It’s 2003, I am intently searching through folders of Michael Jackson .jpegs. Each night, to the dismay of my parents’ and their ink budget, I print out a full-page color photo of Michael Jackson to tape under the clear vinyl cover of my school planner. The shiny transparent surface acts as a protective shield and gives each, often bad quality bubble jet printed, photo a professional sheen that I love. Usually I will add a caption to said photo using MS paint, sometimes it’s a thought bubble of Michael Jackson in the photo, other times it’s simply a clever line expressing my utter adoration for the man. By preparing this daily ritual I feel a little calmer. I know I have a new version of my beloved MJ to stare at during class and I am able to escape into the fantasy that someday I too will leave my home in the tiny steel-working town of Gary, Indiana to become an internationally known superstar with a zoo, amusement park, and collection of jewel encrusted jackets. I too will alter my appearance and become an enigma, an inspirational eccentric artistic force only to be fully understood by select anxious 13-year-old lesbians living in the suburbs of Buffalo.
I find myself looking back to this time in my life because, like most people, early adolescence is when I started picking up the blocks that allowed me build up some type of structure to (hopefully) survive adult life on my own. A decade later I am going over the blueprints of the structure I started to build at 13 in a panic. Nothing seems to line up right, it’s drafty, kind of dark, and very susceptible to enemy attack. I was dreaming of Neverland Ranch and now, at 24, my mental dwelling looks more like a storage closet filled with a lot of empty wine bottles and clothes I spent too much money on.
The problem I find with anxiety that makes it so comforting to hold on to is that the fear of it all can really work to your advantage sometimes. I was able to make a lot of positive changes in my life based solely on the fact that I was terrified at what would happen if I didn’t make those changes. It’s extremely unsettling, as someone with constant anxiety, to envision life without a driving current of terror to move everything along.
When I was younger I dealt with my fear by distraction and escapism. I had the luxury, since navigating school and family life wasn’t particularly hard for me, of pouring all my energy into fantasy landscapes that I tried my best to live in reality. My obsessions shifted through the years but there was always something beautiful to love in my teens. There was something immersive in these entertainers’ aesthetics and highly crafted personal lives that allowed me to shut out boredom, sadness and the all-consuming uncertainty that is “growing up.”
I’m too cynical for obsessions anymore. Books, TV shows, new bands, this season’s ready to wear fashion lines…they just don’t carry the same weight in my adult brain. I can’t be that earnest nerd at Comic-Con overjoyed about meeting the cast of Archer as much as I may try. For me, the happiness in escapism is growing ever more fleeting. Spirituality is the accepted and “adult” way of deluding yourself into thinking life has some kind of order you can align yourself with but that has never grabbed me. It’s all the same thing. When I break it down in my mind it melts my tension into an awful sense of apathy.
Now all I have to obsess over is my fear. I ruminate over my career, finances, relationship, personal appearance, health, family and friends. When I appease my inner “Der Schrei der Natur” by accomplishing something to better my situation I am relieved for just a moment…
…but then it comes back. Trying to set goals without fear seems nearly impossible to me in my current state of being. But I’m trying. My white-knuckle grip on everything in my life is being inched open with practice. It’s a challenging art to beat back the beast that sits on my shoulder and taps on her watch to remind me that time is slipping past and I am doing nothing of purpose. Sometimes the methods I use aren’t the most healthy or effective, two of my favorites being alcohol and shopping, but I’ve tried some better ones too. I’m getting back to cooking, writing and making art to attempt to allow my feelings to exist without shame.
The act of letting go of perfectionism can’t be forced into a neat little time constraint. I guess all I really know for sure at this point in my life is that trying to control things out of fear is just as big of a delusion as Neverland Ranch was. If the life and death of my childhood idol taught me anything it’s that there’s really no comfort in delusion. Accepting your own unique situation and living life as it really is, no matter how painful the struggle, is usually a better deal in the end.