Gross domestic productivity, 7/2/20

Since the school year ended, I've been asked more than once what I'm up to this summer. What I don't say: that I’ve spent most of my summer thus far asking myself that very question. What I do say: "Uh, like, chilling, I guess?"

But really, where does the time go? I lie in bed for hours and eat (junk) food and re-watch Avatar: The Last Airbender and talk on the phone for astonishingly long periods of time and read books and try to read the news more and sometimes even walk around outside and, one glorious weekend, watched the Met Opera stream of Philip Glass's Akhnaten, which was maybe the highlight of this entire godforsaken year. What I'm not doing is an internship, or writing stuff for publication, or basically anything my superego would deem "productive."

I have, however, also been dedicating hours of time to playing a very elaborate board game called Gloomhaven. Gloomhaven is relatively new, wildly popular among aficionados, and comes in a box that weighs approximately 20 pounds and is roughly the size and shape of a juvenile Galápagos tortoise. You play as a mercenary in a band exploring the city of Gloomhaven and its environs, completing scenarios that involve fighting various monsters (ravening animals, elemental demons, resurrected corpses, etc.) as larger questlines unfold. I started playing a few months ago, close to the beginning of the pandemic, and my starting character, naturally, was a sinister rat-like creature who controls other animals with its mind. 

But the real draw for me wasn't all the world-building. It's the fact that the game is almost comically replete with goals to accomplish: the win conditions for each scenario, secret "battle goals" distributed to each player before scenarios, maximizing gold or experience points, leveling up, raising (or decreasing) the group's "reputation," or raising the city's overall prosperity. Each character even gets a secret career goal that, once accomplished, forces you to retire and start a new character. 

I find all this neat progression ridiculously addictive, possibly because I derive my self-worth from accomplishing things. Sure, I felt becalmed and anxious about my real-life career goals, but at least I could throw myself aggressively at my very concrete, very not-real Gloomhaven career goal, where there was only one path to success and no doubts about whether I could actually get there.

There was a period of time, right after the semester ended, when I became laser-focused on designing a daily schedule that would give me a handle on all the time I now had, time as voluminous and unmanageable as my pandemic hair. How, I wondered, could I harness my seemingly unbounded motivation to play Gloomhaven towards my actual objectives? But then my objectives shifted. Everything I've ever been told was bad for productivity now seemed crucial: getting lost in the news on my phone, scrolling through social media, having impromptu, rambling phone calls and video meetings, saying yes to administrative grunt work and more responsibilities, none of which will pay me a dime. I have been writing, but it’s not for my own personal gain—at least, not directly. 

None of this comes naturally to me. I’ve been averse to reading the news ever since I was a kid and my dad would pointedly pile up the New York Times, the LA Times, and the Wall Street Journal by my breakfast every Sunday morning, which I would ignore. (A promising start for someone currently enrolled in journalism school.) I’ve never liked group projects; I am not a joiner. My preferred mode of existence thus far has been to go into a corner, shut myself off from the world, and work. But I worry now that it’s too easy for someone like me, who after all has spent much of her life getting lost in works of fiction, to get too far into my own head. It's straightforward enough for me to read large numbers of books or complete homework assignments—I've spent my entire life honing my ability to do these things. But how do I track my general awareness of the world and my place in it? How do I put metrics on the well-being of the people around me, or the strength of my various communities? What I'm just beginning to discern is that so much of actual life isn't a series of goals at all, to be meticulously checked off upon completion. It's never-ending maintenance, and constant incremental learning and thinking, and the hard, slow process of trying to make your corner of the world just a little less shitty.

A few weeks ago, I finally completed my Gloomhaven career goal and unlocked a new character. At risk of being terribly on the nose, my new character is a healer, which means that I now kill way fewer monsters and am constantly checking in with my teammates to ask how many hit points they have. I have a new career goal too, which I could pursue to the exclusion of all else—but I’ve decided, this time, to let the story take me where it will. 


—Chelsea

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This is way overdue, but back in March I wrote about the domestication of cats and dogs, and in May I texted with a scientist about a coronavirus vaccine, both for New York Times for Kids!

Galaxy brain, 6/6/20

Sometime around last Sunday, all of the personal ambitions I had obsessively been figuring out how to achieve started to seem self-indulgent and frivolous. Instead, I spent hours scrolling through my newsfeeds feeling restless and angry, and when I wasn't staring at my phone I was lying down, feeling heavy. Who cared about getting my essays published when people were getting disproportionately killed—whether by police or COVID-19—merely for being black? But the horror was also directed at myself: why did it take the murders of countless black people splashed all over Twitter and Facebook to get me to really, finally pay attention? What was I doing that it took me so long? Sure, I was against racism—in theory. But now it became searingly obvious that if I continued to do nothing, I was in fact part of the problem.

Before the protests began, I had been thinking about the importance of paying attention to context. I was totally wrong about coronavirus, I admitted to my parents—I'd brushed off their worry back in February as just so much Asian parent fretfulness. What I'd failed to consider was that I had put too much implicit faith in the authority figures here who were telling us that everything was fine, who in turn had put too much faith in the notion that it couldn't happen here—as if America were somehow immune to the ills that afflicted other countries. Relying solely on authority, it struck me now, was a shortcut that bypassed real reasoning. And further, if other people's well-being directly impacted my own, as coronavirus was unequivocally showing me, then didn't I ignore the experiences of other countries, and groups I didn't think of as "my own," and history itself at my peril? That's as far as I got before the protests started and I realized that everything I had been thinking about was now immediately, terribly relevant. 

I don't feel good about myself or the world right now. But I'm also pretty uninterested in feeling better about myself. My discomfort is what's forcing me to change the way I think and act, and it's what's making me finally recognize that my ability to turn away from racist violence and racism in general whenever I want is just one part of the immense privilege I've had my entire life. I've also spent most of my life skeptical that I could make any difference—what do I have to contribute, as naive and uncharismatic as I am? But that strikes me as the wrong way to look at things now, too. I might be naive and uncharismatic, but I exist in the world, in the community of all the other people who exist in the world, and thus it behooves me to do what I can to help the most vulnerable among us. I'm determined now to figure out how exactly I might do that.

—Chelsea

COVID’s metamorphoses, 4/6/20

Standing in a Safeway the day the shelter-in-place order was announced, I finally understood why people hoard things. What would I need to live if I couldn't leave my house for three weeks, I wondered, gazing around at the hordes of other shoppers—and who really knew how long this would all last? I realized I would need a lot. I also realized that I had no idea what exactly those things were. A heretofore unfamiliar feeling shot through me: a prickling anxiety that could only be assuaged by buying lots and lots of consumer products. 

To guide myself, I looked at which sections of the store were particularly sparse. The toilet paper and paper towels and household cleaning supplies had already been cleared out, but we grabbed a few cans of baked beans, which we never eat, by the way, and still have not figured out how to consume. (What are we supposed to do, eat them from a pot over an open flame, à la Blazing Saddles?) In the tundra-like bread aisle, we briefly considered some kind of flour-dusted "artisan" bread before spotting a lone loaf of Signature Brand whole wheat, which I inspected carefully before depositing it into the cart, along with an industrial-sized jar of peanut butter. 

The only pasta on the shelves were lasagna and manicotti. I picked up a box of manicotti, which contained 14 individual manicottos that looked like really big penne, considered it, and then put it back—things would have to get truly dire before I'd be willing to figure out how to cook manicotti. But even when I was choosing things there were plenty of, I felt uneasy. Where's the line between buying a reasonable amount and hoarding? Am I still a responsible citizen if I buy three family-size boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios? It was paralyzing, having to weigh the abstract but very real needs of everyone else with my own concrete appetites every time I took something off the shelf. Later, when we go to a different Safeway and see a sign taped up that says each household is only allowed five boxes of pasta, I feel a relief that borders on the existential. Then we grab five boxes of pasta.

One evening, we attempt to cook dinner, and our too-hot skillet sets off the smoke detector. I fling open a window. Half an hour later, while we’re sitting down to eat, we hear the same alarm, but more quietly. Through the open window, I catch sight of someone in the apartment across the way opening their own window. Quarantine makes inept home cooks of us all.

I have fled New York for California. But in my haste to leave the city, I brought a piddling five books with me, which made my first few days here about as psychologically hospitable as a recently-emptied Safeway bread aisle. (Admittedly, I had packed only for spring break, which I now see was a grievous lapse of judgment—couldn't I at least have had the foresight to bring the books I needed for the rest of the semester?) I'm usually reluctant to buy books because I'm a dirty cheapskate, but after about two weeks, I broke. I went on Amazon and the website of a local bookstore and felt another unaccustomed emotion: a wild-eyed greed that might be properly termed "booklust." When I regained my senses, I had purchased 10 books.

At one point, I went a full week without so much as breathing air from outside the apartment. It's overcast for a couple weeks, but one Monday it looks enticingly sunny out, so I suggest we go for a walk. It's nice—for about two minutes. (I had blissfully forgotten that wind existed.) We walk down the sidewalk, and a guy in a mint green Prius shouts “Six feet apart!” at us. Along a creek, we see an egret and a fat, slow squirrel, but all the miracles of nature can't transport me from the burning itch that progresses from the back of my thighs to just above my knees. When we get home, I claw at my legs, look up "exercise related allergy,” and lie down for hours. My nose starts dripping aggressively. I am soon surrounded by sodden tissues, and my throat is raw from sneezing so much. Attempting to breathe through one partially-clogged nostril as I lie in bed, I remember that I am literally allergic to being outside. I am made for quarantine.

I’m made for some parts of quarantine. Classes are still in session, but one of mine is now at 6:30 am, because I'm three time zones behind New York. I spend most of that class in a stupor, which is—throwback!—exactly how I spent 90% of my college classes. Every Wednesday, I confront anew the reality that I will never be a morning person. I can barely croak out a sentence, let alone well-formed ones about Christopher Hitchens or Maggie Nelson or Zadie Smith. After class ends three hours later, I flop back into bed and wake up at 1 pm, whereupon I am served a bowl of pasta that I blearily eat, also in bed. I feel vaguely guilty—I've been feeling this more and more lately—but all the rules of normal life have been, if not broken, at least a little warped. 

In the evening, I play Tetris for hours, staring worshipfully into the computer like it's an opiate and I'm the masses. Since I started playing three weeks ago, I've improved a shocking amount. The version I'm playing is called Tetris Effect, and instead of the standard rainbow of blocks and a boopy chiptune Russian folk song, each level has glowing tetrominoes, sparkly lights in the background that glitter and move whenever you press a button, and its own trance-y, ambient music, punctuated by wind chimes, tribal yells, firework explosions, bird chirps, or children vocalizing, depending on the level's theme. I also experience the Tetris effect for the first time: When I read a Jonathan Franzen essay for class, I start seeing little L- and J-shaped blocks in the white space between the words.

There are times when I look up from playing Tetris Effect or rearranging Bananagrams tiles (there’s something obscurely comforting about stacking little blocks right now) and realize that I have forgotten about coronavirus. This lack of alarm alarms me. I Google "coronavirus" and "coronavirus california" and "coronavirus new york" every few hours in an effort to scare reality into me, but even then, my eyes just slide right off the text, like they're trying to protect me from the truth. Is this how denial works? 

The times I don’t forget about coronavirus are when I'm attempting to write, which is mostly when I Google the news—trading one ambiguous torment for another. I've become even more distractible, scrolling through Facebook and my news alerts and all four of my email accounts like an animal restlessly pacing a cage, except the cage has lots of pasta in it and also the internet. When I ask people how things are wherever they are, they shrug. Fine, they say. Or "I don't know, I haven't been outside in approximately five eons." None of us really know what’s going on—news outlets (increasingly, for me, local newspapers) are our only windows to what’s happening out there. Unless you‘re sick, or caring for or worried about someone who is. Then, well, you are the news.

I, like most humans, am incredibly bad at internalizing abstract threats. My parents and sister are champions at it, marathoners who have maintained a state of active, proactive worry for weeks, which I feel both shamed by and impressed with. "My roommate bought me bananas yesterday and I washed each one individually with soap this morning," my sister reports. Another day, our dad texts us suggesting that we should carry around mechanical pencils so that whenever we're in an elevator, we can use them to press the buttons. 

While scrolling through Facebook, I keep coming across the idea that "however you feel right now is exactly how you are supposed to feel." One of the weirdest feelings I've had in the past few weeks is the foggy sense that it's somehow become harder to think. Things aren't quite clicking together anymore, like an extremely doomed game of Tetris; connections are harder to make. But I guess that makes its own sort of sense. What we know—about the future of literally everything—is so limited and provisional and in flux right now that how can anyone draw firm conclusions at all, or feel certain about anything? But then again, maybe that's always been true, and we're only just really realizing it now.

—Chelsea

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I wrote a review of a book from the 1970s by famous Taiwanese writer Sanmao, feat. my parents!

Talking cure, 3/16/20

Now that the entire world is on lockdown, I've begun to realize that my normal state is a state of quarantine. That's mostly how I spent February, anyway: sitting in my apartment either in bed or in front of my computer (and sometimes, decadently, both), and grudgingly schlepping to the bodega a block away when I ran out of chicken apple sausages (they come in packs of four). I only have class twice a week this semester, which means I've gone days without putting on shoes that aren't gray and fuzzy and from Brookstone.

But I have to admit that lately, I've been uncharacteristically reckless. I've boarded three planes in the past two weeks, and eight days ago, I was in Texas, a state I had never been before, for the express purpose of mingling. I was there to participate in a panel at AWP, the "largest literary conference in North America," and possibly one of the last conferences/events/gatherings greater than 10 people in the US before everything was canceled. 

Back in January, I discover that my panel, "Glory, Gripes, and Guile: The Ethics of Reviewing," would not be a moderator-asks-panelists-questions-and-they-respond-casually type of panel, but instead an each-presenter-talks-for-15-minutes-straight one. I am alarmed, and then outraged. Public speaking is like vegetables, or aerobic activity: something that was forced down my throat as a child and thus something to be avoided like the plague/COVID-19 now that I'm grown. Around the same time, I happen to receive a copy of a new collection of prose by Kay Ryan, 2008-2010 U.S. Poet Laureate. I flip through the book and come across an essay entitled "I Go to AWP." A representative quote: "Now here I am, going to AWP. How am I going to remember: these people are THE SPAWN OF THE DEVIL? They will seem like individuals, not deadly white threads of the great creative writing fungus."

One Tuesday in late February, I finally get around to attempting to write my "talk," which I can only think about in scare quotes. I immediately run into a snag: I have no opinions whatever on ethics in reviewing. Also, none of my fellow panelists have responded to the desperate email flare I sent up asking what they were going to talk about, and so I'm left with the uneasy task of writing something that may be completely out of left field. I've got homework to do, so I decide to pick some low-hanging fruit. My "talk" is mostly me complaining about the impossibility of making money writing book reviews. Later that night, I read an essay by John Updike for class and feel extremely called out: "[Stuttering] makes me think twice about going on stage and appearing in classrooms and at conferences--all that socially approved yet spiritually corrupting public talking that writers of even modest note are asked to do." 

March 3: The day before the conference, the organizers send out an email: AWP is still on. However, "this will be a handshake-free, hug-free conference." Two of my fellow panel members decide not to attend the conference—along with, unbeknownst to me, more than half of the conference's attendees. 

March 4: I chug a glass of Airborne and board my flight to San Antonio. We experience heavy turbulence, and I can't help it: I grip every germy surface available to me. Groggy after the flight, I check into the La Quinta near the convention center and fling my curtains wide to discover that my hotel room has a prime view of a massive Denny's sign.

March 5: Game day. I wake early, eat a hearty corporate hotel breakfast alongside what appears to be a high school girls' basketball team, and head to the convention center to get my badge and free tote bag. (Sponsors this year include the Texas State University MFA program, the Michener Center for Writers, and Tito's Handmade Vodka.) It seems like half of the panels are canceled, but I attend "Unmasking the Masked Self: The Complex Role of Persona in Memoir," which isn’t. All the panelists—whom, I note, seem extremely accomplished, have published books, and teach at various universities—agree: everyone has multiple identities, and thus it's totally not misleading to portray just one aspect of yourself in a memoir. "When you're writing, pretend you're slipping on a mask—or try putting on a real one," one of them says. Do face masks count?, I wonder.

I wander around the exhibitor hall—so many booths are empty—and become entranced by a smart typewriter ($550). Then I scarf down a very weird-tasting container of sushi from the cafeteria and find the room where my panel is slated to be. It's very cold, and large, and empty, except for the one other person on my panel who is physically present (the other two are Zooming in on a laptop). We make polite small talk and become increasingly nervous as 1:45 pm looms closer and the room's approximately 182 chairs remain empty. 

Then the door opens and nine people file in. We wait something like 20 more minutes to start for reasons I cannot discern. Then our moderator reads aloud her opening statement from the laptop, and I get a strong sinking feeling that our panel is deathly boring, and none of what each of us are planning to talk about has anything to do with each other, and oh god, why didn't we coordinate better? The two panelists before me talk about poetry reviewing, and then I launch into my 10-minute spiel about money and reviewing. Something weird happens when I read aloud my "talk," though: I start to think that it's good. My words are so clear and reasonable! These jokes I came up with a week before when I was flailing around in my apartment—hilarious! When my segment ends and the last panelist says his piece (diversity in reviewing), I can’t stop shaking. But it’s not nerves—it’s pure thrill, and also partly the chill of the AC, which the collective body heat of our meager audience (at its peak, I counted 21 people) has done nothing to mitigate. During the Q&A, I boldly pipe up with questions of my own, and at the end, when a few people come up to chat, I smile at them radiantly. For a shining ten minutes of my life, I’m not at a loss for words.

Right after my panel, I attend “Literary Impostordom: Do I Deserve to Be in This Room?” The room is packed—people are even sitting on the carpet by the door because there aren't enough chairs. The discussion, between four briskly competent women, has sort of an anti-establishment, rah-rah empowerment tenor (the panel weirdly seems to be geared specifically for women and people of color), and I'm sort of with it. Except there's this one part where one of the panelists says, “If you think what’s keeping you from a job is a fucking title, figure it out. Do not underestimate yourself, do not cut yourself out, because someone will lie better than you.” I'm confused: is she telling us to lie about our accomplishments? Afterwards, I try to channel my new bold self and start chatting with the moderator, but I pause awkwardly just a beat too long and she angles away from me and starts talking to someone literally ten feet away from her. I slink away, feeling both chastened and just a little enraged. So much for lifting up emerging writers. 

After, I attend something on the calendar called "Asian American Caucus." The person in charge asks us all to to get into small groups and discuss how we can foster Asian-American writing communities. I tell my group that I don't really have an Asian-American writing community, and they look at me in surprise. "But you live in New York!" one of them says. I realize that I have never felt the need to seek out an Asian-American writing community, and I don't know how to feel about it. 

Later, I walk along San Antonio's Riverwalk. From what I can see, downtown San Antonio feels like a weird real-life Disneyland, with lit-up pleasure barges floating down the river and good-time restaurants like Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville lining the shores, and even honest-to-god pumpkin carriages on the streets entwined with fairy lights and pulled by horses. I have a pleasant time eating chicken mole at a Mexican restaurant alone, and the servers are very nice to me, probably because I'm alone. Then I walk back to the convention center for the conference's keynote speech, which I can barely follow and find extremely boring. People leap up at the end for a standing ovation, and I walk the few blocks back to my hotel mired in self-doubt. Why are my opinions always so out of step with everyone else's? How do you decide when to stick to your guns and when to go along with everyone else? When are you overstepping your bounds, and when are you simply suffering from impostor syndrome? The panel I went to, I noted grumpily, provided no insight.

March 6: In "Raise Your Game: Applying Game Narrative Strategies to Writing Fiction," I spot people with plum and teal and violet and flame red hair, and someone up front wearing a Pikachu hoodie. "Has anyone here played Myst?" one of the panelists asks, and there are cheers. Afterwards, I scurry to the cavernous lobby of the convention center to meet someone I’ve only corresponded with via email. I'm supposed to give her advice, which seems vaguely wrong to me. Aren’t I still at the point when people should be giving me advice? I try to answer her questions but doubt I'm being helpful. Later, I hide in a booth and eat Hot Cheetos, and see on my phone that SXSW is canceled. Licking my fingers feels extremely wrong. I do it anyway. For dinner, I have my very first Whataburger, which I consume at the desk in my hotel room. The burger is literally as large as my face, but the fries, I note, come in this dinky little paper container, and I even ordered a medium. Still, I'm too full to finish them. 

March 7: In "Making a Career as a Lit Mag Editor," I question my life choices. In "Finding and Keeping a Solid Mentorship: A Guide for the Writing Odyssey," I question my life choices. I wander around the exhibitor hall, among booths of small presses and creative writing programs and literary journals piled with candy and brochures. One guy recognizes me from my panel and, to my astonishment, tells me it was one of the best panels he went to this year. I figure that's as good as this conference is going to get, and leave. 

I remember the Alamo. Specifically, I remember that the Alamo is only a few blocks away. The sun is blazing off the famous mission facade and my eyes are incredibly dry, but I stare at it for as long as I can and then walk to the "Living Encampment," where uniformed men hold muskets. "The soldiers were trained to go for the soft tissue—the throat or the abdomen," says a man in a blue and red Mexican Army uniform, stabbing the air with a bayoneted rifle taller than him. Later, I go to a German restaurant called Schilo's and eat chicken and dumplings alone at the bar while "All My Exes Live in Texas" plays in the background. 66.6666666% of my exes, I think bitterly, live in New York. 

March 8: I return to New York.

—Chelsea

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I wrote an essay about self-help books, writerly dread, and the human condition!

Stuff and nonsense, 1/30/20

The beginning of the new year—and a new decade, no less—is a good time to shed one's baggage, which is why I ended up hauling a 63 pound suitcase to California with me back in December. (My New York apartment is a walk-up, and I do not have the upper body strength to lift 63 pounds down a flight of stairs, so to transport it I braced myself below the suitcase and essentially had it fall on me, step by step, as I descended.) "What's in here?" the cabdriver I hailed demanded as he swung it, with effort, into the trunk. It was paper, and not the kind you can buy things with or roll up dank weed in. It included my notebooks and readings from school to be filed away, a year's worth of receipts for tax deduction purposes, around 40 back issues of magazines, and approximately 20 books. 

I generally adhere to a Marie Kondo-like philosophy regarding my possessions—I prefer to own fewer objects that I prize; I store my clothes vertically in their drawers like file folders. But paper is the one arena where I veer from orthodoxy. "My basic principle for sorting papers is to throw them all away," she writes, a statement I view as a direct attack on everything I stand for. Last semester, my kitchen table accumulated a beefy, unholy stack of journalism. I'd buy the fat Sunday edition of the New York Times every week, and I also started subscribing to various highbrow literary magazines on my teachers' recommendations. Once received, these would all go on The Pile—I never felt like I had time to read them during the semester itself. 

So I spent most of January decluttering: one week was spent nestled in a giant furry beanbag, plowing through issues of the New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books, the New York Times Book Review, and Bookforum. I spent another week cozied up in bed sifting through my inbox. My email hygiene is also generally a hot mess—I open new messages, feel a vague sense of obligation, do nothing, then repeat the process until I have the time/emotional bandwidth to actually deal with them, usually months later. So I archived a year's worth of Lyft receipts and Venmo notifications and read newsletter backlogs and made the executive decision to unsubscribe from most of them. Poem-a-Day, I hardly knew ye.

But the promise of KonMari-ing, and decluttering in general, isn't just having less stuff and more happiness. It's also that, by getting rid of your extra stuff, you also remove the mental burden of having that stuff, which then frees you up to consider what you actually want from life. Once you've fully KonMari-ed your home, you might just realize what your true passion is, or go out and finally find a boyfriend (at least, that's how the manga version of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up—which I read in its entirety standing up in a bookstore—ends). The goal, weirdly, is focus.

And yet I spent January feeling more lost about my career prospects than ever. It's our modern affliction that we have multifarious apps and byzantine ways to keep ourselves from constantly checking our email (where, again, the goal is focus). But it was the absence of email that was torturing me. I'd check my email, receive no new messages, stare into the abyss, and then focus really hard—on my own failures. Here, roughly, was the progression of my constantly iterating thought-loop:

1. no one is responding to my emails

2. my writing isn't good/literary enough to be taken seriously 

3. my writing isn't good/literary enough to make an actual career out of it 

4. i have no employable skills

5. oh god i'm going to hit 30 and not have any employable skills

6. maybe i should quit and take up another, more honest line of work, thereby contributing to humanity and a 401(k) like everyone else 

7. oh wait, see 4. 

8. i have wasted my life

9. is 27 too young to give up on one's dreams 

On the bright side, I've stopped checking my email so much.

I feel slightly less unhinged now that I'm back in New York, possibly because I now have plenty of paper to distract me. I edit book reviews for a website, and publishers are constantly sending me forthcoming books, unprompted. This sounds great—free books!—until you realize that I get on average one book a day. To change my address when I moved, I had to email more than ten publishers individually, and sometimes I wasn't even sure how they'd gotten my address. (Even now, some publishers are still sending books to my old Bay Area apartment.) 

This past Sunday, I went to go pick up a month and a half's worth of mail from my local UPS store. I gave my ID to the guy at the counter, and his eyes widened. "Oh, yeah, we've got packages for you," he said. Then he went into the back room and brought out a clear trash bag with fifteen packages in it. "We sent some back, but there were so many we stopped," he said. "Next time, leave a phone number." (Incidentally, when I cleaned out my inbox, I deleted or archived more than a hundred UPS email notifications.) Then I went home, unwrapped the books, and added them to the towering stacks on my beleaguered kitchen table. Right now, there are 129 books on it. 

Chelsea

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