• Monthly Recap

    february 2024 recap

    It’s time for another monthly recap! Take a look at previous recaps here.

    hi readers,


    I really enjoyed February. It was a really productive month, and I feel like I became closer to the version of myself I want to be. Like, lots of new things going on so I was kind of slow and behind in some areas (I’m very sorry to the friends I haven’t texted back in weeks!), but I added lots of good things to my life and I’m stoked to see them grow and develop as I give more time to them.

    One of my big projects this month was decluttering. I am constantly amazed at how well I can tetris my possessions to make it look like I don’t own that much. Ready to let go of old versions of myself, things from my past that I held onto for way too long, and really get into the energy of actually moving out of my parents house this year plz God.



    Interestingly, this declutter project really messed with my ability to write. I felt pretty creatively stifled and suffocated in the midst of this messy overhaul. I only wrote five days this month, which was pretty depressing (still journaled nearly every day though, woo!). But I’m almost to the end of getting rid of stuff and having a messy room, so I think the writing energy will be much better in March.

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    My reading has temporarily slowed because I’m switching from ebooks to physical books. I’ve had some eye issues stemming from prolonged screen time (and I’m already half blind in one eye so I’m terrified thanks), so I’m switching as much as I can from digital to analogue. I’ve been a big ebook reader since 2018 (I checked them out free from the library using the Libby app, which is an amazing resource!) so I kind of need to re-learn how to be around physical books, as sad as that sounds. Walking to the library, packing books with me when I leave the house. It’s not as convenient, but it feels so much better to be interacting with the physical realm in this way. <3


    What I Talk About When I Talk About Running—Haruki Murakami

    This is sort a memoir based on his running journals, as he is a marathon runner when he’s not busy being a prolific author. I really like the comparisons he made between running and writing.


    Day—Michael Cunningham

    Interesting slow literary novel that covers the lives of a family on three different days in their lives, all on April 5, in 2019, 2020, and 2021. It was kind of too zoomed in for comfort, where you don’t really see much happen as far as plot, but you also don’t see much happen in character growth. Ironically I read this entire book in one day.


    How To Keep House While Drowning—KC Davis

    Absolutely wonderful book. Basically a housecleaning book written for people with autism, ADHD, depression, and/or grief. People whose brains don’t function quite normally and need workarounds to keep their lives functioning. My biggest takeaway is that you aren’t there to serve your house, your house is there to serve you.



    Some of you may remember that I deleted my spotify account last year. Since then it’s been really cool to see what music has emerged, not having a way to pin songs down anymore or a clear way to discover new music. I thought I would use this recap as a new way to archive the songs I’m obsessing over.


    No Poetry (live)—Jasmine Thompson

    The way her voice breaks on the word “grief” at 2:40.


    Ain’t Nobody (acoustic cover of Chaka Khan)—Jasmine Thompson

    I wanted to sing Chaka Khan at karaoke but didn’t get the chance. :'( This is such a different vibe from the original, but a perfect rendition.


    Grinnin’ In Your Face (live cover of Son House)—The Vespers

    The high harmony and the drums at the end UGH.


    First Time—Hozier

    My GOD the lyrics. This is the kind of song you can get lost in and listen to a hundred times on repeat without noticing (speaking from experience). 



    Lost: finished season 5 and just started the final season. I watched up to the middle of season 5 back in high school, so I’m extremely curious to find out how the show ends (I was told season 6 sucks so we’ll see).


    One Piece: episode 262/1,094. Water 7 arc. Gave me an idea for a plot point in my pirate novel.



    — snowboarded with Ethan again and got really good at stopping (my favorite part) and went on the big hill with all the jumps and didn’t even cry hahaha (I’m scared of going fast and Ethan keeps telling me “but that’s the point ?” lol 😭) (snowboarding has been a really fun experience but I just need to take it slooow)

    — also got an over the counter asthma inhaler and actually got to breathe normally while snowboarding ???? (excited to huff some of that while hiking later this year)

    — journaled on the front porch in the sun

    — met my friend’s six week old son right before they moved away :'( and climbed together while he just chilled in his little carrier and watched us, so freaking cute

    — karaoke night with me and Ethan’s friends and his coworkers

    — set a goal to climb two V6’s this month and I got three!! (two of them were more like V4’s but I’m still counting it)



    — made homemade gyoza with Ethan

    — korean bbq with Ethan

    — hi chews, chocolate, and dried Raman snacks at a little Japanese shop

    — homemade chex mix from my mom

    randomly got addicted to hot chocolate after hating it for most of my adulthood

    — valentine’s candy from my mom (she made sure it had exactly equal amounts of each specific thing for me and Ethan to share, so cute)

    — Ethan made me miso soup while I was still in bed <3 new fave hangover cure lol (re: karaoke night)

    — italian restaurant with Ethan and his dad, and i got this shrimp scampi but it was these massive plate-sized shrimp and everything was cooked inside the shells and Ethan had to help me cut it all out because my knife skills are lacking but it was delicious. on a bed of savory swiss chard and paired with a crisp glass of pinot grigio 💅



    I started a “write with me” series on YouTube. This is to help share my practice of just writing for fifteen minutes and not getting so overwhelmed that you never start or take action. Tiny steps building up into a beautiful creative practice.

    Here is my most recent video. A little coffee-making intro and rainy vibes.

    I’m really enjoying being on YouTube and have set a goal to just improve one small thing with each new video. Excited to see how my channel evolves this year. ☻

  • Monthly Recap

    january 2024 recap

    It’s time for another monthly recap! Take a look at previous recaps here.

    Hi readers!


    Started this year off with a bang with some extensive 2023 reflection and 2024 goal setting. I have yearly, monthly, and daily goals. I wrote an essay last year about hating the concept of batching, so the way I mainly work is to do everything I want to do each day for fifteen minutes at a time.

    This month we had all sorts of weather: rain, our personal version of “cold,” and a few days of heat that I got a lil sunburn from! I usually kind of hate January because it feels both dead and annoying (and my essay writing lately feels entirely like January in this regard), but staying focused on my goals and tiny beautiful moments has been really helpful.

    Writing Life:


    Days I wrote this month: 11/31

    Book details: It’s a pirate novel I started in December. I’m writing it like I’ve always written my novels: without an outline, very intuitively. It’s becoming a patchwork of scenes. I never know what’s going to happen until it happens. So far I have a female captain who’s tired and considering retirement (lol), a mutinous cook, a fire eater, a witch doctor, and an annoying little stowaway. My novels are always more character based, meaning, like, plot definitely does happen, but my main focus is these characters and how they develop, exploring different aspects of growth and meaning and purpose through them.

    Idk if it’s bad luck to be sharing excerpts from the baby beginnings of a new novel, especially when I have no idea where the story is going, but whatever. I think it’s fun.


    Subscribe to my newsletter to read exclusive novel excerpts:

    Life in General:


    Snowboarding with Ethan in Utah! This was my first time ever snowboarding, so I was pretty nervous (this was also my first time being in snow since December 2021 lol). The first day was super rough, because I could barely stand up on an incline. I basically scooted down the mountain on my butt the first few tries. The second day had lots of fresh powder, so I think the extra padding gave me more confidence and I was able to bomb the first half of the little hill. Definitely excited for future trips, now that I’ve got a better hang of turning and stopping without falling. Snowboarding triggered my asthma super badly though (I got diagnosed in 2017 but threw my inhaler away because I’ve always been leery of drugs), so I decided I want to keep an inhaler on hand for future snowboarding trips because my breathing was super ragged the entire time. All in all, a difficult learning curve trip, but also very beautiful (hot tub under falling snow, cigarette by outside bonfire ((asthma . . . cigarette smoking . . . I know)) , snow sparkling like Edward Cullen, and fun new lingo “yewww we got some fresh pow pow!”).

    Super good food! I seriously love food. I love food so much that I write my favorite foods that I eat every single day in my little “one line a day” journal (I have tiny handwriting, so I can fit a lot more than just food into each entry . . . but food takes priority if I run out of room to write). So here’s a little rundown of favorite food situations this month. Dim sum at Tim Ho Wan and taro boba milk tea with Ethan, my sister, and her husband. Ube crepe with Ethan at this super cool Korean inspired coffee shop called Gabi Coffee & Bakery with Studio Ghibli vibes. And we checked out the new Durango casino in Vegas which I actually LOVED because it has very heavy SoCal vibes and hipster food places (yes I’m still a slut for California), and we went to this restaurant called Shang Artisan Noodle where I fell in love with noodles for the first time.

    Books I Read:


    The Miracle of Morning Pages—Julia Cameron

    A cozy little book going into more detail about the morning page journaling process than The Artist’s Way did.

    Class: A Memoir of Motherhood, Hunger, and Higher Education—Stephanie Land

    This book enraged me. I quite enjoyed her first book, Maid, but was very disappointed in Class. What mostly angered me was the choices she made as a 35-year old single mother. She behaved like a 21-year-old, consistently prioritizing herself at the expense of her young daughter’s well-being. Normally I’m not going to judge someone’s memoir so harshly, but the way it was written, almost a decade after the events of the book, she had zero self-awareness, took zero responsibility for her actions, zero reflection on her choices, and had a heavy tone of entitlement and victimhood. The lack of that stuff kind of misses the point of writing a memoir in the first place, and kinda looks bad when you have a current estimated net worth of $500k to $2 million.

    Look Me in the Eye: A Memoir—John Elder Robison

    A favorite re-read. John is the older brother of the memoirist of Running With Scissors, Augusten Burroughs. This is his memoir on what it was like growing up not knowing he was autistic. He’s an incredible writer (much better than his more famous brother, imo), and he’s had such a vibrant life, including being the person who invented the stunt guitars used by the band KISS.

    The Covenant of Water—Abraham Verghese

    Beautiful book. Beautiful ending. Spanning three generations in 1900’s India. Incredible seeing how the stories spin together. Themes of family, medical issues, water, striving towards dreams.

    Mother, Nature: A 5000-Mile Journey to Discover if a Mother and Son Can Survive Their Differences—Jedidiah Jenkins

    I read all of his books. He’s a gay ex-Christian and an amazing writer. This is the story of him going on a trip with his homophobe Christian mother to retrace a famous walk across America she did in the 70’s, and coming to terms with their very different belief systems. Not as impactful as his first two books (I thought they were going to recreate the original walk and actually walk across America together, but it was just a two-week road trip, bummer), but always love his voice and storytelling style.

    Chill and Prosper—Denise Duffield-Thomas

    A kind of vibey business book. I read her money book Get Rich, Lucky B*tch almost three times last year. I really appreciate any non-fiction book that isn’t like “these are the cold hard facts of reality” because that’s not at all how I view life. I see things as fluid and changeable and feelings-based, so getting business advice from that perspective is really nice.


    Thanks for reading!

  • Monthly Recap

    november 2023 recap

    It’s time for another monthly recap! Take a look at previous recaps here.

    I realized I missed having more of a “bloggy” vibe to my website/newsletter, so I’ve been working on this recap all month to make sure I keep track of all the highlights and updates. November is my absolute favorite month (the first half is pumpkin spice latte szn and the second half transitions into eggnog szn), so I’m stoked to kick this off with this month. 

    Books I Read:


    The Four Agreements don Miguel Ruiz Book Cover Ally Brennan Website Blog Author Essays Newsletter Quotes Nonfiction Spiritual WisdomThe Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz

    This has been on my “to read” list for a while, but I actually had no idea what it was about. It’s kind of a spiritual book about how our lives are basically an accumulation of the beliefs and assumptions we hold. It kind of validated my own beliefs about the world, which was cool.


    Writing Life:


    I wrote 28 out of 30 days this month and have pretty much built up a successful daily book writing practice. Most days I wrote over 400 words, and some days I wrote multiple thousands. I’m feeling like a real writer these days.

    What am I writing? I went back to my journaling self-help book I started last year, because it wouldn’t leave me alone and let me write a new book. I added over 25k words to it this fall, so now I have roughly a 50k word draft.

    My book feels basically done, so today I started the editing process. I’m not sure what this process is going to look like, because I’ve never edited an entire book before. I feel kind of overwhelmed but ready to take this one step at a time. I’m starting off by making an outline of what I’d like the book to look like, and seeing if that matches up with what I actually wrote and if any content is missing (if that sounds like a backwards process, it’s because it is . . . most people create an outline and then write a book lol).

    I don’t want to lose my habit of writing a few hundred words each day while I’m editing, so I started writing a new book today. Kind of wild. Might give myself burnout. But at this point, I kind of just feel so desperate to start writing and finishing books and get the ball rolling on my author career that I don’t really care if I burn out. I just want to go hard for as long as I can and see how much I can do. 

    Life In General:


    Nov 2—Golden Knights hockey game and ice cream date with Ethan. I think it’s ironically insane that Las Vegas has such a good hockey team. Also that they beat a Canadian team (soory). Speaking of sorry, Ethan and I love going to this ice cream place in Vegas called Sorry Not Sorry. The BEST flavor there is ube honeycomb (not pictured, because I decided to try a different lesser flavor on this date). If you ever have a chance to try anything ube-flavored (ube is a purple yam, and is the most perfect flavor), hop on it! 

    Ally Brennan Newsletter Website Author Writing Blog Essays Book Las Vegas Golden Knights Hockey Nevada Photograph November 2 2023

    Ally Brennan Newsletter Website Author Writing Blog Essays Book Las Vegas Sorry Not Sorry Ice Cream Aesthetic Nevada Photograph November 2 2023

    Nov 6—Ethan and I had our one year anniversary! We celebrated with the same thing we did on our first date: karaoke bar with our climbing buddies + his coworkers. It was wildly chaotic and fun, but more importantly, it marked one amazing year together. Excited for year two. <3

    Nov 13—Placed third in the 5-week bouldering league competition at our gym. Our team name last year was “Ally Can’t Cook” because Ethan is a chef, and our other teammate is a cook. This year was the same lineup, plus a new teammate who went to culinary school, so our name this year was “Ally Still Can’t Cook.” 

    Ally Brennan Newsletter Website Author Writing Blog Essays Book Las Vegas Boulder League The Pad Rock Climbing Gym Nevada Photograph November 13 2023

    Nov 14—Started playing Hogwarts Legacy on Switch! I definitely do not consider myself a gamer, but I was having serious (Sirius) Harry Potter withdrawals after re-reading the series this fall, and found myself obsessively watching Hogwarts Legacy gameplays on YouTube. Ethan was sweet enough to get it for me on his Switch, and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying. It has the perfect blend of world exploration, plenty of side quests to satisfy my ADHD, yet a simple steady gameplay and main quest to keep me from getting overwhelmed. It’s probably the most perfect game I’ve ever played. I really enjoy how you can choose how you respond to people in the side quests, so sometimes I’m really nice but sometimes I’m petty and self-serving which is fun. This is also the perfect time to mention that I finally took the official Wizarding World house sorting quiz and got placed into Slytherin. 🐍

    Ally Brennan Newsletter Website Author Writing Blog Essays Book Hogwarts Legacy Nintendo Switch Nevada Aesthetic Photograph November 14 2023

    Nov 17— Started a book club with my sister! We’re currently going through the Eragon series by Christopher Paolini, which we enjoyed as teenagers and wanted to revisit. I’ve never been in a book club before, because dissecting a book through canned discussion questions never appealed to me, but it’s been really fun. It ends up enhancing my experience of reading this book, because I get to hear her perspective on stuff that maybe I didn’t catch while reading.

    Nov 18— Started a new part time job as an editorial/admin assistant for a local author! During the interview, it felt SO GOOD to rattle off my writing experiences and creative entrepreneurial skills and have all of those things validated and praised and given a price tag. And when I’m working, I pretty much feel like I’m getting “free money” because the work is so enjoyable and stuff I would do for free tbh. Now I’m slowly gaining the confidence to create an actual resume catered towards this kind of job and start putting myself out there into the actual field I want to be in, rather than just sticking with childcare/lifeguarding because “that’s what I know.” It’s been a long journey to get to this point, but things are finally looking up.

    Nov 30— Went to the Arte Museum created by Korean company called d’strict. Incredible immersive art experience with lights, sounds, even smells. It was a pretty magical experience. And there was this interactive coloring station where we colored in an animal print out page, put it on a special scanner, and then it uploaded to a projector wall and became animated. So we were surrounded by people’s crayon animals all walking around. It was the coolest!

    Ally Brennan Newsletter Website Author Writing Blog Essays Book Las Vegas Nevada Arte Museum Star Raindrops Aesthetic Selfie Photograph November 30 2023

    Ally Brennan Newsletter Website Author Writing Blog Essays Book Las Vegas Nevada Arte Museum Aurora Beach Couple Love Aesthetic Photograph November 30 2023



    Silko Toothbrush:

    This is the most incredible toothbrush! It has 12,000 nylon bristles and feels like a cloud. I have extremely sensitive gums and have been using toddler toothbrushes up until this point, because adult toothbrushes felt too rough. Toothbrushing is a pretty common thing that neurodivergent people struggle with, due to various sensory issues and sensitivities, so I’m stoked that I found this toothbrush because it makes the whole process a lot more enjoyable. Highly recommend!



    Ally Brennan Newsletter Website Author Writing Blog Essays Book Palm Tree Moon Aesthetic Nevada Photograph November 23 2023
    Palm tree moon. November 23, 2023.
    Ally Brennan Newsletter Website Author Writing Blog Essays Book Rainbow Moon Aesthetic Nevada Photograph November 27 2023
    Rainbow moon. November 27, 2023.
  • Essays

    looping music

    I deleted my Spotify account earlier this year. I cried afterwards.

    The crying was mostly because of my brother Zach.

    After he died in 2021 and we started going through his things, my sister Elisabeth found his private Spotify account logged in on his computer. She made it so his account was following both my and her accounts, to create a new link of connection between us, albeit posthumously.

    It made me happy to have this new insight into his world. I scoured every inch of his playlists, looking for any songs or bands we had in common. I smiled when I saw his “ari” playlist, thinking back on all the times I overheard him singing along to Ariana Grande behind his closed bedroom door (he also loved Taylor Swift). I melted when I saw the Lord of the Rings audiobook playlist, because as a kid he would always fall asleep listening to that exact same audio series—except back then it was a wooden boxed set of CDs and a little CD player he kept by his bed.

    That CD player and boxed set are still in his closet right now.

    I wanted to lose myself in Zach’s playlists, to close my eyes and imagine he was here, but I didn’t really feel a connection to any of his music, even though some of the playlists brought me detached nostalgia. What I really wanted was something we had in common. But I didn’t even know most of his music.

    The difference between my sister and me is that she took all this new information we discovered about him and saw it as an opportunity to get to know him better, while I wanted to find connections between us that had already been there before he died. Just different ways of grieving.

    The only song I found in all of his playlists that I truly resonated with was “Heat Waves” by Glass Animals. Zach had it in a playlist called “loop.” I, too, used to loop that song.

    I listened to it on repeat all of summer 2020, when I moved from California back in with my parents in Nevada. I was furious that my life in California had fallen apart, and the way that I processed anger at the time was to go on a run. But it was blazing hot in Nevada, so I would wait until at least midnight to start running, returning home at 2 or 3 in the morning.

    And that song “Heat Waves” was constantly on loop while I ran, because that song felt like nostalgia and heartbreak and lost things and the inability to say goodbye. It felt the way I felt.

    I was desperate for my life back in California, but utterly heartbroken by the way life there had chewed me up and spit me out during the first half of 2020. It was a weird mix of wanting to go back, but knowing I never could. I felt like such a failure.

    Glass Animals said that “Heat Waves” was about realising it’s ok to be defeated by something.”

    They continue: “we are often expected to ‘be strong’ and to swallow our sadness. failing to do that is seen as weakness. so we try to cover up our feelings and hide inside of TV shows or video games or drink or drugs. but being vulnerable should be a positive thing.”

    I’ve felt defeated many times in my life, but 2020 was perhaps the first time where I felt truly powerless.

    Alongside the excavation of life as we all knew it in 2020, I also lived through multiple implosions of my own life. I kept losing my footing. Instead of just being repeatedly knocked down, yet able to stand back up again, I felt like I was trapped in an avalanche.

    Among other things, during lockdown in 2020, I also dealt with suicidal depression, being quarantined with my narcissistic roommate, and having literally no income which brought debt and food insecurity into my life.

    Later in 2021, while holing up at my parents house and trying to recover, the avalanche was replaced with a painful volcanic explosion.

    I learned I was autistic, which toppled the foundation of my existence. One of my best friends was run over by a semi truck and became a quadriplegic.

    And my sweet brother lost his life.

    I’m not in a constant state of “feeling defeated,” even after experiencing trauma and pain and loss. I get back up because I want to keep going and keep exploring life, because I feel like my life has a purpose for existing.

    But within cycles of falling down and getting back up comes increased levels of vulnerability.

    Layers of myself have sloughed off, masks and forcefields and naivety and blindness. All this shedding is good, because I’m becoming a better version of myself. But still. It all makes me feel more sensitive. Trauma is noisy and the world is noisy and it all makes my head feel noisy.

    In summer 2020, in the middle of all this defeat, looping songs that talked about this pain felt necessary, because I felt too lonely to just stay inside my own head and my own feelings. I desperately needed to know that I wasn’t alone.

    But three years later, I’m feeling emotionally stronger, yet weirdly more sensitive. I feel happier inside my head, but also craving more peace in the world. Which is making me feel like I just don’t have the bandwidth anymore for very much music consumption.

    She tried to concentrate on the sound, but music had always unmoored her, and her thoughts drifted.

    —Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven • (bookshop + amazon)

    I know there are artists who like music in the background when they work; they use the music to block out everything else. They’re not listening to it; it’s there as a form of companionship. I don’t need a soundtrack to accompany my life. Music in the background nibbles away at your awareness. It’s comforting, perhaps, but who said tapping into your awareness was supposed to be comfortable? And who knows how much of your brainpower and intuition the music is draining?

    —Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit • (bookshop + amazon)

    I admitted to my boyfriend Ethan several months ago, slightly embarrassed, that I haven’t had the urge to go to any concerts since the world opened back up. Surprisingly, he actually reciprocated that confession.

    I wonder if the only concert we’ll ever go to together is the one we went to years before we met. An alt-J concert here in Las Vegas, in 2018. What a wild moment it was to figure out that we had been in the same room together, though in profoundly different worlds.

    Somehow four years later, the threads of resonance pulled us together. Somehow we ended up in the same climbing gym, on the same bouldering team, on the same frequency.

    We’ve been together for ten months now, but I knew before our first date that he was my one.

    I’m not actually planning to never go out to a concert again. I’m sure Ethan and I will go to a concert together one of these days. But as I get older and feel a little more stable in life, the way that I want to listen to music at home has changed.

    I used Spotify pretty much exclusively as my way to listen to music over the past ten years. It started off just as an exciting way to have access to whatever I wanted to listen to. Then it began morphing into a way to collect memories, especially after I went to bible college in 2014.

    Spotify was the absolute shit at bible college. All my friends followed each other’s accounts and discovered what each person was listening to. We would make playlists based on memories or vibes or the semester’s theme (#lighthasdawned) or our favorite locations (rock tree or the lookout or ofc). My college ex devoted lots of time to make “banger” playlists for him and his fellow campus servers to have good vibes as they set up the dining room for retreats or conferences. I worked in the AV department and compiled songs that would sound really epic on the speakers all over campus, on the days that I had to test the sound systems. We both loved Twenty One Pilots, and the summer of 2015 we unintentionally spread TØP love throughout the entire campus, thanks to our respective jobs and access to aux cords. Everyone was singing “Stressed Out” that summer.

    Playlists were a way to capture a certain vibe, but also to pin down a memory or a feeling. A collection of songs that could accurately collage an experience. Like a musical scrapbook. Even after each semester or season in life came to an end, a playlist made during that time could bring me back, a rush of nostalgia and longing.

    But this playlist building practice felt soured after 2020. I, of course, made massive playlists when I lived in California in 2019 and 2020. My music taste was completely overhauled thanks to my roommates, and I began listening primarily to old school rap, reggaetón, and my now favorite band, Khruangbin. It was total beach vibes there, marijuana plants, surfboards, hammocks, backyard chickens, lemon trees, film cameras, ukuleles, yoga mats, ping-pong table, modelos, shroom smoothies.

    When that life ended, I listened to my California playlists endlessly, obsessively. Hiding in the past, hating the present, not at all hopeful about the future. Just truly embodying the concept of “the best days are behind me.” My intentionally built dream life was over and I was stuck living a life I didn’t want. What was there to look forward to?

    Not surprisingly, there was plenty to look forward to. I started healing from my pain and grief and trauma, as self-help girlies are wont to do, and my life slowly opened up again. I began fulfilling long held dreams of mine like finally getting to rock climb whenever I fucking want and being in an amazing stable loving relationship for the first time.

    The more my life opened up, the more stale these old playlists seemed. I felt tired whenever I listened to them. And I don’t think it was because I just overplayed them, but because of the state of mind I had been in when I obsessively listened to them. I had been so isolated in my head, so lonely, I thought there was nothing more to look forward to in life, and I only wanted to revisit feelings and memories of the past.

    Now that I’m healthy again and starting to thrive, I just don’t want to devote as much time to looking back and being nostalgic. It feels suffocating.

    I told a musician friend of mine that I deleted my Spotify account as a way to heal and move on with life, and he was kind of horrified. He said that he used his old Spotify playlists as a marker of how far he’s come in life. Listening to the music he loved at a certain time, lyrics and themes, he’s able to track his growth and feel proud of himself.

    I actually think that’s really cool.

    But for me, I find that a natural part of my healing progression is learning to let things go.

    Which is fine and dandy when you’re healing from a breakup or bad living situation, but absolutely tragic when you’re trying to heal from the death of a loved one. It seems cruel that healing from grief of death eventually means that you stop feeling as much emotion from the memories as you used to.

    In many ways, it feels like the honorable thing to do is to stay in the state of grief and remembrance.

    Part of me doesn’t want to heal, because healing causes you to move on in tiny ways.

    Part of me wants to stay traumatized forever, haunted by his ghost, worn down by heavy emotions. I felt so guilty the first time I laughed after he died, the first day I didn’t cry over him, the first day that I felt pretty again and didn’t look like death warmed over.

    And part of me felt guilty for deleting my Spotify and no longer having access to his music.

    But music nostalgia can quickly morph into just being stuck in the past, or even stuck in a traumatic feeling. And I felt sad when I realized that my music taste hadn’t really changed at all since living in California, how stuck in the past I became. And I felt sad when I saw Zach’s playlists and all this music I couldn’t relate to and thought about all the things I’ll never know about him and how he’ll never get to grow and evolve beyond the 21 year old version of himself. It all just felt so sad and I didn’t want to associate music with catalogued playlists of sadness anymore. 

    So my Spotify is officially deleted.

    Maybe that’s why I desperately want a record player now. Obviously I want one for the aesthetics of it. I love an old fashioned vintage vibe. I feel like it’s my final form as a surly millennial. I already have a tobacco pipe and John Lennon sunglasses, and my sister and I co-own our grandma’s typewriter. Besides aesthetics, I want music to be less of a curated collection of specific memories, and more like an art experience again. I want to listen to albums again, albums, damn it. (I’m saying this the same way that Bilbo says, “I want to see mountains again, mountains, Gandalf!”)

    But I think I also want a record player because you can’t listen to music on repeat on it (unless there are some record player hacks to achieve this). The main intention of a record player is to listen to an album all the way through, and it stops when it’s done. No looping or hijacking of emotions.

    Zach had a song playing on his computer when he died. Playing on a loop.

    We kept his computer on for over a year, the song playing on infinite repeat that entire time. I would quietly slip into his room when no one else was around and sit in his desk chair and put on his headphones.

    The song was always playing, a piano cover he had liked, a sweet solace, his final gift to us. I always cried when I listened to it.

    We had to shut the computer off around Christmas last year. I lashed out at my older brother for turning it off, but he said the computer was crashing and he was trying to preserve as much as he could.

    And the song finally came to an end.

    It felt like unplugging a coma patient. It felt like his breath finally let out and his heart gave its last beat.

    It hurts to heal. It hurts to let go. But we’re still here living, so we need to live.

    The past was beautiful. And so is the future.

    No more looping.

    Time to start living.

    “Elsa,” he whispered, leaning in to kiss her, moving to a song that wasn’t being played. “We are the music.”

    —Kristin Hannah, The Four Winds (bookshop + amazon)

    I am so tuned to being alive that if you touch me it makes music.

    —Jenny Slate, Little Weirds • (bookshop + amazon)

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  • Essays

    octopus brain

    I’m currently kind of obsessed with octopuses.

    I look at an octopus and see my brain. Tentacles all moving of their own accord, one head-brain plus eight arm-brains, suckered synapses touching and processing everything.

    I’ve mentioned before that I’ve self-diagnosed myself as both autistic and ADHD. I’ve kind of figured out how to make them both work. My ADHD brain wants to touch and do literally everything. My autistic brain wants to sit down and work on something and not be interrupted.

    The ADHD brain runs the show most of the time. I train it by setting 10-15 minute timers so that I have time to touch everything and then a trigger to move me onto the next thing. When I find something that’s truly worthy of my full attention, I let the obsessive autistic brain take over and prod at the problem until it’s solved.

    Octopuses are incredible problem solvers. They look like they’re meandering around, just your average sea creature searching for food, until you set them upon a problem. One video I watched from a research center who often put their octopus through challenges, said that he would poke and prod the puzzle first to get a feel for it, but then always take a few tentacle steps back to observe, process, and think for a few minutes. Then get back to work.

    Ally Brennan Photo Illustration Author Website Essay Writing Octopus Drawing Blog Post Newsletter Comic 2023 Nevada
    Drawing by me. September 1, 2023.

    Ethan and I watched the documentary “My Octopus Teacher” earlier this year. I ate a mushroom chocolate before the viewing and was kind of freaking out at the underwater visuals, but I was still extremely emotional towards the connection the filmographer and the octopus shared over the course of one year.

    I now know that anything involving an octopus main character is probably going to be a tearjerker. Because I also just finished reading a book where one of the main characters is an octopus in an aquarium, Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt. It’s tinged with sadness. It’s the kind of slow literary novel where there’s multiple perspective characters and you slowly see their stories tie together and you fear your heart is going to be shattered somehow by the end of it. It’s a slow, graceful train wreck of emotions.

    The reason for sadness in octopus stories is because they have incredibly short lifespans. The Giant Pacific Octopus, the species featured in Remarkably Bright Creatures, can live up to five years (only if it doesn’t mate), but the Common Octopus, the species featured in “My Octopus Teacher,” has a lifespan of just 1-2 years. Octopuses are easy characters if you want a heartbreak story, easy money.

    It seems like people associate octopuses with sadness or depth of emotion or ability to carry the weight of existence, because I looked up more octopus books to read, and the plots descriptions were all “death,” “cancer,” “for fans of the art of racing in the rain,” and “keep tissues on hand.”

    Octopuses invoke a depth of soul, of emotions, of meaning. They invoke thoughts of death.

    These are such incredible curious intelligent, even affectionate, otherworldly creatures, and it feels unfair that they live such short lives.

    I saw glimpses during my rabbit hole octopus browsing that scientists are bewildered by their DNA. It’s like nothing they’ve seen before. “Aliens,” some of the articles whisper.

    I’ve never before wished for the existence of aliens. Life on earth seemed too overwhelming and magical to think of anything outside the planet.

    But now that I love octopuses, I wish it to be true.

    I find myself hoping that they’re not just another wild and wacky animal species here on earth. The thought of them being aliens, sprouted from seeds of another planet, is comforting. “Tell me we’re not alone here,” I want to ask them.

    I never believed in ghosts either, until after my brother died. But I’d see flickers of things, in the early weeks and months following his death. I felt like I could see him out of the corner of my eye, in certain places like the hallway that runs between our bedrooms. Our two closed bedrooms doors and that hallway were the only things separating us that day when he died.

    Now, as almost two years have passed, I don’t really see him anymore, not when I’m awake. Maybe those types of hauntings are for the freshly bereaved. But he visits me in my dreams. He always seems physically solid, not like a ghost. But there’s always a look in his eye that feels ghostly, like he knows what’s coming. Or that it already happened and we’re just briefly hanging out in an alternate timeline.

    They don’t feel like dreams. They feel like visits.

    And it’s comforting to be with him. Because he has this energy of like, “Yeah yeah, we both know I died and it really sucked. But can we please just get on with hanging out?” We both already have this knowledge and heartbreak of what happened, so there’s no blustering and blubbering. And it’s nice.

    It’s like hanging out with someone who has been on a life altering journey, and they come back wiser and more assured. Or being with someone like the Doctor from Doctor Who. He’s been everywhere in time and space. He’s the person you want with you on a journey. People like that, they get confronted with new experiences and new ideas, and they don’t shut down or turn into sheep and look away. They face the gritty reality, they open up and expand.

    I suppose this is why I’ve started obsessing over octopuses. Because they remind me of death and they make me think there’s more out there. It brings me comfort in ways that I never needed before.

    She drifts into a strange world. A dream, it must be, but she’s not entirely sure, for it feels so mundane. In the dream she’s lying right here on her firm bed cradled in her own arms, then the arms start to grow, weaving around her like a baby’s swaddle. The arms have suckers, a million tiny suckers, each one pulling at her skin, and the tentacles grow longer until they’ve created a cocoon and everything is dark and silent. A powerful feeling washes over her, and after a moment Tova recognizes the feeling as relief. The cocoon is warm and soft, and she is alone, blissfully alone. Finally, she succumbs to sleep.

    —Shelby Van Pelt, Remarkably Bright Creatures • (bookshop + amazon)

    Part of me wishes there was something tangible and wise guiding us bumbling humans. I believe in God and souls and intuition and higher selves guiding us. But the thought of a real being standing in front of me hits different.

    I used to daydream about the Doctor showing up in his TARDIS and rescuing me from a meaningless life. It was during a time in my life where I felt very lost, where I couldn’t make anything stick. I felt very powerless and panicked, like if I didn’t figure life out, I would be slowly, excruciatingly shuttled into one of those cardboard cutout Life Scripts that most people seemed to end up in. So I wasn’t just daydreaming about the Doctor. I was crying and praying for something to happen.

    My sister didn’t know about my ongoing prayers to the Doctor when she sent me this email in 2017:

    Ally Brennan Website Author Newsletter Essay Blog Post Doctor Who Graphic Word Art Procreate Octopus Brain 2023

    Most of me has begrudgingly come to accept that the Doctor isn’t coming to get me, but I still find myself wanting to be worthy of being his companion. Because it’s not just that.

    It’s because now I understand when people ask with concern or even fear in their voices, “Are we really alone in the universe?”

    I want to keep my mind expanded. I want to be on the lookout for wondrous new perspectives. Because I feel like the more someone expands their soul, the less alone people feel around them.

    And until we find out for sure if time lords will come visit or if octopuses are aliens, or other proof of intelligent life outside of earth, we need to make sure we grow into people who make others feel less alone.

    Humans. For the most part, you are dull and blundering. But occasionally, you can be remarkably bright creatures.

    —Shelby Van Pelt, Remarkably Bright Creatures • (bookshop + amazon)

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  • Essays

    the weight of existence

    I’m really not as strong or as brave as I thought I was.

    I’ve been through a lot of evolution shifts over the last few years. I’m not talking about physical experiences I’ve gone through, but of deconstructing my entire view of reality. Deconstructing God and heaven and hell and the bible, considering reincarnation, testing manifestation, and peering at various conspiracy theories. Everything that was off the table in the past, too out there or expansive for my then-self, it was looked at.

    This has been done almost entirely by myself, because I think that’s the nature of these things. We generally don’t have support systems for personal evolutions. We change from the person that everyone knows and loves, into someone they don’t know yet. Even if there’s lots of love, it can be hard to keep up with that and fully support.

    Which is okay. People who want to evolve into a different—hopefully, better—version of themselves need to be strong enough to walk alone. To carry their burden of existence while they grow and expand.

    Entrusting one’s life is not the same as opening up one’s soul, and although I love Manuela like a sister, I cannot share with her the things that constitute the tiny portion of meaning and emotion that my incongruous existence has stolen from the universe.

    —Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog • (bookshop + amazon)

    My first comprehension of the weight of my own existence came sometime in my childhood. I don’t know how old I was, but I remember suddenly realizing that my mom wasn’t just my mom. She didn’t solely exist for me, to fulfill my needs and desires. She was her own person with longings and daydreams and thoughts that didn’t contain me.

    It was a heartbreaking, reality shattering discovery at the time. At first I felt very unsafe and almost a little panicked. I’d spent my whole life being protected and cared for and contained by her. I didn’t have to know anything about anything, because I had my mom. That’s what she was there for.

    But as I grew older and started taking some weight off her and putting it on myself and others, I began to feel happy that she was completely her own person, and not just my personalized carbon caretaker.

    The difficult thing about being a human and not, say, a kangaroo, is that humans have awareness. It’s not just about how to physically survive in this world, but also about handling existence itself. The human mind wonders about every facet of everything, the human mind wants to solve problems not just as they come but in a permanent fashion, the human mind wants to evolve beyond what’s already there.

    That’s why when I come across cynical-type people who say we’re just here to survive and reproduce like animals, my mind goes blank. It can’t compute that kind of statement, because according to my brain’s self-aware programming, we’re here for so much more.

    Sometimes I would like to be nothing more than just a little joey, observing everything from the safety of a kangaroo pouch. Sometimes the weight of my own existence is too much to handle. But as I get braver and experience the joys that accompany bravery, there’s nothing I love more than being an adult human.

    By universal design you are born into a perplexing situation, bewildered, and you have one job as a human: figure this shit out.

    —Will Smith, Will • (bookshop + amazon)

    A realization similar to the one I had with my mom happened to me in my twenties. This one involving my adult friendships.

    Whenever someone would text me asking how I was, I’d start writing a text back about my life. But I would write way too much, type “sorry this is so long” at the end of the text, and then hit “send.”

    The reason I was writing so much over text was because I didn’t have a journaling habit at the time. Writing itself is very therapeutic, regardless of the medium, so I found myself opening up to myself while writing text messages, and not editing them before sending them out. Yikes.

    I finally noticed the pattern I had of doing this when I felt like my friends were slowly pulling away. I was mortified to realize I was emotionally dumping on them and straining the relationships.

    Same thing as with my mom: I came to understand that my friends had their own weights to carry and couldn’t bear the full brunt of me all the time.

    So I bottled up.

    This was a good thing and a bad thing.

    Bad, because obviously there’s an unhealthy aspect to pulling away from relationships and closing off. It keeps people at arm’s length away, and there’s more of a shallowness to the friendship.

    But it was also a good thing, because I was in the murky middle of my deconstruction. Personal evolution, like I said, pretty much requires solitude and a lack of support.

    Partially why I closed off was because I wanted to know I could support myself, trust myself, carry the weight myself. I wanted to be as strong as possible within myself, so I could be that for the people in my life.

    This is around the time I started journaling again, which I hadn’t really done since I was a teenager. Journaling helped me process new beliefs and old fears. It was the suitcase I began to use to carry myself.

    Fast forward to today. I’ve gotten much better with my friendships and relationships and allowing people into parts of my life that I’ve process and healed, but I’m still mostly keeping things to myself.

    I think of myself as so strong and so brave for facing the stark reality of existence all on my own. Especially proud of removing the safety net of religion and walking on the edge of the cliff, standing firm against the furious gusts of wind and not letting my knees shake as I peer down into the endless black abyss of the unknown.

    I’m so good at not being fully known or understood, I tell myself. Now finally, after all these years, I am fully contained like a mysterious island. No longer putting my weight on anyone else.

    Such smugness.

    Until I realized that I was just parsing out tiny fragments of myself without even realizing it.

    I am actually wide and spread out.

    Whenever I find resonance in something—a book quote, a song lyric, an internet comment—I leave a little piece of myself with it. To me, resonating means a crumb of my soul, my existence, has found rest and peace in this world. It has found a pocket to make its home. A little shelf to rest its weight on.

    It lightens the burden to have stories and characters and sentences and lines that feel the way I feel. They express things in ways I didn’t know how, but click right into my being like a missing puzzle piece. It makes me feel safer existing as a human.

    This understanding first struck me a month ago when I was camping in the woods with my boyfriend, Ethan. We were hammocking and reading together, and I was reading The Night Circus which is one of my favorite love stories.

    And I was thinking, this is it, I’m living my love story with my boyfriend, yet I’m ashamed when words fail me and all I know how to say to him is “I love you. I appreciate you.” But after reading the lines of this love story,  I felt suddenly relieved that the words already existed out there. The exact combination of words had already been said.

    I felt supported by the fact of this tiny resonance, that a fragment of myself could rest on a fictional character who’s saying what I wished I could say.

    Obviously this doesn’t excuse me from trying my best to express how I feel to Ethan, how incredible his existence is, but a part of me felt at peace. Like if I die before I’m able to say everything I want to say, just read the lines I’ve loved over the years, because part of me exists in them.

    I am connected to eternity and I am part of everything and although I am with all of it, I am still different from anything and everything.

    —Jenny Slate, Little Weirds • (bookshop + amazon)

    There is love to be resonated with, and there is also pain.

    It’s a specific pain and feeling to lose a sibling. And pain is so isolating an experience that we feel like the only ones who have ever or ever will experience it. Like we’re being specifically and personally punished. Even having my family to go through it with still feels isolating sometimes, because it feels like we’re being singled out to suffer as a unit.

    But I feel lighter thanks to resonance. Like a random reddit commenter who said losing a sibling is like losing a limb—because that’s exactly how it feels. Everything feels wobbly and wrong moving forward in our family without Zach.

    I don’t want others to experience the pain of losing a loved sibling, but somehow, the fact that other people are out there feeling this pain too, it makes the burden lighter.

    I rest some of my pain on that internet stranger, freeing myself of a fraction of the burden I carry.

    It’s good for me to remember that the words I put out onto the internet can also have an effect on others.

    One of the most pivotal moments in my writing was when I got an email last year from a girl I knew at bible college. We’ve sort of stayed in touch, on and off, over the years. She considers me a friend, and even invited me to her wedding, but I don’t reciprocate the feeling. I would love to be friends with her, we’re very similar and I have kind of a protective, fierce love for her, but it’s almost impossible.

    I’m ex-Christian and she’s very militantly Christian, with a passion for theological debate and missionary work. This in itself doesn’t bother me (although in my opinion, Christians should stay in their own countries to do missionary work and stop trying to be third world saviors).

    The thing that gets in the way is that I’m very good at reading people’s energy, and although she’s subtle with it, I can tell very clearly that she will never truly consider me a friend because of our theological differences. She has never missed an opportunity to try to convert me back to Christianity, and I feel I will always remain somewhat of a charity case to her.

    Never mind the fact that God is the foundation for both of our belief systems.

    Because of this vibe I get from her, I have felt bitterness towards her over the last few years. Wishing we could be friends, feeling resentful when she calls me her friend while also knowing she doesn’t entirely respect me. I usually end up ghosting her to get away from the hurt.

    But a year ago I got an email from her. She wrote:

    “I just read your “sorrow and solitude” newsletter, and I’m going to work my way through the rest of your archive, and I just have to tell you that it was probably the most peaceful part of my day so far. I’ve cried a lot in the past 12 hours for some reason, forced myself to work out, eaten food, and nothing really helped like reading your newsletter.”

    That paragraph softened me up like nothing else (although not before I thought, “HA. The words of a heathen made you feel better“).

    But it made me realize that other people are out there resonating with tiny things about me. It does zero favors to hold onto bitterness or judgement towards people who have caused me pain, because it affects my writing in a negative way, making it repel rather than draw in. Making it less of a place of solace and resonance.

    I want people to be able to rest their weight on my words like I have rested on the words of others.

    Something I wrote resonated with her and maybe she was able to leave a tiny piece of herself on my writing and that’s an incredible feeling.

    This thought puts more weight on the Ram Dass quote, “We’re all just walking each other home.”

    A human may not be mentally or emotionally capable of carrying the weight of another person for their entire life. And it would be catastrophic for the person being carried, to never know what it’s like to stand on their own existence, in their own strength.

    But we can all carry tiny pieces of each other, consciously and subconsciously, as we—perplexed and bewildered—figure this shit out together.

    PS: I couldn’t figure out how to gracefully tie this section into the main narrative, but I would be remiss to end this essay without mentioning my sister, Elisabeth. I wouldn’t have gotten very far into my liberated identity-seeking without her steady presence. She has known me my entire life and will always know the different variations of me over the years, so it has subconsciously made it less scary to evolve and shed pieces of myself. She is the Sam to my Frodo, and “Frodo wouldn’t have got far without Sam.” <3 Also, what a great metaphor of Frodo referring to the Ring as his burden and telling Sam he couldn’t carry it and then later Sam saying “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you!” *cry* <33

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  • Essays

    finding the way forward

    I want to try to describe how it is that I write.

    I compose all day in my head, when I’m alone. A topic pops into my head, or a memory, and my brain turns into a computer. Just give me a prompt and my brain is racing to artfully structure flowing sentences into an essay. All inside my head.

    . . . they all reeled out of me, those words I’d imbibed, in one continuous ribbon.

    —Katherine May, The Electricity of Every Living Thing

    Often, more than one topic is fighting for airtime. So, usually before I come to a reasonable conclusion, my brain moves on to the next topic. Because I get mild anxiety if I don’t allow myself to think all the things I’m trying to think.

    When my thoughts become too overwhelming to function or sleep (it happens both day and night), I pull out the closest writing tools and do a brain dump. The usual location is the Notes app on my phone.

    To date, there are 125 notes in a folder called “essay fragments.” And that’s out of 855 total notes that actually got properly filed. There are 121 blog post drafts on my WordPress account. And around 100 drafts on my Scrivener app. That’s not counting physical notes written on paper either.

    The intention is always that I just get the words out of my head into a manic brain dump rough draft and then have a focused sit down time to edit these drafts and share them online.

    This is the part that trips me up (as proven by the pitiful amount of published posts on my website), and it’s led to a lot of negative thinking over the years.

    Clearly, I can write. I write three pages of journaling every day. I wrote my book draft for The Simple Path of Journaling in around two months (from August 2022 to October 2022). And then of course the million and a half essay/blog rough drafts I’m drowning in.

    And I know how to edit. I look at my finished essays on my website, and honestly I really enjoy reading them.

    If I was just sticking with essay and blog type writing, I doubt I would have figured out the issue I was having. But when I got really determined that I was going to finish this book and publish it, the stakes got a lot higher and the issues ran deeper.

    After a lot of crying and journaling and asking God/myself/the void for help, I had a breakthrough and finally learned about a method of writing that fits my brain so much better.

    It’s called intuitive writing. I don’t really know much about it yet, but I’m going to write about the little bit that I do understand.

    Intuitive writing is based off of feminine energy, which is very opposite to most mainstream writing practices that are based off masculine energy. Masculine energy writing includes lots of plotting, outlines, structure, word counts, and routines.

    Feminine energy writing is a lot harder to grasp, because it involves more of the subconscious mind and trusting yourself. It’s sort of a bit more like stream of consciousness writing. But you just start with a blank page and see what happens. It’s kind of a scary approach. You have to trust yourself not to get lost. And you have to be okay with being lost anyway, because that’s how you find yourself and your words.

    I began to lean more into structure and order, but Sheree was an artist . . . she was much more fluid, intuitive, and less structured.

    —Will Smith, Will

    There are two things I’ve learned about intuitive writing that I’m trying to put into practice now.

    The first is that I need to make sure I’m completely done writing something before I start to edit it. This is because writing and editing are two different sides of the brain. Editing requires the use of judgment and critique, whereas writing is very open and vulnerable. It can be quite detrimental to be switching back and forth between the two.

    This is how I kind of fucked myself up while writing my book. I started working on a proper outline and section titles and page numbers before I was even done writing it. That led to me feeling boxed in by the structure I’d employed, so my writer side was kind of throwing a fit and refusing to work. And I also felt paralyzed to continue writing, because I would compare my freshly written sentences to the already edited ones and think myself a terribly shitty writer.

    The second thing I’ve learned about intuitive writing is that I need to just work on one writing piece at a time. One piece within each different type of writing I’m doing, I should say. So I can still work on my book, work on my newsletter, do my journaling. But I’m just focused on one blog post at a time, rather than the chaotic pile of drafts demanding my attention.

    (I’m going to write in a future post about what I’ve decided to do with all my rough drafts and how I’m going to capture new ideas going forward, because collecting rough drafts is definitely not the right process for me.)

    I tried it out both things I learned with this post. I did my initial manic brain dump and then stopped when I felt like I said everything that was on my mind. The next few days I was tempted to start new drafts, but I made myself just look at this one, which led me to more brain dumps on this topic. I didn’t allow myself to start editing until I felt totally drained of the words in my head and ready to polish what I’d written.

    It was hard at first, to not write drafts on new ideas, to continue to add this this draft over and over until it felt finished, before I started cleaning it up. But it started feeling natural and good too. And look, I published it!!

    Part of this process is about learning to trust my intuition. Learning to trust my own mind. Learning to trust the way I work.

    The job of a writer, he says, is simple: You write what’s in your head.

    —Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit

    I’ll have much more to say on this topic as I implement more of intuitive writing into my life. But this breakthrough shows why I value personal growth and introspection so much. It’s so helpful to understand and trust yourself, because there are such vastly different ways to operate in the world. I would have blindly struggled with the same problems over and over if I hadn’t allowed myself the journey of figuring out who I am. Collecting piles of rough drafts, never finishing anything, feeling like shit during the editing process.

    A sensitive introverted neurodivergent creative individual like myself and many others are never going to thrive by following the rules and structure dictated by rigid masculine energy. Which is what most of society is built off and expects from others.

    But the good news is that feminine energy exists just as strongly and equally in this world.. There is a way forward that will feel perfect for each person’s energy. It just requires trust and an open, insightful mind.

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  • Essays

    wine stains and heart mends

    As the credits played out at the end of Avatar: The Way of Water, my boyfriend Ethan took off his 3D glasses and looked at me. “Are you crying?” he asked.

    I nodded and wiped my cheeks.

    “Aw,” he said, “You liked the movie, huh?”

    “Yes,” I sniffed.

    Then a fresh wave of tears ran down my face.

    Ethan immediately stood up and came over to me. “Oh baby, I’m so sorry, I understand why you’re crying now.”

    He tried to sit in the same theater chair as me, to hold me and soothe me, but instead he accidentally sat on the large Pepsi in my cup holder, knocked it backwards, and got soda all over his butt. He pulled me to my feet, away from the mess, and held me in the aisle.

    I hugged him and giggled a little—both at the situation and because I loved him so much.

    In a matter of like ten seconds, he had already comforted me immensely, for two reasons. The first, because he didn’t let the awkwardness of soda-soaked pants distract him from his mission. And the second, because he knew that I was crying over my brother Zach, the heartbreaking scene in the movie that had triggered my tears.

    It’s awful to admit this, but I initially never expected Ethan to play this role in my life. I never thought that my boyfriend would see me crying and automatically assume it was because of Zach.

    We met at an interesting time in my life—just one day after the one year anniversary of Zach’s death. Once you get past the one year mark, it’s kind of an awkward and terrible season of life to be in. It’s like you have an expiration date on how long you can be grieving, on how long you can hold the identity of “sad sister of dead brother.” Most people stop asking how I’m doing in regards to that and don’t think to bring him up anymore.

    The shock and raw grief is gone, but the ever-present pain of having to live the rest of my life without my sweet little brother constantly bubbles under the surface.

    Ethan is very simple and straightforward in his comfort for me: I know you miss your brother. I’m here for you. Let me hold you.

    “I love you,” he says, and Addie wonders if this is love, this gentle thing.
    —V.E. Schwab, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

    After the movie, later that evening, I accidentally spilled red wine on Zach’s white hoodie, which I wear almost every day.

    Ethan immediately looked up how to get red wine stains out of white fabric and went to work. Soaking the stain in white vinegar (“not red vine vinegar?” I weakly joked). Scrubbing laundry detergent into the spot. Rinsing it out in hot water.

    The stain was gone.

    I clutched the warm, wet sweatshirt in my hands and thanked him and hung it on his desk chair to dry overnight.

    The next day, back at my parents’ house, I examined the spot outside in the late afternoon sun, in better lighting. The wine stain truly was gone, but I noticed that the area was a bit frayed now. Threads popped out where Ethan had vigorously scrubbed the sweatshirt.

    My heart melted. I sunk into this little patch of white fabric and pinned the moment and the feeling into my memory.

    This is what it feels like to be safe and loved.

    After he had cleaned my sweatshirt for me, Ethan was a little bit restless. It was getting late, I was cozy in bed, and we had planned to watch something together on his phone until we fell asleep. But he was unable to sit back and relax.

    “Why aren’t you getting comfortable?” I asked. He was sitting on the edge of the bed, hunched and cross-legged.

    He stood up and paced a bit. “Because you were crying earlier over your brother and then you stained his sweatshirt, and now I’m just in full on protection mode.”

    . . . we were home, we had drawn the circle, we were safe for the night.
    —Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

    It was a place where I knew I was loved.
    —Claire Oshetsky, Chouette

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  • Essays

    feel the rope

    When I was first learning how to belay last fall at my climbing gym, my brain tangled up right alongside the rope in my hands. I was trying to remember each step of the belaying process in a logical “think-y” manner, and it caused me to mess up repeatedly. My face would scrunch up in confusion as my staff member friend, Kandice, patiently waited for me to show her the next step.

    It was only when I turned off my thoughts and simply felt the motions of belaying that I was able to get the hang of it. I almost just had to close my eyes so I wouldn’t get distracted by logistics.

    “It doesn’t need to be perfect,” the head setter, Andy, told me, as he swung above me, installing a new route. “You just need to save them from falling.”

    Just save them from falling.

    Once I felt how belaying was supposed to feel and reaffirmed the actual purpose of belaying, the actual goal I was trying to accomplish (save them from falling), that’s when it all started to feel totally natural to me.

    What if this is just the way that I operate?

    Everything feels so much better when I, more or less, shut off my mind and trust how things feel.

    I think this is how I’m supposed to be as a writer too.

    I beat my writing half to death in the editing process, because I’m afraid of the natural way I write. I’m afraid of being seen. I’ve written about this previously, in my essay “Letters to you with love from me.” I’m sure this concept has come out many times in my writing before, but I just haven’t grasped onto it yet.

    The truth is that, for the most part, I much prefer the things I’ve written that are in my drafts folder or in my notes app. The quick intuitive flashes I get, the mad dashes, the rush of energy from my authentic writer self.

    Was this entire life ever really mine? Was my control all an illusion? I think so, but letting go of control isn’t instant and wonderful. Sometimes it gives us rope burns as we slide down trying to hold on like a madman.

    —Lisa Gungor, The Most Beautiful Thing I’ve Seen

    I’m going to hold on tightly while I’m belaying someone on the wall, but clearly some deeper part of me is asking to trust her and let go when it comes to my writing.

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