Posted in Free Write Friday

Existential Horror & a Talking Horse

Sometime after you’ve moved back to your childhood home and have spent most of your days in mild misery, you decide to catch up on a show about an animated talking horse who lives in Hollywood. Somewhere along the line after you’ve started this show about this animated talking horse, the animated talking horse becomes a mirror to yourself.

His inner monologue is always, “you stupid idiot, you stupid piece of shit, why can’t you xyz xyz xyz”

At first, it’s funny. And then one day you realize, you subconsciously think the same things.

WHAT?

Nooooo, I am not Bojack, I protested to myself. I don’t live in Hollywood doing drugs and sleeping with random strangers and trashing every job I get and alienating everyone around me. Externally, I am fine! I have no self-destructive tendencies!

Or… maybe I do, but I never bothered acting on them because short-term gratification wasn’t enough. I didn’t live a very hedonistic lifestyle, and no matter how low I feel, I don’t resort to any demons others may have.

But then I realized — how long has it been since I felt up?

Whenever others accused me of being sad all the time, I’d brush it off, then blog about it and prove them right anyway. But the waking world differed: who cared? Time’s arrow keeps marching forward. I’m pretty self-actualized and OK with how I live my life. I guess. But after four seasons of watching Bojack struggle… I realized I also worship an ideal of myself I may never live up to.

And since moving home, it shows on my face and in my daily interactions: I am not happy. I mope way more. I spin my wheels and laugh bitterly. I’ve become less good at hiding it. Even a few months ago, I was able to write something serious and wake up smiling at my classmates the next day. Now, I’ve started keeping a daily log of things that viscerally annoy me. It’s appallingly long.

Bojack lives in the past, when he was a beloved star and everyone tuned into his show weekly and he got accolades and perks and everything was great — until he started his descent from greatness, realizing along the way what he missed out on while chasing fame. And then it was too late, so now Bojack lives in the future. The future in which maybe he gets more movie and TV roles again, or maybe he miraculously has a family and friends who he doesn’t betray and a stable sense of self. Either way, the present sucks.

For me, the present sucks too. I see it in how he lives, with the glass half-empty but him mercilessly pretending it’s full. I do try to keep an optimistic outlook — but I don’t know how to process the days when it’s not so sunny.

I’ve been procrastinating on this for a while. That’s why I’m sitting at home in Portland, feeling the full resentful voice asking, “why aren’t you doing anything?!?! You are worthless” run through my brain every day and talking it off a cliff.

For a long time, I buried this voice by being neurotic about the outside world. I used to go to church in the newsroom, whip open the bible to worship at the altar of my work computer, burn offerings of 600 word articles in a matter of minutes, pray to the sounds of Facebook and Twitter notifications. I’ve researched the psychology of reading people in my spare time, read about random phenomenon and the lives of great authors and philosophers, accrued more and more knowledge and refused to let myself relax, and burnt up a lot of energy worrying about how to save the world/someone else on a given day.

I was wary of calling myself a workaholic — I’ve implied it in many previous blog posts — because that would mean I lived to work. But what if I worked to live? What if I couldn’t just let myself relax, for even a second, and veg at home without analyzing something with my brain, because maybe I’d let the world down if I did?

Then there came a moment in time where I realized like Bojack, what I worship isn’t enough. It will never be enough. I worship what I do. I can’t accept who I am.

After countless friends and loved ones scanned over my neurotic overachieving and said, “You need to chill,” I listened. And while I ached to check the job boards, instead, I sat myself down humbly and didn’t do a lick of job searching as I watched the days at the Star Tribune trickle away. I even let myself turn down a couple of job offers, knowing self-imposed rehab was a solution.

Now, I’m resting up in the suburbs, trying to let my news alerts go unread. I check my Facebook twice a day. I eat my mom’s meals. I text my friends how they’re doing and try not to wince in jealousy when they tell me of the jobs they have and such. I spend my days doing regular things I always told myself I didn’t have time to do. Cook. Sleep in. Shop. How sad I have to tell myself to do normal people things, to draw inspiration from sitting in a home that now feels like a ghost. That makes that mean voice come again — “you piece of shit!”

It’s fall, I should be worrying about my next summer endeavor. It feels unnatural to enjoy a break. I used to only come home once a year if I could, working or traveling or doing something to earn my keep as a citizen of this world. This is what you should be doing, working on your (lack of) personal life, or lack of ability to want a personal life.

This is good for me, I say, as I finally feel the voice consciously screaming at me, when it had done so in the background for 6 years.

It’s great that my coping mechanism has become bingeing a show about an anthropomorphic horse. Even watching TV became a chore long ago — my Netflix account went untouched for quite a while. But the minute I found a show that didn’t feel like another obligatory fixture in the never-ending cycle of pop culture, I found myself hooked.

I watch Bojack’s reaction, and know I’m a few neurotic thoughts away from feeling like a washed-up has been, which would be ludicrous because I have only been willfully unemployed for a month. Still, I feel like someone who was relevant a bit ago, back when college felt like the biggest ecosystemic representation of what’s out there, and when I thought my immediate post-grad future was pointed toward some well-doing newspaper in a big Midwest city. Instead, I’m eating cheetos and petting my cat, because I can? Hoping the world doesn’t move on without me in the meantime.

Anyone who reads this will be like, “it’s going to be okay, Crystal!” But I don’t believe any of you. Because you know who hasn’t told myself that? Me. It’s not going to be okay, so long as I scroll through the witty tweets and millions of followers other established journalists have and feel qualms of resentment. Why haven’t I written things of that level of consequence yet, I ask, knowing the answer is because these people are at least 30 or older. All I want is to someday be a person to whom others will turn when they want to hear a new perspective. A person whom someone will flip open their feed to see what they have to say. I hate admitting my hubris extends that far. I feel like it is such a cliche, and a disdainable one at that. Isn’t it so many young people’s dreams to be recognized to that extent?

I worship that too. I worship being someone who has proved they are enough, earned everyone else’s passing attention and admiration.

I see myself in Bojack, as his character develops further and my heart seizes up more and more for Bojack to just goddamn, not screw it up, and just accept the love he deserves. Because everyone deserves a break from the self-loathing! Even me?

I took a good look at myself after the death of my best friend from high school, and I feel like I have internalized worst-case scenario thinking that was always there. I’m quite prone to feeling like the world isn’t big enough for me and my opinions to matter, and now I run like hell toward proof that this is true, because I want some validation of my worldview, as a form of stability. It’s hard to not take little things personally in a way I didn’t used to. It’s hard to not feel quick to feel misunderstood, whether you’ve expressed yourself or not. Bojack jacks himself off to feeling like a victim; sometimes, so do I.

Part of that is my fault; where the hell do my expectations lie, if I expect others to do the grunt work while I barely understand myself? When I haven’t devoted years and face time to building the relationships that I want, because I’ve moved around so much ‘because I had to for work?’

I’ve moved to 5 cities in less than two years, never spending more than 4 months in one since May 2016. Now I want, badly, to feel like I belong.

A few months ago, I realized I no longer want to belong in a detached place like New York or DC, but I also didn’t want to belong in the white landscape of a Midwest town waiting to get out. As I stressed over this for months, I realized I want to live in a city that makes me fall in love every day. LA — who inspires love songs and has oceanic views and a community of creatives who are scared shitless but have dreams, and is still just a 1 hour plane ride away from my hometown.

I’ve seen a variety of places from road tripping over the years — 21 metropolises, from glamorous cities to humble small towns. I’ve felt more love affairs with place than people, and now I’m afraid to fall in love more deeply and magically and possibly terribly with somewhere I do want. To run through the streets at the midnight hour and walk on a pier and people-watch a patchwork of diverse faces and feel like yes, this is my place, this is the place where disillusioned dreams rise up and die again yet have the strength to keep burning. I’ve never chased the curiosity I’ve had about a place I’ve heard urban legends about as a kid growing up on the West Coast. Now, I want to go somewhere I have a shot at staying in for a bit.

So for the first time in years, I lie awake at night and I have to ask myself: “am I good enough for that?”

I worship knowing the answers.

And for years, I’ve avoided remembering what I worship will never be enough.

Am I good enough to want something that, against all the odds, seems like a pipe dream? I want to cover race. I want to dream dreams about telling stories of Asian immigrants, the elder generations, all of that. And for god’s sake, I don’t want to tell it by being a bottom of the barrel person who has no identity outside of churning out content. What does that mean? I don’t know. Maybe I’ll compensate and pay for this shit. Maybe someone out there will judge me for having feelings. I am unsure. I want to be a journalist, and I don’t believe being myself has to be mutually exclusive. But maybe I need to revert back to being just a writer? It tortures me to not know the answer to this decision.

For so long, this wasn’t a question that zoomed through my mind, this true insecurity thing, manifested in all its ugliness. This was a question only reserved for the basic people, the ordinary ones who didn’t have work to concentrate on and devote themselves too. I admit — like a Pharisee, I disdained such citizens. Now, I have to find my answers and scream back at the voice.

I need to believe it’s okay that I, too, am just ordinary. I need to kill my idols.

So is Bojack. He’s just a washed up ‘90’s sitcom actor who’s also a horse; I am an overeager millennial upstart who thinks writing is what will make her bread. We’re not even the same species, but come January, we’ll end up in the same place. We’ll see if my demons worsen or turn into angels.

 

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