why can't i be happy when things go well
plus: why stoicism sucks butt.
Let's start by addressing the elephant in the china shop. Both Are True was a featured Substack last week which brought over 600 new subscribers here!
Looking around, I see a lot of new faces. Big first day of school energy—everyone’s got their hands in pockets, tryna find their friends from last year but this isn't last year this is now.
This is Both Are True.
I’ve vetted each of you. Spoke with your families, employers, cousins. Ran simulations of how well you’d fare in the apocalypse.
And if you’re reading this - congratulations, you’ve made it.
Hi, I’m nervous
I’m gonna be honest - I’m nervous! So many new people - what if they hate me and leave? The stakes feel so high, like when I went to the playground for the first time in America with this kind family, and I had to poop but the boy’s bathroom was locked and I refused to use the girl’s one for fear of deportation so I just sorta crapped my pants.
Driving home in the backseat of their car, propped up a little bit, wedged between the two kids (why did they put me in the middle!?), freezing in the Boston cold because all the windows were open, I was shame.
A lot’s changed since then — I’ll poop in any public bathroom now, having promised myself that “America will be a land I poo my pants once and only once.”
But Still.I.Am shame.
What am I afraid of?
Simply put, I don’t wanna fuck this up. Why? Because…this is a great thing! There’s over 2,000 of you here now!!!
When I tell people about it they say ‘dude, you’re really doing it - getting paid to write on the internet. please tell me you’re happy?’
They ask because they know me.
They know that I don’t really know how to be happy. Or, more specifically, to allow myself to feel good.
Like, beyond the drug-like high of seeing the numbers shoot up, I haven’t really been able to go - whoa, this is good. Why? Let’s explore so I can avoid my feelings a bit longer.
A few reasons why I can’t be happy / acknowledge said happiness:
Doing so would be weak, sad, not Cool. Cool people like Jesus, Bruce Lee, and Eminem (top 3 on the Top 10 Coolest People Of All Time list) - are too busy parting seas, fighting baddies, and vomiting on his sweater (mom’s spaghetti) to enjoy anything. Never does the Bible go, “and then Jesus sat back and was like - I am a good guy, doing good things.”
1. I'm just not a happy person, or am unable to feel happiness that is Real and Genuine and so, when trying to do so, my body revolts and says 'don't you fucking dare.' Something in my kishkas (yiddish for guts and/or 'thick sausage') says this is a cop out. A running away from rather than toward, let's leave it for now.
It violates the brand guidelines! My whole identity centers around being a ‘guy who sucks,’ so not sucking becomes existential threat. Plus - this identity is what drives me to succeed — "The only way to free myself from this default state of suck is to strive, to push, to succeed. Once I arrive at that success, I will no longer feel like a failure, like a suck, because I will have proof - tangible, juicy proof - that I am in fact talented / good / loved."
But here's the thing. My reality tunnelis like a ghost costume - a sheet with lil eye holes - and inside that ghost costume, I am a bad suck. But through the eyeholes, there in the distance, I can see a way out. A place full of real people who are not ghosts. Who are happy and loved, a land of good and money. I just need to WORK HARD TO GET THERE and show everyone that I'm not a ghost. I'm a real boy!
Even ghosts get the non-blues
Finally though, and very much because of all the STRIVING, I stumble and bumble my way through a few doors that must have been left open by mistake and get to the land of the good, the place I always wanted to go.
That’s me right now. Here with y’all.
Or, it should be.
I want to be happy and excited and scream 'hey isn't this cool!' but I can't. Because I'm still wearing the fucking ghost costume and no one can really hear me through the sheet.
And no one’s gonna make me take it off either - to them I’m just a lil guy wearing a ghost costume at the normal ass, non Halloween party.
So now I’m at the new party, scared as shit, retracting like a turtle in The Fast & The Furious, deep into his own shell which, to be clear about the mixed metaphors, is also a ghost costume. And it sucks! It’s hot and embarrassing and eating any snacks is like a whole to-do, but what’s this? A new party! A bigger party. Hope!
Turtle ghosts all the way down
We know what’ll happen at that new party. Besides getting lost and especially nervous around Jen Anniston and The Mayor (are they dating? Should I ask?), I’d stay a dumbass sad ghost.
Unless, of course. I took the ghost costume off.
But I can’t! It feels impossible. Which is hard! To just be out here going 'yea, I feel happy.' Yuck. Sadistic stuff. Like, you and your happy get a room cuz that's not what we do here. We are sad and angry and we don't dare admit that anything is good / feels good. What are ya, a pussy?
Then lemme just say - meow meow.
So much of this, I realize, is rooted in the unwritten rules of Being A Man. Even that phrase - ‘what-r-ya, a pussy?’ is very much about challenging one’s masculinity.
And as we all know, real men like Clint Eastwood don’t express their feelings.
But wait, I DO express my feelings. I’m a woke sadboi that’s been in therapy longer than it takes to get a Doctorate Degree.
I’ve transcended all that no-feeling stuff, right?
I'm okay sharing my sad feelings. The ones I've deemed as acceptable, appropriate, aligned with my whole 'tortured failure artist' brand.
Progress! Many men and non-men alike never get this far, so afraid of what Papa Patriarchy might do if they admit to feeling anything at all. They are Stoic! Being emotional is weak, they say.
Man, fuck stoicism. Here’s a quote I found:
“Stoicism is about the domestication of emotions, not their elimination.” - Nassim Taleb.
fuuuuuck that. emotions aren't horses.
Or rather, they are, but you better let them run wild and free.
Emotions are great, but I don’t want to be selective about which ones I let through. Paradoxically, the challenge for me is to express any of the good emotions - joy, contentedness, peace. What a fucked up thing!
So let’s see if I can get this dang costume off. Or maybe you can’t take it off. Maybe the goal is to make it more translucent, so people can see the guy under the ghost.
My son, the little me who I love way more than myself
A lil hack I use to work through this stuff is by simply asking myself, 'what would i do if my toddler son Wilder came to me with this problem?'
Would I tell him it's not a big deal, that he shouldn't care about the numbers and just keep going, that the work of a Real Artist is to simply carry on, rain or shine, sleet or grime, be unaffected, emotionless, riding atop his domesticated joy and feels?
fuck no. I'd tell him that this is amazing. He's got people excited about his work, that's beautiful! Celebrating doesn’t mean he’s bragging or putting out other people’s candles or whatever. It is good. It is needed. It is dare I say, brave.
In this world of rageful cynics, expressing the joy you feel is a damn near revolutionary act.
And he'd go, so it's revolutionary for me to be excited about my dumb essays on poop?
Yes. Yes it is.
But he’s not gonna listen to a god damn thing I say. He will, however, see how I am, meaning I must ‘model’ it for him. (imagine btw a runway for fashion models but its just people strutting on stage modeling good behaviors lol.) Ok here I go:
I’m really glad you’re here 💗
This is awesome. Every part of me wants to hide behind a joke here, to minimize, to divert attention or make me, you, and/or the accomplishment of this feel very, very small.
But it isn't. It's a big deal.
I can tell cuz I’m almost crying writing this. Ok like, 60% of the way to tears, which is big.
Thanks for being here. I will protect each and every one of you as if my own child.
We're all just ghosts riding the wild horses of our emotions up and down this side of the beating heart. So hop on, lets ride.
🗣 dare to share
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Ok besides sharing, one huge step you can take is become a paid subscriber. It helps pay for my therapy and coffees and tells me that y’all really believe in this. This year I’ll be unveiling lots of new goodies for paid subs only, too!
🦜 what’s that in the sky? a bird? a plane? na, its a comment. (like comet ugh this joke sucks)
The comments section is alive in BAT - its a happenin party and you’re all invited. Some questions to prompt you:
If you’re new here, hi! tell us 3 things about you - 2 truths and 1 lie.
Do you like yourself? If so, how?
What party are you tryna get to before you can take off your ghost costume?
What else is going on how’s your week hows your 2023? Got any questions for me?
a dope concept from Robert Anton Wilson that basically means ‘one’s subjective reality that is mistaken for truth’ :
So there is no vantage point from which real reality can be seen, we are all looking from the point of our own reality tunnels. And when we begin to realize that we are all looking from the point of view of our own reality tunnels, we find it is much easier to understand where other people are coming from. Or, the ones who don’t have the same reality tunnels as us do not seem ignorant or deliberately perverse or lying or hypnotized by some mad ideology. They just have a different reality tunnel, and every reality tunnel might tell us something interesting about our world, if we are willing to listen.”
I know its more complicated than I’m making it. I will write a full essay on it soon, but let me just say for now that it feels like a lot of the nuance is erased and all that’s left is - don’t feel anything you wuss!