Wednesday, April 25, 2007


I was talking to a friend the other night who has just been through a traumatic experience, one that made her feel afraid to be alone, unsafe in her own home and uncomfortable with her thoughts. I guess most people probably go through this kind of trouble a few times in their lives. Some go through it over and over. Others seem to live their whole lives in a state like the one my friend found herself in.

Then there are the people who never seem to freak out, no matter what. I bet there are far more people like that than I've ever imagined there were, and I'm guessing that that's because they keep quiet about their problems. Maybe they don't even construe them as "problems" so much as "situations" or even "facts." Things happen. It's true.

I interact with the world around me in a particular way which is very consistent. I observe things carefully, especially interactions between people, and most especially interactions between other people and me. I do a lot of pushing and pulling in the course of my daily life. I push away the vast majority of people and things that surround me, and pull on a very few people very hard.

I do my best to control the ways in which I interact with particular friends. There's a woman in my section whom I really like a lot. Last semester, we walked over to get coffee together before Torts a few times, and I enjoyed chatting with her then. I always say hi to her when we pass each other in the hallway. From my interactions with her, you'd think we were barely acquainted. The truth is, I feel a genuine connection with this woman. There have been moments in our conversations when I've thought, I really want this person as a friend. But for some reason, I never think to call her and make plans, or even seek her out to eat lunch with. I have friends who fill those niches for me. I don't shift people's roles in my life unless something forces me to do so.

There are areas of the law school where I don't go. I don't have any good reason for avoiding those places except that I always have. I've never once studied in the library or in the Fishbowl. I don't like walking down to the parking lot past the JAG school, even though I've been told it's the shorter route, because that's not the route I took to get there at the beginning of the year. I don't even like adding new people to my AIM buddy list. It unnerves me to see a new name on there, messing up the order of my list, to which I've gotten so accustomed. And there are people on there I know I'll never initiate conversations with, but I don't remove them because their names belong there.

It's not just about what comes into my life, either: I want to control what I transmit, as well. I guess most people care about the images others have of them, so it's nothing special about me that I try to show people certain aspects of my personality and hide others. Still, I don't like what it does to me or my relationships with my friends. I feel like I've invested all this energy into projecting a version of myself who is infinitely strong, self-sufficient, patient and emotionally stable. When I have to let someone see that I don't always have those attributes, I feel like I've let that person down. That person thought he or she had a friend who was just terrific in these ways, and the truth is, I'm not so terrific. What a letdown the real me must be. How badly I've disappointed my friend.

I'm sick of this battle, and it's a losing one anyway. Nobody really has those illusions about me, and anyone who did would probably resent me for being inhuman. It's a lie I tell myself more effectively than I tell it to other people, and the person I'm letting down so severely is nobody but me.

It's exhausting, this constant pushing and pulling, this continuous effort to control my life so tightly, clinging to routines I don't even enjoy and passing up opportunities I wish I could take. It's human nature to be insecure, I'm told, but I'm not sure I believe that. Competitive, sure. Guarded, cautious, jealous, I believe. But insecure? Isn't my insecurity really just the fear that everyone is better than I am, or rather, that somebody is better than I am? And then, isn't it really just a perverse form of arrogance?

Here are some things about me I am afraid to admit. I get lonely easily. I don't work as hard as I should because I always want to reserve the ability to work harder in case my current efforts don't produce a product that meets my standards. I apologize to and thank people excessively because I want, but am never quite able to accept, their forgiveness for having imposed on them. I want people to see me as the kind of person I would want for a friend: wise, loving, socially appropriate, quick-witted, generous. But a lot of the time I am none of those things. Oh, and honest. I do my best, but sometimes even I lie, and not always about the most innocuous things, either.

The thing is, I confess these things to myself all the time, and every time I say to myself that I'm going to change them. But I'm not going to change them. I am not, ever, no matter what, going to be all of that good stuff all of the time. There are always going to be people who don't like me or who are indifferent to me, and some of them are going to be people whom I like very much. These aren't things I can fix. They're life. They're how things work, not just for me, but for everybody.

The other day I was behind a car whose license plate read JSTLTGO.

Just let go.

The things I've been clinging to aren't any good anyway.

Monday, April 16, 2007


I've been feeling pretty crummy lately, for no good reason, and since there's no real problem, that's pretty hard to fix. As a last resort, I find it always helps to poke fun at myself. Last night I asked James, "Any idea how to deal with the crippling pain of daily existence?"

First he laughed at me, which was what I was going for; but then he actually answered. "Well," he said, "I find it helpful to think of the big picture."

"And what exactly is the big picture?"

"Well, we're living relatively comfortable lives in the richest country in the world. In the scheme of things, we're doing pretty well."

I paused and considered that for a moment. "Yeah," I finally admitted, "I guess I did just eat Nutella straight from the jar with my finger."

All this to say: poor me. I'm fine. Everything's going well (except, as always, con law... always, always the exception for con law). Or at least, everything's going as it usually does. My upstairs neighbor is watching third-string reality shows and arena football, loudly. (Okay, he's just upgraded (?!) to Pimp My Ride.) I've been staying up too late and waking up too early. The weather is insane, which is fairly typical for Charlottesville at any time of year, and especially in the spring. Windstorms are fascinating to watch.

I'm pulling out all the stops to combat this melancholy. I even got my guitar out tonight for the first time since I moved here. My usual stress-relief tactic is cooking, and I've done a fair amount of that: pot roast for dinner last night, and the most delicious pancakes I've had in a long time the night before that. I've tried knitting, going for walks, calling and emailing friends with whom I've fallen out of touch. I wrote my first short story in five years. Still, the inexorable feeling of encroaching doom.

I guess the final tactic to be tried is waiting. That one pretty much always works.

On a different and undoubtedly more interesting topic, a friend asked me at dinner the other night, if I could demolish one structure that's been built in Charlottesville in the past ten years, what it would be. I asked for some parameters: could I, for example, pick the entire Old Lynchburg Road development corridor? No, he said, that would be too big. First I said Target, but then he reminded me that Target is way the heck up 29 where no one has to look at it who doesn't want to. In the end, I couldn't really think of anything. I picked JPJ, but not because I think UHall was any good, or because I have anything against JPJ itself; I just hate what it does to the traffic flow on event days. I do wish the Best Buy were still an Aunt Sarah's Pancake House, but for purely sentimental reasons: I never ate at Aunt Sarah's, but I remember I used to find it so charming when the sign out front advertised their fried chicken and waffles special. Oh, and if I could make the Cingular store just north of Barracks on 29 a Dunkin Donuts again, I'd be terribly pleased. It's hard to be sad when you're eating a blueberry cake donut.

What am I missing? There's got to be some deplorable building that I hate and have just forgotten about.

I want to go lie in a cornfield in Earlysville and go stargazing like I did when I was in undergrad. Bowling at Wayne Lanes, barbecue at the Blue Ridge Pig, hiking in Shenandoah. Too much of my life happens within a three-mile radius these days. I think I need to get a look at the big picture.