Thank you, Carrie Fisher.

Every freshman at my alma mater had to attend a certain number of enrichment presentations—skits or lectures or plays—for our ‘intro to college’ class. Of those I attended that first semester, I only remember two. One was about consent (yay!), the other was about…well, courage, I guess. It was called Major in Success and attempted to get us to buy the speaker’s book (I did) and to think about what really makes us happy. He told stories about other college students he’d met and helped, about gloriously successful people in their respective fields who’d once been doing other things. He encouraged us to find a way to make that really happy, fulfilling thing in our lives our major, and promised success would come.

It’s a little hokey, but the part I most remember was when he asked the question, “If you could do whatever you wanted and you knew you couldn’t fail, what would you do?” Talking it over with my roommates that night, I said I wanted to be a novelist. The rightness of that moment solidified in me and has defined by long-term goals in the decade since. Judgeship was out. Law school was out. History teacher was out. I realigned my life and goals and on I’ve marched since then.

Until November 9, 2016.

I’ve had no desire to publish since that date. None. It evaporated. Or exploded. Or was sucked out of me in that single, pain-blurred moment I can barely remember when I opened the BBC news election page and realized Donald Trump had won. My desire to publish had been a constant of my identity and inner world for nine years, and it’d been whispering in my head far longer than that. I felt robbed, horrified, and guilty that people were at risk of losing their rights if not their lives, but I merely felt bereft of my dream.

Then things got worse.

About a week after the election, I was fighting depression and didn’t know it. I lacked vitality, energy, motivation. I could not get enough sleep. I didn’t know why I couldn’t write letters and call representatives like I had the week after the election. I didn’t know why it was so hard to craft a tweet, though I kept retweeting. I had trouble praying. I kept writing—completing NaNo—but took none of my usual joy in it.

As my depression worsened, I would sit at my computer feeling wretchedly guilty for being so inefficient, so distracted, so unproductive, but every email I read cost me something, as did every paragraph of my answer. I couldn’t drive across the street to the store for food and Christmas shopping made me want to lie down and never get back up. In the evenings, I lay on the couch and watched a Hallmark Christmas movie. Or two. Then I went to bed.

I had almost no appetite so I let myself eat whatever I felt like or whatever I easily had on hand. The one time I tried to bully myself into eating an actual breakfast with actual nutrition, I made a dozen breakfast casseroles in a muffin tin and forced myself to eat one standing in the kitchen. I threw the rest away a week later, feeling like a ridiculous failure that even reheating had been beyond me.

Caught off guard by a coworker asking about NaNo, I confessed that I felt like I was dying. He assumed it was because NaNo was hard or I was behind on my word counts. I wasn’t.

I don’t know if the election result was a trigger or just bad timing. The situation was never far from my mind, though. I felt despondent, pessimistic, fearful, hopeless, and unable to face the next year, let alone the next four. I didn’t want to die or be dead, but I wanted to be unaware. Not hiding in a hole somewhere, more like unconscious. I wanted to sleep away the next four years. That’s all I felt capable of doing. And I felt incredibly guilty that I wasn’t joining those who I knew were already fighting for people’s rights.

After about a month of this, I emailed my best friend, telling her I wasn’t okay and asking her to pray for me. Explaining my symptoms was the first time I thought I might be depressed. In her reply, she gently suggested the same thing.

Just having a name to it helped. I read up and talked to more people about it. I ordered books and sweatshirts. I found a graphic novel that made me laugh aloud and read it over and over. One weekend when I had a cold, I left work at noon, went through the drive-thru for a dozen Krystals, got in bed with a book, and read it. I ate Krystals, read, fell asleep, woke up, finished the book. I ate more Krystals and started another book. I didn’t get up more than necessary the entire weekend and refused to feel guilty about it because I had a cold. Nevermind that I was also depressed.

I’m not really sure when I came out of the depression. I got up the Monday after Christmas knowing a friend was coming for the day, but until then the house was empty and still. I organized books, cleaned, started laundry, then met my friend for lunch and had a great day with her. She’d suffered depression the year before, and I could tell she understood what I’d been going through by the way she nodded and leaned in as I spoke, even before she shared some of her struggles. We looped arms and walked and walked, swapping book recommendations and snarking at bad Christmas novels on the second-hand bookstore’s clearance racks. It was the first really good day I’d had since the first week of November.

But I didn’t know if I’d be okay the next day. (I didn’t know that about depression until my first good day, how every new day is laced with uncertainty: Will today be the day it comes back?)

The next day was another good day, except that was the day Carrie Fisher passed away.

So many others have written about what she means and meant to them. I won’t add to it, except to say that I’d been following news of her closely since she first fell ill, and I’d been revisiting some of my favorites of her work. That day, once she was gone, I finally started listening to The Princess Diarist on audiobook. I wanted to sink into her insight and humor and honesty. I wanted to hear her voice again.

Perhaps an hour into the book, my desire to publish surged back. I could feel it returning, slower than it left me, beating in me until it was solid. I don’t exactly know how Carrie Fisher inspired that, but I believe she did. My depression didn’t magically go away—I still had some bad days, but none of them were anywhere close to the bad days of December. I also had more good days than bad, then a whole week of good, then I stopped counting how long since the last bad day. My energy is still a little low and my progress is slow, but I’m working again. And I want to publish one day.

Thank you, Carrie Fisher. If Donald Trump stole my dream, you pulled me back to it.

“No imagination, I guess.”

For the sake of privacy, I am going to be scant on certain details.

I went on vacation to a warm place on the coast. I was visiting a friend, we fell in with a local artist, and this artist took us to romp around a local, undeveloped island. There we met some of the people who live there, essentially off the grid, who have solar panels and cell phones but sleep in tents on land none of them own. They drag cast-off furniture up from the beach and cook over a campfire surrounded by rocks. This particular morning, when we appeared on the path and the artist called out her greetings, their leader invited the three of us into their camp.

After introductions, the islanders chatted with the artist, with whom they are familiar and friendly, catching up with her and catching her up. The biggest events since they’d last seen her related to an inflated sofa tucked between some trees on the island’s north side and a spat with usurpers who’d come to the island. These men had set up camp beside the tent of a couple who were now sitting beside the fire. The men had set up in the same clearing without asking permission and then had refused to move. They’d stayed up late making noise and moving around beside the couple’s tent, generally being pests until, one day while the couple was off the island, they ripped down their tent and threw their stuff into the trees. The woman wanted to retaliate with glitter bombs, which I thought a rather restrained response considering, but the mother of the island (a steady woman who spoke so rarely that every word had ten times the weight of anyone else’s) had advised against. And so, even the talk of retaliation had stopped. The male leader explained how unreasonable these people were, how the islanders around this fire would have helped them make another camp elsewhere, and been good neighbors to them, if they’d only asked.

He asked several times, clearly still frustrated, “Why move right there? Why take over someone else’s camp?” The others kept reiterating how close they’d set up their tent to the couple’s, how hot that camp is in summer, how each of them—even the mother—had tried to convince them to give the camp back to the couple.

“Why do it?” asked the leader again and again. “Why would someone be that way?” And as I studied the woven armoire adorned by parrot feathers, he answered his own question: “No imagination, I guess.”

It seemed like such a strange conclusion, that I turned back to him.

He said, “I guess they couldn’t look at a place and see its potential. I guess they were afraid of settling somewhere new, where they didn’t know if it’d flood on high moon tides or be covered by birds in winter. Not that we wouldn’t have told them. But maybe they couldn’t picture how it could be. I suppose they thought, ‘Well, these people have been living here for years so it must be an okay camp.’”

Still frustrated but clearly resigned to this new conclusion, he sighed, “Just no imagination, I guess.”

I distrust people with no imagination. No imagination to put themselves in another’s shoes, no imagination to reinvent a space or schedule so it’ll work for them. People who say, “Don’t ever change.” People who believe that society and systems won’t ever change.

Which is not to say that I’m fantastic at this. I try hard to imagine what might have created this fist-clenched woman in front of me or this selfish, vapid man. I try to consider who they might become, who I might become, and speak kindly. I try to look beyond “Well, this works for now/ever” and see what would make me happier. I don’t want to be someone with no imagination. I don’t want to mooch off of other people’s attempts to improve their lives. I don’t want to dismiss someone else’s way of living simply because haven’t lived that way. I don’t want to say I’m a dog person because, actually, I’ve never lived with a cat.

The leader’s words struck me as strange at the time. By way of explanations, it seemed shallow, a mite compared to the usurpers’ behavior. But the more I think on it, the more I do see the leader’s sense.

So, this week, I’m taking Birdie’s advice in You’ve Got Mail (one of my favorite movies). I’m daring to imagine that I can have a different life.

I’m not talking about huge changes necessarily. Getting up earlier, shifting some furniture, volunteering at a hospital, starting to dance again. I won’t do them all, but I’m imagining. And I’m daring to imagine bigger things, too, like living on a boat with a friend, trying online dating, taking singing lessons, pursuing my master’s, traveling abroad again.

I do love so much about my life, but it seems like a really good time to imagine.

A Resolution

I never thought I’d be someone with so many pairs of shoes.

I own 28 pairs of shoes. Five pairs are slippers: three for winter and two for summer. Nine are heels: three wedges and the rest have varying degrees of height and colors and patterns. I own six pairs of flats, four pairs of boots, three pairs of tennis shoes, and one pair of sandals. Of those, I probably ought to give away two pairs and throw away four more. I wear all the others.

You don’t care about my shoes. I think of it now because there are a lot of things that I do now I didn’t expect I’d ever do. I remember watching the movie Marie Antoinette when I was a senior in high school and feeling astounded that shoes were treated as such a decadence. I knew enough about that era of French history to know that this aspect of the movie was flavored to resonate with modern America culture, but I also knew that I didn’t match culture in that way. Even earlier, probably in middle school, I remember professing confusion to my mother that people ever have so many shoes. I had two or three pairs to match my Sunday church dresses, tennis shoes for school, and a pair of brown leather sandals that I wore constantly at home.

How could anyone ever need a dozen or more pairs of shoes? Basic black, alternative brown, and white handled all my dresswear needs, sandals covered comfort, and my sneakers took me from math class to PE to choir rehearsal to the grocery store. Now I have black flats, royal blue flats, sky blue flats, sparkle and non-sparkle varieties of plum flats, nude flats, nude heels, nude wedges (all of which are really varying shades of light tan).

And I don’t actually need them all. So many people would love to have a single pair of shoes, or one nice pair to wear to work, or tennis shoes that don’t have to be duct-taped on. Some people would very gladly go without if only they could buy a decent pair for their child, or parent, or sibling.

I own 28 pairs of shoes and I don’t know how my teenaged self would see me. Would she look at all the shoes and lift a single eyebrow at me over her shoulder? Would she watch me walk into work with my sunglasses on top of my head—so pompous—and my purse dangled from my elbow—so lazy—and be appalled? What would she think of my ballet bun, or my sparkly green tights, or my rainboots by the back door?

I no longer obsess over whether every minute aspect of my image to the world projects my intended effect…which was usually shapeless smart girl. My jeans, sneakers, and hoodie were my armor. But in truth, I’ve come to do a lot of things teen-me despised, or just didn’t get, because they were easy.

I started wearing sunglasses a lot more after I had eye surgery, but I want to look people in the eye, so I slide them up and down on my head a lot. I also forget about them when I’m in stores. And my purse is way larger and heavier now than it was, in part to hold the books and notebooks and umbrella I often carry with me. Getting it up on my shoulder for a short walk isn’t a priority, and I’m likely to get annoyed if one or both straps slip off. Also, my hair is longer, and the literal pain of my hair caught under the straps is a familiar foe. As for the tights—I love wearing black but I also love color, so I often wear colorful tights and a black dress. And those cheap green sparkle tights make me happy.

I’m explaining here, so I’m pretty sure I’d try to justify these things to my younger self, too. I remember how I judged people for wearing sunglasses on their heads and for their absurd number of shoes. That, too, was a kind of armor, and a cruel one.

Maybe if my younger self knew how I got here, understood the inconsequential why’s, teen-me would be less critical of other people, especially other women. And, selfishly, maybe she would be able to look past the elbow purse and see how I move through the world, and I hope she’d like the kind of person I am now.

I know I’m happier than teenaged me. I know I’m so much more confident, and that means I hurt less intensely and less frequently. I’m afraid less. This maybe be typical teenager angst, but I was so self-conscious, terrified of both being seen and being ignored.

I wish I could lessen her pain, boost her confidence, all those things. But she was also pretty great already.

She loved things wholeheartedly, and was so disciplined and so funny and so awed by things that I now completely ignore. She was a warrior, too, walking into a school she hated, sitting by peers who had bullied her or who dismissed her, enduring as best she could while smiling and working hard and being kind and trying to be kinder. I admire her so much. I would want her to like me, to be proud of and excited to become me. And maybe, by that comfort, she’d be happier, less afraid, less armor-encased, less judgmental.

I want who I am now to be approachable and relatable to teens who currently are like I was then. I can’t go back and make my younger self hurt less, but I’d really like to do that for some other teen, some other child. And that’s something I want to be mindful of this year.