Is Writing Hard?

melanie bates

“So, what do you do?” the girl asks. She has a gold star plastered on the chest of her snowy white sweater. Silver tinsel adorns the neck and cuffs. It matches her adult braces perfectly and I think her quite clever.

Her gaze tells me we’re in a competition, though, and that we’re on the train, the whistle’s been blown, and she’s five cars ahead of me already. I can feel her superiority in my solar plexus as I answer, “I’m a writer.”

I glance at a guy a short distance away who’s wearing a bright red sweater with green trim and stuffed cats sewn all over it. I haven’t been able to decide which sweater is the ugliest, but I do wish I could vote for the sleigh bell earrings that jingled past me moments ago.

“I’ve always wanted to write a book,” she says. “I just don’t have the time. I’m too busy with work. Maybe when I retire.” Her braces flash and I wonder why she didn’t go with Invisalign. I realize I’m not being very charitable.

I want to tell her I’ve heard her answer exactly three million times. Tonight. Here in this room. But I don’t. Instead I choose the passive aggressive stance that I take when I’ve allowed someone to make me feel small. “So what are you working on?”

“Oh, that’s way down the road.” I fill in the rest of her answer in my mind, except I make her small like one of those Brownies in the movie Willow, and I make myself as tall as the Jolly Green Giant. Her voice squeaks in my head: I’m busy with real work that actually helps real people live better lives. But I have this idea for a book where-

“Do you read?” I ask. I’m already situated in the Passive Aggressive car, and the train’s going too fast. I can’t jump off now.

She laughs. “Reading just makes me fall asleep.”

“So… have you studied the craft at all? Taken any classes?”

“What is there to study? Writing’s easy. You just sit down and write.”

We stand in silence for a moment before she wanders off to talk to someone wearing a Gingerbread man sweater with its leg bitten off. It says “Bite Me.” I don’t find it ugly at all. He should be disqualified.

I head to the kitchen to see if I can find some bowl to refill or a loaf of bread to break up into bite-sized chunks. I’m not even the host of the party, but I feel safer putting myself to tasks.

But the conversation plagues me for days.

Is writing easy? And if it isn’t easy, does it have to be hard? Or worse… have I been buying into the idea of the suffering artist since I wore my first black turtleneck back in high school and drank Bacardi 151 out of a brown paper bag?

As so often happens in my life, the conversation comes up a week later with a brilliant client of mine who is pondering the idea herself. We spend a fair amount of time discussing the value of something being hard. We wonder together: if something is easy, and there is no suffering, do we value it the same? Or do we place more value on the things that we suffer through; the things that are hard?

And in terms of writing…would I be proud of something that sprang forth from me with no effort at all on my part?

Before I twist myself into an existential piece of Christmas art to adorn your coffee table, I can only speak my own truth.

Writing is extraordinarily hard. There are days when I sit at my keyboard, open my manuscript, and stare at it in a haze. I struggle to write every single, solitary word on those days. I spend much of my time hating on every letter that already exists and I tell myself that I am the worst writer in the history of writers. I let myself know, with no uncertainty, that I’ll never be published, and I should just give up. Let it go. Have an easier life. Who am I to think I could be a writer anyway? It’s all rubbish. It’s 100% shite.

Writing is extraordinarily easy, too. There are days when I’m in the flow and I read what I’ve written and marvel over where it came from. I love on every single word and tell myself that I’ve got this writer thing down. I literally clap my hands with joy over my story. I imagine myself being published, and I feel such immense gratitude that it hurts—I get to be a writer. Me. How lucky am I? It’s all beautiful. All the reading, craft classes, my bachelor’s, my master’s, the gazillion craft books, all of it has been worth every penny.

I believe that whether writing is easy or hard is a choice I get to make. And value? Who gets to assign that? In part, me. I have no control over the rest. But, I also have a sneaking suspicion that those days when writing is hard, are the days when I’m comparing myself to other writers, or thinking about who might read my work, or judging myself before I’ve finished a single paragraph.

Regardless of easy or hard, I use these tricks to get stuff written:

  1. I show up regardless of how I’m feeling. I just write. I “Turn Pro” as Steven Pressfield calls it. I understand that every day isn’t going to feel as if the Muse has descended onto my fingertips and guided my work. Rather, some days it feels like the Muse has abandoned me for a six-pack of PBR, a sleeve of Saltines, and a can of spray cheese.
  2. I don’t allow myself a single thought about who might read my work if I can help it. (<— That is the #1 cause of writer’s block, in my humble opinion, and will freeze me faster than Ralphie’s tongue to the flagpole.) I’m only allowed to write for myself, and I remind myself that the only one reading my words at this moment in time is me.
  3. I write without re-reading a single word. I write until the first draft is done, and I don’t allow myself to go back and read, or judge it. <—- Judgement belongs in the realm of editing, and editing should not be done until you’re finished with your first draft. (If I were to edit in the drafting phase, I wouldn’t have written a book. Ever. I would have written ten words, and deleted nine, until after seven years of writing, I had about two pages of my novel complete. Oh wait, I did exactly that back in the day.)
  4. I understand that I can’t fix what hasn’t been written. I know that I have to have something down on the page to work with. And…as Anne Lamott says, no one get away with not writing a shitty first draft. No one. Except that one woman that no one likes very much, so I embrace that my first drafts will be spectacularly shitty. And they are.

One final note, my friends, before I log off to make Christmas goodies for the neighbors.

It’s a choice we get to make every day.

I still pull out that black turtleneck from time to time, and put my hand to my forehead while sipping proverbial whiskey, and angsting over word choice.

In fact, I wore my black turtleneck to that ugly Christmas sweater party. I was disqualified.

On Aging: One of “Those” Women…


I needed a dress for a wedding. For some, this might seem a perfectly normal thing, but I loathe clothes shopping. Detest. Abhor. Hate with a fiery, red-hot passion. Yet I knew I couldn’t very well show up in the sweat-stained sweater I’d been wearing over my pajamas every day for the past week.

My stomach twisted up like a class F4 tornado, as I pulled into the department store parking lot. I’d gained forty-five pounds in the past year. What had my doctor called it? Oh, yeah, “dramatic weight gain.” You think?

Whether this added heft was due to my full hysterectomy, or my lack of an actual thyroid, or my love of white cake with lemon frosting and sugar sprinkles, I’ll never know. All I knew was that I’d worn a size 4 since I was twenty, except for that two-year period after my divorce when I cinched my 00 cargo pants with a belt.

As I wandered amongst the racks, I looked like every man found shopping on Christmas Eve – lost, forlorn, and hopeless.

I finally found something that didn’t make me want to lose my mind, and I hung three sizes of the same dress over my hand. I had no idea what size I wore now.

I schlumped to the dressing room and prepared myself for my personal descent into the 7th pit of HELL – the trying on of clothes that I loathe shopping for.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall… I look like I’m seven months pregnant. Where’s my child?  The fruit of my womb? Is that a kick? Alas, no… it’s hunger pangs…

Size 6.

Dream on.

Size 8.

No, really… dream on.

Size 10.


I grabbed my sweats off the floor, yanked them on, zipped up my hoodie, and went back into the fray for a 12.

It sort of fit if I didn’t breathe too deeply, or expand my rib cage in any normal way, as one does when they actually take in oxygen.

Size 12…

I’m a house.

In all likelihood, I would have been more comfortable in a 14, but there was no way I could handle that. You know, emotionally, and all.

If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m not a girly-girl. Never have been. Hate pink. Hate dresses. Hate frills. I can’t tell you what type of dress I bought that day. Like if it’s a a-line, or b-line, or whatever. It felt like the fifties to me – gray with black and pink flowers. I even bought the fucking pink sweater that came with it. Because… wedding and fluffy, young love.

I felt pretty low for a few days after that shopping excursion. I huddled in my sweats, clutching imaginary cake. I guessed my six-day-a-week workouts for the past two months were really doing wonders for me, as I popped estrogen into my mouth like Milk Duds.

Eventually, I pried my fingers apart, dropped the pretend crumbs, and looked at my new dress. It was kinda pretty, despite the extra fabric. With a surge of hope, I decided I would focus on hair and make-up.

I once again had purpose.

I looked in the mirror and ran my fingers through the hair that had finally grown out after my mid-life crisis pixie cut.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall… is that a gray patch? Nah. No. It looks like a gray patch of newly planted hair seeds. No. That’s not gray. It’s silvery blond.

Because I’ve actually burned plastic into my hair by setting my curling iron too close to the hair dryer before commencing curling, I called a professional and made an appointment. I told her I had bought a “bun thingy” and asked if she could just put it in for me and do something with my bangs, so they didn’t look like that lone Q-Tip that’s been shuffled around in the bottom of a cosmetics bag for the past twenty years.

She hesitated just long enough to make me wonder if the call had been disconnected. “Sure,” she finally said.




Next… make-up. Here’s where the story takes a twist. I’m a PRO at make-up. I have a crazy awesome collection of MAC and brushes galore. I can definitely do make-up. This isn’t a girly-gift. This is art and painting. I’m mother-‘effin-Monet with MAC.

On the day of the wedding, my hair perfectly coiffed and shellacked with about as much Aqua Net as the ozone layer could handle, I was feeling in character when I sat down to paint my face. I set up my little light mirror and pulled out the perfect shades of pink and brown I’d chosen, and began.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall… why does the skin of my neck look like the soft folds of a cowl neck sweater?

You would have thought I was seeing myself for the first time in five years. My face was changed. The version of me that I walked around thinking I was, was gone. My foundation poured into the cracks and wrinkles of my face and set there like concrete; like the dry-cracked mud of the Mojave desert.

It was in that moment that I realized…I was one of “those” women. All this angst over my weight gain, and crinkly neck, and deepening wrinkles… OMGoddess. I was one of those females I’d heard about. The ones who put all sorts of stock in their appearance, then the market crashes, and they lose everything. Or so they think.

And this isn’t to say that I was the Bo Derek supermodel type before either, but I had gotten a fair amount of attention in my life because of how I looked. This reckoning almost shattered my mirror that day. Who will I be without this outward appearance? Who will I be as my hair turns grayer and grayer? Who will I be as I begin to fully embrace the beauty within, and let go of societal expectations of how I should look on the outside?

I’ve spent some time since looking at beautiful photos of Diane Keaton and Helen Mirren. I love their fire, their spunk, and their style. They’re aging gracefully; beautifully. I can draft behind them until I figure out how to embrace this new version of the physical me.

Resistance & The Upper Limit Problem in Creativity

resistance upper limit

Resistance has had my hands bound with anchor rope for the past few months. Maybe you’ve noticed. I haven’t written a blog since April.


But it’s more than just blogging. I hadn’t been writing on my novel either.

For those who don’t know the word in terms of creativity, or following your bliss, essentially it means you’re wholly sabotaging your efforts to do what you feel most called to do in the world. For me, that’s all things to do with writing. Steven Pressfield, in his amazing book The War of Art, describes the concept in much more depth than I ever could. Get thee a copy, posthaste. You won’t regret it.

Here’s how Resistance shows up for me.

Little Resistances:

The moment I sit down to write, I remember that I haven’t cleaned the grout in the shower since I moved in to my place in 2012. It’s absolutely imperative that I do so at that exact moment.

Or… I decide I’ve lived with the junk drawer as a junk drawer long enough and it’s time to abandon my writing, make a trip to the Container Store thirty miles away, and organize it. Pronto.

Or… as I sit in the chair with my feet crossed in my lap, fingers poised over my keyboard, the calloused bottoms of my feet rub my inner thigh and I head out for a pedicure. Immediately.

Those little insidious things that fill my mind to the point of distraction are just that — distractions. But they’re mild, really, in comparison with the biggies.

Big Resistances:

You know, things are going pretty well in your life, Melanie. You’ve written your first draft. You’ve written your second draft, half of your third, and started over on your fourth. The book is starting to come together. It’s taking shape. You’re even sort of semi-pleased. Sort of. And your business is booming. You’re doing work you love in the realm of writing. And your new rheumatoid arthritis meds appear to be working. Why don’t you join a hip-hop class?

Resistance: Oh yeah. We’ll see.

*Screeches to a Halt* I end up in the E.R. that night with some weird nodule in my knee bone. So then I see an Orthopedic surgeon. Then I go for an MRI. Blah, blah, blah.

Or… I try to blow up my relationship with my guy. I’m talking: let’s figure out in this nanosecond if the four years we’ve been happy together is enough or if we should call it quits. (More on that neuroses in a later blog.)

Blowin’ My Own Mind:

As the Universe so oft does, I was brought to a few books in the past few months that directly spoke to this phenomenon for me. One, of course, was The War of Art, but the other was The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks. I’ve started to ponder whether the Upper Limit Problem that Gay speaks of is the exact same thing as the concept of Resistance that Pressfield is famous for. Bear with me.

My understanding of the Upper Limit Problem from Gay’s work is that we have a baseline of what we’re comfortable receiving that’s established when we’re quite young. This includes happiness, success, joy, financial abundance, etc… When we approach that baseline and begin to climb above it, we subconsciously self-sabotage ourselves in order to get back to that comfortable baseline. Yep. Even if that baseline is really low and it sucks. We’re inclined to want to be in the space of what’s comfortable. Ever heard the phrase we’re creatures of comfort? Yeah, that.

So how does that relate to Pressfield’s Resistance? Well… both involve the employment of self-sabotage to baser levels of comfort. Let’s bring in Mr. Maslow, too. You know, just for kicks.

Most people remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs from Psych 101, right? A simple refresher: Our first priority is to take care of our most basic needs of food, shelter, and clothing. If we have that handled, we can move on to job security and a safe working environment. When we’re golden there, we can move on to feeling wanted and to a sense of belonging. Next up? Self-respect. Last… if all those lower needs are met, we can finally move upward to fulfilling our potential and achieving our dreams.

But what if we’re not comfortable up there in dream achievement and potential fulfillment? What if we’re more comfortable in job security or feeling wanted?

When we’re in Resistance, we are almost wholly focused on Maslow’s lower levels. My self-sabotaging always brings me down to my baser needs. Grout, anyone? Relationships, perhaps? Of course, I’m comfortable there. When I wander one foot over my baseline of comfort to the realm of pure joy (which is where my bliss is — where my writing resides), WHAM-O.

Obviously, I’m still noodling this out for myself. I don’t have it all locked down, and I’m not going to wait to post this blog until I do have it fully ciphered. That’s where you come in. I’d love to hear your thoughts around the subject. What’s your take? Do you see the connection between Upper Limit and Resistance? Is Resistance the effect of the Upper Limit Problem (the cause?) Are they the same?

I’ve written 1,000 words a day for the past five days. Twenty pages of pure, glorious bliss. The Muse definitely joined me on two of those days. She saw I’d been making effort and blessed me with her presence. My job is in “Turning Pro” (another golden nugget from Steven Pressfield, as well as a follow-up book to The War of Art.) It’s up to me to show up at the blank page, day after day, despite the Resistance, and to work on increasing my Upper Limit by allowing for more joy, success, and abundance. In other words, practicing my Receiving skills.

Thoughts? Alternatives? Arguments? Spot on? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

For my Visual Peeps Out There:


A White Girl on White Privilege


I was in the middle of a workout a few weeks ago – sweat pooling, weights in hand – when someone rapped the secret knock on my door.

Da da dadaaa da, da da.

I never answer my door. Ever. For any reason.

But I was curious. Who could it be? Maybe my little brother was making a surprise visit. He would definitely use the secret knock.

I went down the stairs wearing pajamas, a robe, and my sneakers, and opened the door.

Before me stood an African American woman, arms outstretched, with a huge smile on her face.

I can’t remember exactly what she said to me. Memory’s a fickle thing. But, I do remember how I felt, and I do recall parts of that day exactly.

We’ll say her name was Emily, but she told me to call her Emy, and she said that she was knocking on my door because she was trying to make a better life for herself, and asked if I might help her to do that.

I listened to her spiel a bit warily. I didn’t want to buy anything, and my heart rate from the cardio I’d done was losing its momentum. I really wanted to get back to my workout.

Except there was something about this girl. She had a light about her, and I instantly liked her. When she began telling me some of her story, I kinda fell in love with her.

She explained that she was from back east. She’d lost her mother to drugs, her brother to the streets, and had two babies by a white man who had raped her. She told me she was going door-to-door to learn life skills, speaking, and leadership by selling magazines.

She said she wanted to live in a neighborhood like mine one day – to raise her kids there, and she asked me if I had any advice for her.

I told her to own her story, and to allow herself to tell it fully to one or two compassionate witnesses – folks who would really hold that story sacred with her – and then to start to change it.

Emy asked me what I meant.

I said something along the lines of, “Well, you’ve got some aspects of a horror story in your life. Like stories worthy of a Stephen King novel. And you can’t change those bits. They happened. But you’re on a heroine’s journey, and you’ve made it through the trials and tribulations part. Start telling stories that empower you. This and this and this happened, but look how strong I’ve become; look how far I’ve come; look at how those experiences made me who I am today: a survivor making a better life for myself. We’re all doing the best we can with the stories we’ve got. And our stories aren’t all that different.”

I asked Emy inside, and she followed me up the stairs where I pointed toward an old typewriter I have that holds one of my favorite pieces of writing. I asked her to read it:

But in the main, I feel like a brown bag of miscellany propped against a wall. Against a wall in company with other bags, white, red and yellow. Pour out the contents, and there is discovered a jumble of small, things priceless and worthless. A first-water diamond, an empty spool, bits of broken glass, lengths of string, a key to a door long since crumbled away, a rusty knife-blade, old shoes saved for a road that never was and never will be, a nail bent under the weight of things too heavy for any nail, a dried flower or two still a little fragrant. In your hand is the brown bag. On the ground before you is the jumble it held – so much like the jumble in the bags could they be emptied that all might be dumped in a single heap and the bags refilled without altering the content of any greatly. A bit of colored glass more or less would not matter. Perhaps that is how the Great Stuffer of Bags filled them in the first place – who knows? ~ Zora Neale Hurston, How it Feels to be Colored Me

When she finished, I pointed to a painting above the typewriter. The artist is Kelly Vivanco, and I had purchased it a few years ago because it reminded me of Hurston’s essay. It’s called Bag of Colors.


I told her we’re all brown bags of miscellany and the only thing I’d add to Hurston’s essay is that our bags are also full of our stories. We heft them around. Sometimes they’re heavy, and sometimes they’re as light and joyful as a robin’s feather. Sometimes we carry them for years and years without ever setting the bag down, even for a second. And my story and her story aren’t all that far apart.

Emy seemed inspired and delved deeper into her tale. I shared a bit of mine, too – of addiction and the tough times. My boyfriend, who had been napping upstairs, came down and began to share some of his stories, as well. I hoped that somehow my words, and my story, would make a difference in her life. She was certainly making a difference in mine.

I ended up buying three magazines. When she gave us the price of $152.00, I flinched for a moment and debated ordering just two, but decided I didn’t care. I wanted to help, and Emy was very upfront that 50% of the cost went to her.

Emy left and we assumed that would be the last time we’d see her before she headed back east. That is, until my boyfriend went to the store. On his way back, as he pulled on to the street next to ours, he saw two cop cars, and Emy was standing there with a couple of police officers.

He stopped.

My boyfriend came home and told me his story. He said he got out of the car and asked the cops what was going on. They asked him if he knew Emy and he told them he did, that she’d just been at our house. One of the officers told him she didn’t have the proper permits to sell door-to-door. As he told me this, I chimed in and said, “What about Girl Scouts?” He told me that’s exactly what he said to the cops – that if the Girl Scouts come to our house should we call the cops to find out if they have the proper permits? He said the cops then asked him to step over to his vehicle until they were done with Emy. They let her off with a warning, walked over to my guy’s car and asked him if  he was finished. He told them he guessed he was, and they left.

He then talked a bit more with Emy. She told him that the policemen informed her that one of our neighbors called the cops.  She said, “I probably don’t look like I belong in this neighborhood.”

My boyfriend gave her a hug and told her that wasn’t true. They talked for a few more minutes and he offered her a ride, but she declined. Before she went over to wait for her boss at the park, she thanked him for having her back.

The second knock on my door that day was imaginary, as wispy as smoke. It was fear. Out of curiosity, I looked up the company that Emy worked for and the first thing I came upon was a story of a 70-something year old woman who answered a knock on her door, and was thrown down, raped, had alcohol poured on her chest, and was then lit on fire.

I then found the company on the BBB and found a boatload of complaints, folks who never got their magazines, another person saying something along the lines of how said company treats their employees like indentured servants, working them for long periods of time and paying them very little.

As my boyfriend and I consulted more and more with Google, I felt myself becoming so angry. I thought I would explode. At one point, I went off on my guy (yes, totally misplaced for me to take it out on him), about how this is exactly what the media has ALWAYS done. Instilled fear. You can’t turn on the fucking news, or any other media outlet, without a black man having done something – anything, somewhere. And it’s so pervasive, but we don’t even realize it. It’s that glimpse of upper thigh on a commercial that’s using sex to sell, and only your subconscious registers it. We’re so unaware it’s happening, but it is, and racism in this country is far from over. Far from healed. Far from better.

I started pacing the floor. Angry that I was buying into it by reading those stories because I did feel fear. I was angry at the media. I was angry at the cops who, by the way, I hadn’t seen in this neighborhood in the past three years. Not one single time. I was angry at myself for buying into the fear and even searching on Google. I was angry at the mixed feelings I was having. I was angry that this beautiful experience I’d had was totally sullied.

And… all at the same time, I didn’t want to support a company that treated their employees like indentured servants.

I’m heating up with shame as I type this, but we decided to cancel the check.

I felt like I had been on a rollercoaster of emotion all day. From joy to fear to anger to shame. I had a dinner with my dearest friend on the calendar and I went. I sat at the table waiting for her, so filled with anxiety I couldn’t focus. I was second-guessing my decision to cancel that check. Sure, I wasn’t supporting the company, but I wasn’t supporting Emy either. My friend showed up and I hijacked the first twenty minutes of our dinner telling her the story. As much as she held space for me and made me feel better, it stayed in the back of my mind all through dinner. It didn’t help that my boyfriend called five times while we were eating.

I got home and he was as big of a mess as I was. We decided that it didn’t matter if the company wasn’t stellar, we wanted Emy to get her half. We quickly stopped the stop payment, and I called the bank the next day to make sure that they hadn’t tried to put the check through. The bank assured me that no one had attempted to cash it and it would go through. And, a few days later, it did.

It’s been weeks now and I can’t stop thinking about Emy and this whole situation. Who am I with my-time-to-workout-and-my-original-Kelly-Vivanco-and-my-Hurston-essay-in-my-antique-typewriter, spouting off about story and telling a more empowering one? I have no idea what her life is like. But we made a connection. We shared story, which is the biggest thing of all. There was nothing but love in our conversation, and in our actions, until that fear came knocking.

Here’s what I know about white privilege. And it’s not enough. I can’t even wrap my head around the fact that there are black people who need to give themselves extra time to get somewhere because they might be pulled over for driving a nice car. I can’t understand what it’s like to be under surveillance when I walk into a store because the clerk thinks I might steal something based on the color of my skin. I have no clue what it’s like to walk around a neighborhood, knock on a few doors, and have the cops show up as I try to make a better life for myself and my kids. White privilege is just that. It’s white folks getting privileges that we can’t even fathom because they’ve always just been there.

The question that plagues me is what can I do about that privilege, aside from being vigilant that it exists, and sharing what I know with other privileged folks? It definitely doesn’t feel good to shame myself for that privilege. Shame isn’t good for anyone. It doesn’t feel good to wish I was in another’s place either. I love my life and feel blessed about forty times a day… and there’s some more privilege.

Last up… a bit of irony. I sat on this blog for two months, afraid that I might be misunderstood, or judged, or criticized if I published it. A couple nights ago, after I worked on it for the billionth time trying to make every word perfect (impossible), I watched Real Time with Bill Maher. It felt like a God nod when he said, “I know you’re trying to demonstrate to minorities that you’re a sympathetic ally by dumping on your own whiteness, but most minority folks could give a shit…I’m not saying that being a white male doesn’t have its privileges. Of course it does. I’m just saying that constantly crapping on yourself doesn’t fix anything. It’s a perverse sort of narcism.” Okay, I thought. Got it. It’s time to share the story of Emy, along with this white girl’s take on white privilege.

Traversing Female Friendship


It’s fall of 1982. The grass hasn’t started to crunch yet, but you can feel that Cheyenne Winter is sitting on his suitcase full of snow in a vain attempt to secure the latches. His flight is booked. His car is waiting to take him to the airport. I’m wearing ginormous brown glasses with a butterfly decal in the corner, but I can’t see anything because I’m crying tears that won’t stop. There’s a moving van, semi more-like, out front, and I’m in my bedroom that’s been stripped of all its Holly Hobbie decor. The cheery yellow walls look like rancid butter. My best friend Monica is there with me. She’s crying too. Our parents think we’re being melodramatic. They think we’ll forget each other. Make new friends. Get over it.

I don’t. Not really. Not for a long time.

Our moving van drops us off on Rodeo Drive, and I start 7th grade. Gillette Winter hefts a steamer trunk and five suitcases. He uses a valet. I sport a Dorothy Hamill haircut, a gaping overbite, and freckles too numerous to count. I’ve replaced the ginormous brown glasses with even bigger blue ones. I make friends with the most popular girl in school. Being with her feels like bright sunshine and extra sprinkles. We have countless sleepovers. We take trips in her folk’s RV to watch motocross. We write pale pencil letters to each other with hearts and BFF4Ever sign-offs. I love her more than Ms. Pacman and the fistful of spare change I’ve collected to go hog wild on sour candy at the gas station. Our friendship lasts just over a year until a new girl moves to our school. Jane…

Jane sweeps in as Gillette Winter is bidding us adieu. She’s full of energy and gumption, but must know intuitively to ease in between us slow—like a worm wiggling to the surface after the thaw. She includes me in plans and adventures, but it isn’t long before I’m eating greasy, lukewarm tator tots alone at a lunch table. The BFF4Ever notes fade, but the school yearbooks come and I write in my own copy the things I wish they’d say, and then I sign their names. I attempt to write them all differently so they’ll look real. I even use different colored pencils. Some I sign in cursive, others in print. I write things like: You’re the best friend I’ve ever had. BFF4Ever is penned in dark blue ink under the ones I longed to be friends with the most.

I looked at it the other day. Most of the autographs are variations of my juvenile handwriting. The BFF4Ever hasn’t faded all that much though.

We move to our next spot at the start of 9th. I don’t care about Denver Winter—whether it has suitcases or trunks. How much snow it packs. My glasses have been replaced with contact lenses, which I babysat a whole year to earn the money for. Mostly the kid slept while I watched Porky’s over and over and over. Yep. The beginning of my sexual revolution included Beulah Balbricker. I digress. Pimples sprout up, but I deftly cover them with orange foundation that I’ve stolen from the corner store. My face looks like an Oompa Loompa, but the makeup ends sharply under my chin, so from the neck down I am a nice, normal color. I make a lot of friends. A LOT. We start out the school year snorting crushed up Smarties in the bathroom. But then we graduate to smoking pot in the parking lot during Home Economics. Every day. I have a source that buys me bottles of Bacardi 151, which I pass around at the football games. I carry it in a crinkled brown paper bag. At the time, I don’t see the irony. I’m popular. The multitude of yearbook signatures are all real. I want nothing more than that $100 sweater, so I get a job sweeping up hair at a salon and I buy it. I get fired for doing cocaine with my boss in the backroom. I’m fourteen. My mom sees my decline, and we hightail it out of there. I’m so devastated over leaving my tribe that I forget to pick up my beloved cat of ten years at a friend’s house. We’re a few hundred miles out of town, when I lift my snot-covered face and remember her. My mom won’t go back.

We arrive in Utah. I start 10th grade at my new school because I was held back in Denver for missing 64 days in one semester. My gangliness is abating, but my face is still orange. I sew the legs of my Levi’s so tight that they leave ruts like the Oregon Trail down the sides of my thighs and calves. I have to stand on the cuffs to pull out of them. One leg at a time. Homemade skinny jeans. It’s a small town, and I feel worldly. I can drink my new friends under the table. I still smoke a bit of pot. I’m popular once more. It’s not hard. I learned a lot from Jane.

I had become the worm.

Salt Lake, West Valley, Taylorsville, Mt. Pleasant, Fairview, 2,000 miles to Cleveland, other places I don’t recall due to the brevity of my stay…

Twenty, twenty-five, thirty-two, forty years old…

Sweet friends, loyal friends, fucked-up friends, mean friends, friends for a time, not really my friends…

My guy told me recently that as we get older we realize we really only have a few friends. I didn’t want to believe it. I thought about it for days. I had gotten used to having a whole lot of friends because I thought it would make up for the one I’d had to leave. It didn’t. I thought it would give me a cushion for the ones I’d lost from move to move. It didn’t.

I’m no longer the worm.

I’m 45 and content. Back in the place I was born. Utah Winter is bipolar. Sometimes it packs a steamer trunk. Sometimes just a duffel. My glasses are much, much smaller. Stylish, really. And they’re red. I spend 99% of my time in my pajamas with no makeup on at all, while doing work I adore. I’m a perfectly normal color. I no longer steal, or do drugs, or drink. The wild ways of my first, (and my second,) childhoods are gone. But Monica isn’t. Our parents were wrong. We’re meeting up in Atlanta this year. I’ve visited her in Germany, Colorado, Austin… she became a nomad like me, though she didn’t imbibe all the substance and strife that I did. These days when we talk on the phone, I can see her beautiful 12-year old face. Her freckles were lighter than mine, but she too sported glasses. I don’t remember what kind of decal she had. She’s holding up a dollar, luring me to go play Ms. Pacman. Her smile is wide.

Countless friendships. An abundance of amazing people, but only three or four have stuck like beautiful burs that latched on to me and dug in their spiny spurs.

I’m okay with that now.