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What I Did on My Summer Vacation

July 30, 2012

So the book is restarted.  Not the way I imagined it would be, Some Great Thing happening to get me going, but more a few small events.  My head doctor has been an advocate of the story for a long time, and unexpectedly last week he got impatient with me and said, “What do I need to say to you to get you to keep going?”  And I went on as I do about how hard it is to focus right now, sitting fairly low on the hierarchy of needs as I am without a job, which somehow dovetailed into how sick I was of waiting on people – waiting on a contract to come through, waiting for a job to be posted, waiting to hear from an agent.  He recommended I contact the literary agency again.  I’d sent my sample chapters in May, sent a “what’s up/have you had time” email in June, and heard nothing back.  “Tell them you want to start submitting it elsewhere if they’re not interested,” which I thought was a great idea, if only because if they weren’t, it meant I could stop waiting on at least one person out there, close out one thing in my life sitting in suspended animation.

I mentioned it to my Mom, who also surprised me, as she generally has little interest in my literary endeavors.  “He’s trying to help you,” she said, and then in so many words, “just shut up and do it.”  The implication being, what else do you have to do right now if all you’re doing is waiting?  And so, here’s some pages.

_____________

Every week I picked up the local alternative paper, half knowing I wouldn’t do any of the things in the calendar, but half knowing that if I didn’t look, that would be the end of me. Not looking and not doing would make me officially clinically depressed, but I could look and not do and call it treading water, call it “trying.”

Imagine my surprise when I saw this listing:

THE REBEL ALLIANCE: Join like-minded “Alex” power users to discuss its place in the culture, and how to hack the popular tool. Featuring a “conversational debate” between “Reach Out and Touch No One” author Rose Tipton and club president Jay Blue.

I’d come up with one strategy for doing stuff that seemed to be working for me, at least most of the time: if the event was purely cerebral in nature, or I could convince myself my interest in attending was solely intellectual, I could go. If I pictured an after-party or reception after a play as a warm social interaction, I froze up and couldn’t go. If I pictured it as an opportunity to discuss the play’s layers of meaning, I could.  See, if you go to something “social” by yourself, it looks like you’re trying to make friends, but if you had any you wouldn’t be there by yourself, so there’s probably something wrong with you, and since I get that eager Like Me look on my face, everyone’s like, eww weirdo. Whereas if it’s a “learning experience,” why you’re just more interested in the subject than your friends are, it’s your personal passion, and it shows how brave you are to explore an idea on your own. All these rules were engraved firmly on the rear of my forehead where I could refer to them at any time.

This was my chance to half-assedly fulfill my promise to Alex, to “find the others.” Well, I never promised I’d do anything with them after I found them, did I? And it was the next night, so there was no time between now, bedtime, and tomorrow evening, after work, to sit around making up reasons why I couldn’t go.

I knew there were Alex fanboys out there; Reddit was full of them. I subscribed to \r\Alex, but that only got me the most popular posts on my frontpage – I didn’t dig any deeper into it. Still, even those gave me a picture of how passionate people could become about him.

The next day I cut my coffee intake in half to minimize the likelihood of what I called an EAA – Event Anxiety Attack – and focused on “Basketball for Dummies” most of the workday. A meeting or two to go over financials and work out what the quarterly bonuses would look like, and it was six o’clock. The thing was at 7, so I ate one of the TV dinners in the office kitchen rather than go home and not leave again.

I was always early to everything, which I hated since because I was always there alone, it left all that awkward standing/sitting around time. Thank the FSM for smartphones; you could read a book and look as if you were ever so busy answering mail right up to the last minute. There was an image that always came to me at those times – I’d watched the documentary “The Artist is Present” about Marina Abramovic and her performance at MoMA, where she “just” sat in a chair across from anyone who wanted to sit there and make eye contact as long as they wanted. Late in the movie there was this guy…I know that whoever edited the piece knew what they were doing when they used him. They showed him in line outside, sitting there on the concrete all cold and serious and asshole-looking on his phone, you know the face people make – I call it Katinka face, as in the model in “Zoolander.” SO IMPORTANT DO NOT DISTURB MASTER OF THE UNIVERSE. Then they showed him sitting across from Abramovic, tears streaming down his face, emotion just gushing out of him. If all you’d ever seen was the guy sitting outside, you’d’ve thought, what a coldhearted motherfucker. I tried to keep that image in mind when I went out in public; tried to remind myself any of these serious important people could burst into tears at any moment, not as strong as they thought, not as strong as I thought they were compared to me.

Talking yourself out of going to things is actually a more complicated process than you might think. It’s not just an “anxiety lock” that freezes you in place; you have to really work at not going. You have to picture the event and see all the relaxed, happy people there with their friends, chatty as fuck, and then see yourself there alone, trying to stand on the edge of someone’s conversation as if you were part of it. You have to think about how pathetic you will look by yourself, you giant sore thumb, and how much you might have to drink before you can go to loosen up your frozen face, but then you have to think how messy that’ll make you and make things worse, so you don’t drink. You’ve listened to the Smiths too many times and as a consequence you know as an absolute fact that you’ll go and you’ll stand on your own, and you’ll leave on your own, and you’ll go home and you’ll cry and you’ll want to die. Then you’re totally ready to not go.

 

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