How to Survive the Internet

Remember AOL? When a profile was a thing with like five questions (“Marital Status: LQQKING”) and a space for a personal quote? In sixth grade I remember my high school-aged cousin wrote “a weekend wasted is not a wasted weekend” for his PQ, and I didn’t even get it but I thought he was the “kewl”-est, so I put it in mine too (right next to an Erykah Badu lyric that I thought sounded sophisticated but didn’t realize was about the spiritual complexity of being a woman).

Then there were the “hometown” webpages! Mine was filled with shiny bubble letters (which totally required knowledge of ~HTML~) and those weird slutty avatar things. How anyone didn’t detect my gayness is a mystery, but that’s neither here nor there.

Nothing during those AOL days was ever here or there, and that’s what was so wonderful about it. Nothing mattered. It was all so safe and vacuum-y and intimate. You could log in and log out, knowing that you were always pretty much aware of everything you needed to be aware of, because really there was nothing to be aware of anyway. Save for maybe your forty or so buddies’ profiles. (OMG, was I a loser?)

But now we have this information overload situation. Today’s Internet is all about making the world a better place generating money and expressing outrage and displaying sad, dark thoughts for the world (see: no one) to read and humble-bragging and think-piecing and time-wasting and lots of other things but mostly generating money. It can (Taylor) swiftly turn into a soul-sucking place if you let it.

This is especially true for those people who want to feel like they have a grasp on shit. Because unlike AOL Hometown, one can never have a grasp on today’s actual Internet. Obviously! I know.

But how often do you still feel like you’re trying anyway? How often do you try to get to a point online where you’re like, “Okay, I’m fully aware of everyone out there who wants the same things as me, and I can totally take all of them on”? (#SelfObsession.) How often do you find yourself with twenty tabs open only to work through all of them and then feel LITERALLY LIKE YOUR SOUL HAS BEEN PUNCHED IN THE FACE?

(Do souls even have faces?)

I un-followed about two-hundred Twitter accounts last week.

And! It was such an Emancipation of Mimi moment. With a simple Twitter cleanse, the mental curse of the Internet becomes a million times more manageable and less draining. I now wonder why I even bothered reading half of the shit I used to in the first place. Like, why did I ever even follow Gawker? All that site ever did was make me feel like a loser for not being as “clever” (/snarky/bitter/troll-y) as its writers, and also like there was no reason to ever be positive about anything at ALL, EVER, which is a fun way to live. (Except not.)

Ugh, Internet snark. There is just so damn much of it. And it’s so contagious. Especially if you’re smart. Especially if you’re frustrated with just about anything in life. It’s so gross. Except for when it isn’t and it’s just hilarious. Bah! Snark is such a contradiction-inducing topic of ugh-ness for me. I love it! But I hate it. Everyone is such an asshole. But sometimes that’s the perfect thing to be? I don’t know.

Surviving the Internet means constantly reminding yourself that it is so not real.

I suck at remembering this, because social media especially targets this weird, #basic corner of the brain that thrives on attention and validation and empty communication and self-identification and instant gratification and comparison — and it’s addicting someTIMES, you GUYS!!! It’s like being wasted on some kind of fruity vodka drink that tastes super sweet going down but then makes you want to vom about an hour and a half later.

But social media can do so much good. Spreading positive messages and shit. It has turned my mood around on many an occasion — whether seeing someone else’s inspirational post or getting feedback on one of my own. Of course the same things have turned my mood in the exact opposite direction on more than a few occasions, too. So again I don’t know.

Can we talk about fan armies? They are frightening.

Who even are they???

Whenever I make the mistake of exploring the online world of fandoms (#BeyHive, #Grandtourage, #Swifties, etc.) I always come out of it super sad and afraid for the millions of people who worship other humans for no reason and live in these, like, delusional states of wishing that one day they’ll be validated for good by the Internet celebrity of their choice with the magical power to make all problems go away forever.

But then fandoms can also be a crazy beautiful modern phenomenon of community. Yet another paradox of the Internet!

It can be tricky for the Internet celebrities themselves, too. I randomly met Frankie Grande the other day and we were talking about his Big Brother journey and at one point he sighed and was just like, “People love to assign their own versions of my story to me.”

It made me think deeply for like, two seconds, but then I just couldn’t WAIT to tweet/Insta a pic of us together.

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Because I’m a hypocrite, duh! I want to be Internet-popular toooo.

Which is just silly, because if there’s anything to be learned from this post it is that the Internet isn’t going to solve any problems that you can’t solve yourself (except for when you need to find out Zac Efron’s height, maybe) — but it just may create new ones.

Surviving the Internet is to accept this fact. It’s taking the pressure off, signing the fuck out whenever possible, and knowing when it’s time to focus on something real in life. Because as unremarkable as you think real life might be sometimes, it’s all any of us actually have. And when it comes to the fruity vodka drink that is today’s Internet, a weekend wasted really is a wasted weekend.

 

Not All Thinking is Relevant: Why I’m Done with Thought Catalog

I’ve only been close with one transgender person in my life so far, and she happened to be somewhat famous. Her name was Octavia St. Laurent, known by many from the iconic film Paris Is Burning. There’s nothing I can write here to convey how effervescent and lovely she was, so instead I’ll just state the facts.

Octavia lived about a half hour away from where I attended college in Connecticut. My campus-leader boyfriend hit it off with her after she came to our school to give a lecture on HIV for an event he organized one day. The chemistry was instant and Octavia quickly became something of a den mother to us. She schooled my boyfriend and me on safe sex, emotional wellness, and the importance of being our authentic selves. She gave us sassy yet wise life advice and told us mind-blowing stories from her salacious New York days. She never talked with us about her journey to becoming Octavia. She had nothing to prove; she just was Octavia.

One time the three of us got stuck in traffic for two hours during a thunderstorm, and Octavia and I passed the time by singing and harmonizing to Toni Braxton’s “How Could an Angel Break My Heart” (the Babyface duet version, of course) on repeat. Though it seemed insignificant in the moment, this has since become one of my all-time favorite memories. An 18-year-old white boy from rural Connecticut and a trans woman of color who happened to be a legendary LGBT icon, bonding over nineties R&B together in a Honda Accord. It was a lesson in just how not different we all are.

Octavia passed away at the end of my junior year. This was over a year after my boyfriend and I had broken up and we all lost touch, but the news fucked me up. I regretted not keeping in contact and not acknowledging that although she was a strong, nurturing figure to us when we knew her, Octavia was fighting for her health behind the scenes. I cried for days.

I realize now that briefly knowing Octavia was an incredible gift for the development of my character. I cared about the T in LGBT from my earliest gay days, because I had someone there to translate that T into an H for me. Human.

***

Earlier this week, I finished reading the stellar, capable-of-changing-hearts-and-minds memoir Redefining Realness by Janet Mock, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at a work event a few months ago.

Redefining Realness is a movingly honest account of one woman’s journey. It’s elegant yet raw. It’s the type of story that, even having known Octavia (who I was delighted to see quoted at one point in the book), I had never actually heard before in such authentic detail. I’m much better for having read it.

You can imagine the visceral reaction I had, then, when not even 24 hours after finishing Janet’s book and subsequently reminiscing over my favorite Octavia memories, I came across a severely transphobic rant by Gavin McInnes published by Thought Catalog. If you don’t want to read the piece, just know that it’s a hot mess of misinformed hate speech.

At first I felt enraged toward McInnes for writing something so offensive. But I got over that quickly, as I realized that he’s entitled to think and write whatever the fuck he wants, no matter how horrible it is. So then I just felt disappointed. So, so, so, so, so disappointed in Thought Catalog for publishing it.

For giving hate such a major, influential platform.

***

I have something of a history with Thought Catalog.

The story starts in 2010, a few months before I moved from my small town in Connecticut to New York City for grad school at NYU. Please note ahead of time that I was 22 years old and remarkably callow.

Faced with a lot of free time that summer, I decided to write a book.

This was random, as I majored in music during undergrad and always had my heart set on singing. When it came to writing, I merely had experience crafting longwinded Live Journal essays that were never intended for an audience. They were self-serious and “deep” and little more than personal therapy.

But then I discovered Chelsea Handler books and fell in love with the sensation of laughing via written storytelling. I soon got into the deeper, more literary humor of David Sedaris. And then I read this hilarious and engaging memoir in essays called Bitch is the New Black by Helena Andrews. I proceeded to read every humorous memoir I could get my hands on until I started to hear my own voice developing in my head.

Once that voice started screaming, it was decided: I had to write one of these collections myself.

Based on the deluded belief that my writing was far too quality to be given away for free on the Internet, I shaped my essays in private, trusting that when I was finished I’d somehow just send it to a random publisher and it’d become an instant bestseller because that’s how life works.

I got about sixty pages into my book project before grad school started and I shelved it. Living on my own in the city for the first time, interning at a music label, and having my pretentious views of the world shattered kind of took precedent. I had some life to live before I could write about it.

Though I didn’t want to publish my work on the Internet, I started blogging during the summer between grad school semesters upon reluctantly accepting that book deals generally aren’t just given away to first-time authors with absolutely no platform.

I fell in love with blogging once other people started telling me how hilarious I was, and by the time I graduated in 2012 I was prolific. I measured my worth as a writer in laughs and reasoned that if my blog wasn’t funny, then no one would give a shit. But I was writing about my life, and my life wasn’t always a joke. Sometimes it hurt or sucked or just confused me. So I eventually allowed myself to write about that stuff, too.

Once I achieved a vague balance of hilarity and introspection, several readers of mine started tweeting and sending me links to Ryan O’Connell’s work on Thought Catalog. “This guy’s stuff reminds me so much of you,” they’d tell me in various phrasings. “You should write for this site, too!”

I read Ryan’s work. He published pieces at a rate faster than most people publish tweets, so some of it was fluff while other pieces were absolutely brilliant. I placed my focus on the fluff because, frankly, I was jealous. My readers were right—Ryan and I were similar. Except he was Internet-famous and had a book deal while I had a tiny (though dedicated) following and was nowhere near being a safe bet for a publisher.

Recognizing that Thought Catalog had a massive online presence, I decided that maybe I should go for it. I submitted an old blog post of mine called “Not OK, Cupid.” Within a couple hours, I got an e-mail from an editor at the time, Stephanie Georgopulos, who informed me that they’d love to run it (for free).

Being published on TC led to a spike in readership on my own site, so I did it a few more times. I noticed that with each new post I’d get maybe a thousand new hits and a handful of Twitter followers. It was validating and exciting at first, but then I started reading some of the content on the site that wasn’t written by the small handful of great writers (Ryan, Stephanie, Nico Lang, Gaby Dunn, and some others) whose work I admired. I noticed that much of everything else was unedited, uninformed, unaware, and generally sophomoric.

The low editorial standards of TC made me self-conscious about my own work, so I stopped writing for them and instead decided to focus on my own site and my manuscript.

A few months later, Stephanie reached out to me through my blog e-mail, totally unaware that I was the same Nicolas who’d submitted a few pieces to the site already. She loved my latest post and tried to sell Thought Catalog to me as a place to republish it for more exposure.

Feeling particularly validated that an editor had found my blog on her own accord and specifically reached out, I agreed, reasoning that, “So what if this isn’t a ‘quality’ site? It’s expanding my reach and I need to build a platform.”

I wrote for TC on and off for over a year after that. Throughout, I focused on my craft and submitted to many more reputable publications, but when the rejections poured in, being published on TC was always a bittersweet consolation prize.

***

My most recent pieces for Thought Catalog were posted just last month, weeks before they decided to run Gavin McInnes’ hate-fueled diatribe.

Their choice to publish that piece has made this long-time-coming decision of mine easy: I’m done. It’s over. I deserve better. Octavia’s memory requires more of me. We all deserve better.

The next time I get published outside of my own blog, I want to be proud of the accomplishment. I want to be able to say, “This publication has standards.” At the very least, I want to be able to say, “This publication doesn’t troll for clicks by publishing harmful, misinformed rants by raging transphobic assholes.”

But beyond my own writing career, what I’m more upset about with this whole thing is the fact that McInnes’ piece remains out there and continues to attract thousands of views and shares.

As the experiences I’ve recounted in this essay attest, I haven’t always been an educated, smart reader. I grew up in a small town where many issues (like trans ones) simply aren’t discussed. I was a naïve 22-year-old and an even more naïve 18-year-old. If Thought Catalog had been around back then, I can almost guarantee that I would have read it and taken it seriously.

Whether or not the editors want to acknowledge it, Thought Catalog has major reach and influence. In today’s world, social media presence is power. And with nearly half a million Facebook followers, Thought Catalog has got a fucking lot of it. And to quote Spider-Man, because apparently it’s come to that, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

Thought Catalog routinely evades this responsibility (not to mention editorial integrity) by crouching behind their indifferent slogan, “all thinking is relevant.”

Problem is, that’s not true. McInnes’ 1950’s-esque hate speech is not relevant.

It’s straight up fucking dangerous.

 

Anyone Else Becoming as Unhinged as I Am Lately?

The past few weeks have seen me having more melodramatic breakdowns than usual, and it’s a problem. One second I’ll be all balanced and happy and zen, and then the next I’ll be spiraling into a black hole of fury: arguing that working forty hours a week is bullshit, telling myself that I’M THE SMARTEST PERSON I KNOW, and randomly IMing my friend Steven with nonstop pictures of Mariah Carey alongside her various love interests throughout the years.

Like, the other day I saw this beautiful passage on Louise L. Hay’s Facebook. Basically it’s all about how if we use a tomato plant as an analogy for creating the lives we want, we can be happy. Because we trust tomato plants to grow, and so when our personal tomato plant starts to sprout, we shouldn’t get angry and ask, “WHY AREN’T YOU BIGGER AND BETTER?” but rather we should keep watering it and say, “Woohoo! It’s on its way!”

I read it and thought, That’s how I’m going to live my life from now on.

Then this IM conversation happened after I randomly went off on a tangent to Steven about how I wish I had a year off to eat, pray, love, and finish the millionth third draft of my book:

  • Steven: i feel like you’re on the verge of a breakdown
  • me: dude it’s true
  • Steven: i can feel it
  • Steven: coming in the air tonight
  • Steven: i FEEL it. when your messages get short and sans caps and punctuation and proper capitalization
  • me: there’s just gotta be more to life
  • me: than chasing down every temporary hiiigh
  • Steven: oh god you’re breaking out the Stacy O
  • Steven: every time you do that, you have a crisis of faith
  • Steven: and then you throw shit and start crying
  • me: and the worst part is that I’m lucky to be employed where I am
  • me: and yet
  • me: WHERE’S THE MEANING?
  • Steven tomorrow you’re gonna be all, “we must reach for the stars with our highest energy and smoke our own poz toxins and look out of our third eyes and be the best versions of ourselves”
  • Steven: followed by quoting some zen writer I’ve never heard of
  • me lmao. true

Later that day…

  • me: the issue is simple
  • me: I just need to hold on through this rough patch
  • me: and continue to strive toward creating the life I want
  • me: I’m just getting so fucking impatient
  • me: like… fucking.. WHEN
  • me: but I mean, I know we mustn’t attack our tomato plants
  • me: WHY AREN’T YOU FUCKING GROWING YOU FUCKING PIECE OF SHIT TOMATO PLANT WORTHLESS FUCKING PIECE OF GARBAGE
  • Steven BAHAHA
  • Steven: I’m dying
  • Steven: I think you need to work toward being your best self
  • me: I’d like to be handed everything on a silver platter
  • me: WHERE’s my platter
  • me: omg I’m a fucking abomination
  • me: that’s negative
  • me: I’m a radiant expression of God’s love
  • Steven: I. Am…Dead

So, I don’t know. I guess the one lesson, if any, I’ve gleaned from this whole thing is that if you’re lucky enough to have a tomato plant, don’t be an asshole. Be grateful. Be graceful. Let it grow. And then go make some marinara sauce, maybe? Or: schizophrenically unravel via IM and then blog about it later. That always works too.

tomatoplant

 

My Day as a Psycho Celebrity-Spammer on Twitter

So, let’s talk about CELINE FUCKING DION. (You’re welcome.)

This story starts a few months ago, when some literary agents were telling me that my author platform wasn’t strong enough to warrant a book deal in today’s sure bet-driven marketplace. Which, in other words, means that I don’t have enough Twitter followers. Which, in other words, means that I’m not popular enough. Which, in other words, means that the publishing industry is basically Mean Girls and — Oh my God, Danny DeVito I love your work!

The fucked up thing about it is that if I actually did have a hundred thousand Twitter followers, I’d probably be one of those entitled, douche-y assholes who’s all, “Duh. Get with the times. Of course I have a huge platform; what do you think I am? A loser?

So maybe I’m a hypocrite, it’s fine.

One day in March, coming off the bitter sting of a fresh rejection, I was IM-ing with my friend Kaci.

  • Nic: Ugh. Still not popular enough
  • Nic: How do I get more followers on Twitter???
  • Nic: Maybe I should just start harassing celebrities in hopes that they’ll retweet me?
  • Nic: Which ones, though?
  • Kaci: Celine
  • Kaci: obvi
  • Kaci: I need to start getting cats and committing to dying alone
  • Nic: That’s it!
  • Nic: I’ll ask Celine to adopt a cat with me

And then a monster was born.

1

RE: the whole “Aegean” thing: basically I just Googled “cat breeds” and then chose the one that I felt would read most elegantly within the context of a tweet to Celine Dion. But apparently my elegance didn’t matter, because Celine ignored me as if I were a creepy Internet weirdo or something.

But then! I figured out why:

2

Still nothing. So then I moved into the anger stage and was all, “Fuck Celine! I’ll branch out to… Martha Stewart.”

3 4

DROP G’S! I thought it was brilliant. But Martha clearly wasn’t amused, as she ignored me too, forcing me to wonder if maybe my Internet fame wouldn’t be best found through middle-aged divas (one musical, one domestic) catered to the daytime-TV-watching crowd, so I went after the Jonas Brothers.

5 6

BUT NO LUCK THERE. (On the kitten or the marriage.)

So then I went back to Celine in a final, desperate attempt to get her to at least adopt something with me, but for some reason by that point in the day I became an incoherent mess who required three tweets to finish a thought and close a set of parentheses:

7 8 9

Celine continued in her staunch dedication to not acknowledging that a crazy person was spamming her on Twitter, which made me frustrated.

Frazzled and feeling like if I didn’t get at least one celebrity retweet by day’s end that I’d NEVER GET PUBLISHED, LIKE, EVER, I proceeded to do this:

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By the end of it all, I reviewed my timeline’s activity and felt highly, highly ashamed of myself. Who does shit like this? I wondered. This is pathetic and embarrassing.

But then my thoughts wandered into a more gratitude-y place — feeling relieved that, well, at least I didn’t have a hundred thousand followers watching.

 

Like the Tour of Italy at Olive Garden, Except Less Caloric and More Write-y (#mywritingprocess)

The title of today’s post is mostly obnoxious and misleading, as it has nothing to do with Olive Garden’s delightful (OMG my big Italian family will have me off-ed if they ever find out that I just described something at OG as “delightful”) chicken-lasagna-Alfredo dish the Tour of Italy. But it does have everything to do with the fact that I’m participating in the #mywritingprocess blog tour, which has the word “tour” in it… so yeah.

The tour torch (tourch?!) was passed to me by the brilliant Ross Murray, whom I like to think of as David Sedaris except straight, Canadian, and with offspring. I actually have to pay attention when I read Ross’ stuff, because the humor is that good and sneaky and true.

Sometimes I kick babies things and eat gallons of ice cream out of frustration with my occasional fear that I’m lame and nothing I ever write is even remotely funny, but then Ross will comment on a post of mine and I’ll be like, “Okay, well if he’s still here, I can’t suck that bad.” (Either that or I’ve just become a habit.)

Ross answered the following #mywritingprocess questions last week, and now it’s my turn!

1. What am I working on?

So last year I wrote a book about my life and then spent a few months querying it and then some literary agents requested it and then they spent a few months reading it and then a couple of them rejected it and it was probably because I use “and then” in a run-on sentence-y kind of way far too often—and so I’m working on doing that less (starting now). I’m also taking all the agent feedback I’ve received (much of which was really insightful and definitely made me feel like the universe blessed me with a free professional critiquing service) and revising/editing/perfecting.

Aside from the ongoing book saga, I’m also working on figuring out where to go with this blog and how to make it take over the world. Lastly, because I’m an overachiever, I’m working hard on crafting a good tweet for later this week that I’m hopeful will net me two or so new followers.

2. How does my work differ from others in its genre?

My voice, I guess? I mean, it’s all like, mine and shit. Also, I’d say my work is more “I’m an occasional hot mess who contradicts himself often” and less “I have everything figured out” than others in the memoir game. Oh, and it’s probably riddled with more casual Mariah Carey/Clueless/Jim Carrey/penis references than any other author’s work ever. Why I haven’t won a Pulitzer yet is beyond me.

3. Why do I write what I do?

I’ve always been great at talking about myself, and so yes, you could say I’ve always been a narcissist. I’ve also always been great at writing. So one day I combined these skills and later found out that what I was doing was called “memoir.”

Why humor? Because it’s fun, and I like fun. But don’t get it twisted; my book has plenty of surprisingly dark, serious moments – they just don’t last very long because every time I write dark I eventually get to a place where I’m like, “Wait. I really want to insert a footnote about how what I just wrote is eerily similar to that scene in Friends where Monica got stung by a jellyfish and Joey had to pee on her leg because she ‘couldn’t bend that way.’ Can I go back to being funny now?”

Yes, Nic. You can.

4. How does my writing process work?

Usually there’s a lot of meditating, going to the gym, cleaning my apartment, playing the guitar, calling my mom, drinking wine, and watching the OWN Network that goes on first before I ever sit my ass down and write. Then I finally sit my ass down and write. Then I treat my Word document as if it’s my best friend/therapist and it feels awesome and I’m just like, “Jesus, why do I always procrastinate doing something I love so damn much? Am I self-sabotage-y? Am I a hazard to myself? Am I my own worst enemy? DON’T LET ME GET ME!

Okay. Before my descent into early 2000s P!nk lyrics goes any further, I think it’s time to pass the tourch (!) to someone else.

And I nominate…

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EKGO!

Ekgo is one of my favorites in the blogosphere. She lives in one of my dream locations (amongst mountains), grows garlic, and sometimes offends people. We found each other via our mutual hero the Bloggess, and I think that says it all.

Much like how Ross can make me get over the occasional “I’M NOT FUNNY AND I SUCK MORE THAN MONICA LEWINS…A VACUUM“ spiral, Ekgo too will show up in the comments with something so ridiculously hilarious and outlandish that I have to laugh and say to myself, “YES. Ekgo gets it.”

And then I’ll keep scrolling and be like, “…and so do ALL of these other incredible readers!” So if you’re reading this, thank you. Seriously. I love you all and would hand out 1,463 tourches (You get a tourch! YOU GET A TOURCH!) if I could.

 

Am I the Only Person Who Gets Randomly Accosted by Crazy-Pants McGhees at Connecticut Bookstores?

One thing I really like to do with my life is watch Super Soul Sunday on the OWN Network every weekend and then immediately haul ass to the New Age section of my local Barnes and Noble in order to impulsively buy every book ever related to that day’s topic while telling myself that it doesn’t count as spending money because it’s food for my spirit, and spirit knows no money so I’m good. Or something.

Anyway. So this is what I was doing recently when, out of the fucking blue, some random dude tapped me on the shoulder and said, “I don’t much care for it.”

If you’re craving a little more context right now, here’s the set up:

  • Me: Wearing a dark gray hoodie-tee-shirt (yes, I dress like a tween on the weekends) and a Patriots hat. I have an open copy of The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav in my hand and, up until the aggressive shoulder-tap from the rando in aisle seven, am reading it with zeal.
  • The Shoulder-Tapper: White male. Appears to be in his forties or fifties. Kind of out of shape but not necessarily fat. Wearing a blue sweatshirt, jeans, and Nike running sneakers. Is kind of twitchy but has the general look of a normal person.

One might reasonably assume that by saying “I don’t much care for it,” the guy was informing me that he had read The Seat of the Soul and was not a fan. Which is what I assumed (and took major offense to, side note, because anybody who “doesn’t much care” for a book that Oprah credits as changing the very direction of her life back in 1989 is clearly a bad a person and probably a hazard to society) at first.

But then he was like, “I used to live in New Rochelle.” And then he paused and took a dramatic breath in, and I was like…?

My first thought was that maybe he was going to say something about my Patriots hat – something along the lines of “I used to live in New Rochelle… and I too am a Patriots fan, so it was rough being in New York during that time. But then I moved to Connecticut and now people are slightly more open to my New England affiliation, but we’re still close enough to the New York border that, well, I don’t much care for it.“

But no.

Instead he followed up with “…until my house got flooded.”

So then in my head I was all, Okay so either he’s going to ask me to make a donation to his cause, or he’s going to murder me.

Help

“And then after the house got flooded,” he continued, “I left and moved to a really nice place up in the Catskills. It was beautiful, new, and surrounded by nature. But then that house got flooded too. So I got another house right after that, but then that one went up in flames and I was put in jail for two weeks until they were able to prove that the fire actually started from the dryer and I had nothing to do with it – which is what I told them all along, but nobody believed me.”

What I might have said in my head if I was as enlightened as I hope to someday be:

  • Aw, I’m honored that this nice man is sharing such personal details of his history with me. We’re all one, and I see myself in him. I sincerely wish him luck in finding a living situation that doesn’t involve catastrophe and disaster. I shall hug and bless him now.

What I actually said in my head:

  • WHY IS NOBODY COMING TO MY RESCUE?! OMG, I feel like Sarah Michelle Gellar in I Know What You Did Last Summer when the killer is like, maiming her with a hook by the large stack of tires and nobody knows about it even though it’s all happening in the midst of a busy parade and you would THINK that one couldn’t get murdered during something as public as a fucking PARADE but somehow there was no one else there in that little area with all the tires at the time, much like how there’s no one else here in the NEW AGE BOOK SECTION OF AN OTHERWISE WELL-POPULATED BARNES AND NOBLE.

What I said out loud:

  • “Oof. That’s rough, man. Sorry to hear it.”

And then he was all, “Yeah—” and then I cut him off and said, “Okay, well, take it easy!” and I immediately darted to the bargain books because there were a solid four people in that section.

I managed to avoid him for the rest of my duration in the store until I left to go have pizza with two friends of mine, both of whom were as confused as I was when I gave a dramatic retelling of the event.

“Why does weird shit always happen to you?” they both asked.

“I don’t know…” I replied. “Maybe because the Universe knows I’m always running out of things to blog about?”

And then we all nodded in agreement.

 

The Best Advice I’ve Ever Received: “Be the Light”

Lately my spiritual journey has involved a lot of “Why am I here?”-ness.

Not the classic question of “Why am I here?” like, on the planet, though. Mine has been the other classic question of “Why am I here, ‘stuck’ in this place in life when I feel like I have a higher purpose and no matter how much action I take to try and fulfill that purpose NOTHING SEEMS TO BE HAPPENING, AND SO WHAT THE FUCK, UNIVERSE?

And then last week two of my awesome #SpiritJunkie friends and I had the honor of meeting the wonderful author/spiritual teacher/sassy guru Gabrielle Bernstein, whose new book Miracles Now is (a) like a big ol’ cup of chai tea for your soul, and (b) available here.

The energy in the theater during Gabby’s lecture was, in and of itself, a miracle. It was loving and open and just good and yes, I’m being sappy and trite right now because I can.

When the topic of feeling stuck in one’s current place in life came up, Gabby’s advice changed the game for me. She simply said, “Your job is not to be a [fill in the blank with your professional title]. Your job is to be the light.”

Be. The. Light.

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Girlfriend is walking the walk.

I didn’t realize it until that moment, but this has been my mission statement in my writing (where I ultimately feel a higher calling) since day one. Whether it’s by sharing a funny story, opening up about something that really sucked for me, or simply making a weird/corny pun – the goal is always to inspire/heal/entertain/make someone’s day a little less shitty. In other words, the goal is to be the light.

While Gabby spoke, I realized that I’ve been saving so much of my light for some future moment that involves the title of “Published Author” that I’ve been missing out on opportunities to be the light in the present moment of my day-to-day professional life – because at some point I had declared the corporate/media world I work in to be totally void of meaning (which it kind of is, but that’s a whole other Oprah) and therefore decided that I didn’t need to show up with my best self every day.

But the problem there is that by sitting around thinking, Ugh. I’m destined for something greater than this, I was doing a few sabotage-y things to myself and those around me:

  1. Getting lost in anxiety over the future rather than cultivating gratitude for the present moment.
  2. Focusing on where I’m not rather than accepting where I am.
  3. Forgetting that every second is an opportunity to spread love.

In fewer words, I was basically an asshole.

I’ve learned that being discontented with the present moment is a sure sign that the ego is in control. Rather than setting aside personal concerns and doing whatever you can to enhance the lives of those around you (in other words, creating ripples of good energy, in other words, being the light), you’re focused on your own self-importance (in other words, creating ripples of crappy energy, in other words, being the darkness… and not the good kind).

So. I’ve been putting this whole “be the light” thing into practice since I heard Gabby speak, and I have to say that the change in my energy since has indeed been a miracle. Yes, I’m still working toward my long-term writing goals, but I’m also not tripping over the future anymore.

Instead I’m doing whatever I can to be a source of love and positivity for those around me right now. If that means addressing a work situation that I find to be ultimately purposeless in the grand scheme of life, I do it anyway purely because (a) it’s my job, and (b) not doing it would really make someone else’s day shittier – and do I want to be involved with making someone else’s day shitty? No. That’s not very light-y.

(Side note: I feel like normal people probably just stop at (a), which is a valid enough reason to do one’s job, really, but I’m obviously not normal. And if you’re reading my blog, chances are you aren’t, either. Which is a fantastically wonderful thing.)

In conclusion: BE THE LIGHT, NIC. BE THE DAMN LIGHT.

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Gab + Nic = #Light.

 

Five Ways to Stay Zen When Life Seems to be a Total Dick

Lately, as a result of reading Eckhart Tolle’s book A New Earth, I’ve been really chill about everything in life.

My unprecedentedly Zen demeanor has the people around me kind of shocked.

“Wait,” they say after my bagel order is fucked up and I don’t shriek and/or fall out of my chair in a fit of hysterics, “you’re really not going to have a melodramatic breakdown over this?”

No, I will no longer unravel over bagels, because what are bagels anyways? They’re merely collections of molecules and energy – they’re form, and form never stays the same, and so trying to control or identify with form on any level (especially on the bagel level) is just silly.

But of course most of us are ruled by our egos (in other words, our thoughts), and it’s our egos that wholly identify with form – not just bagels, but our bodies, possessions, and even the thoughts themselves are a form (of energy) – and so THIS is why many of us are assholes. Because we’re trying to control circumstances and build our entire identities on shit that isn’t actually real or permanent.

So when we step back and become aware that the part of us that’s upset is often just a thought and isn’t truly who we are, we can watch as our egos go all “OMG this bagel was supposed to make all my problems go away and now it’s not even the right bagel!” and just laugh at the fact that our egos are big fucking babies.

This is the general approach I’ve been applying to all aspects of life lately, and it’s resulted in quite the shift.

And so here are five responses (all inspired by A New Earth) to common issues to help you remember that nothing in the material world is worth stressing out over. Ever.

(Note: If I sound like an asshole in any of these, it’s because I’m mostly talking to myself.)

1. Oh, that e-mail pissed you off? Well, how about the fact that if there was no electricity in the first place then your computer and/or smartphone would merely be a shitty piece of plastic and metal that takes up space, and so are you really going to allow a shitty piece of plastic and metal that takes up space to fuck with your energy like that? Plus, whoever it was who sent the annoying e-mail probably sent it from the same ego-based place in them that is now flaring up in you and getting all pissed off over a SHITTY PIECE OF PLASTIC AND METAL, so CHILL. (Love you.)

2. That guy doesn’t like you back. Hmmm… and what, exactly, is it about this guy’s perception of you that matters, like, at all? Are you going to be upset over the fact that someone else’s mental image of you isn’t one of total adoration and worship? I mean, even if this guy believed in his heart that you were gross and unlovable and Shrek-esque, what would that really mean? And if he believed that you were hot and brilliant and perfect, what would that really mean? Either way, you are who you are. The reality of the present moment is never going to be any different because of one fucking dude’s thought of who you are.

2a. Wow. Isn’t that shit freeing?

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3. Your train is late. Unless you plan on becoming a sorcerer of trains and personally controlling all the trains in all the land and putting an end to train delays for the rest of forever, getting angry over this could be a waste of energy. Maybe.

4. You’re 26 and haven’t yet reached any of your major life goals. Okay, so our society is all about ambition! And hard work! And life milestones! And accomplishments! And other shit. Great shit, sure. But there’s plenty of misery in identifying entirely with shit – even if it is great. And yet defining ourselves by our accomplishments is exactly what many of us are programmed to do – we compare ourselves to each other (#Facebook) relentlessly. We calculate our importance, worth, and lovability based on superficial things like job titles, homes, cars, clothes, lifestyles, whatever. But at the end of the day (when we’re all dead, for instance), what REALLY matters? Our external qualities (AKA form)? Or those parts of us that were never identified with form to begin with (AKA our simply Being and connecting and loving)?

5. They fucked up your bagel order. See: the beginning of this post.

 

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