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On Sickness and Sitting Out

Written by Carmen X, one of our poetry writers, and edited by Willow, one of our editors!

I sit here stuck in my room, sick with something (does it matter what at this point?) after so long of not being sick with anything but now I am and of course on the day of something personally important I was supposed to go out and do (does it matter what at this point?—here, you can pick one: job interview; concert; date; long-planned reunion with a long-time, long-distance friend). “Best laid schemes” and all that. Brilliant. Borrowing Susan Sontag: “Illness is the night-side of life” indeed. Let this here be a record of Disappointment itself rather than a lapse into self-pity, which I admit is a tendency, but I’ll try to avoid it for your sake, Reader. Some self-awareness is crucial here. We of course all have plans that get wrench-thrown from time to time, this is as universal an experience as Freedom itself. But it feels so particular when it happens to you, doesn’t it? As if the random and constant contingency of the world suddenly decided to conjoin and conspire to fuck you specifically. And so obviously you have to tell yourself, against all subjective evaluations, that this isn’t the case: your number was called, and that’s that. But what you think and feel are at constant odds always, a contradiction you carry with you every day, sick (or “sickness unto death”) or not. You have to square the images in your head, the daydreams you had leading up to the day, doing the things were you supposed to do or wanted to do, with what you’re doing now, doing nothing, on the day of, and you find that you either can’t or it’s so psychically painful that you’d rather not try. Like you’ve been shunted into a world you’re not supposed to be in, trapped in some kind of quantum mishap. Missing a concert you paid too much for months ago, or having to miss out on seeing a buddy who is only in town for that one day because we’re older now and life and work schedules pull us apart like stars and entropy. (Thinking about it is giving me a headache I can’t afford to have and so don’t need.) I’m being dramatic, of course, because I’m a sickly writer. The point is to exercise some grace, or what you can muster, in the face of any crisis, big or small. “Grace under pressure,” Hemingway once wrote. It’s become a clichéd slogan now, but sometimes in the wake of common experience—everyone’s been disappointed before—it is the mundane and everyday that might save us. The things we’ve all heard before. By the time you need to hear it sounds like it rings for you and for you only, and then it’s not so mundane anymore. You do what you can, and if something outside of what you can do happens, you do what you can again. (Or to shorten it: You make do with what happens.) And then you do it forever. The grace to tell yourself this and also do it: I write this because it’s more for me than you. If history, or destiny or fate or whatever is only accounted for and decided retroactively, we were never meant to have those specific plans play out. Ride out the ripples of that effect. Perhaps, maybe—probably not but miracles do happen—some chance of redemption (or retribution, depending on your moral standing) becomes available to you. Another opportunity opens up. People can always reschedule, come back again; another band you really wanted to see comes to town. You just have to be open yourself to seeing these things. The original energy of the original planned thing may no longer be there, but with that you build with new energy, toward something totally new. To butcher Walter Benjamin by way of Slavoj Žižek, through an eventual (or Evental) success or newly established connection we redeem all past, failed attempts. The energies that haunted us are channeled properly, actualized and expressed, instead of in cheesy essays of consolation. Be disappointed. But also be real.

(Addendum: Speaking of miracles, hours after writing the words “probably not but miracles do happen” maybe you receive a care package from some newly-made friends you were supposed to meet and in no way were expecting to ask for your address and just suddenly show up. Sometimes what you miss out on seeks you out anyway. To further extract any kind of gooey and sappy sentiment from this would be to lapse into another bad tendency—having expressed this to said newly-made friends already—so I’m stopping this here.)


This piece was written by one of our poetry columnists, Carmen X. Reach them at @animagebook, on Instagram!

This piece was edited by one of our editors, Willow. Reach them at @oldmanheart, on Instagram!

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