I could've died on the toilet
I wish this was a metaphor
Last Sunday we spent most of the day cleaning the house. Life seems to be back in this interminable loop that feels almost pre-pandemic where we have it mostly together on Monday morning then day by day things slip and slide. The laundry piles up, the dishes pile up, nothing is where it belongs, we’re out of coffee or ice cream, dirty socks are on the couch, a mostly empty glass of milk is on a side table for two days, and although the adults care it’s not enough to care about on, say, a Thursday night. Being an adult, from what I can tell, is doing most things just so “it won’t get worse”.
So. In order to start another week, mid-winter, year 3 of a pandemic, houses must be cleaned, laundry must be done, coffee must be restocked, sanity must be sought out by whatever means necessary. For me it’s been rediscovering baths. Bath-baths, shower-baths, long baths, short baths, baths with candles, baths with very loud music. I feel like I’ve taken one thousand baths since March 2020. I will say, they help.
Anyway, I had just gotten out of the bath Sunday afternoon, post-cleaning the house, post-getting it together-ish, and was sifting through a small container of skincare samples, determined to thin the herd. I wonder when I will stop trying to read tiny type on tiny packaging without my glasses but Sunday was not that day. As I took one step out of the bathroom to finally get my glasses there was an enormous crack right behind me.
And then there was an enormous crash right behind me.
I whipped around, stunned, and felt like I couldn’t process what had just happened. After a second of shocked silence, I could hear Jon running toward the stairs. We seem to experience many of these !!!WHAT WAS THAT!!! potentially really bad sounds every year, especially in winter. Usually it’s a pile of snow or ice melting and slide-crashing from one roof to the other below. It alway sounds like someone’s tossed a body out of a plane, aiming specifically for our skylight. Just so everyone would know I was alive and also because I wanted to scream, I yelled IT’S THE CABINET IT’S THE CABINET IT JUST FELL OFF THE FUCKING WALL. This cabinet was huge and fairly heavy, weighing almost 40 pounds. It’s rectangular which means it was full of angles and it was also full of glass shelves and mirrored doors. It was a big beautiful monster, with so much storage it felt like having my own fancy face creams shop, and I loved it.
But now there I was, in my bathrobe, staring in disbelief at the giant cabinet now seeming wildly out of scale for the space as it rested across the toilet, floor, and bathtub. On its way down it had done an impressive amount of damage, ripping three holes in the wall, cracking off a corner of the toilet tank lid, breaking the toilet seat, and the toilet paper holder.
Mostly I was just … pissed. Don’t cry for me Argentina or anything but I’ve never had a nice bathroom, not once in my whole entire life, not once across the probably thirty different places I’ve lived. And after six months of my bathroom being out of commission, “we” (i.e. not me) had just finished renovating and updating it. A linoleum floor ripped up and replaced with white tile in a herringbone pattern; new gray thundercloud and rain-patterned wallpaper; freshly painted trim and door and ceiling; a bright new white vanity and sink; a new modern light fixture with two frosted white globes that better never burn out because there’s no way to replace them; and this goddamn fucking cabinet. I loved my bathroom, I loved it so much, and this happiness hadn’t even lasted a month. So yes I was mad but also I was numb. What did I expect? More than a month of experiencing adult-ish feelings and domestic-focused joy? Wow.
It took me a full day to stop metaphorically boo-hoo-ing about interior design problems and register how much worse it could’ve been in the flesh, so to speak. I had only been able to absorb what had actually unfolded and only the specific and limited ways that that chain of events could’ve been slightly worse. I could’ve still been in the bath. The glass shelves or mirrored doors could’ve shattered. But not until the next day had I truly grasped a much worse potential scenario. I froze. Oh my god, I thought, what if I had been on the toilet.
Look, there is no way to not laugh at “what if I had been on the toilet”. Every time I say it I laugh! Not great!
Regardless, I let it sink in, imagining how it would’ve played out. Without warning — it happened so fast — forty pounds of cabinet filled with glass cosmetic containers and useless hope would’ve hit me mid- to upper-back, the back of my neck, and/or the back of my head. I need my head! I cannot do any of my jobs without my head in full operational order! I texted Jon at work: “how am I only now realizing how bad that could’ve been?” and he texted back: “that’s why I said I was happy you were ok.” Duh, derp, doy. [Carrie voice]: I couldn’t help but wonder, is my imagination broken?
I worry that my brain is losing its flexibility to process real life events in real time, that it so thoroughly lives in a digital and virtual realm between working this way and writing this way plus not seeing anyone, again, for the second winter in a row, that it’s out of practice for calculating non-Covid risks and outcomes. I remember when we thought we were emerging from the pandemic back in May, I went to a town-wide yard sale and stood in front of the bake sale table, not remembering how bake sales worked. So I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that it took me a full 24 hours to register that I could’ve died (or been seriously injured) on the toilet. No one wants to die on the toilet. Elvis died on the toilet 40 years ago and we still can’t stop talking about it. This also taps into one of my greatest fears which is:
Hand to God I die in a funny and/or dumb way please know that it won’t be “what I would’ve wanted” and in all post-death reality I will spend absolutely every ghostly second of eternity being so super pissed.
I think maybe all of this is a terrible intersection of the pandemic and the cumulative effect of practicing emotional control over my work. Even before Covid I had started to grasp that being a professional creative then adding writer-writer on top of that had somewhat damaged my emotional range. Not at first, not immediately, but over time I found that I had to exist in a limited middle space in order to put my work into the world, in order for me to be able to handle it being commented on, shared, rejected, shit on, loved.
Now if you were to watch me receive a rejection vs. an acceptance, you’d most likely not be able to tell the difference. I just take in the information and move on, almost as if nothing has landed at all. The downside is I don’t feel the victories, the good news, nearly as much as I should. But I also don’t internalize the rejections either, they rarely set me back or send me to bed. This sounds fine (maybe?) but it means that even pre-pandemic I was used to living in this protective dull gray middle. Missing the highs, avoiding the lows.
Now I worry that my brain is permanently wired this way, only worse. That maybe I’m no longer capable of processing real life information in a timely manner and extrapolating it out from there. I know several people who’ve injured themselves at home and two who have died. This is normal dumb human stuff, the stuff of being alive, they were falls mostly. And we all hear about these sort of non-spectacular but real tragedies yet somehow never quite believe them. Especially after more than two years where we’ve come to trust that our homes (if we are lucky enough to have them) are the only safe places to be anymore (if we are lucky enough to share them with people we feel safe with). It all ends up feeling equal parts ridiculous and cruel.
Not to get all BIG PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHTS about ALMOST DYING ON THE TOILET but it’s quite something to have yet another haven ruined, even if temporarily. I don’t like being in my bathroom now and for those fleeting four weeks I had absolutely loved it. I felt like a grownup, finally. I am not young so it feels like it had taken me so long to get there. Sometimes I feel like I’ll never be a grownup with a grownup life and all of that, fittingly, makes me want to throw a tantrum on the floor. I tried to have a grownup experience and next thing you know, toilet-adjacent trauma. Great.
There are still three holes in the wall where the cabinet was. Jon offered to make a cabinet to replace it, this is one of many handy things about living with a professional custom cabinet maker. And my immediate reaction that day was yes, yes of course. As fast as you can. Put it back together, put life back together, even this one small part of it, and mount it to the wall with everything you’ve got. Then a day later I asked him to wait, let me think about it some more. It was like the day after the Northridge earthquake when a good friend told me he had leapt out of bed as soon as it hit and not a minute later a pair of skis that he had mounted over his bed fell and sliced down across the pillow where his head had just been. That was 28 years ago and I never hung anything over my bed again.
It’s funny, these little traumas. Seems dramatic to even refer to them as traumas, especially when potentially dying or being injured with your literal pants around your literal ankles is involved. But I wonder if life is just going to keep being like this. Or maybe it was always like this and I just didn’t notice. Sort of dangerous and sort of dumb at the same time. The dull gray middle stretching out forever. And only funny to other people.
THINGS FROM ELSEWHERE
• When I started this newsletter I promised regular Radiohead content and in that respect I have failed. NO LONGER. I caught a rebroadcast of this show last weekend and I tell you I felt emotional listening to this, especially all the soundscapes that snapped me back in time. “History Is Over” from Throughline: “As the end of the 20th century approached, Radiohead took to the recording studio to capture the sound of a society that felt like it was fraying at the edges. Many people had high hopes for the new millennium, but for others a low hum of anxiety lurked just beneath the surface as the world changed rapidly and fears of a Y2K meltdown loomed. Amidst all the unease, the famed British band began recording their highly anticipated follow ups to their career-changing album OK Computer. In this episode, we travel back to the turn of the millennium with Thom Yorke and Stanley Donwood and the music of Kid A and Amnesiac.”
• I think people got overly unhinged over the photos but this piece was excellent and had so much to say about shame, communication, and growing and adapting for the rest of your life vs. giving up: “The Joys (and Challenges) of Sex After 70” in The New York Times.
• I received more reactions to my newsletter about losing my fucking mind after publishing my second book than I did about my actual book. It’s turned me into a big fan of other people who seem to have glossy-on-the-outside jobs then blow the doors off of those perceptions publicly. I love Orlando Soria but didn’t see this update until another friend forwarded it to me. It’s long as hell but I promise you it’s worth it: “A Covid Comedy of Errors”.
• I loved the first episode of Somebody Somewhere (trailer) and am so excited to keep watching. I didn’t grow up in Kansas but this show gave me my own hometown flashbacks, big time: “The cabaret singer and Kansas native Bridget Everett is subtle and stunning in an HBO comedy about finding your voice in midlife.”
• Wherein I cross-post from someone else’s newsletter but not just anyone’s newsletter. From Kim France’s (founding EIC of Lucky and Sassy magazine OG) Girls of a Certain Age: “Legendary Vogue editor André Leon Talley died this week, which made me sad. I used to love seeing him in the Condé Nast cafeteria and at fashion shows back in the day—he lived for that world, and was an important moving piece in it, and was for sure the last of a breed. I also liked this deleted scene with him from the great doc The September Issue, and maybe you will too. Also, I highly recommend his memoir, The Chiffon Trenches, for his fearless evisceration of Anna W. alone.”
• Not me losing my goddamn mind watching this video!!! Just gonna keep the tab open when I need to vibe. THE HAIR. THE COAT. THE SUNGLASSES. THE SET DESIGN. THE EVERYTHING. HOW. Might even wait for everyone to leave tomorrow morning for school/work and BELT THIS ONE OUT IN THE BATH.
BUT YOU SEEMED SO HAPPY is out now. You can find my copywriting and creative direction work here. You can find my writing-writing work here. You can find me on Twitter. You can find me on Instagram. Please do not find me in real life, a place that involves far too many toilets and cabinets for my taste.