It turns out my skill issue isn’t one of competency; it’s one of imagination. I am actually good at doing things. I am merely bad at asserting that I can do more things.
Part of this is a personal branding failure. When you are young and a girl and have a so-so resume and medium IQ, you get points for being helpful and wide-eyed and eager to learn, or chill and low-maintenance and fun. You get fewer points for declaring that you are decidedly, frighteningly competent, or sprinkling grandiose into your self-introduction, or -- gasp -- maintaining that you are smart and worthy to a public audience. It follows that I am well-practiced in traits of the former sphere (non-assuming; bashful; “easy to work with”), and less acquainted with those of the latter (intellectually self-confident; brave in conquest; outwardly covetous).
Residing in the first category is how I learned that I am good at things. I want to be of service, and people want to be served, and that is a sturdy foundation for many relationships. But in addition to being good at getting things done, I would like to be good at choosing the things that are to be done. I am increasingly put off by the idea of letting doubt-fueled or “gosh, I’m lucky to even be here” passivity steer me toward a default state, or accepting objectives assigned by whichever elevated slant of the corporate machine I have decided to tolerate for the time being. I am more interested in boldly identifying what I actually want -- really truly want, want bad enough that it grates to admit -- then proclaiming it, then allowing honesty to force an honest pursuit.
After organizing an event that, to everyone who witnessed it, probably went fine, I had a series of panic attacks. When the majority of my dread-causing responsibilities concluded, I expected to feel relieved, which only made me feel worse when I didn’t, and instead found myself crumpled in a heap next to the entrance of a parking garage, unable to put off dishevelling until arrived at a more suitable location. Frightened by the extent of my inconsolability, I journeyed homeward through a cycle of crying, then fast walking toward transport, then crying again, then sulking on the sidewalk before boarding MUNI.
By the time I made it home, my most prominent desire was to dial 911 and be carted away, but that kinda seemed like a lot, so I instead ate a bowl of microwaved noodles and willed myself in the direction of friends, inspired by all the self-help articles that promise companionship makes you feel better. Aware that I had more “best self”-demanding activity around the corner, the grittier parts of me opted to rally.
Surrounded by revelry, I made it through exactly one hour of friendly banter before deciding that the articles were wrong – I did not feel better – and fleeing toward the nearest shade-providing foliage to begin hyperventilating under. I replicated the earlier cry/walk/cry/transit combo back home, then completed variants of sobbing and pacing in my room, then contemplated losing my mind in the company of an understanding friend. In the absence of one of those, I called the Alameda County crisis hotline, occupied with problems more pressing than taking a moment to locate the SF County counterpart, and talked to a nice man who said smart, gentle things in a soothing and validating way that only hundreds of hours of professional training can teach. I thanked him and meant it truly, then fell into a sticky sleep.
If you’ve taken a Sociology 101 course, you’re already aware that meritocracy (a system in which people are chosen and moved into positions of success and power on the basis of their accomplishments and not, like, daddy’s money) is a myth. That is, we do not currently live in a society that rewards merit exclusively – or even primarily – and there are many conflating factors like class, gender, race, etc. that muck up the general premise.
Along the same lines, karmic meritocracy, a phrase of my own creation, is a similarly incorrect interpretation of how the world operates. It applies the above to the concept of character and the popular misconception that good things happen to people who deserve them, and conversely, bad things to those who deserve them too.
I think that belief is false.
I am on a trip to Washington DC, which means I am spending more time alone than I typically do: dining out as a party of one, gazing mock-pensively at nineteenth-century daguerreotypes to impress no one, going on solo quests for late-night gelato while mosquitos nip at my ankles.
Solitude makes me hyperaware, and hyperawareness invites wonder.
As I wander the well-foliaged, Victorian-lined streets of DC awed and inspired by the great big world and my great big fortune to exist in it, I reflect on how far I have come in my ability to function as a fully-formed human. In addition to having the fortitude to make phone calls without rehearsing beforehand and being able to describe what a “nest egg” is, I am learning how to excel at navigating leisure as an individual, which is to say that I’m getting better at structuring my elective experience of the world in ways that are pleasant and satisfying rather than merely assigned or advised.
Of all the very sad things in our very sad world, the one that never fails to get me is imagining a child sitting alone at a folding table, conical party hat slightly askew, gazing out uncomprehendingly at an expanse of untouched place settings and waiting for birthday party guests who will never show up. I envision the parents white-knuckled, pitying, awash with shame and heartache and anger, willing their emotions into place in order to put on a brave face for their child -- their sweet, strange child who is still far too young to be burdened with the punishments of poor socialization.
I am moved by situations where the distance between devastating and salvageable is a little bit of well-placed effort from the right person. And I’ve been thinking about places where I can be that person.
Six days after I met Octo for the first time, I invited him to move in with me.
On paper, inviting a stranger to live with you is a dubious and potentially dangerous idea. In practice, it’s tremendously exciting, lots of fun, and a rare chance to learn about yourself in an accelerated, yet low-stakes environment. It also makes for a good story, particularly if you’re both fresh off somewhat hackjobbed international moves, receptive to indulging in mood enhancers, and navigating the first few weeks of fancy new jobs.
Speaking for myself, moving in with Octo was weird and silly and special. Acting on our whims facilitated a slurry of lovely experiences: late-night cannolis and conversation, easy jogs along the Embarcadero, collaborative domesticity, reflections on power and how to wield more of it, one or two mutual confessions, a revival of my affinity toward clout goggles and mint it-it’s, and spirited conversation centered around acceptable uses cases for whole wheat tortillas (bad for burritos, good for wraps), the only two types of people in this world (cult leaders and cult followers), and how we plan to make the most of our limited, precious time on this earth.