There are a lot of human beings in the world; we live among other people, and as ‘members of society’ we are born and grow up with the intrinsic tendency to compare ourselves to one another. This extends beyond simply evaluating whether you are fatter or thinner than another person or prettier or uglier or more or less wealthy, the sort of comparing that self-help texts will advise you to avoid should you wish to be happy. YOU ARE YOU AND THAT IS IT, we are supposed to believe.
But even that philosophy decides that ‘mentally healthy’ or ‘self-accepting’ is a pre-prescribed goal, something everyone should want, and how in the world are you going to know whether you’re being good at those things unless you compare yourself to other people? You are online reading your Twitter feed or your Facebook feed and seeing what everyone is posting and you are inundated in this tide of what other people have decided to present to the world and you sort of wonder where you ‘go’ relative to that, you use the information that other people provide about themselves to measure your own ‘normalcy.’
Life is a constant process of wondering whether you are fucked or not. You commute in a large city surrounded by the bodies of other people, all of whom, you are aware on some level, have an entire life with a landscape the size of yours, have an inner self that you presume to be somewhat not-fucked or maybe less fucked or more fucked than you, depending on what you think of yourself. Or you live in a small town thinking about what ‘everyone does’ out there in the world and visualize a continuum between your small house and ‘the world’ on which people are somehow progressively less-fucked the further they get away from where you are.
You reach something resembling adulthood and realize that your vision of people splitting cleanly into ‘a child who doesn’t know anything yet’ and ‘an adult who knows everything’ is fallacious, that even adults are still worrying about how to grow up.
But even still, when you are an adult who has not done your dishes in three days some tiny alarm goes off in your brain like you’re a humanoid android on an assembly line and the presiding machines have detected an aberration.
You go to take a nap in the middle of the day because you have found a small rip in the fabric of your daily responsibility, and for some inexplicable reason you fall in, to this superheated sheet-printed damp and dry-mouthed black hole that lasts all day. And when you wake up it’s getting dark, and you murmur some half-awake exclamation of horror, your phone is showing you some awful number like 5:53, a stark and cross-eyed number and you are panicking and all you can think of is Mom, Mom.
Even though you are an adult. You slept all day, you idiot, you want your mother, you idiot.
You are on the internet at 3AM, that surreal middle-hour where the light coming in your windows has no specific quality at all, where there’s no sound coming from outside, no sound except the tinny blare of your digital music and the endless, lonesome clatter of your fingers typing chatter you won’t remember, clicking on things to read things you won’t remember, a manic consumptive limbo and you’re thinking about how fucked you are, how weird.
You hate doing your laundry. You hate going to the Laundromat, where 40 minutes is not enough time to leave your wash in the machine and go do something else, but it’s enough time that sitting in that tile palace listening to kids shrieking while you watch the interminable vortex of your clothes going around and around and around is completely fucking intolerable. So you drop it off at the wash and fold every couple of weeks so that someone can do it for you even though you’re not especially rich and you feel okay about this until all the people who do their laundry in the machines like normal people seem to be giving you weird looks and there it is again, the silent social alarm of aberration, the dull flicker of fluorescent Laundromat-light over your head as if some formless ghost has slipped into the room to turn its presiding eye on you, to see how much further you will stray from the lines.
You never know if you’ve said the right thing, but you are always thinking about it. You figure most people are always thinking about it, most people care about making others happy or about what others think of them so that’s pretty normal. When someone does something you don’t like you think ‘they’re fucked’ because it reassures you that you still stand in the correct arena. And there are those people you know who seem to say whatever they want, to gallop through the world really heedless of what they are trampling, lip flaps peeled off a horse’s grin, and you wonder if you should admire them [via YOU ARE YOU AND THAT IS IT] or if that tiny flickering anxiety light ever hovers over their shoulder. Aberration, aberration.
It’s unglamorous to admit you are fucked. It’s better to just decide that everyone else is fucked. It’s best to strive to be better, to think about that one dude you know who never stays up too late, never sleeps in or misses an appointment, whose place is always clean, who goes to work even when he doesn’t really feel well even though there’s nothing in it for him, and somehow when you are comparing your life skills to his you always remember only that part and not the fact that his eyes are possessed of a weird emptiness, that he is emotionally ruined, seems to enjoy nothing but a pattern of continually-unstable relationships he never wants to talk about or seems unable to talk about.
What do you make of yourself when the amount of success you seem to achieve seems to be directly proportionate to the amount that you drink alone at night – like, you actually do better if you drink — and how do you reconcile that you make more money than the dude you know who ‘totally has his shit together’ or that you are basically happier than people you know who do their own laundry? You should accept yourself maybe, even though you know that accepting the fact that you only wash your dishes an average of twice a week will probably lead to you washing them only once a week. You will just sleep in and fuck it all and refuse to answer the phone and your sense of control will be slipping through your fingers and you are not sure whether this is you being liberated and happy or you being just totally terminally fucked.
You will lie in bed and think of all the people who are at work and how much better at life they seem to be than you. You will look at people who are overtly more stupid than you are to feel better. You will know they are stupid because they manage to live lateral lives for years and years – like who could just be a claims adjuster every day forever without something inside them screaming fucked fucked fucked. Or like, those times you succumb to illogical impulse and you actually want to eat a McDonald’s hamburger, a behavior that feels sort of guilty and aberrant and off-the-grid for you and inside the McDonald’s you see a mom who has five kids and the kids are throwing their Happy Meal toys at each other and her face looks stretched and haggard and dude, her eyes are completely dead, and you experience the odd sensation of feeling really sorry for someone just because they wanted a totally different life than you.
You look at the smiling food boxes and think ‘Happy Meal’ and the thing in you that is still young in there somewhere feels a needle slipping into its heart muscle, a spasm of pain.
You live in ambivalence that is impossible to reconcile. Total self-acceptance and quitting worrying about normalcy will create some kind of monster that a divine power will just want to burn off the planet, like, with a giant magnifying glass, as if you were an ant. You will dive forever into the black holes of sleep, chased in your dreams by the red eyes of the aberration-detection machine. Let go of that process of trying to be ‘normal’ and you might just fall off the face of the Earth; first your feet won’t be touching the ground and then everything will start to look really far away and impossible to touch and then before you know it you’ll be lifting off soundlessly into the atmosphere, your mouth open but breathing no air.
But normal is an impossible, undefined ideal. While it feels decadent, possibly destructive, to only worry about being happy with yourself or at least happy with the ways you are unhappy, you can’t exactly go around comparing yourself to all the people who have no better idea of the holy-normal than you do.
You can go, ‘holy shit, no one is normal, there is no such thing as normal,’ and then you can go ‘shit, I better not do anything weird today, I must function highly’ and they are like two magnets that will never touch, and you live in the field in between. You are fucked and you are fine and so is everyone else. Being ‘happy’ is less possible and more overrated than you probably have been led to believe, but you don’t really have any choice but to participate. Or you could die, but that seems like it’d suck.