This seems to stem from the idea that you have to be a ruthless monster in order to achieve power in the first place. The truth might be scarier. For years now, several groups of scientists have been studying the ways power impacts the human brain. They’ve found that power causes people to become more impulsive, less conscious of risk, and less able to empathize with others. The effects are severe enough to be comparable to brain damage.
In the cathedrals of New York and Rome
There is a feeling that you should just go home
And spend a lifetime finding out just where that is
-Jump Little Children, “Cathedrals”
I have lived a very fortunate life – one for which I try to remember to always be appreciative. I mean, it’s all about perspective — half-empty versus half-full, things could be better but things could be worse, etc., ad nauseum. But I’ve known poverty, and relative wealth. I’ve known health and illness. I’ve known great jobs and bad ones. I have lived so many of my dreams — I’m a published writer, I’ve played music on national releases, I’m a member of a band with a (teeny tiny) local following, I’ve made films that won awards. I have friends that on so many levels can’t be touched, in terms of quality and pushing me to be better and teaching me and always being there when I need them.
Maybe most importantly, I’ve loved a lot, and been loved more.
I’ve now sat and stared at this screen and those words for five minutes. Why ‘most importantly’, I wonder? And I think maybe it’s this: there’s a lot of life that we as individuals have control over. Not everything — not nearly enough, I might even argue. But I can work hard, I can seek out the industry secrets to success and apply them, I can find mentors and listen, I can play whatever game is appropriate and climb whatever ladders are put in front of me, for ninety five percent of what we humans think of as success. But love?
Not in the sense of cultural bindings, here. Clearly — I’m a flat failure at that. Three divorces in the last 29 years doesn’t exactly speak strongly about the strength of my sense of commitment and promise. And that’s fair, and I accept that.
YES MARGARET I’VE GOTTEN ENOUGH DIVORCES TO COVER MYSELF AND ALMOST ALL OF MY SIBLINGS SHUT YOUR JUDGEY PIEHOLE WOMAN.
And here’s why: I have a high bar. That high bar is crucial to me. Don’t get me wrong — I”m not looking for perfection. I have likely been guilty of that in the past, as I certainly possess a certain naivete that lets me believe in Hollywood romance and forever-after a bit too easily. But it’s not about that, and it’s not about “soulmates” or “the one” — that’s rubbish, at the end of the day. That’s the joy and the curse of being human, and all the variables that that entails.
But we get one life, in my belief. One. No do-overs. No greater beyond waiting past this. So I’m going to make the best of it. I want to be as happy as I can in every moment that I can, and when I can’t, I want to minimize my discomfort.
No one else is gonna do that for me. That’s on me.
Those past lovers — wives, girlfriends, even one-night stands — all had something wonderful to offer. Whether it was physical comfort in the moment, an ego stroke or a random release, or something more lasting and meaningful that involved learning and sharing and late-night drunken philosophical conversations, I benefited from them all. Some I will always care for, always love, always miss on some levels.
But that’s past.
The here and now, and the future — those are murky and uncertain, but goddamn if I can stop hoping. I miss the wonder of romance, of being a part of something one person greater than myself. I miss holding hands, and finishing sentences, and staring randomly, and getting caught, and catching stares. I miss sharing movies and books and music (oh, the poor people who have been on the receiving end of my music sharing). I miss the weird discoveries about a new person, and new food, and new beliefs. I miss the slow and awkward merging of worlds, and kisses, and the eye rolls of friends because I’m a sappy romantic, and making mix CDs, and surprise gifts.
WHY DON’T YOU EVEN REMEMBER MY BIRTHDAY, MARGARET? IT’S THE SAME DAMN DAY EVERY YEAR WOMAN!
And I miss the things I never got, but always dreamed of. I miss people wanting to read my writing and listen to my songs, no matter how choppy or geared specifically to me and my tastes they are. I miss big and maybe expensive celebrations of my birthday. I miss being treated like I have treated people.
(And a quick sidenote, because that last paragraph will make me eventually sound at worst forgetful and at best ungrateful: I do remember the times I was gifted such things, and the people that gave them to me. I promise. I’m forever thankful for those who gave more than they could or should have, and I will always remember that. Hugs. Etc.)
So… I don’t give up.
But it’s not to say that I don’t get discouraged. Dominantly, chemistry is sadly a two-way street — there’s plenty of times in one’s life that the attraction is one-sided. And then there’s the temptation to ignore things for the sake of the happy parts, forgetting that that shit will bite you eventually, and the venom will backlog in a big way.
And the worst — the absolute worst, the kind that makes you want to beg at the feet of God or deny his existence absolutely — is when the universe has shit timing, and you meet at the wrong time. Maybe you’re too young, or too old, or dying, or moving to another coast, or suffering a recent loss. Maybe you’re already involved, or maybe they are.
And maybe those times are okay, because your partner or theirs is actually a really awesome person who treats them better than you could have hoped or dreamed. Or yours is so wonderful that you never even notice them. The universe unfolds as it should.
But maybe those times are most certainly not okay, on any level. Maybe you’re stuck — for religious or cultural expectations, for nostalgia, for some sense of martyrdom or Christ complex. Maybe they’re treated poorly — from ignored to abused. Maybe there’s just something unfair —
AND YES, MARGARET, I’M WHINGING ABOUT HOW LIFE IS UNFAIR GET PAST IT YOU IRRITATING TWAT
— about the way the universe likes to remind us of things sometimes…
Fucking universe. Unfolding exactly as it fucking should, eh, Max fuck stabby eyes wisdom Erhmann?
(enjoy a brief musical break, while I pour a nice bourbon to calm my nerves a bit)
(quick random bit of trivia: bourbon is quite good for sunburms. Apply liberally to your stomach, and you will gradually stop feeling the pain of the burn)
I am fully cognizant of the entitled tone to a lot of that. It’s not a feeling that I experience often — or at least, not one that I give into I’m not a millionaire and never will be, realistically, and that’s okay. I’m not a famous guitarist, and never will be, and that’s okay. I’m not a successful writer who makes a comfortable living doing nothing but that. I’m not a genius programmer or an entrepreneur or any number of things, and that’s okay. And I don’t necessarily deserve any of what I have already, much less what I want.
But I am reminded periodically through my life that there are things that I wish I could have. I do experience jealousy, envy; I covet. I’m not proud of it, no, but there it is. And sometimes it’s easy to let go — my rich friends that are giving and generous and don’t rub anything in anyone’s face, I never think twice about. My famous or successful or brilliant or lucky friends that watch out for others and are good and conscientious, I’m happy for (truly and sincerely). But once in a blue moon… every random number of years, something comes along in the hands of someone who doesn’t appreciate, doesn’t treat as it should be treated, doesn’t deserve.
And I turn into a small crying child in the middle of the busiest aisle at the supermarket I KNOW MARGARET GODDAMNIT JESUS DON’T YOU HAVE SOME ERRANDS TO RUN OR SOMETHING FOR FUCK’S SAKE?
I’m reminded, for whatever reason, of the speech training they give to kids in rehab (and also from IT): “He thrusts his fists against the post and still insists he sees the ghosts.” But at least that helps stop stuttering…
Sometimes, the thought skates across the dura in my thick skull that maybe we all have a lifetime budget of Nice Things. Some people appreciate this from an early age, and go to their grave with a surplus of Nice and Happy Things still waiting for them. And maybe some of us (ahem) take a little too long to appreciate — maybe the rarity, maybe the actual beauty that is right in front of us — that by the time we figure out what we might like our home to look and feel like, it’s too late, and all our Nice and Happy Things are nothing more than window shopping opportunities at this point.
Shit. That’s depressing as anything, innit? Lemme try some music again:
Sorry. But in fairness, it was almost Childish Gambino’s “This is America,” so be thankful I went with the lesser of two heavies.
Jesus, Margaret. Where’d you get this bourbon? It tastes like firebombings in third world countries.
I can see where so much of what I always dreamed of and so much of what I’m come to realize I want is. And in this, too, I find a nugget of wonder — while maybe this timing is wrong and the universe is unfolding in a different direction, I can at least accept hope, the recognition that what I want does exist, and that maybe one day I’ll find it with the proper time and place and appreciation.
And in the meantime, I’ll remind you all: be thankful and show that thanks for what you have. Treat your friends and family and pets and lovers as best as you know how, and better still, because somewhere out there is maybe waiting someone who will. Be the person and the dream they deserve, and demand the same.
None of us deserves any more, less, or different than what we’ve got. But maybe those we’re with do.
Enough of me. Cleanse your palette and go enjoy some ice cream.