13 is hard.
Do you remember?
I remember it as the year of tears. I couldn’t stop crying.
Flora’s 13 now.
I remember, I remember—but mostly, I hide from her, because faced with her volatilty, I want to yell.
Thank goodness she has a Daddy who knows how to talk to her.
13 is fascinating.
We are in the line-up at Starbucks, Flora and I. I’m thinking about the story I’m not writing. Flora, I assume, is thinking about what she wants to order.
Flora: What is the most dangerous drug?
Well. I’m about as qualified to answer this as I am to answer her questions about serial killers.
Jane: I don’t know. I guess, judging by what I’ve seen of addicts in the hood… I’d say crystal meth.
Jane: But… there’s this thing that happens, in the media and in the cultural zeitgiest. There’s a fashionable worst drug ever. You know? In the 1960s and 1970s, it was heroin. And then in the 1980s, it was cocaine. And then, cocaine was not so bad, but crack—rock cocaine—was the worst, there was no hope of a cure of the addiction, it was a death sentence. And now, crystal meth is the worst thing ever, and marijuana is a cure-all.
I should perhaps highlight at this point that neither Flora nor I are cursed with low-pitched, mumbly, hard-to-hear voices, and the acoustics in this particular Starbucks are quite good.
The man in line in front of us turns around.
Scott: In the 60s and 70s, people served long jail terms for marijuana possession.
Jane: I think in some places in the US, they still do.
Scott: Obama pardoned most of them when he became president.
Then he flushes.
Scott: Sorry. I do psych counselling and support at festivals. So I know a lot about… this is sort of hobby horse of mine…
Jane: Then perhaps you can answer this young woman’s question. What is the most dangerous drug?
He really, really thinks hard about it. Heroin, he says, is really dangerous again, but that’s because it’s being laced with fentanyl. And, crystal meth—well, yeah, not so good. And then, when they add fentanyl to it…
Scott: They’re adding fentanyl to everything.
I don’t actually know how to spell fentanyl; I have to google it.
Scott: So really, the gist of this all is—you’ve got to trust your source.
And he shuts up and looks at me and my 13 year old daughter.
Flora: Thank you.
Scott: Um… yeah.
He looks at me. Awkward smile,
Jane: Thank you. No worries.
Flora orders her fancy drink.
Flora: Um…. medium?
Barrista: Your name? For the drink?
Flora looks at me.
And I laugh.
Jane: What’s your Starbucks name gonna be, baby?
Flora’s real name has fewer letters than mine. But it also has a Z pushed up against a consonant that means your poor anglophone tongue will never figure out what the fuck to do with it, and the two vowels at the end are NOT pronounced the way you think they should be.
Barrista: Is that with a C or a K?
We shuffle over to the “pick up your drink” side of the counter.
Flora: Fuck. I should have said with a Q.
Jane: Or, with a silent X.
Flora: Oh, look. The drug dude’s name is Scott.
Jane: With one t?
Flora’s brow is furrowed.
Flora: I need a Starbucks name that they will know how to spell.
Jane: They ask me how to spell Jane all the time.
It’s true. They like to put a y in it. An extra e, n, an assortment of the above.
While not doing my work, I watch He’s Just Not Into You. It has some fucking brilliant parts.
“So trust me when I tell you that when a guy is treating you like he doesn’t give a shit, he genuinely doesn’t give a shit. No exceptions.”
Scratch guy for person, and there you have it.
Mothers—for the love of your daughters’ future relationship functionality—when a little boy kicks her sandcastle over at a playground, when her 11 year old class mate snaps her bra—don’t tell her he’s treating her disrespectfully because he likes her. Tell her that he’s an ass who doesn’t know how to treat people with respect—and not worth crying over, much less lusting after. And then call his mother and father and tell them to teach their son some manners, and a functional mode of communication.
You: How do you know this and I don’t?
Jane: I have a father who treats me like a queen, remember?
Something is coming, churning. I’m on its verge and I feel it—what is it? Boom! Sometimes, it happens like that and sometimes, it sneaks in. Peekaboo. Did you see me? Yes, you’re right, here I am.
I don’t know how the breakthrough will come but I do feel it coming. I tell you about it, you tell me about yours… I’m not sure we mean the same thing by breakthrough but that, I think, is the curse of the human species. We never really know what the other is talking about.
You can’t save people.
Someone I love is crying in front of me, unbidden tears, and says, “You have no idea what it is like to live with someone who has depression.”
I laugh. Like a slap.
I have no idea.
But these stories, we don’t talk about them, because they are not ours to tell.
I tell her, the one thing I’ve learned—you can’t save people. They have to save themselves. All you can do is love them. Make sure they know you’re there for them when they come back.
And take care of yourself, because if you don’t take care of yourself, they sure as fuck won’t take care of you.
Depression is a narcissistic disease.
Sean: I’m the tone who told you that.
Jane: I know. It helped.
Betrand Russell who, I think, struggled with depression himself, knew this. The major thrust of his 1930 The Conquest of Happiness—both a prescient and a dated read, and yes, one can be both—is that happiness lies not within introspection… but in engagement with the outside world.
Martin Seligman’s PERMA model—Sean attends a seminar about it this week at the U, and we spend a little bit of time discussing the Flourish author’s insights—really says more or less the same thing.
Like most things described with acronyms, it’s kinda simplistic, but, for what it’s worth, here it is:
- P-Positive Emotion
You can read more about it here.
I like a lot about Seligman’s work, except for the P part of his model—because the negative emotions, frankly, have a role to play in engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment too, and if you don’t know how to work with them, through them, well, then, you’re fucked, baby. But the point I’m trying to make here—which perhaps is one of the reasons I’m such a shitty meditator—is that the more you look within, the outside world becomes less and less important and real. And as the world recedes, all that exists is you and your suffering, your demons take center stage, and it becomes easier—it becomes self-evident—that what you need to do is walk into the English channel with rocks in your pockets.
Fuck you, Virginia Woolf, you coward, Lenard would have loved you through another bout of your “terrible times,” he would have endured it, for you.
And fuck you, Sylvia Plath. Did you really think your children would be better off without a mother?
No. Of course you didn’t. You didn’t think. The outside world, reality did not exists. There was only the suffering self.
Depression is a narcissistic disease.
Except those of us who don’t suffer from it but suffer alongside those who do… aren’t allowed to say so.
Because we just don’t understand.
Like a slap, the curse of the human species—we always think each of us is so fucking special and nobody can possibly understand what happens inside the Other.
You can’t save people.
This, I know.
I finish writing a bad story and I feel good about it for five minutes, than bad about how bad it is. I text Sean.
Sean: I’m sure you’ll like it better in revisions. You know hating your first draft is part of your process.
Not always. Occasionally, there is a good, beautiful first draft. But not this time. I stare at the computer screen, chewing lip. Decide to scrub the grease off the kitchen cupboards.
I am feeling unsympathetic today, and I think all you depressed, anxious people should pull up your fucking socks, get a British stiff upper lip, and just get on with things.
I know I’m not supposed to think that.
I’m supposed to take a deep breath, dip into the well of unconditional love, and be your rock.
Guess what? The well is empty.
And now what?
unsympathetic bitch selfie
Two or three years ago, I write a bad poem. I don’t remember much about, except this line:
I danced with a man who hadn’t suffered…
People who haven’t suffered are pretty happy.
But they are also, usually, insufferable.
I find this really funny.
Her: You just don’t understand.
Jane: You don’t actually want to be understood.
Think about it.
You can’t save other people.
All you can do is love them.
And take care of yourself first, like in those airplane safety instructions, you know? Put on your oxygen mask first.
That is not this week’s breakthrough. That, I’ve known for a while.
I try to share it with the person I love who needs to hear it. Bu I can’t save her either. She needs to figure it out herself. I can just be there.
The six mantras of loving speech, by Thich Nhat Hanh:
- I am here for you.
- I know you are there, and I’m happy.
- I know you suffer, and that’s why I’m here for you.
- I suffer. Please help.
- This is a happy moment.
- You are partly right.
I am here for you.
Except, sometimes, I’m not, because I have to go be there for myself. Do you understand?
Suffering people, when things are bad, understand, feel nothing but their pain. You can’t take this burden off them.
You cannot lighten it.
And you know what? They don’t actually have the right to ask you to lighten it for them. Do you understand that?
Now, where’s that fucking oxygen mask? Put it on.
It’s rainy and it’s sunny and there’s a rainbow and I don’t think the city has looked this beautiful to me for more than a year.
There is a crack within.
That’s how the light gets in.
Well, hello there, breakthrough.
You are not what I was expecting, at all.
You: Buddha was a psychopath, depression is a narcissist, and you?
Jane: I’m thinking I’m an empathetic sociopath. What do you think?
You: You’re something, all right.
I’m something. Something amazing.
And so are you.
But I can’t save you.
PS I don’t think this piece actually worked. This seems to be my week for shitty first, second, and third drafts. Sorry.
PS 2 Happy Pride! I danced all week. My feet and back ache, and it’s not the motherfucking sadist’s fault—he’s only responsible for the fact that my shoulders and chest hurt so much it’s hard to type. Happiness has some very strange components sometimes. 😉
—->>>POSTCARDS FROM CUBA
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