on May 28, 2020.  Amanda often brings friends and/or patrons on screen, too, to talk or share, and she welcomed me onto the Webcast.  I was pretty nervous but I asked her if I could read a poem.

I read the poem “Massachusetts”, which was inspired by her.   I felt so seen, so real and so loved (video here).  For twelve years I’d witnessed her art, experienced it, loved it, and then I got to be on the other side of that exchange.  I will never forget it.  As Len said, “the Massachusetts of your poem is also the combined AFP/Dresden Dolls family.”

Through the pandemic and other strangeness (New Zealand included), I have felt, as a whole, the community is closer than ever even if we are actually *literally* all further apart and unable to see each other. The exact community that Amanda Palmer has created and fostered is one that can survive loneliness and grief and the unknown and turn that into art or something.  We have each other and that is enough.  Amanda needs us and we need her, we need each other.  Each person throws in what they have to offer and it’s always enough.  That’s the best part about this place.  You don’t have to bring anything more than what you’ve already got and you end up leaving with more than you had.

There is a thread between us all, everything is connected. On hard days (which sometimes is all of them), I have this thread. It has a lot of uses. Sometimes, I tie it around my finger to remember something (love, I suppose), sometimes I can tug on it and see it’s holding a kite and I look up at the sky for the first time in days. Sometimes, I pull the thread between us and see that it’s holding my favorite sweater together that keeps me warm. Sometimes, it flosses my teeth, it’s a party streamer,or it is the ribbon on a present I am very excited to give.

It replaces a broken ukulele string. It hangs a picture.

The thread that holds together this community can be used for a million things, you just have to show up.

Amanda has welcomed me to read poems a few other times on Webcasts since that first time two years ago.  One time, she even let me tell my heartbreak story.  There’s something uniquely validating about saying “Dear Amanda, someone I met on tumblr broke up with me at an airport, what do I do now?”

Despite a lifetime of chronic suicidality, I stick around because I have these real connections, real friends – Online – and because of that I can write a poem, share it, read your poem, retweet someone’s art, buy it, send someone $20 so they can buy dinner, post that I’m sad and have it all matter. It can mean something. After all this time, I still haven’t found a way to maintain this sense of community and purpose offline.

Most of the “I’m grateful to be here” moments of my life have had something to do with This Place.  I put together a Poetry Anthology of poems written by patrons. There’s suicide poems, love poems, poems about death, grief, miscarriage, abortion and even poems about joy. I think we should do a second one.  All the more reason for me to stick around, right?

Back to the beginning… Blake Says was one of the first pieces of art that I experienced that ate my loneliness.  I am Blake.  Dyllon is also Blake, we were Blake to each other, sitting together listening to that song for the first time as teenagers.  If you’re reading this, YOU are Blake.  It made me realize our art matters, that our strangeness can be loved by someone, that we can be known by something bigger than us and we don’t have to change to be loved and cherished.  That has stayed true.

Dyllon & I, 2018

I have a friend now named Victor.  He has been the greatest Real Life supporter of my art.  I had been showing him a little more of my Amanda Side of The Internet, and I realized more and more how much people would love me, could love me, if they could just want to understand.  He understands, and even when he doesn’t, he still knocks and comes inside to see what I’ve collected.  It’s a real love.  A love I wouldn’t know how to accept if I hadn’t had a support system of a thousand-something people cheering me on for over half a decade now.  You taught me how to be a friend.  You taught me how to accept that people want to know me and love me (even though I still sometimes doubt it).  I am grateful. Victor moved away over the summer and now we are Internet Friends, too. I mention all this because Victor’s friendship and compassion for me showed me the love I have online in action, in real time, and solified what I already knew: I deserve this. Life really hurts less when you have support.

Victor & I, 2022

I can’t imagine what my life would’ve been like if I hadn’t heard of The Dresden Dolls. There are so many people I wouldn’t know, so many lessons I wouldn’t have had, so many poems I wouldn’t have written and even more that would’ve never been read, feelings I wouldn’t know how to articulate. I’m not certain I would have ever found my voice and if I had, maybe I wouldn’t have ever thought it mattered.  My life would be completely different and would have so much less love, art, beauty and friendship in it.  I would think it would be empty.  I may have never learned how to survive or navigate my enormity.  I may already have killed myself.

The Dresden Dolls were the first and most consistent “Yes” I’ve ever heard. Where life told me I couldn’t go, Amanda and Brian told me to try anyway. I followed them down a dark path that eventually unearthed hope and possibility.

In the beginning of the year, I had told someone about how I hope to go to New York to see Amanda again someday if I don’t kill myself and I talked about all of these big feelings that I have.  They told me that I shouldn’t plan my life around Amanda Palmer because… “That isn’t real life.”

Isn’t that so funny?  That is what this has ALL been about.  All of these things that have happened have been because Amanda Palmer is REAL LIFE.  From the first time I signed into the Internet, I was given the right to decide my own reality.  No matter what any person has ever tried to tell me, I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN LIVING MY REAL LIFE.  My Neopets were real, my fictional characters were real, my beanie babies and Barbie horses were real, my Internet Friends were definitely real, my big feelings at a small age were real, my grief was real, my love was real, my poetry is real, all of it.  Anything I have ever felt, seen, known, heard, experienced…it’s all real.  I’m the only person who has to believe it, but it’s changed my life, really, made my life possible, to be believed the way I am by the AFP Community.  My childhood feelings were not imaginary and neither are my adult experiences, even if I am living in spaces and conditions where people can’t acknowledge my reality or know it in a meaningful way, it is mine and it is very real.  Every adult that doubted me in my childhood was wrong, every stranger who doubts me now is wrong, and it’s their loss to not get to know me.  It is no longer my loss to not be known.  

Amanda said on a webcast that when she was a teenager, playing piano at her parents house, she was imagining us.  This community, this love, the give and take of us, the art-inspiring-art-experiencing-art-getting us.  Amanda was 17 when I was born, so whatever she was putting into the universe, I probably caught in my infancy and fought to articulate it. Them’s the poems, friends.

The truth is, some days, I still don’t feel like I am going to make it. My depression feels unbearable. I come up for air, wave hello.  Tweet.  Comment on a Patreon post.  Amanda waves back, says “I love you” and means it.  I’m here, and I’m real.  I’ve got that.  I’ve been exhausted by nearly three decades of proving my reality to other people, so now, I refuse, and I only let people who already get it into my space.  I have a lot of things that are real and absolutely no time to tell you about it if you don’t already know.  I’ve put in a lot of work, and with the support of something much bigger than me, sometimes it actually sticks.



I’ve never once thought, Amanda, are you real enough?  One day, she was just there in my life all of a sudden.  Handing out flowers on top of a milk crate.  Waiting for me to take one.

I think people should question their own doubts more than other people’s realities.  If all I do for the rest of my life is believe other people and let them believe me, that’s enough.  I can do that from my bed with an app on my phone and that will be enough for me.  In the meantime, though, there is poetry.  Read any poem, write one yourself, read a tweet, tweet your poem. Tweet your poem to me specifically and I’ll love it and you forever.  Come into the world to be believed and accept nothing less.  I could’ve made this story even longer if I talked about how each individual song, art project, post and friend I have made influenced my life, but I think you understand that it all mattered and continues to matter now, and for each of the stories and feelings I talk about, there are many more.  All of the music and art, their references, their unique overlap with my little experience on this planet, the intimacy of being known by hundreds or thousands of people, none of this was accidental unless it all was.  Right? I am an accident waiting to happen, I said at 15, and I wake up now at 28 seeing how several actual accidents and believing I’m real have resulted in me finally having Real Friends.  That was the best case scenario.



Maybe I was born real, maybe I became real the first time I posted on Twitter.

This was my 4th tweet ever, April 9, 2009.

The next time someone tells me Amanda Palmer isn’t my real life, maybe I will just hang up the phone.  Or send them this story (which they will never read).  My life has a lot more meaning because of some “dumb rockstar” and her fucking unbelievable capacity for love, one I wouldn’t trade for the world.  If she’s imaginary, so am I.

Because of Amanda Palmer, I’ve learned: My Internet Friends are Real People (even the ones from Neopets) (no really, like actually real, I hugged them); When They Die in Real Life, They Die Online; Someone Does Love Me; My Art Matters; Your Art Matters; Trying is the Point of Life; People Want to Know Me and Include Me; No One is Really Alone, but Our Loneliness is Real; I Have Friends; Twitter is Real Life; I Can Ask for Anything I Need; What I have to Offer is of Value; I’m Bigger on the Inside; Amanda Palmer is Real Life and Also My Friend on Facebook; My Autism is Obvious to Strangers on the Internet; Someone Will Pay for my Poetry and Love it; Sometimes Love and Understanding are on the Other Side of an Ask; Someone (including a rockstar) Would Really Be Sad if I Kill Myself; and most of all…

I’m Really, Really Fucking Real.

This story doesn’t end. It eventually travels to Woodstock.

The Aurelia-inspired art by Victor Carlesi

The origin of Aurelia’s name is as follows:

In October of 2019, I went to a memorial dinner with my friend, Victor. Victor is a friend who made me feel comfortable with my art and grief coexisting.

I had been talking about how I needed to eventually pick a name for my upcoming poetry book, but I was stuck between a few choices. Sylvia Plath, my favorite poet, always named things so perfectly and I wanted to really find the right fit. I couldn’t settle for anything less. The conversation lead to me to talking about Sylvia’s mother, Aurelia, whose name means “golden”.

After showing Victor a home video of me from my first day of preschool, age 5, where I make a “mad” face, I thought… “I think I want to name the book Aurelia.”

Looking at the video of me at age five, I know that I was a golden child in a world of people who think silver is more beautiful. There’s more to that story, but that’s the simplest explanation.

This moment of sitting in a grief with my friend and sharing a video from my childhood brought me to have a moment of clarity where it felt that the book named itself, and Victor proceeded to draw little-mad-Angel as the cover of Aurelia.

Victor also drew four poem-inspired images for me to have to celebrate the book, and another one as my birthday gift in 2020. So much time has passed since we were sitting together in my room talking about art and poetry, but I will forever be grateful for the time in my life where I just got to sit beside a beloved, golden friend and be artists together and nothing else.

Aurelia (2020)
“Fat Cookies”
“Cherries”
“The Bath”
“Suicide Weather”
“The Doll Collector”
“The Wild”

Art gifted by Victor Carlesi, inspired by poems within Aurelia.

Autism Acceptance 2022

It’s Autism “Awareness” Day.

You are aware autistic people exist. Let’s accept them.


Acceptance ISN’T posting anything about Autism Speaks, puzzle pieces, or the color blue. Acceptance ISN’T sharing the “Blue Halloween Bucket” post every year or talking about how “special” Autistic people are like we’re not reading your comments. We have always been here.

If you have seen a single post about how the autistic community feels about Autism Speaks & you still choose to share and spread information from them, you are NOT an ally. Yes, even if your son, niece, third cousin, best-friend’s child, sibling or father is autistic. If you are not applying the information that autistic people are offering and learning from it, you’re not an ally.

Accepting autism means realizing that we do not always have the support we need in the world, because it doesn’t exist universally. A lot of autistic people are failed by the system and lack of accessibility. We don’t all need the same amount of help, but a lot of us don’t have access to the right kind.

Autism acceptance means accepting that YOU DID bully me (and anyone like me) if you made fun of me for liking Pokémon, Freddy Krueger or cat books, but thought it was perfectly acceptable for someone to like Twilight, sports teams and Disney movies. Accepting our differences is knowing when to hold us to a different standard than neurotypicals, and when not to. If “Regular” people are allowed to be HUGE FANS of conventional movies, teams, and topics, you cannot resent autistic people for their special interests.

Accepting autism is re-learning what the media has taught you. It’s not some curable mental illness… It’s a neurotype. All people process information differently, but autistic people process information more often a certain way than another. We’re not all the same, but we have an overlap in our understanding and how we learn, communicate and articulate our truths.

Accepting autism is realizing that it doesn’t end when someone stops being a kid. Accepting autism is actually making time for adult autistic friends you have, including them in things you like and also wanting to do things they like, even if you think they’re weird. Autistic people shouldn’t always be the ones sacrificing their needs and wants for the sake of inclusion, but that’s often the case. Our needs and wishes are often seem “too much”, so we go along with what we’re offered. Imagine if it didn’t have to be that way?

Accepting autism is accepting that some of us will never eat anything “adult”. We see hundreds of tweets and posts a year about how someone should “grow up” if they don’t like mushrooms. People don’t have to eat a certain way to be worthy of your respect.

Accepting autism is accepting that many autistic people’s interests are considered “for children” or they’re so obscure you’ll never be able to understand them, or you’ve never heard of them. Acceptance is not discouraging us from being ourselves by putting rules and labels on interests.

Some autistic people are loud. I’ve been told my entire life to be quiet. I won’t. Accept that, too.

Functionality labels are harmful. All autistic people struggle in a society that is formatted to only support neurotypical people. You cannot possibly understand how a person functions. If someone doesn’t require much support, you could say “low support needs” instead of “high functioning”. This is just my personal suggestion! Not necessarily the only option.

Those of us with ASD 1 (requiring the least support) can often speak for ourselves, but we cannot speak for autistic people with different needs who may require more care. And we would never claim to be able to speak for those who are unable to communicate.

Autism in adults can look like so many things. Doctors, lawyers, writers, scientists, artists, engineers, and builders can all be autistic. There is nothing that an autistic person can’t be! But some autistic adults don’t achieve that or don’t want to and all of us deserve the same amount of respect and consideration. Some autistic adults can’t work, can’t drive, can’t make friends or even pass a written test. We all have different struggles and different strengths.

Here are links:
https://autisticadvocacy.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/AutismSpeaksFlyer2020.pdf
https://www.fsunews.com/story/opinion/2021/04/11/april-dont-support-autism-speaks/7180467002/
https://greenwavegazette.org/19937/showcase/awareness-vs-acceptance-why-autism-speaks-does-not-speak-for-the-autistic-community/
https://www.learnfromautistics.com/wear-redinstead-on-autism-acceptance-day/

Patron Poetry Books

Poetry Books from writers within the AFP Patron Community

Aurelia by Angel RosenPurchase Here
Blake by Angel RosenPurchase Here
Breaking and Blessing by Sean Parker DennisonPurchase Here
Sex and God by Fleassy MalayPurchase Here
Virago: A Poetic Manifesto by Fleassy MalayPurchase Here
Hindsight Being 2020 by Eli KwakePurchase Here
Shadow Giving Light by Eli KwakePurchase Here
Altars and Oubliettes by Angela Yuriko SmithPurchase Here
The Phoenix and the Dragon: Poems of the Alchemical FormationPurchase Here
Longing by Giulia de Gregorio ListoPurchase Here
Unraveling by Lilly RosePurchase Here
Of Dreams and Sorrow: Confessions of a Faerie Witch by Lilly RosePurchase Here
Carbon Made: Chants to the earthbound and the sublime by Sofia LopesPurchase Here
2020 – A Year in Poetry by Becky Ellen-JohnsonPurchase Here
Capturing Kapiti: Landscapes and Mindscapes by Becky Ellen-JohnsonPurchase Here
Revel: A Triple Shot of Cafe Poems by Carla ColesPurchase Here
Evidence Room by Florence RivièresPurchase Here
Say a Long Goodbye by Zach J. PaynePurchase Here
There are Monsters in this House by James O’LearyPurchase Here

Poetry Anthology Zine Contributors

Click Here to Pre-order the Anthology Zine Pre-orders end April 11!!

Editors:

Angel Rosen: angelrosen.com – Twitter.comInstagram &

Joshua Pipkins: Twitter

Cover art by Chrissy Carlson: http://twitter.com/carlsonscience

Logo by Robin McFadden: http://www.bitethepaintbrush.com

Distribution: Coin-Operated Press

Zach J. Payne: http://zachjpayne.com

James O’Leary: http://munsterlit.ie/Bookstore_Chapbooks.html#oleary 

Katy Cat Riff

Adam Byrn Tritt: https://adamtritt.com/https://www.facebook.com/adamtritt/

Angel Rosen: http://twitter.com/Axiopoeticushttp://instagram.com/axiopoeticus

Ella McKee: http://instagram.com/wishie_worm   

Joshua C. Pipkins: http://twitter.com/pipkinsjoshua

Misty Prostko: https://twitter.com/mistyprostko

Amy Reese

Thomas Herlofsen: https://twitter.com/gigaloffhttps://soundcloud.com/freduthttps://www.instagram.com/fredut  – https://www.twitch.tv/thomasherlofsen

Anne Stott: http://theannestott.com

Debra Wallace

Jennifer E. Henley, PhD 

Sara Wagner: www.saramarijkewagner.com 

S. E. Williams

Sam Yvonne Standen: twitter.com/lorem_ipsaminstagram.com/sam__standen

Roger Sandega: https://www.deviantart.com/rogersandega

Rebecca Reid: http://instagram.com/bekasreid  

Marie O’Reilly: http://instagram.com/marieorielly7http://twitter.com/marieohreally

Coralie Oddy-Propsting 

Erinn Baldeschwiler: http://allerinnbaldeschwiler.com/  

Lisa Reza:  https://www.facebook.com/SHebrew42/

Kendra J. Moras

Skriblz: @skriblz_skrblz

k. stellar dutcher: https://stellarsings.comhttp://instagram.com/stellarsings – https://patreon.com/stellarsings 

Robin Lim 

Lukas Sauer: @theswampman11

Mika Rain

Cara Meskar: www.instagram.com/world_lilywww.patreon.com/world_lily

Pia Lauridsen: http://instagram.com/crowgirl658

Ketsia Ellis: https://www.instagram.com/ketsia.elizabeth/

Katie Kipper: http://twitter.com/_kt_k_ 

Pike Malarkey: https://pikemalarkey.neocities.org/

Katja Schmid-Doyle

Darryl Bayliss: http://darrylbayliss.net/ – @darryl_bayliss

Draven Himes

Jeanette Marcotte

Aviva Weisgal

Melody Plan: http://twitter.com/yoshiislander

Sydney Fowler: http://sensitivityreader.com/

Niila Tikka

Deniz Bevan: http://thegirdleofmelian.blogspot.com/http://simplescarf.blogspot.com/

Stephanie Gunner-Lucas: http://twitter.com/StephanieGunner 

Franziska Förster:  @fremchen

Lilly Rose: www.lillyrose.art  – www.instagram.com/faerievvitch

Laura J.W. Ryan: https://laurajwryan.wordpress.com/

Jennifer M. Shultz: https://www.facebook.com/BecomingFae 

Denman Netherland

M. J. Fraser: http://www.mj-fraser.comhttp://www.patreon.com/mjfrasertwitter.com/mlclmfrsr

Amelia Cooper: http://patreon.com/schlugliminal

Ellie Barcar: https://www.patreon.com/elliebarcarhttps://m.soundcloud.com/elliebarcar

Jaz Stutley: https://www.booksbyjaz.com/http://jazstutley.com.au/

Charlie Alcock: http://twitter.com/CharlieAlcock 

Jennifer Frandsen: @cosplayfairygodmother 

Jen Mont

Ben Mucchi: http://www.edge-stretching.com

Cecilia Tan

Christiane Pschierer 

Lisa May

Peter Wood: petercwood.com / http://twitter.com/liminal  

Robin McFadden

Fleassy Malay: http://www.fleassymalay.com/ – @FleassyMalay

E. Cross

Anna McCluskey: theannafiles.com

Siân Killingsworth: http://twitter.com/sianessa   

Justin Wendzicki: http://twitter.com/justinothernerd  

Daniel Allen: https://www.facebook.com/daniel.allen.9828/

Gina de la Cruz

James Jay: http://twitter.com/flowersofsin 

Florence Rivières: www.rivieresflorence.frwww.rivieresflorence.fr/blog – @rivieresflo -http://instagram.com/florencerivieres

Hannah K. Schumacher

Grace Beaster: https://www.patreon.com/GraceBeaster

R. E. Lees: http://instagram.com/robyn.lees29 

Andy Robbins, Jr.

Brianna Ault 

Phoenix M.T. Noah: @foxnphoenixbindery 

Cherie Bruce: http://www.squidlykitten.comhttp://instagram.com/squidlykitten 

Ellis Kay Morgan: http://elliskaymorgan.com – instagram.com/elliskaymorgan 

Kerry Stickel  

Amanda Eckert 

Audrey Greathouse: audreygreathouse.com 

Janine Jeffreys 

Noah D. Christie 

Adam Al-Harbi: @pitstachio 

Kate Robin-White: https://katerobinwhite.wordpress.com 

Sasha La Rochelle

Mariangela Osiecki Unitt: http://www.moxlu.com/ 

Sara Stone: @stonesaya_oma

Amy Moloney: https://www.patreon.com/AmyMoloney – LadyStarpunk.com 

Mae Snow: @thevvitchinthewoods 

Jamie Zipfel: https://jamie-zipfel.medium.com/http://instagram.com/bringerofthewords 

Anne Robertz

Sofia Lopes: http://www.sofiauthor.wordpress.com/ 

Lucia Morello

Alix Lewise: @alixlewise 

Amanda Hunt: @@amandainmiranda 

Sean Parker Dennison: @revsean

Dorian David Leigh 

Jacqueline Tyráček: http://www.instagram.com/cranialmoondesigns 

Joe Average

Phyllis Martin: https://www.instagram.com/phylociraptor/

D. Franklin a.k.a manta: http://www.dfranklin.org/

Jessica Lynn

Sai Chi: https://sai-chi.square.site/ – @saichistories

Ariana Burrell: @disabled_ariana 

Von Economo: https://voneconomo.comhttps://instagram.com/von.economo 

Sabine Juschkat 

Betsy Cacchione / Aokha Skyclad / Nomad Poet: artofgettinglighter.me

Mary Ann Wesselman 

Jen Forte: @jenfortestories 

Bonnie Denbo 

Talking About Suicide at Parties

For most of my life, I have faced this ongoing issue: I want to talk about suicide at parties.

Not just at parties, but I want to talk about suicide at school, online, at work, in the community, at concerts, in the car, on vacation and everywhere in between.

Why? That part is easy! Suicide has never been an irrelevant topic for me. It’s always been there, it’s always existed, and the idea that suicide happens and not only does it feel like an option, but sometimes an obligation, means that even on the happiest days of my life: I want to talk about suicide.

 

Here’s the thing: Nobody wants to discuss uncomfortable topics constantly. There is an unwritten rule of “a time and a place” for things such as politics, abortion, religion, drug problems, LGBTQIA issues and so on, but guess what? For some people, those “I hope she doesn’t mention it at dinner” issues are EVERYDAY life, and therefore shouldn’t be met with such hesitation.  These topics are hard to talk about for a reason, because they matter.

Alongside religion, politics and other taboo topics that people have had to fight the silence about, suicide is a major topic. It’s something that people either scream about, or whisper. There is no way to meet the topic of depression, self harm and ideation with a monotone voice: and that’s how it should be.

So here we are: I just had my 5-year high school reunion.  About 30 of 110 people attended, and it was at a bar, so I didn’t stay long. I stopped at each clique of people to let them know: I’m still here, still loud, still fat, twice as lovable, a hundred times as wise, a designated survivor and despite all the good things that have happened… I want to talk about suicide at parties.

First of all: many of my classmates didn’t know I work for a lawyer, nor did they know my poetry has been published in journals many times so I guess I don’t talk about myself anywhere near as much as I think I do (brownie points!)

So, I was talking to my friend Victor at this party about how hard it is for me to not explain the way I feel to people in every social setting. I want them to know how I feel about my trauma, how I deal with it, and I want to attest to the fact that I’m doing fantastic, even though sometimes I don’t look the part.  During the discussion, Victor mentions the Netflix show “13 Reason Why” which we both watched as soon as it came out. It was a very controversial show for good reasons: it was insensitive, but real; and there were people fighting for its realness as well as against it. I happened to enjoy it, but I’m also mostly in a good headspace, so I can’t speak for everyone.

Upon Victor mentioning “13 Reasons”, I remembered that just a few weeks ago I found a list I wrote my sophomore year (2009), which contained “reasons to live” and “reasons to die”. It fell out of a Shakespeare book that I was gifting to my friend Jacob.

At this point in the conversation, it’s time to talk about Suicide… at a party.

Over the years, I’ve been un-invited to places, I’ve been unfriended, I’ve been looked over for this: for the fact that my honesty doesn’t ask much of its place. My honesty goes with me wherever I am, and it doesn’t need a formal introduction. I am going to talk about my mental wellness and my mental illness wherever and whenever (as long as I don’t put another person in danger), because as someone who has been considered troubled since childhood, this topic never ceases to matter. It’s never “not the right time.”

I told my friend a few things I remembered on the list and how I had planned to sit down and compare the almost-decade old list to my current mental list of “reasons” to live or to die, something I think most passive or actively suicidal people carry around in one of their brain pockets.

For the sake of preservation, I won’t mention the actual names on the list of “reasons to die”, but rather what they stood for.

2009: Reasons to Live:

 

My mom

Beaker (my dog)

(Seven names)

Spongebob, Roseanne

The Phantom of the Opera

Facebook

French Class

Cameo

Poetry

5,000-dollar teeth

Jaynie, Josie, Lindsey

My hair is beautiful

Living for other people

 

2009: Reasons to Die:

 

Drugs

Self-harm

Starvation, my body, purging

Never perfect

Men and women

(Two names)

Worthless, not good enough

Annoying, obnoxious, loud

Monster, disgusting

Judgmental, rude

No common sense

Selfish

Not beautiful

 

Right off the bat: It’s clear. The reasons to live were more so THINGS and PEOPLE and the reasons to die are more so opinions or actions. I would have to say that is still true for how I currently feel about it all.

Right now, in 2017, I feel like I have been through a lot. I mean, hasn’t everyone? Life only gets harder, but if you’re lucky, you get more equipped. Right now, I am soaking in the rays of kindness from the people who pour it into me. I “take the donut” any time I can, but offer baker’s dozens to whomever needs, even if they can’t ask.

The last three or so years are very blurry and yet crystal clear. I didn’t realize I was experiencing small increments of emotional trauma until after the fact, but now it’s something I must deal with each day (I love my ongoing paranoia, fear of abandonment, instability in friendships and fear of visibility!! Oh, and the nightmares are cool, too) – and all of that bad stuff and the good shoved in the crevices of it has brought me to a point where I can say I actually don’t want to die *that bad* most* of the time now.

The reasons to live can be broken down into: people, pets, things and attributes. I chose to live for my mom, my friends (specifying Cameo, Jaynie, Josie and Lindsey – who are still my greatest friends), things I enjoyed such as French class and the television show Roseanne, and the fact that I was lucky to have such nice teeth.  The reason it’s easier to live for THINGS and PEOPLE is the “fomo”, or fear of missing out, the idea that these things will still exist without us, but we won’t get to experience them. I can remember being 15 and worrying that I wouldn’t get to enjoy another French fête, or another party at Lindsey’s, I wouldn’t get to quote Spongebob, write a poem or pet my dog. Those seemingly small, situationally replaceable things brought the only moments of joy to my mind.  Nearly a decade later, I can say this: I still choose to live for all the same reasons. I choose to live for my mother, my pets, the same friends I’ve mentioned, as well as all the ones I’ve met since then, I choose to live to enjoy television shows, for the potential to write another poem, for the memories of French class, for the fact that my nice teeth allow me to smile at strangers and sometimes that makes other people’s day better.  The same reasons, and yet the motivation is completely different. At 15, I reluctantly chose to live for these things. I shrugged my shoulders and thought, “I guess I won’t die today, for this reason.” – and now, I scream I WON’T DIE TODAY!! FOR ALL THE REASONS!!

At parties, it’s easier to focus on the positives. At social events and on social media, we paint our best selves for the crowd because we don’t want to be pegged as failures.  That’s something I’ve always struggled with – I can’t lie on social media. If I’m not doing well, that’s what I say, and if I say I am well, I mean it (but it could be subject to change at any minute, I’m sure).  People socializing at a reunion, everyone’s talking about places they’ve been, telling jokes, talking about the future, and I just want to brag about how I’ve survived the past. Not to always be the Debbie Downer, but I feel like I need to weasel myself into conversations to let people know that I DIDN’T KILL MYSELF and they should know ALL THE REASONS WHY, not because I want praise, but because I know in a room of 50 people, I’m probably the only one who is going to address the uncomfortable topics head on, and I think, especially in small towns, the scope of focus and education on mental wellness/illness is pretty limited. “Did ya hear about the stigma?”

Now that I’ve addressed the good stuff, I want to talk about the “Reasons to Die, 2009 Edition”. It boils down to: opinions I had of myself, things I did, things other people did.  Now, being self-aware this translates to: Things Out of my Control. I couldn’t control other people, I couldn’t control the opinions I’d formed about myself, I couldn’t control my eating disorder or self-harm issues (at the time), and it all seemed like way too much work.  If I’m being blatant, the main reason I still consider suicide a valid option is actually because I can’t control everything. I can’t guarantee anything, I can’t paint a picture of my future and have it solidified. Even when you are independent, everything is up to chance and also depends on the actions of other people. When I’m in my dark corner, I still want to die for all these same reasons: because other people do drugs (an ongoing subject of discomfort for me), because of my body (being even more overweight than when I wrote this), because other people will abandon me and refuse to give me closure, and because the opinions I have of myself – are opinions other people have of me, and no matter how much good energy I fathom out into the world, I am never going to be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s easier to live with the idea of Not Existing than to live with the idea of never living up to the expectations other people have of you, or even worse, living up to the bad ones.  Most of these opinions of myself were given to me by other people, or by society as a whole. I still think I’m judgmental, but not rude; I still think I am obnoxious but not always annoying – these things came out and developed into charming traits that individualized me instead of putting me out of the group. Instead of living in the margins, I threw a gala in the sidelines and all the other weirdos chose to attend. I have presently overcome my struggles with self-harm, but it will always exist, and although the people whose names I put on this list never actually gave me closure, I closed the door myself and realized there is a time and a place where you don’t need to wait for answers from someone else anymore: sometimes their silence is the actual answer, and the echo you put into it.

When I found this list, I can’t say I was shocked. I knew that, fundamentally, I didn’t change. I just grew (change is not equivalent to growth, and growth is not equivalent to change – I cannot stress that enough). In growing, my mental “List of Reasons” that I carry around with me everywhere I go is really just a more logical, tangible version of a sloppy, angsty note I wrote as a child. The problems I had in high school grew into things I understood better as I developed my understanding of mental health and what made me who I am.

When I was younger, I wanted to talk about suicide at parties for the wrong reasons. I wanted to bring up my mental health because I wanted attention for being different (to quote one of my classmates, I had nothing else going for me aside from being radical, and that’s the only way I ever got attention). I would bring myself to places and talk about hurting myself, talk about death and how hopeless everything was because I thought it would make people love me.  In the last decade of  Talking About Suicide Absolutely Everywhere, here are some things I’ve learned:

  • It’s okay to talk about suicide at parties. The right people will hear you, and chances are, there is someone there who needs to listen to what you have to say.

 

  • It’s okay to be suicidal and not talk about it all the time (it’s still real!)

 

  • Talking about real, uncomfortable topics during situations that have been deemed socially inappropriate actually brings light to the level of empathy your friends carry. It’s important to surround yourself with people who share similar levels of empathy and understanding of the condition of the world, because those are the people who make you feel safer in your ongoing decision to Not Die.

 

  • The people who love you, do love you, and will love you, whether you talk about your struggles or choose not to.  If your mental illness makes someone “love you more”, that may not be the healthiest situation, because they should love you as much as they do, and only seek to understand you more through your stories. Your mental wellness has absolutely no say in your right to be loved or to what ferocity.

 

  • Never, ever say “no one will love you until you love yourself”. Delete that sentence from your brain dictionary. Apologize to everyone you ever said it to – because that degrading sentence will be on another 15-year old’s “List”, and they may not have a dog, or French class to keep them here if they feel like no one will ever love them.

 

  • It’s okay to be better! Accepting any level of “good” after a lifetime of bad feels dishonest, but it’s okay to let go of your love affair with depression sometimes just to enjoy the good days (or hours, weeks, months: whatever amount of time comes to you this way).

 

  • You can un-learn the opinions other people have taught you of yourself whether they are based on truth or not.

 

  • And ultimately: The fear of talking about suicide at the wrong time should never stop you. If you need to talk about it right now, no matter how inconvenient it may feel: it is smarter, better and safer to express those feelings than to bottle them up. I know this.

It’s 2017, and at parties sometimes, I shit talk people I once loved to make myself feel better, I make crude jokes, I invite myself into conversations that didn’t involve me, and most of all: I talk about my mental illness. It’s something I will never apologize for again, because had I seen this long ago: those things made me human.

Vulnerability and honesty are what makes us human, and there’s never a wrong time (party or not) to ask for someone to be on the receiving end of your humanity.

My list of reasons to live now may just be a bunch of scribbles, but one thing will stand out: humanity.

Humanity.

 

“What if it’s just you?”

“What if it’s just you?”…

I’ve heard this sentence two times in the last month, both with very different meanings.  It’s made me think about all the times I was desperate to throw credit or blame to another person, and all the times that maybe it was really just me.

When you grow up feeling like you’re special all the time, adjusting to the adult world of knowing everyone is actually sort of average, even those who are exceptional, is rough. It takes a lot of discomfort to get out of a coddled childhood mindset and accept the fact that nobody’s really one of a kind but that doesn’t mean they aren’t “special”, either.

I have a problem where I either blame myself – for everything, or nothing. I have absolutely no middle ground for who is responsible for the good and bad things that happen in my life. And sometimes, I guess, it’s just me.

In the last year, I ended a relationship that was mutually toxic. Both people were suffering, and at first, it’s very easy to exclaim – THIS IS ALL MY FAULT – and then way easier, later, to say NO, IT’S YOURS. But neither one of those statements is entirely true.  As a result of the terminated relationship, I cut ties with most mutual friends and acquaintances, and took a leap into the true Facebook purge that everyone threatens and deleted, unfollowed or even blocked about 300 – 350 people in the last 9 months. Some of those people I still like or care about, but I am better off without a constant update on their lives.  Being vocal about my dismay, I have no issue complaining about how lonely this feels, and how it feels like nobody likes me.

As per the usual, I made a complaint on Facebook about how my luck with dating women hasn’t really been that great. A social media friend of mine made the comment “What if it’s just you?”, in other words, and went on to say that if all of my romantic pursuits were failing the same way – that I actually may be the toxic factor involved in them, being that I am the only constant. Although there is a bunch of merit to the proposition, it takes some breaking down.  Psychologically and emotionally, people tend to attract the same sort of situations. Men and women in abusive relationships are more likely to move on to other abusive relationships. We all have “types”, so to say, even if they are unhealthy. The fact that most of my relationships start off extreme and then taper into a rough and awkward silence could be due to the fact that I inadvertently attract people who will eventually react that way to me.  That maybe I’m not necessarily toxic in general – but that I am toxic to whatever kind of person I am attracted to, which would explain my many lonely years of unrequited love and the feeling of a general unfairness of the world.  Since this, each time I interact with someone and it goes badly, I wonder… “is this just me?” I’ve accepted the times it has been, taken lengths to apologize to a few people, and also made a point to move on from the relationships that were beginning and ending that way.  It’s like carrying a dead weight along the road with no real destination, and the pained interactions were not benefiting the carrier or the weight. It’s okay to accept that you meet awesome people, and sometimes you just aren’t compatible as friends or more, but that doesn’t determine who is “good” and who is “bad”, sometimes it’s just not.

On to the next phase…

I’m in New York City. I’m seeing Amanda Palmer for the first time in concert. I’m overwhelmed and full of love and a happy heart. At the show, I befriended two strangers (a couple), and we ended up going out for pizza afterwards.  Myself, my friend B, and our two new friends traveled to some questionable pizza shop via bus in NYC in the middle of the night. I was talking about how my experience meeting Amanda was just sublime and how the month before I had met another one of my heroes, and I rambled on about how grateful I am to know so many wonderful people and have all these great experiences. I said I couldn’t believe how wonderful all the people in my life are.  One of our new friends says, in other words, “What if it’s just you?”

This time it meant something totally different. Instead of throwing a blame at me, he was offering me credit.  Credit is just as hard to take as the blame in a lot of cases.  He was suggested that the reason that all of these great things happen to me – the people that I meet, the friends I make, the interactions I have are because I am good and worthy of them. I asked him, “What do you mean?” and he said “You seem to be the one that’s great.”

WHAT IF it’s possible that the reason that I have these amazing experiences has nothing to do with luck, or chance, but rather that I am actually the good person I’ve always striven to be, and despite the fact that sometimes I am the reason that things go wrong, that it’s okay to also accept that sometimes I am the reason that things go right.  And that there shouldn’t be any burden to taking the credit.  Things like this come full circle.

I’ve spent all this time re-evaluating all of the experiences I’ve had recently, wondering where I need to pick up blame and where I also need to pick up credit.  Which scorned friend, which wrong path I chose to walk. I find, like most things, the good and bad balance themselves out – just not always necessarily at the same time. Sometimes the see-saw is stuck with the heavy kid on the playground for a little too long, but the good always pushes back up… and if he doesn’t, well, the big kid will eventually have to go home – he still has a curfew like everyone else.  Nothing is permanent, which is alleviating and scary.

So… What if it really is just me? What does that mean? What does it mean to take full responsibility for how you treat people, and how receptive you are of the treatment from  others? It means growth.  It means stepping back from living your life as a self-centered young person to take the time to observe the true meaning of consequence.  Dwelling on the past is always unhealthy, but can be used as learning process, as it should, but we can’t copy and paste our new found thought practices into the backgrounds of our lives. We must move on from them.

So here I am, 23 years old. I have less friends than ever – but more friends than ever. They are different kinds of friends. More people, now than ever, have an opinion about me. I am not responsible to live up to that opinion – good or bad, because what other people think about me is usually not my business.  When they taunt “takes one to know one”, it really just means that we attract what we are – the good and the bad. So for the people I’ve brought into my life who end up being toxic, negative or even traumatizing, that means I’ve been that person for someone before, too.  The good people who gladly welcome themselves into my life – that means I’m that good person, too.

If I open my eyes entirely, without wearing the shades of the past – I see something like truth:

Good things will happen to you if you let them. Bad things will happen to you if you make them happen.  One of them takes a lot more effort, but it’s the easier one to do (and which is which is up to you to determine). It doesn’t take much to re-wire our default settings… sometimes it just takes one sentence… “What if it’s just you?”