As the Pandemic wore on, and then sort of wound to a close, I found myself transitioning to a Substack that would become the principal repository for my excessively long Facebook status updates. This one, which was posted on February 14, 2023, became one of the last pre-Substack manifestos. And one of the best.
Good Morning. Let’s talk about Love.
Yesterday morning, Mondays being my Sundays, I woke up with a hangover, a list of things to do, and a guy whose last name I didn’t know (and still don’t) trying to find his socks.
“Look under the bed,” I tell him, not because I know for a fact that they will be there, but because I live in a studio apartment and my bed takes up one third of my living space, so there is always a 33% chance that anything which goes missing in my life, will turn up there, either in it, under it, or placed there, depending on the time of day, and who is there with me. Or not with me. For three years now, it has been thus and I really mean it when I say that because Sunday was the three year anniversary of my bachelorhood, and I celebrated it, as I often do, by not being alone, just lonely. Which just sounds so much prettier than “hooking up” doesn’t it? You see, Madame, I am A Poet.
The guy finds his socks and starts putting them on. Finished, he sits for a moment at the foot of my bed and, staring out the window, comments, “You have a really nice view,” in a tone that tells me he “doesn’t have to go, if you don’t want me to”, but I do, and I need him to. I have a whole day of things in front of me. And he’s not a part of that. “Come here,” I tell him, gently, and he lays down next to me like a wooden stretcher set next to someone being rescued from a train wreck. I laugh, and pull him closer, and then feel the moment he relaxes his head on my chest and say, “You don’t get held very much do you?” before I can stop myself. After the tiniest of pauses, he says “no” and then snuggles closer to me while my heart breaks for a stranger and my phone reminds me I have to get ready for an 8 am dentist appointment where I am being, poetically, fitted for a mouth guard.
By 10:30 AM, my apartment is clean, the bedclothes freshly laundered, and zero evidence remains of the threesome I had with Mr. Socks and Mr. Texted Me Goodbye. I am, after a three year hiatus, slowly and tentatively returning to directing, and I have a zoom call with an Artistic Director to work out a rehearsal schedule, something I haven’t done in so long, but which feels like riding a bicycle again: familiar, wonderful, and terrifying, as I try to balance the desire to bring some kind of structure back to my life in the ever-emerging Post-Pandemic World, with the reality that I will probably never ever feel like I can make plans again. As the calendar emerges digitally on the screen of my laptop and I write it down on my side physically onto the wall calendar that lets you know I’m a forty-something, all I can see is a bunch of evenings which have a 50% chance of being canceled for one reason or another, and part of me wants to just stop and scream, “Why are we doing this?” but like anyone who has Survived Trauma ™ I have accepted that everything we do is a risk and we have to accept that, especially if we do in fact want to accomplish anything. It’s just hard because I am both out of practice at being confident in the possibility that things could actually go just fine, and far too aware that setting one’s self up to succeed is as much an act of willful blindness as it is genuine confidence. But what are you going to do? This life must be lived, one way or another. Making theater has brought meaning to my life in the past so I am hoping it will do so again, but easing back into it has felt like slowly building a friendship with an ex-boyfriend, something I also have a lot of experience with: a true Labor of Love, in that the intentions are pure and the potential benefits endless, but the results will almost certainly be mixed and quite possibly painful and disappointing at times. Because nothing has the potential to hurt you quite like a dream you’ve already woken up from, it is always a gamble to pursue that dream anyway, knowing what you know now. But what are you gonna do if you don’t? Pursue other dreams, I suppose, which I do as well.
Or develop a fear of dreaming. Which has also happened to me.
“You were sleeping,” the message from Mr. Texted Me Goodbye reads. “That guy doesn’t seem like he’d rob you, so I figured it was safe to leave him. That’s a joke. Anyway, thank you. I had a nice time. I have to catch a flight so I couldn’t stick around, but I wanted you to know that it’s been a long time since I had a real conversation. Also, you are a fucking animal and I hope I see you again someday.”
At 2:30, I walk into the new therapy group I am trying. After taking a break from group therapy, I am returning to in-person discussion groups because I am hitting a wall with my progress on the mental health front. Since a bizarre twist of fate last autumn suddenly moved me from waiting to access the health care I needed, to having the best therapist I’ve ever had, things have been steadily improving, but with the caveat that the bottom is still falling out occasionally and, when doing so, epically. My therapist and I have identified that almost all of my negative behavior comes from a willful refusal to be intentional around the thing which I am most ashamed of, probably because in order to be intentional around it, I would first have to acknowledge not only that my sex addiction was real (check) but intrinsically part of who I am and therefore something to be managed, not cured. The last part is hard because on some level I do want to be “cured.” I want to be finished with this part of my life and never have to deal with it again and that’s just not how it’s going to be. “Nor how it should be,” my therapist reminds me. “How awful if you never had sex again,” she says and I agree though part of me also thinks, “Really? Would it be that bad?” and I envision, as I often do, a world where I never find myself in an STD clinic again, or wondering how I somehow blew half my rent money on a hotel room that I, thankfully, don’t have to clean which is why I made that decision at the time but now realize was not good math. That world seems so… nice. It’s filled with Sunday afternoon dinners and family baseball games and like… dogs and babies and stuff. And in it I have everything we are supposed to want, and which I think many of us actually do. Including me.
“Oh whatever,” says Mr. Texted Me Goodbye, sitting naked on the chair by the window just after midnight, scrolling through his phone. “I had all that shit and it was a fucking disaster. Like, my boyfriend and I were always fighting, and somehow everything, LIKE EVERYTHING, was always my fault you know? But like, after the fact, right? Like, we’d get into some kind of situation TOGETHER, and then he’d change his mind or it wouldn’t go as planned and then BAM, it was always because I was screwing it up somehow and I just got tired of like… Like, what do you want from me, right? Like all I have to give you, I am giving you, and it’s not enough. So when it ended I decided to just… like I only own black clothes. I simplified shit, you know? I only own black clothes, I only spend three days in any place I go to, and I only have sex. I don’t go on dates, I don’t call people again, I don’t even have conversations if I can help it and you know what? I AM SERIOUSLY THE HAPPIEST I HAVE EVER BEEN IN MY LIFE.” I point out this lifestyle probably has an expiration date. “Every lifestyle does,” he says. “And that’s why you always leave room for yourself to grow. You have boundaries so that you can make exceptions to them when and if the right guy comes along and throws you for a loop. You know, like you’re doing for me, right now.” He smiles at me, the smile of a gentleman bandit who has just explained that you are officially a hostage, but if you don’t fight it, you may actually discover it’s an adventure, and though you will be robbed, to be sure, you shall not be harmed. In other words, My Type. The problem is, I usually do fight it. “Let’s fuck this guy,” he says to me, and hands me his phone to finish the arrangements.
The new therapy group is… small. And by small I mean, myself and the facilitators and one other man who is… sobbing. Like, shaking with pain, bawling his eyes out and apologizing profusely while doing it. One of the facilitators is assuring him that this is okay, that it is good for him to be here, that he is not a burden, that this is how we start the pathway to something better. “I know,” he cries, “I just… I just feel like I’m failing,” and all the rest of us, immediately, chime in that to struggle is not to fail, it is an act of defiance that is the soul refusing to just lay down and die but this is a man who is in the headspace where your inability to manage one thing in your life makes you feel like you can’t manage anything and I know what that’s like, I’ve been there, I was there at 2 AM when instead of saying, “No, I’d like to keep it just us,” I went ahead and paid for a Lyft from two towns over that effectively cleaned out my bank account and landed me with a houseguest I knew I’d be the one to clean up after, not Mr. Texted Me Goodbye. But I did it because… well, it turns out I will do anything a handsome man who seems like he’s figured out life tells me to do. Like, anything short of murder. Probably. And before you start in on shit like, “Well, Stuart if you just loved yourself more,” I want to stop you and say, “Fuck off, I do love myself. That ain’t the problem, okay? The problem is, I have to get up every fucking day and face a laundry list of things that I face mostly alone in a society that is designed for me to fail in unless I do it the Approved Way and it is exhausting and demoralizing and instead of treating that exhaustion with rest and rejuvenation I sometimes cope with it by trying to fuck it out of existence and even though I know that isn’t the healthy choice, it’s actually not ineffective, which is why I am still standing, and why I am here helping this guy who is in a shittier place get back on his feet, which by the way is Love, this right here, so I do know how to love, I know this ACUTELY, and I do know how to love myself I just need better coping mechanisms for when Love Isn’t Enough, which it can’t always be, but better coping mechanisms, it turns out, are not only hard to find, but hard to make a habit of when you have spent years more or less getting by the other way so it takes TIME and EFFORT and my supply of both is often already used up just trying to keep body and soul together and if you’re not here to help then you don’t get to judge,” and the man, drying his eyes says, “Thank you,” because it turns out, I said that out loud and now he feels a little bit better. And so do I.
At 8 PM I have my last meeting of the day. It’s a Zoom reading of the second draft of my stage adaptation of A Room With A View. My favorite movie, based on one of my favorite books, which tells what I think is one of the best love stories ever told. A story about getting out of your own fucking way, but how impossible that can be, when you can’t seem to see not only the way out, but the way forward. A story about searching, about what Forster calls “The everlasting Why” and discovering there is a Yes. “A transitory Yes, if you like, but a Yes.” A story that, when I was young and inexperienced, seemed like it was telling me that things would be okay, that I would find not only who I was, but people who would love me for who I am, not who they wanted me to be, and more importantly- not who I was trying to be, for whatever reason, probably not a good one, that day. Now, older, more experienced, I have come to realize that it is a story about telling the truth, about ourselves and the world as we are experiencing it, and not being afraid to be young, or old, or confused, or ashamed, or unhappy or afraid. And the kindness we can show one another, and choosing kindness even and especially when things are most awkward and not going according to plan. And when we have failed ourselves, but we still have a chance to not fail each other. “If we act the truth, the people who really love us, are sure to come back to us in the long-run” says the heroine of my play, and to which the hero responds, “I acted the truth, and you came back to me… so you must be right.” And the words are Forster’s, but the arrangement of them are mine, and hearing the actors say them, it hits me that I am telling myself something all the time. And that I am also telling you, in the best ways I know how.
That you are a person, not a mess. You are not something to be cleaned up, you are someone to be spoken to, you are someone to be held, you are someone to be loved, and that’s true even if you haven’t figured out yet the best way to do that. The truth is, none of us knows how to do this, some of us are just really lucky. We are all learning. The point is to keep learning. And if it seems like it’s taking you longer than someone else, well… this is why we have each other. To learn from those of us who are farther along or higher up, and to turn around to those behind us and offer them a hand.
Mr. Socks is dressed and ready to go. At the last second, he goes in for a hug, and I hold him, looking out over his shoulder at the city I live in and the world I have been given. And for a moment, hugging him, I see everything.