hell is other people

My name is Lagusta, and I’m in a long-distance relationship. It’s been like this for years (6 out of 10, to be precise), and it’s never going to get any easier. My relationship with my sweetheart Jacob has four distinct and discrete categories. Here they are, ranked from best to shittiest, which also happens to be least frequent to most frequent:
1. Jacob and Lagusta are together every single second of the day except for the occasional private bathroom moment.
2. Jacob follows Lagusta around while she lives her life.
3. Lagusta follows Jacob around while he lives his life.
4. Jacob lives his life separately on tour (as a sound engineer and tour manager for various indie rock bands), Lagusta lives her life separately in New Paltz (as a vegan chef and feminist-about-town).

I’m currently living in number three, which is always strange because it takes me out of my little backwoods lifestyle. In this case it’s taken me to a hotel room in NYC. In July it will take me to Scandinavia. Last year it took me to Australia and New Zealand, the year before that to Japan, the year before that to Europe.

I’m really a stay-at-home sort of person.

But I take weeks off from my job and devote them to #3 because it’s how I can see more of Jacob, and I do usually enjoy the added bonus of seeing the effects of globalization firsthand around the world. But #3 in NYC is always a dicey proposal.

I used to work in NYC, and I enjoy visiting favorite neighborhoods and shops, walking for miles and brushing up on my city geography. But every night there is The Show peering down at me, throwing a shadow over my days. I have never been able to get a grip on why so many #3-type visits start out with my heart hopefully beating out “Jacob, Jacob, Jacob” and end up with me doing heavy deep breathing exercises/having meltdowns/crying fits in various venue bathrooms/hotel rooms/tour buses around the world.

Occam’s razor would tell me that the explanation is that I am simply not a sociable person. But that’s not exactly true. Upstate, in my own house or in a bar where I feel comfortable and have drawn my favorite people around me, I am quite good at socializing. But I’m out of my element in NYC. People are not quite fascinated by the things that fascinate me – no one wants to talk about the best way to make tempeh from scratch, or composting. They mostly want to talk about the music business, the large number of vintage guitars they own, and how the show that night went. I am known and well-liked in Jacob’s indie-rock world, but it always makes me nervous. It’s a constant challenge to retain my essential Lagusta-ness and not dissolve into the bland persona of Girlfriend.

Friday night I drove into the city filled with the usual excitement of seeing Jacob after 5 weeks apart. I figured I would sneak into the show right at the end and swoop Jacob up. It was a hot night, and I was wearing a skirt with no knee socks, tights, or legwarmers, so my furry legs (which, in truth, are not all that furry considering I haven’t shaved for 10 years) were on display, a fact I realized to my horror after seeing that I had made such good time that I was sure to be pushed right into the center of the dreaded First Night in NYC Post-Show Dressing Room Socializing Hour.

When my tour-panic was at its worst, a few years ago, I gave myself permission to avoid dressing room/backstage areas for an entire year. Backstage, and especially the dressing rooms, are where all the chit-chatting and schmoozing that make me so jittery are most concentrated. The year of abstinence worked pretty well. Instead of going backstage I took lots of long walks. I discovered secret areas in venues around the world that only an all-access pass could get me into but that were far enough away from dressing rooms that I could sit and read or doodle while I waited for Jacob to finish up or hid when the show bored me.

But in time I realized that some of the people in the tangled clumps clustered around the dressing room after the show were actually my friends, and I had things I could talk about with them. Some of them actually did want to talk about homemade tempeh! So I took baby steps back into the Post-Show Socializing Hour. Once in a while these days I even let myself go out to the bar everyone goes to after the show, where I sip my Manhattan (Maker’s Mark, 2 cherries, 2 ice cubes, no sweet vermouth, only dry please) and try not to stare at the indie-rock icons drinking themselves into oblivion.

But never, never, never with exposed legs. If it hadn’t been the first night of visiting, I could never have done it – I literally would have bought a pair of knee socks before entering the venue. Maybe this makes me a bad feminist, but why add nervousness to an already nervous situation?

But I had been at home only 2 hours ago, and the power my house (and, to a lesser extent, my little town) has over me was still intact. My house has been painstakingly created as a space of power and peace, literally a sanctuary (that makes it sound like it’s all Zen sand gardens and gongs, which couldn’t be further from the truth – more like hot pink walls and collections of kitchy 1970s embroidery samplers). It is a place where I can tap into my deepest calm, knowing that the world shakes me up so horribly that without it I would dissolve into tears many days.

So when I leave for a vacation, especially a #3 vacation, I consciously attempt to carry my little 1-acre paradise in my heart, letting it remind me of who I am and why I shouldn’t let the horrid world make me so nervous.

So I (rather miraculously) found myself a (free!) parking spot just out of Times Square but close enough to venue (miraculous!), parallel parked into it in two easy steps (super miraculous!), and strode into the venue on long bare legs. The first person I ran into was a style icon of the indie-rock world. I took a deep breath and said hello. Because I am incapable of keeping a secret, in five minutes I had told her that I felt weird because of my legs. She reassured me quite nicely that she would never have noticed had I not pointed it out, and I actually believed her. I felt so not-about-to-have-a-nervous-breakdown-y that I persuaded Jacob to go out after the show, even through he had had only had 3 hours of sleep the night before. All good.

But the next few days took their toll on me, and I soon found myself standing in the deserted catering area after the show, counting to 50 and hoping no one would come down and find me before Jacob was finished. The dressing room area in this venue was seemingly designed just to make me even more nervous than I already was. The dressing room is up a flight of stairs but visible from the floor below, so those who can’t fit in the small dressing room itself spill down the stairs with faces turned hopefully upward, and the other night it was neatly arranged from least to most famous based on proximity to the room itself. I know I could have walked right into the dressing room – up the stairs, past the nervous sisters of friends of peripheral band members, right into the pulsing heart of the thing – and found someone to talk to or at least some whisky to drink – why didn’t I?

I’m sure others feel the nervousness that I feel and would be happy to talk to someone who is so outside their sometimes suffocating indie rock world. Jacob wanted to introduce me to someone, but instead of staying and chatting I pulled away and waited in catering.

I used to think it was the famous thing. But after carefully watching famous and semi-famous people for a few years, I’ve decided that it’s not exactly fame, not the intimidation of famous people exactly. But part of it, surely, is that I have committed myself to not seeking fame for my craft. When I am in the middle of a #3 visit, though, I am surrounded by people who have had to seek fame – at the very least, a certain level of visibility – in order to survive in their profession. I can keep my head down and work quietly away at my craft, but a musician can’t do that. So when I come to visit Jacob and see people working away at their craft so publicly, it always brings up the parts of me that think I should go for the gold as well.

Hmm. It’s the part of the essay where I recap and decide what I’ve learned. This part is always boring.

The problems with visiting Jacob on tour seem to be twofold:

1. I don’t usually live in the world, and it takes enormous quantities of energy to pretend to be a part of the world when, for example, the fact there is no recycling in venues and everyone is drinking bottled water out of bottles they are just going to throw away and it is all making you feel rather queasy. I work alone, I usually live alone, and the people I choose to spend time with have been carefully sifted and screened. The majority of humanity makes me sick, and when I’m living in #3 it’s absolutely vital that I make nice and see the best in people. This is good for me, but it is exhausting.

2. Immersing myself in the tour universe raises the questions that sometimes tug at my skirts uncomfortably – should I seek fame too? This essay taught me that I shouldn’t, but of course it will always pull at me a little.

As usual, I know the answers.

1. The world isn’t good, and I have real reasons for letting it make me so sick. Picking out the pieces that I can handle while not choking on the rest will always be tough.

2. Get over those irritating fame/appreciation issues!

There is no reason to post this online. But I will anyway, in the hopes that living a transparent life will free me from my demons – or at least push them further from me.

3 Responses to “hell is other people”

  1. Christy

    All yesterday I was repeating in my head over and over the Satre quote that titles this peice… because I was so crabby and mad about god-knows-what. In the end, I decided that the answer was that ‘hell is other people’ and that it was just that my interactions, (which were the best I could have hoped for,) were just wearing me out because of the necessity of interacting with other people. So! How perfect for me to seek solice in your blog this rainy (oh so good for the garden,) afternoon and discover that you are feeling it too. Hell IS other people, Lagusta, but it is not you. Not even close.

  2. ivan

    hey lagusta,

    it’s funny, whenever i see jacob (i.e. whenever the circus comes to town) i’m so thrilled to get a peek at the behind the scenes rock world, but that’s clearly because i’m such a music dork. this last visit broke new ground as we got to eat dinner next to that indie rock icon. but the big difference is that i’m not expected to interact with any of them, just look (but not look) and try not to embarrass jacob too much.

  3. Katy

    Okay, really I had the same experience happen last year, even though it seems like it may be a stretch. I won all these big fancy scholarships and got invited to this special reception and almost had a panic attack. FYI – I do NOT panic attack. Ever. And I finally realized reading this entry that it wasn’t because I was intimidated by these people – I mean, theoretically they should all be cowering at me for winning both big scholarships, no one else did that – but here I was slung in with these people who were supposed to be my peers, and these people and I had nothing in common. Everyone was all, “Oh, I just got back from Africa…” and most of them were getting their MBA’s (aka selling their souls for fun and profit) and were dressed in their perfect little suits with perfect broadcaster hair, and let’s face it – they were almost 10 years younger than me. And my experiences, not to hit the mom thing too hard, were more about “I only woke up one time last night, but I haven’t been puked on in a while.” And I really didn’t want to get to know these people. I don’t know – maybe it isn’t the same, but it reminded me of that. Nothing wrong with these other people*,but we were grouped as if we were peers – like we had something in common, and we just didn’t. I mean some things yes, but the things that overlapped in our little Venn diagrams were not the most important things in our lives. Certainly not in the spots where I pick my friends.

    *I was visiting with my brother and sister-in-law recently and we stopped at a gas station on an outing. There was a dad and daughter out stretching their legs as I was filling up (the license plate said Maine, so they were doing the requisite lap around the grassy spots.) My sister-in-law had gone in to pay, as she comes out the little girl says to her dad, “Is that mom?” and he tells her no. Then she looks closer at her and says, “Oh. That’s ‘other people.'”


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