Sacrificed on the Altar of Content

There is no single Moment that defines a person’s life, not really. We like to pretend there is, as a culture, because it makes for easier exposition in movies and TV and books; hell, even for regular everyday exposition to the people we talk to.

But, deep down, we know different. There are Moments — plural, many — that strike at the soul and make it more inclined to one course of action or another; and yet always, they are preceded by others, and in general they are followed by others, and these tend to be equal in importance.

I have lost count of the Moments in my life, as most people have, but sometimes they rise, unbidden, from the carpet of dust in the back of my mind.

I am not exactly eager to see them. They involve the breaks and bumps and bruises of the psyche: The Moment someone said they no longer loved me. The Moment I realized my exact insignificance to the world at large. The Moment I realized something had long ago pressed the self-destruct button in me, and that there was nothing on this earth that could prevent its fruition; there were only small things that could delay. The moment the Universe threw me off yet another mountain top.

We are a collection of Moments, all of us here, half-remembered and acted upon unthinkingly, for the most part. The things you think are inked in your memory for the rest of your days (how the lips of your first love felt against your own) will fade. Others (that one time you were mortifyingly unkind to a stranger) will crackle across your cortex as long as you draw breath.

The key to living, it would seem, would be to filter these according to what you need to survive, to lay the unhelpful back into murky unconsciousness. But what happens when you can’t?

One way to solve this issue is to simply avoid introspection altogether, a strategy I have not yet mastered and fear I never will. Theoretically, one does this by keeping catastrophically busy at all times; by burying oneself in work and play, in various substances, in other people’s problems.

Of course, when one makes a living writing, that becomes all but impossible. Writing is, by its nature, that most solipsistic of endeavors.

Even if you are reporting what other people have said, or simple facts, the words still come from within, plucked from the stream that runs through your mind, sometimes too quickly, sometimes maddeningly slow. You can never truly lose yourself in a story you are writing — journalistic, fictional, some cross thereof — because it is from your very deepest self that it comes.

This is a peril, too, of making work one’s life, a thing that every person of my generation has been encouraged to do. The Work: that is the thing that will not only put a roof over your head, but will also make you whole, will in fact fill the hole, the yawning singularity in your chest. The Work is given automatic capitalization, a wide berth. It is the center of your life, because it is so much more reliable than individuals.

Or so it seems. But always there comes a time when the Work is halted, when a job is lost, when a beloved boss moves on. This is the ongoing epidemic in fields deemed “creative.” Your writers, your editors, your white-collar proles attempting to figure out what words people want to read, all being washed away by a tide of willful ignorance.

As with all tides, this one is eternal. The difference now is that we are being borne toward a post-word world.

Entire publications are throwing up their hands and using the word “content” in all seriousness. Videos — some with bile-raising ads in front, others without (which seems nearly as big a waste) — play automatically above every piece of this “content.” Whether it adds to the reader’s experience or renders the “content” unreadable is of no concern to all those who own summer homes but refuse to pay out vacation time to laid-off employees, those sacrifices on the Altar of #Content.

And so another Moment has come, another realization: I am obsolete. I have probably always been obsolete, would have been even had I been born a decade or two before I was. Perhaps it is this inherent obsolescence that activated that self-destruct button all those years ago, and why this second, third, fourth interruption of our regularly scheduled life cuts so deep. For eight months, I was surrounded by people who believed as I did — that there was a place in the world for what we were doing.

We have been taught otherwise, hearts cut out and burned as an offering to an indifferent audience, and now we wait for the tide to finish the job.


Not Fade Away

You had no idea your friend was feeling this way. You are so sorry they didn’t feel they could reach out. But they’re still here, miraculously, and they know now they can, right? You are afraid for them; you want them to be happy. You’re there whenever they need you, no hesitation. You want them to stick around, so whenever they’re feeling bad they should call or whatever other way they want to reach out.

The fear fades, as all things do. Lives come back into focus.

You are so sorry, but you are just so busy this weekend. Ugh, and next. Maybe we can meet up the week after? Something just popped up… 

Seriously though, any time you want to come over, just holler.

Sorry, you were in a movie. You’ll call back later so you can catch up.

Sorry, everything’s just been nuts lately. But seriously, call at any time.

You mean to call back, you mean to send a text or a tweet or something to say you saw they called. But your partner is having a real tough week. Your attention gets sucked into a shitty movie playing on basic cable and then wow it got late. Plus, there wasn’t a voicemail so things are probably fine.

Oh shoot there was that text yesterday, you forgot. But it was just a joke. It’s fine.

You only say something when you have something to *say*, y’know? It isn’t a big deal, everything’s fine, yeah?

You mean to reply, you really do, but you just forget, and then there’s like 50 texts from dad and Stu about the Yankees.

There aren’t any more texts or calls, but you don’t notice for a while.

Huh, haven’t heard anything in a while.

Sorry. You understand, right? …These things happen.

After the Fall

One year ago, a bathtub full of blood. A fluttering of eyelids, a tightening of the gut after it hits you — that this is not nearly enough blood — that you have failed.

This is not about what led up to that moment. This is about what comes after.


Imagine, if you will, that you have been shot.

Imagine going to the emergency room after having been shot. Imagine having to detail the circumstances of the shooting to five different people, each of whom seem unable to understand why you got shot; none of whom believe you when you say the bullet is still inside you. Imagine being handed a photo of a Band-Aid and told that’s all they can do.

Imagine being told to “Have a nice day” as you leave, with the bullet still inside you.


You failed not because you suddenly decided life was worth living, but because your body simply didn’t allow you to succeed. You cannot die, and yet you cannot remember how to live.

So you spend hazy days searching for a new doctor to take you on, being referred to colleague after colleague, and each time you have to tell another person what you did — box cutter, Bayer, bath — a piece of your soul shakes itself loose and dissipates.

Now you are one more squirmy “Sorry, I’m not taking new patients” from another bathtub full of blood, and so you go, you finally go, to the place you said you’d never go.

At the psych ER you are taken in and patted down and escorted to a room that is more prison than hospital. The part of your brain still capable of reason understands why this is, but the rest is too busy wondering, “How did it come to this?” to care. You are in the place that has filled you with bowel-tying fear ever since you first thought about Doing That, was it 12 or 13, why can’t you remember. It feels important that you remember.

You try to explain to doctor after doctor what’s going on in your broken mind. They “mmhmm” at clinical intervals. You try not to cry while you are talking to them; you try to joke. This is a reflex — it is what you have always done.

You try to explain that this has happened before, and will happen again: You don’t know whether that’s in a couple days or a couple years, but you do know you need help, you need more than what you have been getting.

They discuss you behind bullet-proof panes. They tell you they do not think you need to be admitted.

A strange sense of rejection floods you. “What now?” you ask yourself after they leave the room, and you cry a little, because it is a scary thing, to be in this place and not know what to do.

They say they will give you the number for a “therapy center.” They fill out a “Personal Safety Plan” that is about as useful as a brick to the brainstem.

“I did all these things,” you tell one doctor, after he asks you where you can go to feel safe, and things you can do to feel less terrible. “They didn’t work. That was why I came here.”

He tells you you’ll be okay, that you just need someone to talk to.

You have been talking to people for nine years.

He hands you the number for a “New York Therapy Center” and a sheet of paper that says you are not a danger to yourself or others and leaves the room.

You step out hesitantly. “I can just go?”

The security guard buzzes the door open. “Have a nice day,” he says.

It is not until after you have found your way back out to the entrance that you realize you are, somehow, worse off than you were when you entered the building an hour and a half ago.


The New York Therapy Center is closed when you call.

You call again Monday morning. You explain what happened — the box cutter, the blood, the bathtub — to a receptionist who doesn’t seem to know how to respond. You ask to see a doctor as soon as possible. She takes your insurance information, ascertains that at this point you no longer care about having to go out-of-network, and tells you they’ll call back soon.

Tuesday morning passes. You call back Tuesday afternoon. “We’re still checking your benefits,” the receptionist explains. You reiterate your need to see someone as soon as possible.

Wednesday morning passes. You call a third time. “We’re sorry, but no doctors are taking new patients,” the receptionist says.

Your laughter comes out as a hoarse bark.

You find a random psychiatrist on ZocDoc who has an appointment available on Friday. When you show up, he deems you too “unstable” to treat — he specializes in medication management, not stabilization. “You need to talk to someone,” he says, even though you are sick unto death now of talking. He gives you the address of a walk-in clinic a couple miles from your apartment.


You do not go to the walk-in clinic. You think again about blood and bathtubs. You think about bridges and bullets. You wander aimlessly for a while, then start to laugh at nothing in particular.

You remember why you didn’t tell anyone the last time this happened. The medical establishment has failed you before, and they will fail you again.

There is no one in this world who can save you — save yourself.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Subject: “Hey”
(Breakup e-mail number one)

Chapter 2: Subject: “Open position?”
(Job tip from six months ago never acted upon)

Chapter 3: Subject: “In case I get hit by a bus…”
(Notes to loved ones in the event of accidental death)

Chapter 4: Subject: “So…”
(Breakup e-mail number two)

Chapter 5: Subject: “OMG”
(Abandoned screed against Friend 1, to Friend 2)

Chapter 6: Subject: “I’m sorry”
(Suicide note)

Chapter 7: Subject: “GIF List”

Chapter 8: Subject: “FOR FUCKING REAL?!”
(Abandoned screed against Friend 2, to Friend 1)

Chapter 9: Subject: “I miss you”
(Getting-back-together e-mail number one)

Chapter 10: Subject: “(None)”
(123 words of a short story that will never be completed)

The Way the World Ends

This is the thing you scream, at first, in your mind, hurling the thought towards Brooklyn as hard as you possibly can, all-caps; thundering, you hope, across the night sky, straight into their temporal lobe.

This is the thing that echoes in your mind for hours, refreshing when you least expect it, the sound behind the pressure in your eyes.

This is the thing you mutter, in your mind, when you see old voicemails you will not, cannot, delete; that you will not, cannot, listen to again.

This is the thing you whisper, months later, in your mind, when you see them across the room, as you near each other with sad smiles of recognition; fearful they’ll hear you, wondering if they share the same fear.

“I miss you.”

This Is Not a Metaphor

Once upon a time, there was an Unstoppable Force. She was a young Force, perhaps too young to truly deserve her name; but she had not met an obstacle in this life she could not overcome.

Once upon a time, there was an Immovable Object. He was older (he had seen a thing or two), ossified in his isolation, convinced that there was no Force in this life strong enough to relieve him of his perch– and yet not without the hope and fear that one would appear.

Once upon a time, Unstoppable and Immovable met, driven into each other’s orbit by the vagaries of chance, or maybe fate, as one of them secretly believed. They had some drinks, and for a few hours, they forgot their names, each delirious in the light of having found something so like themselves, down to the least boson, to the last quark. The world did not end; in fact, it was as though a new world had been given being, born out of the quantum entanglements of their improbable proximity.

The Unstoppable Force glanced off the Immovable Object once, only to find herself pulled back by a force perhaps stronger than herself.

For a time, Unstoppable and Immovable sat as they were. Unstoppable enjoyed the Object’s solidity; Immovable found the weight pleasant. They waited, content, until the friction became burning, until the weight became too much to bear.

What happens when an Unstoppable Force meets an Immovable Object?

They continue as they have, striving to be proved wrong: they are not as they have always thought themselves. Striving not to break the other, but to be broken.

Generation Stop

I am tired.

I am tired of hearing that I am shiftless, that I think myself special when really I am not, that it’s my own fault the world “isn’t meeting [my] expectations.” I am tired of everyone on the internet telling me I know nothing, that I am entitled, that I am lazy. I am tired of self-important magazines and bullshit marketers coming up with abhorrently stupid names for my generation. (Call me a “Millennial” and it will be the last word you speak.) I am tired of so many parents complaining about their children using the very technology their children have created.

You know what, Boomers (and a few Gen X-ers who got busy early on)?

Maybe you shouldn’t have created a world in which everyone feels pressured to go to college, where following your dream is the Ultimate Good. Maybe you shouldn’t have fostered an economic ecosystem in which a bachelor’s degree is basically a requirement to find a job that pays minimum wage. Maybe you should rethink your company’s stance on unpaid internships that serve only to broaden the gulf between the talented poor and the undeserving rich.

Maybe you should recognize that the reason most of my generation is graduating without gainful employment lined up is because you will have to stay in the job you currently have for the rest of your life, because Social Security will run out before you can retire and you foolishly invested most of your savings in tech stocks that had worse odds than a Vegas slot machine. (This is also why we had to sign away the next 30 years of our fiscal lives at age 17: because you invested our college fund, too.)

Maybe you should understand that those of us who have by some miracle found a decent-paying job in our desired field will remain where we are, at the bottom of the totem pole, for perhaps our entire careers, because upward mobility has simply vanished. Maybe you have never been at risk of falling into unemployment, a state the majority of us have already found ourselves in and still bear financial and psychological scars from, and so will never know the icy clutch of panic every time your boss asks to speak with you.

Or maybe, just maybe, you should shut the hell up.