Artist Series: Fragmented resolutions
On Writing: An essay by Kayti Christian
Every month I publish a piece from an artist I admire. This month, I am honored to share an essay by Kayti Christian. She writes the Substack—an evening newsletter exploring complex emotions and offering acceptance in a world that doesn’t always understand our nuanced or complicated feelings. When I read her work I often feel like it’s my own thoughts being read back to me. How she struggles to be cared for, how she lives in her chest, the thoughts on not being good enough, the books that heal her—I feel it all and am living it.
In this essay, Kayti circles around the irrational fear of aging and how maturity is a badge for women until it isn’t. She explores the release that can come from sinking into our youth and trying on all the former versions of ourselves. Kayti also touches on how we should be making resolutions in the spring (not at the start of the new year), the guilt that comes with watching television, and the importance of allowing yourself to love what you love.
Kayti Christian has a Master’s in Nonfiction Writing from the University of London and is the creator of Feelings Not Aside, a newsletter for sensitive people. Her work has been published in Pithead Chapel, Shondaland, and PULP Magazine. She currently lives in Los Angeles where she is working on her first novel.
Before we get into her work, let’s start with three questions.
What are you reading right now?
I love this question. I'm currently reading I Keep My Exoskeletons To Myself by Marisa Crane and How Far The Light Reaches by Sabrina Imbler. Both are unconventional in style and structure, which I love so much. I'm a big fan of authors who make up their own rules and expand our ideas about literature. Crane's novel is written in the second person to her late wife, and Imbler's essay collection explores themes of family and identity through the lives of sea creatures. Both are fascinating, and I'm savoring every page.
What do you do when you're coming up against resistance, and you can't seem to get to the center of the thing—the writing, the living, the task at hand? How do you get to where you want to go?
I've grown hesitant to embrace the idea of "pushing through" resistance, especially regarding my writing. While studying for my MA, this was a common practice—to push through writer's block and get as many words down on the page as possible, the idea being that you could revise and sift through the shitty drafts later.
But I've never been able to get to the center of what I want to say by forcing it. In fact, most of my writing that feels truest to me is written in my notes app in one sitting. It never happens at my desk or when I say, "Okay, it's time to write." Instead, the truth comes out when I'm at the grocery store, in the gym, or lying awake in bed. I stop whatever I'm doing, grab my phone, and write it all down.
In this way, I've learned that resistance is there to teach me something and that I can't force my way through it. To get where I want to go, I have to stop fighting myself and pushing. This sounds counterintuitive to most teaching on writing (we so desperately want to power through at will), but it's what works best for me.
Tell me about this piece. Where did it come from?
This piece came out in fragments over the course of a week, and it was mostly written in spurts on my notes app. I was feeling immense pressure to write something meaningful for the first substack of the year after taking a few weeks away. My thoughts weren't cohesive, and I kept having these flashes of stories and ideas. I decided to start writing them down. A few days later, I thought to myself, "Who made the rule that I need to have a cohesive story or central takeaway?" (That's my grad school brain coming back to haunt me.) I liked the idea of publishing a piece in fragments because so many creative and sensitive minds work this way. So I went with it.
by Kayti Christian
‘You'll look young even when you're old.’
She says it through a ring of smoke at the french restaurant in omaha, tucked on the cobblestone street, a bottle of wine and a box of sobranie cigarettes between us. She smoked them when she lived in london. Now it's become our secret whenever we get together, to sneak a pack in our purse and sit on the patio of fancy restaurants where we can try on all the former versions of ourselves, sink into our youth, like the server who brings us a plate of cheese. I once moved to new york to be a writer, he tells us, a light flickering behind his eyes. We’re interrupted when my phone rings and my sister tells me she’s pregnant, her voice full of wonder from where she sits on the west coast. My first niece will come in the spring. I cry then, warm ashes on my plate, feeling as if my life will last forever.
When I trace smile lines in the mirror and press moisturizer down hard into my skin, I often think about that night in omaha—the smoke, the wine, the pretending I could live forever if I wanted. I lie awake most nights thinking about how I will be older this year. An irrational fear of aging has set in, or maybe it's rational, but either way, it feels both trite and existential, like my life is fleeing from me and there is nothing I can do to stop it. Trying only makes the days go by faster. I never had those thoughts when I was in my twenties, or maybe I did, but I welcomed the prospect of aging with anticipation. Maturity is a badge for women, until it isn’t.
Mostly the anxiety roots itself in the dreams I've left behind. I think about how I haven't done many of the things I've wanted but also how I've evolved in ways that those dreams no longer fit me. There are regrets, of course. The book I didn't write—or rather didn't finish. Too consumed with fear, with false beliefs that the clock would stop if I begged it. The thoughts spiral; it's a train I hate to get on, yet still I ride.
Only recently did I wonder if my friend was talking about youth as something more than physical appearance. I think perhaps she was.
For two weeks now, it has rained in los angeles. I can't think of a better way to enter the year: wet and fresh, dull and grey. The sky crying. The earth cleansing. Weather that reminds us of how small we are. Tiny blips in our houses. You can't escape the sound of water kissing pavement, soaking the grass and turning the sidewalks into lakes. A reminder to those of us living in cities, where nature seems so distant and abstract as if living inside the parameters of skyscrapers somehow insulates us from the earth. Rain though—it seeps into the cracks, greets you with a kiss when you step out for the mail, to let the dog out.
A friend told me that she read a quote about how new year's resolutions are counterintuitive to our natural cycles and how we should really be making resolutions in the spring when life feels new and our energy is overflowing again. I feel this so much more in my thirties. I sleep past eight most days, the room outside my sheets feeling impossible and cold. The apartment is dim for most hours, dull light painting the walls until the sun goes down. There have only been a few afternoons this year where the sun has slipped out, a silent reminder of warmth on the horizon. But it's not here yet. It’s not here yet.
I used to feel guilty for watching tv at night instead of curling up with a book. Part of it is being a writer and feeling some sense of competition to read as much as possible, as if it makes me better or more impressive. Some of it runs deeper, though. Like when I was sixteen and a traveling pastor told my youth group that secular media was from the devil. He paced the stage, spit fleeing from his lips, telling us all to go home and throw a blanket over our TVs. ‘Watching media makes you lazy!’ he said, ‘and Jesus doesn't like lazy teenagers.’ I never did this, but I did feel guilty anytime I watched movies or shows after that. Lazy girl, lazy girl.
Except film is holy too, even if conflated with shallow entertainment and reality tv. I watched a movie called Palmer the other night and cried and cried and then thought about the characters for most of the next day. Then my husband and I spent a whole Saturday watching season one of The Walking Dead and felt the most rested we've felt in a while. Last night, my mind reeled with creative ideas while watching The Menu.
Who really cares how you spend your time relaxing? Allow yourself to love what you love. Besides, sometimes growth looks like release.
Where to find Katyi: