I’m going to tell you a truth. A big, annoying, pervasive, inconvenient, guilt-ridden, hard-to-believe but very much real truth. California isn’t great.
It’s not awful. It was a great opportunity that I was very lucky to land and I’ve seen a lot of incredible things and leaned lessons that will serve me well in the future. I’m glad I did it, I don’t regret it, and whatever I feel about it, it it beats the hell out of being at Albion and even what would be doing this summer if I weren’t here. But still, I don’t really like it.
California is weird – To me, that is. To California, I am very weird, but not in cool kind of way. More in that pale, plump, peculiar sort of way. My job is somewhere between suffocating, stifling, and your average-American-mediocre. I don’t really have friends, and with only 3 months split right down the middle by a few weeks in another city 10 hours away, there isn’t really much time to make them. Occasionally I feel like my soul is clawing dramatically at the inside of my skin, but mostly I just feel lonely and kinda glum.
Last week everything really started to get me down. I found myself watching the clock on my computer thinking it must have been going backwards, counting down the minutes until lunch and and then the end of the day, setting goals for myself and rewarding myself with things like getting up and going to the bathroom or getting a glass of water – anything that might make the clock skip a few minutes before I looked again. Finally 5 o’clock would come and I’d come home, try to run but be too tired, and settle in on the couch to watch Law and Order episodes. I bought wine and chocolate chip cookies; I ate and drank more of them than I should. I found myself counting down the time even at home, because the sooner the night ended the sooner it would be the next day and the sooner it would be the weekend. When I finally got to last weekend, I actually found myself counting down the minutes there too, because the sooner the weekend ended the sooner it would be Monday and the sooner that week would be over and if that kept going it would be August. I found myself wanting to do nothing but lay around, eating cookies, drinking wine, and numbing my mind with perverse crime dramas. I remember lying in bed Sunday morning talking to myself, telling myself to get up and go into the city, that there was no way I was going to miss a huge event just because I’m a slug.
What got to me more than anything is I could perceive myself using various depressive coping mechanisms. Overeating. Drinking so I could sleep. Wallowing with the television. Retreating from the outside world. Developing Inertia.
Inertia. Inertia. I kept rolling it over in my mouth, out loud in bed on Sunday morning with the curtains drawn so there was nothing but a sliver of light slicing the corner of my bed and I was hiding from it. Inertia is a word I know a lot about but never in this context. That’s a word I have a lot of personal experience with, but never from this angle. I am, almost by definition, an object in motion. I’m constantly moving – growing, pushing, dreaming, chasing a dream, running, running from myself, running to myself, running into a lake and throwing my clothes off, leaving on a jet plane – doing everything hard and fast and all at once. Lack of movement makes me claustrophobic. An object in motion stays in motion. Until now. Somehow, I became an object at rest, and it gives me the shivers. To be honest (because that’s just what we’re doing here today I guess), I never thought that kind of inertia was going to be something I would have to fight. Sure, I’d have to fight to enjoy my life, reminding myself to stop and smell the roses once and a while, and not to fly so close to the sun that my wax wings melt. But I never thought I’d have to compel myself to move. An object at rest stays at rest. But you hate rest? Why, and when, and HOW did you become an object at rest?
I think it’s good that you’re aware of all these things, she said while I ate pasta. Your ability to perceive your own preservation methods shows how far you’ve come.
You know, you know. Like you said before, there’s a whole list of things, and you know them all. It’s just that preservation methods are so lame. Watching Law and Order for hours, drinking alone, and getting fat – that’s lame. Lying in bed when the men of the world are strutting in feathers and sequined thongs just a boat ride away and you can’t even compel yourself to put on a bra – exceptionally lame.
But you know that, and more importantly, you can feel that. You go to Pride and have a blast. Then you come home, and you watch Law and Order, but you skip the wine and eat strawberries and yogurt instead. A friend calls, and you go for a run. You can’t fall asleep and you wake up early, but somehow today Monday manages to turn out ok.
Today was quite decent, actually. That’s the funny thing about life. Just when you feel like you’ve had it and you can’t take one more ounce, you catch a break. You get to do work you’re decent at, you finish it and impress your boss, you get a new project. You inject little bits of yourself into your work for that day, the appropriateness of which you’ll evaluate later. You feel like you’re contributing, and your bosses’ boss comes to check in. The weather warms up and you spend your lunch-hour in the grass evening out your suntan, basking in the vitamin D. Something peculiar happens, like you inadvertently assault yourself (minorly) with a cheese grater. It flies up while doing dishes and does nothing more than break a Barbie pink nail, and you laugh unnecessarily loudly, because for some reason it’s absolutely hilarious.
And back at the office when it comes to be 5 o’clock, “ding ding ding time” as your coworkers call it, you’ve only been counting for the last 15 minutes because your brain hurts from the gymnastics of semantics (which is infinitely better than the inertia of boredom). The very quiet Asian man whose cubicle is behind yours moves unobtrusively into the center of the department; in his hand he is hiding something that no one notices until after he places it on a filing cabinet and there is a noise. The sound is three loud squeaks, ding ding ding, and what was in his hands was a rubber chicken. Three simple gaspy squeaks from a piece of plastic poultry and the entire department is laughing so hard there are tears.
You come home. You run. Not as far as you would like, but farther than last week. You eat food groups you haven’t eaten all day for dinner, you laugh about the chicken. And you sit down, and you watch Law and Order, and later you might finish the little that’s left in that bottle of wine, but you don’t feel bad. You look out the window, you don’t look at the clock. You’re still thinking about the cheese grater, and the chicken. You decide to write about them, knowing no one will think it’s as funny as you do. And you put on some music and there’s that song you heard Freshmen year on the senior mix but were too young to understand – That’s the Way We Get By.
And now you remember what a great opportunity this is, and in 3 months you’ll have seen 20 different places that you’ve never seen anything like before, and you know that when you interview for your first real job and move to your first real grown-up home you’ll know exactly what you need and what you don’t. But this time you don’t feel bad about feeling bad. You just get by. You load another episode. You write another few lines in your entry about the chicken. And that’s the way you get by.