I don't know what it means to be "good" at being social, or to have a lot of friends. So far as I can tell, it's just people who do it more often than they don't do it. A lot of my conversations are awkward and it takes me awhile to warm up to people. I write primarily because I know people who read it will understand exactly what I have to say. When it comes to speaking, I fumble a lot, my mind darts down rabbit holes and comes up with banal anecdotes that don't really matter to anyone. In spite of that, I try, and in that sense, I guess I'm social, and I guess I'm okay at it if for no other reason that I keep trying even after it ends poorly.
Every so often, something happens and not only do things end on a bad note, but they leave you bitter, or broken. You get in a fight, or someone you know gets in a fight with someone else you know, and you're left unsure of who's in the right or if either of them are. Knowing how to react feels like dismantling a bomb.
I put myself in a lot of strange situations socially. It's part of figuring out how to do comedy, and partly because I don't think I'm good enough at differentiating between what would be a generally normal social interaction and a strange one. I've definitely hurt people that way, by expecting something of them they weren't prepared for (Hey I'm homeless tonight, can you help?) or by leading them to believe they could expect more from me. I don't do it intentionally but it's a learning process.
Occasionally, your social role and how you really see someone becomes starkly clear. For me, that tends to happen whenever I have to go to a hospital.
Thursday, I am sitting in a hospital room divided by a pulled curtain. On the other side of that a drunk woman is moaning. The fluorescent lights here paint everything pale and it strikes me that this is an odd place to choose lighting that can make everyone look sick. I'm waiting for him to come back from a CAT scan, and I wonder to myself, What am I doing here?
I didn't ask myself that because I didn't want to be there; of course I did. There was an accident, you go when someone you care about gets hurt. It was more the intensity of how I wanted to be there. The second I realized that was where I had to go, my focus became a pin prick, it made a camera obscura and all I could see was this blurry image of something outside of where I was.
I have to get to the hospital. I have to make sure he's okay.
I knew that he'd gotten into an accident before I got the call. He was late and didn't let me know. Simple as that. It's a strange thing to know about someone. There was no future, no spirals of worry, imagining him banged up or destroyed. No regret about any fights we'd had, only a vague sense of responsibility because he'd been coming to pick me up. A friend gave me a ride, I went through a couple rounds of security, and then I saw him. His face was half caked in blood before they took him to the scan and I was left waiting, listening to the assorted ramblings of the drunk woman behind me.
When he saw me he smiled, a kind of smile that's still bright even with half of his face looking like a Halloween mask. I held his blood covered hand and watched him smile at me just because I was there with him.
No ulterior motives. No other sentiment besides, "Hi!"
They took him for a scan and I sat there. I listened to the drunk woman, texted a friend, but mostly just sat there and wondered, what was I doing there?
It gave me time to think about how complicated things can get when you don't know what you're doing. Especially if you don't understand why you're doing it, or you're in a situation where you're forced to wait on an outcome. There's a lot of room for accidents in my life.
(He is fine, by the way. He cleaned up, and escaped with a lucky concussion and a car that looks like a dollar bill after laundry day.)
We hurt each other, but usually, we're not setting out to. I think the fact that it's often unintentional, or at least misunderstood, is why it's so difficult to deal with. If someone wanted to hurt you, wanted revenge or to tear you up to build themselves, those are digestable, logically, even if they're hurtful. Those are motives, but a lot of the most painful things I've encountered are accidents.
We're trying to get over our losses or we're convinced we are past them. We use people because we need someone to talk to, or a warm body to just exist with us. The longer you're out in the social miasma, meeting and connecting with new people, forming friendships, you end up with an entanglement of lives. Everyone you know knots together. Sometimes they hurt each other, and sometimes they hurt you or you them; it's hard to know how to handle it. You doubt yourself, doubt the people you know and love, doubt humans as a whole.
It's the person who whispers to you that they love you when they themselves don't really know any more. It's how someone insists you can't change even though they had no idea who you used to be. It's pushing because you don't know how else to show someone you care about them. It's believing some other fallible person can save you. There are moments you don't really think about, moments that you inadvertently shape someone with. Often, it's senseless and it hurts. We begin and end things, repeat ourselves and our mistakes with other people.
I never thought I would be the kind of person who hurt people the way I did. I'm still puzzled when I see people I know do the same things and hurt people I know they care about. I still get myself into situations I probably shouldn't, so I guess I can't blame them. That holier-than-thou attitude that I know what the right thing to do still lurks in me, either from when I was religious or when I was so closed off I wouldn't take any risk if I had any doubt in my mind that I might fail. I learned walking into that hospital room what you do in the face of doubt: you go with purpose.
I hadn't realized it, but this is something that I'd been working on for awhile. When I felt lost in my life, directionless to the point of being suicidal, I made the conscious a conscious effort with my choices to only choose what I didn't know. I felt lost, and that came from doing with what I assumed I was supposed to do, so I stopped. I chose uncertainty, and I made that choice with a sense of purpose. I wanted to know what happened on the paths I'd never taken. Sometimes it sucked, sometimes it was fine. In rare moments, it amazed me.
Later, when I was single, I made the conscious choice not to get together with someone solely because I was lonely. I fucking wanted to have someone, almost anyone, but I knew how that would end, and not well for me. I waited. My days were fine but I'd cry myself to sleep. I'd wake up, live, then fall asleep, crying almost as if to ensure that I was empty by the time I was dreaming. When I finally decided to look for someone, I had a purpose; I wanted to find someone I liked and that I was a person I liked when I was around them.
There is a difference between having a sense of purpose, which I don't know that I do, and acting with a sense of purpose. I'm hoping the latter breeds the former.
I can never always know how my actions effect everyone involved, and I'm trying to keep that in mind about the people I know. Everything is so tightly woven. I don't want anyone to get hurt, but sometimes being indecisive about how to let everyone come out clean leaves you hitting someone hardest. I tread lines when it comes to caring about people and I know that. The thing that I hope saves me is my intent. I may not know what I'm doing, but I know my intentions thoroughly. I won't act until I'm sure of it, until there's purpose. That's the best way I know how to navigate. The truth beyond that is relative and open to a lot of interpretation.
We get banged up, there are accidents, and often, we're forced to wait. The only thing that makes you feel sane, that you can be trusted or trust others, is understanding why you're there in the first place. You went there with a purpose. The rest follows.
Every month I have to play a game called "Rent."
Rent is my least favorite game in the world.
The rules are simple enough; do things you may or may not like doing so that you're not homeless. This can be a tough game to play if you don't have a college education, if you're attempting to do something creative, or if you're attempting to evade the service industry like the plague on your soul it seems to be. Rent is one of maybe a dozen games that I play on a daily basis.
This game sucks, like most of the games we have to play in society; reality is an MMO. (Society's for nerds!) Generations before us didn't question the game. No one really knew why they were playing it, or "Finder's Keepers: Marriage Edition", or any of the other ones we're brought into; so far as they knew, that's all that existed. We're coaxed into it pretty young, when we learn about different jobs and how grown up lives work. We're given the rules for the games by our parents and other adult role models.
Even with that early introduction, the disconnect starts surprisingly early. Our little hearts and brains get set on becoming the world's first Astronaut President who lives in an amusement park. As we grow up, we learn that the generations before us didn't pick accountant or data entry clerk over Astronaut President. Suddenly, we find out that we're not that special, jobs are limited, and no matter what job we pick, we have to play Rent, and ruling the country from space is not as lucrative as we thought.
Reality phases out the nonsense. We get better at games like Rent instead of games like Astronaut President because ambition takes a back seat to practicality. There's fewer players in the latter, so it's not a game we can continue to play if we want to play with other people. Eventually, we learn that our dreams are impractical, because we have more important things to do, like play "Rent", "Finder's Keepers", or "Oh My God I Am Not Helping The Population Crisis At All By Eating This Cake, Am I?" But aren't those games also impractical nonsense? Maybe, but they're so huge that often we have no choice except to play them.
These games form our society. If you want to participate, you have to play. You're supposed to get a decent job, get a decent life partner, settle down and keep this human race/economy/game perpetuating. The games we play as adults have higher consequences than winning or losing; these are blood sports. We have to survive, and adhering to the social structure in place not only ensures our survival but how comfortable that survival is. We spend a lot of time trying to make sure our lives are optimal.
Disclaimer, This is partially where my privilege comes in. I'm a girl and have the fortune of being one that people like to take care of. That advantage means I'm allowed to swim in the meaningless longer than most people and survive. Many people have to emerge from swampy nonsense in order to avoid being eaten by social monsters like Poverty, Bills, Class and so on. The fact that I can write this is because I don't have to participate, so this observation comes with the understanding that rejecting safety is not inherently feasible for everyone; this isn't an idea, it's an ideal.
If you're fortunate, you're introduced to the game with a few advantages. Some of us are introduced to the world with elbow pads and the love of our parents. There's financial support when we need it. When it's our turn to play, we go in trusting that it will go well. I've heard that this does nothing to prepare you for the hard knocks of life, but in that sense I disagree. Your cushions will break your fall. Having a community and a family to support you will help nurture your decisions and help you recover from things that go wrong. Having support can help you push further and help you go higher; but there is a danger to keeping safe.
If I were to name a deadly sin, Sloth, would be the ultimate, beyond all others. A society that has no deity seems dangerously steeped in it. Turns out you don't have to believe in God to believe in sin. Sloth is fear and laziness. It's spiritual complacency. It's a rejection of risk, and if you never risk, if you remain comfortable in all facets of your life, you will never need to change. Despite our craving for homeostasis, change is an inevitability; we are flux critters.
Few of us play our social games to win, most of us play to be comfortable. There are so many people who are terrified and uncomfortable in their daily lives. They assume that new experiences will hurt them. Instead of pushing, we dig our heels down and settle in, because this spot's comparably better than any other and we know we have the stamina to maintain it. If you don't push, whatever it is that makes you human will begin to atrophy.
We mistake safety with balance, and we often misinterpret balance as overcoming the odds. Balance is understanding that life is trial by fire, but not exclusively so. Safety means avoiding the flames. I dislike the term balance because frequently people refer to it in a way of equal complacency; they push themselves so much that they refuse to recover. That kind of drive is a different form of sloth. You'll work, be it your job, or relationship, until it's impossible for you to do anything else. That way of thinking means you'll never be able to learn the value of breathing, you'll never be able to visit your internal universe, and if you never tend to that world, it will decay.
Our fear of germs led to vaccines, but protecting ourselves from them also led to superbacteria. Industrialized society plays it safe, both for ourselves and other people. We think we're doing the right thing and ignoring when that isn't true. If you are happy and you don't push for anything greater, you have nothing to contribute, and in a way, you become expendable. People know how to live your happy, complacent life.
We seek comfort, bliss. We want to minimize pain and damage, and rightly so, those things suck. The damaged are not the strong; they are the wounded and can be picked off. There is nothing impractical about wanting to live your life comfortably, except for that it will make you the exact opposite. We yearn for homeostasis; we want to be happy but in order to be happy, we need our instability.
This is also why I don't meditate, by the way. Sadness, Fear and Anger are pushers. Maybe it helps people with different monsters in their head, but I quite like mine and I don't mind letting them off the leash every once in awhile. I don't seek bliss or happiness, because reaching those treads dangerously on complacency. I spend enough time in the world to get into uncomfortable situations and I need to be able to vocalize it in order for it to get better.
I also know better than to indulge my dark side. There's an atrophy in succumbing to your demons, listening only to your sadness or anger. There's a difference between letting your negative emotions guide you and rule you, and admittedly that difference is razor thin.
The dangers to taking risks are more obvious but they're also a lot more nuanced. Remaining on the fringes is not sustainable, and I know that. If you're going to take part at all, you have to have some integration into society. You can't live your life in a way that wouldn't be sustainable to everyone; that's selfish in the bad way. It's one thing to take care of yourself, it's another to assume that by doing so you shouldn't try anything new.
I don't know what your life is like, you darling, but you can't sit still in it. We aren't plants, we don't grow roots and we'd be hard pressed to understand them if we started to. You have to move, you have to crash. If you push yourself, internally or externally, you are going to get hurt. That's not a question of if, only when. If you choose to stay where you are, you are going to wither, and eventually, if you should try to leave, you'll find yourself too weak to.
Don't choose to be a character in the social game. You are the game. The sure fire way to lose is by getting too comfortable.
It's so easy to become jaded by intelligence. The older you get, the more you can find to take issue with. The world sucks. It's portals to snake pits and failure. Things go wrong, people are corrupt, and here we are, the elite in coffee shops, acting as though nothing is happening. Or worse, we acknowledge it and do nothing.
Having an extended childhood is a fortune permitted to the most industrialized nation. There's something almost biblical about how we worship innocence. The unquestioning, unknowing purity that comes with simply accepting something for what it is has a lot to do with how faith works, but that's not sustainable. Much as we laud innocence in ourselves, losing it is how we learn to survive. People who don't lose any of it become twisted somehow. If you remain innocent because you never question anything, you accept what you've been taught as dogma. If you remain innocent because you avoid everything, because you're afraid, you become clutched by self imposed rules, you lose the ability to integrate and adapt.
Innocence is what makes one child hurt another, before seeing that pained expression that teaches them not to do it again. Nature is innocent by default, there is no self examination in most creatures to take that away. Innocence goes to waste if left to its own devices. Innocence is not sustainable, and it can't take care of itself.
There's a point in time where we lose innocence, either through learning about the world or having it robbed from us. It doesn't have to be dark, it's just a part of life; you will get older and more worldly. Innocence is the uncarved block, losing it sculpts you. It's hard not to feel an attachment to it, something we see in kids who are still learning about the world, but I think we confuse innocence with wonder, and wonder is something you can get back. There is magic in the ineffable and inexplicable, the things even the most robust sciences fail to answer.
I have, and continue to lose innocence. I make terrible decisions all the time, but I learn from them. I've started doing things that I think are bad ideas just to see what will happen. I wonder about the results and how they work, and that gives me the feeling of magic. Meaning is magic, and that's something we have can always have, innocent or not.
I believe that reality is objective, but I believe that perception is not. We're given an objective world like a reference point, we can all look at a cat and learn how to describe it to one another and reach some consensus for how to describe it again if need be. Beyond that though, we filter through so much stimuli at any given second that our methods for pruning and processing are bound to be different. Whatever value we assign to things, whatever resonates with us with meaning will always be personal.
I've been in Chicago for a few days. True to my methods, I didn't do a lot of planning. Every time you go to a new city, you have to start over, at least a little bit. If you do it enough times, that process gets easier. You learn what kinds of questions to ask, which facial expressions to make and the language of getting what you want or need. I've seen enough shit in my life that believing that everyone is kind is how I protect myself. I have to believe that terrible things are uncommon. I know it makes me naive and susceptible, but without that I will feel nothing, there will be no wonder.
We celebrate childlike innocence but very rarely stop to appreciate mature wonder. To me there's something fantastic about what you can accomplish when you don't know, or you endure something that changes you. If you try to hold on to who you were before, you feel damaged, of course you do.
It was only a month ago or so that I admitted to myself how broken I felt over Jay. I was so angry that it didn't work. I had tried so hard to make it work. There's something in me that still wants to. I felt nervous before this trip because I felt like I was yet again putting myself in a position where I wouldn't be able to mourn, and therefore I'd get stuck in this frustrating cycle of not dealing with this huge emotional shit storm that I had been avoiding and therefore elongating.
Turns out I just cried on trains a bunch. I still think about him a lot. At one point my lips felt like they were stinging and that superstitious part of my brain thought that he must be kissing someone else. I haven't talked to him in awhile. I wonder if he'll read this.
(If you do, hello, I hope you're well. I saw a raw honeycomb at a store and thought of you.)
Whether it's the actual distance or the implied distance of time, grieving has been more bearable than I thought. I do feel pretty broken, but I'm no longer trying to put the pieces back together. I'm rearranging them, figuring out what fits and how they feel. I wonder about things and what they mean to me, and that was the reason I left in the first place I guess. I had begun to feel numb.
Being in a relationship restricts you, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, and in some ways that can be very comforting. You are with each other so you never feel cold or alone. You're always understood and cared about by somebody. I had been with Jay for so long and from so young that I didn't know what feeling cold or lonely meant. I can't say that those are enjoyable experiences, but they give me a reference to look at my world, and they teach me how to connect and adapt.
In some ways I do feel like a child. I am learning how to hurt. I am learning how I hurt people, and more importantly, how to stop. I am learning what it means to be close to people, and to choose not to be. I'm getting nuance back.
Even as childlike as I feel in my emotion and social capability, I do feel a sense of maturity. There's a kind of wildness, something dark that is mine that guides me. I am older now, I have experience. I am very detached from the idea of being comfortable and even being safe, those things take time and maturity to come to terms with. I know what I can handle, and I'm not afraid, I have nothing to protect. That's a skill that age offers, and it's one we don't celebrate enough because of our desire to see things with novelty.
My favorite people have magic. They are adults, and I'm not talking about them being naive or innocent. They know what they want and they understand their values of the world. They can take care of themselves, and they can laugh themselves silly for the sake of it. Everything has a meaning, and the ones who have magic look for it in everything, find it when necessary and have the experience to know when to let it go if the meaning becomes detrimental to themselves or others in any way. That's what I want, that's what I'm figuring out. I'm shedding an evil innocence in favor of magic.