Nobody's shrink or guru

Once upon a time, I lied on my resumé that I’m Lotus-proficient, when actually it’s astounding how much I don’t know about the PC spreadsheet program. Today, my boss Darla said, “You’re the spreadsheet guy, right?”

“Whatever you need,” I said, instead of “Absolutely not.”

I took notes about the data she wants in the spreadsheet, and asked where to find that data, and now all I need to know is the first thing about Lotus 1-2-3.

In 40 minutes of frustration I opened a new file, got the headers set up, and keyed in the first few lines of data. How to set up formulas? How to get the thing to add up totals? I have no idea, but the deadline is a week away. I can put together a spreadsheet in a week, even if I have to buy Lotus for Dummies.

♦ ♦ ♦

Sweet Maggie called again, at my counter at work. That’s the only place anyone can ring me. It's the only phone I have.

Usually Sweet Maggie and Sour Maggie call together and take turns talking, but today Sour Maggie wasn’t on the line. Sweet Maggie can be, well, sweet. She deserves a better life, and she might find it, if she keeps Sour Maggie locked up in a dungeon somewhere.

Even Sweet Maggie seems unhappy, though. She has all sorts of problems, and it would be inappropriate to go into detail about her life in my zine, so I’ll just say — it sounds like everything she’s going through is going wrong. There’s no joy for her, and everyone deserves some joy, but making a major change is not an option, she says.

It’s a universal truth, I think — momentum and inertia and force of habit holds everyone back. We all tend to stay where we are, do what’s easy and expected, whether we like it or not.

Momentum or habit kept me in Seattle all through my 20's and early 30's. I wanted out, but maybe I didn’t know I wanted out. I was petrified at the prospect of breaking away, so I put ‘breaking away’ on a shelf, and ignored the idea for years. Things got better when I took it off the shelf and did what I wanted to do.

A life that’s tolerable isn’t much of a life. It’s the opposite of a life.

To Maggie, I said, “Figure out what you want, and grab it."

She thought I was trying to talk her into moving to San Francisco, but I absolutely wasn't. Having her in San Francisco would make me crazy. And anyway, she's decided she doesn't want to live here, and I respect that.

"I’m not telling you what to do," I said. "I'm just saying, do whatever you want to do.”

♦ ♦ ♦

“I’m the happiest person I know,” I told my mom a few weeks ago, when she was here and doing all she could to make me unhappy again. I tried to explain to her what I meant, but she never understood. She never tried.

I’m living a quiet, boring life, with no major goals, few friends, no girl, no God, a job I don’t care about, no corporate ladder worth climbing, and nothing at all I want to accomplish. Yet I’m ecstatic, compared to where I was.

Do I want more out of life? Of course! I’d love a lusty lover, and dozens of friends dropping by for witty, philosophically astute conversations, and something or someone to care about. There’s none of that. Maybe one day there will be, and that would be excellent, but right now I'm alone, and solitude works better for me than fakery.

When I eureka-slapped myself with this understanding, it felt like a 50-pound backpack of bullshit had been lifted off my shoulders. That’s when I knew it was time to say goodbye to the faux friends and shallow social life. I came to California, where I knew no-one and no-one knew me, and here I’ve built my new and improved life around the simple glory of being known to no-one.

And I’m happier than I’ve ever been. Hell, I am happy almost every day of my life, at least when my mom ain’t here. Even on occasional days when I get the blues, I’m still happier than the best days in my old life.

♦ ♦ ♦

When Margaret described her pathetic life today, I heard the life I left behind. Nobody likes a preacher, so I don't proselytize to her about what I’ve done, and anyway, the specifics of what worked for me might not work for her.  She’s damaged, and I’m damaged, but our damages aren’t the same.

So I asked her, "What would make you happier?”

“I don’t know,” she said. And then I said some stuff, and she said some stuff, and she said again, “I don’t know what I want.”

A lot of people don’t know what they want. They know they don’t have it, know they’ve never had it, but they don’t know what it is. They wander around looking for what they might want, without ever knowing what they’re looking for. Maybe they eventually find it. Most likely they don’t, but they settle for something that’s sorta like what they never figured out they wanted.

Or maybe I’m full of shit. I’m the only person I really know, and my own story is the only story I can tell. My story is, I spent years not knowing what I wanted, but maybe that’s just me.

Some of this I said to Margaret, in mostly the wrong words, and of course she didn’t understand it. I have barely figured out anything in my own life, and I sure can’t figure out anyone else’s. Probably she was more of a mess after talking to me than before she called.

Sorry, Mags. I want you to be happy, but I am nobody’s shrink or guru or father figure, and there’s no self-help book in me. And also it’s hard to have a conversation about the meaning of life, on the phone at my counter at work.

From Pathetic Life #4
Friday, September 2, 1994

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.



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  1. From a hermit saying he's full of shit that's good advice. You're a better person than you think you are.


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