Part 1

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I've always been a planner. In high school, I carried a detailed, color-coded assignment notebook in which I recorded not only when specific homework assignments were due, but also all kinds of extracurricular tasks and errands. Whenever I travel or take a vacation, I do a lot of research leading up to the trip and then make a detailed calendar of every sightseeing outing and social activity for the week, down to the hour. There are few things that make me more anxious than "playing it by ear." I've had names picked out for my future children since I was eleven.

So anyone who knows me will find it hard to believe that I never planned to start The UnSlut Project. That's not to say its creation was impulsive; I thought it through carefully each step of the way and I still proceed with as much caution as I can. But over the past two years, I've gotten used to a new, scary feeling. It's the recognition that, after a long journey down a relatively familiar path, stepping over brambles and pushing branches out of my way, I am suddenly standing on the edge of a cliff. I can't see what is down below; I can't even tell how steep or far the drop is. I know that once I step off that cliff, anything could happen. I might just be taking one big step, leading to more of the same familiar path. I might be leaping a long way, landing in a new world with a much wider, more beautiful road to travel. Or I might be dropping a thousand feet into a pit filled with snakes, jagged rocks, and all manner of other nasty things. I first had that feeling when I agreed to be interviewed as Emily Lindin for the first time. But let's start back at the beginning.

I suppose Christmas of 2010 is as good a place as any to call "the beginning." I was one year into my PhD program out in southern California, where I had moved after graduating from college in 2008. I was in love with California, but I always looked forward to going home to New England for weeklong visits whenever I was on school vacation. My parents still lived in the big house where I had grown up, and my childhood bedroom was a time capsule. Soccer trophies were displayed alongside dog-eared copies of The Babysitters Club books and abstract popsicle stick art I had made through the years at summer camp. And there were my diaries, overflowing with photographs taken with a disposable camera and printed-out AOL Instant Messenger conversations, neatly folded and taped onto the pages alongside my curly cursive.

I knew what was inside those diaries. Every time I climbed into my childhood bed, I was reminded of all the times I had lain on my stomach in that same bed, propped up uncomfortably on my forearms, writing furiously about what had happened that day in school. These were gauzy strands of memory, vague and easily ignored. But I knew that if I opened those diaries and began to read, I would be transported back to a time when my bedroom was my refuge from a world I believed had rejected me. Standing in the doorway to that bedroom on the first day I arrived home for Christmas vacation in 2010, I stared at the diaries and decided I wasn't up for it. I went downstairs and ate some cheese instead.

The next day, I decided to walk to the coffee shop I thought I remembered being in the town center, about a mile away from my parents' house. There was something about the slightly buzzing atmosphere in coffee shops that made my many graduate reading assignments go more quickly for me, and I had gotten in the habit of setting up camp in a cozy armchair, surrounded by other students and some aspiring screenwriters, to dig into the pages and pages of dense academic arguments my professors had assigned. I set out, bundled up in a hat and down parka.

About five minutes into my walk, I began to suspect it had been a bad idea. It might surprise you to discover this, but walking to a coffee shop in New England in December is not the same as walking to a coffee shop in Santa Barbara. My fingers, jammed gloveless into my parka pockets, were beginning to lose feeling. Every step became more difficult as my legs, protected only by my grey, wide-wale corduroys, started prickling and going numb. By the time I got the idea to turn back, I was already about halfway to the coffee shop and it seemed silly to just go home rather than to press onward. As the wind excoriated my face, it occurred to me that the earliest New England settlers had died in these conditions. I began to imagine myself, frozen Little-Match-Girl-style in a heap by the road, never having made it to the coffee shop.

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