Dear Shaun,

Today at lunch I spent a little time on Ask Metafilter–not looking for anything in particular, mind you, just a general sort of looking. I spend less time online lately, but the Metafiltering is a thing I still do every now and then, usually when I’m trying to avoid doing something else. So there I was, clicking and avoiding, and then I read this comment you wrote, and I started to cry. I didn’t cry about the vegetarian food ideas (Smart Dogs are good, but they’re not that good) or about how expensive Whole Foods is (fucking expensive, but not tear-inducingly so) or about how much I might miss bacon if I stopped eating it (although I’d miss it a lot). No, I cried at this part:

You might get fed up and snap and have a hamburger. You might find that you’re perfectly happy being a vegetarian all the time except Sunday mornings, when you just want to goddamned pieces of bacon with your scrambled eggs. You might not think about the chicken stock in the soup until after you’ve eaten it. That’s ok. Don’t feel like you’ve failed as a vegetarian. Even though, yes, you ate some meat, you are eating less meat. Your new vegetarianism (whatever your reason for it) is not some fragile vase that is going to shatter the second you have a bite of meat. It is as strong as you decide it is, and the boundaries are where you set them. Remember that what’s important here is net benefit. A single hot dog does not erase all the benefits from not eating meat for the previous weeks, months, or years. If you were only 100% vegetarian for a single day that would be better than never.

You wrote it about vegetarianism, but I read it like this:

Your $x (whatever your reason for it) is not some fragile vase that is going to shatter the second you $y. It is as strong as you decide it is, and the boundaries are where you set them.

At which point it became about the long, long list of things I’ve stopped doing lately, things I’ve let languish simply because I’m afraid I can’t do them perfectly. I can’t write a book perfectly, I can’t sew a skirt perfectly, I can’t redesign this website perfectly (let alone post on it), I can’t process my photos perfectly, I can’t do anything perfectly. This particular thought pattern has crippled me to the point where I’ve become paralyzed with anxiety, and I’ve stopped doing anything at all.

I’m sure that this is obvious to other people, but it is not obvious to me: it’s okay if I’m not perfect. Really, it is. My writing is not some fragile vase that is going to shatter the second I split an infinitive; if I only sewed for a single day that would be better than never; and so on and so forth. And that’s why I cried when I read your comment. I’ve always known that “It’s okay if I’m not perfect” is a factual statement, but reading what you wrote made me think that I just might start believing it.

Thank you.
-Alison

things I’m trying to remember

1. How happy I was to cross the Texas state line into New Mexico. As soon as I saw the sad, weathered welcome sign, I couldn’t stop smiling.

2. How scary it was to drive on I-10 through San Gorgino Pass, windy as hell and terribly beautiful. I could barely keep my car from flying off the road, but I couldn’t stop staring at the windmills.

3. What it felt like in Wyoming, on top of the clouds.

4. How funny it was when “I Am a Rock” came up on my iPod when i drove through the Badlands.

5. How I could barely see through the windshield when I drove through that storm in Mississippi. My sister called and I said, “I’ll have to call you back, unless I die first.”

6. How I must have looked on the final night of my trip, on the patio at the Harp in Houston,when it really hit me that I’d set out to do this and had done it, and done it successfully, and Freddy said, “I’ve never seen that look on your face before.”

I was going to complain that real life is making it hard for me to remember these things, but that’s not really true. No, I can remember them whenever I want, and sometimes the remembering is almost as vivid as the experiences themselves. What real life interferes with is the writing. How can I reconcile what I did with what I’m doing right now? Montana and Vermont and Wyoming and Louisiana can’t coexist in my brain with driving to the office with my mug of coffee, or eating leftovers at my desk for lunch, or doing laundry or dishes or paying my bills.

I don’t know how to do this.

may you live in interesting times

the other night i was at my sister’s house for her birthday. she had a few friends over for (lopsided but delicious) cake and (always delicious) wine. a few people asked me about my trip and my writing. i told them that while i don’t have a specific plan in mind for the writing itself, i’m not too worried about it. i tend to write a lot more when i’m somewhere new and a lot of things are happening to me.

“what if nothing happens to you?” someone said.

i smiled. “that’s one of the things i worry about.”

while it seems entirely unlikely that nothing will happen to me on a two-month roadtrip, what if nothing does happen to me? what if the trip turns out to be a tour of all the grass around the country on which the dog can pee? what if i see mount rushmore and it looks exactly like it does on television?

in theory i could make things happen to me, couldn’t i? i could meet a bunch of strangers. i could go to places i never thought i’d visit. i could meet a bunch of strangers and let them take me to the places i never thought i’d visit. no. there’s a not-very-fine line between making things happen and jeopardizing my personal safety. the latter, of course, isn’t necessary to achieve the former.

i think a lot about how much different writing a book will be than writing on the web. outside of the fact that i enjoy writing in general, i’m often motivated to post here for the sake of posting. sometimes i write just because a few days have gone by since my last post and i feel like i should say something to break the silence. sometimes i write because i like the instant gratification of writing something people can read right away. with those two factors absent, will i still be able to do it?

writing offline will have its advantages, though. for every single thing i write about on this site, there are ten things i don’t write about, because of the people who read it. i keep quiet about these things because i don’t want people to take them the wrong way, or because i just don’t want them to know at all. perhaps the very large window of time between when i write something and when it [might] be published will allow me to be more candid. in theory, i can write frankly about X event because it’ll all have blown over by the time anyone reads it. in theory.

this topic makes me think about david sedaris. how does he decide what to write about and what to keep quiet? does he write about his family because they’ll always be his family no matter what he says about them? does he write about acquaintances because it won’t be a huge loss if they never talk to him again?

which makes it sound like i plan to write horrible things about everyone i know. this is not the case. but regardless of my intentions, writing on this website hasn’t been without personal ramifications. i can think of at least five things i’ve written in the past seven years that have upset my family, friends, or boyfriends. there are probably others who didn’t like something i wrote but never said anything to me about it. so far it’s still been worth it, but i worry that someday i’ll write something that will make important people in my life decide they never want to talk to me again.

when my sister’s friend left her house, he shook my hand and said, “it was nice to meet you. i hope something happens to you.”

so do i.