I lack the tools I need in order to live the kind of life I think I would like living. This is the conclusion of a long discussion I had with a friend over the phone the other day. Although this is not the best conclusion to come to, I am glad there are people in my life with whom I can have the kind of conversations that lead to such conclusions.
How much of you do you share with those around? How much of you do you let them see? How much of you is you? If you are lucky enough, there are a few people in your life with whom you can be yourself. Being yourself does not mean to only remove the mask you are wearing on the street or at the office, throw yourself on a friend’s couch and be able to have an uncensored conversation with him/her, a bottle of beer in hand. That is not being yourself. That is being at ease. Being yourself is being vulnerable. Painfully vulnerable.
I have always considered myself an open, over-sharing person. I can easily talk about myself. Embarrassing myself in front of an audience is not my biggest fear. Living without purpose is. In time, though, I learned to keep my mouth shut. That’s because I realized my behaviour was not easily digestible for others. For this reason, I have not been myself with my family, I have not been myself with certain friends or acquaintances, I have definitely not been myself at the workplace. To most people, this is normal. To me, this is against nature, and that makes it a burden.
Besides open and over-sharing, I am also emotional and impulsive. These are not considered qualities. On the contrary. And yet, emotions and impulses have played a major role in my life. I would not have met any of the people who have been populating my life had I not been emotional and impulsive. I would not have dared move countries either. Quite frankly, I would have a less positive self-image today had I been rational and cautious.
“What do you think is the cause for your being impulsive?” my friend asked on the phone. He was in a remote village at the Black Sea, a dog was barking.
“I don’t know,” I said, licking ice cream from the spoon. “It’s just the way I am.”
“Don’t you think there is a connection between you being impulsive and your parents raising you in a more strict way?”
“Ah, sure.” (Aren’t parents to blame for everything anyway?) “Being impulsive means I get to complicate my existence every now and then, which might indeed be a way of rebellion against the rules they set for me.”
“So, be impulsive!” my friend concluded. “And what are you eating there?”
“Ice cream. Ten years ago, being impulsive would have been the only way for me. But I have changed since then. I had to.”
“Because I had to adapt. Because I don’t see anybody around me acting crazy. Everybody is so damn appropriate.”
“Are you afraid people will no longer like you?”
I pushed the ice cream away and lie down on the sofa. “Yes.”
“Why do you need people to like you?” I could hear him smoking.
“I don’t need everybody to like me. But yes, it would be nice if those people I like, they like me, too. Don’t we all want this? I think many people would not accept me for who I am.”
We talked like this for two hours. Face-to-face, this conversation would have lasted even longer. I felt relieved for having such a friend, with whom I could afford vulnerability. But I also felt guilty and confused for not allowing myself to be myself more often, with more than just a few selected individuals. Where would my impulsiveness lead me if I take it with me, say, at the workplace? I don’t even want to think about it.
There isn’t a day, though, when I don’t think about my compromise, the things I do against my nature for the sake of having a comfortable life. Because I do think it is against nature – anyone’s nature – to trade life for a paycheck. I do think it is a waste of life to tame your impulses to be socially acceptable. I do think it is wrong to get lost in routine and not see the essence. But then again, I have my feet on the ground, and from where I am staying I know I do not have the tools I need in order to live the kind of life I think I would like living. What kind of life? The life where I do not have to choose safety instead of freedom. The life where being dark and enraged is not seen as antisocial and insane. The life where I can voice my feelings and desires no matter how inappropriate. The life where I don’t have to be nice if nice is not what I feel. The life where I can look people in the eyes and tell them “you have a boring life and then you will die!” The life where avoiding conflict with others does not mean getting in conflict with myself.
But what is there to do anyway? Quit my job and go to Bali for a yoga retreat? Have a baby to procure myself a purpose? Start a new project and call myself an entrepreneur? A new blog, a new Instagram account, this time really curated and aesthetically in line with all successful, revenue-bringing accounts? No, thank you very much. That all is still boring and meaningless to me. Or it is simply not enough. That will not change the way I look at the world. That would not change the way I feel. Some say helping others is the answer. I agree, up to the point where helping others does not become a distraction from one’s self. And to distractions, I do not agree. The idea is to look reality right in the eyes. See the structure of things. See that, for most of the time, life is repetitive, dull, and tough. See that the most important relationships in one’s life – family, lovers, friends – are also the most complicated. See that what should bring us comfort and stability is oftentimes bringing us down. See the absolute lack of meaning in our jobs. See how we are wasting time.
I now realise that, instead of writing this, I could have just as well given you this quote from “Fire in the Belly – The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz,” an exceptional biography by Cynthia Carr: “In his painting, writing, film, photography, sculpture, and performance, David was committed to facing uncomfortable truths. Even as a kid of six or seven, he told me, he was the one who ran down the block one day, giddy with what he’d just learned: <We all die! One day we’re all going to be dead!> As he told his little friends, they burst into tears, parents rushed out of their houses, and David was seen as a very sick little kid for exposing the Real Deal. Recalling that memory, David smiled: <That’s a metaphor for the rest of my life.>”