Look Me in the Eye
It takes a while to figure shit out. Like, say, that you suck at baseball and will never play right field for the New York Yankees. Or that in terms of earning potential your skills fall somewhere between sign spinning and one of those guys who pretends to be a robot down on the Wharf. Some stuff, like girls or...women...you never will, and that's OK, because they're not meant to be figured out. Some shit, like why poor people vote Republican, is simply baffling and just trying to wrap your head around it--or worse trying to talk about it--will give you nothing but a headache, so you set it aside, try to forget it, and are only reminded when your dipshit, poor-as-dirt friend Troy texts nasty comments about Nancy Pelosi. But at forty, overall you have a pretty good handle on shit, particularly about who you are; you are not any "happier" or "fulfilled" necessarily; you just aren't running in circles spinning your own wheels chasing your own tail like you were at twenty.
And one of the things I've figured out is that, where my self-worth soul should be, I have a big black gaping hole.
I've learned this not because I am unhappy. A lot folks are unhappy. I am not unhappy. I am, to quote the great Paul Westerberg...unsatisfied. Big difference. OK, not really that big a difference in how you feel, or how you are perceived by other others, only in execution of remedies. Unhappy? Ain't much you do besides drink a lot, use drugs, and fuck a lot (or in the case of Troy, yank it a lot). But I tried drugs and drinking, and I can't do that anymore, and as for the fucking, well, my kid is sitting next to me (making it very difficult to write this morning), so I can still clearly do that, though fucking at 40 is a lot like playing rock 'n' roll at 40: a lot more work and the payoff ain't quite what it used to be.
I've learn to fill my unsatisfied hole with outside validation. A lot of writers do. Which is funny. Because writing is a profession populated by people in more dire need of a hug than any other faction of society who have entered into a profession defined entirely by degrees of rejection ("Ooh, a signed rejection letter!").
And I note this this morning because I received an e-mail from my agent. It was short, to the point, not discouraging in any way, but it made me sad. Because I've gotten so used to her daily pep talks, the "you're a great writer/I believe in you" variety, so that when I don't get them, it makes me sad. I feel sorry my agent, having to deal with me (I feel sorry for my wife having to deal with me, too, and the few friends I've kept). My agent, Michele, has been busting her ass trying to get my memoir Junkie Love published for the last year, while simultaneously having to mother the wounded ego of a fragile writer. I know. Comes with the territory. If writers could be something else, like "business-y" stuff, they'd be making money instead of pondering the perfect gerund. Still, it only adds to my guilt.
The best way the unsatisfied can fill that hole is with outside validation. Nothing works quite as well (once you take away the good stuff, like heroin and amphetamines). You are empty. So you look to the outside to find your worth. Not too difficult. It is everywhere, if you look hard enough. An accepted short story. The smile from a pretty girl. An extra 1/4 inch on your biceps (noticed by others, of course). Money. Basically any source of praise that comes somewhere other than within. Which is a big black gaping empty sucking hole.
And there is a lot of praise to be had. As a writer, you try to send out enough material so that it filters in periodically but steadily. Not every day, which isn't necessary. You can go a long time without outside validation. Like some plants don't need daily sunshine or water. But, like those plants, without that source of nourishment, eventually you begin to wilt.
I could go back and try to repair a cracked foundation. And I do, sort of, logging several hours in therapy a week. And I've tried meditation, and religion, and Tolle's The Power of Now. And the exercise. And they work. To an extent. In small, minuscule measured doses. But ain't nothing' works as well as heaped on, unadulterated praise. Ms. Martinez, that's your cue...