Monday, September 6, 2010

Entertaining Pain

The other day, I was in the car with one of my three bosses. Boss 2 of 3 was driving us back to the office after a client meeting. We usually talk about a crazy-ass variety of subjects while in the car – traffic, art, client projects, weather, you name it. We sometimes touch upon my love-hate (mostly hate) relationship with Clarksville. In this car chat, I mentioned that I had recently guided an out-of-town friend on a quick tour of parts of Clarksville, during which my friend pointed out that I seem to be fonder of the city than I claim. I guess nine years here have worn me down and made me comfortably numb. Or my laziness has forced me to stop resisting the city’s um, “charms.”

Anyway … Boss 2 agreed I sometimes exhibit a certain attachment to the ‘Ville, and thanks to various local client projects and assorted activities, possess a more intimate knowledge of the city “than the average bear.”

I cannot explain the perceived attachment and fondness, except that maybe it has to do with familiarity breeding comfort (or at least an absence of contempt) – like pair of ratty, smelly, yet comfortable slippers. As for the activities – jewelry making, stained glass, photography club, artist co-op, belly dance troupe, roller derby team – there is a logical explanation for all of that (beyond my limited attention span and morbid fear of boredom). With no kids or husband (or even a real boyfriend), girlfriends who are busy being in love, and a job that is trapped at the end of a cul-de-sac until somebody retires or dies (and possibly not even then), I cram my schedule with busy for a very deliberate purpose. Busy passes the time. Busy prevents thinking and feeling and therefore wards off insanity. It’s a distraction from the realities of being 1,200 miles from family, a disappearing retirement portfolio, and a mere 10 days of vacation per year. Busy gets me out of the house and, through clever and creative use of smoke, mirrors and the occasional scented candle, creates the illusion of a full, satisfying life. And most importantly, busy makes me tired. I figured out long ago that being tired is socially acceptable while being depressed is not. Well, except for country songwriters. Consequently, not being cut of the songwriter's cloth, I cram a bunch of crap into my life so I don’t have time to think about being depressed. And it gives me a story.

Stay with me and think about it – when you ask someone how they are and the answer is “Happy!” – what else is there to say? There is no conflict. The story is over before it began. Half the time, the person cannot even articulate why they are happy. Maybe it’s just my social circle, but I’m not kidding, I can’t think of a faster way to end a conversation than to say (or hear),“Everything is great, I’m happy!” Boom. Done. (Remember this and thank me later if you ever need to get away from someone you don’t really feel like talking with.)

On the other hand, if someone is pissed off, there is almost always a great story to go with that. Rude salesclerk / waiter / customer / idiot driver in traffic … kid’s shenanigans … visiting the post office or DMV … weather related events. The conversation can go for hours!

And when the answer is “depressed,” is it not your instinct to flee? Nobody wants to hear that shit unless they are being paid by the 50-minute hour, and possibly not even then. At best, the targeted listener suddenly remembers something critically important that must be tended to yesterday. At worst, the depressed subject (i.e. me) is subjected to a lecture about the impossibility of being attractive, smart, having a job, “having it all,” blah blah blah, AND being depressed – as if being attractive and being depressed are mutually exclusive events. As if educated, employed people have no right to be anything less than thrilled with all aspects of life, no matter how screwy it is. It seems to imply that only hideous, stupid people have a right to feel anything less than happy – if they can actually fit it in with the vitriolic jealousy and anger they must be feeling towards the attractive, intelligent (and therefore happy as dictated by the laws of the Universe) set.

Being tired, however, seems to be completely, socially acceptable. Everyone is tired. People relate to tired. Tired has a story or two or three or ten. People can trade war stories about tired all day. Tired is a familiar feeling cultivated since the dawn of time (which in my case, coincides with Grad School) and can be worked around with carefully timed, liberal doses of coffee. So, my life is structured so I am generally too busy and/or tired to realize I’m depressed. Conversely, I’m also usually too busy and/or tired to realize when I’m happy.

In any event, Boss 2 thought the explanation of my busy life was hilarious. He said so, and complimented me on my comic storytelling ability. He commended my dry Yankee wit and pointed observations on life. He even found it amusing when I looked at him and said with what I thought was complete earnestness, “Yeah, I’m not kidding.” He marveled at how I think the stuff up – except I don’t, it’s just my life. If only I could live some riveting material suitable for ad copy we’d be all set!

Perhaps it is fortunate that my angst sometimes entertains others. I pour my heart out and they tell me it’s funny. I say my dog eats $3 a can prescription dog food and as a result, I am living on 19 cent a brick ramen, and they laugh like it’s the funniest thing they’ve ever heard. Maybe I should invite them over for dinner. It mystifies the hell out of me when my pain provides chuckles. If I could figure out how to turn that into cash, I’d be all set.