There’s an old chain email/Facebook adage that goes something like: “It takes 37 muscles to frown but only 22 muscles to smile. So smile. It conserves energy.”
I’ll tell you right now that I googled this saying to see if it had any scientific merit, but the first three links I tried were all inconclusive or confusing so I gave up. I give up on a lot of things, so it’s not really a big deal.
Anyway, I only looked it up in the first place because I wanted to let you know that smiling is too hard and consequently I’ve decided to stop until further notice. It’s important to me that I tell you this because…because, I don’t want to hurt your feelings. Just kidding, ha ha! I don’t actually care. But yeah, if you ever see me walking someplace wearing an unfocused scowl trying to avoid eye contact with everyone, or if you’re ever talking to me and the words coming out of your face aren’t eliciting an immediate recognition-response, just know that it’s not (entirely) you, or the weather, or your lacking sense of humor. I’m just low on juice right now.
Call it prelim-induced sleep deprivation, call it a sophomore slump, call it my chemical romance with negativity and sad-and-loneliness. Or chalk it up to mild depression, or self-sustaining self-doubt, or infrequent anxiety attacks, or more frequent plain old same old garden variety anxiety, or pure, unfiltered, ice-cold exhaustion crushing me with the weight of all of the above. It does and doesn’t matter. I think I’m just tired, I think what I really need is a good night’s sleep.
So rest in peace to my mental health at this school, and Dear God please let me wake up with all of my problems disappeared and there’s nothing left in me but me. Me, so deep and so wide and so put-together that no one will have to ask me if everything’s okay as I never sit off to the side of the room with my vacant stare and my limp, stiff posture and my wry, curving mouth ever again. Me, the boy with the easy smile and the right greeting-words, the right kind of laugh, the right sense of timing for that laugh, and the confident eyes that meet yours whenever that’s supposed to happen.
But let’s remember who we’re talking about here (it’s me). If the current subject of our discussion seems a little out of sorts, I wouldn’t disagree. Some of it’s me, some of it’s from living here, at this moment, in this campus, knowing these things and those people.
Have things always been this confusing? Does the natural order of balance in the world dictate, for instance, that the same friends who pat me on the back for writing an article like this must turn around and yell f****t or n***a at each other or make good clean jokes about triggers and safe spaces and gender identities and “too PC” and-
You get the picture.
I’m not gonna get up in your face and argue for my right to be offended by everything that does or doesn’t technically pertain to me. Insensitive, “politically incorrect” speech is not the root problem causing the degradation of my little battered brain. And I don’t want people to think that they need to handle me with kid gloves either. Give it to me straight! I’m a grown, sensitive man (probably), damn it!
But that doesn’t alter the fact that your ill-concealed disdain for and dismissal of certain kinds of people makes me want to get the f*ck out of any sort of friendly relationship we might have in general, or that these sorts of living paradoxes put a weird tension in me and I don’t know how to wring it out. And now I’m treading over old ground, it seems. Everything’s the same as everything else in my life. I’ll try to give another example.
This one’s a direct sample from my brain: It’s time for my favorite class! Today, I’ve resolved to talk a little bit less because I feel like I tend to dominate the discussion and give an impression that I’m the type of person to do that even though I’m not, or at least I should know better than to be. Oh look, a topic that I care about! I have to say something! *says some things* Shit, why do I always do this! At least I can stay quiet for the rest of the discussion- oh damn that person raised a really good point that I need to respond too. *says some more things* You dumb piece of shit you did it again. I should ask someone else if they think I talk too much in class. *does it* Okay, they said I’m usually fine. But maybe I only asked because I want people to know that I know that I’m so smart and so f*cking self-aware. Do they think that that’s what I’m doing? You know, maybe I could write about this in my next article to really try to work out what’s happening in my head here. *does that* Man, f*ck me, this is just making things worse. I’ve made it worse. God, stop talking, stop smiling, stop pretending you enjoy anything. You don’t.
Please make it stop; okay, I’m going to make it stop. I’ll get out of your way.
But one last thing before I go – when your guts feel like they’re getting sucked out of your back and your shoulders get pinned together with an invisible metal rod every now and then and you wish that your body would just liquefy and collapse into the pavement as you walk home from dinner, please continue to smile and laugh and nod along to my stories, because you know I wouldn’t do the same for you.