“Irreplaceable”

Replaceable Parts

I confess I have been less than stellar in thought and action recently. (Then again, aren’t we all most of the time, us solipsistic humans?) I can recognize it easily now as jealousy, manifested as a practised withdrawal from seemingly competitive situations and a “hoarding” of everything (attention, empathy, material) that I could definitively claim as “mine”.

Beyonce represents my fears quite well:

I could have another you in a minute
Matter of fact, he’ll be here in a minute — baby
[...]
I can have another you by tomorrow
So don’t you ever for a second get to thinking you’re irreplaceable

We aim to be unique. We love to be told we’re special. (At least, I know I do.) Unforgettable? Even better. And we’re raised to believe that; so what happens when the illusion is shattered?

The first step is jealousy, I’ve learned.

An insecurity in core identity leads to seeking validation through the stability of my roles in systems–romantic, social, and organizational.  And when that stability is threatened, I feel jealous.

I fear that I am not unique; at least, not unique enough to be ubiquitous and irreplaceable. Yet the fear of replaceability is unavoidable and unfounded.

Irreplaceability of an individual rests on three tenets:

  1. The individual is unique–there has never existed an identical person with the same skills and experience and there never will
  2. The individual contributes something unique and useful to the system (be it economic, intellectual, social/emotional, or physical)
  3. The role that the individual fulfills cannot be fulfilled by any other individual (Tenets 1 and 2 must be true in order for Tenet 3 to be true.)

Tenet 1 (Uniqueness) depends upon two theories (both of which may be true):

  • A. We are the collective experience of all the thinkers we have ever known.
  • B. We experience life individually and therefore feel and react differently

Taking Statement A to be true, we are not wholly original–but originality need not be a prerequisite for uniqueness. The adaptability and self-questioning nature of human thought allows for recombination of ideas into new patterns, like DNA shuffled into different new genes. Taking Statement B to be true, the individual must be unique because, while their thoughts may be echoes and remixes of the thoughts of others, their life experience must be theirs alone (unique); even on a quantum level events and reactions by unique sets of molecules, thoughts, characters, and situations can only ever occur once in a given instance (and time as we know it only flows one way). Statements A and B may be true and the First Tenet of Uniqueness is thus satisfied; individuals are unique.

Tenet 2 (Unique+Useful Contribution) has to do with how a unique individual can effectively alter their surroundings. In the majority of human systems, an alteration that benefits other individuals in the system is given positive value. Examples of such alterations may include: comfort, intimacy, labour, innovation, ideas, or entertainment, depending on what kinds of alteration is considered a benefit to other parts of the system–or, more simply, what the system can use. This tenet can easily be satisfied if Tenet 1 is satisfied–provided that the system’s definition of usefulness (or its need) for the contributions of that unique individual does not change. Therefore the Second Tenet of Unique+Useful Contribution is conditionally satisfied, as long as the abilities of the individual fulfill the needs of the system.

Tenet 3 (Unique Fulfillment), however, cannot be satisfied. This rests on the fact that Tenet 2 is conditionally satisfied: Tenet 3 cannot be satisfied because the needs of systems can and often do change. Why? Because the systems I refer to are systems of people and people change. When the needs of a system change, the roles of individuals involved change as well, and those individuals must either change their contributions to match systemic needs or will be replaced.

In essence, everyone can be replaced because there will always be changes in the needs of a system and individuals who can fulfill those newly changed needs. Or, the role in that human system will change to accommodate the skills and experience contributed by the individual. This can apply to any system of people–romantic, platonic, familial, or economic. Thus the fear of being replaced is quite valid and unavoidable–you can (and in many cases, will) be replaced.

There is, however, a beacon of hope. The fear of replacement is also unfounded because no matter what happens, an individual is still unique owing to the simple fact that no one else has had an identical life experience–certainly not in the exact same body with the exact same molecules in the exact same timeframe. On an existential level, as an individual, you cannot ever be replaced because no one will ever be you.

Taking this post back to first-person, these armchair-philosophical musings are nothing more than that. One day, I will be more self-secure. One day, I will be terribly hurt by my replacement by someone else. It is inevitable.

But these musings are a comforting lighthouse that I hope will steer me through jealous storms to find the generosity, empathy, and capabilities that I know are somewhere on the other side.

Moment II: Narcissism?

There is a moment
as pen touches paper
and thoughts become words,
when the truth is as clear as day.
And as much as
shades cloud your mind,
you now know, with ball-point certainty,
which way your soul lay.

Journalling, like autobiographies, is narcissistic–no.
It is the most private–most honest and personal.
It is beyond reproach.

Fact: When the words (imperfect as they are) penetrate the paper, they divulge the self’s conception of the self (imperfect as it is).

It is as much a challenge
(a self-condemnation, an improbable mission, a retort)
as it is a warm embrace
(empathy, a kindness, a calming of the ego)

Finally, it is the truth–
about as truthful and accurate as words can be about feelings,
the autobiography and letters-to-self are about the self.

And I can know that now.
I, the ultimate admission.
I can relinquish an ounce of shame.

I am writing to and for me.
So that me can see a path to a better me.

Moment I: “You Do You.”

There is a moment as you are curled, fetus-like, in a puddle of your own tears when you can be honest, truly honest, with yourself.

Sometimes, you laugh. Sometimes, you let go.

But if, in that moment, you are entirely unimpressed with yourself, it is time to stop wallowing in self-pity and do something.


Quote “You Do You” borrowed from Autostraddle. Visit their website for awesome queer-friendly, female-friendly content.

Strip/Exhibition

Under the wide gaze of the open window, I strip.

I undo my buttons as the night breeze fingers its way under the cloth of my blouse and across my skin. I unclasp my bra and peel the moist cups off my breasts, sighing as the breeze caresses my chest. I curl the waist of my jeans over the crest of my hips, across the rise of my ass, and over the top of my pubic mound.

Reborn as naked as a newly-hulled grain of wheat, my body breathes in the night air. It smoothes over my skin, kissing away the day’s heat and harrows.

I strip away excess: I unclasp my watch, no longer necessary for counting the hours now that they had all been expended. With a moistened cotton pad, I shed my cosmetic mask, battle-weary war paint obsolete. I pluck the pliant plastic scales from my eyes, clarity unneeded in the familiar confines of my home.

I stripped each item away, welcoming the city’s eyes. I don’t know why.

Perhaps the thought that someone might have been startled or even provoked by the sight of my nudity excited me.

Perhaps I wanted someone, anyone’s attention.

Perhaps I just wanted to see the sky and the city, the great infinite blackness and the human constellations, to see evidence of both space and connection for myself.

And perhaps that was comforting—I wasn’t as trapped and alone as I felt.

Colossus Winter

Shannon tells me she thinks it is the ghosts of them that trail my mind, turning over stones to unveil the squirming doubts and insecurities beneath. She’s right. My mind is a coin caught in a carnival collector’s bowl, circling the sides in a circadian spiral that never seems to cease.

I miss the colossus. I miss lying in the coolness of his shadow and the roughness of his skin. I want to lay like a beautiful, precious seashell in the palm of his overgrown hand and be held, remembered if possible. But despite his immense size, I am never able to see him clearly. Maybe because of his immense size.

A transparent film binds my mind. I see images of possibilities but there are wrinkles in every scene and sometimes, where a face or hand might be, there is instead a flesh-coloured blur, plastic and immaterial.

I feel through this film: misty love and a kind of liquid pain that collects with the condensation of hopes and doubts against the coolness of plastic-wrapped reality.

I want to have a heart cushioned in shrink-wrap and styrofoam. Non-microwaveable, of course. Where the countours of the ripe, uncooked flesh can be traced as it presses against the plastic. Where the delicate veins can pause their pulsing, removed from my thirsty body.

Where, unconsumed, it can be safely tucked into the ice to bide away another winter.

Catharsis

It’s hard to work on a bike when you’re crying. The task is simple: unscrew the bolt, pop off the nut, take off the clasp, slip in a shim, reassemble. A child could do it. But then tears get in the way and you can’t seem to get the wrench around the bolt. And the times when you do, turning the wrench is harder than it usually is, what with your muscles being too busy keeping your rib cage in place while your lungs are heaving. Then you realize you had popped the nut out and dropped it while the wrench was holding your attention. (And you’re starting to hate the sound of your crying.) So you start looking for the nut but the damned tears get in the way again and it’s even harder to breathe when you’re crouched over and you wipe your face and smear grease all across it (somehow you managed to get grease on your fingers even though you never touched the chains) and you end up sitting on the ground, dirty and wretched.

It’s hard to work on a bike when you’re crying. It’s hard to do almost anything.

It’s much easier to be okay. You can even be okay “for the most part” if that’s too difficult. Annie, are you okay? Yes. Yes, I am.

People who are okay go through their week and get their tasks done. They follow the agenda and meet deadlines. They make progress in a timely manner. They are productive and useful and reliable. They don’t have time to cry.

It’s better that way.

Because when you can’t be okay, when you lose your grip and drown in the implications of the situation, you can’t do anything and you let everyone down.

Worst of all, you let yourself down. You aren’t capable or reliable. You aren’t responsible or helpful. You are horrid and selfish and pathetic.

And then you have to vanquish the demons, separate liability from responsibility, retaliation from reaction, tendencies from innate traits. You have to talk to people, you have to be honest, you have to swallow your pride and naivety and guilt and frustration, you have to face the truth, you have to let go and cry, cry, cry. And you can’t do anything else.

It feels so tiring and pointless.

Some days, it’s a mountain I just don’t want to climb. So I take a different path, the quieter path. I go places where I can smile and wave and talk about the weather. I read and draw and feel whatever the characters need to feel. I breathe because it requires little thought.

I do what is necessary for daily life and things are not so hard.

Except when the numbness fades. Suddenly, I’m lost and the tears rise and I flounder. What do I tell them? I can’t function because I’m getting emotional because the worst happened because I made mistakes and I never get emotional so I can’t deal with anything right now?

It’s hard to speak, (even to write). So I’d rather not, thank you.

It’s just a little easier to swallow the tears and finish working on my bike.

High on Life

'Mortality' by ~jflaxman Source: http://jflaxman.deviantart.com/art/Mortality-254873130

‘Mortality’ by ~jflaxman
Source: http://jflaxman.deviantart.com/art/Mortality-254873130

Lately, I’ve been chasing highs. And although it feels very similar, cigarettes don’t do the trick.

In the past year, I’ve embarked on adventures involving people, sex, drugs, and many new hobbies. It’s part of a shift in perspective after bouts of existential crises–the whole “my life is going nowhere, I am worthless, this is pointless, I’m boring, sad, lonely, stupid, and unmotivated” preamble. Usual early-20s effects.

I experimented. Began with casual sex, public nudity, alcohol, marijuana. Relived high school years as someone who was not neurotic, oblivious, and profoundly awkward.

My first night drinking was spent with friends I’d met that night, in their hotel room. I kissed my first girl, kissed two others, nearly slept with one, and woke the next morning to learn what a hangover was.

I partied with the well-connected, talked to strangers on the internet, picked temporary lust interests, flitted.

And then I found the sex positive movement. A wonderful group of loving, accepting, diverse individuals who celebrated comfort zones and shamelessness equally.

I learned to be comfortable. And shameless.

I met people. Vastly different people who all lived for life. Endless passion, quiet confidence, joie de vivre.

A flood opened and so, so many possibilities became clear. I learned to move and groove better, found another singing voice, played theatrical roles that made me unrecognizable to my closest friends, got haircuts that would disqualify me for most sensible jobs, reclaimed the title of “Slut”, accepted my face and improved my body, fell in love with endorphins, found love for hard-earned pain, discovered my kinky side, learned to walk louder and talk smarter.

I found people who made me happy. Built bridges to people who should have made me happy. Gave thanks for people who were making me happy all along.

Revelation. “Happy” was this easy all along? I could do whatever I wanted? All I had to do was try?

With shame shed, I could do anything and be happy.

Most importantly, I realized “Happy” was the easiest and most rewarding high. And it was everywhere. No red tape, no time or money constraints, not really.

And after bouts with a handful of drugs, I found that the feeling of “high” was the feeling of “happy”–something I now felt everyday without the minor annoyances of altered perspective and side effects.

There was happy in every food item I craved, watched the preparation of, devoured with gusto. In being fit, getting fit, and feeling fitter. In human touch, sharing thoughts and memories, learning another’s body. In sharing moments with souls whose harmonics vibrated with my own. In playing a part with just the right nuances, original quirks that make the character an individual.

Food, health, sex, love, music, art.

Finally, there was happy in rediscovering happy. In falling into sadness, hopelessness, discomfort, shame, naivety, anger, guilt, anxiety, and then reentering the light. Finding again the bright warmth that made me feel a complete person, capable of empathy, generosity, wisdom, strength. A reminder that I was a complete person, capable of weakness, dotted with faults, privileged or disadvantaged depending on context. A reminder that a complete life is full of fleeting, contrasting moments.

And that understanding–that every moment was fleeting–is the key to my ultimate high.

Friends jokingly say I’m high on life. I hope I am. I feel as if I am.

The high comes from recognizing the lows and especially their absence; whenever I am not unhappy.

The high is knowing that nothing lasts forever: not the world, not the universe, least of all one moment (good or bad) in a mortal lifespan.

This high is celebrating bad moments as proof of life, of existence; dying as proof of living, sadness as proof of happiness.

This high is squeezing every second from good moments, savouring every drop because they won’t last forever.

The high is mortal living and knowing I am a living mortal. If being high is to feel ecstatically happy, mind-numbingly content, profoundly aware of one’s senses, then I am high every time I eat, fuck, exercise, socialize, experience music and art.

Exposition: Mending

Ten fingers and ten toes, and you’re okay
Yeah, I think that’s what they say
Well, how about today?

–Laurent O’Connell, “1988″

Amazing that the longer you go without upheaval, the more striking it is when it happens. There’s surprise when there really shouldn’t be–you’re human after all, is it odd that you should have feelings?

I was steady for so long, careful, composed, content and okay with everything. I felt capable of letting things happen as they did and when my hopes were unfulfilled or the unsightly inevitable occurred, it simply passed over me. I was fine.

I don’t get upset easily. Onstage, it is easy–faking tears comes as naturally as closing my eyes at bedtime. Getting truly emotional though (emphatically or empathetically) was as foreign to me as trying on a stranger’s clothes. Perhaps it was my upbringing–perhaps a defense mechanism.

So on those rare occasions when something twists inside and some sharp spear of daily occurrence hits home, it hits hard.

I had a real cry today. One of those rare, quiet, tensely personal cries that you clench to yourself, maybe because you can’t help it and maybe because if you hold it closer, it will make peace with you and leave you alone.

There were the usual culprits: pain, fear, guilt. It is, in part, undeniably my fault. But the more agonizing was the frustration I felt at a situation I could not, or strongly felt I could not control–the circumstances and commitments and congruence of events that led to that kneeling pilgrim, Helplessness.

But, of course, being an Atheist I had no Higher Being to plead alms from.

Yet this is no complaint. As unsettling, painful, and goddamn uncontrollable that moment was, it refocused me. Like how shaking a jar settles its contents by size and density, my moments of weakness reorder my strength.

I cannot deny that I am as fearful as I’ve ever been in childhood. The old fears are still there but since they surfaced, they’ve been pinned, sliced, and autopsied. I know I can’t be fearless. I can’t right the past. I can’t control everything (clearly, not even myself). But I can start mending the broken things. And I can take the first fragile steps to banish my fears from my future.

Settling for second-best is like… cake.

You have two cakes in your hand:

One is a bland, kind of boring but alright-tasting plain sponge cake. It’s always there for you, goes well with most things, and so easy to find or bake. It’s your best friend when you’re feeling peckish and want a quick, simple cake to keep you company.

Above: Boring as fuck.

Above: Boring as fuck.

The other is a holiday fruitcake. It’s so full of everything—fruit, nuts, spices you’ve never even heard of. It’s got everything in it and more. It’s like it’s trying so hard to be yours, all covered with exotic fruit and multi-coloured gummies and and freakin’ fairy dust. But no matter what, it’s still fruitcake. And fruitcake… never really tastes that good.

Above: Trying way too hard.

Above: Trying way too hard.

And then there’s the cake that’s just out of reach, right on the top display shelf. It’s gorgeous—creamy, delicate frosting; just enough supple fondant to look good but not too much that it tastes fake; a warm, moist base beneath that smooth exterior; and it’s always in your favourite flavour, a perfect complement.

Except it’s not real.

You’ll never be able to have that cake because it doesn’t exist—it’s a dream, a gossamer ideal of the perfect cake for you and that’s all it is. You can’t eat a dream.

So instead, you’ve got to choose one of the cakes you can have.Which would you rather settle for?

The friendly, reliable, plain sponge cake?

Or the complicated, overfilled fruitcake that just never clicks?