It embarrasses me because I don’t do yoga or meditate to be good or spiritual or anything like that. Let me explain.
This past Monday started out just fine. I woke up to a cup of coffee I didn’t even have to make myself. My boyfriend and I sat in his living room answering emails. At one point I started telling a long story and he shook his head and pointed at his computer, which meant that I needed to stop talking because it was work time, but that made me feel good, not bad. Who doesn’t appreciate a man with boundaries?
I completed the second half of an essay I thought was reasonably good. It was sunny out but it was supposed to rain later. I was pleased about that—there’s a drought here in California, which, if you live elsewhere, you probably can’t be persuaded to care about, though before I drop the subject you should know that eventually this drought could make it hard for you to get food—that’s good information, right? But for today, at least, the drought was kind of being handled, and that was a tremendous load off my mind.
I don’t hate Mondays at all. I like working. I always think I’d rather be doing something else but really, I am happiest working—in moderation, of course. I think five hours a day is a good amount of work if you’re a writer—and that’s not laziness. That’s making room for reading, and staring at things, and hanging around with people who make you laugh so you can steal their jokes. That’s why I got divorced, by the way: I realized I didn’t have time to be married to a person whose jokes I couldn’t steal.
My adequate, possibly even pleasant Monday began to deteriorate when I left the house to get toast and ordered along with it what turned out to be possibly the worst cappuccino ever made.
As I set it aside I realized I had never before suffered even a mediocre cappuccino. So you can imagine, after a life of great and good cappuccinos, what a terrible shock this was. It was stiff and grainy, like war ration margarine (imagined from novels) mixed with dirt. I couldn’t send it back because I was too incensed. What would I have said? “Excuse me, but did you just wander in off the street and start making cappuccinos?”
It’s so embarrassing, isn’t it, when our petty thoughts turn into petty actions? I used a jam-covered spoon to shove a crumpled napkin inside of my 7/8 full cappuccino—in other words, as much as it is possible to make a cappuccino look like a crime scene, I did that. When the guy who had both made the cappuccino and brought it to me said, “Are you done?” I said, “Oh yes, I’m DONE,” and gave him one of those snippy smiles that you give to people to suggest you are taking some kind of high road: “Look at me, I’m smiling and saying thank you,” when you know you’re just being a little snot.
As much as it is possible to make a cappuccino look like a crime scene, I did that.
I went to the office, which I share with another woman, a man, and a black Labrador retriever. Some days the black Lab’s plaintive, soulful brown eyes are all that separates me from the abyss. Some days, he works a slimy red toy to a slow, slurpy death, and I think, why the fuck are you here?
I set about trying to write something, a pitch to an editor who, if not necessarily smarter than I am, is more serious and organized in ways that intimidate me. It wasn’t a very complicated pitch, but I just couldn’t think. I told myself if I just put facts down on paper I’d get somewhere. But the facts didn’t have any personality, and that was just not going to fly. It crossed my mind more than once that I could just send the person what I had written so he could read it and reject it; then at least I could say, “Well, I did it!”
The whole time I was accomplishing nothing I was thinking about how I was planning to go to yoga later, but how if I got nothing done, I would be tempted to skip it, to keep hope alive that I might have some kind of breakthrough.
I can’t say this never goes well for me. Sometimes skipping yoga and meditation to work is exactly the right thing to do. But if you’re going to go that route, you need to be prepared to fail. You need to be prepared for looking up and seeing that it is seven o’clock, you have still gotten nowhere AND you have missed a chance to take the break that could have turned things around for you.
I realized—after three long hours of writing badly and wondering just how long my writing badly might last—that what I really wanted to do was eat a hamburger.
I ate a hamburger.
When I got back to the office, I gave the innocent black Labrador (who has, on many occasions, simply by being, prevented me from taking my own life) a dirty look and said, “That red toy is disgusting.”
The owner snapped his fingers and the dog, head low, went into the hall. I could still hear the revolting noises, but at least I’d been shown some respect.
I tried writing some more. What else was I supposed to do? You write badly and then you stop and then you just have to go back to write badly some more. I can’t decide if it’s humble or arrogant to keep writing when not writing well. On the one hand (the humble hand), you’re allowing that this is a job like any other and that working will get you to the end of your task, but on the other (arrogant) hand, you’re promising yourself, “Hey, the genius is going to show up any minute.”
I waited for the genius through that post-lunch part of the day when you’re like, “back to work,” and then through the period after that when you’re hungry again and resent being unable to eat lunch again, then through the period after that when you eat more anyway because at least that way, you’re doing something.
By late afternoon I was in an absolutely foul mood. I didn’t want to sit in this office for another hour only to go sit in another room for an hour and a half. I needed to be free to walk around and complain to live people or to complain on Facebook or to drink alcohol, which always promises to smooth things out and indeed does about halfway through the first drink, after which you only feel worse, and fat.
Plus there were going to be people at yoga. I was not in the mood for people; I was in the mood for the bathtub and vodka. If I was going to deal with people, I had one simple requirement for them: they all had to be characters on The Good Wife.
If I was going to deal with people, I had one simple requirement for them: they all had to be characters on The Good Wife.
But that fear I mentioned earlier—of throwing good time after bad—got the better of me. I forced myself to go. I paid my 16 dollars. I put my mat down in the corner. A pot trimmer couple with matching unisex mohawks smiled at me in that way they smile at everyone, like, “Isn’t it cool that we’re all high?” and I settled in for an hour and a half of yoga. I didn’t enjoy it any more than I’d enjoyed anything all day.
The teacher gave that little talk at the beginning—it’s kind of always the same thing, a bunch of crap about how being alive is actually not that bad—and the whole time I was thinking, ugh, dude, seriously, shut up, even though I like this guy, even though when I started going to his classes I wanted to die and they were the only pleasure in my life, even though for about a year and a half, he answered every single desperate email I wrote asking him what I could possibly do to feel better. I did the physical part of the class half-heartedly, without enthusiasm. The teacher encouraged us to put more heart into it, which only enraged me.
The meditation portion of class, usually at least 10 minutes, was more like 20, and I spent half the time calculating and recalculating how many checks I had written against how much money I had in the bank, and the other half worrying that I had left my iPad on top of my car. In the spaces in between, I fumed about Apple having the audacity to come out with a brand-new iPad just days after I’d been given mine. When it was over, my friend B. gushed, “Wasn’t that amazing?” and I shrugged and said, “Not especially.” Then I drove home.
At home I made myself some fried eggs and toast. I ran the bath I had wanted to take a few hours earlier and, without the vodka I’d thought I needed to accompany it, climbed in. Then I put my hands to my face and I cried. I cried for a while, because I was sad that I had kind of just been born like this, always having to hate everything before I could think about liking anything, always sure that the world was going to end if what I did was not at every moment interesting and successful and highly praised. And then I started to laugh, because if being so ungrateful and ill-tempered weren’t so consistently amusing I probably would have figured out a way to give them up.
By now I was overcome with euphoria. How had I, of the 7 billion people in the world, been lucky enough to stumble upon a life where I regularly got to sit in an enormous container of clean hot water?
I woke up the next day and had more or less the same experience, in the same order, all over again. I did figure out who made good cappuccinos, however, and ordered from her. I’ve found that if you don’t watch the practical stuff, the spiritual stuff just doesn’t add up.