Nothin’ Matters and What if it Did?

When I starting hanging out with Delany second semester freshman year, it was an incredible relief. I had finally found someone I could relate to in the sea of stuck-up preppies who inhabited the honors floor where we both lived. I was queer but didn’t know it – just always experienced myself as the outsider – and she was an art school student; neither of us fit in. We delighted each other, however, finding a creative soul connection that I am grateful for even now, though we haven’t seen each other in many years. One of the things we did was make up little songs about dorm life, such as “Snack Bar Guy” and “Karina Bolton”, about the goofy junior who made us laugh while serving us late-night ice cream sundaes, and my very sweet but strange and extremely studious roommate. It was so freeing to have found someone to observe the weirdness with, to laugh with. Perhaps the phrase, “Nothin’ matters and what if it did?” started as a song, but it soon became our mantra. We would toss it off after discussing failures in love, in class, in politics (it was 1981 and our newly-elected president, Ronald Reagan, was making his evil presence known). I know we thought “Nothin’ matters…” the height of sophistication, an arch, nuanced, adult reference to the complexities of life, both tragic and hilarious. We used it to mask our real and desperate feelings of inadequacy, both of us having been sheltered in our own ways, both of us tender and innocent and striving desperately to be ourselves in that miserable pressure-cooker environment of crazy in that long-ago freshman dorm.

I think of that phrase a lot when I’m reading Pema Chodron, trying to wrap my head around the challenge of fully experiencing life while not telling made up stories about it. Being completely on the dot and not giving into your trip, as she says in her funny, left-over-from-the-seventies way. Not telling stories! That is not so easy for a writer. But also: that phrase Delany and I tossed around with such urbanity, filled with self-hate, actually, and a longing for love,* has grown up along with me and my understanding of what it means to be human, to be alive and creative. First of all, it connects me with that hopeful, naïve 19-year old, way back in the day. I’ve got one of those right now, as it happens: Seth is 19, entering his second semester of college. He’s as lost and as hard on himself as I was, and I hope to hell he’s got a few friends to keep him company. Second of all, it just does begin to sound very Buddhist to me. In a funny, left-over-from-the-eighties kind of way.

The regular reader of this blog (and you know who you are), may recall that these past two years have been ones of great upheaval in the Total Femme world. My father has had serious health problems, my parents have needed a great deal of care, Tex hit the mid-century mark and I am even older – we have lost a bit of youthful elasticity, I tell you! — and Seth had a miserable last semester of high school. Cats died. Owen turned 16 with a vengeance. Homophobia continued to grind away at the souls of your hard-working, suburban queers and the gender binary reared its ugly head hither and yon. And Jesus, Mary, Equal Rights, did the world continue going to hell! I know I’m not the only one waking up in the night utterly paralyzed with grief about the heart-breaking particulars of, say, global warming (stop thinking about the bees and go to sleep; stop thinking about the polar bears and go to sleep; stop thinking about the orangutans and go to sleep).

“When we wake up,” says Pema Chodron, “we can live fully without seeking pleasure and avoiding pain, without re-creating ourselves when we fall apart. We can let ourselves feel our emotions as hot or cold, vibrating or smooth, instead of using our emotions to keep ourselves ignorant and dumb. We can give up on being perfect and experience each moment to its fullest. Trying to run away is never the answer to being a fully human being. Running away from the immediacy of our experience is like preferring death to life” (When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chodron, Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston, MA, 1997, p. 72).

Delany and I were desperate to be fully human beings. We were gob-smacked by the onslaught of information coming at us that first year of college, so many ways of being in the world, so many things pointing up our ignorance, so much chaos. “Nothin’ matters and what if it did?” made a little space in the madness, gave us a moment to breathe and regroup. And of course, we knew perfectly well that we actually meant the opposite, because we were experiencing everything so deeply and with such drama. It did matter. It does matter. Everything matters and nothing matters; that essential human matter continues to occupy me intellectually and spiritually. I expect it always will.




*not too much later, admittedly influenced by Iggy Pop and still not out, even after a very short but sweet romantic interlude with another girl, I wrote a song called, “Dogsbody” about wanting to be used, used up, use me up! because I truly thought I wouldn’t get love any other way





Published in: on January 11, 2016 at 11:53 AM  Leave a Comment  
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