In 1998, I sat on the edge of a stage in a crowded middle-school gym wearing a white shirt that said, menacingly, “Just Say No.” My mom smiled toothily, and took a picture of me with five police officers, crossing their arms, their crotches pointed toward the back of my head. Everyone was so proud.
Today, after graduating from a university rampant with shrooms and its own opium dens, I wear a backpack and tramp around New York City alongside these people — my friends, I guess? — who wear Indian headdresses and exhort me to “say yes” to stuff. Yapping balls of acceptance and yesses, we’re so good at grasping. Yes to tight pants and graphic tees. Yes to “hair of the dog.” Yes to an all-night sleepover on a Tuesday. Yes to showering together, platonically. Yes to mephedrone. Yes to masochism.
In the monstrous quicksand we all fell into after graduating from college, we grabbed onto random shit to save ourselves from falling into the pit (some people did actually fall in, but we’re still Facebook friends with them, even though we probably don’t invite them to our New Year’s Party). Some of us grabbed onto Blue Bottle coffee and weird fedoras with feathers — that’s fine, if you can fit on the subway with a feather coming out of your head. Others grabbed onto elaborate iCal categories, or marijuana, or a boyfriend’s big beard and dark glasses. Someone I knew magically found some money to grab onto. (When did I miss the Engineering Train?? Why was I idiotically doubling up on French lit credits while that magic train’s caboose rolled on by?) Someone else found Celiac disease, and wore that self-righteous affliction like a coat of arms. We’re like teething babies, grabbing on to song lyrics, literary classics, new ethnic restaurants, moccasins and brands of coffee with our little alien teeth. We’re looking at each other to see who has found the magic dust, who is “centered,” who is content.
I, when sinking particularly quickly into that pit of hopelessness, grab onto fake important phone calls in public places. “What?!? This is a three million dollar deal here, how can you walk away?! Tell Mr. Mackintosh I want to meet with him next Tuesday at Per Se. 12 o’clock sharp. Bring the proposal.”
Yes to absurd dreams. Yes to starting our own startups. Yes to pretentious meetings over “coffee.” Yes to sex. Yes to buying the more expensive chocolate bar because you like the logo, and you’ve never had chocolate with pig’s jowls inside, so… yes to that.
Yes to building our own furniture, even if it breaks when you sit in it, and you fall on the floor and wonder why you didn’t just buy at Raymour & Flanigan like your rich neighbors. Yes to singing to yourself at Ninth Street Espresso until the bearded writer at the next table tells you “it’s very rude” and looks like he’s going to shoot you in the vocal cords. Yes to trying to be Jainist, and wearing a swastika wristband because that’s the Jainist logo. Yes to giving $40 to your friend’s fundraiser, and yes to wanting it back right afterward.
What if we went back to 1998, to “saying no” amid police offers telling us about what happens when we smoke too much potty pot? What if we went back to the days when our little focused lives lived in our Trapper Keepers, emblazoned with dancing unicorns by Lisa Frank? When we were actually bored. When we walked downstairs to our mothers cooking wild rice and asked, “what can I do? what can I do? I’m bored, I want to do something.”
But we didn’t do anything; nothing more than lay our pogs out on the floor of our bedrooms in elaborate rows, imaging that they could create a path from childhood to our fantastic dreams.
I don’t want to “like” everything, don’t want to go to business school, don’t want to go to the new restaurant in Williamsburg where they bake olive oil shortbread daily, on the premises. Don’t want to say yes to self-indulgence. Don’t want to say yes to black pits of self-loathing. Don’t want to say yes to those days when all you can see is the plaid map of your bed sheet wrapping you in its smothering lattice. Don’t want to say yes to you, if you wear sunglasses so dark and colossal that I can’t see your eyes.
I know, it’s Buddhist, or something. And it’s not new. But what would it look like? Would we all just sink into the hole, and end up like Sheila, the 57-year-old blonde harlot who stands at the corner of 26th Street and Broadway tells everyone that she’s in movies? Or would we all finally read Moby Dick and discover the meaning of life, rather than reading Thought Catalog and looking into the proverbial mirror? Would we stop paying attention to the flavors of coffee and our favorite band’s logo, and more time paying attention to each other? Would we finally notice that our best friend is not really a best friend? Yes.