Etsy Shops & Semicolons
Healing is acceptance that things may not change. It isn’t pushing back on that notion, but rather chugging forward and divorcing comfort for courage.
Evolutionary psychologist Randolph Nesse says there are adaptive benefits of depression. Some people actually have no mood. They straddle an invisible line with great ease and never falter. But most of us are volatile, stumbling around here and there. Nesse has dedicated his life to proving that an inability to fulfill unrealistic goals is what triggers low mood, which in turn helps us to disengage from unrealistic ambitions. I learned this on my morning podcast; yet another distractor I indulge in as I walk, subway surf, or run through life. The side of me that fiercely pursues knowledge enables the side of me that simply cannot deal with silence and solitude, and vice versa. It is a precise formula that produces a person like myself. The more I know, this pattern leads me to believe, the more I will understand myself. The more I avoid mental dead air, the more I can systematically avoid pain. If I know more and I reject solitude, I will better understand myself, avoid pain, and the end product will be textbook “happiness.” And voila, you end up with a confused person like myself: the prototypical high-functioning depressed person.
So, onward I go, filling time and space and contending with a stream of sporadic ideas to which I feel passionately devoted, but only for moments at a time. I want to produce a documentary in the morning and move to Australia to be a marine biologist by night. I want to carve things out of wood but I also want to write a book and join the Peace Corps, so woodworking will have to go on the to-do list.
15 times a day, the firework that is my mind detonates until it sizzles into a tiny deserted heap of ash. I sweep it into the closet where the rest of my washed-up ideas live. It is as exhausting as it is exciting, as depressing as it is empowering. Once my mind has been thoroughly drained by each and every conceivable possibility, in flows the familiar low. A tired mind is a bottomless abyss that welcomes in all my misplaced “sads.” I call them this to momentarily glamorize an otherwise shitty sensation, but as Nesse would say, my “sads” are actually what keep me grounded. I’m empty and directionless, perhaps, but I’m still moving forward and recognizing when I’ve set too lofty a goal. I may be boring and unimaginative most days -- a wet sponge full of fragmented ideas and unfinished dreams -- but I haven’t given up on my to-do list.
Have you ever made a fruitless Etsy shop or left your guitar in the garage until mice gnawed through the wood? I have. I’ve tossed failed ideas in the trash after an emotional eruption, realizing later that maybe they had potential. By now they’ve disintegrated in some landfill, maybe halfway around the world, rotting in a sad state of lost courage. The best way to calm me down when I’m so defeated I could cry, or when I’m well beyond that, is to squeeze me tightly. The pressure really helps me. And now I’m Googling why it does, and I see there’s something called a “hug machine,” and I wonder if I may need one someday, and I’ve moved away from the page and forgotten I’m supposed to be writing. Unfinished.
I eat up knowledge all day and sometimes well into the night. I wonder whether I’ll reach the data capacity on my iPhone ‘notes’ app with all the to-do lists, subway poems, and thoughts I’ve forced down its throat. I also want to know if there’s a way to lock myself out from my iPhone at 3 a.m. so I don’t reach over and write down the thoughts that are keeping me awake. I’ll have to Google that too. I bought index cards the other day to write down words I don’t know; those I encounter in books, on the street, on podcasts, or at work. I try to close my eyes as I flip the cards, try to give myself back what my mind never let me have in those sixth-grade vocab lessons. A real chance.
I’m a dispensary of useless facts because, well, someone somewhere may want to know that most of the car horns honking around us on New York City streets are in the key of F, or that it takes a snail 115 days to travel a mile. Some days I am the snail but by luck and privilege, time is an entity I’ve always had in my favor. Speaking of time, I just missed my stop at 42nd street because Karl Ove Knausgard had me captivated and my face was buried in his book. He breaks every known rule with his words and has the remarkable power to redefine what is acceptable in writing. He makes me think I may have that chance back.
But until we know for sure, give me Sia’s music when you don’t know what else to do. It’s a cozy sweater and nothing else fits quite the same. I love semicolons too – is that relevant? You could draw me one because I overuse the crap out of punctuation and it’ll probably make me laugh. I’m not sure exactly how to use semicolons or commas because my baby brain was too burnt out to let those elementary school lessons in. My romance with the semicolon began when it revealed its power to me; the way it can split a thought right in half and won’t allow you to give up on finishing it. My grammar is a catastrophe but I’m still determined to have a shiny book with my name on it someday. Because in the end, the punctuation that will fill its pages is everything to me. It is the power to turn feeling into words, to pause a thought and come back into it with ten times more ferocity. The quotation marks tattooed on my ribs remind me not to stop speaking. When shame rains down and I drown in it, injected carbon is more faithful to me than my mind can be. Rain can’t wash away what is permanent.