This might seem overly simplistic by the time we’re done.
I have a good life. I have both my parents. We talk and we love each other. I have a brother and a sister that I’m proud of and I love wholeheartedly. I have a dog back in CT that loses are mind whenever I come home to visit. I have friends as far as 20 years back. I have a dynamic life that is challenging and engaging and provides meaning. I have multiple different communities that provide support and understanding and an overall gentle assurance against those creeping pressures in life. I have easy access to food and health care and shelter and water. I am not routinely discriminated against for my color or sex or sexual orientation and gender identification. I am lucky in countless unthinkable ways that my basic situation is one in which my particular biological fragility is allowed to exist at all as any change to any vector that makes up this reality that seems so impenetrable could obliterate all of this at any moment.
Despite all of these things that I try to be actively grateful for and humbled by I want more. It is that simple. I always, always want more. And please understand me, I’m not now chastising myself for this basic fact. Perhaps I could do more to discourage my gluttonous, lustful, wrathful want of things. Maybe less time on Ebay, but I have to acknowledge too that I am a thing that wants.
And that’s helpful. I need to want food. I need to want shelter. And I need to want water and love and intimacy and all of these other things. Want is a good motivator. But it’s not my intention to waste your time about the virtue of asceticism, the salvation of acceptance of the Quixotic project of fulfilling desire (though, you know as well as I do, you get what you want and it’s never really what you needed), but rather a particular kind of pressure that is born out of this strange opposition between how good things seem and how twisted up I can get.
Forgive my self-effacement. So much of this stuff I talk about can so easily fall into cliché, bromide, banality. I feel like certain important conversations can kind of be like navigating an elephant boneyard of Happy Meal toys, any step off the path delivers unto us the bones of images and items drained of any authenticity or use. And I think this particular feeling, while pungent with a weird liveliness, has been cast into this land of misfit toys of late capitalism. So lemme try starting with a question. Have you ever cried in the shower? Even as I ask that I get weirdly defensive, a simultaneous sense of guilt and fear of vulnerability and defensiveness, like my fur is standing on end to ward of judgement from some beastly predator. I mean, of course I have. That’s why I’m writing this. I did it today. And I think these a strange and particular flavor to tears in cleansing bathroom rain. The womb like reverberations of porcelain and plastic, the ritual and aforementioned ridding of impurities, a vulnerable spot of self care mixed with something sorrowful and maybe desperate in a seemingly safe place. There’s a reason Janet Leigh’s attack in Psycho is so horrifying. No one and nothing should touch me there. But, let’s not toss off that pop culture link right away. This scene happens a lot. So much so that it’s become the butt of a very unfunny and weirdly cruel joke. I mean, just to list a few: the aforementioned Pyscho technically counts, an upsetting cynical peak of the day jeer by Kevin Spacey in American Beauty, there’s one in Blue Valentine (but to be fair most of that movie, is crying, well acting crying, but still), a bizarre one in Starship Troopers, MASH, Carrie, Heathers, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Leaving Las Vegas, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Hurt Locker…. There’s a lot. And in everyone there’s this bizarre feeling of ‘man, this person is at the end of their rope, like psychologically not all there.’ It’s an easy way to cast a character as being in a vulnerable and dangerous kind of distress.
And that makes sense. Especially because whenever I end up in a shower and find myself crying something is telling me that I’m doing it wrong, and I am not grateful enough and I am too entitled and if I could just do something different then I wouldn’t be failing in this moment and maybe would feel so much pain and maybe then things would finally be wonderful and I could finally breath without pressure on my chest or pain behind my eyes or a slight sense of doom. How did I get to be so afraid of a little vulnerability?
I remember what made me love with one of my old friends. Or at least solidified what was there. We really liked each other and we really made each other laugh and she was always cheery and kind, but none of that is what concretized it, concretized that immense sense of connection. She told me a story where she was desperate. She told me about a time way, way back in middle school when a boy she liked said something venomously cruel. And when she told me she was shaking and stuttering and I felt that same exact fear of what it would be like to be confused and afraid. Because the cruel boy said she was too fat to date. And when she told me that I felt the immense trust she’d placed in me to let her see her as she did not want to be seen. There was no better way of saying, “I am like you.”
So many of these movies are instructive in that they show me exactly what I’m getting wrong about that initial defensiveness around crying and showers and all that stuff. I have to practice being vulnerable with myself to be vulnerable with others. And part of that practice is embracing the emotional paradox that it is entirely healthy to feel like the world is going to end while your bathing, that brief moments of despair or not signs of failure, but livelihood, and to fully feel them, to embrace them and expel them is actually in incredible sign of wholeness as it is a sign of willing vulnerability. So much of emotional healthy is being okay with just not being okay. Because eventually you will be, okay that is. I always am. Most folk are.
And, okay, goddamnit, I fear I’ve lapsed into a kind of purely positive pop psych self help. So let me add in one bone of cynical contention. If I’m going to live, I’m going to do it as thoroughly as possible. So many of my internalized messages demand I want to feel good at all times. Any yet, the perversity of being a thinking thing in some ways is this: transcending those initial impulses about what I want to feel and don’t want to feel so as to sit fully with everything I feel. My life is only good when I let myself hurt because if I refuse it I suffer. And for some reason that thought makes me feel pretty good.