I am not a professional writer, a fact that had to have become evident over time writing here. When I was a teen growing up in Peoria, Arizona in the '90s, Sassy was the alternate universe to a Seventeen I was never going to be. When I saw a call for recipe writing a few years ago, I saw a tiny niche I could possibly fill, while at the same time not being able to imagine a world in which my words appeared next to Jane Pratt's.
So for a few months, I wrote about salads. But a profound change happened over time, in which I started to gain confidence in my work, in my voice, in my perspective — thanks mostly to Lesley and commenters support. Maybe that change was coincidentally happening in my life anyways, but that's not how I remember it.
I was someone who avoided photos of myself, actively. I dived out of group shots, blocked cameras with my hands, and found selfies gauche. But slowly I found myself posting pictures of myself in my articles, often with Clementine, a fan favorite. But more and more, just of myself.
My articles soon started to turn from simple effigies of ingredients to why I cooked. Stories of my life, my upbringing — literally what my feelings tasted like. Talking about my mother, my father, my friends, my artwork, my experiences. And each time I posted something, I felt really rewarded by the positive support. I felt a real camaraderie with all my readers.
And soon, there was no food in my pieces at all. Some of my last pieces for xoJane delved into the ideas of fundamental happiness, of what we deserve, and finally, that I knew there was more to my life that I needed to figure out and I was sure therapy was the key. I was inundated with emails and notes from people about how they felt the same.
So often, writers on xoJane fade away because so many of us are not real writers — we wrote about real life because we were out living it. And just as often, I wondered what the end to their stories were (for real, I just have to know how the dungheap of a house turned out).
But I was just as guilty — I was focused on my life. And soon the space I inhabited here was replaced by other writers, often telling stories about genuinely horrible or interesting things that had happened to them. And I sometimes joked, "Someone really needs to write the piece where it doesn't end up in a dumpster fire — like, 'It Happened to Me: Bad Shit Happened, But It Turned Out OK'".
For the last few years I've been living honestly. I found a therapist I really trusted and adored, and even if she didn’t practice the kind of therapy I wanted, I realized that the kind of therapy isn’t very important. I was just ready to face my life. And it wasn’t enough to go to therapy, I talked about going to therapy. To friends, to coworkers, while giving talks at conferences. I didn’t arrive at "healthy" on my own… I benefited from help, and it was worth being open about it to normalize it.
I chose goals, and as I hit them, I would pick a new one. Being honest with people. Facing bad relationships. Dealing with rejection. And sometimes I saw my therapist every other week, and sometimes once a month, but eventually I arrived at a point where I was ready to face my childhood and the things that were really holding me back. I let go of relationships that I’d been holding onto irrationally. I figured out what my real values were. I learned coping mechanisms. I started being much more honest about my expectations of people, and telling them what they were, so I wasn’t disappointed when they didn’t hit some invisible bar of friendship. I devoured therapy homework, because it resulted in a box of tools that I could use to get rid of anxiety or face life honestly.
So yes, my life turned out OK. I still wake up each morning in a Portland life that I still cannot believe — with Clementine, surrounded by friends for whom I cook — often. I built a ceramics studio out my back door with the great help of my friends where I make completely dysfunctional mugs on a routine basis. I still pull all-nighters but love my job. And on my 40th birthday this year, to celebrate my progress going from someone who was good at being invisible to someone who believed in my place in this world, I threw a ridiculous 40th birthday party called AmandaCamp in the woods for my friends, and believe it or not, convinced Marianne and Claire to sleep in bunks.
And I’m pretty grateful for the friends it's brought me. I’ve threatened to pull Marianne in a radio flyer through the Women’s March next month if necessary, I had a pretty delightful night with Lesley over oysters and Jenny Lewis this summer, and Claire lives down the street and is teaching me how to drink more effectively. Earlier this summer we roasted a pig in my backyard for her 30th birthday and a few xoJane commenters showed up, and as they sat on my lawn, eating food I'd made, I realized we really had come full circle.
I occasionally check in on xoJane and read the stories here. And while many are outrageous, I read the real pain and upset that so many people are going through. It's sad that the future of the site is unsure, even if I’m not a regular part of it anymore. And times, let's face it, are about to get tough. But what I wanted to say was this: happiness is out there. However you get there, whatever you need to get there, ask for it. Be willing to accept help. Each and every woman's voice is deserving of a platform. Ultimately, the story of this place is yours. It Happened to Us: xoJane.
And it's all going to turn out OK. I promise.