Tuesday, November 17, 2009

pre-perepatetic prep

"Go, go, go, go, go you restless soul...you're going to find it."
Daniel Johnston
, Go

The countdown is on (again). Tomorrow I'll be roaming the streets of my beloved San Francisco for the holidays, followed by a final day of teeth-fixing back in the Chi before heading off to the southern hemisphere for the winter. It's all very exciting. I can only think two things: 1) I am so ready, and 2) I am so scared.

I should be packed by now but I haven't really done shit. I tell myself that I'm going to a major metropolitan city after all, not the middle of the Amazon. Pre-trip prep in this case is really about mental preparations and not remembering to bring band-aids and floss (although I've read that tampons are hard to come by in Buenos Aires--really?).

But let's be honest here. I've largely avoided any kind of preparations largely out of fear, though, and not out of confidence. Because when I think about spending the next few months abroad, I get very nervous and scared. Specifically I fear the night that I don't have any planned distraction and end up feeling incredibly lost and lonely and think that as much as I try to elude this feeling, it will always be there. Furthermore, the more I move about, the more likely it is that I will feel lost and lonely. This makes perfect sense, doesn't it?

I think that a week in SF with friends will help to remedy my low levels of self-confidence. My extremely peripatetic friend (thank you, Bill Waterson, for teaching me this wonderful word) will be in town, so I am looking forward to hearing some of his insights on why we are so goddamn antsy. It's funny; I used to think he was somewhat delusional. It seemed like any time he was dissatisfied with things, he just picked up and moved somewhere else. This boy goes through apartments the way normal people go through underwear. I viewed his tendency to relocate as something of a neurosis, but lately I've been thinking that maybe he's onto something. When you fear being lost and alone and force yourself through this all the time, the possibility of this becoming a reality either fades or intensifies, and the outcome appears to be entirely under your control. This is a tremendous rush and relief, and it is quite addictive. In my little tastes of solo travel this past year, I got huge charges out of finding peace of mind both by myself and in the company of strangers in surreal circumstances. One day I will write a book about it.

Until then, I'll continue to pursue these frightening situations. It's a little masochistic, but I've become quite driven by it. I don't indulge in any more desperate fantasies that by switching locations, I will suddenly become enlightened as to my place in the world, or to the meaning of life, but I know the more I risk loneliness and confusion, the happier I am (and the more likely it is for me to meet my charming foreign life partner). Although not knowing what's going to happen is scary, what's even scarier is feeling like I know exactly what will happen...day...after day...after day...

Friday, November 13, 2009


...have I been getting requests for platonic friendships on OkCupid?

Is this a Chicago thing?

Monday, November 9, 2009

on the wagon with help of phantom doctor

I really miss Detox Doc. I try to imagine what he would say to me, what I would say to him. The conversation, I think, would be like this:

DD: Nice to see you. How are things?

SB: Ugggh, I'm back on the wagon. I haven't really had a drink in a month.

DD: Well, this sounds great! It sounds like you are successfully establishing your own boundaries with alcohol.

SB: Big freaking whoop.

DD: You don't sound too excited about this.

SB: It's easy to do this here because I'm in the woods with my parents. And I'm not exactly thrilled by these new boundaries. I just want to go back to my wily old ways.

DD: Well, you were back to your wily old ways, weren't you? But you stopped. Why? What was it like being back?

SB: Well, it was kind of different because here I have to drive, and driving drunk is very illegal. Other than that, things were okay. I was only drinking on the weekends, instead of every night. The nights were entertaining. And as sick as it may sound, I actually missed my hangovers. I get these great hangovers that are like being kind of tipsy all the next day, and everything seems silly. I can also then feel entitled to take naps even though I'm unemployed and live with my parents.

DD: Okay...but you stopped drinking.

SB: Partying is weird when you're unemployed and not in school or anything.

DD: (laughs) How so?

SB: Well, when you have all that pre-approved stress in your life, living it up a little is a pre-approved way to get rid of said stress. But when you're not doing anything, it's like, "What's your deal? What are you trying to avoid?"

DD: Does drinking always mean avoidance?

SB: Come on.

DD: All right. So what are you trying to avoid? People can have stress even if they're unemployed. In fact, that's even more stressful than being employed. When unemployment rates rise, so does substance abuse.

SB: I suppose so.

DD: So, you tried coping with the stress by drinking but weren't okay with it. Why?

SB: It was making me feel guilty.

DD: Guilty?

SB: Like, Jesus, I'm being a complete waste of space. After the happy-hangover effect wore off, it was always replaced with feeling like a waste of space. It's kind of stupid. I didn't really change what I did in the meanwhile, I just stopped drinking to avoid that fucking feeling.

DD: Well...that's a good thing, I guess. Where do you think that feeling was coming from?

SB: I don't know. Like I said, it was a stupid feeling. If I think about it really hard, I don't have anything to be ashamed of. I just have some downtime now, that's all. But whenever I got the post-hangover hangover going, it turned me into some sort of self-loathing freak of nature that wouldn't cut me a break at all. So actually, it wasn't the drinking that was the problem, it was that feeling of completely illogical guilt.

DD: Was it completely illogical? It helped you to moderate your drinking habits.

SB: But they didn't really need to be moderated.

DD: Everyone has different reactions to alcohol. If you were just drinking occasionally but they were having negative effects, it was an appropriate decision to change your drinking habits to avoid those negative effects. This is unlike before, when you just kept drinking through those negative effects. You should be proud of that. It's difficult to change your behavior, and it looks like you are doing it.

SB: You're right; I'm a fucking genius. Thanks, Doc.

DD: Seriously.

SB: It's just annoying because I'm drinking so little and it's making me crazy. I never used to get like this after the occasional drink. It's like all that sobriety has turned me into a pussy.

DD: Well, let's think back to last year. You were drinking between 50 and 60 drinks a week, and the reason why you could drink so much was because you weren't really feeling the effects. So, this new body chemistry is kind of a good thing.

SB: I should have known my genes would catch up with me. Last night I went out to dinner with my parents. My parents really don't drink at all, but my father has acquired this strange habit of carrying one of those double-shot bottles of Glenlivet that you get on the airplane, and he'll add a half-teaspoon of it to his glass of 7up. I'm not kidding. Half a fucking teaspoon. That single-serving scotch will make my father about twenty drinks. Incredulous, I asked him if he could actually taste the scotch.

He says he's very sensitive.

Monday, November 2, 2009

sweet november

Last night I went to see Prince, my first boyfriend from high school. He wasn't feeling well and it was pretty late, so I picked him up and we just went for a drive around town. I actually had trouble remembering which house was his, and had to call and be reminded. He looked exactly the same. As we tooled around in the suburban darkness, he kept saying that it felt like we were in high school again. We haven't seen each other in more than three years, since Ex and I passed through Portland, where he was living with the girl he's now been married to for two years.

Prince and I were together for a little more than a year. We were each other's firsts, and tried to make it work when we both went off to college. I still hurt when I think back to the Tuesday afternoon that he broke up with me over the phone. I wonder if people ever really get over having their heart broken, or if it's just something we learn to ignore--this thought that someone we loved with every atom decided not to love us back anymore. It's been almost ten years since that happened, and nothing has hurt more than that since then. I've never held this against him. People tell you when you're that age that you're too young to be serious, that part of going to college is dating other people, and we manage to convince ourselves that being committed to just one person is some kind of a shortcoming.

I'm pretty sure his parents had something to do with our breakup, but more so, he probably just needed to get out there and have himself some college sex, and wasn't the type to do so with a committed girlfriend out in the ether. In the end, I have to be glad that Prince broke it off with me instead of trying to have it both ways. I am also glad we have always remained in touch.

As I piloted us around, Prince unloaded his burdens on me. We've always spoken very frankly with each other about the heaviest of existential dilemmas, and nothing tips that into intense self-loathing more than some serious family time. Overall, I got the sense that he's disappointed that all the things he feared would happen to him are happening. His marriage is beginning to resemble his parents' marriage, and in the absence of a serious passion, he's turned to placating himself with pleasant yet meaningless diversions.

After the coldest October turned into the wettest October in recent Chicagoland history, November is beautiful by comparison. Prince asked if we could go down to the lakefront for a little walk, so I parked the car and we walked down a winding pathway to Lake Michigan. There was a full moon out and mild breezes coming off the lake, and we dragged our heels through the sand. When we were in high school with no place to go, we would often come to the lake and do the same thing. We both had problems with our families and didn't like hanging out at home. The day before our winter formal, Prince got into a fight with his father and punched a cabinet so hard he broke his hand. After I got off work, I sometimes went to his house with whatever takeout I had scrounged from the restaurant and eat with his mother rather than returning home. We were both runners then, and running was a good way to get out of the house and blow off steam.

On our lakeside escapes, we would talk through our dramas in family and school and such. I bitched about the irrational restrictions and expectations my parents placed on me, and he would shake his head and tell me to do my best, that I was a good person. And he would express his frustration at his father's demands, and say he felt sorry for his mother. We would hold hands and talk about our futures, how we would get away from all of this. We didn't know why things were the way they were, but we swore that when we grew up things wouldn't be like this. We knew better. And then we would sigh and kiss and drive somewhere to get ice cream or hot chocolate.

Last night, instead of talking about his folks making decisions for him, he talked about feeling like he was in a life that he hadn't really chosen for himself...that it was just there, by default. It's not a bad life, but it's not what he had dreamed of. He hadn't really dreamed of anything other than getting away. And now that he's away, he's simply constructed the same cage of discontent for himself. There was no more talk about getting away and things getting better, but about not understanding how things got to be this way. It was like our talks from ten years ago, only without the hope that things would get better.

It made me very sad, but I identified with him completely. Detox Doc and I often talked about how resigned I was to being unhappy about a lot of things. I thought I had to go and save the world, to please my family, to "do the right thing," all difficult things to do, because anything worth doing is not only hard but requires sacrificing your own happiness. I was only sure I was doing the right thing if it made me miserable. This kind of thinking, Detox Doc told me, was just fucked up. It was an "error of logic." Throughout our time together, Detox Doc pointed out to me a number of such errors in the way I think about the world, thoughts that I really wanted to blame on my parents mostly, but what was the point? He told me the best thing to do was just to recognize these thoughts as errors, and not to give into them. Otherwise, you live in a constant state of discordance and misery, tolerable only with consistent sessions of ritual conciousness-deadening, like boozing and television.

Just when I was reaching the apex of my motivational/spiritual diatribe, Prince noticed a set of headlights at the top of the hill, and a few minutes later we were accosted by a pair of Glencoe squad cars. Two of the most good-looking cops I have ever encountered informed us we were trespassing and, after running our IDs and failing to appear threatening at all, told us to leave.

Back in the car, Prince asked me to take him home. The radio was playing Boston's "More than a Feeling," and I forced myself to talk over it, rather than doing what I normally do when I hear this song: turn it up, sing along, and indulge in the warm fuzzy memories that accompany any of the songs from the many mixtapes Prince made for me when we were dating. It was a strenuous effort. I told him about how I had gone to the Atacama Desert hoping to think my way out of a tedious situation, only to realize that for vague problems like these, thinking doesn't get you anywhere, only doing. When I dropped him off, I made him promise me that he would take some sort of action this year. Life is passing him by and he's just scared to make a move, scared to take matters into his own hands.

His wife didn't come out to Chicago with him this trip, and he told me things weren't bad with her, but they weren't exactly good either. And yes, ten years later, I still thought to myself that we would have been happy together. I thought of the tortuous relationships I'd endured and the blissful encounters I'd had, and honestly I think I could have traded it all for being with him the entire time. Somehow, it's nice to know that there is someone I still love and believe in after all this time, even if he is married to someone else and still afraid of cops. But in the end, love isn't enough to make a person happy if they're resigned themselves to pereptual malaise, to struggle with situations rather than coming to terms with them. It's the fucking serenity prayer: Give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

I really did learn a lot in that 12-step program, even if I only did some of the steps, and they were all out of order.