Sometimes I think about my life and wonder if I’m doing it all wrong. I read articles about how people are so busy!, how their email is a specter that haunts their waking hours. Many wonder if they have can keep up and sustain this hamster wheel of a life. But still they lament over the frantic state that is their calendar (I’m so booked!), and they move through their days much like a somnambulant. Keep moving, keep going, live life in hour increments. Sometimes they check their pulse, look for signs of life, but mostly they’re programmed to say yes; they read articles about how they should network, how their circle should be as wide and deep as an ocean, and I wonder if they ever get lost in all of it, the lack of quiet they’ve been taught to cultivate.
Even though I once played the role of an extrovert in an introvert’s body, even though I used to wince whenever I opened my email at a job that took me four years to hate, sometimes I wonder if there’s something wrong with me for not being so busy (Should I be? Am I not popular, wonders the thirty-eight-year-old), for not being one of the legions who pray for this mythical world where inbox zero exists. I know this world and even when you’re in it you wonder if you should be on the other side.
Years ago I practiced extrovertism as if it were a religion. I published a prestigious literary magazine, I had an enviable job, and my days were filled with get-togethers, where people introduced me to other people who were “good to know.” People who are good to know apparently have the ability to get you to that next place, even if you don’t know what that place is or have its address. But it was important to have those drinks, and all the meals were a blur–so much so that I wanted to bring a pre-recorded tape to dinner and press play for the first twenty minutes until the appetizers arrived. Dinners became LinkedIn excavations with cocktails, where both parties sniffed one another out in an effort to determine the usefulness of the connection. When I was a teenager, my friends and I would make a joke about walking down Sutphin Boulevard in Queens because everyone would scan every inch of you, dissect you with their eyes, in hopes that you had something they wanted, something they could steal. These meals were no different. Always I’d come home drained, yet I’d wake to paste another smile on my face, email more people, and hope that someone, anyone, would invariably get me to that next place. Is that next place on a map? I often wonder.
Back then, drinking was a terrific anaesthetic. It made living a full/empty life easier to bear. I was there, but not really, and you know how it is.
I remember being upset once, about what I can’t quite recall, and I scanned the hundreds of numbers in my phone–all the people whom I was told were good to know–but I couldn’t call any of them. In my darkest hours, I was the owner of a pregnant inbox, was known as a mayor, a connector, but I had no one whom I could call for a good cry. I had everyone but I had no one, and this realization hurt more than you know. I had designed a life focused on the accumulation of the right people, yet I neglected to examine what I had defined as right. Because in the end most of my “friends” couldn’t be bothered to shoulder my hurt–they had their own lives, their own hurt, and more than likely their own friends with whom they could share said hurt. I remember thinking that I had so much pain and I didn’t know where to put it. Where do you put it? In a box? In a container? What size? What happens when the pain spills over? Another box, another container, more tears, more scanning through hundreds of numbers you can’t imagine calling? What then?
It might have been that time, all those years ago, when I took off my mask (I’m not perfect! I have a drinking problem! I hurt too!) and winnowed down my life. I took a scalpel, excised the barnacles and got lean. I sought out the kind of people with whom I could share an uncomfortable silence. I stopped seeing people who made me feel as if I’d undergone surgery for a temporal lobotomy. I removed those who wheedled, were catty and cruel (nothing tastes as good as skinny feels, Felicia). No one would make me feel small. You are what you accept, I’d come to realize, and if I wanted a life that was honest and true, I’d have to make that objective my harvest.
Remember, it’s your job to look for something cool in everyone you meet; it’s not their job to show you. This is life, not a fucking sales convention. Learning to appreciate people you meet is a skill you cultivate. So get on it. This doesn’t mean you have to fall in love with everyone who breathes in your direction. It just means you need to take responsibility for your ability to connect with the people you are meeting.
My world is small, deliberately so. For over a decade, I’ve made it my practice to cultivate a kula (“community” in Sanskrit) of people who nourish and challenge me. These are the people with whom I can be my most unkempt self. These are people who check in on me when I write about being blue. These are people who will sit on my living room floor and talk about everything or nothing. These are the people I’ve come to define as good to know because they’re good for me, my soul. And in that work and devotion, I started to have less time for the superfluous. I no longer tolerated people who reduced me to a link to someone else, who wanted mentoring without giving anything in return, who didn’t value my friendship as something they wished to nurture and cultivate. I was just another obligation, someone good to know, a coffee date ticked off their laundry list, and I began to bow out of anything that exhausted me. If I left a coffee or meal depleted rather than energized I never made plans with that particular person again. If I can’t pass a meal with you, I don’t want to know you. If we don’t walk away mutually inspired, I want no part of the deal. My threshold for bullshit emails is low.
So here I am. I have this rich life, these great group of friends that I’d worked so diligently to cultivate and why do I bemoan an inbox the size of a sonnet? Why do I feel that I should network even if I don’t want to? Part of it is a selfish, base need to be liked–I guess we all have this flaw even when we realize that being universally liked is an impossible, if not strange, pursuit–but part of me feels like an other–a space I’ve occupied for most of my life, someone who skirts the edges of things–but for some reason the quality of my life feels at odds with the velocity of quantity that subsumes me. And while I know it’s okay to not do anything, sometimes I wonder, should I be doing something? Should I schedule that lunch? Should I be out there more? Should I be busy? Should I have more email? Would having more make projects easier to acquire and a book everyone wants to buy? Logically, I know the answer to all of this is no, of course not, but then there’s this quietly beating heart, this small, sometimes insecure, voice, that wonders if what I have is enough?
Why is it that we insist on picking at a wound just as it’s about to heal?