Movie reviews. Almost.

I am on a sad-movie-watching binge. It started a few weeks ago. Wait. No. It probably started when I was in third grade and there was no grownup home until 8pm, so after school I went to the movie theater every day for a week to watch Wilbur lose Charlotte and learn to fend for himself.

I think people who have sadness in their life use movies to work out their sadness by seeing it in other people. You know that truism about how we see other people so much more clearly than we see ourselves? It’s true for seeing other people’s disorders as well. Wilbur doesn’t work for me anymore, but trichotillomania does.

Because while I was sitting for school pictures with no eyebrows, thinking I was the most insane person in the world, four percent of all people were also pulling out their hair. And while I was playing beach volleyball with shorts on because I couldn’t stop plucking pubic hair, doctors were adding trichotillomania to the DSM as a form of OCD.

I wish I hadn’t spent so much time hating myself for plucking. I was doing fine, I just needed help with anxiety and OCD. Well, and with carpal tunnel, which is a common result of pulling hairs so obsessively for so long. So you can be sure that when I saw a reference to the movie Trichster, I was captivated. Trichster? I haven’t heard that term before. Now pulling hair is for cool kids? They get a nickname?

So, I watched the movie. It’s a great way to understand what makes people pull their own hair out. I got sad all over again about how lonely it feels to hate yourself.

Last week I watched a documentary about logging. Loggers wear earplugs so the chainsaw doesn’t make them deaf, but then they can’t hear when a tree is about to fall. So they die. One hundred loggers die each year. Should they choose deafness instead?

I also watched a documentary about the Fyre festival. It turns out the whole Frye debacle is the result of Billy McFarland’s incredible hubris, but also his incredible social media skills. Generational schadenfreude makes me giddy when the narrator focuses on the millennial need to be part of everything important—or simply imply involvement with a photo.

One interviewer says McFarland was always surrounded by people, but it was like there were no people because no one ever gave him useful feedback. Relying on input from other people could have saved McFarland. In another interview an influencer says it’s his job to promote his brand. When asked what his brand is, the guy says, “My brand is about happiness and wellbeing.”

Happiness and wellbeing? I hate him: so much BS.

Then I have an epiphany: my brand is about negativity and mental health! That’s where I should put my energy.

Immediately I tell my epiphany to Amelia. Because I have new ideas all the time—like they are trees and I’m a logger and I need a friend around or I’ll get hit.

She says, “What? That is not your brand. Your brand is authenticity and being true to yourself.”

I say, “Oh.” And then, “Thank you.” Because see? She saved me.

17 replies
  1. jennifer warner
    jennifer warner says:

    Amelia is right. I’m always happy to see a new post. You are truly one of a kind. Very authentic. Thank you for being you.

    Reply
  2. Jean-Christophe Chouinard
    Jean-Christophe Chouinard says:

    She really made yuou dodge the bullet here! I read you blog because I really feel like you believe in what you write about. While many bloggers write about the same same stuff over and over again because it is easy to write, you write about strong subjects. Keep up the good work.

    Reply
  3. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I would add contrarian to your brand. Not just to be one but to be able to ask questions and allow further examination as you did here and have done in many other instances.

    Reply
    • Marlowe
      Marlowe says:

      Contrarian implies just playing devil’s advocate, but Penelope is way beyond that. She is reframing the question, she is flipping conventional wisdom and pointing out the double speak because she sees it and has the research and experience to back it up.

      Reply
  4. Queen Lisa
    Queen Lisa says:

    I have been reading you for five years and is it just me but are more men following you now ? I think that’s Great if it’s so …. your courage personified and smart and vulnerable as hell yes and that makes you authentic so please don’t ever stop

    Reply
  5. ann
    ann says:

    Please don’t change. Your posts have been a constant in my life for many years. Sometimes, I don’t understand them and sometimes I don’t agree. But most importantly, you are honest and brave through it all.
    Many thanks

    Reply
  6. MichaelG
    MichaelG says:

    For me, your “brand” is about still finding a way to accomplish things (even hard, brilliant things) despite carrying around a mess of problems and handicaps. Carry on!

    Reply
  7. Antonia
    Antonia says:

    Ah yes, I do know about pulling my hair out and anxiety https://medium.com/@tonianni/becoming-the-face-of-tech-nation-visa-uk-4e217d7144b6.
    As a kid I did so and my mum made me cut all my hair off. She said I looked like a boy.
    The first step to any healing is acknowledgement and that’s what other people’s story help with. “I’m not super weird it’s a thing that happens to people, now I know it’s about anxiety how could I deal better with anxiety? what triggers it?” etc etc..

    What’s even better, I was telling my husband before reading this post “I really like this lady, Penelope, I’ve been reading her blog for about 8yrs now and the thing I like the most is her honesty, I don’t think she’s always right but she’s honest, authentic…”
    So Amelia is indeed a keeper, all the best P.

    Reply
  8. Vanessa
    Vanessa says:

    I am wondering why wearing shorts would help to hide the fact that you were pulling out your pubic hairs, because if your public area had appeared to be bare of hair when you were only wearing a swimsuit (or whatever beach volleyball players tend to wear when playing), wouldn’t that have been pretty common (because many women shave or wax that area)?
    I think I’m about the same age as you, and I do realize that, at that time (30-something years ago), fewer women shaved or waxed the “bikini line”. But I wouldn’t have thought it was unusual for a woman’s bikini line to be bare of hair, even then.
    I recall being invited by a friend to her family’s lake cottage when I was about 14 and being surprised that her mom was wearing just a tiny swimsuit around lots of strangers at and on the lake and had not shaved her bikini line, which had an eye-catching amount of long, curly, dark hair tufting out from both sides of the gusset, ha ha.

    My parents divorced when I was 1 and remarried and divorced again when I was 4, my mom worked 2 or 3 low-paid jobs from age 25 until age 66, she and I had a 2-room (not 2 bedroom, but 2 rooms) apartment where she slept on the couch, and she was often not home until midnight while I had to take care of myself, of my homework, of my own official paying jobs (which I started when I was 14), of my own meals, of my own clothes, etc.

    I mention that because I have read your blog for MANY years now (with a once-a-year visit, but at that time I read almost all of the interim blogposts), and I must say that you seem to imagine that you’ve had it worse than most people (at least, most people who might be readers here or who could be your colleagues or who simply are fellow well-educated adult Americans).

    I’m glad you bring difficult things up (though in drips and drops, it must be said, e.g. this is the first time I recall your mentioning having had trichotillomania) and that you are willing to examine your past. But this blog entry is just kind of rambling. I realize you were having some difficulty at this point.

    I think your epiphany about your brand (at least your brand of the last few years) was closer to the truth than your friend’s. It IS more about negativity and mental health.
    About how people cope or don’t cope, about what we hide from ourselves and conversely what we torture ourselves with by keeping it ever-present in our thoughts, about what we think is happening vs what we tell people is happening vs what is actually happening, about labels and diagnoses and explanations and seeking/giving counsel and trying to cope.
    That is not a bad thing. I am not criticizing, but I think your blog has become more of a vehicle for you to slowly, circuitously, maybe torturously learn about yourself and reach towards mental health and personal wellness and strength while you are genuinely trying to raise your sons well, even if the day-to-day reality is haphazard, slap-dash, partially fantastical and at times a bit frantic.
    It is clear that you have very good intentions and that you try hard and care very much.

    Reply

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