Discover more from The F Word
PART I: The Barnacle In All Of Us
On Loss and Loneliness
HAPPY TUESDAY, F-WORDERS!
We meet again! You, and I, here on the internet, at the intersection of SUBSTACK and TUESDAY. What a wild tradition we have established! You are the Tom Hanks to my Meg Ryan! The Carry Grant to my Deborah Kerr! Meet me at the top of the Empire State Building!
I want to thank you all, from the bottom of my little writer’s heart. This endeavor started as a pipe dream, and has become a full-fledged THING THAT WE DO ON TUESDAYS.
So, if you’re here reading and sharing THANK YOU! Your views keep this project alive. When you read, share, donate your time or your dolla dolla bills to keeping this little-engine-that-could chugging along…. well. It means so much to me.
This week, on THE F WORD: rock faces, long-winded ocean metaphors, and a blatant misuse of the word “obligate”!
The most human of all things is the barnacle.
Yes, the lowly barnacle: dragon-scaled, lobster cousin; sharp-edged blight of the tide pool.
They cling to cliffs, to rocks, to turtle shells and boat hulls; withstanding the incredible power of the ocean, of the currents, of the waves. They spend the entirety of their existence merely hanging on for dear life.
It’s in this “clinging” we can find their humanness. We all cling to the proverbial rock face. We are all positioned in shallow water; our only goal to hang the fuck on as life throws whatever it has at us; pummels us with wave after wave.
Sometimes this takes the form of a flat tire. Sometimes it’s losing your job. It could be a gopher tunneling through your freshly-laid sod. A slug infestation in your garden. Waiting in line for the last muffin, and the person ahead of you takes it. A broken furnace. A broken bone. A broken heart. Stubbing your toe on the f*cking table leg. AGAIN.
Sometimes life pulls out the big guns. Sometimes those incessant waves throw at us the unthinkable, the unspeakable. Sometimes these waves bring us loss. And this loss brings us loneliness.
The late poet Jane Mead put it perfectly:
It would be easier
if I did not exist—
but I did.
She did. We do. And so we keep clinging: white knuckling it, digging in our fingernails, because it’s all we know how to do.
There is a sadness with everything we love.
A bittersweetness rolled into the dough. Inescapable. Inextricable from the fibers of being, of loving someone or something. Loss; that most cruel, unkind of things, is a package deal with love. And loss is all around us all of the time. Change brings loss. Death is loss.
Loss is everywhere, in everything. It frames each one of our breaths: the beginning, and the end. So, in the end, how are we supposed to live with this loss? And how do we live with loneliness, loss’s close cousin?
Both loss and loneliness are two sides of the same coin. Loss and loneliness are disconnection—when we are disconnected from what we long for (loss) or from what we seek (loneliness).
Love is usually the antidote to both. Love is often the root cause of both.
When we have love, and it is taken from us (whether by death, or by a breaking of sorts, or by distance, or mental illness…whatever the cause)…loss of love fucking hurts!
There is also the absence of love: when what we long for is to be loved, but perhaps we never have been. Or, perhaps we are loved, but it's not in the ways we need or want. This is loneliness incarnate. And loneliness fucking hurts!
So, what about that rock face? When we can’t LITERALLY glue ourselves to the surface on which we cling, how do we, as human beings, hang on in the face of loss and loneliness?
We come to terms with our humanity through our quest for self-worth. And therefore, there are things and ideas we “cling” to, that we tell ourselves bring us self-worth, in order to form our identity. We use these elements to tell us if we are HUMAN-ING right.
We do this with our jobs. Our families. Our status as a homeowner, or our bank account balance, or whether we’re driving a nice car. Having a romantic partner. Having children. All of these identities are fodder for our barnacle-esque cement-secretions: we cling to them in the face of those life-waves.
Partners and kids and home ownership are not inherently bad ways to live. But when we assign a moral or ethical value to having these things, or when our entire identity is based on one or more of these, we can often lose touch with our true humanness.
We also fill our time with obligations in order to cling to the rock face of life. We completely devote ourselves to these obligations, because to not have these makes us feel untethered, and most of us cannot handle being untethered in the great sea of life. We are, after all, barnacles.
This looks like when we fill our time with things that are not objectively important, but we pretend that they are. This is pressure that we put on ourselves—pressure that is really tough to deal with—but is entirely self-imposed:
Having an Instagram-worthy house. Doing a room renovation in a weekend. The: “OH MY GOD I’M SO STRESSED OUT I NEED TO GET THE KIDS AT ONE THIRTY BUT THE KITCHEN IS STILL DIRTY AND THE RUG NEEDS VACUUMING” kind of clinging. (Take a breath. They’re just dishes. It’s just a rug). UGH Brenda from work emailed me AGAIN—why does she ask such stupid questions? OH MY GOD that contract HAS TO GET DONE by 5pm today, because if it doesn’t, the ENTIRE COMPANY WILL COME CRASHING DOWN.
This is very real pressure, but it is very-real pressure of our own creation.
At its core, this pressure is based on the idea that we gain a sense of self-worth when these things are completed. We think that these things fill our lives, that they make our lives FULfilled, give us purpose, but in fact—they do not.
Objectively speaking, we are figuratively cutting away slices of our time and handing them out to others. We say, HERE! HERE IS MY TIME! I HAVE TO GIVE THIS TO YOU, OR ELSE IT WILL HAVE NO MEANING ON ITS OWN!
Why do we ever believe our time is not inherently our own?
When do we learn this? And how do we unlearn it?
The only time your time does not—in actuality, in concreteness, in legitimacy—belong to you is when you are a parent. (You can be heading out the door, but the grapes need to be cut into pieces before the kids choke, noses must be wiped, allergy meds administered, diapers changed. In other words, you cannot choose when you walk out of the door. Your kids will indirectly decide that).
Other than this very real reality, WE ARE IN CHARGE OF OUR OWN TIME.
“But my job!” you say. “I am not in charge of my own time! I have obligations!”
Yes, we do. But that is a trade. Do we need paychecks? Absolutely. Do we need to put food on the table? Absolutely. But do we have more freedom in that choice than we often give ourselves credit for? Absolutely.
Some contracts MUST be signed before EOB, but when we assign the same urgency and anxiety to EVERY SINGLE CONTRACT we’re in charge of—THAT is a choice.
Why does being in charge of our own time frighten us so? In our barnacle-ness, we fill our time with things we don’t actually care about. We OBLIGATE OURSELVES with obligations that in actuality have no real consequence to our lives (re: dishes, re: annoying Brenda from work). We struggle to feel important on our own, in our own right, without something else, some outside force there to PROVE we are important. (This is why retirement is such an existential leap for some of us, or why any major life event takes a lot of emotional labor to overcome.)
When we define our identity by outside elements, we interpret the loss of these elements as a loss of identity.
And loss, as we established previously REALLY FUCKING HURTS.
SO! What is the lesson here? The point? The “OK, LET’S WRAP THIS UP, STEPH”:
LONELINESS is a natural human state.
LOSS is a natural human occurrence.
What of it all?
If you are lonely, right now, reading this (God, did anyone get this far?), I want you to know that loneliness is just disconnection. Loneliness is not YOU, inherently. Loneliness can become an identity when we cling to it as such. But to think that we are powerless in our own loneliness is untrue. Loneliness is a liar—too much of it, and it convinces us we have no authority over it.
The power is not in regaining what we have lost—when loneliness stems from loss. We cannot, point blank, get back those who have died. We cannot rewind the clock. We cannot go back and not say the thing we said, or undo the thing we did.
The power, instead, lies in seeing loneliness as a transitory experience; one that is natural, and normal, but one that is not a static state of being. Nothing is permanent (not even that tattoo of your ex’s name you got that one tequila-laden night).
Once we accept loneliness as permeable, it loosens its grip over us.
The concept of “Loneliness”: of not being seen, of feeling invisible—these are the outcomes of comparison, and that comparison is rooted in a value system we are TAUGHT to believe; not one that is inherently true.
And with that, my dear F-Worders, I will put down the megaphone, step off the soap box, and take a pause. Next week, we further these ideas on loneliness! Loss! Comparison!
Until next Tuesday.
Thanks for reading.
Love, light, and balanus glandula,