Get Off The Web And Get Into Your Damn Life

Dear Mommy,

Sometimes (mostly while browsing social media), I feel like my life isn’t as breezy and beautiful as the lives of other people. I’m thankful and happy with my life and I know that pics on Instagram don’t tell the whole story, but even with my rational brain it still ends up making me feel crummy, weird and inadequate. What should I do about it? Care less? (I’m trying!) Stay off the internet forever?

I have to agree with you: your life isn’t as breezy and beautiful as the lives of [some] other people. That will always be the way it is! There will always be lives we look to as the ideal. And, continuously throughout our lives, we will want lives that we do not have. So should you just give up? Hell no! But you can accept that that feeling will rear its head from time to time, especially if you choose to stay on social media. And you’re so right! The pictures aren’t telling the whole story. The jealousy-inducing things you see on social media seem noteworthy because they have been chosen to be witnessed, right? You’re not scrolling through a person’s actual camera roll and seeing the 15 other selfies they took that they thought were unflattering. But still, you can feel terrible even while being fully cognizant of the fact that all the shitty moments that exist in your own life that you’re not seeing on social media are still present for others. Boredom at work. Being exhausted in the morning. The crushing weight of the passage of time. Feeling lonely. Even if social media posts do discuss these things, they can’t be truly felt, because they are just representations. That’s why a movie about depression can be somewhat pleasurable to watch – suffering can be rendered beautiful by its representation. But the actual crushing weight of depression is anything but satisfying or beautiful. Even knowing all that, representation can still trick you! You seem to be aware of this. You seem to know that what you’re seeing isn’t 100% representative of the way things actually are, but you’re still getting sucked in. What do you do?

Something that I’ve done in the past is avoid and unfollow a lot of the accounts that make me feel what you’re describing. I used to follow a lot of style and fashion Instagram accounts because, well, I love clothes. And lots of celebrities too because, well, I love celebrities. Following these accounts was cool and interesting sometimes, but then I began to realize that every time I looked at Instagram I: 1) wanted to be rich, 2) wanted to buy A LOT of things, 3) suddenly hated my life. I was buying in! I wanted the things, the beautiful things. I wanted to go the parties, the beautiful parties. I wanted the hair, the beautiful hair and the beautiful clothes and beautiful apartments and a million record deals AND THE FANS, THE BEAUTIFUL FANS. I don’t know what your buy in is. Maybe it’s the damn hiking pictures. “I go to really beautiful places in my hip-looking workout gear!” Maybe it’s artist accounts. “I have seemingly endless time to effortlessly create beautiful things!” Or maybe it’s the accounts of your own friends. “Look at us at this low-lit bar, having sooooo much fun WITHOUT YOU!” Whatever it is, you gotta unfollow those accounts that make you feel terrible about your life. Even if it’s stuff you want to see. Is it really worth it to see what Mary-Kate and Ashley are up to if it’s gonna make you feel like crap about yourself? (No. It’s not.)

I definitely don’t think that you have to avoid the web forever. If you’re anything like me, the feelings of inadequacy are intermittent. Sometimes it hits me like a ton of bricks when I’m cruisin’ the web, sometimes I don’t feel it all. It’s crucial, though, when you begin to recognize those feelings and thoughts creeping into your heart and brain, to get off the web immediately and get into your damn life. Crack open a book. Take a walk. Make some art. Go see a loved one IRL instead of URL. The web will still be there when you return, and you may be more equipped to actually enjoy it! This is about to sound like one of those framed photos with an inspirational quote inside that you find in the housewares section of a Ross Dress for Less, but the key is learning to revel in the simple, beautiful things that are already in your life. The stuff that you already love. The alienation and inadequacy you feel is really just robbing you of feeling gratitude for everything you have and everything you are. You already have so much. You already are so much. It’s okay if you have to repeat that in your head over and over again. I do.

Love, Mommy

Problematic Faves

Dear Mommy,

What are ways to navigate loving celebrities that sometimes do shitty things?

Hi, friend. I believe you are referring to what we in the 2010’s call PROBLEMATIC FAVES. UGH. Allow me to define our terms: a problematic fave is a singer/actor/writer/other sort of media-maker/celebrity that you love OR a fictional character that you love who does or says something hurtful or oppressive. Problematic is sort of a blanket term for actions that are racist, sexist, homophobic or uphold other oppressive power structures. Media has always been problematic because humans have always been problematic, and with the advent of social media we can now read, hear, and see every problematic thing that our favorite creators of media are thinking all the time! I love it! It’s truly good for the soul.

First, I want to tell you that it’s okay to consume problematic media because, uh…that’s pretty much all there is. You’d be hard pressed to find a celebrity (or PERSON) that never says anything sexist, racist, homophobic, classist, ableist, transphobic, etc. etc. etc. Ditto TV shows. Ditto movies. Ditto every type of media you could consume. It’s nearly impossible to avoid problematic faves. What matters is not that you have them, it’s how you respond to them. There are lots of ways to navigate this particular part of our twenty-first century lives. Some, in my humble opinion, are better than others. Give me the pleasure of your company as we explore them.

One thing you can do is decide it’s stupid to pay attention to things like structures of oppression and that people who do and claim to be hurt by them are too-sensitive crybabies who are trying to be offended by stuff (like that’s a thing). I don’t recommend this course of action, because it makes you an oppressive asshole! I’m not here to tell you what to do and what you need to pay attention to, but I will tell you that you DO NOT get to decide what is worth being offended by, what oppression looks like to people, and what people should or shouldn’t be hurt by. You have no say in what is worthy of tears and attention for other people.

I can understand this reaction initially, especially when it’s someone you REALLY love being called out. There can be an instant shame reaction, like, “Wait…I like that thing/person and they did a bad thing. Am I bad?” Then that feeling of shame can lead to hyper-defensiveness that serves only to convince yourself that you are not bad. You say to yourself, and everyone who will listen, “NO THIS IS STUPID. THIS THING PERSON SAID/DID IS NOT BAD, EVERYONE ELSE IS TOO SENSITIVE. POLITICAL CORRECTNESS IS KILLING MEEEE,” and that becomes your viewpoint, and the sole purpose of it is to prove to yourself that you aren’t a bad person. You aren’t trying to learn anything new, you aren’t trying to understand the world, you aren’t flexing your empathy muscle at all, you are just self-absorbed and boring. And to you I say, “Peace.”

If you are a white person and the celeb/artist/media-maker in question did something racist, another thing you can do is call it out with outrage very publicly, and continue to insult the celeb in question whenever they are brought up, as a means of distancing yourself from racist behavior. Definitely make sure that your outrage seems real enough that people believe you have never done anything racist in your life. Definitely act like you have no understanding of this person’s racist actions because you have never thought or done a racist thing before you educated yourself about the history of race in our country and the current systems of oppression that continue to perpetuate racism.

My sarcasm above is not to express that you can’t be upset as a white person when a celebrity does or says something racist, that you can’t be angry or disappointed in the celebrity in question, that you can’t post to Facebook like, “Please stop fucking up, people I love!!!” Just don’t use your outrage to position yourself as someone who can’t understand how anyone could ever do or say a racist thing because you are the ultimate non-racist white person. This reaction, again, is just aaaaaall about you. You are not, again, trying to learn anything new, you aren’t trying to understand the world, you aren’t flexing your empathy muscle at all.

So, how do you respond to a problematic fave in a way that allows for learning new things, gaining understanding of the world, and flexing your empathy muscle? Let’s go through some scenarios and break it down into steps.

I think there are levels to problematic faves. One level is when your fave says a problematic thing in an interview, posts an offensive picture to social media, or it is written into a tv show/song/essay you love. For example, I’m watching my favorite television show and there is a scene that is so problematic that I shudder. Or I’m cruising the web and see that one of my favorite pop singers has just said the most eye-rollingly ignorant thing on Twitter. Or I’m reading an interview with an actor I am crushing on haaaard and they say something sexist and I slam my head to the desk. It happens to us all! The first step, when this happens (and it will), is to LEARN. Read some reactions on the old Twitter machine or anywhere on social media. It’s almost impossible not to be able to find reactions somewhere, just google the damn thing! Reading people’s reactions helps me learn what, exactly, was problematic about the thing. Sometimes people’s reactions teach me that something is racist/sexist/ableist/etc. and I had no idea before! Cool, thanks! But what if it’s something you have *gasp* said/thought/done before? Oh, shit! Well, you have now been taught, and you can make amends however you see fit. Amends can take the form of apologizing to a specific person you now know you have hurt, mailing an apology letter addressed to THE COSMOS, or just privately saying, “I have learned, I know better now. I am sorry and I forgive myself,” and starting the day anew. You can now put this all in your metaphorical brain desktop folder titled “ANOTHER WAY TO NOT PERPETUATE OPPRESSION.”

There have been times where I’ve been like, “Really? That’s racist? I just…don’t see…how it’s racist.” Duh I don’t see how – I’m white! Which brings me to my next step, which I will just call TRUST. If you are white and a person of color is saying something is racist, TRUST. If you are a cisgender person and a transgender person is saying something is transphobic, TRUST. If you are a man and a woman is saying something is sexist, TRUST. On and on and on… BUT WHAT IF YOU LIKE…DON’T AGREE? Who cares? We have just established that you do not possess the identity (or identities) that are affected by the remark/show/song so, please, I beg you…get over yourself! Seriously, I say that with love and the full knowledge that getting over yourself is extremely hard. Repeat these two sentences as much as you have to, until you have internalized them: am not an expert on everything. I am not an expert on other people’s experience. You may have been brought up believing you are, but I am here to tell you that you. are. not. Still don’t understand? A cool thought here may be, “I cannot see how this is racist, I really can’t, but I can recognize at the same time that I do not possess all knowledge of racism, so I am going to TRUST.” How does that harm you? (It doesn’t)

So, what if you do belong to the identity that is affected? Sometimes celebs say supposedly sexist things and I am the demographic that is supposedly affected. I follow my first step (it is LEARN, in case you forgot) and I’m still like, “I don’t see how that’s sexist.” Well…maybe it isn’t to me. Where is the decree that women all have to believe and be affected by the same things? Hint: that decree does not exist because we, as women (and people), contain MUL-TI-TUDES, duh. Within any identity/demographic/SELFHOOD you will find people who are incredibly…multitudinous, AKA we ALL are vast and incredible creatures with different experiences, hang-ups, loves, tastes, triggers, traumas, INFINITE GORGEOUS VARIATIONS. The appropriate thought, then, is, “I do not find that this personally affects me, but I recognize that it affects this person. Respect.” Wow, that’s it. Isn’t that sort of a…relief?

So, what if your problematic fave apologizes and you think they have really learned something from the ordeal? That’s tight! Good for you! But what if other people don’t think the apology was adequate? That’s tight! Good for them! Hello, multitudinous? Engage in a good-hearted debate with that person if you are both willing. Maybe one of you will convince the other! Nothing wrong with that! But if not, allow that you may never agree on that particular issue and move on! Allow that we are all from different experiences and, say it with me, YOU ARE NOT THE EXPERT ON EVERYTHING.

So, what about the other level of problematic faves? Like, what about when you find out a celeb you love(d) has done something unforgivable, whatever that means for you. A celebrity charged with domestic violence. A celebrity who molested his children. A celebrity accused of one, or multiple, rapes. A celebrity who goes on a terrifying and racist rant. BUM-DUM-DUM… (a drum roll, I think?) here come our final steps: SET BOUNDARIES and RESPECT OTHER’S BOUNDARIES. We all have the absolute right to set our own boundaries. Sometimes we know exactly what our boundaries are and we see something in our favorite TV show that crosses them and we hit that power button like, “Fuck no, never again.” Or we hear our favorite director from childhood is an abuser and we decide that we will never see another movie of his. Sometimes our boundaries surprise us and we think, “Wow, I didn’t know that thing made me feel uncomfortable/unsafe.” Whatever they may be, go ahead and SET BOUNDARIES. Set whatever boundaries feel right to you. YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY ALLOWED TO STOP WATCHING, READING, LISTENING TO, FOLLOWING ANYTHING THAT MAKES YOU UNCOMFORTABLE OR UNSAFE OR AFFECTS YOU NEGATIVELY IN ANY WAY. No matter what anyone says. Whether or not your friends agree. Whether or not you can say what it is that makes you feel that way. Even if you think it’s tiny. And I’m not here to tell you what you can’t do, but I will say that if this trash person’s media means a lot to you, as it often can, and you just can’t imagine not being able to consume their art again, and it doesn’t make you feel icky as all hell deep inside, THAT IS OKAY TOO. Seriously, you get to decide. Sometimes people can separate a person’s art from who they really are, sometimes people can’t. Multitudes, etc. BOTH ARE VALID, as long as you aren’t an asshole about it and you RESPECT OTHER’S BOUNDARIES. Sometimes I think about potential conflicts in my head as conversations. Here is one where a person is given an opportunity to respect another’s boundaries:

Person 1: “OMG, did you watch Chicken Wings the TV Show [TV show I made up] last night?”

Person 2: “I didn’t. I stopped watching that show because the creator said some really racist things and I don’t want to support it.”

Person 1: “Ugh, I know. I really love Chicken Wings the TV Show and that really bums me out! I think I’m going to continue to watch it, but I can totally see how you don’t want to. I won’t bring it up around you again!”

*Person 1 and Person 2 hug*

Obviously that is not how a real conversation goes down. Maybe Person 2 convinces Person 1 not to watch the show. Maybe Person 2 argues and argues with Person 1 about the Emmy award-winning Chicken Wings the TV Show hoping Person 1 will stop supporting the show, but Person 1 will not budge. All these scenarios can happen while boundaries are still being respected. That is tight!

What if a problematic fave really crosses a boundary with you personally but you don’t want to give up their art forever and ever? You can totally do this, but it may ease your conscious to set up some personal guidelines or smaller boundaries. Here’s an example from my own life:

A lot of Woody Allen’s movies mean a great deal to me. I grew up watching them. They were formative for me. (Totally awesome if you didn’t, totally awesome if you hate them all.) After I found out that Woody Allen sexually abused his daughter, I have not been able to watch his movies, but I might one day. Here are the guidelines I have set for myself: I am not going to give that asshole’s art any publicity. I’m not going to talk his movies up on the web and I am not going to post pleasing stills from them on tumblr or whatever. And I am not going to give that asshole’s art any more money. I will not buy a ticket to see his movies at a movie theater. I will not buy a new DVD copy from the store. Maybe one day I’ll watch a pirated copy of Annie Hall, or maybe I’ll decide that I can’t separate the man and his actions from his movies. Both are okay.

Those are my personal guidelines for extremely problematic faves. You don’t have to follow them. Sometimes I don’t. We all screw up sometimes! But I find it helps to have a general idea of what my boundaries and guidelines are. I also find that it’s a lot easier to not support certain problematic celebs if they weren’t formative for me, and I’ll bet that’s true for a lot of people. We are all doing what we can. When someone whose art is meaningful for you fucks up in a really bad way, it can be so confusing. It can feel really bad. “But what does it mean about ME?!” I scream to the heavens any time I can’t bring myself to give up on an extremely problematic fave. I still don’t know! But I think that as long as I’m learning, reflecting, and respecting other people’s opinions and feelings, and as long as I do whatever I can to be able to look at myself in the mirror and metaphorically chuck myself on the chin and say, “Look how you’ve grown, kid,” and beam with pride, well…I’m doing okay. And I don’t think enjoying problematic media in the privacy of my own home should necessarily interfere with my ability to do that. Do you disagree? That’s awesome – infinite gorgeous variations, remember? I disagree with you, but I respect the hell out of you.

In the end, celebrities are people just like we are people. Some people may believe celebrities have more of a responsibility than we do to not fuck up super bad because they have an influence on a greater number of people. That may be true. But I think it would do us all some good if we stopped looking to celebrities and makers of art to be great thinkers or great people. Like just because someone’s vocal chords can make beautiful sounds they are supposed to be a good person? Seems weird to me. Not to say that they shouldn’t be held accountable for the messed up shit they do, not at all – just that we will be continually disappointed if we lift certain people up as shining examples of personhood just because they are talented or beautiful. The art people make does not necessarily reflect the person they are, just like the art you choose to consume doesn’t necessarily reflect who you are. But how you react to it can! Remember to always attempt to LEARN whatever you can from a situation. Remember to TRUST that, when someone say something hurts them, it does. Remember to SET BOUNDARIES that feel right to you, that make you feel safe, that make you feel comfortable. Remember to RESPECT OTHER’S BOUNDARIES by believing they know what is best for them and not trying to convince them otherwise. Just the fact that you are asking this question gives me such hope for you. Go forth and, as an old coworker of mine once said, “Fuck up, learn from it, rinse, repeat, try again.” Good luck, baby.

Love, Mommy

Welcome To Mommy

Hello, and welcome to Mommy! It’s me, Mommy!

Mommy is an advice blog for anyone who needs help, who needs an ear, who needs validation, who needs a complete stranger to talk through their feelings in the public forum of the World Wide Web. I’ll begin by saying that I am no guru, nor am I an expert on anything. I don’t know what you should do with your life, I don’t know how you can find peace, I don’t know what you should eat for dinner. I can’t even figure out how electricity works. I, frankly, am insecure about offering advice at all which is probably something that, as a newly-minted advice blogger, I shouldn’t say out loud. I may be wrong about literally everything. I may not be able to tell you what to do about any given situation. I will never be able to explain to you why, when you plug a thing into a wall, it gets all shiny and makes noises. So what the hell makes me, your beloved mommy, qualified to be writing this blog in the first place? Believe me, I am asking the exact same question. All I have to offer is that I am also a human on this extremely messy planet and I, too, am squelching around in the muck that is human existence and, as I do so, I have this sense in every place in my body (yes, every single place) that I am here to listen to you and to offer what I can and to validate whatever it is that you’re feeling. I am your mommy and I love you unconditionally.

(I will also offer, in the way of qualifications, that I was born on October 29, 1989 meaning that I am 1. a Scorpio sun and 2. a Scorpio moon. Consider that my resume.)

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Dear Mommy,

Sometimes I feel weird about how much I care about Instagram likes. It feels self-serving and selfish, like an ego-booster. Is that wrong?

Hi, friend! Isn’t our world so confusing? I truly believe that humankind has been plagued by different versions of the same questions for the entirety of our puny existence, but adding social media anxiety to the mix of our species’ god-given angst-tornado is truly a recipe for disaster. It feels like our culture is constantly telling me that I can’t like myself and that I HAVE to like myself, at the same time somehow? That I am simultaneously special and unique AND stupid for believing I am special and unique, that I was duped, that I’m just another ~entitled millennial~ ***special snowflake***. So whatever, right? If all this is true at the same time, that I am special and that I am not, that I rule AND that I drool, I’m inclined to believe that…truth just DOESN’T exist. And if I start to accept that there is no one way I have to be, that I am nothing and that I am everything, then I get to filter out all that noise, which sometimes shows itself like, “I am a terrible person for wanting Instagram likes, why am I so insecure? Aren’t I better than this?”

To advocate for balance for a moment, are you thinking about the likes when you’re supposed to be yukkin’ it up with your friends? Are you not able to stop checking your phone while watching a movie with a loved one, even in the holiest of holy places, the movie theater? Are you taking your phone to the bathroom with you, even when you don’t want to? The likes give you an ego boost and that’s not necessarily wrong, but what if you care too much? Is it interfering with your ability to be present in your daily life? Is being present in your daily life important to you? Then maybe try to take a step back. Take some simple, concrete steps – like only allowing yourself to look at Instagram at certain times of the day, turn off notifications if you have them set up, maybe de-activate for a little while every time you feel the need. If you know you’re going to post a picture and want to keep checking for likes, then don’t post that picture right before you go out with friends or when you sit down to begin your life’s work (as I did before I sat down to write this letter to you.)

I want you to know that you are so, so much more than your Instagram likes (as The Queen once said, “We’re so much more than pointless fixtures, Instagram pictures”) but you are also so much more than your worry about Instagram likes. Life is short, so worrying about likes on Instagram is probably a waste of it, but worrying about worrying about likes on Instagram DEFinitely is. Be gentle with yourself. You are showing something to the world and even if it’s just a picture of you in your own bathroom or a pile of dog shit with a cigarette put out in the middle (I looked through my own pictures for ideas), you want people to respond positively. We all want that, we have all wanted that, you are not a bad person for wanting that. We are ALL chasing that high in some way – through Instagram likes, tucking away the memory of your friends laughing at your joke, your boss acknowledging your skill, the moments that you feel like ~you~ have really shined through and someone noticed. That magic. It is so unbelievably radical and tight to get to a place where you give all the validation you need to yourself, but getting validation from other people is the next best thing and is also 100% okay! post to Instagram, rake in the likes and let them make you feel good. It’s ok. You deserve it. If we could all be more comfortable with our own need for validation, think of all the time we could put toward new Instagram posts instead of rolling around in our own beds, naked probably, clutching our heads and thinking to ourselves, “Why do I care so much about what people think of me?!?!? I am such a bad person, such trash, for hoping someone liked my picture of dog shit with a cigarette in the middle!”

We are allowed to want people to like us, to like the things we do, to think about us when we are not around, to hope that someone came across our picture and couldn’t double-tap it fast enough and thought to themselves, “Ugh, that person is so cute/funny/smart/interesting/I just like them!” All that said, I have to advocate for balance again. Look at your Instagram every single day for all I care, and absolutely GLOW with pride at those likes you’ve accumulated, get high as hell on your notifications – but, I also hope that your own double-tap is the double-tap that matters most. Your own seal of approval is truly the most important, you are the world’s foremost YOU scholar, a true genius. Your very saliva is imbued with magic, even your goddamn initials are holy. Telling yourself that with a straight face and being your own ultimate Instagram-liker is something to work toward. (You get that this whole Instagram thing has become a metaphor for life in general right?) I believe in you and I trust you – you’ll find the way.

Love, Mommy