Why We Are Not Stable

You said on stage that your shrink told you not to drink with the pills, and then you downed a pill. You’ve been drinking all night.

You have an expensive lifestyle. No parties, no concerts, but lots of girls. They’re all expensive. Diapers, food, private school. You work so much, they barely remember you’re there. This makes you feel like an alien at home, an intruder. So you work more.

You’re trying really really hard to be shomer and not touch boys. You flirt with them hard, even harder, just so you know you still can. You worry they’ll think you’re too frum, or too weird. You worry they’ll think this no matter what. Maybe it’s your hashkafa. Maybe it’s just you, the person you are, and this whole religious thing is just a cover.

When your rabbi/teacher/cousin/sister touched you, you thought you had to go along with it. You’ve always felt you weren’t as good as everyone else, that you deserved whatever was coming. And now you got it.

We put such stress on ourselves. We are parents, workers, Torah learners, baalei tzedakah, artists. It would be so easy, you think — I think — to just be one of the things I want to be. A tortured artist who goes to cafes every night and writes for ten hours and barely eats. A father — a suburban father, a good one, who spends lots of time at home and drives his kids everywhere and manages somehow to always be ready for a weekend trip, the beach, camping, Disney. I could be this person. I really could.

But I can’t be all of them at once.

And so we drink. We flirt. We go to kollel six days, sixteen hours a day, and then we do Shabbos, and then we go out to clubs in the city and go crazy.

Sometimes, you tell yourself, you just need to release tension.

But things aren’t getting any less tense. They never do.

And though you’ve made it all work out so far — this writer/father/worker/artist/life combo — you never feel completely sure. You’re never guaranteed your next paycheck, or that your boss really likes you, or that your wife doesn’t secretly hate you, or not-secretly hate you. There’s always the nagging doubt in your mind, the knowledge that you’re not good enough, the idea that everyone else on Earth knows how to be a successful human being and you are not. You’re a cheap imitation, a failure.

So you think more about that than you do about your own humanity, your own individuality. You think about too many things that aren’t your own life. You do too many things, and you half-ass them all, but at least they’re done. One less thing for you to worry about. You know to keep focusing on the Big Things, the Good Things, the Things That Count. But it’s hard to focus on G-d when you pray, or your kids when you play with them. Too many other things are taking up your brain.

Really, though, it’s only one thing: it’s idols. All of it, it’s idols. I’ve pretty much realized that the source of my anxiety is the fact that I feel too many competing interests for a single moment of my time — stories, family, money, G-d, food, sleep — and a lot of that conflict comes down to the question of, which one of them am I supposed to listen to?

My life, I know, is a lot better than many other people who read this site. I’m not that girl who’s wrestling with not touching boys before she’s married. Thank G-d, I’ve never been abused or taken advantage of by a parent or a rabbi, or even society in general.  Yes, my kids torture me, but that’s just what kids do. And I might occasionally drink too much, but that’s nobody’s fault but my own. And my struggles, trying to make a living and pay for our school and our house and our food, and then stay up late freelancing and coming up with stories when I get a chance, and then taking an hour or two out of my day to pray to G-d, are honestly not that hard.

But, man, some days it feels that way. I wake up at 6, pray, help with kids, get to work, come home, put them to bed, have dinner, and, boom, the day is gone and so is my soul. I used to be a punk, screaming at the top of my lungs for passion and revolution and wanting to change the world. I always wanted to have kids, and I always wanted my life to be meaningful.

Now I’ve got it. And it might just be too damn hard.

**

Part of it, I think, is our status as Weird Jews. We have a set of priorities the world doesn’t understand, and another set of priorities that other Jews don’t understand. But part, I think, is that we’re just afraid to do our own thing. No matter how much I reassure myself that I’m okay, that I don’t have to be like everyone else, there’s the internal pressure, the pressure that comes form sharing a world with other people, just from co-existing in the same places and speaking the same language. Sometimes I look around at the other people on the subway and wonder if I’m in a bizarre experiment, like a mouse raised from birth in a cardboard box filled with rubber balls instead of other mice, and I ask myself, what do the scientists want me to do with my life?

And the thing I get to — on the good days, when anxiety doesn’t take over and I don’t just shove the question to the back of my mind — is that, like scientists, G-d doesn’t want one single answer. G-d wants us to be ourselves. G-d wants us to endure all the torture of this world, all the unsureness and awkwardness and searching for hidden meanings, just like we’re that mouse in that experiment reacting to the rubber balls. And what does G-d want us to do? Well, exactly whatever it is we’re going to do. That’s the hardest part of life, and the best part.

 

Image source: Rodrigo Vega, I believe. Tzvi says it’s all over the Internet, and I’d really love to give the artist credit, so if it’s not him, please give a shout.