Minnesota Sweet Tooth
In our third grade art class, I was the one dropping the Santa Claus bomb on my gal friends who —by that age?—were definitely old enough to find out. “There is no Santa Claus, sorry guys it’s just how it is.”
Jane was the friend who stood up to me and said, “well I still believe it,” close to tears at that point.
It’s funny how the moments I’ve ever disrespected a friend or loved one’s subjective boundaries are hard to forget. To make it less complicated (not that I’m complicating it), it seems like my most vivid memories are the times I’ve ever made someone cry or even scarred them for life when I was really just, being myself.
My older sister Alexis says I’m out of touch with reality when I posit that a period of illness in my early twenties caused me to lose all my old friends. She says there’s proof in places that people still find me funny. Trouble is I’m kind of tired of feeling laughed at.
As I get my bearings and move back to New York I’d like to be more up front with myself about what I was going through in young adulthood while paying tribute to the friends I’m still in touch with, a few of whom (like me) are turning 27. I’ll post what I write on a blog, which I’ll post and unpost many times but not quite delete. It’s not that big of a deal but sometimes it feels like a big deal to me, writing.
This girl’s story is not meant to be funny, though upon its first telling it might ignite a few unsolicited laughs which I’d defend her against. Jane Thompson came from a family of medical professionals but after getting her BA she went back to trade school to be a welder, a career change which came as a surprise to family and friends. Though I don’t think we’d have a conversation about this because it’s not the type of thing that comes up in conversation (unless brought up formally), her decision may have helped me reconsider some of my own private identity politics.
Specifically, and this might be vulnerable to admit, it would help me interrogate any seriously profound disgust at my “masculine side,” because Jane’s never struck me as quite-extremely masculine (less than me I think) but she went ahead and decided to be a welder. Not that it’s a man’s job, but, perhaps it’s a less feminine career path than say, modeling professionally which was always a legitimate option for our close mutual friend Kelly Thorpe.
that’s Jane ^^
As a welder Jane’s done contract jobs for gallery installations by well-known artists, some work that she must have done with sufficient grace to cop rent money by the first of the month. The opposite of “sufficient grace” might be “art for art’s sake” [#aesthetic], but I don’t want to debate this in such crudely simplified terms. Neither of us have much time to wonder whether the bigger artists we’ve done work for — as a welder (Jane) or ghost writer (me) — are making art for the right reasons, which I should hope, might be to leave the world a bit better than it is. To put herself through school to change gears professionally, Jane worked long shifts (like, 12 hours) as a Minneapolis brewery bartender; I used to go with our friend Kelly to visit her on the job and find her in a baseball jersey and denim shorts, pulling the levers to fill up beers and waving bye to customers like “see you next time.” If offered a beer I’d have said no thanks. Nevertheless I’d leave with spirits uplifted but also maybe a bit of guilt, like, she’s nicer to everyone than I feel like I’ve been.
I never anticipated that my years after a full ride for undergrad would be spent, largely, reminiscing on how much better it was before I was cut loose at age 23. In college, despite feeling left out among peers, I was pressured positively to put in hours on homework rather than act like an arrogant savage off on my own somewhere, for instance alone on my laptop. I wrote up to hundreds of pages of twisted books and screenplays, each day, devolving into an unwell place beyond reality. So I was in purgatory, I’d like to believe, or a place of feeling sunk in acedia temporarily. How can one escape from acedia, though, when getting stuck in those feelings too long can be legitimately damaging? They might need to be rescued. I think a lot of people resort to insane or even violent means, just to escape those feelings. It’s the worst. Back in undergrad it seemed (and this isn’t an accurate take) like all these great-minded people whose art we were studying, dead or living, were just able to go farther in life than me because they weren’t girls — or if they were (say) successful female writers, then, they lived more sensibly from birth than I ever felt I could. Or they were prettier, and I’d resent them for it, in spite of myself. I was too deadbeat I thought, already by about age 20, to expect to yank enough hairs in an inescapably judgmental world to make a name for myself as a shabby Jewish chick whose jokes (when I tried improv and stand up, as “Lola Morgan”) landed rather coolly. If the jokes would have been landing I might have felt differently. I just think I’m too intense, to still try and be the quirky class clown I used to be, growing up with Janie.
How I felt, at least for those definitely dark years, was sick of it; life was just something to get through. Of course it can be frustrating across the board, for all humans I’m guessing, to ever think the grass will be greener as soon as [fill in the blank depending on dreams/beliefs], only to find out we take ourselves wherever we go and still feel the same or dramatically worse even. So, I didn’t leave college a successful or popular person, not really, but I was alive at least? (Cue the track “listen before I go by Billie Eilish, because that’s how I was feeling.) I might have resented my peers by imagining they were stuck up compared to what I was used to back in high school. But undergrad was still better than what would happen in the three to four years after I left: increasing isolation to the point of near-death.
In undergrad I was an intern for a little while at a film criticism magazine called Film Comment. I wrote a handful of reviews. It was here that I would meet who I hope remains an old mentor to me (we had a friendly bond), a guy named Kent Jones who once told me, in a conversation I think meant to help me out of an obvious state of melancholy—which would get worse, and worse, then steadily less dire—“you know it’s just yourself.” I’d been telling him about some struggles in love and friendship. “Even if you decide you want to be close with someone, it’s yourself.”
It took me years, honestly, to comprehend how much of reality is made up by me—and it took some hard checks. It cracked me to fathom that love can happen in one person’s mind only. If two people are together, it’s really just a pair of skeletons plus organs and flesh and their minds are operating independently? I guess I didn’t like the idea of this, I would rather not draw upon private memories to prove that it’s definitely possible, that only one person can enjoy a shared experience. So, now I’m seeking things in friends and lovers like trust and loyalty as opposed to just attraction because, that can go one-way (and I also won’t get into how gender equality might actually get in the way of balanced relationships in bed). All these epiphanies about subjectivity would at first cause me to feel perturbed, by how meaningless love came to seem, and very frustrated with how many times I’ve let this happen despite knowing better: “how risky to fall in love, if I can love someone who doesn’t care about me or necessarily even know I exist? Like literally, at an age way too old for this, with celebrities (Justin Bieber to be exact).” I think the more specific problem is being too isolated, and worshipping people over the internet. I hear this problem is common for Americans, loneliness. Lately if I’ve sensed myself developing a certain strain of schoolgirl crush again, and it’s taking place remotely, I just shut off my emotions and laptop. I’ve tried to remove myself from social media and mainly regret deleting old accounts.
One morning I woke up alone in my bed in a house in the New Jersey, my mom’s house where I’ve been allowed to stay without paying rent while I cover my first half-year’s tuition of premedical school, and went through a routine I’m trying (meditating for ten minutes using my iPhone, walking by myself) to eventually end up with some new perspective on how the phrase “it’s just yourself” might hold potential to get me out of feeling figuratively trapped alone on an island of nearly-lost mind near the Jersey shore. For me, there are considerably high stakes to executing an escape from this island where the birds screech unsoundly, but, the stakes of me escaping don’t necessarily matter to anyone else alive out there sifting through the subtext of this project. In therapy I keep returning to the question of how to free myself of a sometimes boundariless bond to someone from my past. However if love can truly exist all in one’s head, then regardless of those difficult questions, the work I can do is not on them, not on how they think of me, not on how they love me—but solely on, my self.
My granddad Keith Wilcock, whose surname I might just hold onto always, has experience as a prison guard for inmates on death row. Later he started his own psychology consulting firm. He said to me recently that “most people go through life with an imaginary cast of characters in their head.” I myself have a tendency to imagine friendships but, this project will help keep me grounded in what’s actually stuck. (I keep a close few but the few I keep don’t suck.) I totally knew what my Grandpa meant, and vowed to never write another piece unless it was based on real events and people I’d spent a lot of time with. This is just the first piece of many about a loyal, deeply trusted friend.
By age eight (and still to this day) I’d have memorized my own home address and phone number and less obviously, those of my friendly neighbor four blocks away named Jane. I’d even have been able to recite her old address on Park Avenue where she lived before I met her, because her dad made up a very catchy jingle that she used to sometimes sing (“Hi my name is Janie Thompson / this is where I live / 555 Park Avenue / Minneapolis Minnnesota zoo”). In retrospect I’m able to see it as maybe a little odd that I would escape into Jane’s reality and spent so much time at her house around her family when she rarely came over to my place. We’d play Gamecube in her basement, then run upstairs to use that swing her dad designed and strung up to a backyard tree. It went 25 feet above the cement, and was just the right dose of reasonably safe but still fun and dangerous, a good rush. We might get slivers on our thighs or ram into a tree branch, but if we mentioned that then her dad would redesign the swing just right and we’d be on it the next morning. That is what it used to be like for us kids growing up near Fulton, Minneapolis—an urbane city neighborhood of mostly-liberal white folk, though it wasn’t a suburb and our public high school, the best in the district, offered a grab bag of different ethnicities who took the school bus from the inner cities; though of course it remained a problem that everyone noticed, but didn’t do much back then to address, that the school was segregated between West building and East. In our neighborhood, which was definitely not “the hood” like South or North Minneapolis but had some poor and crazy people in the mix, we were fine to roam free. My family was struggled more financially than I realized but my mom kept it mostly hidden, I guess, possibly to protect my sister’s and my status or, the family’s. She would emphasize the importance of not dressing schlubby—which later ended up being a mode of self-expression for me, dressing adamantly schlubby, like a ratty brat, perhaps—but on days when my dad was in charge of getting us to school then we’d show up looking more than a bit rough around the edges.
My mom would find it upsetting to see me onstage with my hair unkempt during a school assembly. She’d get mad at my dad about it. I remember him running a comb through my hair — doing the best he could which meant leaving it tangled, but passable — while my sister and I bantered snarkily at breakfast before grade school. Alexis generally got bullied more than I did, but now by our late twenties, we’re about even in terms of how much we’ve each gotten bullied. Beyond a certain age I started doing my own hair, but not for more than a few minutes. Sometimes as an upperclassmen in high school I’d let it dry on the walk to school. I didn’t care if I looked like I wasn’t trying. Either it wasn’t a part of my values, back then, or it wasn’t in my DNA.
Growing up in the general socioeconomic range that we all did at my high school, I always was known among my peers for having style, color-coordinated or a little quirky but not excessively so—though it might more precisely be described as “swagger.” Out East the dress code can seem a bit more refined or just-defined-at-all compared to in the Midwest, which is why I do feel the need to clarify before I move back from back from the mini apple to New York. In middle school I got really into hats at one point, and offbeat tennis shoes or fairly nice leather boots; I literally never wore mini skirts and tank tops or actually fitted sweaters. Few girls wore mini skirts, it just would have made an obvious statement, but the ones who did were on top of our class and I’m not talking about grades nor trying to be disrespectful. At the schools I attended, generally girls weren’t bullied for being fat, that didn’t happen to me until I moved to Manhattan where I imagine the high schools have different rules and ranking schemes. It never happened to my sister.
As kids we may not wonder that much, why we get along, but Jane Thompson and I always did. As adult females each of us might prefer to be sorta tough-guys as opposed to strictly girlie, though I’d probably take that back if I weren’t trying to find peace with what I can’t control now at age 27. Janie recently described herself as “pretty masq,” short for masculine, when comparing herself to other waitresses she worked alongside out East (in 2020, she currently lives in Philadelphia). Jane said other waitresses got better tips than her, but they’re not also welders for sort of famous artists. She mentioned that she once had a roommate in Phillie who refused to see a therapist because being even remotely depressed (let alone a total crank like me in my definitely dark years) was stigmatized.
There’s some idea, just generally in America still or in the communities Jane and I each have been brought up in, that therapy gives a signal or admission of defeat. If your life is hard, people are more likely to say “tough $%” — though I understand this is changing as mental health awareness becomes more widespread. Still, many Americans believe that therapy is for people who have ever been abused by their families as kids, and/or for people who, to use an awfully 2020 word, are damaged. Not for people whose lives are hard, because everyone’s is. That’s what you discuss over drinks with your buddies, not with a therapist.
If I tried to explain being poor to someone on the other end of the gender spectrum — like someone not masq even a bit, also someone unkind who might be the type to bully other women (and I recognize that I’m making some assumptions about what it’s like to be Regina George) — then I’d skip to the extreme of inquiring about whether those humans doing well have ever compared other humans to animals. Maybe some people living safely and well have remarked in their minds once-or-twice about how really poor folk might be less civilized and operate in some Hobbesian state of nature and thus behave less like humans than some other species. Nasty. If they weren’t thinking in such extremes, because I might be way off base by ever assuming that were the case, well, they probably just weren’t even noticing anyone beyond their cordoned-off friends and kin. Again I could be mistaken, or just unable to prove where I might be coming from; I can only speak from experience including the times I myself or members of my family have ever been rejected or directly attacked.
Jane doesn’t seem to struggle with the rule, kill em with kindness. She’s the type of friend who would actually drag me out of my house, on my own birthday, if I pretended I weren’t feeling well enough to make time for friends, or for myself come to realize it. She’s the girl who would reorient me with less shallow values, if I went to her with some stories about ever having felt directly attacked. As though I’m such a victim, I’m not and won’t ever be, ha, ha.
Jane would remind me, “don’t ever become a wicked brat, Morgan, just because you’ve served time around them. If you’re struggling financially (and I know it sucks), first of all don’t confess it to everyone that’s just like not something they need to hear, second of all at least you’re still, your self — the one and only Morgan!! Not a fraud, maybe sometimes a freak but it’s kind of funny.”
Is it though? I think any freakiness has gone far past euphemistic territory, I’d think without telling her out loud. More like psycho.
Jane didn’t tell me to “not become a brat” directly, but the other stuff sort of. She said it via her actions over time; probably without ever thinking about it.
My question is, can I still believe in just-being-myself when the very notion of the self is challenging for me to grasp when people forego reality all the time, in cyberspace, to act like someone they’re not? I’ve done this, definitely, to pretend I’m a female star. But reality has stopped me from keeping up this charade, including a certain abject lack of online hits or followers. More importantly, though, I’ve been stopped in my tracks by the reality of being cared about by people who know the truth about me down to some DNA-bred subtleties.
People who were friends backing high school tend to still be close to one another, though I “Lola” Morgan Wilcock might pose an exception to that general rule. Most of my close friends from high school are no longer in my contacts, though they might come back and say they stopped responding to me out of concern.
One of the ways I’ve always been able to remember Janie’s birthday is that it’s the day before September 11, and, when terrorists hit the World Trade Center we were in the same second grade classroom. At age ten we saw Mean Girls together in theaters with her dad (who felt that by agreeing to take us he’d made a huge mistake), and we didn’t get all the jokes but kind of liked it then went home and played video games, either Mariokart or a Nancy Drew game.
Jane and I were in the same Girl Scout troop, though I was the first girl by fourth or fifth grade to drop out of that. For me as a kid it was never fun to be the one who sold 15 boxes of cookies when Angela sold 837, though I think my lax approach to extracurriculars (maybe because my parents didn’t have their head in it) served as a covert source of preteen status. Our friend Kelly pointed out that I used to hang with some of the “intimidating kids” who never would have come close to being in Girl Scouts, more like the kids en route in the long run to become burnouts. I say the word burnout nonjudgmentally because, I’ve been on track to be a burnout probs but am now committed to having integrity toward myself and others. It’s part of the Hippocratic oath in my premedical training. For Jane at least, I’ll keep giving kindness to all y’all a shot.
Last year I’d hear directly from one of the other moms about that one time at a camping sleepover for our Girl Scout troop—the only one my mom volunteered to attend, actually, because she knew I’d get homesick—where the leaders were gathered around a fire and my mom asked one of them, in front of everyone, what ever happened to Erica’s dad? Erica was the only mixed girl in our Girl Scout crew, unless you count Sofia who came from Austria and spoke fluent German. My mom’s question was shut down with we don’t talk about that, and the story was passed around among parents in the troop. Apparently it left a lasting impression, as it probably should have.
Back in high school not now that I know of: Jane was more or less the same way, in that she hung out with some of the “intimidating kids” at school, like how she was genuinely close friends with that girl who gamed with fifteen guys at the same house party. That girl and I got along too, on the softball team. Before prom she asked if I was “trynna get it in” (with my male prom date), in response to that question I got all awkward. The answer was probably, like, I wish but no. I played some innings for Varsity as an eighth grader and was starting pitcher as a freshman, which was pretty rare to pull off. It meant that I started high school with a leg up among older girls and I got drunk for the first time at age fifteen before girl friends my age, then I wanted to get drunk again, once or twice or ten times with Jane’s older sister Nora Thompson. That was a bit uneasy—when I’d be at the house with Nora and the older girl gang—but it also meant I got close to her whole family which might be why they ended up a resource for me throughout my early twenties, one that’s been potentially lifesaving. In high school it’s true that Jane and I might have drifted apart, especially after she went to Spain for her junior year and got a boyfriend and smoked cigarettes. By late high school after Jane came back from abroad, I was spending almost all my time studying at home alone to test well and hopefully get into a good college.
me and Jane’s older sis ^^
There were a few times, of course, that Jane did come over to my place as a much younger girl. One of them involved (unforgettably, I’m sure Jane recalls) walking in on my mom caught off guard in a room just to the right side of my house’s front door, another time she spent the night and woke up to a phone call that two out of three of Jane’s three family cats were dead — one from old age, another from a tree falling on her back. It reminds me of another time that two cars fell on Jane’s car and she came out unscathed except for trauma. Occasionally in 2020 despite re-conditioning and building upon my math abilities — and in effect, my capacity to discern between answers and what’s just totally not true — I still do believe in dark magic. I can imagine Jane retelling these stories in a way that tries to make light of it. I’d prefer to be able look back and laugh about that sleepover with Jane, to work through the pain of losing two cats especially at such a young age, but it’s not quite objectively funny, more like seriously tragic.
(End of post, intro to ongoing series)