It is Monday, February 10th, 2020, at 9:17am, and I am wondering why Ocean Vuong hates me.
The truth is, Ocean Vuong, the writer of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, doesn’t hate me. He doesn’t even know me.
But I’ve decided I know him. I know exactly who he is. He is who I want to be, or well, he has probably nothing to do with who I think he is, but still, in my mind, he is the embodiment of what I want: hardwood floored New York City Apartments, Jazz and Classical Music, windows with fire-escapes to sit on, conversations about art and writing and music, about life and philosophy and books.
He has books. I know it. Lots of books and amazing chairs to sit in and he is smart and respected and people want to sit with him and listen to what he has to say. And if he didn’t hate me, or if he knew me, we would sit, we would be friends and drink tea and my life would look exactly how I know it is supposed to look.
Exactly how it doesn’t look. Except I do have hardwood floors. And I have a record player that plays lots of Milt Jackson, and I have books everywhere…so what is it that I’m missing?
What is this feeling?
I have everything I’ve ever wanted. I have hardwood floors. I have a house, rundown, in desperate need of work but still: a house, a 1910 craftsman, in Hollywood. I don’t own it, but it’s mine. I have a boyfriend who loves me. I have readers who read me. I’ve published a book. I get to travel. I have chairs to sit in, though I wish they were more comfortable…the point is…I have the life I am jealous of.
And yet I still feel…lost.
I keep coming back to this gnawing question: Who the Fuck am I?
I am 51 years old. I am Queer. I am HIV Positive. I am a writer. I am a son and a brother and a partner and a friend and yet…who the fuck am I? How did I end up here, as this particular Jeff Leavell?
I’m sorry if you find yourself wondering when I’m going to talk about getting pissed on, or my philosophical stance on fisting, or poly-open-monogamous relationships, or all the ways and times I’ve been fucked.
I’m sorry if you came here to get your dick hard.
Sometimes I have these visions of the Jeff Leavell I want to be right now: I am walking the canals of Amsterdam, or climbing through the winding hill streets of some ancient City, and I am always alone. I am happy to be alone. I am on an adventure. I find a café and I sit, and I read. Next to me men are playing chess. A mother and daughter share a carafe of wine. It is always white wine. And the sun is out.
Or I am in Paris, crossing the Seine, wandering slowly toward Shakespeare & Company. I will sit in a chair and I will read. I will pretend that I live just up the hill, in the Latin Quarter.
I will not be afraid. I will no longer wonder who I am: because I will be exactly that man, right there, sitting in the large chair in the famous book store in Paris, and I will know, without a doubt that when I leave I will be swallowed up in the beauty of the City…and later that night I will meet a group of writers and poets and artists and we will eat dinner at a small restaurant and we will talk about what we are working on, about life, we will talk about the world.
I am so consumed with fear right now. I am so consumed with self-doubt. My skin itches so bad I want to claw my way out. My brain is on fire: my thoughts racing.
I want to write a fantasy for you: some decadent adventure I had while in Berlin, getting fucked so hard I almost forgot my name, or about gang bangs in Madrid, or falling in love in the rain in London…I want to write about anything but this moment, right now, where I am:
In Hollywood, on a Monday morning, struggling to find that word, any fucking word, just a word that will explain to you exactly what I am feeling.
Do you ever wonder how you will pay your phone bill? Or if you will be evicted because you can no longer pay your rent? Do you ever wonder if everyone you love will finally leave you, all alone, with nothing? Do you ever think that you missed every opportunity, that you fucked up so bad that now you will never get to live the life you always dreamed of?
Because I am terrified. That is what this feeling is: this feeling that my life is slowly dripping away, floating passed me and I am not participating, I am no longer a character in my life: just a bystander.
What if this feeling is no longer the fear of failure, but failure itself?
And then what? I am a 51-year-old, HIV Postive, Queer, failure?
And Jesus Fucking Christ, it’s just Monday, 10:21 am…and I’m already here, drowning in this self-doubt, this fear, this abject failure.
Do you ever have that feeling? What do you do in those moments when you’re so fucking scared that you’re immobilized?
Because if you do ever feel this way, lost, unsure, like your life is passing you by, that you’ve somehow missed the person you were supposed to be and you have no power: you’re not alone.
I’m right here with you.
So today, this is what I’m going to do: I’m going to play a Stan Getz album, Focus, and I’m going to write until I can’t, until the fear becomes so intolerable I might scream, and then I will take my little dog Paco and go for a walk, and maybe later I will meet a friend for tea, and I will try to remember that some days are just like this. Some weeks. Some months.
But I do have power. And that the writing will save me.
And that I’m not alone.
My father used to tell me, “Fear is just the lie you tell yourself so you don’t have to get up and actually do something. You can spend the next ten years afraid, or you can take ten minutes and put your shoes on and go do something. If you’re lucky you’re going to be 65 one day. And you will have either done the thing you’ve dreamed of or not. Which one would you rather be true at 65?” And my other favorite, “Worrying is just like praying for what you don’t want.”
And my mother once said, “I’d rather see you fail at something you love than succeed at something you hate.”
I’m going to commit to a walk. And to writing a blog post once a week. To finishing the projects I’ve started so that at 65 I actually can look back and say: yeah, I did that. Regardless of the outcome: I did it.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. I know this isn’t my normal kind of post (I promise, I’ll get your dick hard again soon). And I’d love to hear your dreams. Even if they terrify you. Even if they seem impossible.
And I apologize to Ocean Vuong. I have no idea what kind of life you have, and there is no reason to think you hate me. He did write a fucking beautiful book, though. You should go read it if you haven’t.