All things considered, it was a fairly good morning at work.
I mean, things were not ideal. I was still awake at 3 in the morning for purposes abhorrent to my personal morality, but hey. I had the remaining mental faculties to start developing yet another plan. Unlike the existing and ongoing plans, this had relatively little to do with how to get out of my current career dysfunction. This was more about personal fulfillments. Promises I’d made to myself that I wanted to finally accomplish.
Because maybe if I accomplish those, I can finally get out of here.
But then, the day wore on. And isn’t that the nature of plans? As time marches on, they begin to degrade, unravel, disintegrate. And something that once seemed so sharp suddenly seems like a copy of a copy of a copy of itself. It’s just not real anymore.
I have a friend who I have not treated very well.
Well, I have several of those.
But this one friend in particular has been at the brunt of my insensitivity more often than most. It’s not a conscious or intentional behavior on my part. I think it’s precisely because she’s invested more in me than my average friend does. The normal thing to do when somebody invests time and energy in you is to repay them with kindness and try to fulfill your end of whatever taciturn bargain was struck. I guess my part of the bargain is to improve my life, write things worth writing, and generally be happy.
But I don’t react well to invested energy. Many people who get close to me learn that. Normal kindnesses that most people readily accept begin to feel like a burden to me. Because I’m already crushed under the weight of my own expectations, I try to shudder off the expectations of others, no matter how well intentioned.
Even then, rather than treating my friend with the indifference that might logically follow this particular psychological flaw, it’s been evident that I’ve been getting hostile. Even when I’ve actively told myself to be gentler with her, I end up being insensitive and mean-spirited.
And I think it’s a combination of disappointment and fear. Disappointment because she seems to see me as someone that I am not. Or at least, she’s coming to hope that I’m not the person who I seem to be. And fear, because I find myself not identifying with most of my former friends. Fear that I’ve gone so far down a particular rabbit hole of politics and philosophy that it’s going to leave me truly isolated.
It started when she said something that confused me. And because I was trying to repay the interest she had in me, I tried to figure out what it meant. And she revealed that it has to do with a harmless fantasy of hers: imagining she lives in Hawaii.
I say things faster than I think.
So I made a crack about how Hawaii was basically a false hope. Something dangled in front of the average schmoe to make them think that somewhere, for someone, this system can work. That there’s a Paradise we may one day hope to retire to, or at least visit.
See, these kind of things grip my imaginations more and more fiercely each day. The angrier I get with my personal situation, the more I lash out at aspects of society my friends have accepted as part of their identity. Their professions. Their political choices. Their taste in art and media. It’s a miracle I haven’t lost every single social connection I ever enjoyed. Because I keep getting more and more offended by absolutely nothing. And that makes me more and more offensive.
This isn’t my friend’s fault. Whatever Hawaii is to her, it’s not my place to insert what Hawaii is to me.
To me, there is no Hawaii.
To me, Hawaii is a lie. A vestige of my previous conception of the world. A world with possibility, with rewards. A world which, amid all its darkness, contains a paradise unspoiled by avarice and injustice.
For a while, I was projecting my last amount of belief in Hawaii onto one place: I projected it onto Blacksburg. The more despondent I got about this the particular bleakness of the Northern Virginia suburbs, the more I warped the New River Valley into this sort of personal place of refuge. Somewhere I could hope to escape to if I just needed to get away.
But that’s been a very convenient myth in my story which maybe we should correct. Being honest with myself, there were reasons why I felt I had to leave Blacksburg long before I found myself unemployed. I was drinking too much. I was having — see if you can spot the pattern here — shouting matches with friends who I once held dear. I was miserable.
And, let’s face it. That’s not all the cruel, capitalistic world around me. Most of that is me.
That’s the effect that Hawaii has on me now. It reminds me that I have nowhere to run, because the thing that I’m running from is the thing I can never get away from.
But I also resent the perceived effect Hawaii has on good people like my friend. I resent the idea that a good person ever has to wish their life were different. If I could shape the world to bend to my deepest wishes, she could be wherever she wants, doing whatever she wants. She could lounge on beautiful, sandy beaches while writing a thriller, a mystery, or just a reflection, with all her loved ones – parents, lover, cats – gathered around her.
Maybe it’s just been difficult to witness so many hard things happen to a friend and be powerless to stop it. What good is my friendship if I can’t keep bad things from happening to my friends?
My friend has reinforced a simple philosophy in my head, revolving around what she calls “Four Good Ideas.” Be where you are. Want what you have. Say what you mean. Mean what you say.
But regarding any interpretation, it’s been feeling more and more like I’ve been failing to adhere to those good ideas. In part, because I’m afraid of the consequences of making peace with “where you are” or “what you have.” And I’m deathly afraid of the consequences of saying what I mean. Almost as I am afraid of the commitment of meaning what I say.
But, only now, reflecting on this, do I start to see the flaw in how I’ve approached the ideas.
I was, however wrapped in snark and dark humor, ultimately criticizing the disconnect between thinking about Hawaii and “being where you are.” Sort of bringing her down to my level. I guess the implicit message was, “Hah. I hate where I live and I’m jealous you get to live where you live, yet you also have wishes to be elsewhere. It’s not that easy. Something is working against us.”
But being where you are doesn’t always mean giving up on where you could go. It doesn’t mean shutting out what else there is. Appreciating your surroundings, your blessings, and embracing who you really are doesn’t shut out all the possibilities about where you could go, what more you can experience, and what more you’ll be able to become.
Maybe that’s what I’ve been missing.
But before settling on all that.
I’ve got to figure out where I am.