I Want a Different Life
But, Papi, it'd be easier to just make peace with the one I have.
¡Hola Papi! is the preeminent deranged advice column from writer and author John Paul Brammer, now living on Substack! If you’ve ever wanted advice from a Twitter-addled gay Mexican with anxiety, here is your chance. Support this column by sharing it and subscribing below. Send Papi a letter at email@example.com
Someone wrote to you a couple weeks ago about mourning their “almost relationship.” And that's the perfect word for what I'm feeling—mourning.
I was filled with potential and passion when I was growing up. I did really well in school, engaged in fulfilling creative pursuits, and had dreams for my future. But after dealing with mental and physical health problems and being worn down by The Real World, I feel like I've lost that spark.
When I'm particularly low, I can't help but mourn the life I could've been leading, as if I let myself down.
I don't have a bad life. I'm grateful for the privilege and comfort that I have today, but it hurts to think about all of that lost potential. How do I let go of who I might've been and make peace with who I am today?
Hey there, SD!
Why is it always parallel universes and string theory with you queers? I’m sitting here watching explainer videos about quantum physics just to check and see if there indeed might be some better, more powerful version of you living in an adjacent dimension. To repeat, I am gay and you have me learning math. I do find this unacceptable.
In any case, I imagine your dilemma is one a lot of people can relate to right now. I mean, I relate to it! I had plans for this past year that didn’t look a whole lot like covering half my face up in a floral Etsy mask and sitting around my apartment. I was supposed to go to Europe. I was supposed to go on nice dates in dimly lit bars. I was supposed to have a book tour.
Now look at my life! I can’t breathe near the people I love. The Wendy’s billboard is telling me to “stay safe out there.” Every day is a matter of trying to push back my worst habits—neglect, wallowing, hyper-focusing on the negative. I must confess, the walls are starting to give. My apartment is getting progressively messier. I’m waking up later. I’m running out of things to say to people. Frankly, none of this is sexy.
Adding to that, there is presently a wall of snow outside my apartment. I haven’t been outside at all in the past 24 hours, and “going outside” is one of the few refuges I have left in this pale, murderous winter. But as I look out my window like some sort of miser in a Dickens novel, I do see something happening. There’s a small number of people, bundled up and masked, throwing snowballs at each other and shoveling the sidewalk in turns. They’re laughing, even.
I understand, SD. Even before the pandemic, I felt resentful of having to build a house out of the cards I was dealt. I was frequently sick of myself, sick of my regular, familiar aches—paralyzing anxiety, anguish over not being better looking or more wanted, long periods of inactivity during which I would beg my brain, “do something, do anything, do what you’re supposed to do, please.”
It made me wish I could just be someone else, or at least a better version of me, one that could answer emails, clean his room, be desired, have a partner, have a spark for life that could see me through my days: talent and passion and drive and so on. That would at least keep me fruitfully busy until I eventually passed away. Otherwise, what was the point of me living, exactly?
I’ve been where you are. I’ve wanted to, out of frustration, shake the tree of life and get at the fruit already. But it just doesn’t work that way. We are so small, and as far as we know we have this one shot at being, and when it comes to the cosmic dealer who slides us our hand, we get what we get. Even if I know I’m lucky in the grand scheme of things, I still feel, can’t help but feel, at least a little let down. By my unpleasant circumstances. By my rotting world. By myself.
So what do we do, SD? Do we acquiesce to the cruelty of things, accept that we are in hell and we missed out on our chance to be some better, happier version of ourselves? What do we do, what can we do, when we feel like we’re a throwaway character in the absolute worst timeline? Well, I suppose we have a snowball fight.
Let us not underestimate the human capacity for making the most of things. We do adapt in time. The snow falls, and we break out the shovels, and what once felt like forever eventually collapses back into the circular shape of everything—snow and not snow, bad and better, quiet and music.
And so my guess for you, SD, is that there will be moments of peace with your life and moments of unrest. There is unlikely to be a point where you definitively accept that this is who you are, this is what you have to work with, and this is how you move forward. Those moments are more likely to come in flashes and degrees, just like moments of frustration and yearning for a different life altogether.
It’s less important, I believe, to go hunting for the epiphany, and more important to accept that life moves this way and we can meet it with some grace and flexibility. It’s actually okay that you feel unsatisfied right this moment. You simply won’t always have that spark you mentioned. But not having it right now also doesn’t mean you won’t have it again. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure. And even if you were, being a failure for a while doesn’t mean you’ll stay one. It just makes you a person.
I think you should stop thinking in terms of recapturing your passion and think more in lower-stakes terms of, “what do I want to do today? What can I do today?” Things might not be ideal, there’s no sugarcoating that. But there are still things, and there is still a you, and while navigating the peaks and valleys, try to remember: This won’t be forever, and there’s always, always, a corner to be turned.
Con mucho amor,
Papi (the Best, Strongest Papi in the Papiverse (I Checked))