I had a bad day today. It was just a medium-bad day, not a bad-bad day, or worse still — a BAD-bad-bad day. On a BAD-bad-bad day, I end up hanging my arms over a bridge, staring at the shallow icy river below — and pondering the collapse of modern literature and my own imminent demise; either from poverty and starvation (I’m a writer), or from just throwing myself over the damn bridge railing already. So. That’s a BAD-bad-bad day.
But today was just a medium bad day. I had an argument with my semi-girlfriend, or non-girlfriend, or girl who I can’t tell what she is. I missed the bus, and was late for work, which meant that I got in trouble, which meant that I was also too late to enter the briefing that was taking place at work; briefings being the best and easiest part of the day, where you sit for two hours and do nothing, but instead I had to work for those two hours. Then, rain on the way home. Then I wanted a drink, but I’m not allowed to do that anymore. Then my schizophrenic roommate was being awful and annoying, as schizophrenic roommates so often are.
It was just a bad day and it was going to keep on getting worse and worse and worse, inevitably, ineluctably, until my eyes finally winked out with sleep.
There’s only one thing to do with a bad day and that is to embrace it. Embrace its badness, in all its awful glory. It makes it better somehow. And also it’s the only way.
One time, my best friend Tiffany and I were travelling through Europe together, as young idiotic 20-year-olds will do. It was freezing. It rained for our first twenty-one days in Europe. I know this because after a certain point, I started to count them. Day Fourteen, Fifteen, and so on… Then it got colder still and started to snow.
We were in the town of Wahrl, which is in Belgium, apparently. I’m not totally sure how to spell the name of “Wahrl,” but that’s okay, because I never plan on going anywhere near the place for the rest of my life. We were coming back from a ska concert, and thought there was a youth hostel nearby. In this, we were mistaken. It turned out that the youth hostel was ten miles further down the road. After leaving the tiny town that was holding the concert, we were quickly in the middle of the woods, a straight road; no cars, no houses.
Tiffany had somehow managed to smoke hash with the band, despite their not speaking the same language. I had smoked pot, which I hate. We were both dressed wildly inappropriately; well, appropriately for the concert — not appropriately for walking through the freezing woods. Tiffany, I seem to remember, was wearing a rubber dress, with a thin nylon windbreaker on over it.
There was snow.
It was cold enough that we saw dead frozen birds by the side of the road.
There was no turning back. We had been dropped off by friends at the concert; those friends were long gone. We had to make it the ten miles to the hostel.
Tiffany, being on hash, kept telling me she couldn’t make. Her knees were knocking together. “Leave me, I can’t do it, leave me behind, just let me die peacefully here in the warm, warm snow.”
Being stoned, I strongly considered doing this. But then I would have just had to walk alone.
“We’re going to die,” I thought. Then I thought, “No, of course, not. You’re being ridiculous, Mr. Dramatic.” Looking back on my youth, it seems like I experienced a lot of these moments. Being at parties with crazy dudes with guns, trying to pass three cars on a two-lane road at once, drunk-driving by myself, drunk-driving with others. taking drugs, getting drunk in general along with taking drugs at the same. “Hey, you could really die here,” my brain would think. Then: “Oh of course you won’t; you’re being paranoid.” But I wasn’t. I was being stupid; stupid to think I was being paranoid. I could have died a lot of times. I just didn’t happen to.
We could have easily gotten lost on that road and frozen to death, somewhere outside Warhl. We just didn’t happen to.
But we were shivering and freezing and chattering all over and after three or four miles of this, in the now-darkness, we couldn’t take it anymore, and Tiffany wanted to stop and die in a snowbank again.
It was then that I came up with a solution.
“Hey, we’re doing all this fighting against the cold, all this shivering and struggling, and it’s killing us, all this effort. We have to stop,” I said to her. “We have to, like, embrace the cold.”
“Embrace. The cold,” she said between chatters.
“Just be like, ‘Hey, it’s cold, and fuck it. I don’t care. I’m not going to fight it.’ So fine, let it be cold! Just say like, ‘La la la, this is crazy, whatever, fine, I like the cold, fuck it, I’m having a crazy adventure in Europe, this is fine, so bring it on, Mr. Cold!”
And we tried it. We stopped wrapping our arms around each other and huddling away from the wind. We spread our arms wide. We embraced the cold. “La, la, la, cold!” we said. “We love it!” we said. And we sang the lyrics to ‘Common People’ by Pulp — the only song that we both knew all the words to — over and over again, for the remaining six miles, until we made it to the only hostel, the one outside of Wahrl.
And we did not die.
We were losers that day, but we did not die.
In her poem “One Art,” Elizabeth Bishop describes the art of losing. Of course she’s describing the literal act of losing (of losing your keys, your house, a lover), but the poem applies to the art of being a loser as well. Just as well, really:
The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.
I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.
Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look (Write it!) like disaster.
“…I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.” Bishop’s moral couldn’t be more clear. Losing, failing, dying, having a terrible day? Embrace it. (Write it! she says.)
Just embrace your bad day, if you’re having one. Throw your arms wide. Love the fucking cold, love the thing you hate, love your nemesis, the hanging door handle that catches and holds and rips a gigantic hole in your best, your very favorite jacket. Embrace it, love it. There’s nothing else to do, nothing else you can do, nothing else that you should want to do.
And then — once you’re finished embracing it — you can go ahead. You can go ahead and rip it up and start anew.