There Is No Mastery
I had really been looking forward to my contracted trip to Washington, DC. I had been hired to present a workshop on working with students who have emotional differences (my preferred term for what the rest of the world calls “disturbances,” “disabilities,” and “difficulties”). I'd spent a lot of time preparing the workshop, and I was excited to spend the extra time I had to romp around DC, finding new libraries and eating at vegan restaurants alone. Maybe I would even go to a MUSEUM. No sarcasm here: heaven for me is a day at an unfamiliar library or museum all by myself. Because apparently I’m 65 years old.
When the day came to leave (last Monday), I felt like I really needed to leave. I was in a rut. My love life was really confusing; I was out of touch with a lot of people I cared about; I had just spent some time at the hospital; I was struggling at work. I spent pretty much every day last week crying in bed, eating corn chips, and watching “Gilmore Girls.” Ah-gain.*
To tell you the truth, I was worried about me. What was I doing with my life? I was stagnant and depressed, and this was unacceptable. DC was going to make things better for me. I would leave New Orleans broken-down and smeary, and return to New Orleans renewed and revived.
Washington, DC was COLD. Ice crept up railings outside apartments; sparrows puffed out like pom-poms. I checked into my hotel on Monday morning to clean myself up and recover from the frigid transit between the airport and Foggy Bottom. “This’ll take 20 minutes,” I thought. “Then: libraries, museums, exploring!”
My hotel room had three beds and three TVs. It had a free bag of microwave popcorn IN THE ROOM. It had a central heating unit that went up to 80 degrees. I climbed into one of the beds and put on “Gilmore Girls” and fell asleep. Then I woke up and ate microwave popcorn. And THEN I left the hotel: to walk one block south to the Whole Foods, where I bought at $3 bottle of wine. (My advice to people who are considering shopping at Whole Foods is to ONLY buy the wine. It’s the only thing that’s worth what it costs there, and you can still flirt with the cashiers.)
Suddenly, it was 7:30 p.m. It was dark, and really cold, and I was kind of drunk because of the wine. (My hotel room even had wine glasses, which are a totally novel luxury to me.) I decided to cry and watch more “Gilmore Girls” until I fell asleep. The next day would be my day.
I woke up at 6, thinking I would sit down and write something. After all, it’d been over a week since I’d written anything. Just a quick blog post about - -. About… About. What could it be about? How sad I was? How hard everything seemed? I hadn’t pulled myself out of it yet, and I had no perspective. There was nothing to write about. I went downstairs for the continental breakfast (WHICH HAD A WAFFLE MACHINE, SO). When I was full, I ate more, just to push back the reality that I hadn’t done anything with my day yet. Eventually the front desk woman told me they had to clean up.
I decided to go for a walk. I thought my walk would lead me to something; I’d end up at a LIBRARY! Or a MUSEUM! I would have adventures, I would solve my sadness, I’d get better.
It was COLD. I went back to the hotel. Then it was only a matter of time before: “Gilmore Girls,” front desk for more microwave popcorn, more crying, nap.
The time for the workshop came, and I had accomplished nothing. I didn’t feel any better than I had before I got to Washington, DC, and now I had to act like I was mentally competent for three hours in front of educators doing very important work with children across the country.
The great thing about doing a job that you’ve done before is that it acts as a kind of a switch: you know how to go through the motions; you know what to activate in order to get the job done. The workshop went well; it even cleared my head a little, and I was distracted enough to forget that I was crazy-depressed.
During the break, a woman approached me with a story about a boy in her class who had severe ADHD, which she said resulted in violent outbursts throughout the day. He was only seven, and his family was about to move to another country. She said she wanted him to figure out how to manage his anger before he moved; it would be best if he could master these social strategies before he went to a whole new place.
Almost mechanically, because I have said it dozens of times before, I replied, “Oh, but we never master this stuff. We learn it, and then forget it, and then spend the rest of our lives going through the motions of remembering what we've forgotten. There is no mastery of suffering."
I am never going to master my suffering. It’s just going to have to run its course. All I can do is be patient, gentle, and hopeful. One day I will wake up, and I will feel totally capable of going to libraries and museums. I’ll be able to sit down at my computer and write something. I’ll get through my whole day without crying, or eating corn snacks, or watching “Gilmore Girls.” (Let’s be real: that last one is a “maybe.”) Then I will remember what that feels like to be ok, and I’ll say, “OH YEAH. I must have known that I’d feel OK again, somewhere inside myself."
But not yet.
* The only word to describe my relationship with “Gilmore Girls” is addiction. I have even thought about writing a whole essay about it, and maybe someday I will. If you’re a fan, you probably think you have watched episodes of “Gilmore Girls" a lot of times. Maybe you have. But I have watched** every season — 153 40-minute episodes in all — 13 times. That’s 55 entire DAYS. Of my life.
** To be fair, I don’t usually WATCH “Gilmore Girls.” I just have it on. I have it on while I’m going to sleep. I have it on while I’m painting. Just hearing Rory*** talk about books makes everything OK.
*** Rory is SO PRETTY, but she wears SUCH DUMB CLOTHES. It was the 2000s — why were BOTH of the Gilmore Girls wearing slightly-flared jeans still? Sometimes Lorelai would REFER to cool clothes — like T-shirts that say “Impeach Bush” on them — but she never actually wore anything like that. AND THE WRAP DRESSES! What was the costumer thinking with those wrap dresses? If you have actresses who will look hot in literally ANYTHING you put them, WHY are you constantly putting them in the full-length diapers that are wrap dresses!?