I Used to Have a Sibling: Thirteen Months (Part III)

Dear Living IRL readers,

What follows is a series of excerpts from a work in progress—a memoir about my experience living life in the world after the death of my sister. Because she and I both grew up online, technology plays a role in my grief. It has strong fingers, has managed to work its way into my endlessly tangled emotions.

I won’t explain much else, other than that this is what I am trying to give you: concrete examples of moments when my grief and technology have interacted. Sometimes this involves phone calls. Sometimes texts. Sometimes emails. Sometimes social media. It’s all always there.

Becca Spiegel


Thirteen Months
Somewhere in New Zealand

Last night was the first night I’ve spent alone in the last six months. I read Open City and drank Pinot Noir in the back of the red campervan Jon and I have been living in and tried to catch the mouse that ran around the van and poked its head out next to a pack of AA batteries. For dinner I ate dark chocolate and plain Cheerios and before I fell asleep I pored over a year’s worth of text messages between me and my sister. Like doing a close reading of an ancient poem, analyzing what was said or not said and finding all of the parts where I could have been better. Mentally highlighting the repetition of “love” to show myself that it qualified as a theme. Realizing that there were patterns to our exchanges that I had never seen before.

The motif of medicine and whether or not it should be taken, was working, was worth it. My feelings of being stuck in my relationship; her feelings of isolation in places both full and empty of people. We used the word “poop” a lot. She was tired, low, and overwhelmed or happy, high, and overwhelming. I was busy, unsure, or going for a run, offering unasked-for advice or platitudes or plane tickets for a visit. We told one another we believed in each other. She was frightened first by how much weight she lost, then gained; I, by how much food I was eating. A list of grievances and love, neither one of us writing about particular happiness. Just being and grateful to be in it together.

I can see how it all adds up now in a sad way— can see on the screen of an iPhone all that I do and do not miss. Can see what I thought about then that I still think about now. Can see everything that has changed and will never change and how I couldn’t have done anything to change it.


Looking for more of this series? Find other installments HERE.

Chronic Illness & the Space Between Us

Photos: Holly Hursley

No one tells you that you won’t sleep.

When you fall in love with someone that has chronic illness, people don’t tell you that you will spend countless nights awake. A loud noise will wake your partner up. Their body will keep them up. Their restlessness will wake you up. The existential dread of how terrible both of your moods are going to be in the morning will keep you up too.

Nothing you say can make them feel better, though you desperately want them to. Or rather, you’ve already said the things that might make them feel better so many times that those words seem like unintelligible, irrelevant mush. You bicker, not because you both are angry (well, your partner is definitely angry, not necessarily at you), but because you’re both frustrated. Because you’re both tired. You wish they didn’t let themselves get so angry (“It’ll only make it harder for you to sleep.”) They wish you could feel what it’s like to live in their body (“Am I not allowed to be angry?”). Then you both are quiet, because one thing’s for sure: arguing is not sleeping.

You find yourself listening for their deep breaths. The longer you don’t hear the sounds, the more anxious you get about the day ahead. “We’ll both be so cranky.” “We won’t be able to focus.” “Do I have melatonin hiding in a travel bag somewhere?” “Should we take it at 4 am?” “Is it worth turning on all the lights to try to find?”

You play rain sounds on your phone for ambient noise, then remember that Arianna Huffington says electronic light is bad for your sleep cycle. Your partner rolls over, and you wonder if you’ve disturbed them, then you think it’s not so bad because they’ve disturbed you, and then you remember your empathy again.

You don’t know what it feels like to live in your partner’s body. A patchwork of descriptions in conversation, observed body movements, and Google searches give you a vague idea. The majority of the time you don’t notice that anything at all is wrong with them, so you let yourself forget. You Google medication side effects and holistic treatments. One of those searches tells you that 50 million people feel pain in their bodies day in and day out. Between those people and their potential partners, how could nearly a third of Americans not be sleeping well? Not counting the wailing babies or the late night drinkers or people without warm beds or medical students on call or the migrants traveling by night or….

Now they are all in your bed with you, it feels like, between you and your partner. Sometimes it feels better to imagine a world where most people are getting shitty sleep just like you. This is real life, isn’t it? Like taking care of elderly parents and saving for taxes. The things that never make it to social media, that barely make it into polite conversation.

Sometimes you commit to the circumstance, and you find yourself thinking ridiculous things like “It’s ok if I never have a full night’s sleep again.” You tidy the apartment or you pick up your work for the (next) day. You type out your thoughts in an effort to tether your restless mind back to a world that will soon begin to call for you again.

No one tells you about all the sleepless nights. Maybe they forget to mention it after all the graduations and mitzfahs and beautiful sunsets and close hugs. I understand that, because it seems malicious to bring it up alongside all the genuine big and small love. But sleepless nights are there, between midnight and morning, between my partner and me.

Interstellar Internet: August

On August 11, we have a partial solar eclipse. This is the fourth in a series of five eclipses in Leo (including that rad total solar eclipse back in August 2017!).

    • February 10, 2017
    • August 21, 2017
    • January 31, 2018
    • August 11, 2018
    • January 21, 2019

Eclipses draw our attention to changes in the ways we experience aspects of ourselves or our lives. Knowing your rising sign can help you better understand which area of your life is being highlighted by the eclipses in Leo. To find out your rising sign, you can use online calculators like this one. Then, scroll down here and find out which  “house” or area of your life the eclipse in Leo is impacting. Take advantage of the extra magic of eclipse energy by reflecting on what has been happening in this area of your life and setting intentions for what you want to manifest. After this eclipse series ends in January 2019, we won’t have eclipses in Leo until 2026.

Tips for reflection:

  • Once you know which house the Leo eclipses have been highlighting, think about what was happening for you around the days of the eclipses in February 2018, August 2017, and January 2018. If you need to jog your memory, take a look at your google calendar or scroll back through your social media.
  • Set a timer for 10 minutes, put your phone down, and put pen to paper. You might be tempted to use a note app on your phone, but we really suggest going analog here. Write down everything that is coming to mind about what has been going on in this area of your life. What have you been learning?

Tips for Intention setting:

  • Set another timer for 10 minutes. This time, write down what you want to bring into this area of your life between now and January 21, 2019. A lot can change in 5 months if you set the right course.
  • Take time to write down three actionable steps you can take toward making these intentions come true.

Leo rising: 1st house of self, body and image. What have you learned about yourself and your sense of identity? As you set your intentions, figure out how can you make more space in your life for the things that help you grow into your power and make you feel strong.

Virgo rising: 12th house of your inner or private life. Use this time to reflect on the aspects of yourself you keep hidden from your timeline. As you set your intentions, visualize yourself embracing the parts of yourself that you have been neglecting or struggling to accept.  

Libra rising: 11th house of good fortune and community. Reflect on the blessings that have come to you through your networks (online and IRL). As you set your intentions, aim to ring in 2019 surrounded by friends and celebrating all the

Scorpio rising: 10th house of public life and career. How has your career has developed since February 2017? If you still aren’t where you want to be, set your intentions by writing down your ideal job description. Fill it with the work that makes you feel alive and useful.

Sagittarius rising: 9th house of intuition, education and travel. Reflect what you have learned from your travel and adventures in the past few years. Not just the highlights you posted, but what you actually experienced and how it felt. As you set your intentions, visualize yourself growing in your ability to trust your inner wisdom. How can you start connecting to your intuition?

Capricorn rising: 8th house of death, rebirth and sexuality. How has your life changed since February 2017? What has died, or come to an end, so you could get closer to where you are now? What do you still have to let go of to get where you want to be?

Aquarius rising: 7th house of committed partnerships. Are your current commitments (romantic or in business), charging your up or draining your energy? If the answer is the former, it might be time to set some boundaries.

Pisces rising: 6th house of health and work conditions. If you aren’t feeling your best, this eclipse is a great opportunity for a midyear reset. visualize yourself feeling physically and emotionally nurtured. What rituals and routines can you integrate in your life to get there?

Aries rising: 5th house of creative and erotic energy. The artist within you demands to be seen. Reflect on the ways your creativity has evolved during the past few years. It’s not possible to experience or make too much art, so set your intent to make more time for it.

Taurus rising: 4th House of home and family. What has shifted in your family and home life since 2016? Are there spaces you are trying to fit yourself into, rather than finding (or creating) somewhere you truly belong? Visualize yourself surrounded a family (bio or chosen) that embraces the fullness of your humanity.

Gemini rising: 3rd house of thinking and communication. Take note of important communications that occur from August 9-11. Reflect on what you have you learned about your style of communication during the last few years. Are you speaking your truth? Remember: you have to be honest with yourself before you can be honest with others.

Cancer rising: 2nd house of value and assets. We can change our communities and the world for the better, but we need the full expression of your talents to do so. Reflect on the ways your current work environment is or isn’t valuing you and what you bring to the table. Write down your greatest strengths, and the ways that you can use them to bring about the change you want to see.

Sun Signs and Rising Signs

You probably already know your sun sign. Your sun sign is your core identity, and is calculated based on the day of the year you were born.

In astrology, The rising sign (also called ascendant) is just as important as the sun sign. Your rising sign represents the way you present yourself to the world. It is a big part of your personality and how you interact with the world, and can show up in your appearance and attitude.

Your rising sign is the sign that was rising over the eastern horizon when you were born. The rising sign changes every two hours, so you need to know your time of birth to get an accurate answer. Some birth certificates unfortunately don’t list your birth time, so you may need to rely on a parent’s memory. To find out your rising sign, you can use online calculators like this one.


When I Learned I Was An Alien

I’ve been thinking a lot about the one time my family was detained at the border for (at least what felt like) an entire day when I was a child and how scared I was. This, despite having papers and being nothing but upstanding citizens. It was the last time I crossed that particular border. I remember asking my mom why they called immigrants “aliens.” It was the first time I had heard the word in that context . It was on a poster on the wall. I thought aliens were green with antennas. My mom thought that was cute. It was the first time I realized I was an alien. Weird.

How we call humans aliens. Like we’re not all of the same earth. I remember wondering if we were in trouble even though I knew full well we hadn’t done anything wrong. I remember thinking they didn’t need a reason to do anything to us. We’re aliens. I most of all remember having my mother there to hold my hand and tell me we were okay, especially when my dad was taken out of the room. I remember holding on to her hand so tightly. And that experience pops into my head every time I’m at an airport. Every time I fly internationally. Every time someone looks at me uncomfortably in a public space. I remember that I’m an alien and that’s enough of a reason to treat me differently and to not see where I’m coming from.

This isn’t a country that wants immigrants. It hasn’t been that country for a while, especially for those running from authoritarianism, from war, from famine, from the effects of climate change. I am Asian. My family is highly educated. I am highly educated. I am of the privileged few. And yet these experiences still follow me. We came here because we had options, and I’m not kidding when I say I would give up my spot for someone who does not have that privilege. Though, I would argue there is certainly room here for us all.

Removing children from the people whose hands they hold when they’re afraid is a disgrace. It may not be a violation of any human right written anywhere, but it sure is an inability to see the humanity in others. Gathering families running from horribly dire situations and locking them up, together or apart, is yet another inability to see the humanity in others. It has long term impacts on a child’s (and eventually adult’s) psyche. It is so much more than just a simple detainment. This isn’t about what is legal or illegal, but about the ability to see the root cause, to see where others are coming from, what others are feeling. Fundamentally it’s an inability to care for experiences that aren’t our own.

Just something I’ve been thinking about lately.


I Used to Have a Sibling: Two Months (Part I)

Dear Living IRL readers,

What follows is a series of excerpts from a work in progress—a memoir about my experience living life in the world after the death of my sister. Because she and I both grew up online, technology plays a role in my grief. It has strong fingers, has managed to work its way into my endlessly tangled emotions.

I won’t explain much else, other than that this is what I am trying to give you: concrete examples of moments when my grief and technology have interacted. Sometimes this involves phone calls. Sometimes texts. Sometimes emails. Sometimes social media. It’s all always there.

Becca Spiegel

Two Months
New Orleans, Louisiana

Online Community exploring how millennials live authentically in an internet culture.

There are times when I’m driving that feel so normal. The billboards outside stand intact, the skyline is unwavering, and the air hardly moves, heavy with humid, rose-gold light. Small birds sway on powerlines above the rush of traffic. Everything in the world is more or less okay.

I pick up the phone to call my sister, then remember that I can’t; I don’t know if it is real or if I’m imagining it.

I tell myself: no, this is not the time you sat on the red couch in your apartment and started crying—at first a little and then a lot—when Emily texted you two days after the Eagles-Saints playoff game saying that she did not think she wanted to live anymore. You tried to text-message listen and console and convince her to hang on—to leverage how much she trusted you to make her believe that she was going to get through this and it was going to be worth it. This is not the time that that happened and then—even though you were worried and scared—you couldn’t do much else besides keep your phone close and you had already made a plan and were running late, so you went to the Blind Pelican and ate 25 cent oysters with friends. We laughed because we were all carrying our old college ID cards in pursuit of student discounts at movie theaters and museums.

This is also not the time I sat on the steps outside of a dinner party, crying on the phone; when I went back inside I had to explain to the host that I was okay, just worried about my sister who has a long history of mental illness. He said something kind and kind of comforting like, “Hey that’s okay, I can relate—my brother went through (this) and (this) and (this) and now he has his shit together but yeah—it sucks, man.”

I only know it’s real when I pretend it’s not real, like when the man on the plane asks me about my siblings and I tell him about Noah, who’s 14 and just went to his eighth-grade formal dance, and Emily, who’s 21 and goes to the same college that I went to in Colorado. Yes, we’re very close; no, she didn’t go to the school because of me; okay sure, maybe you’re right, maybe she did want to follow me out there. It’s real then because I’m lying and I know it and you don’t. I’m describing my dead sister to you and I’m doing it to meet your overtures halfway but not to be honest, which is what I try to do.



Looking for more of this series? Find other installments HERE.

23&Me and Me

When I was growing up, my mom’s adoption never seemed like that big of a deal to me. It was a routine confession to doctors, that I only knew half of my family’s medical history. The way she talked about it, she didn’t miss the family that had given her up. If anything, it seemed like maybe she was still a little angry–even if, as an adult, she could fully understand why a woman in the 1950s might choose to give her baby away.

And plus, she always told me, her parents are her parents. They’re the ones who raised her–who took care of her when she was sick. Their relationship wasn’t perfect (let’s face it, who’s is?) but she never seemed to waiver.

Then a few years ago, after her father had died and my brother had been diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disorder and I’d struggled with digestive issues for years, she told me over a breakfast date that she wanted to look for her birth parents. Mostly, she said, for my brother’s and my medical history.

Online Community exploring how millennials live authentically in an internet culture.

It’s a complicated prospect to start to look for your birth family at over 60 years old–her parents could be dead. But they also probably went on to have other children and long complicated lives that she was not a part of, and perhaps they stayed together and wondered about her and perhaps they never saw each other again and maybe–maybe, they had given her up and never looked back. Maybe finding them would be an intrusion. Maybe she would find out things about them she didn’t want to know. And maybe she’d never find them at all.

But, she wanted to try. And after the first few phone calls she learned the adoption agency her parents had used closed down in the ‘70s. It became clear that the search would take a while.

Online Community exploring how millennials live authentically in an internet culture.

So in the meantime, that Christmas, I gifted her a 23&Me genetic test; figuring the most it would do would give her a clue to her background and maybe make her feel a little more connected to her biological family. I didn’t realize they allowed you to contact possible close family members until she mentioned she matched with some third cousins.

Meanwhile, the months slipped by and she spent more hours on the phone with the state of Texas, digging through possible avenues to find out about her parents. They narrowed it down to the last possible option–she’d need to get an original copy of her birth certificate, which would have, at the very least, the name of her biological mother.

Then suddenly, the way these things do, everything changed. 23&Me sent her a notification: they’d found her half sister.

It was exactly what she always thought might happen. Out of nowhere, she has a sister; one who grew up knowing her biological father and who begins to put the pieces of my mother’s origin together.

Since the story is only just beginning I’ll save it for my mother to tell. But when she spit into the tube that day after Christmas two years ago, I never imagined my gift might open the door to that story.


WTF is Community?

I had the same group of friends from about 6th grade through high school graduation. I had known most of them since I was 7. We were best of buds through movie premieres, mall loitering, and the Myspace Top 8. I grew up with them, then I felt like I outgrew them and the suburb we grew up in.

I went to a small college with lots of intersecting groups, that I learned had often already been intersecting for years through boarding schools and small East Coast towns. I studied abroad twice while in college: once for a month, and then for a semester. We bonded over wild misadventures and a false sense of independence. We came back home with stories that almost felt like secrets.

After graduation, a bunch of us from college were all part of a bubble that moved from our college town up to the Big Smoke (aka Denver), a big-little city of its own. There was Rock Bar with its terrible carpet. Cheesman Park which we frequented like climate change was going to take it the very next day. D’s parties that everyone came out of the woodwork to attend because they felt just like the parties we remembered on the quad.

Slowly but surely, things changed. People left to Mexico, NYC, San Francisco. I left for a while too, more out of obligation than self-interest, for the Bahamas and then to Mississippi for grad school. Two more places, many more friends. As you might have gathered, I’m quick to make friends. A good roommate of mine graduated a semester early, and I remember feeling like I was being left behind. I felt oddly betrayed, and then instantly ashamed at how childish that was.

I moved back to Denver, but Rock Bar had closed, D (and everyone else, it felt like) had moved, and we were all suddenly too busy to wile away an afternoon at the park. There were new friends, a new roommate, and new things to do like Motown Thursdays at the delightfully kitschy Beauty Bar. Spoiler alert: Beauty Bar closed, and that roommate moved away too. I worked a job for 2 years, but by the end, everyone had either left or been fired. I switched careers (again) and found new community in activism and progressive politics, but I was beginning to wonder if maybe the trick was to always be the one who leaves first.

A friend told me about the book, “Attached”. In the interest of full disclosure, I put the title into a note on my phone because I thought I might read it, but I’m pretty sure I never actually will. The TLDR is that there are 3 types of people when it comes to relationships: Anxious (constantly yearning), Avoidant (constantly withdrawing), and Secure (give and take within your means). I’d always thought of myself as pretty secure in my romantic relationships, maybe erring on avoidant when I felt like my needs weren’t being met. I’m an independent person who feels confident moving with others as well as breaking new territory if something doesn’t work for me. But maybe that independence is a bit false, like the independence I felt studying abroad while my parents and student loans footed the bill. Maybe I didn’t want to go to new places all the time and make friends everywhere I went. Maybe what I’ve always really wanted is my own version of Cheers.

At the top of last year, a friend and I started a group to foster community. We wanted to bring people together around issues and passions that united us, to have fun and to work through the not-so-fun. As that chapter closes, I realize that the group was successful in many ways — so many stick and poke tattoos, group texts, business ventures, and genuine friendships made. In fact, I wouldn’t be here, writing to you on this beautiful website in this wonderful neighborhood of the internet, if it wasn’t for the connections I made in that community. It is not lost on me just how fulfilling and magical it is to create things with people you care about, with people who care about you.

But I think I need to stop chasing after my Cheers moment. I still feel betrayed when people leave or don’t show up, and I feel ashamed that I haven’t grown up enough not to feel that way anymore. The truth is, as independent as I think I am, I’ve decided to live in Denver because that’s where my family and my closest friends are. I’ve decided to live near downtown, partially because I hate the idea of commuting to the places I like, but also because I want to live near my friends. It is not lost on me that most of them live farther and farther away every year to buy homes and start families. I made these choices about where to be physically so that I could continue engaging in a form of community that runs on coffee dates, park hangs, and late night dance sessions.

I don’t think that terrestrial form of community is working for me anymore. I’m trying not to believe that being avoidant, being less and less available to others, is the best way to feel better about it. I haven’t figured out what my next friendship philosophy is going to be, but I have learned that the internet continues to link me to the people in all of my prior lives. Whenever someone I haven’t seen in years DMs me or laughs at a meme I found, it makes me think that maybe a bar where everybody knows your name is kind of overrated anyway. In the meantime, I’m making this thing here — this community, if you will — because I suspect that even if I do pack up and move or just stop showing up to things, that I’ll still need a feeling of connection.

I think you might need it too.



I Used to Have a Sibling: Three Months (Part II)

Dear Living IRL readers,

What follows is a series of excerpts from a work in progress—a memoir about my experience living life in the world after the death of my sister. Because she and I both grew up online, technology plays a role in my grief. It has strong fingers, has managed to work its way into my endlessly tangled emotions.

I won’t explain much else, other than that this is what I am trying to give you: concrete examples of moments when my grief and technology have interacted. Sometimes this involves phone calls. Sometimes texts. Sometimes emails. Sometimes social media. It’s all always there.

Becca Spiegel

Three Months
Long Beach Island, New Jersey

Online Community exploring how millennials live authentically in an internet culture.

It’s summer and I haven’t been wearing my watch. I went for a walk along the beach yesterday and had no idea how long I was gone.

I tried to think about nothing. Tried to focus on the blueness of the sky and the shapes of its clouds and feel the sun and the sand burning my skin. Instead I thought about names I might give to children I don’t have. I thought about wanting to have kids just so I can name them after my dead sister.

I’ve been trying to read books, to scroll through pictures and posts, to eat cherries and spit out their pits, to go on hikes and walks and runs, to watch Orange is the New Black. I’ve been trying to be 24. I’ve been trying to be tired enough that I’ll fall asleep at night. Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes it’s harder. Two weeks ago I became so anxious that I could not catch my breath for I don’t know how long.

I try to remember if there were stretches of time like this one: months that went by when I didn’t talk to or hear from Emily. Because it still feels possible that she’s only gone because she’s studying abroad. Like my friends’ little sisters, who are all turning 21 or graduating or giving toasts at weddings or doing anything that living little sisters do that big sisters then post online. When I “like” their pictures what I mean to say is, “Be so grateful.”

I couldn’t wait for you to leave. I drank to your departure from New Orleans on the last day I saw you because your depressed visit had been so draining and then four days later you were dead. So I’m trying not to think about how long it’s been and I haven’t been wearing my watch.



Looking for more of this series? Find other installments HERE.

I Bought a Menstrual Cup on Instagram

I asked friends about menstrual cups. I read about how magical they were for the environment, how nice it was not to have to carry products with you everywhere, but ultimately it took seeing a single black woman in an Instagram ad for me to actually buy one. The website that sold them was beautiful and interactive, with graphics illustrating technique and a robust FAQ page. I was actually excited to use a period product, which, since the advent of my period at a Water World theme park when I was 9, has never ever been a thing for me.

Online Community exploring how millennials live authentically in an internet culture.

Somehow I was still blissfully unaware of how intimate I was about to get with my period experience. There was the seal-checking, which requires you to run the perimeter of your vaginal canal with your finger, the at-first unfamiliar static fullness. Upon removal (earlier than advertised), I was surprised at just how full of blood it was, then i immediately felt affirmed that what doctors had suspected was an overuse of super plus and ultra tampons did in fact correspond to “heavier than average flow”. I had the milliliters to prove it. There was the intense bright red color that stained the bowl and made me instantly happy that I was doing this process at home. God forbid my period betray me in front of company again. Tampons soak up the vaginal secretions (lolz that word sounds just like what it is), but the cup just holds them, leaving a mix of blood and what kind of looks like spit. It’s interesting to me, but I am an ex-scientist so that fascination is likely not universal. At first there was more opportunity for blood on my fingers, on my thighs. My blood didn’t all go away when I flushed.

My period hadn’t changed and yet I was experiencing it anew at 27. I was ALL UP IN IT. But it didn’t make me feel better or worse. I was more viscerally involved with what was happening with my body, and the process of it made me think of what periods must be like for women in our village in Nigeria. Reminded me of how privileged and modern it made my mom and her sisters feel that they had access to pads growing up. The Instagram cup company said they donated a cup to a young woman in need somewhere, so I guess it was nice to imagine that a women somewhere was having the same experience as me. (Then I immediately felt guilty that I was letting a retailer give me a false sense of activism.) @it’s better for the environment” and “I’ll save so much on tampons” were both things I reminded myself as I washed my cup clean and reinserted it. I wasn’t grossed out by my period, I was just having to deal with it, really deal with it. I didn’t feel better or worse because my period hadn’t changed. It was still a bitch. I still had blinding pain, uncomfortable, bloating, difficult shits, which all seem incompatible with period positivity. I don’t plan to have children, so my uterus only does for me what a cocktail of hormone pills could do and does do for lots of people who have had hysterectomies. I’ve long considered getting one, but very few doctors would see the above symptoms as being valid enough to take away the fertility of young women who desperately wants to be rid of it. I hate my period. The novel excitement of the Instagram cup wore off so fast that I even surprised myself. So what I should say is I STILL hate my period, but I do know her a hell of a lot better.