Three ways to show the world you’re kind of a big deal
“Everybody tells the truth with something.”-Glennon Doyle
At the end of ballet class the teacher used to have us line up to get little red, blue, silver or gold foil stars which she’d stick to our leotards. It was a sign we’d done well, even if all we did was flap our arms and legs around for an hour to 80’s lite rock like a little flock of seagulls. The stickers seemed to give some kids real prowess, power, panache. They’d exit the line busting out side kick pirouettes and even if they landed on their tutu would get up and spin around as if falling was all part of their fabulous plan. Where does that three year old confidence go?
At forty, no one’s giving me a star for doing anything; dishes, laundry, not throwing a fit in long lines at Target on a Saturday, eating broccoli instead of an entire cake and not buying that $500 blue velvet chair because I’m saving for grown up things like organ transplants and my cousin’s wedding. Nope. Once we’re past a certain age we’re expected to shuffle along from one day to the next doing all the right things with no recognition because now we know better. The alternative is worse but some of us have found a way to turn worse into better as a function of survival. We’ll get there.
Why do we need recognition? Well, in a meritocracy only the right people get jobs, food, a place to live, protection, rest, nice clothes and authority. Without recognition we face actual consequences for breaking rules we didn’t write. Sometimes we face consequences for existing because they can and we can’t. How come he gets a star for showing up? How come I don’t? Woe is me? Yea, woe! That’s the golden ticket. Is it?
When I was little I used to wake up paralyzed in bed, trying but unable to scream because my very first living memories were nightmares involving a gargoyle. My body would come back to me in the form of migraines that made the room spin. I’d lay in bed trying to reach God with prayers for mercy that sent my mind’s eye out through the window, above the chain link fence into the sky, past the moon and eventually above the stars to the ever expanding blackness of the universe; a dark space that’s equally terrifying and subduing. I’d find myself formless, nameless, nonexistent, floating in a galaxy with no beginning or end, feeling centuries away from anything real or familiar. Just as I’d think I might as well be dead an inexplicable will to live would wash over me and I’d start to cry, which only made my skull pulse harder. Somehow, pain brought me back to a life I’d immediately start fighting for all over again, usually with some strategy about how to acquire breakfast. Working out survival strategies beyond an egg are tricky but it turns out, not impossible.
Here are three possible ways to make it:
1. V.I.P.P: Very Important Privileged Person The rules don’t apply to me because I was born better than you. I’m probably a stable genius.
You can tell someone’s a V.I.P.P because they have status symbols like mansions, a nose job, natural fur coats, free time, a Tedtalk, a title, their own reality show, a bazillion insta-followers, a baby named after a geographical direction or they’ve vlogged about their last trip to Coachella. Yeeee! Sponsor swag. Hello jelly.
Some V.I.P.P’s used to get away with rape but still don’t have to pay parking tickets or taxes. Oh, and they can build anything they want, no matter the cost.
Have we stopped to wonder if they really feel as important as they seem? Why is it always the girl with shortest skirt, gets pushed to the front of the line? Isn’t her hoo cold? Who decided the current markers of mattering? Why do we believe them?
What if they feel just as insecure, confused, empty, pressured and exhausted as the rest of us? What if they actually feel as superior, comfortable and blind as we fear they might? Ugh. I once slept in a hotel bed that cost seven thousand dollars. I got caught up with a compulsive gambler in a past life. While I slept on a fluffy white cloud, he blew lines and bills till sunrise at a blackjack table. Hit me. It’d hurt less. The next morning at check out I asked about the bed because I wanted to know how much the greatest night of sleep I’d ever had cost; out of my price range. No kiddin. That debacle cost about a decade.
Either way, I still want to smell one of those hundred dollar Cire Trudon Positano candles and know what it feels like to never have to worry about earning my keep. Stocks and status are the colonized cultural currency.
I bet most V.I.P.P’s feel pretty worthless. Like peacocks wearing extensions, petrified we might find out they’re really pigeons in a wig.
2. V.I.P: Very Important Persecuted The rules don’t apply to me because I’ve been hurt. My hurt is special and complicated. Like and share if you really care.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever used a sad story to solve a problem. Me too. We’re called humans and this survival tactic has been deployed since the days of the Woolly Mammoth. I’d totally go hunting with you bro but I sprained my wrist spear fishing yesterday, plus I think I’m coming down with a serious man cold. *Cough*
We use sad stories like a shield to protect us from anything we think could either literally or figuratively kill us; prehistoric beasts, a toxic boss, other countries, abusive partners we stay with because pain is our love language, wounding parents, systemic oppression, hurtful words, the possibility of happiness or normal discomfort we can’t find the strength to tolerate, like changing a habit, trying at life, rebuilding after a storm or waking up for work. Are you woke? Too hard. Hitting snooze. Mmmm, Prozac and pizza.
Yes. Some of us are afraid of happiness, so we find new things to be sad about to avoid it. We think the weight of one more disappointment would utterly crush us so we stay settled in the grey sweatpants of complacency and call it good while pointing our fingers at any headline that proves our worst fear: things never work out for nobodies like us. If we don’t take risks we can’t be let down. We’ll never rise up either. Pessimism is an emotional seat belt preventing enlightenment.
Going through life invisible in grey sweatpants is akin to existential death. We avoid fully living to avoid potentially dying and as such, never live. Vicious cycle. Kind of like periods. I can’t even. I know. I’m tired too.
Why? Because abuse, oppression or some complex combination killed part of our hearts and we’re attempting to protect the remaining, beating bird of a fragment. Anyone who tells you these survival habits are a pathological character flaw probably needs a hug.
Have you noticed how everyone in so called civilized cultures seem to be competing for who has the saddest story? It’s the new cool thing to hashtag hurt that makes us special. There’s a whole neurobiological science behind it but if I start talking about the brain stem, society as a traumatizing parent, the social contract, marketing and the calcification of the pineal gland from processed food and television you might stop reading and I really want you to like me so I’ll keep talking about why you’re hurt and right and they’re bad and wrong. It’s true.
We resort to the exploitation of our sad story because the world has rendered us so powerless, afraid, stressed, starved and seemingly insignificant we can’t fathom any other way to keep a roof over our head; that goes for trust and pastafarians alike. I love carbs. I just don’t eat them. I might get fat again and bones are my armor.
Capitalists capitalize on their own children, sacrificing love for power. Nothing and no one is sacred, not even the gods of industry. And that’s the problem. We’ve forgotten how to see the divinity in you and me.
It’s no wonder. But you are.
3. V.I.P: Vastly Infinite Possibilities I Am
We are! Unfortunately, a bunch of horrible crap happened that made us forget. It’s called human history and he’s an asshole. He had to be, not that I fully understand it but without a real mountain to climb we’d never discover what we’re made of.
Think about it. Very Important Privileged People are chronically anxious because they don’t know if they can handle all the awful stuff that happens to nobodies. Nobodies are secretly bad asses with the kind of sponsors who give us step work so we don’t realize we’re great because we’re too busy surviving.
Meanwhile, we tap dance to the tune of Very Important Persecuted in exchange for favorable scraps from Very Important Privileged People because we don’t know any other way to get cornflakes in our bowl, until one day, we do. How long does that take? About twenty plus, mistake free years, several religious costume changes and a boatload of therapy. Honestly, it probably takes a lifetime but Lifetime is quicker which is why the role of Very Important Persecuted wins so many awards. Instant status elevation with virtually zero sustainable gains.
Authentic elevation rises above all the walls; the illusion of cosmetic cover-ups, billion dollar borders, even our own completely legitimate fears, back to the source of who we are: luminous evolution, stellar nucleosynthesis, radiating nebulas, stardust.
Originally published at borninprovidence.com on January 5, 2019.