You have never fit.
It’s bright out at 7 in the evening in the Northern Hemisphere in August. I wake up from a short nap and make coffee and toast. I might be reenacting the morning to erase the fact that I didn’t get much done today, and in fact starting over. It defies logic how someone without a regular job or kids has so little time. It’s not like I shoot up or sit around and watch reality shows. But what do I really do?
If the refrigerator is empty because I didn’t bother with grocery shopping, I think annoying thoughts like, I live and die for my art. Why is it annoying? For one thing, what is my art, exactly?
* * *
If nobody recognizes your art except yourself, but you keep acting haughty about it, it’s annoying.
But the people it annoys the most are your parents. Not because they don’t believe in you, but because on the one hand, they can’t let you starve, on the other, they can’t keep enabling you.
Besides, they’re not rich, and you’re middle-aged.
They consider the problem of you a failing on their part. They didn’t raise you right: they made you feel special.
I’d die before taking a job at McDonald’s, you used to say when you were a kid. Later, when you were a little more jaded, you’d say, I’d be a stripper before taking a job at McDonald’s.
If you were going to kill your soul anyway, may as well make money doing it. But out of all those scenarios—McDonald’s, death, stripping—the likeliest was always death, because you—stubbornly, annoyingly—live and die by your mysterious art. And then there’s the part where you are prey to depression. Those factors don’t make for ideal survival instincts.
Your parents also gave up on marrying you off a long time ago, because besides your art, you also live and die by love, and your soul meshes most with those who wander like yourself. Wanderers don’t have stable jobs. As soon as they do, it magically works out that you leave the relationship. It’s like you thrive on instability, you want the constant quake.
How is it going to wear when you’re actually old? Answer: Much more unbecoming than the tattoos you never got are said to age poorly.
You have a dying car and no medical insurance even with forced healthcare, but you’re sophisticated—as are your tastes and desires—and you don’t deprive yourself of “nice things.” In fact, you’ve pampered the shit out of yourself all your life and no one understands how, least of all yourself. It’s not like you’re a secret prostitute or a bank robber on the side.
It’s true that you are loved by people. You’re lucky that way. But you don’t fit. With your own best friends, you don’t fit. With Americans, with Iranians, with other women, with other middle-aged people, with married people, you don’t fit.
You have never fit and you’re okay with it.
Still, what’s going to happen when you’re old?
Secretly to themselves, so many people feel like they’re hacks, frauds. But you never have. They opt for stability; you opt for meaning. They regret the life they’ve chosen. But you don’t, not so far anyway. You have a built-in self-validation mechanism that’s going to make you live—really, truly live—or die.
There’s your answer: one of those two things will be happening when you’re old.
Maybe it makes you feel a tad like a fraud the way you’ve been collecting pictures of desert garden ideas for landscaping the house you’re looking at with your man. But you’re smart. You know nesting doesn’t make you a fraud and the truth is that you’re terrified of commitment. Of responsibility. A house? You actually shudder at the thought.
* * *
I take a stroll on the beach with my father as the sun descends. He’s in town to move my 18-year-old brother to Los Angeles. I share a profound kinship with my father. His has a gentle soul and a vast philosophy. More than any study or reflection, it’s through him that I’ve learned humanism.
I’ve been working on myself for years, to be good, and then after, to be better.
We carry our shoes. The sand is coarse and pleasant under my feet. I ask my father:
“Do you see a difference in me over the years?” He doesn’t answer right away, and I think he’s weighing his words. But when he slowly shrugs, I realize he doesn’t have an answer for me.
“Not really. You’re still an adolescent.” I’m a bit crestfallen—he doesn’t see all my internal work. Also, I like the part of me that’s a thriving adolescent.
“You don’t think I’m calmer?” I ask.
“Yes, calmer. You’re calmer.” I change the subject and we go back to talking about the human draw to, versus the shunning of, theism.
When he returns to the East Coast, he calls to ask me to mind how I influence my 18-year-old brother. He doesn’t want my little brother adopting my priorities. He means my lack of priorities. The call happens when my brother and I are about to pack the car for an impromptu trip to San Francisco. My man is working out of town, so it seems like a good time for a road trip.
I tell my father he doesn’t have to worry about the mind-boggling, independent 18-year-old who moved cross-country and lives and pays rent by himself. He washed dishes at a fancy restaurant since the age of sixteen and saved the money to move, then landed a part-time film crew job on his second day in Los Angeles. He wants to establish residency, then start college. He has a plan. My father can relax.
Still, my brother and I don’t go to San Francisco.
* * *
In his apartment, my teenage brother ruminates on prototypes and patents for a gadget he’s thought up. In her apartment, his middle-age sister takes evening naps.
It’s 8 p.m.; I’ve had coffee and written a blog post. It’s finally getting dark. When will I unpack those moving boxes of mine? If I agree to the house with my man, I won’t have to unpack. Two moves in two months. This is unheard of for me. I hate moving like I hate going under a surgeon’s knife. They both cut me open.
The boxes have taken so long because I’ve been working on my art, building a body of work. I don’t mean the writing or music video or acting that have indeed used up much of my time. I mean the problem of me. I am my own body of work. I’ve said before that more than wanting be loved, I want to be good, as in, evolved.
Evolution is slow-moving. Depression is all-encompassing. Navigating a psyche while working out the practical puzzle of day to day survival is taxing. Nobody accepts that you work hard, or at all, if you’re not making much money.
But you have a good life. If in your middle-age you have the luxury to wax poetic about your teenage angst, you have a damn good life.
Or alternatively, a lost life.
Since you don’t feel lost, we’re going to go with good.
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