I submit some writing for a literary magazine to consider for an award back in January, and then I proceed to stalk my email for months and months. (I find the ratio of emails I get from Bath and Body Works to emails from real people I know very depressing. I also find it depressing that Facebook keeps trying to get me to go on dating sites it advertises as “NO YOUNG WOMEN ALLOWED.” God, I hate my demographic). Anyway, this contest: the piece I wrote actually cracks the semi-finals before the judge, author Nick Flynn, picks a winner who is not me, and it is definitely another bullshit night in suck city. I actually, literally cry, and I am no longer a person who cries, having gotten it all out of my system back when I was drinking and my favorite pastime was sitting in the back of a Burger King weeping and drinking vodka out of a bag.
From the email I receive telling me that I lost, I arrive at the conclusion that men do not understand my work, and also that I am almost, almost–but-not-quite, good enough. Being not quite good enough is worse than flat-out sucking. It’s like waiting on line for something and having them sell out right before your turn, so you can watch the last good bagel go home with another woman. Still sniffling, I go to yoga and take a spot in the front row, where a beautiful girl who is better than me transitions from a headstand into a forearm stand. She manages to make this maneuver look effortless; when I do something difficult in class, all the veins stand out in my neck. I manage to get there, red and burping and wobbly, while the beautiful girl balances flawlessly on a single palm, all zen hotness. I don’t want to be one of those women who treats other women like competition (NO YOUNG WOMEN ALLOWED, Facebook keeps promising), so I always make sure to talk to her after class. She is a young, professional dancer with mile-long hamstrings, and it is fucking bananas that I’m trying to compete, but compete I do. We all pretend yoga is not a competition, everyone will tell you that, but yoga is a TOTAL competition. I’m an intermediate, which means I can do a couple of show-offy things but there is a good chance I will fall and take out the whole front row. Once I knocked one of the giant studio mirrors off the wall and left all the yogis ankle deep in broken glass. I still have the scar.
It’s all too much for me, and I leave class discouraged. I am not exactly a loser, but I am loserish. I am not the winner. This deeply and profoundly bothers me. In recovery, there is this whole emphasis on being one among many; it’s often parsed in the formula of “I am a ________ among ____________.” A worker among workers, for example. Another bozo on the bus. The idea is to get into the middle of the herd and stay there, where the predators will be less likely to pick you off. The point is supposed to be to grow in humility; I am not that big of a deal, and absolutely no one gives a shit whether I can get down in a full split or not. Still, I look around at the women around me everywhere, comparing. She writes better than I do. She is more flexible than I am. She is stronger. She is married, her students like her better, she works harder than I do. She has more things. She is prettier, more fuckable. She is better than me.
I am not supposed to have these feelings, and so I pretend I don’t. I make believe I am just a yogi among yogis, a blogger among bloggers, a girl who doesn’t care that you are prettier than me. I pretend I am content to be anonymous in the dusty warmth of the herd, that I don’t chronically ache to be the center of attention, even when a predator is bearing down on the pack of us.
Speaking of the herd, I haven’t been to a sex-addiction meeting for a while, and it’s chilly when I return. Same oddly kidney-shaped circle of chairs, same unfriendly stares. No one pays attention to me. I ask the woman next to me if she is a nurse, as she is wearing scrubs, and then realize that this sounds incredibly sexist, so I throw “or doctor” in, but way too late, and she stares at me like I am retarded. I drink my iced coffee out of the good side of my face; I’m still dealing with Bell’s Palsy, waiting for the right to come back online, still feeling like a monster. The fucking Phantom of the Sex-Addicted Opera. I have been wearing my skirts extra short by way of compensation, my hair a mask over one side. I want to share about it, and I raise my hand, over and over, for the entire hour– it’s a pitch meeting, which means whoever speaks picks the next person to talk. Time and time again, eyes touch mine and slide away, picking someone else.
There is this exercise where you are supposed to invite rejection into your life, as a sort of aversion therapy. Ask for things you know strangers will say no to: can I have a bite of your ice-cream, will you grade these papers for me, can I come live in your apartment with my rabbit? Supposedly, repeated exposure to NO is good for your soul. I remind myself of this, but as someone else looks at me with my hopefully raised hand, my too-short skirt, my hair in my face, and then skips on to someone else, I don’t feel like I’m growing. I don’t belong, even with the people who don’t belong.
At school, the kids’ attention is a balm on bruised feelings. My middle-schoolers are going through a cycle of clubs, and I run a yoga club. I model a forearm stand, my feet dangling near the crown of my head in scorpion, and earn a single, gratifying whoa. One of my girls runs up to tell me I need to do something about my pants; apparently my old, faded thong is sticking out in the back.
This is always the story; I wave my arms frantically for attention and fall off my chair, splitting my pants, the moment I get it.
Again and again, I put my hand up at this meeting. I twinkle my fingers a little. Pick me. The meeting goes for an hour and a half, but I leave after an hour. I know it’s immature, but I’m cranky and I wish I could drop a chandelier on the whole bunch of them. I take the train up to Sketch’s neighborhood, but I don’t go up to his apartment, walking instead to Riverside Park, breathing. I listen something acoustic through my headphones and look at videos of cute things until all the ferrets jumping in packing peanuts and baby bats eating watermelon have slowed my breathing and I no longer feel like yelling at strangers.
My friend Maryanne tells me about someone she knows who has Tourette’s Syndrome. I always thought Tourette’s meant that you called everyone cunts anytime the room got quiet. But apparently, not all Tourette’s is like that; Maryanne’s friend has this uncontrollable need to yell out “HOW COME?” at inopportune moments. I completely and utterly identify with this. Stuck subway train? How come?? Another day of fog that makes your hair look like you sleep under a bridge? How come? My crooked face, my inability to drink like normal people, my chronic insomnia? My need for attention, the one that feels like it might be satisfied if only I were the best at something? How come?