On the matter of mattering…

on the matter of mattering

“how you matter is defined by the things that matter to you. You matter as much as the things that matter to you do. And I got so backwards, trying to matter…All this time, there were real things to care about: real, good people who care about me…It’s easy to get stuck. You just get caught in being something, being special…to the point where you don’t even know why you need it; you just think you do…I don’t think you can ever fill the empty space with the things you lost. I don’t think your missing pieces can ever fit inside you again once they go missing…maybe life is not about accomplishing some bullshit markers.”

– John Green, An Abundance of Katherines

I don’t think I’ve ever had a realization that wasn’t painful.  Even as salvific as the first sip of my morning coffee is, with the warmth of its concern and its indomitable virility, its still a painful reminder that I perpetually deprive myself of sleep.

For most of my life I have struggled with with a negligent and inefficient distribution of fucks. With spastic irregularity I vacillate wildly between two extremes; either giving too many, or too few fucks at any given time. I not only wantonly misappropriate the amount of fucks given, I also mismanage where I allocate those fucks as well; giving fucks where they should be withheld, and failing to concede them where they would be most beneficently appropriated. Yet, even this insight doesn’t arrive without some form of chronic, and mostly self-inflicted, pain.

The Buddha got to achieve Enlightenment by sitting serenely beneath a Bodhi tree; lucky bastard. I would have had to repeatedly beat my head against the tree before I would have ever gotten close to that kind of clarity. The part of my brain inclined towards revelatory epiphanies seems to only awaken under the duress of anguish and emotional agony.  Having said that out loud, religious mortification makes a lot more sense to me now. Perhaps, somewhere along the way I missed my calling as a self-flagellating monk. Although, it would probably only have been a matter of time before the other monks excommunicated me for being too intense and for making them all look bad. It’s not my fault that lack commitment and follow-through.

So much of my psychic turmoil comes from a deep-seated need to “matter”, to do something that “matters”. That’s an innocuous enough desire on the surface, and, in the mind of a person more balanced and healthy than I, it might even be laudably admirable. But for someone like me who so easily succumbs to the spiraling terror of neuroses too numerous to mention, an attempt at mattering will almost always be deceivingly terraformed into a sinister ecology of not-mattering; an intricate and entangled web of all the various ways in which what I am and what I do, do not matter.

I often, both knowingly and unknowingly, construct false measurements of what it means to matter, that is,  what it takes for me to matter based upon the misguided and misleading metrics of what I believe it is to matter.

So astoundingly in love with books, and writers, and artists, that any endeavor outside those areas seems so unavoidably inconsequential. In my mind, any time not devoted to these artistic pursuits feels ill-spent; effort ineffectively expended on things that don’t matter. And thus, the less time and effort given over to the things that do “matter” , the less I “matter”. When left unchecked, this creates a tireless grinding of dogged-exertion; trying to to fill every waking hour with the concerted pursuit to matter.

But, this game is almost always rigged from the start. I either knowingly, or unknowingly (because I’m honestly not sure) set myself up for failure before I ever begin.

Desperation is a repellant. It pushes away all the things we are most desirous of.

I have narrowed the spectrum of my mattering to such a diminished margin, to such a concentrated, and focused point. Instead of making myself matter all I’ve managed to do is to make myself minute. Hank Green writes that “When you get stuck fighting small battles it makes you small”. Perhaps I’ve been stuck fighting the smallest of them all. Somewhere in the process of the perpetual conflict as Green goes on to say, “I thought only about the fight” and “not why I was fighting.”

There are ways in which I matter that have nothing to do with my ability to make things. There are people that I matter to that has no bearing on how skillfully I can string words together into sentences.

When we fail to recognize how much that matters, and how much they matter, we will constantly feel like we don’t. And, because we simply haven’t let the fact that we matter to people matter to us, not only have we not allowed ourselves to matter at all, we’ve also not allowed the people we care about to see how much they matter to us.

Maybe one of the most important means by which we can demonstrate how much someone matters to us is by letting ourselves matter to them in the myriad of miniscule ways that we never imagined could mean anything.

Maybe that means something. Maybe it means everything. Maybe that’s the whole fucking thing.

David Foster Wallace says that

“You get to decide what to worship…in the day-to-day trenches of adult life….There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And a compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing…or some inviolable set of ethical principles is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.”

Maybe you didn’t need to read any of this. Maybe I just needed to say it. But, I have a feeling you feel the same, and if you do…I have no notes…


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