Danger: torturous honesty ahead. This post will either kill your soul or make you want to smack me. I hereby apologize to the new subscribers I’ve picked up as a product of my last political post being Freshly Pressed. This post might leave you Freshly Depressed. Orientation: I write about all kinds of stuff, depending on where I am in my head on a given day. Normally I’m much funnier. And I will be again, and it won’t be fake or anything. Don’t feel like you can’t believe my irrepressible wit and snark just because this post exposes one of the reasons I’m witty and snarky in my real life.
“What remains of your past if you didn’t allow yourself to feel it in the moment?”
David Rakoff wrote that. He just passed away at the age of 47 – the age he had previously thought he had been born to be. It was the sentiment he used to describe his tendency to avoid intimacy – not the sexual kind, no, the emotional kind – by using humor. It’s how he described the irony of wanting to be known without anyone knowing that which he liked least about himself.
Guardedness is, to some degree, natural. But I’ve always been more guarded than most. I’ve mentioned before that my intention in starting this blog was at least partly to be less guarded and more “out there” with how I feel about things. As is inevitable with me, I turned a lot of it into wry comedy. Well, that’s genuine. That is me. It’s more fun, it’s more appealing, and I tend to laugh at a lot of things in life, or at least employ biting sarcasm. But I haven’t generally allowed myself to be less guarded. I’ve done it in a few posts (to some readers’ alarm). But mostly, I had hit on a formula that made people laugh, that made people comment, that made people hit the “like” button so their shining faces and icons would line up neatly in a row (or two, now that I’ve finally been FP’d) at the bottom of my text. It made people like me. I’m Sally Field, over here.
I am, truly, a pretty twisted sister with a sick sense of humor. In my real life, I tend to be awfully intense if I’m not making jokes. I’m not one of those obnoxious people who is always on and never shuts up, like Robin Williams. You don’t listen to me and immediately think, “She’s covering something up with her humor.” I just happen to be pretty quick with a quip. But yeah, I’m intense if I’m not joking. Like, it’s got the potential to freak people out. My friend Joey once said he thinks I feel things more deeply than most people do. Joey, by the way, is a playwright in New York whose two younger brothers died, less than a year apart, in auto accidents, and whose two stepsisters no longer speak to the family because they’re suing his mother over their late half-brother’s trust, which was bequeathed when their father – Joey’s stepfather – shot himself in the head 11 years ago. Joey is also a recovering alcoholic. And gay. So for him to say I feel things more deeply than most people do… Oy. I didn’t know – still don’t – if that’s true, but I worry that it is. I don’t know if it’s good or bad. It’s a miracle I still have both my ears. (Somewhere, Vincent Van Gogh just cocked his head and said, “What?”)
How do you balance wanting to be just like everyone else with wanting to be unlike anyone else?
Jack ran his Iceland marathon with Gwyneth today. I woke up for no reason at 7:30am and immediately wondered if I were somehow psychically connected to him. What time is it in Reykjavik? I had no idea. Maybe they just finished…?
Why do I care?
When I read the Facebook post about how the run had gone, I bristled as soon as my eyes lit on the word “we.” “We.” Since when do you use that word, Jack? In ten years I don’t think I’ve ever heard you or seen you use that word. You’ve performed linguistic gymnastics- with stunning ease- to avoid using it. Now you’re playing it fast and loose like it’s nothing, like you’ve used it every day about everybody since time immemorial, and you claim it’s completely meaningless. “We finished in 3:31:53, a personal best for Gwyneth in her seven-marathon career.”
Okay, first of all, you know what? Fuck her personal best. Fuck her seven marathons. Your Facebook friends don’t even know her, except for seven of us who have worked with her. Why should the other 190 even care about how she ran? “We finished in 3:31:53.” You had to cross the finish line together? Why can’t you run your own damned race? You could have finished faster, I know it. You let her slow you down.
So he could be her hero. So he could be there for her. Step by step. “Just running buddies.” We.
It enraged me.
Which makes, by the way, absolutely no logical sense whatsoever. I mean… they were just… running.
And that’s the kind of stuff I generally suppress. I don’t allow myself to feel that kind of senseless anger, or any sort of knee-jerk emotion, without stopping, figuring out why I feel it, and then massaging the less comfortable parts of it away like so much muscle pain. I think it’s the grown-up way to handle one’s proverbial shit. But thanks to Ali Velshi, my new therapist, I’m assigned to try embracing the knee-jerk a little more. Oh, joy. His point: my tendency to suppress my feelings is usually because I want to be “fair” to the person to whom I’m reacting, even when they’re not around. I’m assuming, he says, about 70% of the responsibility for that which is only 50% mine to bear. What about what’s fair to me?
For the record, I didn’t comment on the Facebook post, for two reasons. One: all I could think to say was something nasty and low, and even though I’m supposed to stop caring so much about what’s fair to someone else, I am an adult in my mid-30s and I was still raised not to be a total immature snot. And also because (okay, mostly because) if I had commented, or even clicked “like,” (which herein would become merely a twitch of support rather than an actual tacit approval of all the words Jack had used), I would have been exposed, over and over, to every comment anyone else would make, thereby forcing me to reread the post any number of times to make the stupid red notices on the screen go away, thereby making me bang my head on the desk exactly that many times.
I didn’t cry. I couldn’t find a word to describe how I felt. I let myself feel whatever it was without knowing what it was. I bent forward in the shower, stretching my back, letting the hot water sluice over me, my mind a dull, nonspecific ache of getting ready for my day while letting go of a never-defined relationship in which I had loved someone more than I ever had before, trusted him more than I’d ever trusted anyone before, while never quite letting him see all my flaws because I knew they would scare him away.
Should you happen to be possessed of a certain verbal acuity coupled with a relentless, hair-trigger humor and surface cheer spackling over a chronic melancholia and loneliness – a grotesquely caricatured version of your deepest self, which you trot out at the slightest provocation to endearing and glib comic effect, thus rendering you the kind of fellow who is beloved by all yet loved by none, all of it to distract, however fleetingly, from the cold and dead-faced truth that with each passing year you face the unavoidable certainty of a solitary future in which you will perish one day while vainly attempting the Heimlich maneuver on yourself over the back of a kitchen chair – then this confirmation that you have triumphed again and managed to gull yet another mark, except this time it was the one person you’d hoped might be immune to your ever-creakier, puddle-shallow, sideshow-barker variation on adorable, even though you’d been launching this campaign weekly with a single-minded concentration from day one – well, it conjures up feelings that are best described as mixed, to say the least.
~David Rakoff, “Half Empty”