Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

I am petty. There are big things happening in the world right now, but two days ago I got so angry at something that seems so small. You see, I was trying to look up something that I’d written for a past job and I saw that my former boss had simply republished my work under his name. Again.

YOU didn’t write that, motherfucker. I did.

I shot off a quick email:

“Dude. You didn’t write this. Stop stealing my writing. It’s not right. This is how I make a living.” But then just after I pressed “Send,” I hit the undo button.

Is it strange that the worse things get, the more petty I feel? Like, the coronavirus might not be something we can control, but what about just not being an asshole? What about that?

I wonder if I am actually being petty right now, or if I’m using that word to downplay my own worth, my own value. Because truthfully, the plagiarism is just part of a pattern of emotional abuse and manipulation that I experienced with this boss, a pattern that still affects me today.

I don’t want to admit to how much it affected me. After all, one of the synonyms for “petty” is “trivial.” And this was not trivial. It was traumatic.

Speaking of petty, I once wrote a profile for my job about two friends who had started their own design-build firm together. They sent over a picture of the two of them posed like Instagram models or teen heartthrobs from the 90s because this is LA.

I posted the profile via WordPress. My boss loved it. Later, when I went to pull it up, I saw that he had made a single change: He had subbed out the color version of the photo for the black and white version.

I felt a wave of anger and disgust. It was such small change. But it felt like a violation.

It’s hard to talk about disgust, but it’s even harder to feel. It’s the smell of rancid meat, the taste of curdled milk,  It makes me want to get as far away from the source as possible.

And I think this is the function of disgust: To signal that something is unsafe, unhealthy, toxic. Disgust communicates something beyond words, thought and rationality. If I discover a rotten bag of potatoes swarming with tiny flying insects and liquefied to mush hidden in a corner by my roommate who has forgotten she put it there, I do not need to know the scientific process of decay.

But at the time, I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. I even tried to convince myself at one point that it was a mistake, that he hadn’t changed it, that somehow the photos had gotten mixed-up in WordPress.

Nope. He just thought the black and white photo looked better. It was petty. A small gesture of control, at having his fingerprints on my work, a small harbinger of things to come, of his name, his face on my writing.

But I loved my job. I told a friend, “I just need a sandbox. The size of the sandbox doesn’t matter. I just want the freedom to play.”

This was all well and good, but I had a boss who—not all the time, but enough to count—would knock my sand castles over, just so he could feel better. Until finally, even that wasn’t enough and he knocked me over instead. My talent and competence both awed and threatened him, and the only way that he could feel okay was to chip away at my work, and to chip away at me in the process.

Have you ever been both punished and praised for being good at your job? It’s confusing as fuck.

Trauma is so petty. It will make you account for every last thing, it will hold your feet to the fire of memory until you finally scream out in pain. Trauma is petty because you are not. And what happens to you matters and is in no way trivial or insignificant.

All this happened at a tiny lighting company that no one has ever heard of. This was work that I was too good for, and I knew it.

Just because something is small doesn’t make it safe. The stakes were incredibly low. I was way, way too good for my job (and I don’t say that just to brag). When the business or organization or project is small, sometimes the person running the show is even smaller. I don’t mean in stature—though I suppose that could be the case too—I mean on the inside. They are very, very, very, very, very small on the inside (and I don’t say that just to be mean). They don’t have the emotional capacity to treat you like a human being.

They are so small that your primary job becomes protecting their fragile ego. All this just to say: petty tyrants are everywhere (*cough* Writers Blok *cough*). Playing it small in your professional or personal life won’t keep you safe.

So why not shoot for the biggest sandbox possible. Or why not build your own fucking sandbox. It’s okay to need emotional safety in order to create. It’s okay to not want to be erased. That doesn’t make you petty. That makes you so human, so worthy, so huge that not even the worst kind of emotional abuse can keep you from bursting at the seams of life.


I recently wrote a comedy pilot about my church trauma (c’mon—you don’t have one too?). I wasn’t planning on writing this pilot. It just sort of happened to me, kinda like trauma itself (jokes!). Writing can be such a funny thing—not in the “haha” sense, more in the “what the fuck am I doing?” sense.

I felt pretty lost. I didn’t really know where the edges were, the boundaries. But like with most forms of creativity, you just have to let all that go at some point and do the thing.

There was this one scene I was feeling especially insecure about. I wanted it to work—I really did. I just wasn’t sure if I could pull it off. It was like the double-double dismount of my script, and I’m no Simone Biles. Not even close.

Writing this script brought up a lot for me, primarily guilt and also grief. It made me remember the person that I used to be, the person I was before the traumatic thing happened. Writing this, I felt like I had lost my faith—and that in losing my faith, I’d lost something beautiful. Maybe that self who had faith was naive or immature, but that version of me also seems, in retrospect, oddly endearing.

In Christianity we talk a lot about before and after—we emphasize the never-the-same-ness of life after salvation. I wonder if trauma works in reverse, a reverse-salvation of sorts, where you are never-the-same after.

I don’t know if it’s our culture’s emphasis on bright-siding that makes it seem taboo to admit that I’ve lost something, particularly something of value that I can never really get back. There are moments when I feel powerful and free and whatever post-traumatic growth is supposed to feel like. And there are other times where I still grieve what I once had, the person that I once was. Turns out, you can both/and that shit.

We did a table-read of my script in class and one of my classmates praised the one scene that I had struggled with the most, that I wasn’t sure if I could pull off, but that I fucking did pull off (HA! HA!!!!!!!!! Sorry, just had to go hubristic for a second).

And I think it’s a different kind of faith at work in me—faith that I can connect with other people in this space, that they might find resonance and truth and connection in something that I’ve written. Faith that I am not alone.

I wonder if it’s not unlike the same faith that I had before—the kind of faith that I never really lost in the first place.

Present, Part 2

I went to a workshop the other weekend on getting an agent. I wasn’t interested in getting an agent, so I didn’t think that it would apply to me. I was there for the networking? [I was so tired and out of it I couldn’t talk normally to another human being, go figure.]

Anyway, plot twist, it did apply to me.

There, in a too air-conditioned library conference room with high ceilings and fluorescent lighting, I listened in rapt attention.

I don’t know how to describe it, exactly—but by breaking down in the most granular, specific way the costs and profits of being a writer, the presenter made one thing clear:

Your writing has value. My writing has value. Ironically, breaking it down into nickels, dimes and two dollar bills didn’t cheapen my writing, didn’t make it less valuable—quite the opposite.

“What do you write?”

When people ask me about my writing, I always shrug and reply, “You know, I blog and stuff.”

And stuff.

You know me—I dabble. I dip one toe gingerly into a sea of words, close my laptop and then amble leisurely to my hot yoga class, green juice in hand.

Um, have you ever had someone call you out on your bullshit? I wouldn’t recommend it, but it happened to me recently. I felt like I was completely vulnerable and exposed and on the edge of tears, but there was no reason for me to pretend that I don’t care.

Trauma is tricky, tricky.


By avoiding the commercial and professional side of writing—you know, the part where you actually get paid—I conveniently avoided assigning value to my work. I write. So what?

I’ve been living in this contradiction of pretending that my writing means nothing while giving it absolutely everything. I’ve held nothing back. There’s nothing I haven’t given, nothing I wouldn’t sacrifice.

At this point, this feels less like some inherent nobility of spirit and more like the lingering effects of childhood trauma: This idea that if I sacrifice myself, then I will be worthy. It’s almost like trying to prove that you deserve to exist by pretending not to exist at all.

It’s hard for me to articulate just how deep this goes for me, but that’s what writing is, right, trying to make explicit the very thing that resists explication.

I gotta be honest—you can run from your trauma all you want, but it will fucking come for you eventually. It will pound down your door at 2am in the morning and refuse to leave until you face it.

I guess I’m just trying to buy more time.

Stress, Story & Writing Trauma

I woke up again today feeling a nameless stress. I’ve been stressed out recently, for no reason that I can really put my finger on.

Are there reasons to be stressed out? Sure. There are always reasons. But this feels different, like the stress is just floating around like an angry cloud of possums, waiting to attach itself to something and sink in sharp teeth.

I want to do everything, but I’m too wired to do anything at all. I want to do all the things, see all the people, read all the books, write all the screenplays, apply for all the jobs, take all the classes, make all the money, learn all the programming. My mind is screaming at me to do something, ANYTHING. But what?

What do you want from me?

Yesterday, I read Alexander Chee’s essay The Autobiography of My Novel from his book of essays How to Write an Autobiographical Novel. On the surface, the essay is a blow-by-blow account of how Chee wrote his first novel. But beneath that, it reads as almost a how-to guide about how to write about the most traumatic thing that’s ever happened to you.

Somewhere at the back of my mind, I know that this is the time of year when THE TRAUMA® happened. Part of what made it so traumatic was that I felt trapped, like I couldn’t escape.

[Cue your biannual reminder that it’s ALWAYS OKAY to leave a bad situation, full stop. If you need to GTFO, GTFO.]

I feel some of that same energy now, like I need to start running and never, ever stop. My body feels poised on the edge of something terrible, feet pressed into the starting blocks, waiting for the gun to go off.

In Emily and Amelia Nagoski’s latest book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, they talk about dealing with stress by completing the cycle. They differentiate between the stressor (cause) and the stress (effect). Even if you deal with the cause—being viciously attacked by a rabid Koala, you still have to deal with the effect—the stress hormones still coursing through your body after the koala is neutralized. Maybe you run a mile. Maybe you hug a friend. Maybe you run a mile while hugging a friend (could happen).  Otherwise, even if the koala is no longer a threat, your body will still be freaking out on the inside.

One way to think about trauma is as stress that got stuck in the body because at the time, you couldn’t escape. You were trapped in a locked freezer with the koala and there was nowhere to run.

What I found fascinating about Chee’s essay is that he describes the process of completing the cycle of trauma by writing a novel, i.e., through narrative.

He describes this as moving from paralysis (the freeze response) to plot:

“All my stories lacked action or ended in inaction because that was what my imagination had always done to protect me from my own life, the child’s mistaken belief that if he stays still and silent, he cannot be seen.”

And so Chee searches for a plot he loves in stories that he already knows. He draws on Aristotle’s poetics and the conceptions of pity and fear, action and catharsis. Through story, he completes the cycle.

The brutal truth is that a straight retelling of trauma rarely makes for good story—perhaps because the cycle is never completed and catharsis is impossible—trauma is a kind of never-ending loop, your worst fears on repeat, not a linear story with beginning, middle and end.

But what if you could complete the cycle through the driving force of plot, one event after another, one event causing the next, all leading to catharsis and release? [This is why J Lo always kills her abusive husband at the end of the movie.]

I am not writing a novel right now, autobiographical or otherwise, but reading Chee’s account of his process, I wept in recognition (also, I was really tired, because stress and not sleeping). I feel like I’ve been trying to write the things that I least want to write about. I’m struggling like hell to write something that doesn’t make any sense, even to me.

I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. I don’t know what shape or form this writing will take, let alone what genre I’ll end up writing in.

Chee in no way implies that writing his autobiographical novel resolved his own trauma, only that he had no choice but to write it, to write “across gaps, things that I wouldn’t let myself remember.” I feel the same way, compelled by something I don’t understand to do something I’m not even sure I want to do.

But if I’m going to run like hell from a nameless, faceless terror, I might as well make it story.


I’m trying to make a shift in my life. How is it going? Not so great. Half the time it’s like—what am I even doing? Why am I here? How did this baby capybara end up in my house and where did I put my will to do anything resembling “meeting adult responsibilities”?

Change is hard, baby, but paying rent is even harder. Nevertheless, she bought a scooter (this is true, unfortunately).

I’ve been writing a bit about writing and how fucking terrifying it can be to write, or more accurately, to put yourself out there in writing.

I think almost every single job I’ve had over the past 8 years, I’ve had this fear of “I hope they don’t find my blog.” I’ve worked very, very, very hard to hide. And that makes a ton of sense, given what I tend to write about.

But I guess the truth is that when you hide from the people who turn out to be unsafe, you give up something in the process.

Because the truth is, all the things that I’ve done to stay safe haven’t actually kept me safe at all. That shit DOESN’T WORK—not the hyper-vigilance, not the avoidance, not the crawling under a rock, not the being perfect so I can be loved, not the loading the dishwasher perfectly so I won’t be criticized, rejected or abandoned—

It would be easy to say that I’m tired of hiding, but I’m not. I don’t know if I ever will be. There is a part of me that will always feel safer in the darkness, in the dim light of the closet, pulling blankets over me and around me, trying to drown out the sound of something terrible happening outside.

The people who are unsafe—those people would’ve hurt me with or without my writing—I didn’t bring it on myself by being vulnerable and honest about who I am. I didn’t make them abusive or shitty. That was all on them.

I think one of the greatest lies of trauma is that you caused it or you could’ve controlled it—that you were able to change the outcome. So maybe next time, if I just do things differently—

But none of that is true. There is no safety. There never was and there never will be.

Hyper-vigilance is a fucking lie.

And so I’m trying to make a shift.