[“Circles and Squares” – We Were Promised Jetpacks]
I love nighttime. I love feeling like I am the only one awake and reveling in the quiet passage of time. I love pulling sheets up to my shoulders in a cool room and telling myself stories as I fall asleep. I love to reach out my hand toward Hammie, who is inevitably snuggling with me, and feel him twitch and snore through his tiny kitten dreams. I love the potential of the dark and quiet to bring the day back to life and offer the opportunity to reflect.
It’s at night that I become most introspective because it’s the first time, all day, that I am alone with my thoughts. I’ve stopped engaging with people, I’ve turned off or put down my distractions, I’ve turned out the lights in my room and that’s when my brain goes into overdrive. Not exactly conducive to sleep, but sleep and I are not the closest of friends anyway.
Unfortunately, during the past few weeks (particularly after my last post where I bemoaned online dating because people are seemingly incapable of being decent human beings) I have caught myself with a growing thought in the back of my mind. A thought that is possibly one of the most selfish and yet most invasive thoughts I have ever experienced… “Is this it?”
I know what that sounds like, dissatisfaction with a fairly charmed life, but bear with me…
It’s weird to say but, I grew up scared of a lot of things. Thankfully, I grew up first world scared: monsters under the bed, Jabba the Hutt, the basement… Nothing earth shattering, pretty standard kid stuff. My only real fears were apparently the things that didn’t matter. In time, I grew out of these fears but adulthood brings with it a whole new set of things to worry about, doesn’t it?
Most recently? I am terrified of being alone. And yet, at the same time, I love being unto myself. I suppose it’s a matter of semantics here, so I will rephrase: I am examining the difference between being alone and being lonely. It’s a concept disparity between my immediate existence and my forever existence.
I acknowledge that these fears are unfounded. The potential for me to ever be lonely is not a reality. I have an amazing family and group of friends. My fear of being lonely is the Jabba the Hutt of my adulthood—an irrational (not to mention ugly) notion. But with these thoughts I’ve also internalized (rather than just recognized) how utterly ridiculous it is to hinge your hopes for happiness on another person. Other people complement you, they don’t complete you. Only you can do that.
Truth in Comedy
My, now defunct, anniversary was last week. Maybe that’s why this fear is rearing it’s ugly Jabba head. As days go, it was not a great one. I feel ridiculous because these feelings are not new—but I’ll admit I cried. There was not wailing or gnashing of teeth, just some light tears to bookend the day because what was, is no longer. With each day I improve but some days can be harder than others. I’ve been told this is still normal but I am kinda sick of it so I am trying to mentally move on however I can.
Because I keep trudging forward, it is perhaps ideal that I recently discovered “Jigsaw” by Daniel Sloss, on Netflix. Those of you who know me are aware that I am not a fan of smarmy self-improvement. I am, however, a fan of stand-up comedy. I think comics are perfectly placed to give the truth scope, to elevate the mundane, and to be brutally honest for a living. I appreciate the more sarcastic and openly (harsh-ish) honest truth tellers out there.
Sloss is a typically atypical comedian who, in this special, has some serious moments where he attempts to define and re-imagine concepts of self and romantic relationships. Now, I know this special would be offensive to a number of people. He is a no-holds-barred Scottish comedian, with the language to match, whose reflections come as much from bitter personal experience as curious observation. I am not to be held responsible if you watch his special and are offended, and I am not sure I agree with everything he says, but some of his thoughts truly resonated with me. I’ve found a transcript of his show so I would like to share with you a truncated version of what I liked the most:
Sloss says when he was seven, he asked his dad what life is all about. So his father, wanting to be thorough, presented him with the simile that life is like a jigsaw puzzle. Everyone is building their own but they have lost the box with the picture to guide them. Where to start? With the corners—family, friends, hobbies, and job. Then you build toward the middle—your partner, the person who helps complete you:
Seven. Seven years old. I wish [he] just said, “Ice cream!” And we could have fucked off. And even though what he said sounds sweet and whatever, what it manifested in my seven-year-old brain was this, “If you are not with someone, you are broken. If you are not with someone, you are incomplete. If you are not with someone, you are not whole.” And that’s not just something my dad made me feel, that’s something that we as a society have made every single child born in the last 40 years feel. Every Disney princess has a prince, every prince has a princess, every television show or movie always has a character in it that doesn’t want to be in a relationship. They’re happy with who they are. But then by the end of the series, guess what. They were wrong! They were wrong for wanting to be alone, what a fucking idiot. Everyone needs someone, yeah?…
55% of marriages end in divorce. 99.0% of relationships that started before they are 30 end. If those were the stats for surgery, none of us would risk it. But because it’s love and we’re stupid, we just lie on the operating table like, “Maybe this time I won’t die inside.” My generation has become so obsessed with starting the rest of their lives that they’re willing to give up the one they are currently living. We have romanticized the idea of romance, and it is cancerous. People are more in love with the idea of love than the person they are with…
Why am I happier when I’m alone? Why am I happier when I’m not with someone? Dad says the center of your jigsaw should be about this partner piece. Why am I happier when there’s not one there? That’s when I realized the bit my dad got wrong but right in his own adorable little way. He said the center of the jigsaw is about partner piece, and he’s right and wrong. It’s happiness, find something that makes you happy. Make it the center of your life. And then everything else will naturally fit in around it. It just so happens that, for my dad ,his happiness piece and his partner piece are the same piece. They’re my mother. My mom and dad have been married for about 30 years now and to this day, disgustingly in love with each other. Like, it’s really sickening…
That’s the truth for some people and not for everyone. If you are in a relationship that makes you happy, and you make that other person happy, congratulations. Keep that up. That’s amazing. But to all the single people in the room, the perpetually single people, the people in relationships they would rather not be in, but it’s just too easy to stay in. I mean this. You have to learn to love yourself before you can allow someone else to do it as well. That’s it. There’s nothing wrong with being single. There’s nothing wrong with being alone. There’s nothing wrong with taking time for yourself to work out who you are before you go out there into the dating world, because how can you offer who you are if you don’t know who you are? There’s nothing wrong with being selfish for a bit because you’ve got the rest of your life to be selfless. If you only love yourself at 20%, that means somebody can come along and love you 30%. You’re like, “Wow, that’s so much!” … It’s literally less than half. Whereas if you love yourself 100%, a person that falls in love with you has to go above and beyond the call of duty to make you feel special. That’s something every one of us deserves…
He asks, toward the end of his special, that anyone who breaks up with their partner after listening to his borderline rant, that they “Tweet” him. In one of a number of reports done in September, Sloss shared that over 4,000 people have let him know that his words led, in some way, to the end of their relationships. I am sure some of this is just thirst for recognition but I can say that some of his reflections have made me, if not happy, at least confident in my choice for the first time.
Song of Myself
It’s my goal, of late, to conquer as many fears as possible and, really, what’s a more noble pursuit than to stop being scared of yourself? If I am not comfortable with me, how will anyone else be? Romantic relationship or platonic one—how can I be a benefit to those around me if I don’t like me?
Wrapping it back together as neatly as possible, my “is this it?” illustrates my dissatisfaction with the desire for a normalcy that I thought I wanted. A partner; a standard life path of adulthood, love, and marriage; general happiness; not feeling like I have to wear a mask much of the time when I am quite frankly just not ok. The worst part? The “is this it?” is a reflection on my dissatisfaction with myself. I don’t love myself nearly enough.
At some point, I bought into the idea that I am somehow incomplete because what and who I am can, at times, be outside the societal norm. But that’s true for everyone, isn’t it? It doesn’t make me broken. Let’s face it, I have a pretty decent life full of people I love, a pet who snuggles me when I am sad (and makes sure the plastic in my life has holes it in when I am not – you know, due diligence)… I have a job, a roof over my head, interests… And a brain that just refuses to shut down but instead will question EVERYTHING and ruin it, just a bit, every time.
In my meandering quest for self-realization, I made the mistake of over-defining myself. I’ve labeled my personality (Mean Girls level labeling, to be honest) hoping I would then be able to more firmly establish my place in the world. But why? I pigeonholed my very existence into a two dimensional caricature that will never be satisfactory because it’s not accurate. If we look at the ways in which I represent myself, I am an insecure, introverted, divorced, depressed/anxious, bespectacled and bookish 28 year old with a word vomit problem and burgeoning cat lady tendencies. Each of these things is occasionally true but applying labels never allows for the whole truth. By trying to define exactly who I am, I have limited my own existence and torn myself down in a self-deprecating humor experiment gone awry. I have held a fun house mirror to my own personality and in that way I have stopped my own progress. I’ve not given the other facets of my being a chance to shine. I became stagnant in my path because I thought accepting my current circumstance was enough. It’s not. There’s an ocean between acceptance and love.
I may only have a rowboat but I am starting my journey across that damn ocean.
Walt Whitman FTW
I’ve wanted, too badly, to figure myself out—to my own detriment. Why are we, as a society, so emotionally invested in our own social media tagline? Our own elevator speech? “I am large, I contain multitudes.”
This isn’t “it.” You know what is “it?” The end. My end. That’s the only time I should ever stop growing, learning, and redefining. That’s the only time I should stop seeking myself. I may spout sermons about self love and the importance of bucket lists but the truth is I only practiced what I preached when it suited my current mood, when it was easy. It wasn’t a lifestyle or mantra, it was a good times placebo that didn’t and doesn’t help in the tough times.
This is now about a life change.
I am ready to embrace the things that make me happiest and I am ready to recognize that I am more than what I look like or who I am romantically involved with. I am a human deserving of love regardless of the things I could stand to improve about myself. This may be obvious to others but damn have I been slow on the uptake. I am the one who has been keeping myself small. I got lost in another person and then I got lost in grief and “bad” brain chemicals. But, I don’t want to lie in bed and ask “Is this it?” I want to look at the next adventure and say “This is it!”
It’s time to recognize that this is the only life I get and despite moments of great difficulty, it’s going pretty ok. There’s wonderful friends and family, funky art installations, concerts, and so much more on the horizon.
There is life to be lived and I intend to live it well.
I am ready to reach 100%.
I am ready to be happy with where and who I am.
I am gonna have a beautiful, eclectic, funky, 3D, technicolor, jigsaw and it’s going to be a spectacular and continual work in progress. Just like me.
Photo: E. Campbell (2018)
The Navy Yard Sea Monster, by Filthy Lurker
Philadelphia Navy Yard