Last Thing/First Thing

Being the addictive type, there is usually something that is the last thing I put down before sleeping and the first thing I reach for when I wake up. The thing(s) and the intensity of their grip can vary, although they are usually limited to a few rotating substances/behaviors, which over the years I have ranked into a measurement of my general state of wellbeing. They each have their downsides, but dozing/waking to, say, a pot pipe and doom scrolling is a better sign than a beer bottle and cigarettes. Some are harder to discern, but relativity counts – anxiety-filled circular journaling vs doom scrolling.. hard to say, but certainly a far cry better than a meth pipe and Spotify (believe it or not, a good hot rail can actually knock you out).

Also being the itinerant type, I find that anything I can do to create constancy in my ever-changing sleeping arrangements is helpful for many reasons, which is why I miss my beloved Falcor (my live-in Sprinter van) when I am forced to travel by plane. I love to wake up to changing scenery, but it’s more enjoyable to see it when I open my curtains, my coffee set-up ready and waiting for me. When all else fails and I must move from couch to couch, I cling harder to my last thing/first thing routine, although to be fair, they’re around most of the time anyway.

These days, I am happy to notice that I am back on the compulsive reading and tobacco-less nicotine wagon. For the last week I’ll lay down at night, on this pull-out couch in Manhattan, and cozy up with my phone and my vape (which I affectionately call my “nic stick”) and rotate through news apps in search of a rabbit hole to get sucked into. The Economist, the Atlantic, BBC, the Guardian, Al Jazeera, Vice, Reuters, Grist, sometimes the Associated Press, NPR if I must (I’d rather listen), Wikipedia if I’ve seized upon a particularly titillating topic, Facebook if I’ve read everything more than twice. Longer, complex analysis is ideal, but shorter, factual updates also get the job done. I’ll read until my eyes cross and my phone slips from my hand, only to wake up and pick up where I left off. I’ll huff and puff on my nic stick and tolerate the headaches and pounding heart rate, sleep poorly, and then grope for it in the morning. I’ll wish to be on the mindful journalling and yoga regimen, but in light of the relativity principle I consider this a success – Yay! Pat on the back. Better is better.

The world is a ridiculous place. I’m familiar with the different tones and biases of my various favorite media outlets, but the sheer number of them I feel gives me a decent account of basically what’s happening, as well as what’s being omitted and by whom. I take note. Then I delve into the algorithmically filtered updates of my friends, acquaintances, and strained relationships. My personal life seems little less dramatic at the moment – a murderous asshole menacing a dear friend’s sister (not even exaggerating), a death in the family, blaring silence towards/from formerly close people, a cousin flying off the handlebars of a bicycle and breaking her arm, complete with protruding bone and dangling hand.. The anxiety doesn’t help loosen the death grip I have on my nic stick. I’ve had to temper my updates on the war in Ukraine, and I’ll notice myself dodging articles on the climate crisis.. It’s just too much sometimes. For ongoing existential crises, filtering is an adaptive skill. I understand the impulse to resort to outright denial.

Hot rails, anyone? Lol! Dark humor, another handy coping mechanism. So onward I read – after so many years of clogging my synapses with chemicals, I do feel that over-knowing and anxiety headaches are better than fantasy-land and plummeting physical health. I can take comfort in the idea that at the root of my compulsive reading is a desire to learn, a desire for knowledge. And I trust that at some point, the need to counter-balance does abate. Today, I shall resist the magnetism of my pull-out couch and my phone and force myself to meander around the bustling farmer’s market outside, nic stick in hand, in the sunshine with my fellow humans (a grand idea, but in full honesty I’m on the fence). But reframed as a desire for knowledge, my current last/first binges are a significant improvement. Better is better:)