Coping Mechanism is a column by Mackenna Manidis exploring the care practices of creative people she finds inspiring.
I’m the sort of person who seems to only be able to access a reverse highlight reel, one where I’m shown my shortcomings on repeat.
This is not unlike what I imagine purgatory to be, so I’m working on being nicer to myself. I’m a human. And my favorite part about humans is that we somehow, miraculously, don’t just drop dead when our hearts are broken. There’s a special resiliency tucked in between the pleasure and the pain of living; one you can always reach for and find, one that feels like Alexis Hoerres’ voice on the other side of the telephone line: “You’ll be okay, bitch. You always are.”
I’d drive anywhere, any time for Alexis. When we met I was 19 years old and she hired me to work at the popular beauty brand mentioned in the first iteration of Coping Mechanism. She interviewed me on the spot despite how horrified I was to not be wearing interview appropriate attire. We worked together for three years, and in her, I found someone with a driving force to complement mine — someone whose brain understood my brain. Somehow, at a mall job, I had found a soulmate.
Three years in, we left the company during the same week; it wouldn’t be the same if one of us was gone. We started nannying together and shortly after that, packed our U-Hauls and took our lives up to Los Angeles together. For as long as I can remember, she’s been my rock. Alexis is the perfect combination of serious and kooky. Her nuggets of life advice — always solid gold, natch — are steadily tucked in between commentary that makes me laugh. Her perspective is the perfect salve for whatever I’m going through, whenever I’m going through it.
One night earlier this month, we sat down, smoked some weed, and started talking about anxiety. We’re both creatures of habit and have similar fears based around getting stuck in that. “Falling into a routine gives me both stress and anxiety,” she explained to me. “The kicker here, however, is that I feel the safest when in a routine. It’s the thing I want to do the most.” As a sensitive person with a historically unwavering anxious attachment style, my desire and lust for routine, in every facet of my life, is intense. Structure, or the idea of structure, anyway, is delicious.
“Kindly note that when I say routine, I do not mean ‘wake up, shower, grab my gym bag, go to work, go to the gym, come home, cook flavorless chicken, have 1 single glass of red wine, read my book, bed by 9 PM,’” she continued. “Stop. I mean something more like ‘wake up late, throw on floor pants, go to work, work too long, go through the Del Taco drive-thru, come home, watch Supernatural, take a shower at 3 AM, bed by 4 AM.’ I’d die happy in that routine, but the anxiety of how happy that makes me is what would kill me.”
Fuck. She hit the nail on the head: Feeling safest in the thing that scares you the most. It’s how I’ve ended up in the dead-end relationships, jobs, and friendships all throughout my twenties. We’ve been there before. I panic a little bit remembering how often that’s happened in the past, so I press her for something lighter, asking about her shower routine. I know that she absolutely has some gems up her sleeve. I’ve seen her shower shelves lined with every treat you could possibly dream of putting on your body.
“If I’m having a particularly stressful time at work or a huge deadline coming up, I just won’t shave or wash my hair,” she laughed.” I, like, save it until after the thing is over. It’s my weird, tangible, light at the end of the tunnel. Then, on, say, Saturday, I’ll take a 45-minute shower and come out my best self. It’s actually very dope and I highly recommend it.”
Looking for salvation in water is an age-old practice both of us have depended on from time to time. Washing my hair is an incredibly spiritual activity, one I gradually learned to cultivate while working in the beauty industry for years in my early twenties. Alexis is currently the director of a beauty startup called The Glam App, a career I think was invented especially for her tenacious spirit and endless bounty of energy. I don’t really understand where this comes from inside of her, but I’ve never second-guessed it. It’s something I’ve always respected about her, too.
“Guess what? You’re officially not on anyone else’s timeline but your own,” Alexis explains, when I shared some fears about my own future. “We’re thrown into this weird ‘time matters, and you must always perform!’ vortex during the most developmentally delicate time of our lives. How are we expected to just know that once we’re done with school, we can do whatever the fuck we want?”
I didn’t go to college. I never took the SAT, never stepped foot on a campus. While it’s a decision that honestly makes me feel a little badass — fuck the man, forge your own path! — it’s also one that haunts me every time I fill out a job application, or someone I respect asks me where I got my degree. It’s a rite of passage I chose to skip and even though I’m mostly pleased with my 18-year-old self deciding to get on a plane to skip town instead, I’m still a little insecure about it.
As a fellow school-skipper and “bad kid,” when I ask Alexis what she’d tell me right now if I asked for general life advice, she drops the following poetry: “Do I regret not getting a Bachelor’s degree? Sure,” she admits, before adding: “But I’m the damn director of a beauty app without one! If you think you’re too old, too small, too less than? Go to bed. When you wake up tomorrow, you’ll be fine. And if you just keep on keepin’ on, one day you’ll wake up and go ‘Wait. I paid my rent and I still have some money? I’m fine.’”
She’s right. I’m fine. I always will be.