Clean and Elegant

Clean and Elegant

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Dear Vincent, Sorrowful Simon has written you a letter.

Dear Vincent,

Sorrowful Simon has written you a letter. He sounds quite sad. Sorrowful Simon initially reached out to me on the dating site, OkCupid. We’ve never met in real life. My excuse for not going a date with him was that I had already experienced a Sorrowful Simon in a rather extensive way. You, and some other people know that the first Sorrowful Simon in my life ended up jumping off a building. Perhaps my excuse for not going on a date was adequate. Now I have repeated the name, “Sorrowful Simon,” four-and now five-times in one paragraph. That’s enough times. It is time to address Simon’s plight.


Simon says,
By habit, or because they sense that I’m not doing too good, friends have been asking me how I am feeling more frequently lately, and I’m finding it difficult to answer them with any degree of clarity. Like Erica, I had a therapist which really helped me a few months back, and in the same way I ran out of allowed sessions so we had to part ways. Since then, I have strived to keep clarifying my feelings and emotions in my head, but inevitably I get lazy and stop doing it regularly, which then makes it harder to do so, and the cycle leads to where I’m at right now, I guess: having so much in my head that nothing can get out, or just barely, sometimes when I get drunk/high and start writing poems, or if I start talking with a friend or a lover and I’m in the right frame of mind (but then sooner or later I start thinking that I’m boring that person, imposing, or just not making sense, and I reel back my outspoken outburst).
Dear Simon, How are you?
So easily this question can trigger such performance anxiety. It sounds like your friends genuinely care and want to know, and yet you feel like you can’t quite open up, because what if the true answer is actually too much? My sense is that many people feel as though if they were to honestly reveal themselves, all their feelings and suffering and struggles, that this would be way too much for those around them. An unacceptable and tedious burden. And so you hold back. But this doesn’t sound like a viable option, since it is building up to more than you can bear. You need a mode of expression, a means of release. I’m sorry that therapy is no longer available. How can you replicate some of the relief it provided?
Alcohol and drugs, well, these can have their place, as long as they’re pursued without desperation or addiction. But substances have their limits as long-term sources of comfort. In my experience, they tend to isolate over time, in addition to generating shame and/or oblivion, whether immediate or in their aftermath. Thus, with as clear a mind as you can access, I think you need to reach out to real people, either your friends, or the kind voices at the end of a crisis helpline. Choose the most non-judgmental and compassionate person you can find, perhaps not your mother, but maybe. And then speak. So frequently I hear of people finally opening up to their loved ones, disclosing the deep and seemingly intolerable darkness on their hearts. And you know what their loved ones say? “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”
There are so many things I could say right now, things which I know are weighing down on me, but to explain them in a coherent manner would require so much back-story… I don’t know if you would think it relevant or even intelligible.
Some of those things concern my ex-wife and children… some are about the situation with my current lover… some are about my day-to-day life and yearnings… about writing, which I still consider to be my vocation, but a failed one… but mostly it’s about Loneliness, which (I realized recently) I am more afraid of than Death (which is paradoxical, seeing as I am a solitary person by nature, and quite enjoy solitude).
At some point it will likely be worthwhile to rehash and unleash all the backstory. But right now I want to talk about writing. Writing and then Loneliness. But first writing. Although failing at any vocation sounds immensely painful, writing is a particularly loaded thing to fail at. There are all sorts of so-called empowering self-help books on how to awaken your creativity and write incessantly, prolifically, uninhibitedly, and with unrelenting joy, great brilliance and then you get rich and famous. I have read most of these books. Last summer, I threw out a book called, “The Right to Write” and I hope to avoid encountering such publications for the rest of my life.
No book will grant you with “The Right to Write.” It is all yours. Always. As for vocations and failure, humans invented both of these things, and while I don’t want to invalidate your perception, it could be helpful to challenge your beliefs on what it is you are “supposed” to be doing, and what it means to be successful.
On the bathroom wall of where I am staying, there’s a list written by a 90-year-old woman, containing 45 lessons that life taught her. The woman’s name is Regina
One of Regina’s lessons is, “All that really matters in the end, is that you loved.”
It’s possible that this sentence provides you with absolutely no relief. It might even fill you with cynicism. But I want you to consider what your list would be. Will becoming a successful writer truly provide you with the redemption you think you need? What societal bullshit are you clinging to? What personal bullshit are you clinging to? When you are 90 years old or younger and dying, what choices will seem like excruciating mistakes? What memories will bring you peace? What does your meaningful life look like? As Oprah would say, “What do YOU want?”
I used to think I wanted to be a best-selling novelist. Over and over again, I would write the first 80 pages of “My Life’s Work.” Then one morning after cranking my various spines through a sweaty yoga practice in India, I realized, the hell with it. I don’t want to write novels. The act of writing novels entails a whole slew of tasks I don’t particularly enjoy. For example, making things up. Rewriting drafts of long and imaginary stories over and over again. Writing about something other than myself and my own life. Well, this embarrassing, but honest. And what a relief to let that so-called dream unravel.

You get to choose the terms of your own success, creative or otherwise. During the spring of 2015, I decided that I would combat the unrelenting notion that I was perpetually failing creatively by committing to publishing two blogs per week, no matter what. This became my creative practice, and though I only maintained it religiously for a few months, it got me out of an angsty stagnant funk. I came up with a whole bunch of work that I am proud of and that even made me feel more at peace about the possibility of dying. Some people read it and most of the world didn’t. To a certain extent, Margaret Atwood’s experience is not all that different. We are all like Margaret Atwood, and not at all.


So I am wondering, Simon, if perhaps you could somehow take the “failure” and “vocation” out of your story about being a writer. Is there some sort of tangible and low pressure creative practice that might bring you a sense of accomplishment and joy? Ten minutes of rambling on the bus, a heartfelt email every afternoon, beginning the day with your pen and notebook and three to five sentences. Come up with something that’s small enough to pull off, but large enough to not feel like a cop out. During the times in my life when I am writing, no matter what I’m writing, and no matter what else is going on, I hate myself less, and am also less lonely.

That’s all I will say about loneliness this time. I will leave Simon, Vincent and our readers with the poem Simon wrote at the end of his letter:
I’m just half a person
part of me withered
(like Janus looking
at Death & Life
at the same time)
but still
I must take on
the Whole of my Life
no wonder
I’m so tired
-by Simon.
Yes, Simon, I can see why you’re tired. I’d be tired too. I wish you the deepest and most unshakeable peace available.
With love to Vincent and to this and every Simon,

The End.

Vincent was my therapist from October of 2016, and May 2017. After we ran out of subsidized sessions, I began to write him daily imaginary emails. I called the project, "Mondays without Vincent," and it turned out to be quite healing. You too can write imaginary emails to Vincent. In fact, if you'd like, you can send them to me, on any day of the week.

My secret address is: ericaschmidt85(at)

Let me know if you’d like a response. The correspondence can remain between us, or else we can share it here with others and maybe it could be healing for everyone. Love, Erica.

"What truly happy person needs to stand in front of the mirror every morning to convince themselves they're happy?"
-Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck.
Not me, Mark. No. Not me.

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Dear Vincent, This letter is about saving a begonia. Love, Erica.
Mourning, Wailing, Yearning, Wake Up.
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