You know how the old adage goes: high highs lead to low lows. I’d been experiencing a semester of impressive clarity and ease, hitting productivity goals, being creative again, having fun with friends and allowing myself some vulnerability. “Tomorrow is not promised”, I annoyingly mused over drinks to people who’ve known me for more than three minutes and accordingly wondered what bizarre chain of events had triggered my hippie mindset transformation. The thing is, it’s not a terrible axiom to keep in mind. But although I repeated it with conviction and style whilst raising my glass of Carpano Antica Formula as if I were this effortless, enlightened human being that generously extends grace to everyone and namaste-s her way through life, in the back of my head, I knew that no existential motto could keep the inevitable sads away. If you’re old enough, you’ve been there before. If you want the highs, you must accept the lows are coming to get you, sometimes stealthily creeping up to you and other times charging like those beheaded kamikaze dudes with bombs in their hands in Serious Sam.
So that’s what happened. I had a bad week. This is embarrassing to admit, but it all started from a single white hair. I was washing my face, getting ready for bed, and as I craned over the sink, there it was, smack right in the middle of my part, glistening in the cold bathroom light. I called V over immediately. “What the fuck is this?”, I demanded, suds on my face and all. “Is it a fucking white hair? If it’s a white hair, I’m going to kill myself.” (Luckily for me, V still finds me amusing, beyond comprehension.)
After I tweezed the keratin nightmare away (duh), I decided I didn’t want to talk about it at all and simultaneously proceeded to poll everyone I knew on when they discovered their first white hair, focus-grouping friends and family as if I were some kind of insane Loreal exec doing box dye market research and trying to come up with the median depigmentation age. “I don’t understand your issue here”, my dad said over Easter dinner. “Why do you care so much? It means absolutely nothing.” For context, my dad is seventy, looks roughly fifty-eight on a bad day, and has hated people wishing him happy birthday for forever, so if anything, the above comment, while very true and grounding, is also a little rich, coming from that particular man. “Out of everyone in the world, how dare you“, I quipped. Lets be real here- we all hate to be reminded of the fragility of our mortal coil, and since my dad and I both cherish those good good genes Lady Luck gifted us with, I did expect a smidge of compassion. Everyone else at the table seemed to be amused by my little freakout and subsequently brushed it off, assuring me it’s not a big deal, because A) they’re fucking liars, and B) there’s bigger fish to fry, (ugh, true) as I sat there, sulking and personifying the “why are you booing me, I am right” meme.
But the hair came back to haunt me, in a more sinister way: in the form of other insecurities. Am I old now? If I’m old, am I unsuccessful for my age? Am I still afraid of failure? Do I really have my shit together? Am I doing my best? Why am I always exhausted and burnt out? Is it because I’m so fucking old?
In true Lydia fashion, I tried to rein it in because that’s the kind of shit that doesn’t happen to me anymore, or at least it shouldn’t, so I went into work nut mode: I kept myself busy by creating tasks out of thin air, to the point where I thought out, planned and executed a hysterically thorough pantry declutter and organization, complete with clear containers and labeling, which although pleasantly efficient, it was also less rewarding once I was done, or the time when I picked a small colony of hornworms off my plants with pliers whilst debating whether homegrown cherry tomatoes on my breakfast avocado toast are really worth the hassle. I tried other things too; making collages, breaking down the soil in my compost bins with a spoon and different iterations of guerilla cleaning, which meant my house was extra spick and span. It also meant I experienced a series of mini breakdowns each time something ordinary and marginally irksome disrupted the Pinterest-perfect harmony of my abode and mind, so basically I was going crazy multiple times a day and that is neither sustainable nor pleasant – still, the million dollar question was there, looming over my head in billion pixel bold font: how can I accept what I cannot control?
Let’s sit with that for a while.
You can’t outsmart the mess. And that’s the ugly truth – no matter how early you wake up, no matter how consistent you’ve been with your Pomodoro techniques or how meticulous and specific you get about things, tasks, relationships, yourself. Life doesn’t give a fuck if you’re Type A, or a neat freak, or can hyperfocus even on five hours of sleep. Pain is there, failure is there, the mess is there, and the more you try to ignore it, the larger it becomes. Like a hamster ball that suddenly emerges from underneath your couch, in the middle of your living room, growing bigger and bigger, till it breaks all of the vases and knocks over your TV. Until you’re in it.
So I’ve been sitting with the owl, if you will. Acknowledging the feeling instead of pushing it away. And this was never about the hair, obvi – well, only partly – but mostly about the gnawing fear that I’m not enough, not smart or creative or desirable or interesting as I once was, or the fact that I’m about to say goodbye to the single career I’ve ever known, the one I never chose but chose me, a career that outlived friends and partners and other versions of myself, so who knows what happens next. Or how birthdays and anniversaries of people I loved and are not on this earth anymore are approaching, and I don’t like to be reminded of this, because remembering and having the audacity to move on both hurt like hell. And mostly, the bittersweet realization that now that I’m more aware, less exploitable, self-assured enough to have kissed all my mentors goodbye, and there’s no one there to tell me what to do, I have endless options of big girl decisions that suddenly feel so daunting. It’s a shitty way to spend an afternoon, for sure, and it’s not very constructive. But why should it be? Why should a range of normal, human feelings, after two plus years of pandemic uncertainty, societal collapse, fear and worry on top of whatever crap was going on before, intimidate me so much? Does my little pity party for one need to be productive or a step towards self-betterment to exist? Can’t I be sad in a vacuum? Have I really become so conditioned by poison dart-like, capitalism-born fantasies of positivity at any cost, that I must pigeonhole every negative feeling into an Eat, Pray, Love learning possibility? If gaslight-gatekeep-girlbossing my way through life is making me dissect the inevitable shortcomings of my existence even more, why would I want to spend my days in some sort of bizarro Cronenbergian universe where the meaning of body horror is condensed in one single white hair? I don’t know, just a thought, bestie.
Kendrick Lamar’s new record is out. I need more time to process it properly, and I doubt I’ll ever love anything again as much as Good Kid, m.A.A.d City, but there’s some great, heavy lyrics in this one. Trust me, he lets you know right off the bat.
Summer creeping closer means I’m listening to a ton of punk again.
Summer creeping closer means I also went for the first swim of the year in Sounion. I was cranky that morning, as you may have gathered from the essay above, and V and my friends practically dragged my ass out of bed. “Don’t you wish the Temple were closer, close enough to touch?”, T said in the car on our way there. Once I was in the water, I couldn’t really remember why I was so miserable anymore.