I’m in Jackson, Mississippi this weekend. I went to a crawfish boil with friends of a friend. After a few beers and a few hours of laughing with these people I’ve never met before, I had a thought.
There is so much fun to be had in odd places with new people. We forget that. We go through our lives doing the same thing, seeing the same people, and going to the same bars even though there’s so much out there. So, so much.
Complacency is simple. “Just happy enough” is a plague-ridden safety blanket. We need to keep jumping at new experiences and putting ourselves out there to fail because that enemy known as “routine” is always nipping at our heels. Routine is the voice in the back of your head saying “you might fail” and “but you don’t have any idea what will happen next.” It’s telling you that “it’s gonna be awkward” and “it’ll never work out.”
New is your ally. Different is your partner-in-crime. Strange is your bedfellow. We need to start telling ourselves to fail. To be unsure. To put yourself out there. Feel fear. Get dirty. Fuck up. Move forward.
Maybe all it takes is a Mississippi Crawfish Boil with two strangers you’ll probably never see again to jolt you awake. Maybe that’s a life-altering moment waiting to happen. You never know until you give it a shot.
I wrote this late last year, as a piece of fiction for NaNoWriMo in November. Reread it tonight, thought it was interesting and still sorta true.
“And I just don’t think you’re looking in the right place,” she told me, trying to avoid eye contact. “I mean, I don’t know what you think you’re going to find at last call.”
“Why do I have to be looking for something?” I said, defensively.
“I just know that you could find something else out there, you know, outside of the rail drinks and barstools. I want you to be that person.”
I didn’t know where any of this was coming from. She always seemed happy enough to share an appetizer and a few drinks, and it was only a few weeks ago that she’d be right out there every night with me. Maybe we grew apart. Maybe she grew up and I didn’t.
“You know how much I just want to feel happy sitting around at night, watching a bad movie with my girlfriend and getting to sleep by midnight? Waking up before 9, going for a run and making her breakfast while she sleeps in? That set of moments is all I fucking want, but I can’t seem to find it anywhere. Believe me, I’ve looked, but I can’t find it.”
“I believe you, I really do. But you’re just not really trying, because you’re not willing to be bored. You know what all of what you just described is? It’s just desired boredom. You’re still afraid of feeling happy being bored.”
Then it hit me. The worst part was that I knew she was right. I realized that all of my life, I had been trying to get away from boredom. Avoiding boredom was the one true challenge, the one impossible goal. Sometimes you have to be bouncing around, from person to person and place to place to hide from it. Sometimes you have to be alone to never be bored, but maybe you have to be bored to never be alone.
“I’ll get there,” I told her, unsure of if it could actually be true or not.
I got a text from Sarah, who asked if I was going out tonight. Saved by the phone, I thought. Sarah was one of my best friends, someone who understood me as much I think anyone ever could. She was brash and honest, yet kind. In an alternate universe, we would be a happy couple.
I finished my coffee with Emily and went out to meet Sarah. There was a beer with my name on it when I arrived, and Sarah’s sympathetic blue eyes stood out in the dark bar. I told her the whole story, and I ordered the next round.
“Look, you know I’m not exactly on the best terms with her, but I think she was completely overreacting like she always does.” Sarah and Emily had always been at odds with each other. I think they only tolerated each other because I was a mutual friend. Sarah was more like me, shy and reserved at first, a little guarded, a little bitter. Emily was more of an optimist, a friendly beauty who saw the best in people. Her sweetness interested me, while Sarah’s jaded view of the world drew the two of us together.
“I mean, I think she was overreacting too, but she made some good points and I have no choice but to listen to her. Do you think that being bored is really that necessary?”
“No I don’t, but I’m like you.” I wasn’t sure which part of me she was describing, but I took it as a compliment. “Look, there are people in this world that don’t understand why we do what we do. They don’t feel restless, they don’t feel bored, and they’re very happy being complacent. That’s fine. That works for them, this works for us. We’re just two separate types of people, and we’ll never see eye to eye.”
It seems like some of us are just born to be boredom-averse. Blame it on the bad chemicals in our brains, or the electricity in our veins, but we just can’t feel okay sitting still. And we’ll keep running around, bar to bar, place to place, person to person until we get rid of every iota of boredom in our bodies.
Marina Keegan, on graduating from Yale this year, right before she died in a car accident over the weekend. Very sad.
I think she makes a great point. The last thing anyone wants to feel is regret. To feel like we missed an opportunity as it goes whizzing by in the air. We seem to be hard-wired to think that every missed opportunity is a chance we’ll never get back; some are, but the vast majority come back around, in one way or another. We’ll meet another girl that is perfect for us. We’ll get another job offer. We’ll find another way. It’s never too late to turn everything around, to change things up, to move forward. We have so much time.
We’re raised to focus on goals, on milestones and deadlines. On trophies and raises. But that’s not how we think; we’re too young for that, and we refuse to see the world through those lenses. We measure life in laughs, in conversations, in moments. So we might as well just spend as much time as we can in the forgetfulness and excitement of youth. You never know what’s going to happen, when it’s going to end, or who you’ll be with when it’s over.
"We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life."
That’s all we can ask for.
If there’s one thing you should remember about heading to a college bar after you’re a graduate, it’s this: you never come out of it thinking that it was a great idea. This was especially true of O’Grady’s, a bar notorious for its dark interior and its strong drinks. O’Grady’s gave out Dum-Dum suckers to help quell the sting of rail vodka. As far as student bars go, it was a pretty great place to acquire a blackout. Somewhere in the swirl of the night, we expected to find solace.
On any given weekend night, I could spot 6 or 7 coworkers at the bar; O’Grady’s is never the kind of place you want your colleagues to see you, but there we all were, hoping the other wouldn’t remember an awkward encounter the next morning.
The bar was near and it didn’t have a line (a rarity after midnight), so we went in. O’Grady’s was full of a student populace we were no longer a part of: underagers, drunken slobs, stressed-out overachievers and proud Greeks. The bartenders, trained to be flirty for tips, tried their very best to keep the booze flowing and the conversations light. I looked around and saw a few guys whispering sweet lines into the ears of strangers, girls twirling and dancing to the music, wallflowers eyeing up people they would muster up the courage to talk to, and groups of friends sitting around the tables telling inside jokes. A normal night.
Nostalgia hits you in weird places when you’re at an old haunt: the bartender’s smile, that dartboard you lost game after game at, the conversations you had with strangers. Ghosts come in all shapes and sizes, rushing by in waves of hazy memories and forgotten conversations. We’ve seen too many familiar faces fade away into adulthood, off in some bigger city chasing larger dreams. Those of us who stayed still float around the city, searching for specters of the olden days, haunted by the people and places of our past.
It was after about one-and-a-half whiskey sodas that things started to get hazy. It was time to move on.
Whiskey has a way of making you stronger and weaker at the same time. This is never more apparent than when you’re having a one on one conversation with a pretty girl at a dark bar. During the good times, whiskey raises you up, pats you on the back for your accomplishments, and whispers in your ear that there’s nobody better or smarter or funnier or more attractive than you. Nobody is more capable than a man with a whiskey buzz.
During the bad times, whiskey kicks you down, laughs at you, and dares you to swim deeper and deeper into it until you get to the bottom. Whiskey makes you overthink. It makes you regret. It makes your failures float to the top of your consciousness, your anger surface.
Whiskey will inevitably make you say a lot of things. It may get her to smile. You’ll almost always make her laugh, either with you or at you. Whiskey will make you brave enough to share secrets with her, and if you’re lucky maybe she’ll tell you some of her own. You may think you’re having a profound moment, a pivot point in your life; you may see visions of the near future, her hand in yours and a smile on your face. But then you’ll leave. She’ll go one way, you’ll go another. The whiskey will turn back into a mean friend, the one that tells you it can’t believe you’re going home alone again, the one that can’t believe you actually thought you had a chance with her.
But then whiskey tucks you in and swiftly lulls you to sleep. The next morning, whiskey might kick your ass, but whiskey is never boring. At least you and it had a few adventures together, right?