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 have, and like, coffee, validation, travel, books, trees. It was a terrible game, really, because there’s no point if 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. See what I mean? Stupid game. With the good things gone, I’d have more of the bad things, full stop. Hardship. Sadness.

At “sadness” I realized why I was playing the dumb game in the first place. I was sad about something that’s taking place in my life and contemplating whether or not to permanently remove the source, but of course, that would just 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 all evidence to the contrary what with 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 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 even doctors don’t really understand. Point being, excessive sadness would do you, your productivity and your depression no good whatsoever. The ball must stay up in the air.

Before I abandoned it, the What Would I Do Without game neatly categorized a bunch of 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 die due to a 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 mean, people lose their mind in solitary confinement for a reason, I guess? Absence of human proximity, not to mention love? Or is it because they have nothing to do? Are you allowed to read and write in solitary? If so, I think I’d be fine for at least a year.

For those wondering if writing is really more important to me than human proximity, all I have to say is, 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. Everyone knows I’m a big kid. Family, friends and partners let each other down from time to time. Good communication goes a long way for me, but for all those times I need and don’t get clarification or an apology or an explanation or closure, I come here for therapy and catharsis. While I consider my blog writing separate from my capital-W professional Writing, I put no less craft into it, and though I could probably handle never being published again, I don’t believe I can handle never writing again.

So then I ask myself, why have I only blogged twice in the last year? I haven’t outgrown my blog in the way other bloggers who started with me outgrew theirs. Sometimes I may question the fact that I use a blog name — badass one though it is — as opposed to my own name, or I scrunch my nose at my site design and whether or not it’s dated, but the reason my blog writing became stunted is due to my professional Writing. Whenever I’m compelled to write, which is all the damn time, I begin with an idea for a blog entry, but a quarter of the way through I decide, Wait a second, if I reframe this, make it less navel-gazish and more universal (although there’s a galaxy of organisms in the navel), I can pitch, sell and publish it. And without fail, every single 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 on to them.

Seems all the meandering tangents are meant for the blog while the coherent pieces are intended for potential publishing — which I get tired of submitting after one or two rejections. A solution might be to move the latter to Medium, and refrain from stifling the tangential ones so I can post them here. If you have an interest in reading my rejected Op-Eds, sign up for my mailing list and I’ll send you a notice if/when my Medium project ever takes off.

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 think I am since other people think so, and they only do because I “use big words,” except then they spend our entire association confused by how such a “smart” person can fuck up so often. Another time I dreamt people pretended 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 am obnoxiously confident; apparently my dreams beg to differ. My mother too, egging me on to be “more bold” as if I suffered from insecurity, used to get under my skin — how could she not know how great I think I am, I always wondered. (It might be that my mother is due some credit and owed 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 muscle tone, my skin elasticity, my memory when it comes to retaining seemingly insignificant information that applies to a crucial whole, my hair probably, my patience, my ability to burn stomach fat, and sometimes I think, my very womanhood. That is, if I’m to believe the gross 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, as in my dreams, my belief in my attributes were reliant on the belief of others? That happens not to be the case because I’m too easily distracted to run 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 then 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 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 that 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 am grew on me as I got older and eventually became used to it being pleasing to other people.

With or without a constant ticker, I do look for validation like any normal person who believes water creatures are capable of infatuation (there was a lovestruck crayfish too, and I had a witness). People think displays of supposed vanity come out of loving yourself, but the truth is, you want others to love the whole package you are. Since they often respond strongest to your outside, it becomes the easiest route to validation. Empty calories but sweet, with a constantly renewable craving and accompanying feelings of elation vs. withdrawal like that of addicts. Social media likes are supposedly dopamine-inducing, 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.

I’ve been criticized by people who care about me 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. It can be universal, or obscure or relatable or cryptic or enlightening or funny. Yes, I dare call it art. I’m creating and with it introducing to myself a whole new person I didn’t know I had in me. It’s like she puts a tender morsel of filet mignon between my teeth, and says, chew without guilt. I’m a vegetarian you see, since I don’t need an animal 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 indeed.

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. At the party, I kept it in a paper bag with a piece of lettuce it nibbled, until we were ready to bring it 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?

As far as dates go, while I was torturing myself with the What Would I Do Without game, when confronted by 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 that 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 more concerned with youth chipping off of me. Mercury, 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 9 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 ninja. OK, so a 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 one can’t define but feels on a chemical or cellular level. There’s no rhyme or reason to it — one just comes to life in the most joyous sense of the word, around certain people. This applies to both friends and romantic interests.

When it comes to the latter, I’d rather die an alone old lady than settle for a mediocre-to-me partnership. If I have the right feeling 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. The 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 for at least the first date, and I found every conversation unique and valuable. The topics were sliding doors to twenty-seven worlds I would’ve never gotten 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 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 unique to itself, 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 is.

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2 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!

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