Tuesday, November 5, 2013
This weekend, Jeremiah came to visit me.
We drank a lot with people in Halloween costumes, and went to the chilly beach, all around the big old mansions and hidden gardens, into the hipster house party and the southern polish festival and down the Cape Fear river on a flat boat with a piano and a dog. I made grits. It was the best I could do for him.
Every time a good friend of mine from Cleveland comes down here, I feel a conflict of personalities - a deep insecurity about how the Past Me will measure up to the Present Me. The Past Me was riddled with bad emotional decisions and squashed ambitions. The Present Me has sun bleached long hair and no money ever and the vulnerability of a small puppy that's just been weaned and needs someone to hug it. I'm not saying one is better than the other - no, actually that's exactly what I'm saying. But I need approval, I crave it constantly, and so a visitor will bring out a need to show them why I'm here. And every time, it works. They all love it here. They all say they want to move down here with me. I seem so happy here, they say. And I'm left feeling drained by my internal conflict, unable to process the validation, and somehow feeling rejected by the world. I want to follow them back to the safety of my neighborhood. I want a world that embraces me and loves me.
People have been repeating a refrain to me lately - how much Wilmington loves me, how amazing it is I know so many people, how great I'm doing for only a year here. I remember hearing the same refrain in Cleveland, and there's something about that kind of praise that makes me feel worse. Because I know it isn't true. I know it's just a facade of confidence I've put on, a persona that is still a persona no matter how hard I try to keep it real and true, and they see what they want to see. I mean, I get this is what we all do, present our good and sane face to the world. But in Cleveland, I had people who had seen me at my worst, for years. Here, that hasn't happened yet. My worst has been lying curled up in a tight little ball inside my chest, and just because I've learned to put a leash on it and teach it to sit doesn't mean it isn't there and it doesn't also need love. That's where the disconnect, the deep unhappiness I feel sometimes, comes from with this place. Most of the time, I'm fine. Half of the time I'm ecstatic here. Some of the time there is a gray heavy fog of despair, and I'm lost in it, and I don't understand why no one else can see it.
One night, I said to my roommate, as we drove back from the bar, "I don't understand it, I'm fuckable, right? I'm not hideous, right?"
And he replied, "Bridget, you're the most confident person I know."
Which is not the response any girl wants to hear.
But there's only a few adjectives Wilmington knows to describe me with - confident, brilliant, intimidating, hilarious. I know I should be grateful to hear those, and I am, but it's only ever those four, ever. Over and over until they lose their meaning. In Cleveland, people threw beautiful or sexy in there occasionally. I haven't heard either of those in over a year. That makes me feel like something is horribly wrong.
And this is what Jere said to me, he said "Bridget, all the men who have fallen in love with you, it's been through your blog. That's how you get people to want you. You are never going to be the one they look at and fall for, they have to read you."
I think that's depressing as shit, but what can I do?
They don't know, but I know that anyone who loves me for my mind is going to eventually have to deal with the worst of me, that isn't house trained and jumps on people and barks at passing cars all the time. So that'll never last anyway, and the only obvious conclusion is I'm just one of those people the world will love, who will never actually get love. That's a conclusion that tows the fine line of realism versus nihilism. Because sure we all know it's the *wrong* thing to say, that several good souls will try to console me and feed me lines about hope or whatever, but also it's a Very Real Possibility. It happens to people all the time. Especially really smart people who have ambitions of not settling, who are incapable of settling because they know it will turn them into a bad person. It's why having such a reliance on love like I do is a deep personality flaw, and one that will inevitably let you down again and again.
A friend of mine is going to a spiritualist conference this weekend, and the theme is "The Question That Drives You" - figuring out your personal koan. From their website:
"When we take all our life-actions into consideration, what primary drive are they trying to satisfy? If we want to increase our chances of fully satisfying that primary drive, would it make sense to pay more attention to the feeling of it, our interpretations of it, and how we could phrase it to ourselves in question form - in effect finding and working with our personal koan? Does it take great doubt to arrive at certainty?"
It's becoming increasingly obvious that one of the main stories in this town is the seeking of spiritual clarity. I think that must go along with the ocean thing - people attracted to the Great White Noise are seeking respite from the harsh daily noise of the physical real world, and so it makes sense they would be seeking emotional respite as well. There are a million churches here, and they are not all traditional Southern baptist. There is a growing collection of non-denominational, meditation based, yoga based, crystal and oil faiths - all the little closet ones that exist to help the bourgeoisie find a semblance of wisdom by talking to them about their favorite subject - themselves. All human beings love talking about ourselves. It interests us the most. It makes us feel special and important, to be the subject of introspection and critique. Tell me what my soul is like. Tell me what color it is, and what plan it has for me. Tell me how my heart should feel, how to forget I have a mortgage and kids and insurance bills, because I have enough money to cover all those, so I can afford to forget it for a while. Teach me how to be special, how to become superior to the other lost souls around me, and how to find all the other superior people so we can hang out together and talk about how great we are.
In that respect, Catholicism will always have a special place in my heart, because they just get together to talk about how non-special and awful they are. It's refreshing, that old school self-hatred.
I was somehow, almost completely against my mother's will, raised to believe I require no other moral structure than the one already in my head. I am weirdly unimaginative that way - I don't long for a god, or think to myself when I look at a beautiful sunset that there must be one. I don't believe in an afterlife, or anything other than decomposition, and I'm not scared of that, death seems totally normal and non-traumatic to me. My heart stands on a solidly concrete floor where it doesn't feel the need to ask questions of the universe that can't be answered. My heart thinks if there are other answers, I'll just learn them as they are presented, but why bother wondering about them until then?
But I do want to figure out why other people are so obsessed with them. I naturally come to that from a place of superiority, where I think "silly people, don't you know this is futile and doesn't help poor people, and maybe if we all just stopped thinking about ourselves for a few minutes and thought about real world things that would help people, maybe capitalism wouldn't exist." (As a counter-point, I offer this entire blog entry - but I know I would be a better person if I thought about myself less.)
That isn't a helpful attitude to have towards spiritual folks if you're trying to suss out where they come from and what they're about, and why people choose religion. Just like only thinking about yourself isn't helpful to life, thinking you're just naturally smarter than 90% of the population isn't helpful either. I have a fear of coming off like the biggest rube - the one missing some essential part of the human experience and just assuming it doesn't exist cause I don't see it.
So yesterday I was thinking about my own personal koan. What is the nonsensical statement that sums up the inspiration of my self-doubt the most? What is the clutter stopping me from seeing my own personal drive? Or do I already know it, and yes, actually I'm just more intuitive and well-adjusted? And HOW WILL I EVER KNOW IF I KNOW IT?
Is that it?
I mean, what is it that I want? Do I want love more than anything? I have lots of love around me, maybe it's to be desired that I want most. Or do I just want to be sure of what the hell is going on around me? Just to have a real knowledge that how I see reality is pretty close to the truth, and therefore some camouflaged cosmic angler fish isn't going to lunge out and surprise me and chew me up with sharp little teeth. If modern man has become aware that what he perceives as reality is a construct of only his experiences and therefore not reality at all, then isn't it just a primal form of self defense that we try to figure out if we're right or not?
A guy told me recently my desire to never be bored was intimidating. I thought to myself when he said it that he didn't understand where the truly interesting things about knowing someone lay, that when I really like someone, they are never boring to me - that really no one is boring if you are really looking at them and not just at yourself.
Last night, I watched something called John Safran vs. God - it's on Youtube, go find it, all 8 episodes are amazing. But in particular, the Buddhism episode. He goes to a monastery and tries to learn to meditate, to answer the koans correctly, and hold focus. He ends up getting beat with a stick a lot. And in the end he says he doesn't understand why Western Buddhists have left behind the best part of this ancient Eastern religion - which is getting to beat people with a stick a lot.
Maybe if American Buddhists beat each other with sticks, instead of buying 80 dollar yoga mats and burning 20 dollar beeswax candles of the Buddha, maybe I would like them more.
Posted by Bridget Callahan at 12:33 PM