I overheard something yesterday.
A not-very-close friend of mine was explaining to a professor of ours why she’s leaving our little art school after this semester, to go somewhere where she can study commercial design and advertising. Paraphrasing closely:
“Ten years from now I want to be on the 38th floor of a high rise, in an office with the walls all made of glass, with a personal assistant.”
I wish the social landscape had been a little different — we were in a busy, noisy lobby, during a short intermission — so I could have responded somehow. I wanted to say, “That’s the perfect opposite of where I want to be ten years from now.* Is that really what you want? Is that really the zenith of your dreams?”
I couldn’t do this, though, so I swallowed her sentence. I sat with it. I felt it sink into my stomach. I began to brood.
An hour later, after the performance**, I brought this up in the car with my girlfriend. I began to rant, to grumble, to mock this girl, her innocence, malevolence, laziness, stupidity.
I was talking fast and spinning jokes, laughing about it, trying to cover the gaping gash those words had left across my heart. For this girl, this ridiculous classmate, I had liked her, I had laughed with her, I had invited her to our festival. I had talked with her. I had wanted to be her friend. Such brainlessness, it felt like a betrayal.
My girlfriend took me at my word and didn’t realize I was so sad. She snapped back at me, witty and mean, with something to the effect of “No shit.”
With this my heart broke, my face fell, I wrapped myself in my jacket and sunk into silence, into sadness.
So much to mourn here. At least two layers of it, each deep and distinct.
The first layer is the obvious one: that a smart, creative girl, someone strange enough she’d socialize with me, would hold such conventional aspirations. That somehow, here, today, such a person could think herself smart, practical, admirable, for wanting such things, such that she could tell people with a grin on her face, her eyes gone smug and sly. There here, today, in my extremely liberal town, at my decidedly artsy school, a smart kid could think sincerely that she’d like her life to amount to so many American dollars, to a high place on the ladder, so many people working for her, a number of expensive possessions.
To be honest I wanted to punch her in the face. I wanted to knock her right in the nose.
How can you not see that all of that is bullshit? Not just bullshit, but poison, evil goddamned weapons, the stuff of wars, the stuff of famines, the stuff of destitution. Why oh why would you want to join this machine, this horrible machine that is literally destroying our world at this very moment?
So that’s the first layer, the obvious one. It’s stupid and lazy and cowardly to want such ridiculous, conventional things. It’s an injustice to yourself, to sell yourself so short, to think you’re worth nothing more than money. To think the sum total of your life, your existence in the world, should be accumulating fucking cash.
And the second layer. This layer is the deeper, darker one, the frightening one, the one that truly scares me. This is the one that I could see clearly only later in the night, as I was sunk into my self, sick with sadness. This is the one I’m stuck against, the puzzle I can’t figure out.
I understand anger, I understand loathing, I understand judgement. These things come naturally to me. As any readers know, I can tell right from wrong, and when I see wrong, I can summon the fires of hell to condemn that which offends me. Fire and brimstone are inside me, they are at my disposal.
One thing that’s a lot harder for me is love. I’ve gotten better, very slowly better, at loving myself, and from there, loving my neighbors, loving my enemies. I’ve made progress. I understand the all-importantness of love. I understand that only absolute, unadulterated love can solve our problems. I understand that when someone says something stupid, like what my friend said here, the only productive response is love, compassion, understanding, empathy. Only with such things can criticism be meaningful. Only with such tenderness will we get anywhere. Bombs cannot win hearts and minds; love can, and does, and will every time.
Knowing the things that I know, and being the person I am, something terrible happened.
After I’d sulked for awhile, it was time to move on, to stop caring, to let it go, role over, have sex, go to sleep.
I tried to stop sulking. I tried to forgive this strange offense — which of course was not committed against me, in fact had nothing to with me — but I couldn’t. I couldn’t forgive it.
I searched my heart for compassion for my classmate and I couldn’t find it. I looked and looked for love for her and it simply wasn’t there.
I am the Queen Bee of Ruthlessness. Hatred is the name of my town.
* In the desert, in a village of hovels made of tires and mud and colored glass bottles, making art with the people I love.
** The Sex Workers Art Show. More on that later.
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