Becoming unhinged. Or processing my desire to be immune to fear. Or an anthology of my worries, Plus some life updates
People complain a lot about the ever-present noise in New York, but I actually like the random stream sounds here. With more people and more normality of interaction, I'm more on edge here. I'm scared of exposing myself, expressing myself fully, laying my soul bare for all to see. The barrage of noise serves as a centering reminder, a jarring meditation bell: “take it easy; embrace your body.”
Our society is in an over-intellectualization crisis. We try too hard to think our way through things and wind up with mental health problems because our thinking does little to help our realities. The stuffing of our thinking is poking out worn seams, and our natural instinct to fix it is to work at it more, think even harder. Many only know to solve things by applying sincerity as brute force.
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I had a conversation recently about cities can be characterized by whether people are in their heads or in their bodies. San Francisco is a city of head people. Miami is a city of body people. New York is a city of head people that transform into body people at night, modern-day werewolves.
It’s fitting that I live in San Francisco normally because I love to be in my head, creating maps and dreams that I can, for a short period, convince myself is reality and avoiding the, sometimes artificially-rendered, hard problems in my life.
Excusing myself from things that I no longer find joy in feels like navigating a minefield. Saying no to event invites I don’t care for still feels like betrayal. I struggle with being unflinching in my taste. I put a lot of pressure on the right way to do things, as perceived by others. I'm frightened by lingering gazes because I worry about being rude. I clam up talking to my idols and role models because I want to live up to their ideals. I feel the need to suppress my curiosity in public to avoid making a scene. I become a different person: tense, hyper-analytical, self-questioning.
My survival instinct has been trained to prioritize propriety over my self-interest. I want to act like I'm in Miami all the time. Embrace my primal carnality.
My mom loves to tell me that she is one of those people that operates really well under pressure. I suppose those genes of her ended up recessive in me. I need to prepare to feel comfortable. I manufacture my confidence. I choose my words carefully, delicate marbles plucked from a glass case. I wish I could yelp with joy like I can’t contain myself. I wish I could choose to crumple, like a trust fall or a scene that involves tripping, instead of being forced to the ground in a chokehold.
Sometimes I wonder about people's first impressions of me. On a good day, if you catch me in the right environment (a small group, some prior context, an exciting topic has perked my interest), I'm sure people see someone warm, prone-to-laughing, curious. In a word, some might say charismatic. On a bad day, in the wrong environment (high-pressure crowd, little context, a charged topic), I wonder if people just see a smiling head nodding or if they see through to the flesh crawling with hesitation and anxiety underneath,
I'm someone who worries a lot. I worry about getting food made with love. I worry when I buy clothes that they'll match my hope of expressions. I worry about my relationship with dating, my attachment styles, my insecurities with emotional honesty. I worry about finding public bathrooms, about drinking too much water in the void of knowing, when discretely peeing in public for the sake of my bladder. I worry about how people perceive me, strangers and peers, and mentors and internet visitors. I worry about my physical needs. I worry about being seen biting my nails, shaking my legs, always choosing flight over fight. I worry about the 1-minute small talk with the barista at the cafe, about performing the proper rituals of eye contact exchange with the cute girl in the lobby, about staring too long at how people use their phones. I monitor for excessive “also”s and exclamation marks and worry about the demanding nature of “just” in my texts. I worry about coming across as perfect. Beyond perfect, I worry about looking infallible.
If you made a careful incision along my side, extracted my heart and opened it up like an omelet unfolding over omurice, you'd find a compressed seed that contains my deepest core desire.
It's the desire to be fearless.
To dive downhill, skis at a right angle, without a second thought. To be reckless. To say what I feel whenever I feel it. To meet intense gazes and hold them. To eliminate cringing. I've jokingly said I wish I could "dumb myself down," like a switch that turns off my mental propriety guard.
But as much as I may think I desire that, I don’t really want that. The insecurity we share is what makes us human. Cringing is useful individually, too. It points to what you find embarrassing and improper. Signals for choosing whether to run away or towards. I don't want to relinquish any knowledge or part of myself in order to get unstuck.
I want to become more “unhinged.”
Letting myself move naturally, rather than respecting the rigid constraints of civilization. Practicing protest for my values, especially when they are in conflict with the broader world.
Jamie and I recently talked about two kinds of fear: one is being afraid of something that doesn’t align with your true desires and the other is just being scared of something that’s hard. Having the discernment to distinguish the two and the courage to listen to the first and move past the second is maturity.
We try to put up all these barriers to represent the way things are supposed to be when we could just.. not. Our fears aren’t as scary as we make them out to be. And we aren’t as stiff as we think ourselves to be. As long as we give ourselves permission to feel the freedom. The one that lets us loosen our fears, relax the whitening knuckles clinging on for dear life, terrified of what happens at the end of the ride.
Of course, this is all mostly thinking, and it’s easier said than done. I’ll be starting small, moving consistently. Unscrew a few nails here: trust myself to talk with charm to beautiful people. Untie a few knots there: follow my first instinct for taking space instead of questioning. Loosen the hinges a bit—and maybe I’ll discover I can move in ways I never imagined.
some other life updates
new project: I’m working on a project that I’m currently calling tiny internets this summer. It’s an experiential research project exploring how we experience and find intimacy with strangers and how we feel safe expressing ourselves in meaningful ways on the internet. I’m building a browser extension that will try out a few funky ideas as a means of grasping at this and am actively looking for beta testers! Please fill out this form if you’re interested in helping out (you can just fill out the name and email)
speaking of magical encounters with strangers, I exchanged poems with a stranger after spontaneously talking for a few hours in a park, and I really like the poem I wrote that emerged. The concept of wonder being terror and joy in one reminds me of writing about awe before.
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aw also trying to learn.. to become.. unhinged (which is possibly the Wrong way to do it but maybe there is no Wrong way, idk)!