Monica Bielanko
That's What She Said
Just A Junk Drawer Dream
You can also find Monica's writing here:

The Trenches

Last year was all adrenaline. No time to breathe. Pregnancy, separation, have a baby, leave freelance writing from home for a full-time job at a real place for the first time in five years, move twice, start a kid in kindergarten, lose Max. Divorce.

Adrenaline like a coked up motherfucker. This year is adrenaline too but in a subtler way. I'm constantly aware of its quiet hum but the ferocious roar of THIS IS MY LIFE NOW is deafening. Divorced, nearly forty, a full-time job, three small kids and an ex 25 minutes down the road with whom I constantly negotiate the business of co-parenting while maybe trying to date other people, both of us knowing we're seeing people - talking about it together a little bit, even - and trying to be cool about it for the sake of co-parenting.

Co-parenting, when your kids are so young, basically dominates the entirety of your existence. In some ways, I am more beholden to Serge and his schedule and his life than when we were married because we're coordinating our children from two different locations. It's pretty much like running a company with him. Running a company with your ex. Except it isn't business, it's personal. Ha. How are we going to do this and that and the other thing and who's the sexy blonde leaving all the comments on your Instagram and who's picking up/who's dropping off and when and registration and oh you had a woman over for dinner that's nice and soccer practice and school concerts and yes, I'm kind of seeing someone and parent-teacher conferences.

All the complexity involved in the constant keeping alive of small humans who, if left alone, challenge death at every hazardous turn: Take the ping-pong ball out of your mouth, don't jump from there, sit down in the tub you're going to give yourself a concussion, STOP running ahead of me that car almost hit you, sit down in the cart, don't stick things in the outlet, get out of the road, don't touch that it's hot, don't hold your brother's head under the water, he can't breathe.

And simply keeping them alive isn't even good enough! YOU SAVED SOMEONE'S LIFE SEVENTEEN TIMES TODAY AND IT'S NOT GOOD ENOUGH! You have to do other shit like brush their teeth and put clothes on them and wipe shit off them and force them into bed every night then beg them to get up the next morning. I knew this before kids, of course, but much like I imagine experiencing war from the frontlines, one can't fully realize the intensity and trauma involved until you're living it. You can read all the books, watch all the movies and hear all the stories about something but until it's your reality, you can't really know. You can watch Saving Private Ryan 800 times but until it's you in the landing craft storming French beaches you just don't know.

And it's not only keeping them alive and relatively clean but you kind of need to enrich the lives you are saving on a regular basis with quality time and reading and do you know your alphabet and smiles and can you tie your shoe and I love you so much it's terrifying and here's your chocolate milk and reassurance and unconditional everything and get in the car I'm late for work and I'm sorry I made the wrong dinner and inspiration and right from wrong and oh you wanted lemonade not chocolate milk I'm eternally sorry and here's your glass of water and no I won't buy that for you today and just one more story and holy shit.

Also, that's not enough. You must constantly deal with the ever-present, suffocating guilt that you aren't doing all of the above all the time and if you are you're probably doing most of it wrong. They say so. I don't know who THEY are but they told me you're doing it wrong and they probably know because they have 75,000 followers on Instagram. By the way, do you know how easy you have it? So easy. So many people are worse off than you. You should feel guilty for feeling overwhelmed because there's this thing called privilege and you have it and so you should feel guilty for not constantly acknowledging your privilege. They told me so. Your overwhelmed-ness is an offense to those who have it worse.

Oh. And savor all of the moments. All of them. Because it goes by so fast and in a blink it's gone and look Mom look Mom! Watch me! Watch me. Savor it all and if you aren't savoring feel guilty as hell because you love your kids more than anything, sometimes you just gawp at them and the magnificence of their being is so overwhelming you start to cry because you can't fathom that they are yours and you are theirs forever and of course you would die for them in three seconds but also can you just get a moment to yourself because you are tired as fuck. But your beautiful 4-year old boy is asking you to play Superheros and how hard is that? You selfish bitch, get off your ass and make the smashing crashing noises he likes. He's not going to be this magical age forever and in ten years you'll give anything for him to ask you to play. Who has time for savoring when barely surviving?

Dog paddling in the ocean. That's what it always feels like. Paddling like a sonuvabitch to stay above water. Tired as fuck. Too many thoughts. Too much alcohol muting thoughts that become louder anyway. Constantly wondering what constitutes too much alcohol. Wondering if wondering about what constitutes too much alcohol is my answer.

I do this thing a lot where I think about myself in my late-forties and I'll look back at me now at 38 - just like me now looks back at me in my twenties - with a kindness and compassion I can't ever seem to muster for myself in the present moment and be like; aw, I remember going through that. Fuuuck. You feel fucking awful, right now, don't you? I know. But we got through! I wish I could come back and tell you this thing and that thing and don't waste so much time worrying about that other thing because I know EXACTLY how you're feeling but, girl, you're gonna be fine. This is the trenches. We were in the trenches, but it's better now and look at all that you learned!

Or fuck. Maybe life will be so much shittier then that I'll look fondly back on this time as 'the good years.' But even if these years that feel so intense end up being 'the good years' I always think about that Louie CK bit about what you get with a basic life and it keeps it all in perspective.

We get to be on Earth. I mean, look at this place! We get to eat. Every time I eat a burrito I think about that. Like, shit, I am in debt or my job sucks or that relationship was lame but how bad is it all really when I'm EATING THIS FUCKING BURRITO and am going to sleep shortly thereafter in a warm bed after I look at porn and masturbate. I can masturbate! That alone is pretty miraculous, no? I can make myself cum. I know how! And I'm not embarrassed to tell you about it even though maybe you're embarrassed to read about it. Unclench your butthole and get over it, Uncle Byron. I also get to read heart-wrenchingly beautiful books and listen to unbelievable music. Sex. Sex with other people is also part of the basic life package. We get to fuck.

I'm getting older and wiser and in case anyone is wondering, fucking is way better when you're older. I want to do an 'It Gets Better' video for girls in their twenties enduring shitty sex for various reasons but mostly because they just don't know any better. If you're lucky enough for all your physical and mental shit to align in just the right way, you can really have a good time in your thirties and beyond. In stark contrast to the overwrought sexual/relationship/body drama of your twenties, you've maybe learned a ton about sex and relationships and are fucking the right people for the right reasons while giving less of a flying fuck about bullshit body issues and if you're really lucky you never lose that OH MY GOD, I'M FUCKING ANOTHER PERSON feeling from your teens and twenties. It can all come together in a really excellent way, is what I'm saying.

So there's that. Talking to you about fucking. But whatever. We're all grown-ups here. Quit being such a prude. I'm just trying to tell you that when I get down I like to remember how lucky I feel to be participating in the basic life package deal which is pretty much the greatest stuff ever: Earth and food and music and books and fucking. And dogs. Dogs save lives. Get one.


On Dating After Divorce

"You may feel ready to date, but you’re not. That’s loneliness. Or pheromones. Everyone loves love and when there is a lack of love in your life or even just nobody there to hear about that a-hole in accounting who is ruining your work life, you start feeling desperate and find yourself tangled up with the first person that expresses interest in your sad ass. Kind of like grocery shopping when you’re hungry. Slow your roll, my friend. Put the jumbo-size box of Rice Krispies Treats back on the shelf and walk away. It’s going to be okay."

Click here to read the whole post...

She Said: Mom Dress Code


Recording the Tremors of a Mind on the Outs With Itself

Staccato coughing. The two words play together on repeat in my head while I'm staring blankly at six huge TV monitors mounted on the wall above my head. Breaking news another shooting a political talking head a weather forecaster a commercial another talking head. One, big media vomit of news/opinion/information/advertisement, it's all the same thing anymore.

I like the sound of the words staccato coughing smooshed up against each other like tired lovers on a late night subway home. Staccatocoughing. The actual sound of staccato coughing isn't nearly as pleasing. Someone is sick, poor thing. Sounds like she's on an upswing, though. A dry cough, I think they call it. Much less auditorily offensive than the sad sack who spent the bulk of last week murdering the genteel hum that is the norm on the operations floor of the building in which I work. Spackling his cubicle with bits of lung, sounded like, everyone within range cringing shoulders-to-ears each time he commenced to whooping it up, which was considerably often. Phlegm rattling/choking/gagging - the whole goddamn nine.

I stare at the TVs without seeing them, listen to the restrained throat clearing of today's politer cougher and wonder again if I've temporarily misplaced my self-respect or if it's just that I've finally been stripped of the delusion that I like myself. Didion said as much in an essay she wrote once about self-respect:

"Once, in a dry season, I wrote in large letters across two pages of a notebook that innocence ends when one is stripped of the delusion that one likes oneself. Although now, some years later, I marvel that a mind on the outs with itself should have nonetheless made painstaking record of its every tremor. I recall with embarrassing clarity the flavor of those particular ashes. It was a matter of misplaced self-respect."

Here I am, recording the tremors of a mind on the outs with itself. Although I disagree with Didion on one point; I don't think innocence is lost when you realize you no longer like yourself, I think it's discovering your parents might not like you. Parental apathy, more common than outright parental dislike, is pretty awful too. There's this man I know who pretends to be apathetic about his father's apathy. It's heartbreaking. Fuck that dad. He missed out on a beautiful human being. But yeah. Parental dislike or disinterest is the end of innocence, Didion, not run-of-the-mill self-dislike.

A record of tremors of a mind on the outs with itself. That's this entire website. I am filled with jealousy and mean and sad and guilt and selfish and self-pity and scared and confusion and horrible thoughts about people while experiencing uncomfortable pings of glad when negative things happen to those for whom I harbor ill will. I am an ill will harborer. A safe haven for ill will. No wonder my mind is in revolt.

New Ways To Fall Apart

Life is a series of rushes. A rush from home to daycare. From daycare to work. Work back to daycare. Daycare to home. Home to Serge's house to drop off/pick up kids. Serge's house back to mine. Holy shit, we're out of milk for the third time this week. Get in the car, kids.

I feel like I'm always late. I hate being late. Late is a moth flapping in my chest, a hand squeezing my esophagus, a roiling in my stomach, an eventual headache at the end of the day but just keep going, you. You've got dinner to make a house to clean a lawn to mow bills to pay shit to write work to do and recorded TV shows waiting in your DVR that you attempt to watch in some token effort to feel like a part of society before exhaustion wrestles you into bed.

I am overwhelmingly aware that these are the days with my children that I should be relishing. Especially now that divorce has halved my precious time with them. My sweet Charlie learning to walk and talk and play with his big brother and sister. The amazing Henry waxing poetic about love and life and the best superhero powers while casually winking "Hey, beautiful!" to me in a way that makes my heart pound harder than if he were Jake Gyllenhaal himself. Violet, telling stories and asking to snuggle and still calling me "Mama." Instead I am in survival mode. Their precious childhood moments ominously ticking away during a post-divorce haze I'm desperately trying to find my way through. WHEN THE FUCK WILL I FEEL BETTER? It feels like a slow-motion divorce while my kids are growing in fast-forward.

You know that scene in Boyhood? The scene that won Patricia Arquette the Oscar? It's how I feel all the time.

I started this blog more than ten years ago. It was the dawn of my marriage. Living in Brooklyn. Working as a producer at ABC, flush with ambition and hope. A decade later I'm facing another beginning. Not so young, not so fresh-faced, hope crushed by reality, not really even that ambitious anymore. I'm more interested in conquering myself now, not the world.

The writing isn't coming so easy as of late. I suppose I can guess why. I'm not interested in writing about my failed relationship, that horse done been beat to death. Not interested in chronicling new relationships as there are far too many feelings to consider. I've also experienced how detailing a relationship affects my own mentality. It tricks you. You can make yourself believe untruths. You begin performing and believing your own performance instead of focusing on what is actually taking place in the relationship. You blur where real you ends and Internet you begins. You become a character and you begin to believe your own bullshit. It happened to me and I am still watching it happen to others. You believe your Instagram photos. You believe Internet you.

I don't believe any blogs I read any more. None of them. I see the same symptoms in everyone who blogs. Is what you're writing reality or is it a performance? Do you even know anymore? Oh, I believe you're writing something based on an experience or emotion you've just had but once you mine those experiences for others you start to edit them, often reframing them and then you're reshaping your own memory and perception and then, well, you can convince yourself of just about anything, can't you? You can change your entire memory of an event just by writing about it in a certain way.

Blogging blurs reality and every single blogger you've read and loved knows this. And it's fine. It's a performance in the same way a book is a performance or the telling of a story becomes exaggerated and therefore a performance of sorts. It is what it is. But the act of becoming a persona based on a version of myself I inadvertently created seems unsavory to me now. Is there a way to write honestly? I don't know. I'm still figuring it out.
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