The Middle Ages

Polishing your battle axe is a meditative chore.

Hi Molly!

I’m getting divorced and I need hope.

I realize that might sound a bit more like something your sister Polly might handle, but here's the thing: You're the one who gets it. You get that right now the world is a flaming cesspool and we're all just trying not to murder each other to get on top so we get singed a little less.

So here's the thing: After I had a massive epiphany earlier this year, coupled with looking at 50 right over the horizon in a few months and the aforementioned literally flaming cesspool our planet is turning into, I realized life was too short to settle, too short to be lonely in my marriage with an emotionally stunted, thoughtless adult infant. So we're getting divorced. Yay! I have a celebrity crush to soothe me in the form of over a quarter million words of prose written about our OTP, and I had a pal all picked out to um, refresh my lady area.

And he's non-responsive, so now of course everything is terrible. What I want to know is: How do I retain HOPE during this time of emptying out my house, rejiggering my social calendar, reveling in freedom, and doing Kegels?

Your acolyte,

Writing < Doin' It

Hi W<DI,

Ah, the middle ages! A time of battle axes and Kegels, crossbows and yoga. What is it about getting older that makes you want to swing a morning star over your head, or ride a brand new emotionally stunted, thoughtless adult infant into the sunset?

You do know that as long as you’re still straight, you’ll be trading one emotionally stunted, thoughtless adult infant for another, right? This isn’t my way of murdering all of your remaining hope. I just want you to be realistic about what kind of confusion and bewilderment is living inside the skin of most men past the age of 40. There is a swirling vortex of need in there. There’s a lot of shame, too. Not to state the obvious, most men were never really allowed to show much of themselves to the world for decades. Even when someone asks a man directly how he’s doing, there’s an unspoken subtext of “Please shut the fuck up about your feelings, guy.”

But speaking of shutting the fuck up, never refer to your anatomy as “lady parts” and never refer to “refreshing” such things. This is squeamish nun language that speaks to decades of internalized misogyny and ageism. If you want to live out loud, first of all, go watch that movie “Living Out Loud” — it’s a little goofy but the essential thrust is 100% you right now, trimming your hedges with a broadsword. And second of all, reinvent your language and your brains and your heart until they’re aligned with your own personal vision of what it means to be alone and wide awake at the height of your appeal as a human being. You’re not that old, stupid. You don’t need refreshing. You know who you are and that’s worthy of adoration and respect, full stop.

But keep in mind that these dudes are lagging far behind, and they need a little patience and forgiveness before they’ll even put in an effort. Cultivate your compassion for these man babies. Mmmmmmm. Man babies. What’s sick is, I like them anyway. I like giant adult infants, turgid with bewilderment. Why are they so simple and stupid and gross? It’s sexy, how dumb and gross they are. I like their clumsy paws and their dark, empty eyes. I like it when they look at you with their blank dog faces like “Does this mean I’m getting laid?” and also “Does this mean I’m not getting laid?” It’s a binary system.

But there’s more in there. “Thoughtless” isn’t exactly the word for it. I’m just saying you have to be patient and make some space for people to surprise you. Have mercy on these non-responsive types but opt for those who are actually paying attention. Tap into your tender mercies. Kegels won’t get you far, without mercy.

How do you maintain hope? Hope and mercy go hand in hand. Hope relies on seeing the broken parts of yourself and finding them sweet and succulent, even when they’re kind of stubborn and stupid. Hope relies on seeing the crushed, uneven, melancholy dimensions of the world and even though it’s all a goddamn shame, it’s still beautiful. It still matters, even as it disappears.

I read this great piece about how hopeless the Green New Deal is last night, right before bed. Not like “it will never pass” but “even if it does pass, it won’t do nearly enough.” It was truly a wretched thing to read, before sleeping. But I’m into staring straight into the abyss at the moment. Sometimes you can generate more hope when you feel in your bones how fantastically bleak everything is. Just as capitalism will always insist on burning the fossil fuels we have left until we bury ourselves, people of all genders will always be thoughtless and infantile, and it will always be rough to face the future without thinking AM I LOVABLE ENOUGH? and DO I HAVE WHAT IT TAKES TO TRAP A LIVE ANIMAL? and AM I A FUCKING JOKE? Big life changes will kick up your shame. But when you’re newly single, you have to remind yourself that everyone feels a little ashamed and wretched and full of longing sometimes, alone or coupled. The middle ages are a time of private emotional reckoning, but it doesn’t have to be dreary. The middle ages are for living in a self-curated fun house inside your head — that is, when you’re not hurling hot tar over castle walls or disemboweling your enemies or experimenting with expensive brands of mezcal.

Hope comes from letting it all in: the fear, the rage, the exhaustion, the manic excitement, the disappointment. Hope is having mercy on yourself and others. Hope is letting go of your comfortable resting places — your go-to insults, your escapist fantasies, your defensive narratives – and prying open your mind to the possibility that you are often wrong. You are wrong about most things and most people. You should trust your instincts, of course, but you should question your running narratives. Honor your feelings, question your circling thoughts.

That’s what I’m living in, at the moment: The suspicion that I might sometimes be wise about the big picture but confused about the small things, every single day. I often get tangled up in my safe stories, instead of letting the world in.

I also want you to notice that you don’t have to fuck someone or even talk to someone for them to be real and vivid and important to you. You don’t have to rush in or make a big show of where you are. You don’t have to WIN, or GET, or HAVE. You can simply savor connection in whatever form it takes. Don’t brandish your weaponry before you’re ready. Feel the air around you and enjoy the moment. Open yourself up to the vast possibilities around you. Don’t focus too much on one person. Isn’t that the gift of not being married anymore? And yet, an animal likes to obsess.

Slow yourself down. Don’t narrow your vision down to one person, and then treat that person like your salvation. That’s a mistake common to female adult babies. This is your chance to widen your horizons. Observe and savor but do not spring into action. Place yourself at the center of things: Your feelings are the ones you’re savoring now. You are out of your ex’s shadow. It’s time to celebrate your own senses and feelings and build from there.

Yeah, it’s all very abstract. Hope is pretty fucking abstract, too. All I’m saying is, don’t start telling yourself a story that you’re waiting for something, that you need the validating attention of someone very specific, that you need a swaggering adult infant to save you, that your future depends on a miracle. You need to stay right here and enjoy this moment instead of speeding forward.

We all do.

Learn to do one push-up, or 50. Read 5 books by the end of a week. Make a custard pie. Paint a room chartreuse. Start a new journal and make sure not to write only about what’s missing. Write about what’s here already, in your empty house. Build a religion out of what’s already here. This is an electric moment in your life. Relish it.

Leap out of bed and make your coffee and swing a mace around before discouragement sets in. Feeling over thinking. Breathing over planning. Chase down the divine — it’s hiding in every mundane evening, in every angst-ridden moment. Welcome the darkness and celebrate your emancipation, every minute, every day, every year.

You have plenty of time, you fucking idiot. Stop cowering like a peasant in a muddy field. You’re not old at all. Luxuriate in the vast stretch of days before you. You’re the king now. Laugh like a king. Eat like a king. Glower like a king. You’ve already won.

Molly


This week, Polly says that getting hung up on someone’s dismissive behavior is a sign that you need to be less dismissive of your own needs. What are your needs, anyway? Don’t you motherfuckers have any funny, trivial problems fit for this evil king? Write that shit down already: askmolly at protonmail.com.