📬 Postal Portals - Avery #2: The Languishing Hole

Thursday 12:28 AM, Home on the living room chaise in San Francisco, watching the lights twinkle on the city skyline.

Postal Portals is a new series of letters between myself and friends, intended to serve as a long-form medium to deep-dive into a snapshot of each other’s thoughts and emotions in an asynchronous manner. Often, when we catch up with close friends we haven’t seen in a while, there’s a lot of tangible ground to cover (physical events that happened, the progression of life, etc.) which doesn’t touch as much on the emotional and mental states we occupied and shifted from. These postal portals provide a gateway for the world to an excavation site of those internal states. This was inspired by The W Letters that my friend Jamie curates, so if this sort of thing interests you, go check that out too!

This was written in response to Languishing in New England, and the second letter in the correspondence between Avery and I.

Thursday 12:28 AM
Home on the living room chaise in San Francisco, watching the lights twinkle on the city skyline.

Dear Avery,

I have been around that part of the US! The earliest memories I have of New England are the bright, vivid leaves. My family had taken me when I was 4 or 5 on a road trip up to see the changing colors of Autumn, and I remember being amazed at how different each leaf was, how things in life could change so drastically in the matter of a few months. In a world where so much changes around us so fast, perhaps, we naturally seek out the safety and comfort of a stable, consistent world, one of trite borderline false advertising claims and low-quality products competing on the “vibe” their brand conveys and, of course, the decked-out shopping malls, our sacred temples to consumerism and capitalism.

I’ve always felt a tenuous relationship to this tension between the new and the familiar. Growing up, I was scared to death of the new. As a child, I experienced crippling stomachaches due to an excessive build-up of anxiety the night before exams and presentations. My heart began rattling off like a machine-gun providing cover whenever I was called upon in class or someone new spoke up to me. I was a prisoner to needing to plan things out to an excruciating level of detail before I could be comfortable taking them on. The expectation that I imagined society having of me, I also imagined to be beyond my ability to fulfill in a satisfying way. This feeling of “languishing” you describe makes me think of that time: the feeling of an existential, overwhelming angst with no available outlets to release the byproduct.

The sensation of languishing makes me think of being stuck somewhere. I’m not sure why, but it makes me think of the Disney movie Holes from way back in the day. I imagine myself being stuck in a hole in the ground, but my arms are free, and I keep myself busy with my hands, doing everything as I do in my normal life, just only with my arms. I feel like something is missing, the angst that something is off, but it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it is. I’ve become accustomed to having my legs in the ground, so the fact that they’re stuck there doesn’t even occur to me. It’s a scary feeling to know that something is wrong, yet feel like figuring out what is wrong is a herculean task.

In the case of COVID, we had a more concrete idea of why we were stuck (the virus is incredibly infectious and we need to stop the curve in order to preserve our ICU supply) but the reason we were stuck was out of our control. It was just something that we had to suck up and deal with. But at other points in life, we can be languishing and feel stuck without actually knowing what is causing us to be stuck, and because we don’t know, we feel as if it’s out of our control. It’s difficult to really know what you truly want—to have a vivid mental picture of what you want to spend the majority of your time doing, an image as clear and bright as those leaves I saw in New England as a child. But once you have that awareness, once you recognize that—yes—those are your legs in the ground and form the clear picture of what you want it to feel like, instead, I find that it becomes impossible to let go of that dream.

Perhaps the angst around feeling stuck in a mode of operation that catered to all the wrong things (prestige and status) for a lot of my life until my recent awareness of my legs is leaking out. Now that I’m free—my legs and my mind, I dread the possibility of returning to that state of being trapped. I have claustrophobia for rooms that represent societal notions of what is “proper” and “right.” I don’t ever want my passions to feel constrained by a conflicting notion of what I should do, instead. It’s like the incredible will to avoid prison that an inmate who has tasted freedom acquires. The prisoner who has seen what the outside of the cave looks like cannot imagine being stuck in the cave staring at the wall. I’ve seen the outside world, all of its tearjerking beauty and terrifying power and amazing vitality. I’ve seen the vivid leaves and the infinite, unique colors of the world, and I’m not going back into the cave.

Your optimistically permanently un-stuck friend,