This post first appeared in an Open Letter. While those letters won’t be making their way to the blog, I figured you deserve to know what you’d be signing up for. It’s about inbox-to-inbox intimacy where we get real about life and what we’re feeling.
We were at an Italian restaurant on Larkin Street. I wasn’t hungry. He was. So, he ordered food. “Are you sure you’re not hungry?” he asked.
“Really. I’m not.” I said before taking a sip of the water in front of me.
It was a semi-regular occurrence, our bi-weekly check-ins. We were friends, practically neighbors, out on a weeknight, listening to the muffled sounds of San Francisco out a big bay window. The plan was to update each other, see how life was, and grab a bite to eat. We usually had a great time.
But life was shit. And I didn’t feel like eating.
Everything was happening on the inside. There were feelings I didn’t have words for, the type where your skin feels stretched, and your stomach twisted, your fists are clenched, and you sigh without realizing it. I didn’t want to feel this way. I wanted to feel fine. Could I order it from the menu? “I’ll take a feeling of fine, please. À la carte.”
Instead, I was angst-y and angry, and sitting in that Italian restaurant. I’d been trapped in my head, and I wasn’t sure how to be honest out loud. Earlier that month I’d recognized a man from my past on the cover of a magazine. The Man on The Cover was one I knew too well, and one I happened to think was…an asshole. But there he was, in my mind, smiling, and happy, succeeding at life, following his passion. He looks like he’s doing so much better than me.
And isn’t it hard for us to see these people doing well—the assholes, I mean? Seeing someone making money and looking happy (when we are not) brings out all the worst thoughts. You’re not as good as The Man on The Cover. No one cares what you think. You’re petty and judgmental. You’ll never have what he has. This is where my mind went. I was berating myself on repeat.
My friend interrupted my thoughts as he twirled spaghetti onto his fork. He said quite plainly and straight to my face, “Even Kim Jong-il is on magazine covers. Right?”
“Right.” I laughed. And I came a bit back to center.
Other well-meaning friends said things like, “Oh, but karma will get him…” Or “Maybe all this fame will mean he’ll publically go down in flames.” And I would sigh and nod because that’s what I do when I’m too tired to disagree. I offer a slow up-down nod to indicate yes (when I really mean no). All the while, my voice inside cries, But that’s not how it works. That is not my experience—even the assholes succeed.
Watching bad people thrive is A Thing. It happens. A person we know—a boss, a parent, a congressman, a pastor—does something utterly reprehensible, and we are left wondering. Did that just happen? Did no one else see? Is something wrong with me? When does good win? Where is justice? Some days it feels as if The Men on The Cover are the only ones winning. And us? We are lost, confused, frustrated, and angry. We are standing in front of a wall we can’t climb.
We are yelling, and no one hears us: “How does any of this make sense?!” And also, “F*ck you!” Because anger is real and sometimes impolite.
The Men on The Cover are deciding our futures, our paycheck, our job prospects, or our healthcare, and no matter how hard we yell, or empathize, or try to “go high” we still feel angst-y and angry and sad. Nothing changes. We are left sipping cold water, quietly wondering what the hell happened.
After dinner and gelato, I walked home to my apartment. I sat down on the floor of my bedroom, on a grey IKEA rug, and asked myself why this was bothering me. Why did I care about this asshole, right now, in this moment? What was I afraid of? What was I feeling? What was at the center? And finally the answer came: I didn’t want to be where I was.
I’ll say it again: I didn’t want to be where I was.
Did that ever gut me… I didn’t want to be in the middle of the unknown, deciding to not make decisions, and floating through the status quo. I wasn’t listening to my intuition. I had shushed my curiosity, and I’d boxed myself into perfectly normal. I was trying to be fine, and this is what “fine” looked like. I was stuck. I was small. And I told myself I was being completely responsible.
But that evening I was on the edge of an epiphany—I was in the space where it starts to hurt. I was angry. And anger has a way of burning down the building to get to the truth. I got honest with myself.
I was avoiding doing the one thing I absolutely knew I should be: I needed to write a book. And the reason I wasn’t was because I was scared my story was not worth being told.
I didn’t quit my job, or move states, or create some grand plan. I simply decided it was time to write. My anger and angst and forever-feeling-stuck-ness were the things that pointed directly toward that next right thing. They pointed me toward owning my space, using my voice, and sharing my truth. I wrote 500 words each day until I knew what to do next. And that, my friend, felt like success.
Deep down, I still cling to good triumphing over evil and love beating hate. I know there will be moments, years, decades where that won’t feel true. But I also know that right before the answers to our questions is the uncomfortable stretching, and the hard deep feelings, and a wall that feels as if it’ll never break down. I know the scariest thing to do is dig into that anger and figure out why it’s there, and then let it do it’s thing. Because that—that big uncomfortable mess—is the beginning of change.