horrible fragility

I used to think that if I could change something about myself it’d be my nose. I’d give myself this straight, fine, elfin nose that authors are always ascribing to the faces of graceful women characters. The kind of women who look good even when they’re really tired.

And then I thought that it would be my neck. To be a graceful woman, you need a long, slender neck, according to so many movies. I have watched too many movies, probably. I probably care too much about grace.

And then, later, I thought, no, I need my legs to be different—longer, leaner, more coltish. Coltish because we women are always basing our beauty on very young things.

But right now, I don’t really care about any of that. If I could change something, it would be inside my head. I would change this strange fragility. This dangling blown glass orb of my mind that catches the light and spills tiny rainbows everywhere, but that is always waiting for the fall. That shudders at being brushed against, spinning, bobbing, set into frantic motion.


Of course I’m a writer, I think sometimes, when I’m angry at my mind. Writers are classically depressed, stereotypically anxious. Writers dance along the thin line of sanity, slipping eloquently over sometimes, describing it in all the right adjectives.

Writers are often a little unhinged.

Or maybe they just tell us about it.


In under two days, I’ll be standing up in front of the congregation again, singing so many prayers I can hardly keep them straight. I’ll be wearing all white. The year will have slid around again on its greased axis, and here we are at the beginning. I worked with a rabbi for four years in this synagogue and he died two days ago. He was young. It was pancreatic cancer. He wasn’t always nice to me. Sometimes he made me cry on the bima, and I had to bow my head and hide it so that the congregation wouldn’t see. Sometimes he was very nice to me. He drove to my college to practice for Rosh Hashanah with me. We sat in the common room in my dorm building, and the girls walking by looked at us curiously. Him with his beard and kippah, obviously much older than me. I remember he had this rainbow umbrella with him. He hugged me by his car, and I felt for a second like I was his daughter. Once he said that the sister of a bar mitzvah boy looked great in her dress, and then he told me I didn’t have the hips to pull off a look like that. I miss him in this weird way that I don’t even understand.

After he left the synagogue, we never spoke. And then when I found out he was dying, I never wrote. Why didn’t I write?

And now he’s dead. Just before Rosh Hashanah. And I feel guilty and other things that mostly sit in my stomach and don’t care to explain themselves.

I feel fragile. Someone wrote a comment on facebook, when I posted that silly Anne Hathaway piece I wrote. He said “I don’t see the point of this…” Jerk. Who says that? Who feels the need to tell someone under their piece that there’s no point to it? Why do people need to leave these little bombs under the things other people write? It feels like a minefield.

I stood in the shower, composing a hundred responses in my head. “Glad you felt the need to tell me. Maybe you should try writing professionally before you critique someone who’s doing it.” “It’s a funny little humor piece! It’s not SUPPOSED to have a point! Why are you so pretentious?” “Get a life!” “ASSHOLE.” “Consider yourself unfriended, loser.” Yeah. That would show him. A grand unfriending. A flourish of pointer finger on touchpad, a decisive final click

I wrote back, “You don’t see the point of what?”

He didn’t respond.

I left it at that.

What if I said something mean and then he said something meaner?

My hands were shaking.

Please, god, I thought, I can’t handle any meanness right now.

That is the fragility. How it works. Suddenly, I might break. One tap. One flick. Shattered.

So embarrassing. So horribly embarrassing. What is wrong with my composition? With my chemicals? With my interpretations? With my neural pathways?

It’s not always like this. I am not always this fragile. But I think I should never be. I think it is a failure of will. The way that people sometimes hate themselves for giving in and eating something decadent. I hate myself for giving in to this weakness. For allowing my hands to shake over nothing.

Three agents want to see my book. Before I even sent a query letter, three agents. I think I should be doing some kind of jig, or at least learning to do one. But I am bad at prolonged joy. It comes in quick bursts and when it leaves, I am surprisingly worse off, sometimes. I think, “I can’t mess this up now!” That’s the way my logic works. Don’t mess this up. Don’t you dare mess this up now!

“I must have been an anxious child,” I told my parents last night when I was in NJ for rehearsals.

They looked at each other. And then they both disagreed. No, they said. Not anxious. “You wanted to make everything perfect,” said my dad. “You had an idea of how it should be.”

I was oddly relieved. Not an anxious child. Maybe there’s hope. Just a child who needed everything to be perfect. What the hell is perfect? What a stupid goal. OK, so I was a dumb kid. And here I am, a dumb grownup.  A dumb grownup who doesn’t know the first thing about celebration, but has memorized the labyrinthine routes logic takes to get to self-defeat.

Who is, believe it or not, actually pretty happy these days, when she is not being made of blown glass.

I’d like to think I’ve come a certain safe distance from the grad school days of having no idea what was coming next and eating only occasionally. When I was dating a guy I couldn’t manage to fall in love with just because he’d published a lot of papers and wore preppy clothes and I thought I should be with someone respectable this time.

Now I am at least in love and at least it is with Bear. And I am writing, which is the thing I’ve always wanted. And I looked at a terrible picture of myself the other day, and I just laughed and thought it was funny. There was no bitter aftertaste. No rush of self-doubt. No sag of disappointment.

But some days, I wake up fragile anyway. Inexplicably. I wake up innocent, thin-skinned, helpless. I am knocked off balance by everything. I can’t believe that he is dead, for one. A man who knew everything, who knew what everyone else should be doing. But who sometimes laughed at my jokes anyway. I can’t sort out my feelings.


It’s not really like this, but I’m thinking of when I was twelve and I used to visit this elderly woman in a dim, pungent home for the elderly, and there was this guy there, in a wheelchair, who used to call to me, “Come here, little girl, and sit on my lap! You’re so pretty!” And he would say, “Come into my room, little girl, I’ll teach you how to have a good time.” So I went right home and reported him to my mom. “He is sexually harassing me,” I said, because I was well-read. And my mom reported him to the director of the program that had connected me with the very sweet elderly woman I visited, and the director of the program marched in there and yelled at the man in the wheelchair. He broke down and cried, she told my mom. It was that detail that circled my mind over and over again after he died, a few weeks later. He cried. I made him cry. And now he is dead. I felt, on some level, that it was my fault he was dead. You know what? I still feel sort of guilty.

The rabbi I worked with was not a creepy old man. He was a complex, brilliant, vivacious young man who made me cry.

What are you going to do? Life doesn’t make sense. There isn’t a name for every feeling.

I had to get on a train and leave. I felt like Rosh Hashanah was barreling at me like a truck with a texting driver. I felt like I knew nothing about literary agents and I should be doing a lot of research. I felt like my dreams were supposed to be coming true, and that’s a lot of pressure. I felt like I think about death a lot. I felt too fragile.

I went back to the city from NJ. And then I took a train from Grand Central, up to New Haven, where my brother has just started grad school. And here I am, sitting on his couch, which used to be my couch, looking out the window at unfamiliar, low rooftops. His elegant, evil cat has finally agreed to sit on my lap. My mind feels a little firmer, already.


*   *   *

I don’t even know what to ask you here, but of course I want to hear your thoughts, as always. As long as they’re not, you know, not mean :-)

Unroast: Today I love the way I look without earrings. Naked ears! I used to think I always had to wear earrings or I looked like a dude.

P.S. You won’t hear from me at the beginning of next week because I’ll be singing at my synagogue until Wednesday. But then I’ll be back, with fascinating stories! Or I’ll just be really tired.


Kate on September 14th 2012 in being sad, fear, life, perfection

36 Responses to “horrible fragility”

  1. Lina responded on 14 Sep 2012 at 1:46 pm #

    I do believe there’re a select group of people in this world whose most fragile ‘something’ is their mind. And most likely, they all end up writers of all sorts. As for me, I talk a lot in my head, like A LOT. I see things in words, feelings in words, situations in words. I end up crafting phrases and sentences in my head, while walking, while travelling, even while I’m with my partner. He tells me off all the time for being in my head but I can’t stop it. And I’m glad I found a healthy outlet in writing. It’s to a point where I prefer writing about my feelings than actually saying them out loud.

    You’ve found YOUR outlet Kate, and the moment your book gets published, I’m getting it. And each time you feel like writing about anything to anyone, just do it!

    (I started thinking about what my point is in telling you all this, but then, I’m only letting that mean guy you mentioned get in my head).

  2. Greenwater responded on 14 Sep 2012 at 2:19 pm #

    Beautiful piece.

  3. Sandra responded on 14 Sep 2012 at 2:28 pm #

    So well written. So well put. Just your description of fragile days makes me more aware of what I am feeling.Thank you for putting my feelings into words. Now I just have to find someone who won’t step on me on my most fragile days. Once shattered it is hard to get back together.

  4. Also Kate responded on 14 Sep 2012 at 2:33 pm #

    Kate, have you read The Highly Sensitive Person? I can’t recommend all of it; some of it struck me as weird, but it reframes sensitivity in a positive light, which made me really happy. (Note: I read it kicking and screaming because wtf? I am not sensitive. I am badass and bullet-proof and I don’t have feelings and… yeah, that’s complete bullshit. According to her little self-diagnostic checklist, I’m like the poster child for sensitivity. Go figure.)

    Anyway, I have the same weird, jagged, vulnerable-feeling, jumbled-up days sometimes, too. It’s like there are too many emotions to feel and not enough minutes in the day, or something.

  5. Amanda responded on 14 Sep 2012 at 3:34 pm #

    On my fragile, vulnerable days I just feel like I’m not made of the same stuff as everyone else. I get so impatient with myself in those moments. And I wonder how everyone else does it. How they show up and don’t feel a little crushed by life. I have happy days and normal days too…and on those days I think “This is what it feels like to be them”. I know that I’m greatly oversimplifying everyone else, but its just feels like they would be so much more considerate if they were as fragile as I feel sometimes.

    Needless to say I loved this piece.

  6. Annie responded on 14 Sep 2012 at 3:45 pm #

    I think you’re right when you say “or maybe they just tell us about it.” A lot of people are just as sensitive, but they’re not brave enough to put themselves out there the way you do, and then they don’t have to face rejection. And I’m glad you were a very aware 12 year old. I used to visit a nursing home when I was in high school, and in the process I learned that just because someone is old and in a wheelchair doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of thinking, saying, or doing horrible (or at the very least, terribly inappropriate) things. Even if his intentions were completely innocent, he should have understood that it made you feel uncomfortable and was inappropriate. By feeling guilty about it, you’re just blaming the victim (yourself).

  7. Sonja responded on 14 Sep 2012 at 4:09 pm #

    FWIW, I loved your piece about buying cookies in front of Anne Hathaway. It made me laugh several times.

  8. Kati responded on 14 Sep 2012 at 4:25 pm #

    For the record, I thought your Anne Hathaway piece was funny and cute! That guy has no sense of humor, obvi.

  9. Kristina responded on 14 Sep 2012 at 5:01 pm #

    I am sorry and sad to hear about your rabbi. I have always been told I am too sensitive and I let things “get to me” too easily. I have always wanted to have a hardened outershell because I considered my sensitivity a weakness. “embarrasment” doesn’t even begin describe how I feel when someone sees me crack. As I get older, I realize more and more being sensitive is not a weakness. It’s who I am, and I am not weak, I just have a different (heightened, maybe?) way of dealing with life and emotions.
    P.S. I think it’s a completley sane response to feel shaky when someone makes a bonehead remark about your writing. I like to write , but won’t let anyone read my writing, because I am too scared to hear a critical response in fear that I will crumble. You have some real cajones putting your writing out there for the world to see.

  10. Sarah S responded on 14 Sep 2012 at 5:17 pm #

    I don’t know much about the specifics of the personality, but I also thought of HSPs when I read your (beautiful, achingly sincere) piece. I work in a creative field, surrounded by other highly sensitive people; I used to get annoyed at myself and my colleagues for our fragility, but now I see it as a bonus — even a necessity — for the work we do. I firmly believe artists (of all kinds, including writers and musicians) are here to show people the beholder’s own humanity and can only do so by being vulnerable themselves.

  11. Darcy responded on 14 Sep 2012 at 5:19 pm #

    I can’t think of anything more eloquent to say than right there with you, sister, on the whole fragility thing. My way of thinking of it has been that I am a dry tinderbox of a forest, so much dead wood and crackling dry leaves and just everything parched so the slightest spark will set me ablaze. I aspire to be a wet green forest full of moss and little streams everywhere, any sparks would just smolder and go out.

    I thought the Anne Hathaway piece was delightful, and the point of it from my perspective was just that: to delight, and it succeeded.

    Thank you for letting me know I’m not the only one who practices the Fine Art of What I Should Have Said in the shower. And I’m sorry about the loss of the young rabbi.

  12. Mary responded on 14 Sep 2012 at 6:39 pm #

    Great piece! Sorry to hear about the loss of your rabbi. As for the mean guy, maybe he has Aspberger’s or is just a jerk. Either way, you’re response was spot on!

    As someone who’s struggled with feeling fragile, sensitive, what-have-you, it’s been my experience that as you get older, you tend to feel more patient and kind toward yourself when it comes to feeling crummy, plus it gets easier (sometimes, for me anyway) to expect less perfection from oneself because it’s exhausting after a while (besides, “perfect” people are annoying, aren’t they?).

    Your blog, your writing and you are brilliant. Hang in there!

    P.S. The Anne Hathaway piece was excellent.

  13. Rapunzel responded on 14 Sep 2012 at 8:08 pm #

    You do such a good job of describing things that I would never be able to put into words. I guess that’s why you’re the kick-ass writer and I am not, right? Your expression of fragility really touched me. Probably because it’s exactly how I feel more often than not.

    The only thing I know about getting something published is one thing that your supposed to do to prevent plagiarism is you’re supposed to print it, seal it in a big envelope, then send it through the mail to yourself so that it has the date on it by the post office, and then NOT open it. Probably send a couple of them just in case. That’s what I was told once, anyway, by this guy I know who is writing a screen play. Right on!

    I thought of you today when I looked in the mirror at work and saw all the curly hairs frizzed out around my face from my pony tail, and I liked it. I like it when my hair does that instead of looking all nice and neat and pulled back tight. I think it’s cute. That’s my unroast for today.

  14. LeeH responded on 14 Sep 2012 at 8:48 pm #

    You’re a good writer, and this is a good, very human piece. I enjoy the reality of your writing. Sorry to hear about your rabbi’s death. Each loss is sad.

    One thing I’ve learned, some people just are mean and have no clue about the feelings of others. Why say anything? Really sheesh, why spread around your meanness. What’s the point of doing that?

  15. Amy responded on 14 Sep 2012 at 10:55 pm #

    Wow, what a beautiful piece. I loved the image of the ornament that you chose to represent your feelings of fragility. It was very fitting, and is a great visualization of how I feel frequently. It’s so easy to get caught up in how we “should” feel instead of just embracing how we actually feel.

    Oh, and for the record, I loved the Anne Hathaway piece. I was literally sitting at my computer laughing out loud. I kept reading bits of it out loud to my husband because he was giving me these weird looks for laughing by myself. Thank you for such a fun piece!

  16. Sari responded on 15 Sep 2012 at 2:40 am #

    שנה טובה ומתוקה.

    Looking forward to rehashing after the chagim. I get to be a lay person for RH this year, but I’m leading YK services in Caesarea for our friend’s women’s minyan there (men will be there too).

    I don’t think I have anything new and unique to add to anyone’s comments about this piece. Let’s just say, “I second [third, fourth] the above.”

  17. ceci responded on 15 Sep 2012 at 9:10 am #

    You don’t give horrible fragility enough credit. This vulnerability at the core of your writing gives your messages such power. I’m glad you’re not lindy west, whose writing you admired in a recent piece. Acerbic wit is great in its place, but no one could fault writing that is so in earnest and unprotected. Would it really be better if you could not feel as deeply as you do? If the death of someone whose life intersected with yours sometimes and some places left you feeling absolutely zilch? I don’t know the answer for you, but iwould guess it would be likepainting with fewer colors — only able to seeprimary colors,but blind to all the beauty in between. You’d be like HIM. the guy who doesn’t get the point, won’t ever get a point unless it’s in bold print.

  18. Kay responded on 15 Sep 2012 at 12:05 pm #

    You may be fragile, but at least you write–you haven’t let it stop you. I wanted to be a writer, and still kind of do, but the main reason that got left behind as a goal is that the idea of revealing myself in any way to strangers, many times judgmental, is too overwhelming. (This is why I suck at getting to know new people. Also why I rarely comment on blogs, even ones I read every day.) I admire your writing and your perseverance :)

  19. Abby responded on 15 Sep 2012 at 2:26 pm #

    Your writing is gorgeous as always. I really enjoyed what you had to say about fragility, because I feel that way a lot too. I mean, I usually feel more like my emotions are running through me, burning me out, instead of making me fragile, because I’m prone to short-lived but extremely intense emotions.

    But it’s good to be reminded that I’m not the only one. That maybe feeling so deeply and being so sensitive can be a good thing. (As a musician and actress I feel like sometimes I am definitely living up to the stereotype, :D )

    I think that being vulnerable is what makes your writing so honest, so beautiful, so important to so many people. I think that true art, true beauty, comes from a place of vulnerability. It’s something I want to work hard to remember.

  20. Emily responded on 15 Sep 2012 at 7:25 pm #

    So accurate. Last night, I was laying in bed, asleep, at 1 am like most people usually are. I got a text from this guy I used to casually date a long time ago, saying “hi, how r u…?” or something to that idiotic effect. I didn’t respond, mainly because I was almost asleep and didn’t feel the need to. Six minutes later, he responded, “GFY”, which I assume meant go fuck yourself, or “good for you” in a sarcastic way? Either one is bad. I felt horrible. I felt somehow terrified, even though this person has no part in my life anymore, and technically I shouldn’t care what he says, I guess. I just wanted my partner to come give me a hug. I rolled over and tried to go to sleep and think of the good things that were going to happen the next day (today). I’m still shaken up about it. I understand your point.

  21. Brian responded on 16 Sep 2012 at 11:30 pm #

    I just subscribed to your blog after a friend forwarded a link. I cannot put into just a few words what it is about your prose that touches me so deeply, but I just wanted to tell you that it does. After reading several of your pieces in quick succession, the thoughts and feelings are roiling inside me like the ocean around well-worn, seaweed-covered rocks.

    I can’t wait to see what will be left on the beach when the tide goes out.

    Thank you for your writing.

  22. my honest answer responded on 17 Sep 2012 at 8:16 am #

    Don’t feel guilty that you made the guy cry! Just because he cried, it doesn’t mean that he didn’t have ill intentions. He could still have been a child-molester. Crying doesn’t preclude that.

    And maybe he wasn’t, maybe he was just a nice lonely guy. You still did him a favor by letting him know that he was approaching people in the wrong way.

  23. Erin responded on 17 Sep 2012 at 8:34 am #

    This is so relateable. Some days I just wake up and I know – I KNOW – that I am fragile and that any little thing might set me off. It’s weird. Although it’s not always like that. I can be going along, having a great day, and my boss calls me into his office. (shudder, heart racing, anxiety). And 20 minutes later, I am falling apart because he just doesn’t get me. That’s all there is to it. I have done nothing wrong, it’s nothing more than he just doesn’t understand me. I hate feeling like I’m falling apart all because of him, because it really makes me feel weak. And while I am asking myself what it is that *I* did wrong, I know that I didn’t do anything more wrong than just be myself. So ultimately, he’s making me feel weak, small, insignificant, and ‘wrong,’ only because he thinks I should be one way, when that’s just not who I am. Let me be who I am, when I’m fragile and when I’m not.

  24. Melanie responded on 17 Sep 2012 at 1:34 pm #

    I have been feeling really fragile lately, but pretending as though I’m not. I have been really fake when around friends and loved ones instead of just telling them, “I need a hug right now. I feel like I’m going to collapse.”

    I am really hard on myself and have a tough time admitting when I need people. I need to remember it’s okay to need people and not be strong all of the time. I rarely succeed in remembering this.

  25. rene responded on 17 Sep 2012 at 4:05 pm #

    Oh hell! I’ve dropped in for the first time today and stayed so long I can’t remember how I got here.

    I think I have a girl-crush on you. I’ve always been easily seduced by great writing and fearless thinking.

    “There isn’t a name for every feeling.”
    thank you.

  26. Netta responded on 18 Sep 2012 at 5:27 am #

    I won’t write about how much I agree with the comments above, just that I do, and that it’s great that there are people here willing to share these experiences and make all of us feel less alone.

    And also a thought about how human interaction is so uncertain- how you can never know if the old creep might start crying or what motivated the jerk on FB. And it makes it so complicated to deal with people, but we have to anyway, and it’s also probably the best, most rewarding thing in life when it’s good. I think this uncertainty often makes me feel fragile, and I can replay over and over a situation where I think I offended someone else.

    And I’m not a writer and don’t consider myself an artist, but I think this feeling is common to most people, with the possible exception of those who refuse to see it. Or psychopaths. Can’t forget about those.

    Shana Tova!

  27. Dane responded on 18 Sep 2012 at 11:39 pm #

    It feels good to read about someone who also has sensitive days, because like a commenter above I am “badass and unemotional” but actually just very bad at admitting to myself that it’s okay to have fragility and unhappy feelings. Thank you for writing this

  28. zoe responded on 19 Sep 2012 at 2:38 pm #

    oh, kate, i cannot tell you how often sensitivity has been on my mind.

    a friend likes to point it out constantly. she’ll say things like, “you’re SO sensitive. i don’t know how to talk to you” or the worst ever “don’t take it personally” (ugh)

    true, sensitivity negatively manifests itself through taking things personally, feeling overly sentimental, touchy, anxious and through the act of self-pity/wallowing (all things i experience). however, i am starting to view my sensitivity through a different lens. turns out i took my friend’s words about my sensitive self too seriously. i thought about it all wrong.

    because being sensitive is a gift. it helps me connect with and relate to other people. it helps me empathize. being sensitive means it’s easier to read people, situations, and environments. it makes it easier to read my emotions and physical upsets. being sensitive allows me to love so deeply, to experience so fully, that i would never dream of abandoning it. it’s just a matter of learning how to channel sensitivity positively.

    we are human though, making that damn near impossible. so i just suggest accepting the fragile days as they are — wade through them the best you can with as solid of an objectivity as you can manage. good days will always follow. you’re not a bad person for being sensitive. emotion is beautiful.

  29. Kate responded on 20 Sep 2012 at 1:15 pm #

    I’ve been too busy with the holiday to respond, but I’ve been reading all of these comments and they are so encouraging and kind and make me feel relieved and less alone and understood. Maybe those are cliched words, but I can’t think of better ones.

  30. Emily responded on 24 Sep 2012 at 11:07 am #

    you are lovely and that man was mean.
    i hope he gets caught in the rain on his way home.

  31. Iggy responded on 10 Oct 2012 at 4:15 pm #

    When you have written a book– if you do decide to write a book, because a herd of alpacas could sweep you and Bear off into a distant magical land filled with grilled cheeses and then it would be a bit difficult to write a book on the back of an alpaca, now wouldn’t it– and you get it published, I do hope you’ll tell all of us about it. You see, I’m going to buy it. Even if I don’t know what it’s about. Even if it’s a heavily-footnoted tome on some unpleasantly obscure subject, I’ll buy it and read it, anyway, because you wrote it. Not because “I’m only doing it because” you wrote it, but because you have consistently shown that you write about anything, everything, in a way that makes me really happy and also slightly jealous. (But in a good way, I promise.) And buying a book isn’t saying you’re going to love it; it’s saying you trust the author enough to write something you’ll read at least once. And if you’ve written that book? I definitely do. I even strongly suspect that I’ll enjoy it. :)

  32. Eat the Damn Cake » the hope scale responded on 23 Oct 2012 at 12:28 pm #

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  33. Eat the Damn Cake » new york city goes dark and the river comes up my street responded on 30 Oct 2012 at 12:57 am #

    [...] think I try to do a lot. Because it sucks so much to remember that everyone is exactly the same and we’re all so hopelessly sensitive and we all have this thin, taut skin stretched over plaited muscles and snappable bones underneath. [...]

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  35. Women’s News: I Am Embarrassed By How Much I Am Affected By the Way Men Talk About Women – LadyRomp responded on 17 May 2013 at 7:00 am #

    [...] I think about how we’re all supposed to always brush everything we don’t like off, and move immediately on, because that is how you stay focused and sane and acceptable.Getting mired in hurt feelings is poor tactical maneuvering. [...]

  36. Eat the Damn Cake » woman gets hit by truck, dies responded on 03 Dec 2013 at 2:09 pm #

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