Since I've returned each week has been a little worse than the last. I keep waiting to find the bottom and I'm still not there. I'm not depressed but it's only a matter of time if something does not change. I've recently started to slip into negative territory.
"Balance" in this culture is a joke. If your job is not specifically fulfilling, it is a gravity well sucking your mental health and it takes tremendous amounts of energy to escape. Work to live? Boy, I hope you've got some amazing hobbies and relationships.
When I got back I knew it was going to be a race between my job dragging me down and getting enough good things in my life fast enough to counter the job. Considering the pace I was capable of even before I started losing energy, it was pretty clear I wasn't going to maintain myself where I wanted. What I've done outside of work amounts to getting the motorcycle thing underway and a fair bit of dating. Good things for sure, but not enough. Compared to what I could accomplish on a daily basis while traveling - it amounts to very little.
What's frustrating is that with all the learnings from the travels - insight on how to live, what makes me happy, how to understand and deal with my emotions without the same emotions biasing that understanding, and much deeper understanding of what this culture does and does not offer and its myths - here I am yet again, lacking the energy to extricate myself. And the fact that I didn't see this coming when I returned - or was unwilling to face it (I needed money for rent in an economy with no jobs!) - makes me sad.
Paraphrasing something I wrote on mefi yesterday: This culture teaches us that if we're well provided for materially, that not only should we not concern ourselves with happiness, fulfillment, and general mental health, we should be ashamed to do so. If you want to learn how to live and be happy, you have to figure it out for yourself. I understood this intellectually many years ago, and understood it emotionally while traveling (by experiencing the value of learning how to be happy), but as it's a negative lesson, I've only examined it recently when my mood turned negative.
Watching people follow this tenet by ritually abusing themselves for their paycheck is a daily out of body experience. I see a lot of my coworkers in a completely different light than I did before - along with people on the street for that matter. We invest a lot of energy in appearing normal, but now I can see behind that curtain in a way I couldn't before and I'm being exposed to huge amounts of psychological ugliness that I am not sure how to defend myself against. It would be very easy to get sucked back into that world and retreat to my previous defense - shutting myself down emotionally.
For sure there are plenty of people not in this boat, but they aren't a majority. But at least they are around to find as friends. And thank jebus that the culture does allow some space to avoid it. Nor do I feel shorted. Italians might "know how to live," but have you ever met someone who is extremely passionate in the wrong direction? That could have been me.
I'm never again going to plumb the depths I did in my late teens and periods of my 20s (although obligatory "there but by the grace of god go I"). My new knowledge of how good life can be by itself is enough to prevent that. I have been "for real" happy - not the faux "life is pretty good, I can't complain" happy. In this culture that translates into "materially secure but feeling empty inside." Now I know what I can aim for, and it's worth the effort.
I've given a lot of thought to what it takes to enjoy life in a sedentary urban setting with a regular job. The ability to make friends and get into relationships is probably the biggest skill needed for any lifestyle. Next to that, though, I think you need to have a kinetic, hyperactive energy about yourself in order to squeeze in some happy moments multiple times a week. Drinks, socializing, all that. Part of why traveling works so well for me as a lazy person is that it automatically immerses me in "the awesome" versus me having to continually generate it myself. So I wake up in Istanbul at 9am, observe the Bosphorous from the roof of the hostel as I eat breakfast, I take a long walk to nowhere in particular, take photos, say hi to kids I can't speak to, peruse some museum I ran into. What did I do there? I didn't do shit. It all happened to me without effort. And it was epic.
Back home - little evenings of fun require a lot of planning and effort. Over time it feels like I'm just amusing myself with shiny things until the day I die - this weekend we're going to the museum, next weekend we're going dancing, next weekend we're going to this restaurant. Travel is even more of a continual flash in the pan experience of novelty - but unlike city life, the whole of travel exceeds the sum of its parts by orders of magnitude. What I think this means is that even if I didn't need to work but I was confined to the city excepting weekends and three weeks of "vacation" a year - traveling would still win easily. This isn't the end of the world - I think if I pursue my long term plans and come out with a job better suited to me, life in the city can still be pretty good.
So dating, yes, I have been doing a decent amount of internets dating. It would be nice if I had a good circle of friends here in SF through which I could meet single women but, uh, well, I'm, like, going to work on that. With a kind of bland everyday life, success or lack thereof with women is the only thing modulating my mood, and it's probably the reason I'm sitting in this local minima.
A few weekends ago I tanked something I had going on with a girl because the attraction level wasn't there. But there was sex, and touching, and kissing, and and now there isn't, and now that I'm not traveling anymore, my male sex drive is once again a whiney back seat driver who never, ever shuts up. If anything I was more interested in sex while I was traveling, but being otherwise fulfilled, periods when sex was lacking weren't remotely a problem. [A shocking experience of the sort only a male can understand.] So that, and this other thing.
I'm attracted to bisexual women with feminine bodies but with a hint of androgyny. The attraction is part mystery for sure, as anyone whose mental space covers a broader range than mine automatically gains my interest. Mostly, though, I think of myself as just a bit to the masculine side of gender neutral and I go for women that are just to the feminine side of gender neutral. Some recent superficial examples - indifference to physical appearance, a highly analytical mind, and a sex drive that runs independent of the state of the dishes in the kitchen.
So a few weeks ago I had a coffee date with a "bisexual woman with a feminine body and a hint of androgyny." We met at my favorite coffee shop and sat down next to each other on a couch. Recent PhD in psychology, analytical thinker, pretty, hints of a dark-ish past constructed into something functional as an adult, and a dash of vulnerability and geeky social awkwardness. Kind of firing on all cylinders. She wanted to hear about my travels and I got very excited and animated while talking about them. She laughed at my stories and dumb jokes. Nice!
We naturally turned to some darker topics - such as suicide. I mentioned my favorite magazine article of all time - on the subject of the golden gate bridge as a suicide Mecca - and hack-quoted my favorite part of the article on what often happens to people who are past the point of no return but are not yet dead:
“It seemed like the fall lasted forever,” Alarab said afterward. “I was praying for God to give me another chance.” The fall broke both of Alarab’s ankles and three of his ribs and collapsed his lungs, but he lived—becoming one of only twenty-six people to survive the plunge from the Golden Gate. “I’ll never put my life on the line again,” he said at the time.
Survivors often regret their decision in midair, if not before. Ken Baldwin and Kevin Hines both say they hurdled over the railing, afraid that if they stood on the chord they might lose their courage. Baldwin was twenty-eight and severely depressed on the August day in 1985 when he told his wife not to expect him home till late. “I wanted to disappear,” he said. “So the Golden Gate was the spot. I’d heard that the water just sweeps you under.” On the bridge, Baldwin counted to ten and stayed frozen. He counted to ten again, then vaulted over. “I still see my hands coming off the railing,” he said. As he crossed the chord in flight, Baldwin recalls, “I instantly realized that everything in my life that I’d thought was unfixable was totally fixable—except for having just jumped.”
Kevin Hines was eighteen when he took a municipal bus to the bridge one day in September, 2000. After treating himself to a last meal of Starbursts and Skittles, he paced back and forth and sobbed on the bridge walkway for half an hour. No one asked him what was wrong. A beautiful German tourist approached, handed him her camera, and asked him to take her picture, which he did. “I was like, ‘Fuck this, nobody cares,’ ” he told me. “So I jumped.” But after he crossed the chord, he recalls, “My first thought was What the hell did I just do? I don’t want to die.”
I like this article even more now, having recently gone through a bunch of narrative adjustments in quick succession. But to go through them in less than a second and be dead three seconds later...wow.
We moved back to happier subjects and talked until the coffee shop closed. I asked her to go dancing with me the next weekend and she said yes.
My BS detectors were tripped, though, and they turned out to be correct - she didn't respond to me after I set the date up. One of those "not only can I not say no to your face I can't say no using plain language like 'I'll have to check my schedule'" things. Fine, she wasn't into me. But, ouch. "See this amazing person? Not yours." It was enough to tank the rest of my week.
Shrug. I have a date with a raver girl next week.
Hmm. I feel better already. Now get off my couch before I delete this whole thing.
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