The Game of What Would I Do Without

Everything is incrementally falling away.

                                                                                                                                                       
I woke up playing a game with myself: What Would I Do Without, which turned out to be not at all fun because what I pictured myself without included people I love, various limbs, whatever favorable attributes I may possess, and say, coffee, validation, travel, books, trees. It was a terrible game, really, because first, there’s no point to it if instead of the good things, you picture yourself without any number of bad things — that’s already called fantasizing. I mean sure, What Would I Do Without anger, procrastination, depression, people who don’t pick up after their dogs, liars, cholesterol, financial stress, spider veins, corrupt politicians, climate change. Second, even when you limit yourself to speculating about the good things, you’re left with one conclusion. With the good things gone, I’d have more of the bad things. Hardship. Sadness. See what I mean? Stupid game.

At “sadness” I understood why I was playing the dumb game in the first place. I was down about something taking place in my life and contemplating whether or not to permanently remove the source, but realized the loss would heighten and prolong the sadness. It’s like having a very sick pet and not wanting to put it to sleep. Also, maybe the pet will become cured like those people who, through lifestyle change, make it impossible for cancer to reappear? And suppose the beloved pet actually wants to live, in spite of coming down with awful ailments and bringing us both suffering? It’s a muddy analogy, I know.

Sadness is so inconvenient and time-consuming, especially when the most important thing to you is productivity. What if years ago you discovered productivity is the ball you need to keep up in the air as your tailor-made antidepressant? There’s a distinction between sadness and depression — the former is usually due to specific circumstances, while the latter is some confounded chemical situation in your brain that doctors don’t even really understand. Point being, excessive sadness would do you, your productivity and your depression no good. The ball must stay up in the air.

Before I abandoned it, the What Would I Do Without game neatly categorized the things I need vs. the things I want. In addition to air, water, food and sleep, my faculties and writing fell under the “need” category, along with one hand. The second hand fell under the “want” category. Like, very, very, very much want, but I wouldn’t be destroyed due to one missing hand. Love, in all its iterations (friendship, familial, romantic), fell into the “want” category too, with about the same intensity as the desire for a second hand. I’ll allow that I might’ve been kidding myself. People lose their mind in solitary confinement from absence of human proximity, and love, I guess? Or is it because they have nothing to do? Do you have permission to read and write in solitary? If so, I think I’d be fine for at least a year.

To those wondering if writing is really more important to me than human proximity, I’d say, there have been times I could emotionally rely on writing in a way that I couldn’t rely on people, as childish as it sounds — call me a big kid. Family, friends and partners can let each other down. Good communication goes a long way for me, but for all those times when I need and don’t get clarification or an apology or an explanation or closure, I come here for catharsis. While I consider my blog writing separate from my capital-W professional Writing, I put no less effort into it, and though I could probably handle never being published again, I don’t believe I can handle never writing again.

So I ask myself, why have I blogged only twice in the last year? I haven’t outgrown it the way others have who started blogging at the same time as me. Once in a while I question the use of a blog name — badass one though it is — as opposed to my own name, or scrunch my nose at whether or not the site design is dated, but the true reason my blog became stunted has to do with my professional Writing. Whenever I’m compelled to write, which is all the damn time, I begin with a blog entry but then decide, If I reframe this, make it less navel-gazey and more universal (although there’s a galaxy of organisms in the navel), I can pitch, sell and publish it. And without fail, each time, the thought chokes the piece mid-utterance. I have thirty-seven incomplete essays sitting in my files because I didn’t let them follow their natural trajectory and instead tried to impose a “useful, relatable” thesis onto them.

A solution. Meandering tangents can remain destined for this blog, and the more coherent pieces can find their home on Medium (after one or two rejections for potential publishing from editors). So if you have an interest in reading my rejected op-eds, along with others of my essays and memoirs, please find my Medium profile.

Back to the meander.

For the next few paragraphs, please apply winks liberally every time I talk about being “great,” because if you take it at face value, you’ll find me insufferable.

The other night I dreamt that I’m not actually smart but believe I am since other people think so, and they only do because I “use big words,” except later they spend our entire association confused by how such a “smart” person can fuck up so often. Another time I dreamt people were compelled to pretend I was pretty because they felt sorry for me. In real life, many people (with the exception of my mother) have occasion to think I’m obnoxiously confident. Apparently my dreams beg to differ, just like my mother who used to egg me on to be “more bold” as if I suffered from insecurity. I always wondered, how could she not know how great I think I am? But maybe my mother is due some credit and a hug. I also used to dream about losing my teeth. Then I smashed them in real life and the dreams stopped. Let’s hope not all dreams come true.

Now I’m getting old and have yet to “make something” of myself, while everything is incrementally falling away from me — my skin elasticity, my ability to burn stomach fat without exercise, my patience, my attention span when it comes to retaining seemingly insignificant information that applies to a crucial whole, my hair probably, and sometimes I think, my very womanhood. That is, if I’m to believe the foul societal notion that a woman’s value lies in her desirability, or the no less injurious notion of her baby-making capacity. But even if I don’t buy into it, what difference does it make when a majority does and “value” exists in the eye of the beholder? Especially if, like those dreams of mine, my belief in my attributes were reliant on the belief of others? It so happens I’m too distractible to maintain a mental ticker of people’s assessment of me, and the neurological pathways signaling a lifetime of “I am great” have dug indelible grooves in my brain. As far as the outside of my brain, well, that’s the self-created matrix where I assume other people think I am great too. It’s cozy as far as delusions go, rarely glitched, and if so, only dispatched through dreams.

I am, after all, a person who was once convinced a fish fell in love with me. It was a frilly blackish blue darling the size of my thumb that ran itself against the side of its bowl in excitement whenever I brought my face near. Otherwise it swam up in an inky dance for a fish kiss every time I dipped in my finger. The behavior didn’t seem to be about food and was reserved only for me though the fish wasn’t even mine. Mercury, I chose to call it, although it already had a different name given by its owner. All that to say, Mercury thought I was great.

I’m lying, partially. (Not about Mercury. That fish loved me.) Someone paid me a compliment on social media about my appearance and then added, “But you knew that.” I don’t believe I started off “knowing” anything about how I’m perceived. I liked the way I looked just fine as a child, but I was not my own idea of “beautiful.” I wasn’t my own type. The “type” I fall under grew on me only after I became used to it being pleasing to other people. Mercury, being a fish, couldn’t have been moved to excitement by my looks. So the little darling must have been responding to some sort of fish-approved essence, of which my face was a mere marker.

Maybe it would affect me, after all, to know if anyone finds my essence “great” in a people-approved way.

With or without a mental ticker keeping track, I do look for validation in a variety ways, like any normal person who believes aquatic lifeforms are capable of infatuation (there was a lovestruck crayfish too, and I had a witness). When talking social media, displaying images of yourself can be mistaken for an act of vanity or self-love, when the truth is you’re seeking love for the whole you, including your essence. Since people often respond strongest to your outside, the physical representation becomes the easiest route to validation. Social media likes are supposedly dopamine-inducing, with a constantly renewable craving and accompanying feelings of elation vs. withdrawal. So with Instagram and Facebook recently proposing to do away with likes as we know them, they’d be toying with drying us out of the very drug that hooked us to them in the first place.

As far as the whole self is concerned, I’ve been criticized by loved-ones for having a blog focused on myself, and that someone so “smart” should have a wider field of examination. But art gets to exist in whatever form it wants. Yes, I dare call it art. It can be universal, obscure, relatable, cryptic, enlightening or funny. With each piece, I’m introducing to myself a whole new person I didn’t know I had in me. It’s as if she puts a tender morsel of filet mignon between my teeth, and says, chew without guilt. I’m a vegetarian, you see, not wanting animals to die for the sake of my taste buds, but nearly twenty years later, I still miss meat (a statement blasphemous to both meat-eaters and non). So guilt-free filet mignon would be a treat.

The crayfish story, by the way, had to do with a little clawed guy that I, the only vegetarian present, saved from a boil as a symbolic gesture several years ago. In the yard at the party, there was an industrial-size trash bucket filled to the top with live crayfish on ice, next to a massive, bubbling cauldron. I chose the biggest and most active crayfish I could see, assuming that having grown so large indicated his particular investment in survival, and a better chance at it than his less animated counterparts. During the party I kept him in a paper bag with a piece of lettuce to nibble until we were ready to bring him to the lake.

By the time we were in the car, the pinchy fellow was used to me, so I could put my pinky between his claws and he wouldn’t snap. At one point, I had the bag on my lap in the passenger seat and he crawled halfway out to stare up at me. The driver, who was my date and my witness, said, “Wow, that crawfish loves you.” See?

When we brought him to the nearest freshwater lake, I placed him on a rock by the edge of the water. He hesitated before going in and both my date and I saw him turn his strange, crustaceous body in my direction. My date couldn’t get over it, and clearly to this day, I can’t either.

Regarding dates, while I was torturing myself with the What Would I Do Without game, when confronting the inevitable, What would I do without ever having another relationship, I only ended up with questions. You want someone on your team, someone to send silly memes to all day long, but I never understand why that person has to be a love interest. “Finding another person to love is finding another to lose,” writes Viv Albertine in To Throw Away Unopened. Since romance can be so frustrating, why can’t I be content with my best girlfriend fulfilling the teammate role for me? I’ve asked this question of enough unmarried women (who are into men) that I contemplated making a documentary called, Men, Why Do We Even Want Them? None of us actually know, but I can tell you sex is never the thing I miss when I’m not in a relationship.

In Slow Days, Fast Company, regarding relationships Eve Babitz writes:

    “Women, especially, engage themselves in ghastly self-inflicted tortures for which they’ve been primed since childhood. After all, historically it’s always been dreadful for women…”

She expresses to a friend that even if she took up with women, she’d end up in the same “heartbreak hotel” as she did with men, so the friend advises her to be “the man” and that way she’d get to be the shitty one:

    “I had a sudden transplant of sense as I imagined myself ‘the man’ and just how creepy I bet I could be: dodging emotional entanglements and lying and otherwise having a lovely time. Forgetting to phone.”

I presume women can be just as shitty as men, and on average I’m pleased with the men I’ve chosen, but none of it exempts me from frustration and doubt, especially as I become concerned about youth chipping off of me. Mercury and the grateful crayfish, at least, might still find me great as everything falls away from me, including my tolerance for discomfort, my bone mass maybe, and my ability to read 8 pt. font. But not my fast reflexes. They remain split second-precise as I accidentally drop and catch objects of varying volume and velocity midair all day like a physics-calculating (but clumsy?) ninja.

At times I resent that “love” is my “default setting,” to lift a phrase from a wise friend. I just want to do my work and grow old peacefully without the complications of a foolish heart. It’s foolish because it wants to explode in passion, not content to stay calm. It’s peculiar in taste and persnickety, a non-fan of prolonged mediocre interaction. I say “prolonged” because there’s a time and place for light, not-all-that meaningful company, and I do possess an initial curiosity about people. Of course my meaningful and your meaningful might not be the same. I don’t need to sit with you and discern the world’s problems and together proceed to solve them (although, bonus points if we do). I do however seek that innate connection you can’t define but feel on a chemical or cellular level. There’s no rhyme or reason to it — you just spring to life around certain people. This applies to both friends and romantic interests.

When it comes to the latter, I’d rather meet my end an alone old lady than have settled for a mediocre-to-me partnership. If I have the right feelings for someone, within reason I’ll deal with flaws, dysfunction and my personal frustration resulting from it all, and won’t need to justify why I want who I want, but I can’t do any of it without that inexplicable butterfly fluttering in my stomach.

Last year when I read excerpts of Viv Albertine’s memoir in which she talks about dating in her fifties, the eerie parallels I happened to be experiencing at the time made me think I was being punk’d:

    “Like the life cycle of a pear we go unripe, unripe, ripe, off. Except the men I meet seem to go adolescent, adolescent, adolescent, old, with no ripe bit, no wise bit, no emotional maturity before they wither… I know I’m attracted to Asperger’s types, but is this as good as it gets? …No matter how badly he behaved, I kept clinging to the unseaworthy vessel that was Eryk with the desperation of a drowning woman… He wasn’t a communicator. I’m very much a communicator, but there I was, trying to have a relationship with a cold, pale-eyed man with a van.”

Perhaps we’ve all known a few “Eryks,” but without any scientific data to back up my claim, I’m pretty sure the majority of my greatest loves weren’t neurotypical. For me, minds that work differently than what one might encounter on the day to day have a powerful draw. I should add that I believe the term neuroatypical ought to have a broader meaning than its current use so it no longer implies a diagnosis. This proposed definition would do wonders for my personal sense of belonging once I’d place myself in the non-neurotypical category.

In search of flutter, my most recent bout with dating apps ended seven months ago after lasting about as long. I went on twenty-seven introductory dates. No, I wasn’t looking to get Mr. Goodbar-ed, nor will I explain the reference, having demonstrated that I’m tangential enough as is. The dates were food, beverage and conversation-related only, and in fact backed up my belief that people are in general more good than bad. The men were kind and polite, certainly for that one date, and I found every conversation unique and valuable. The topics were sliding doors to twenty-seven worlds I wouldn’t have had the chance to experience otherwise, from the high-brow to the lighthearted to the personal, all fascinating for the duration. It’s that initial natural curiosity I mentioned. But without my stomach’s lepidopteran dance, there’s never any point in taking things further.

In the end, I’ll always go back to what sends my heart aflutter. Writing, strange boys, other lands.

It’s apropos to conclude with Eve Babitz. She said the entirety of Slow Days, Fast Company was a sort of love letter to someone who wouldn’t read her work unless it was about him or to him, but that we, the readers, may as well read it too:

    “I have to be extremely funny and wonderful around him just to get his attention at all and it’s a shame to let it all go for one person.”

She’s in her seventies now and the person to whom she wrote the book over forty years ago is still her on-again off-again boyfriend.

As for me, I can’t say that I ever write to or for one person. When writing, my brain explodes into a multiverse of smaller brains, each with a life of its own, so what comes out is never about one thing. In this case, although as usual my state of mind shifts, depression lifts, and what hurt yesterday brings me joy today, the underlying thread joining the multiverse of brains remains true. I’m not claiming I know what that thread is.


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5 comments

  1. I’ve missed your posts. I relate as a person who spends a lot of time thinking about things. I might have drowned in the sea of introspection were it not for three things. My faith, my writing and always having at least one person to whom I could speak about anything…anything. Writing your heart on a page, in a blog or wherever is good for the soul.

    1. Thanks for reading, it’s nice to see you!

  2. I stuck with you all the way, and when I finished looked out my window at the bay and (literally) saw a rainbow. I use “literally” because the rainbow was there the instant I finished reading–– feeling connected and deeply moved. I sit here wishing I could just have a drink with you and talk, talk, and talk some more about… all of this. I feel: not as pretty, not as articulate, and totally lacking with my blog–– which, for the sake of writing, is as sacred as you so beautifully expressed. I’m older and time feels so daunting some days. I was with you every word… except maybe the fish; I’ve never had one love me. This post really speaks to me. Thanks for sharing; this really touched me. xo

    1. Dawn, your comment is so thoughtful and moving. Means the world to me that the piece spoke to you. Your good omen rainbow makes me so happy.

  3. […] my effort to get back to this sacred space. And, it is sacred. Recently I read a gorgeous post from Gunmetal Geisha, that speaks to so many things I feel and some of what has held me back. It was on my list to write […]

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