Pass the Data
The other day I heard a learned philosopher discoursing on self-knowledge. While we used to engage in self-exploration through meditation, sports, or art, for example, Yuval Noah Harrari asks what it means, then, “when this process is outsourced to a Big Data algorithm?” That line stopped me hard. Where Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock measured out his life in coffee spoons, how many of us measure out our lives, our wellness, and our worth in “likes”? in “steps”? in money earned, spent, and saved? in mileage on the bike? in states or countries visited? in our biometric numbers for sugar, cholesterol, weight, percentage of body fat, calories consumed, points earned? lays sought and found on a sex app? books read? shows seen? tweets twatted? MAKE IT STOP.
One way I measure out my mental health and self-worth is through the laughs I generate in others, and judging from that last few years of meager blog posts, posts on social media, and reactions the few times I’ve seen others in person, I am in rough shape. I don’t think this post bodes well for wit, and for that, one of my three or four readers, I apologize.
The most important measure of my mental health for me is my capacity to weep at beautiful songs, singers, poetry, movie moments, pictures, and other acts of human decency. I was just listening to the Barbara Streisand/Judy Garland duet “Happy Days/Get Happy” and found myself in tears. So, check. (I hadn’t thought about the ways in which I might bring others to tears, but I think that happens out of my capacity to irritate more than, you know, move someone by making something beautiful.
You Laughed at an Image
My first boyfriend*, from back in high school, got back in touch recently. He has been with his wife, a fellow artist, happily for 32 years. When they eloped after living together for almost a decade, I mailed them a toaster. They totally got it. He began reaching out to old friends, he said, in the wake of Covid, and on the cusp of age 60 next year. I told him that I myself have actually paid for a ticket to my 40th high school reunion. I am going with two buddies of mine since second grade; my old bf’s was last year, and he said, “MAGA vibe, super spreader event; pass.” Probably true here too, but friend Carl promises it’s really a reunion of friends from elementary and middle school, and it will be fun. Okay.
The best part of the reconnect has been the ART share, in multiple texts; the meme share; the political jokes. According to the data, I laugh and heart a lot, so that must be good. My inner life, I mean. Should I dig deeper?
*Note: I never had any boyfriends. Sure, I went out with two guys in high school, and steadily, and talked about marriage with another guy, but I was ABOVE BOYFRIENDS. And still am. Why? Dunno. Let me ask an algorithm. “You laughed at an image.” I guess I’m fine.
Weekly Report: Your screen time was down 11% last week.
Weekly Report: Your sense of self-worth was down 25% last week and continues to plummet.
Weekly Report: 99.9% of Republicans blame all girls under age 11 who are pregnant for being too hot to resist.
Weekly Report: Humans are fucking up the planet and are fucking fucked but only about 25% of Americans fucking believe it’s fucking true, and YOU are one of them.
Weekly Report: 100% of meals in America contain tough nuts.
Anything else to REPORT? I mean, there it IS.
Work It Out for Yourself
My Queens basement flooded again yesterday afternoon. Only one inch of rain in an hour. What the hell? Last September my last chance for a vacation for the foreseeable future (and what would have been my first in three years) was swamped over by drain overflow in the wake of Hurricane Ida. My last real vacations were in 2018 in California, Lake George, and here in NYC when friends came for a week to visit. The year 2019 was WORK, the year 2020 was WORK + Covid; 2021 same. But Labor Day week friends and I were going to make a break for Lake George again…and Ida. Since then, my parents, while still sharp and okay, have grown frailer. I spent 5 weeks there this spring to help my dad after a surgery, and help my 85-lb mother, too. Lucky to be able to do it—the sad residual benefit of the pandemic is that we have this new way of working, remotely. And wow does it make me feel remote—from others, from myself. A lot of us are at the point of wondering why we work at all—so many of our jobs are just humans trying to plug the holes and reduce the problems inflicted on humans by the humans who are doing the jobs in other companies and institutions and there is no bottom. Why aren’t we just growing food, singing a little, dancing, and cooking again? What happened? Boredom?
And don’t get me started on the rat infestation at my co-op building, or the super going on vacation and the back-up falling through and me being the only person not afraid of the rats, so this gray-haired fat lady will be sweeping up (including the dead rats) and hauling garbage out for the next two weeks. And temps in the 90’s. This is how I will die. And so what, really?
The opening phrase of the first poem of my friend Jean LeBlanc’s latest collection of poetry, our pitiful metaphors, is, “Work it out for yourself:” and the first time I read it I just about threw the book across the room. I was so tired, you see. I don’t want to be challenged or taunted or berated. I don’t want to work it out for myself. Just tell me my horoscope, give me the meds, the diet plan, the answer. Why is this hard?
I reread the collection this morning, after putting all the flood-soaked towels in the laundromat washer, which sounds like a pretty easy task, until you factor in moving all the shit in the basement mudroom to get the heavy duty cart out, lining it will a big plastic bag, filling it in four trips from bathroom shower to trash alley carrying the drenched textiles, heaving the laden cart up the stairs, locking the gate (dragging it over swollen concrete—is nothing just a thing?—and pushing it all to the facility; followed by returned the cart to the basement, etc. It’s laden with sadness, this poetry collection; arguments, missed connections, and loss. I find myself wrestling with all the terrible beauty. I contrast it with our friend Anna’s collection, Buoyant, about the joys of scuba diving, the poems’ speakers filled with wonder; and our friend Katrinka Moore’s latest collection, Diminuendo, which returns again and again to the sensation of floating, hovering, and the feeling of being connected tenuously by the thinnest of strands.
There are moments these past few years when I’ve felt held together by only the thinnest of strands; known that I am forever and always having to work it out for myself; and also given a reprieve with moments of wonder, as this week with the first color images from the Webb Space Telescope.
I made the mistake of texting my despair post-flood yesterday to a friend who said, “Fuck, Lisa. Get help. Call 988.” I remembered the first time I went to therapy years ago, my therapist Goldye said, in response to my skepticism about going to a therapist when I have friends: “Our friends don’t care about our pain. They will say whatever it takes to make you okay so we can all go to the movies.”
And this is why you walk your neighborhoods, write stuff, draw a little, and don’t share your pain with anyone, not even friends; why we have to turn to the poets, the artists, the musicians in our darkest hours. People have their own shit to deal with, and they don’t need yours. It’s a lonely truth in a lonely world.
Sending love and poetry, somehow. Bless those poets.