I used to have a very wealthy older boss who had a lot of go-to phrases to illustrate points about stuff. He liked to brandish little wisdoms about money, how to handle it, what your choices say about you and your relationship with money. This was one of his favorites:
“It’s better to want something and not have it than to have something and not be able to afford it.”
On the surface, it’s just a great piece of financial advice - don’t give into impulse buys unless you know you can afford the thing because being in debt sucks and truly, things really don’t have any value once you buy them. Their high costs are associated with aspiration and perceived value, not any actual value. A Bugatti does the exact same job getting you to the grocery store and back as a 1998 Ford Escort.
But if you look more deeply at that piece of wisdom, it’s about loss. It’s about the pain of loss. Wanting is motivating, it’s exciting. It makes you feel like there’s something to strive for. It makes you work harder. It feels GOOD to have the money for something, but not want it so badly that you have to buy it. That’s power. But losing something is a devastation; you have to adjust, re-calibrate, come to relate to a world without the thing you couldn’t afford. It’s a loss of control. It’s a loss of comfort. It’s frustrating. It eats away at your sense of safety and confidence.
The other day as I was getting ready for work, I picked up my hair dryer and dropped it almost immediately. When it hit the floor, a big chunk of plastic flew off of it and a little metal piece went careening out of the resulting hole. I tried to fix it and turn it on, to no avail. Bummer. No big, right. Get a new hair dryer.
But I FLIPPED OUT. I fucking flipped out. Not in the way you think, I mean I just continued getting ready for work knowing that I had a wet head and would have to deal with that. The context of this particular smashing of the hair dryer - an unexpected event that has no doubt happened thousands of times to thousands of people since the dawn of hair dryers - is that I’ve had that hair dryer for about 20 years. My mom bought me that hair dryer, and my mom is dead and she died too soon and left me here in this shitty world without her, and suddenly this old hair dryer that I know she bought on sale or whatever cuz she was so practical, it became a symbol for something bigger.
I didn’t know that as I was standing at the bathroom counter, heart pounding, emotions flooding my brain, putting on makeup and trying to stay calm and not cry or just yell FUCK really loud at my reflection in the mirror. But the pieces kind of fell into place for me as I went about my day. I kept that hair dryer for so long. I kept using it despite its inefficiencies, despite the fact that it made my hair kinda frizzy, despite the fact that there are so many better hair dryers out there, I kept using it because it was something from her, something that reminded me of her. And now it’s broken and gone and I don’t get to use it twice a week or however often I wash my hair, and it just feels like memories of her and tangible things that mark her having existed, well they’re slipping away now more than ever.
Grief is weird. She died six years ago and it’s like, ok dickhead, aren’t you fucking OVER IT yet? But you don’t ever get over losing someone, I really don’t think you do. You just adjust. Or, you know, maybe you don’t. We hear tales all the time of people who lose their spouse and become super weird or who just do not “come back” from loss. Grief fucks with you. It cannot be explained.
I relate to my world and my experiences through trying to find common ground with other people. I don’t like to feel alone, because I so very often feel alone. So seeking ways to understand what happened to me in the context of others and our culture at large is really comforting. And that’s where my mind went. And I just kind of let my thoughts expand later that night, as I often do, and it struck me that our entire country is grieving our mom’s broken hair dryer, and we’re all acting fucking bananas because of it.
Let me explain what I mean.
Nobody is happy right now with the state of affairs in this country and in the world at large. I mean, look, if you say you are, you’re lying. Maybe some of those Chinese heirs to massive manufacturing fortunes who buy 18 iPhone X’s for their dog or whatever are fine, but they live in a bubble. If you don’t live in a bubble though (you know, the 99% - remember that whole thing?), you are probably really stressed out right now whether you realize it or not. Things have accelerated, and it’s very unsettling.
You’re stressed out because our ability to cling, naively, to the fantasy of the “American Dream” died right in front of us and we are grieving our loss of that great elixir. You are stressed out from watching Capitalism, a system that has defined our nation and our value system for hundreds of years, try to prolong its frail, embittered life through chemo and radiation despite being riddled by tumors, and the sickness that follows is unbelievably traumatic to have to witness as it ravages your family and community. You’re stressed out because our sense of safety and goodness was ripped from us unceremoniously, and now there’s this big, gaping hole where it once was, and it cannot be filled no matter how hard you try. You can’t argue it better on Facebook, you can’t fuck it away, you can’t throw money into it to make it better, you can’t get away from it by watching Kardashians or joining the Alt-right or murdering women with your car or pretending you give a shit what happens to the Avengers. And throwing artisan cocktails and elevated small plates into it only kills the pain for a little while. You feel empty. It’s a looming, closely present void made of fear, fear breathing its insipid chill down your back every second, every day. Fear of a world WITHOUT the safety you once knew. Desperation to get that comfort back. Confronting the futility of your efforts, realizing that no matter what you try, you fail and fail and fail to fix that feeling.
There is no lonelier feeling than grief. Put a person who has never lost on a desert island for 20 years and I promise you she will feel less alone than the person at a dinner party with her closest friends who has lost someone she loves. When we lose on that fundamental level, we are changed. Permanently. Nobody can understand it because, on the outside, you look exactly the same. You go to work, you sleep, you brush your teeth, you go to the gym. But you’re not normal. You’re gone. You’re fucking gone, and nobody can see it and it makes you feel like a walking ghost.
That feeling makes you do crazy shit. Start fights, do drugs, eat more or eat less, whatever, you just want someone to FUCKING NOTICE THAT YOU ARE NOT THE SAME AND WHY DON’T THEY NOTICE HOW CAN THEY JUST TALK TO YOU LIKE EVERYTHING IS FUCKING NORMAL IT’S NOT FUCKING NORMAL and you want to grab everyone by the throat and fucking choke the normal out of them because you are lonely, you are isolated, you are deeply sad, you are fucking ANGRY AS A WILDFIRE and you NEED. SOMEONE. TO. FUCKING. SEE. IT. You need it acknowledged. You need to show your pain. You need your pain to be seen.
It’s hard not to see American Nazis and Incels and Social Media trolls and flat earthers and 9/11 conspiracists and NRA zealots and school shooters and hard core Christians and anti-abortion dogmatists and Alt-Right bros and Blue Lives Matter dickheads and Gamergaters and homophobes and Red Pill whatevers, all these people need you to see how BAD THEY FEEL. They need so desperately for us to see how terribly angry, sad, frustrated, isolated and utterly destroyed they are emotionally that they will actually kill. They will harm. “At least it gets fucking attention when I Kill, and Rape, and Spread My Poison. At least I am seen.”
And like, despite the fact that they feel so bad, I have absolutely zero sympathy for anyone who chooses that path. Sack up, assholes. Oh, do you feel bad? SO DOES EVERYONE ELSE. Deal with it. Cry it out or get a journal or take a yoga class or learn woodworking or fucking read Catcher in the Rye or something but, like, you are not special. So you get nothing from me. I hurt too. I’ve been living in that fear for so long I don’t even remember what life was like before it.
I keep reading articles about economic drivers and the deep history of racism in our country and everywhere in the world, I read people trying to make sense of Donald Trump and all the stupid “movements” that white men are trying to use to assuage their feelings of grief and loss, and nobody is fucking acknowledging the emotional reasons we’re here. And that Alt-Righters or whomever aren’t fucking different or special (though they think they are, don’t they), they have just never had to confront grief before and so they have no idea how to fucking deal with it. Combine that with a privileged upbringing from boomer or early generation Gen-X parents who were racist misogynists themselves, and BOOM, you’ve got a recipe for a person who thinks the world needs a specific kind of healing, and he’s the one to give it to us. God complex, much? Jesus fucking christ.
But it turns out it is him that needs the healing. Because we all need the healing. We are all lost, we have all lost, and we are all deep in collective cultural grief.
And if I’m right about all this shit, then I have to say this, though it might be super controversial to do so: White America may be for the very first time getting a teensy, tiny, microscopic sliver of a tip of the iceberg of an inkling of the collective cultural grief that Black Americans have lived in for generations. Theirs is a culture that has survived slavery and insipid institutional racism, mass murder and incarceration, and continues to stand in front of White America in pride and demand what’s right AND maintain more of an actual sense of unified culture than white people are able to right now. A culture that white people steal and monetize and use to fuel a Capitalist system that views black people as a fucking product. Think about that for a second. They must be fucking exhausted.
What kind of a person can’t acknowledge this, can’t find empathy and care in their heart for human beings who have been through so much trauma? Meanwhile, we’re over here becoming Nazis or whatever over, like, having less money than we used to have and realizing we really fucked up the rigged system we thought would have our backs forever and suck our shriveled old dicks right into the grave. It’s fucking bullshit. It’s FUCKING BULLSHIT.
And no, I’m not saying that grieving what’s happening right now is the same thing as grieving the enslavement of your race through generations. How could it be. That’s not my point and you know it so chill the fuck out. I am not your enemy. And that’s the point. The fucking point is that you never care about someone with a problem you’ve never experienced. You only care once you start to go through it yourself. So consider that, white people who are afraid of black people: feel that fear and dread and anger you are feeling, and then multiply it times infinity, for generations.
FUCKKKKK. I am so angry that we can’t help each other. I don’t know what it will take. Some kind of massive intervention from the destroyer Kali Ma or the creation/destruction of the divine feminine. But take this for what it’s worth:
Because my ancient relic of a hairdryer broke, I went and got myself one of those swanky infrared ionizing hair dryers and my hair looks FUCKING DOOOOOPPPPEEEE dude. I mean I dried my hair with the thing a couple of days ago and could not stop just running my hands through my fantastic fucking soft-ass shiny af mane and, like... alright, look. Would I have bought myself a new hairdryer if the old one had not broken? Hell no. Was it stressing me out a little seeing the old one become worse and worse with time and knowing I just needed to keep it going as long as possible because a new one would be expensive and the old one represented something important about my fundamental sense of self? Yes. Yes it was. Am I actively grieving my mommy again because the whole thing opened a wound? Goddam it, yes. Yes. Yes I am, my dude. FUCK. Am I hoping to fucking christ that someone is getting the metaphor here? GOOD GOD YES I AM, BECAUSE I HAVE GOT TO GO TO FUCKING BED.
Look, I don’t have answers to this, but it just has to be part of it, part of the puzzle. It has to be. Our behavior looks too much like grief to be anything else. And as the great Brenda Walsh once said, “if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck…”
“GO TO HELL!”
I mean is that clip not the most hilarious thing you've seen in your entire life? I LOVE IT SO MUCH IT HURTS.
Ok wait wait WAIT don't leave yet, watch this first if you haven't already, dumbass:
Ok, now go to the calendar and find something to do this weekend ya sausages. That's why you came here! But I ambushed you with CRITICAL THOUGHT! I win! ha-HAAAAA!