“Wake up in the morning. Pick up the admittedly sharp-edged and scattered pieces of your life. Try again. You’ll be okay.”
– Katie Van Zanen, “You’re Okay”
“I just want to feel some fullness. I just want to love the day. I’m not okay.”
– Will Montei, “Naked”
A feeling settles in behind your eyes like heavy Michigan snowfall. Slowly, it floats down after an eruption in the sky of your psyche and fills every possible crevice. You can’t even rearrange the thoughts in your head because the feeling covers everything too thickly, piling up in such a way that it keeps all your thoughts stagnant, cold, hard to reach.
The feeling is precisely this: right now, everything sucks.
You did not sign up for this, you think. You signed up for parties and spontaneity. You signed up for smiling uncertainly from opposite sides of the semi-crowded room.
You thought those Facebook Likes would fulfill you. You thought OKCupid was the answer. Yeah, you did. You thought you had good lines. You are original, aren’t you?
But what you got instead is a monster. A monster of biblical proportions. It comes up out of the sea to devour. Only, the sea is not a sea. It’s a mix of neurons and soul—a concept you still don’t really understand. And the monster is in you, may actually be you. It’s a brutal thing.
At times, the monster makes you excited about something new—new town, new project, new relationship—only to drop you, flailing, from its shoulders. It makes you nervous to the point where you don’t know if you are happy or scared.
The monster goes in and out of view, like it’s wearing a malfunctioning invisibility cloak, and so do its side-effects. The monster you got is an idiot, and a mean one. This isn’t any kind of Roald Dahl BFG; it’s straight out of The Witches. It doesn’t know you only signed up for the good parts of life. The memo didn’t go through. The monster has no intention of inviting you to parties. It knows nothing of spontaneity or relishing small grins. It doesn’t give a single schnozberry about Liking your fake-ish life on Facebook.
And, enough of these metaphors, some days the fear absolutely runs you.
But here’s the thing:
You are original. You do go to parties (in your circles they are always called “get-togethers” and, for real, “extravaganzas”). You shoot glances. God knows, you shoot glances like you’re the next American sniper. You remind yourself that buttons on social media are only buttons on social media.
Your life is not a cliché just because you did what your older brother did, or because your job title is Project Manager. No life is a cliché. Ever. Because you are you and no one else—and the fact that it’s a cliché to say it doesn’t make it a cliché to live it.
So, slowly, armed with a little forced excitement and the books your friends told you to read—Kant, Chan, Sedaris (because clichés can also be classics)—your new thought process mingles a very deliberate hopefulness with a smattering of epigraphs from your favorite authors.
And the feeling today is: right now, everything is fine.
You’re going to write out what you’re thinking. Process all that beautiful ash-heap. Or, maybe, don’t write to process, but just for the fun of it. You’re going to make your move, all JT-like, because what’s the worst thing she could say? You’re not even going to check Facebook today, like a boss.
And what was at the beginning of the day a deliberate hopefulness now becomes a more genuine, natural thing. You don’t need to decide to be hopeful anymore. You don’t need to be hopeful on purpose, because that’s your native state of being. And those epigraphs you like aren’t just cool strings of words, like posters hanging at the back of a classroom or in the back of your mind; they’re real thoughts spoken by real people, and you’re going to try to live them out instead of just saying them over and over in your head.
Some days, you just live.
Now, to keep it real, you don’t know what tomorrow will bring. The monster might come out of the synaptic sea again, and you will want to lie down in the snow for a long time, as though it does not matter.
The feeling, the monster of regret about the past and worry about the future, will go positively Assassin’s Creed all up on your life. It crosses your mind that, Hey, I should not have gone abroad for a whole year, because I won’t get married over here, and I won’t make any money, and I’m going to miss out on all that millennial American Dream stuff my friends are doing. The thought coats your cerebral cortex, I had a good thing going and I messed it up. Something, somewhere, whispers, You’re wasting away the possibilities for success, for love, for happiness.
Alternatively, maybe you’ll let a cliché not be just a cliché; you’ll admit that today is an opportunity like any other—neutral, whatever you make it. You’ll draw libraries to yourself, remembering in your drawing that all these angsty, pessimistic, postmodern novels you read in your phase are far outweighed by the classics you want to imitate and the theologies you want to live your life by.
You’re going to try to figure out the difference between emotion and mindset. Between psychology and spirituality. Between needs and desires. You’re going to get after it.
Here’s what else you’re going to do: you’re going to wake up, make your freaking bed, and deny the world its cortisone shots so you can bring it to its knees.
You will risk something today. You will risk failure, in order that you might win the prize. You will risk prayer, in order that you might know peace in the will of God. You will risk going out into the world today. And the risk itself will make you better.
Because slowly, everything changes. Slowly, nothing is the same. Slowly, you realize that all of this is normal, and just believing that is itself a very great comfort. Slowly, you see that “okay” is not a point, but a spectrum.
After a few years spent correcting grammatical errors and writing subtle, clever headlines in a Chicago newsroom, Griffin Paul Jackson (’11) now does aid work with refugees in Lebanon. He writes about that, God, and, when the muse descends, Icelandic sheep. Read him here: griffinpauljackson.com.