On my darkest days, I'm convinced that the human race isn't capable of having fun anymore. I think what now passes for "fun" is actually a simulacra of joy meant to convince others that we're experiencing an emotion.
Take, for example, the day that my wife Jessica and I attend a surfing dog competition. It's supposed to be fun. How could it not be fun? The''re dogs, and they're on surfboards. If you were to ask me to play a word association game and say "fun," I'd immediately sing "Surfing dogs!"
But the morning starts poorly. First off, I'm stressed. Being a writer with anxiety, there's always some low-level stress going on with me—am I fulfilling my potential? Have I chosen the wrong career? Is my house haunted?
Today, however, the stress is palpable. I've jumped head-first into two major creative projects that take up almost all my free time, and every second I'm not working on them, I think about how far behind I'm falling. But I also don't want to be the workaholic husband that can't take a couple hours out of his Saturday to watch a couple goddamn dogs on surfboards.
Jessica's also in a bad mood. No, not a bad mood, but a feeling of manic anxiety—a feeling that, if it were a roller coaster, rises and falls with the seasons. It's this wave that's responsible for her sleepless nights in the summer and hibernation behavior in the winter (whereas I'm just perpetually coasting on that sweet, sweet depression side. Nap anyone?).
These afflictions don't define us, but they do affect us, and discovering an ant infestation in our kitchen certainly doesn't help. We pretend like it doesn't cut the last remaining threads of civility between us, but inside I'm thinking: This is the apocalypse. We need to move. Why did we buy a house with ants in it? And Jessica, frazzled from the pseudo-insomnia, says, "Leave me alone." She cleans up the ants because my nervous ineffectiveness is driving her nuts.
It gives me 10 minutes to work on my projects while she kills the ants.
When she's done, we push their little corpses against the baseboard with a mop. Neither of us have the wherewithal to sweep them up. Their bodies will remain on our kitchen floor for a week.
But the ants are dead. Now—now—it's time to go watch dog surfing. It's time to have some fucking fun, goddamnit.
We get in the car and I start driving.
"Do you know where you're going?"
"Um... no," I say.
"Do you want me to look up directions?"
"Were you afraid to ask me for anything just now?" she asks.
I laugh noncommittally—my method to avoid admitting further inadequacy. Jessica puts on an abrasive punk Pandora station, which does nothing to calm the tension, and the GPS takes us to Imperial Beach.
I could've found this on my own, I think. Probably.
There's absolutely no parking anywhere near the beach, but some school group's raising money for some bullshit cause by offering to valet your car for $20. "Fuck that," we both say, and for a second, our shared hatred of all other things completes us.
We drive the length of Seacoast Drive, the strip that runs between the beach and the Tijuana Estuary—essentially a mile-long stretch that lollipops at the end. The drivers in cars coming the opposite way share the same downtrodden, futile expressions. Enjoy your mile-long ant march, dicks, they seem to be saying.
"Why are all these curbs painted red?" I say, looking out at the estuary. "What kind of emergency could possibly happen out here?"
"You should just drive the car out there," Jessica says, also looking at the estuary. And then quieter: "So we can drown."
We sit in silence, hit the end of Seacoast and slowly loop around to begin our journey back. Now, we're the drivers with the downtrodden expressions.
"You want to just go home?" Jessica asks. I grit my teeth. To go home would be to admit failure. We'd see no surfing dogs. We'd have no fun. This is fun. Fun, fun, fun.
I finally find a spot in a residential neighborhood a mile away. We strap beach chairs to our backs, and I fill the miserable trek with strained observations. I point at some dirt and ask, "Is that dirt red?"
"I don't think so," Jessica says. For some reason, I feel like telling her no, she's wrong. It's red. I bottle the argument. I point to a car with a Slayer sticker on the window. "That car's pretty metal."
I stop talking; the rest of the walk is silent. I try to remember that we're just two afflicted people who often have a lot of fun, but sometimes we don't and today—on surfing dog day—we're not. I also imagine posting on social media, and the comments. People will say, "Ryan, you have such a fun life." They will also say, "You're living your best life." Is that how I'll remember this day, through the awe and validation of others? Will my brain deconstruct and rearrange this memory to fit better in the "joy" section? Maybe it's not the human race that's incapable of fun—maybe it's me. This is the anxious mind at work.
Jessica doesn't want to watch the surfing dogs. I step into the crowd alone. Out in the waves, a dog rides on a surfboard.