people > places > things

I'm Probably Gonna Die Alone

Jessie Ma1 Comment

I don’t think that i’m meant to be in a relationship

But I do know that I’m meant to fall in love.

Again and again, with different people, places, experiences, and feelings. With different versions of myself.

Falling in, and sometimes out—of whatever form love comes to me.


Actually, I don’t know if i’ve ever really been in a “relationship”

All my past partners and I shared these intense, sweet, euphoric beginnings.

And then even more intense, bitter, torturous endings.

There was no middle part of actually being in the relationship. The reason was always the same: I didn’t want to be in anything.

Each blossomed and wilted. Year after year, person after person.

You can only write about the same pattern so many times before realizing that it’s a pattern.

And the pattern made me feel like there was something wrong with me.

Why was it so impossible for me to want to be in a relationship with someone? When for others, that seemed to be the natural course?

I loved them. I really loved them.

Does that not count?


says WHO?

I guess I haven’t met anyone that I 100%, without a doubt, want to be with.

But maybe a more realistic explanation is that… even if I met someone who could be “right” for me, the way I’m expected to be with them is broken. For me.

I cannot imagine having sex with one person for the rest of my life. I cannot imagine myself living with someone. I cannot imagine getting married to or having children with someone.

These status quos we’ve been conditioned to subscribe to (monogamy, living together, marriage, parenthood) were designed in a context with little relevance to my own.

In Vox/Netflix’s “Explained” episode on monogamy (an excellent entry point for anyone who’s curious, btw) we learn—

[Monogamy] was the main way that you increase family labor force, make peace treaties, business alliances... Marriage was invented not to do with the individual relationship with the man and the woman, but to get in-laws.

As we made a transition to the idea that marriage should be on the basis of love, it scared people… so a new idea took hold. Men and women need to find love and get married because they were two parts of a whole.

As we enter what I think of as uncharted territory, for the first time in human history we’re trying to develop relationships that are not based on coercion. Coercion of women by their economic and legal dependence, coercion of women by their bodies, coercion of men by the social and economic structures.

None of these reasons apply to me. I am completely financially independent, am involved in communities that support my need for belonging, do not believe in a religion that enforces marriage, and fundamentally think of my family unit as: me, myself, & I.

I won’t discount our just-as human yearnings for security and exclusivity. The need to feel unique and special to somebody.

But I want to challenge monogamy as the default. There are other ingredients in a fulfilling relationship that we discount in the name of convention. Ingredients that hold more personal value to me than the one rule we’re supposed to follow.

Because sexual exclusivity as the litmus test for love… doesn’t sit right in my gut.

It’s hurtful when someone cheats, but we misconceive the real offense. Being physically intimate with someone else isn’t itself a heinous act, but breaking an agreement you set with your partner is. Lying is. Hiding is. The jealousy may sting, but it is ultimately the betrayal that shatters the trust. “I don’t even know who you are anymore.”

So if I were to distill a solution, it isn’t in the sexual fidelity per se, but in the ability to talk about anything, even difficult things, with your partner—and the fluency to find respectful ways for everyone to live their best fuckin’ lives.


I started reading about unconventional relationships structures: throuples, open relationships, hierarchical, polyamorous relationships, about couples who move through several of these forms throughout the course of theirs.

They are able to do so because the organizing principle of these relationships is not exclusivity, but simple, good ol’-fashioned communication.


I challenge other parts of the conventional dynamic as well. For example, I know couples who are committed to each other and even co-parent their kids—but don’t live together. I realized that I, too, don’t want to live with a significant other. Even if we spent most of our time together, I’d still want my own space. I think we’d both be happier.

I want to make my lifestyle work for me—not the other way around.

There is too much I want to accomplish in life to justify spending any of my time or energy forcing a feeling into a form. All this self-imposed pain and heartbreak.

So. My grand thesis is that Feeling A doesn’t have to translate to Action A just because someone, once upon a time, said so. You can do what works best for that feeling, for you, and for the person you share it with.

But first, you need to untether yourself from society’s, and even (probably) your friends’ and family’s ideas on how love “should” manifest. And create your own.


A different metric for love

Are you happy?
Are you challenged?
Can you be yourself?
Do you feel understood?
Do you respect each other? Forgive? Trust, without a doubt?
Do you allow each other the room to change, and promise to love anyway?


Love as a blob

In this piece from New York Times’ Modern Love column, the author writes about her polyamorous relationship—

“[Monogamy] is a beautiful concept that works well for a lot of people—approximately 50 percent of the couples that try it. But for me, commitment has little to do with physical intimacy…

I want to keep our family dinners going indefinitely. I want to co-parent our cats. More than anything, I want Luke to know that I will tell him the truth, and that when the truth is painful I will stop what I’m doing and tend to him until he feels better.

But I am not going to promise him that our love won’t change, and neither will he promise that to me. The fact that love absolutely will change is one of my favorite things about love. Rather, as the love changes, I hope Luke and I will be able to hold each other with compassion; that we will stay curious and empathetic…

I know not everyone wants to love this way. I understand fear of loss, and I understand wanting to hold something still when it’s good.

Ultimately, this particular shape makes sense to me: love as a blob that can’t be pinned down, as something alive, an animal that ventures from person to person but finds places to call home.”


what makes sense to me

I want to welcome self-designed forms of my love. Custom-made for each person, ever-changing, flexible, freeing.

I’ve explained my philosophy to a number of people that I love. Those that may have, at some point, wanted to pursue a more conventional relationship with me.

And every single one of them was able to understand, even if they don’t agree. They all respected me more for it, and reciprocated love back to me. In their own ways. On their terms, too.

If, in the future, I were to meet someone who isn’t as receptive… then at least I know:

We won’t have to pretend.


and if i meet someone i want to be monogamous with

I’ll know that it’s because I chose to be.

Not because that’s what we’re supposed to do.

And I’ll know that we have the permission to love each other in new and different ways.

I can’t control nor predict another person, and I never want to feel like I need to.

Understanding and loving someone, yourself included, is way easier than trying to control or predict them anyway.


i love, and I am loved

Yet I will die alone—that is a fact.

And so will you.

Whether you’re single with 12 cats or you grow old with your wife/husband, we all leave this world the same way we were born.

But between our first and last breaths, we’re lucky enough to feel connected to certain people we come across.

Most, we forget. But some become friends. And some become lovers. Some become strangers we still feel attached to.

In the end, I don’t think what we call them really matters.

What matters is that what we shared—in whatever form—was real.

Love you all.

The Girl in Pain

Jessie Ma2 Comments

I feel a lot. Of pain.

And when I feel it,

that’s all I feel.


Mind un-control

In The Princess Bride, our hero Westley is on his way to rescue his beloved Princess Buttercup when he is captured, thrown into a dungeon, and tortured nearly to death.

Incredibly, Westley is able to withstand the physical pain by “transporting his mind.” He closes his eyes and conjures up happy, loving images of Buttercup.

He survives.


I wish I could be more like Westley.

I do the opposite—I fixate on, obsess over, and become consumed by negativity. It’s as though… if any hidden pain might exist, then I have to find it and feel it, lest I be blindsided by it.

Even if I was only being pricked by a pin in that torture chamber, that would be the only thing I feel. In 100% of my brain and body.

And I would forget about Buttercup.

"Man's suffering is similar to gas... it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little."

—Viktor E. Frankl


Sticks & Stones

may break my bones, but words will shred me to a million little pieces.

Apt for someone who is(/describes themselves as) 10% body and 90% soul…

*I’m much more sensitive to emotional, over physical, pain.

*(Which, I now realize, is not exclusive to me or even to those similar to me. There are many instances where people uses physical pain as an antidote to emotional pain—cutting, for example. Yet I rarely hear of anyone ask to be cheated on or lied to in an attempt to distract themselves from a gunshot wound. Anyway—)

When I got my feelings hurt, because it would hurt so much, I’d react with the emotional equivalent of someone being physically tortured.

I’d cry, yell, use sharp and hurtful words to retaliate even stronger. Say the most intense, pointed translation of everything I feel. My ability to express myself is usually my greatest asset, but in these times it becomes my most dangerous weapon. I communicate so, so fucking well how hurt I feel that my defense morphs into offense. I turn the blame around, strip the other person of respect, suck out every last ounce of their dignity. I decide what they meant, how they feel, who they are by writing in every last detail to this painful narrative that I spun in my head.

Then I’d break up with them. Defeated and hopeless, myself.

This explains the on-again, off-again nature of most of my relationships. I’d quickly become convinced that the only way to escape the pain in the moment is to escape the situation as a whole.

This is my reflexive, visceral, primitive reaction to pain. Like a mouse caught in a mousetrap—panicking, squirming, desperate to get out.

This is Round 1.


Round 2

BEFORE YOU JUDGE ME FOR BEING CRAZY… I (obviously) know how irrational and toxic I’ve been when pain gripped me. I don’t condone any of that and if anything, am subconsciously offering this public admittance as a form of atonement.

So. Crazy? Have been. But I’m also like. A pretty smart person. Extremely self-aware and articulate (if you’ll let me suck my own d for a sec.)

Once the storm calmed, the debris cleared, and I was no longer blinded by my own emotions…

I was able to see things for what they were, not what I’d made them to be:

Why he said/did what he said/did.
Why that didn’t mean he didn’t love me.
Why, also, it was particularly triggering for me.
How he could’ve said/done it better.
How I could’ve reacted less destructively.

After slamming the door, after 50 missed calls, after forcing me to take the space…

He always came back to me. For Round 2.

And he was always impressed by my ability to self-examine and take accountability for my own process.

My apologies always meant something.

Problem is, Round 1 had already done did its damage.


the pain from trying to avoiding pain

First of all, I played myself because now the issue is my reaction, instead of the hurt I was reacting to. To this day, I don’t think he knows what he did because we never got around to addressing it. We only really talked about My Crazy, not His Fucked Up.

Second, losing myself in hurt meant I surrendered my dignity and self-respect to my lowest parts. It distorted how I saw myself and what I deserved. I still get flashbacks of myself standing barefoot on the sidewalk, tears streaming down my face, watching him drive away.

And worst of all, it made me forget the good things. Not about him, not about the relationship, but in life. My existence became about the pain—being in it, or getting away from it. I forgot about all the Buttercups in the world for months or years at a time.

In the end, I did the most damage to myself.

“There is a great deal of pain in life
and perhaps the only pain that can be avoided
is the pain that comes from trying to avoid pain.”

—R.D. Laing


In an attempt to preemptively shield myself from getting hurt, I isolated myself, manipulated situations, and took people’s accidental offenses as signs to cancel them immediately. I had no room to let people be human because I had no tolerance for anything even uncomfortable.

Everything was dangerous. Everyone was a threat.

I allowed no one the power to push me into another Round 1.


But of course,

this is not how life works.

I realized that “not being consumed by pain” doesn’t mean rejecting intimacy with others, rather, opening up space to be okay with discomfort, with even pain.

Because no one can love me perfectly—or even understand what that entails.

I had to learn to control myself, not anyone else, because

It’s not about what anyone does to you,
It’s about how you let yourself be(/not be) affected by it.

I am no longer at the mercy of anyone’s words, actions, or neglect. Not because I push them away, but because I simply refuse to be that girl crying on the sidewalk.

Yes, people will hurt me. Even the ones I love. But I’m fuckin’ old now. I have shit to do. And the world isn’t gonna stop and wait for me to calm down.

I can’t afford to not forgive, anymore.


People in pain

If you can relate to being the Girl In Pain, please know that this jump to being able to handle myself is not proportional to how this piece is paced. It did not happen overnight. I’m only able to write this after 2 years of being removed from the relationship that sparked these thoughts. 2 years of building up my self-image to be clear enough that someone else seeing it differently doesn’t make me see it differently.

I still have my moments of being less poised than I’d like, but that’s a part of me being human, the way I can now let others.


I’ll close with a letter my ex wrote to me 2 years ago—one that, honestly, did not make sense to me until recently:


To Jessie & the Girl in Pain,

You're afraid. I understand that. You've been through hell and you'd never want to go through that again. 

What you fail to recognize, however, is the fact that you've never left. Perhaps the accumulation of your experiences and the ways they have affected you are so powerful that they have, in a way, become you. 

Or rather, you've become them. Your pain is your identity.

I am sorry I ever hurt you, with my carelessness.

But I can't apologize for not having the foresight nor capacity to truly understand how deeply these things affect you. I can't apologize for not wording things the best way, or needing some extra time / discussions to come around to an understanding - I can't apologize for being me. For trying. For being human.

Yet there is nothing I can do should you choose to refuse perspective. To see that "the pain is familiar, but the situation is not," and how that is enough to question your pain and response. Because I am capable of causing you this much pain, I must be, on some level, untrustworthy, inauthentic, and necessarily distanced. I am a threat to your well-being. 

You will choose to fight and say that "it is the same as cheating to me," when objectively, it's not. You will choose to find ways to blame me for your emotions, or lack thereof. And you will choose a reality based on your emotions, or lack thereof.

To preserve your identity - to protect yourself from further pain - you will find ways to push me away. You will wait for the other shoe to drop, for the next "fuck-up," for the next "too-good-to-be-true," for the next "I can't believe you'd do this to me.

At least, I will.

You will justify your hurt, and you will justify hurting me, in return. And I'd hurt you back, and you'd hurt me back again.

You will learn to hate me, eventually. And, when enough time has passed, you will tell Jessica to remember me as another guy that caused you pain and couldn’t take it away.

Jessie,

You're the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. Watching you move last night was a dream. But I'm not sure who I'm looking at, sometimes.

Jessie wants to with me. The Girl in Pain doesn't.

One Loves who I am, the other doesn't trust who I am.

Do you know who you are? Do you know who you want to be?

Do you want pain? What lessons do you need from pain, and what can you do without?

Who do you want to be?

Whatever you decide,

I'll be here anyway.

Love, All Ways,

Ghostin'

Jessie MaComment

the hallway

You just came out of a room. It was lit—dimly, but lit. You shut the door behind your back and find yourself staring into a seemingly endless, pitch-black hallway.

Of course, it’s likely that there is another room down this hallway. Several rooms, actually. In time, you’ll catch glimpses of light spilling out from their doors, inviting you to enter.

There is light ahead. There has to be.

But it doesn’t feel hopeful. It doesn’t feel exciting.

It doesn’t even seem believable.

Because all you have in front of you. right now. is darkness.

And the only discernible light is coming from behind you. From that door.

The one you just shut.

Of course you can’t help but look back at that sliver of light. Dim as it is.

IMG_8724.JPG

This is how it feels trying to move on after a breakup.


a breakup isn’t an event; it’s a process.

The conversation can be an event—if you’re both disciplined enough to keep it at that.

But the distance between committing to end a relationship and actually finding peace with it… that, my friends, looks like a blind marathon down a hallway of full of nothing but darkness.


then, you start to see

Maybe the next door you find isn’t your Soul Mate. But maybe being in his room—with different colored lights—teaches you some new lessons that light your next steps. Maybe the wide-open gates of your family and friends lines your entire hallway with a blanket of warm sunlight. Maybe you find a mirror that reflects your own light, and you realize it’s actually kind of beautiful.

Wherever it comes from, it starts to lift the darkness.

Each step forward becomes lighter, easier.

But—

something inside jerks you back.

You turn around

and almost have to squint.

Because now, from here,

the light from behind you has become a faded flicker.


what’s real, to us

In the world. In life. As much as we try to believe there is…

There is no set reality.

There are only individual conceptual realities that exist in our own minds.

If you bump into a stranger on the street, quickly apologize, then go on your separate ways, then completely forget about that incident—then that stranger does not exist. In your reality, at least.

(This is the whole basis of Coco—but applied to the living, too.)

Things, people, memories. They are only alive if we keep them alive.


Moving forward, opening doors, discovering new light—all of this feels amazing.

And yet—

Me, as I existed to you.
You, as you existed to me.

I can feel them dying.


and i don’t want (you) to die

Every moment. Every other moment. Every 10 moments.

All the sweetest, most perfect mornings. The silly inside jokes. The electricity when we locked eyes. An embrace that felt like home. Even all the fighting and crying.

The emotions that once consumed me… They all feel a bit strange now, like it happened to a different me. In a different lifetime.

But I’m not ready to let go; I’m frantic. Grasping.

Please come back, please stay. I look through our old pictures. Re-read all of our conversations.

It was here. It was real. We were... I’m running back to see if your light is still there.


I know, baby, that this is not how life works. You’re the one that taught me that.

I’m only ever supposed look forward. Let the natural momentum of time carry me through the darkness. I should try to get to a place where I don’t feel the need to look back anymore.

But for now. Just for a little longer.

I want to stay here. With that faint light.

Savoring every last memory of us.

For as long as I can keep us alive.


“This photograph is my proof. There was that afternoon, when things were still good between us, and she embraced me, and we were so happy. It did happen. She did love me. Look for yourself.”    — Duane Michals, 1974

“This photograph is my proof. There was that afternoon, when things were still good between us, and she embraced me, and we were so happy. It did happen. She did love me. Look for yourself.”

— Duane Michals, 1974

5 months later. Half a world away.

When people have truly loved, we do this strange, masochistic, sort of masturbatory thing where we hang on to the pain from the loss.

Because the weight, however heavy, still holds the last remnants of the love. And in the twisted logic of someone sobbing into their pillow, this is the only way to keep the door from closing fully.

Were we happy? At times. Healthy? God no. But it was us.

And whatever shape or size, all of it… Was real.

How could I not.

27-28

Jessie Ma2 Comments

I’ve always lived out of boxes.

“People come and go.” I’d say.
“We could all die tomorrow.”
“I get sick of things easily anyway.”

And—

“If things aren’t changing all the time, then how could I possibly grow?”

So I never stayed in any one place long enough to unpack. Survived paycheck to paycheck. Lived only in moments, interactions, and highs. I became a junkie for easy Instagram likes rather than an aspiring novelist. I played the Manic Pixie Dream Girl to a number of guys for a few episodes at a time, and fell in love with none of them. Every day, I cycled through a million thoughts and feelings, leaping on to the next set before my brain could encode any of them into my long-term memory. I kept my apartment as bare as possible.

This was all normal to me. This was how I’d always lived.

But I started to wonder—

“Is it actually normal to do so much, work so hard, feel so deeply…

and at the end of the day, have nothing?”


27.

Last birthday— ON my birthday— AT my birthday party

My ex and I broke up.

Okay fine. He broke up with me.

Our relationship had long been dying out, but that was still one hell of a funeral. A gorgeous setting, an audience of my closest friends, tearful dialogue, and even a dramatic dance number.

It was such an intense event that I remember exactly how I felt:

Relieved.

It hurt, of course, but I didn’t feel pain as much as I felt relief that it was hurting as little as possible because I hadn’t given too much of myself to him while we were together. And look— he’s leaving now anyway. Good save… Right?

Sobered up after the party, we decided to talk— openly, respectfully, honestly. By this point, it was clear that our breakup was definite, ergo, neither of us had anything more to lose.

I told him exactly what I went through during our relationship— what made me insecure, the secrets I kept, the ways that he’d hurt me, all the words I wished weren’t for naught. Everything. I unpacked it all.

I think I loved him most that day.


By January

I began to heal.

I think I was just too tired not to. Tired of life boating from guy to guy and never learning how to swim. Tired of putting energy into things only to put more energy into forgetting them. Tired of lying and hiding. Tired of chasing things I didn’t even want. Tired of losing things that weren’t really losses. Tired of not even feeling like a real person. Tired of the emptiness.

Exhausted.


In February

I almost lost one of my best friends in a car accident.

I can’t describe how terrifying it was. How destroyed I was at the possibility of her not making it. When I wasn’t with her in the ICU, her dad would send me updates on her condition. Every time I saw his name on my phone, my stomach felt like it flipped itself inside out. I moved through those few months in a daze, unable to focus, crying quietly, praying to any and all Gods that were listening,

“Please... I can’t lose her. I love her too much.”


In March

I got Pepper.

I had a pet puppy 3 years earlier (that I got with a different ex-boyfriend) when I was broke and depressed. A friend needed to find him a home, and we said yes without thinking. I ended up giving Entei away after a few months. Once in a while, when I can dig past the guilt, I let myself miss him.

This year, I finally felt ready to get the specific cat I wanted: a young grey tabby with green eyes. And I decided I was going to name her ‘Pepper.’

I looked for her at dozens of shelters all over LA, scoured websites, and stalked adoption agencies on social media. I bought a litter box and feeder to prepare. In early March, I went to a pet adoption event in Silverlake. Pepper wasn’t there, but I described my dream cat to the someone from the adoption agency. She showed me a photo of this ‘young grey tabby with green eyes’ that I would love.

I contacted Pepper’s foster mom that day.
Visited and met her that weekend.
Filled out adoption forms and paid the fee.
Then took her home the week after.

Pepper kicks litter all over my floor and scratches up my headboard and sheds on my clothes… but I love her. And I’m aware that I will likely outlive her.

I’d still rather love her, than not.


In May

I started to exercise.

It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but listen… I… really… hate physical discomfort, which is what working out is. Self-administered physical discomfort.

Up to that point, I’d gotten away with using dance as my only form of physical activity. But I stopped dancing as much and knew I needed to make more conscious lifestyle changes for my health.

I got a ClassPass membership and tried different fitness classes. I met people who invest time and energy into their bodies— not so they can dance better, not because they have a photoshoot the next day— for no other reason than because it is good for them. I realized you need more than just discipline to exercise regularly. You need a certain amount of self-love.

I started to enjoy the burn. I work out at least 3 times a week.


In July

I let go of dance (as I knew it).

For the last ~10 years, my entire life revolved around dance. I’ve always been on a team, in rehearsals for some show, or busy choreographing to teach a class or film a video. And I still love to dance. I just don’t think of myself as “a dancer” anymore.

Dance has given me so many valuable gifts over the years, the most significant of them being my friends, my confidence… and my job.

I’m so thankful that I get to write about dance— but first and foremost, to write— for a living. Dance is my muse, but writing is my craft. Once this realization started to seep in, I started to actively seek resources to help me become a better writer.

I didn’t re-audition for Culture Shock LA in the summer. It was bittersweet, but I was able to do so with full trust that I could better contribute to the organization and community that I love so much— as a writer.

It’s a weird feeling to shift my focus this definitively, but I know that dance is one of those things that I’ll never really “lose.” I’m glad to keep loving it in whatever ways I can.


In September

I went on vacation by myself.

I had a week off of work and the freedom to go anywhere in the world (STEEZY was funding my trip)— but I just could not decide where to go or what to do.

Sadly, I wasn’t in the mood to backpack through Europe and experience all these different people, cuisines, and cultures. I didn’t care about any of that. Everything felt arbitrary, like I’d be just as apathetic walking the streets of Tokyo as I would be at home. I was so burnt out that I had no appetite.

So I spent a week completely alone at a resort in the Dominican Republic. I read, wrote, tanned, and binge-watched The Good Place. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t feel any more at peace as I would have in my daily routine.

I wasn’t there for any real reason. I wasn’t going toward anything, fueled by love or curiosity or ~wanderlust~… I just wanted to get away from home.

None of that was worth it.

But it did echo of this year’s repeating lesson: Do things out of love, or not at all.


This month

My company closed our seed round. (Woo!)

We’re now in the middle of expanding our office and looking for new hires to join our team.

And I’m so freaking excited for our future. I don’t feel daunted by the changes, however unpredictable they are sure to be. I have full trust in what we’ve built.

And personally, if everything were to crash and burn here (knock on wood) I know that I am a great candidate for another position. If I helped build this company from nothing to what it is now, I can do anything.

I’m gonna be okay.


You know, not much in my day to day was different this year than in the previous year. I live in the same apartment and have the same job and core group of friends.

But I was different. Everything about me.

And my (for once) stable environment gave me a chance for me to actually notice my growth. I see things differently. I react differently. I appreciate differently. I make different choices.

I can’t believe how much I used to break my own heart for no reason. I wasted so much time trying to please everyone, repressing what I wanted and who I was until I couldn’t even recognize myself. I used to force myself to feel good about whatever was in front of me, rather than doing things that actually felt good. I didn’t even feel loss because I didn’t let myself love anything enough to feel attachment.

Now, I seek only things I truly love. Because all the things I did love, stayed. And if they didn’t stay, they’ve still been worth it.

And I’m not scared anymore. Of anything.

If it’s real, then I deserve it all.


This past year

I started to unpack.

Life finally felt secure enough for me to do so.

And now that I have a home to come back to, I feel even more free to move— wherever my heart takes me.

28.

Is this Water?

Jessie MaComment

My company's office sits at the invisible border between Downtown LA's Fashion District and Downtown LA's Skid Row. When we first moved in, every morning's commute felt like I entered a new course in a racing game. People, tents, shopping carts, and a host of mystery objects would re-map the area not just overnight, but as I was driving – as if forcing me to pay attention to the scene. As if to say, "Look at you, driving your car to your office, to work a job you love, buy a $6 coffee downstairs, then get a $13 sandwich for lunch." I felt physically stripped of any permission to be passive about my privilege.

Now here's a euphemistic way of framing this strange guilt:

The silver lining of the world's tragedies is that it prompts us to count our blessings.

And I did. I counted mine. Every single morning. 


It's been a little over a year since I started making that commute.

One morning last week, after a night of poor, poor decision making to drink on a weekday, I took a Lyft to work. A shared Lyft, because I try to be frugal like that (ignore the aforementioned $19 meal). Anyway,

Apparently it was both my driver and the other passenger's first time seeing Skid Row. And they were not shy about their reactions:

"Oh my god..."
"Is this for real?? Terrible, so sad..."
"Does the
city do anything about this?"

I say nothing. They keep going.

"I hope so... But I guess... I feel really, really lucky right now."
"Right? Jesus Christ."

Huh.


Night Vision

Despite people still jumping in front of my car every morning.
Despite having to hopscotch between littered needles on the ground.
Despite the persisting, piercing concoction of smells I don't wanna sniff but I also don't wanna breathe, so I'm almost always holding my breath.
Despite the drug busts and arrests I can't help but rubberneck at.
Despite, even, the occasional man jacking himself off on the side of the street...

I had gotten used to Skid Row.

So used to it, that I stopped seeing it.


The human mind's ability to adapt is an astonishing, kind of miraculous, and hugely advantageous thing.

Your lover leaves you, and you are devastated. You cry and cry, you think you can't live without this person, how could you possi- 
Then you get over them.

The first time the tattoo needle breaks your skin, it feels like fire.
Then you stop noticing it.

Instagram completely changes its UI and you hate it.
Then the next day, you have no fucking clue what it used to look like.

Our first interactions with negative stimuli or emotion are always the most potent.

As time passes (and it's important to note that it's not the passage of time itself that does this, but our inner mechanics at work during that time), AHEM - as time passes, we grow to accept that baseline.


Adapting to misfortune can be good. There are certain things in life we cannot change, and rage against those immovable objects is a senseless waste of energy. (And we can more wisely allocate that energy to the things we can actually control.)

But the flipside to that is: we're also very able to adapt to fortune, as well.

You meet the "Love of Your Life," fall madly in love, 
Then you get used to having them around. You start taking them for granted. Stop putting in effort. Don't quite remember what the madness felt like.

You make some money,
Then you get used to the money, then you want more money. Ugh – I don't need to explain how the rat race works.

Basically,

We get used to the good.

So used to it, that we stop seeing it, too.


Is "Enough" Enough?

I adapt to good things very, very well.

This mentality is great for progress – and completely necessary if you work in business. You should never grow comfortable with where you are, you should always keep pushing the boundary, keep asking why, keep doing bigger and better. That's how great artists, athletes, entrepreneurs, and innovators leave their marks.

But beyond work (and maybe even within it), it can be very, very dangerous.

This is the same mindset that shrunk 14-year old me from 110 pounds to 96, to 88, to 85, right into a treatment center.
This is the same mindset that took me from being able to survive off $1000 a month, to being "broke" on a livable salary.
This is the same mindset that keeps me awake at night, obsessing over how I can outdo what I did today, tomorrow.

It keeps me unhappy with what is because I'm too focused on what could be. 

I can't see anything good.


In the mornings now, even after realizing I had stopped doing so, I still don’t “count my blessings.”

Instead, I say,

"This is Water, right?

This is the Water."

It's a reference to the motif in David Foster Wallace's famous commencement speech he made in 2005 –

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

Everything.

Everyone.

Skid row, the office. This traffic light, this traffic, the overplayed song on the radio. My arms, my legs, my eyes, my voice. My coworkers, my parking attendant, my barista, my mother who just texted me. The dog poop on the ground. The sunlight soaking my face.

Perhaps gratitude is, indeed, the undercurrent of happiness. But trying to recognize the good things is impossible if I'm not even looking.

Blessings or tragedies, this is my life, this is my water. It takes no adapting to nor growing out of. This is what is, and before learning to be happy with it, I need to be in it. I need to swim.