Discover more from ASK MOLLY
Less money, less cash, more chilling.
Cabeza de Homo Rodans (1959) by Remedios Varo
Freaking people out is sort of a side hustle of mine lately. I guess that’s what happens when a confident recluse moves to a smallish town and, after roughly a year of panicking about the move, starts to inflict her bad personality on the populace.
See, you’re already getting snagged on the word “confident.” My god, can we keep it rolling, here? We’ve got a lot of ground to cover.
You can be a deeply insecure person at some core level, one who needs way too much love and is anxious about whether or not they have what it takes to entertain and delight in new ways every few days, and still be a confident person. Keep up! I mean look, I have two newsletters that have to be updated constantly. I’ve chosen a path that’s essentially designed to recreate the conditions of my childhood — a compulsion that I not-so-infrequently call other people out on in said newsletters.
And when the primary source for your published material is the interior of your brain and body, your frayed circuitry, the dank tributaries and polluted creeks and muddy rivulets of your bloodstream, guess what? It makes you neurotic. You start to want to solve the problems of your bloodstream like an industrious beaver, reimagineer that shit, chew through these trees and then set up a midcentury modern dam with a whimsical non-standard poured-cement deck over here, no permits, no engineers, add a beam here whatever whatever, and the next thing you know, you’ve got a polluted swamp of second-guessing and worry and vanity and delusion pooling inches from your new back door.
You’re all adults, you know how mismanaging yourself can go. Pray that you never mistake your bloodstream for the primary resource, the raw materials, from which you should build your entire livelihood. Or, pray that you can pull off this trick, because it’s FUN, BITCH.
The truth is that the more you fuck with yourself, mine your own collapsing hillsides for bad jokes, second guess yourself as the rubble tumbles down into an important local source of drinking water, and wave off a professional team of environmental engineers in order to sift rubble out of the stream by hand, hour after hour, the more confident you become. I mean, it’s a laborious way to develop more swagger: think too much about who you are, work hard to redeem yourself over and over, tap dance furiously, scribble on fifteen pads of paper, throw everything away and start over, start over and over and over.
But it works. In the end you’ve been thoroughly vetted by yourself. You’re always ready for prime time, because you’re not hiding anything. And look, all anyone has to do is pull up one of your dumb newsletters in order to find out about the hazardous waste site that is your entire personality. Even if you had an urge to hide now, hiding is pure folly.
“Why do you insult yourself so much?” someone asked me at an event last year. I said something like Dude, I’ve been alive for along time. This is just who I am now. Insulting myself is as much a part of my comfy home as loving myself is. It’s relaxing and enjoyable to insult myself out loud, now that I don’t do it silently all day long inside my head anymore. It’s almost nostalgic. It’s almost romantic, to recognize how absurdly boring and foolish I am.
Everyone is boring at some level. The most creative people can be the most boring of all in person, because they’re building and rebuilding midcentury modern dams and sifting toxic rubble out of local sources of drinking water all day long and by the time they see you, they’re just tired of the whole thing and all they want is for you to speak words out loud, allowing them a rare chance to think about something deliciously unrelated to their field of study, which concerns sticking their heads as far up their own asses as they’ll go without asphyxiating themselves.
Right now I’m trying very hard to start a new book. Unfortunately, books are just another way of inflicting my shitty personality on others without their permission. Why not just annoy other people live and in person and cut out the middle man?
Yesterday some famous author tweeted something about birthing a brand new literary baby and I was like shut up, you fuck, no one cares. It wasn’t completely true that no one cares, but it was a tiny bit true. And also, should famous authors use childbirth metaphors for their words, when people will let them write books whether they suck or not? I think a shitting metaphor would be more vivid and more accurate.
But I have no rules for others. What’s appropriate? How would I know? Freaking people out is my side hustle, one that pays zero dollars. I get paid in the disgust and confusion that washes over people’s faces when I say words out loud without censoring myself. This is how my dad lived in this town, too. It’s only mildly sociopathic, I assure you. The point is, this author guy has begun to believe that his little word babies are precious and special. I don’t begrudge him that feeling. But he’s a wee bit out of touch with reality. I don’t begrudge him that, either. How do you write anything without huffing your own stank like it’s a can of spray paint in a brown paper bag and you’re a teenager hellbent on destroying your brain for the sake of a sudden-onset migraine?
But if you don’t at least notice that you’re just wanking? That makes you like literally every other regular human on the face of the planet, doing their boring jobs and talking about them like other people actually give a shit. Besides, I don’t hear random middle managers using childbirth metaphors on Twitter for their soon-to-be completed projects. Would that be charming?
People aren’t charming enough. Write that down! Be more charming!
Charm is a scarce resource. I don’t have a lot of it left, so I have to settle for just freaking people out. It’s a cheap substitute, like replacing the ham in your sandwich with drywall nails. It’s tasteless but at least your tongue is bleeding now. It’s painful but at least it’s memorable.
My older daughter has four AP exams in the next few days. She’s not freaking out about it, because she goes to school in order to learn actual facts. I don’t mean she memorizes things for the test and then it drains straight out of her ears onto the floor afterwards No. She has actual information rattling around inside her skull. It’s not empty in there at all.
I spend a lot of time marveling at that. What must that be like?!!!! I mean, imagine how powerful a person like me could be with a head full of facts to draw on! Because I’m pretty great at constructing and deconstructing stuff even when all I have to work with is “birds are weird” and “I like trees” and “a friend has come to visit me, life has changed, here are some words she said.” Imagine if you replaced the dead air inside my empty rattle of a skull with tiny little tidbits of AMERICAN HISTORY!!!!!
Next year, my daughter is taking AP European History and AP Art History! So exciting! Wouldn’t it be cool if I did all of the reading for both of her classes and took all of the notes and tried very hard to actually learn it all? Like she does? YES. And I really want to disguise myself as a super ugly teenager and go in and take the exam, too. That way when I get a 2 and my daughter gets a 5, we’ll make the special type of humiliating/ triumphant memory together that will last a lifetime!
No, I don’t push my daughter to study or get good grades. Jesus. Don’t you even know me at all by now? Pay attention! Christ. She was born a perfectionist. I’ve spent her whole life saying things like “It can be sloppy” and “Failure is nice” and “I like it better all collapsed and sticky like that” and “Just dress like a lumberjack who spilled half his lunch all over his t-shirt, like me.” Somehow this wasn’t persuasive.
Maybe one of my books should be called THE OPENLY MEDIOCRE PARENT’S GUIDE TO RAISING A PERFECT SUPERGENIUS. But for this to be an honest book, I’d have to include several chapters about what torment you inflict on a kid when you keep telling her that perfection is overrated and fucking everything up flatter than hammered shit is super cool and relaxing, while also embodying the distasteful results of that lifestyle choice. All your kid can do is blurt out
You don’t understand me at all! I’m not like you! Freaking people out is not my side hustle!
That’s when your eyes narrow like Yoda’s and you think
Oh, it will be. It will be.
But you say nothing. Instead you call your eighty-year-old mom and pick her up at her house and she’s also dressed like a lumberjack. You drive to a restaurant and you sit at one of those dumb tall bar tables but you want to sit there because that way there’s no one near you, and you both prefer that. You order the same drink (bastardized Pimm’s Cup type of thing, so good) and then you get into a conversation that includes something about European history but neither of you can remember a thing, which makes you both cackle loudly until everyone within twenty feet is flinching and grimacing and rolling their eyes.
That’s your side hustle. It pays zero dollars.
Enjoy it while you can.