When life gets me down, I get down on life and fantasize about minimal effort. I try to think about what it might take to get by without too much of a hassle, without having to play it straight. The result of this line of dreaming leads to the familiar rumination of several reoccurring themes: “Matt the wandering traveler”, “Matt the somewhat starving artist with a part-time job”, and “Matt the house husband whose rich wife just died”. In each scenario money is not important, and aside from the predictable essentials necessary to sustain my life, most everything else is negotiable. I can easily cede to a mantra that says bathing everyday is indeed a superfluous luxury, and as for food, I eat almost anything; I’ll substitute the 5-second rule for the 5-hour rule for any piece of food that doesn’t make me want to puke on sight alone. But really, the trick is smell: if it doesn’t smell, then all is well.
Sitting in the front row of my mind, watching each scene of my new and exciting life play out, I relish in the lack of boundaries and imagine the countless hours I might have to explore, meet people, and just experience the raw quality of my mortality. Yet, without fail, somewhere during the fantasy I’m interrupted like a teenager whose parents have just walked in on them watching porn. There’s some part of me that wants to finish living it out, while the other part of me is just left feeling embarrassed, caught with my pants down and wishing I’d never started in the first place and just got a girlfriend instead.
Right about the time when “Matt the wandering traveler” starts getting good, the romance becomes compromised by thoughts about the dangers of hitchhiking, the expense of airline tickets, the implications of sickness and disease without proper medical care, and the dilemma of how I might still have sex with a woman if I stink like hell and can’t afford minimal protection. The fantasy dies from there. Its death is not unlike that of a balloon let go from the grip of fingers too weak to pinch its opening shut; a high energy struggle consisting of random loses and gains in altitude before finally smacking the ground at the end of a violent downward spiral.
This entire cycle seems to begin whenever I’m reminded, even by implication, that there are things I probably won’t ever be great at. And that’s fine—for someone else. But me, I’m a bit arrogant. Not because I want to be or even because I think it’s admirable, but because its how I grew up. I spent so much of my childhood having to be an adult and solving the problems of the adults in my family that being exceptional wasn’t something I hoped to attain—it was the standard. Playing the role of the exceptional child was the only way that the adults in my family might pay me attention beyond my working hours as the child-therapist assigned to serving their emotional needs. So, when I’m reminded that I suck at some things, I have a hard time with that.
The other day while on my lunch break, I starting thinking about why it upset me so much, about why I had to believe that I should be able to do almost anything, and about why this idea that I had limitations was so crazy to begin with. Then something happened. I began to remember the few things I am good at and I started to smile inside. In that moment, I was suddenly reminded of how lucky I truly am just being able to excel at one or two things. I couldn’t help but wonder why had I forgotten these things about myself, and why didn’t they seem to be worth as much now as they did before? How did they ever lose their value and why am I not satisfied with them?
When you start to worry too much about all the things you aren’t good at, you forget about the things you’ve always done well. If sticking to what you’re good at is a cardinal rule for a living the good life, then its prerequisite should be, “Don’t worry so much about the things you aren’t good at”.
Who cares if you aren’t the best at something? Isn’t that the norm? The standard? Out of everything you will ever try, aren’t you undoubtedly going to suck at most of it, so why was this such disheartening news to me? It’s really nothing to be surprised about, its basic probability. However, again and again I—along with countless others—operate on the assumption of the exception, that we should be good at most things.
This mode connects to the heart too; let someone realize they suck at something and it could be a serious personal insult which results in months or even years of sulking. In the extreme scenario, it becomes the kind of rut that requires therapy, alcohol, rehab, and a good kick in the ass to get out of. Luckily, I have the therapy part down and had consciously identified what appeared to me to be preexisting risk factors for addiction (thanks mom). Now I drink moderately but have sworn off drugs better than friends I know from “decent homes”.
But, coping and addiction is funny. People sometimes choose addictions that, in the contextual backdrop of their age group and fine physical features, become almost completely obscured. When casted an incredulous eye about the 18th sexual partner they’ve had this year, or the 3rd trip to the hospital for a substance related injury, they evade judgment by evoking the predictable reaction of labeling you a prude. It’s either your labeled a prude, out of touch with the more trendy innovations in methods of self destruction, or they result to a series of self deprecating statements meant to disarm you and prevent further scrutiny.
The trick with self-deprecation is to lay it on thick but with a playful tone. If done right, the strategy yields all the sympathy afforded to a victim of tragedy, without the detective work that might turn the boy who cried wolf, into the wolf himself. This tactic allows the person to seem sincere and at the very least, working toward change, but it actually works to the opposite effect. By convincing their judges that they have insight, they succeed in encouraging an attitude that practically forces people to not give a shit, which ultimately helps perpetuate their destructive cycles. The message is “Relax; your useless anyway”.
Somehow we get convinced that as long as we know we’re burning it’s okay, it doesn’t hurt. This idea, of course, is complete bullshit. But I won’t lie, it’s a great program to buy into, and I’ve bought it again and again. It’s a freeing choice, a kind of social addiction that allows you to let go. After all, isn’t that what addictions do: alleviation by escape? This message provides a VIP pass for saying “fuck you” or “who the hell cares anymore” which is really how we ever got here in the first place.
Someone gives us a way out and we take it. We take it every time. Someone allows us to be irresponsible, people stop asking questions and soon we’re all running on assumptions and complacency, walking around with the same damn look on our faces “Yea, it all sucks, what you got?”
And that just it though, I don’t have much at all. Aside from the few things in life I’m good at—the few things I truly enjoy doing unequivocally—I got nothing; but I think for once, I’m okay with that.