Fifteen Pieces of Flair: How I learned to prefer not to care & feel OK

“I don’t need 32 pieces of flair to express myself!” declares Jennifer Aniston’s character in Office Space (1999, Mike Judge, dir.). As she proceeds to flip off her TGI-Fridays-ish manager who questions the lack of buttons, “flair,” her job requires her wear on her apron.

Her character is wearing the minimum amount of flair — fifteen — but not enough to express the enthusiasm her boss expects her to show for her shitty waitressing job. How much enthusiasm should you expect from this young woman with dreams and hopes, hopefully a personal life, and enough to trouble her without worrying about buying flair for work? One middle finger’s worth.

And that is what brings me to my Declaration of Independence from giving a flying flair for *gestures broadly*. There are obviously people and things I care about. But I needed a shorter list. Today I tell the tale of how I arrived at the momentous decision to go with minimum flair and prefer not to care.

I have not been able to publish any of the 12 plus blog posts I’ve written in recent months. I hadn’t been taking care of my physical or mental health. I was AND felt threatened not to write about recent experiences. So threatened that writing was giving me panic attacks. Now threats are off the 15 pieces list: Threaten away. I prefer not to care.

The end of August/beginning of September found me with pneumonia. I had it for two weeks before I finally asked for a ride to urgent care. I shut down entirely, sleeping 20 out of 24 hours for at least a week. Waking to pee and sip veggie broth. And, lying there in bed, listening to my wheezing/rattling breathing rearranged my perspective on what truly matters, and boy howdy.

After setting some legal bits right, such as who will make health choices for me if I were to become too ill do so. I simply laid out a few simple goals. The pieces of flair I need to foster my physical and mental health that in turn allow me to be more than a raw, quivering bundle of diagnoses and prescriptions.

1) Get up/dressed by a certain time. I’d been sleeping so much. I needed to get back to a normal schedule. And to prepare for the day earlier. Nix the 24/7 jammies look. Fixing my hair, a bit of eye makeup, and donning my Docs all make me feel good. I feel ready to face the day. Go outside. Accomplish something. Speak face to face with someone. I’ve always believed in the power of good hair, good shoes, and black eyeliner to make me feel more confident. And it works!

2) Eat during the day, smoothies count. I’m not a big day eater. But if I go without, I break down. Getting some vitamins, carbohydrates, and protein in me, while making something I enjoy builds on my health, and builds up my self image. And cooking more keeps Stan and I fed, happy and healthy. No surprise then I have more energy. My mind is clearer. I have been fixing more meals. Using our own and local vegetables to do some lovely fall dishes. I even canned sauce from tomatoes off our own vines.

3) Practice yoga for 15 minutes a day. I do practice everyday, but I needed to step it up. Besides, if I do more than standing poses, as usual, it forces me to clean the floors! And you know how it is once you make a clean spot. Might as well do the room. So Fall cleaning is getting done before the final button down for winter. It’s just great to be able to feel well enough to enjoy this time of year.

It’s a sine qua non deal. If I don’t take care of this basic human flair, how can address the more esoteric pieces up Maslow’s hierarchy? The relationships? The emotional fulfillment? My creative outlets?

I need that basic foundation first. And I’d neglected it. And I couldn’t build on the swamp I was sinking in.

I had instigated my spiral into illness, and the conditions that would force me to reckon with myself. I wasn’t enforcing boundaries. I was caring about too much. I cared what people thought. I cared what they thought of what I did. How I behaved. What I read. The music I listened to. My hair color and ‘do. How I was dressed. How I lead my life, and how I spent my time. How I expressed myself creatively. What folks were saying behind my back, or under their breath.

Any success I’ve had in life stems from not giving a damn about any of that nonsense. But suddenly I found myself kowtowing like an NBA coach to Chairmen Xi. Maybe because there are certain folks I desperately care about. And I felt that acquiescing to expectations, and biting my tongue to keep the peace, mattered more than my health. For most of summer, I felt as though I were walking around with a gaslight over my head, and everyone I encountered seemed to have access to the valve.

And then I made a friend. Let’s call them Jay Zed. Jay has unique but similar experiences to mine. And while we are each very much our own person, Jay possesses the qualities I value in friends. Wit, intelligence, creativity, a love of silly fun, a social conscience, and an appreciation for the art, drama, and romance of the quotidian, the everyday, overlooked and cast off, the old, the abused, the forgotten, the useless. And while Jay creates worlds of beauty from the cast-off remnants of rust-belt PA, they face many of the same battles as myself. Jay had some insights for me. But mainly, it was just that Jay was there, non judging, with their own everyday struggle, as I dealt with mine.

Between my amazing family, BB cousins & co, Jay and my therapist, who I saw less of than needed, I realized it was fine for me to be like, “Oh yes he did call me that word. I wasn’t ‘dreaming.'” “I remember every darn sec of last night, and I did not [insert moronic dude stuff here].” And, what on earth is wrong with my reading habits? The music I enjoy? Zero. I’m fine, you’re the one who sounds like Lindsey Graham on his fainting couch asking “why did it take you so long to tell anyone?” “Why didn’t you call the police?” “Why does your story seem muddled?” You’re the Steinbeck and Dickens fan who enjoys reminding me that “life’s tough,” and, of course, “you should be grateful for what you have.” It was the old “at least you have all your limbs” nonsense that I suppose relegated me to the “undeserving poor.”

Once the other ones realized that I was calling bullshit on the official narrative, they became so desperate as to question that which I can prove with documentation: I was a bad student!? Here are my school transcripts, and would you like to see my awards, grants, scholarships? Oh, and remember how I managed all that, and still graduated college even though my Father had just lost a nine year battle with cancer?

I remember how pissed off you looked when we went to Samosa after I walked for graduation. I know the sequence: exhaled huff through nose, tongue click, “Well, you know….” I had just pulled off a superhuman feat. I watched my Dad die, got into and out of opiates and heroin, and created a senior thesis film that won Best Senior Film Thesis and Best Senior Thesis. In less than a year. I was proud of me.

Do you remember how I invited you as my plus one to brunch with The Academy at the Beverly Hills Hotel? Or how you cried out when I thanked the Academy, and dedicated my award to Dad?

Once I was able to summon the courage to say, “No, that is not true in my memory or experience.” Once I did that, hey presto! Change! On one hand, he got real about what was bothering him. We began talking constantly, and got on the same chapter if not verse.

On the other hand, I lost any financial support and transportation I had. And that was what sent me into the tizz-nit that had me nearly kicked out of my mental health program for poor attendance, and ended in the pneumonia. Now that I have the basics of healthy living and vitamin pills and self-respect back in place, I need to speak my last piece of flair I’m willing to give on the subject.

You write, “You can’t tell me that…” Well, I can. I just did. OK? When I hear you criticize me for reading, READING. READING! And I call you out. Then hear that “I get too into things.” Yep, that is how I roll. I spend months down rabbit holes of history or literature or philosophy or language or a movie or herbalism or Jackson Pollock and fractals. I have been this way my entire life. What the hell is wrong with knowing that Julius Caesar needed to be Dictator for Life to avoid prosecution under the Roman Republic’s Constitution, which he then broke? What is wrong with knowing more about Dr. Goebbels and his tactics?

At any point in history, when is it a bad thing to know history? Marcus Aurelius (Roman Emperor/Philosopher, mid 2nd Century) speaks of looking back on Empires that had risen and fell, and attempting to learn their lessons, so as to peer into the future. Who the heck are you? And why should I care about your two lousy cents that you’ll write down next to my name on my running tab anyway? “Jessie, you now owe me 5,321 dollars, and two cents.”

So, I simply prefer not to care anymore. I still love you all. But, it’s enough that I can be well enough mentally and physically to meet life’s daily challenges. To suffer out this attack on all things American by a rogue and treasonous President and his criminal cabal. To attempt to have a loving and complete life, in a home I can call mine. To maybe someday go see Morrissey in concert, and on my own dime. To replace my worn out jeans before winter. To take precautions against getting a cold every time I have to take Paratransit to my mental health clinic. And to read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich as many times as I please.

And finally, I prefer not to heed your dire warnings about airing my griefs on my own damn blog. Lauren Snyder, my former therapist from PCS York who broke my trust and set my work in therapy back, warned me about honest posting regarding my therapy, noting “I mean I understand it’s free speech and all that…but, you know, other people read it.” Yes, that is the point. It’s the difference between kneeling for that racist doggerel, and kneeling by your bed. One does something. And it’s not the latter.

The First Amendment “and all that.” I’ve tried to write this blog a million times, until I was having severe panic attacks just opening my computer. But I prefer Freedom of Speech. I have a right to it. The same as I have a right to other basic forms of human decency and treatment. I prefer to express my creativity as I please on my little space of the interwebz. Shining a light onto abuse, trauma, mental illness, and what it’s like to live with that every day, no matter the consequences.

In short, I gave my 15 pieces of flair at the office. I prefer not to care what you think. I want your love, but not on the previous terms. I cannot be battered any longer for choices I made at 19 through 23. I can’t apologize myself out of existence anymore. I came too close to death too many times, and this pneumonia is the end. I offered therapy too many times, only to hear that I wanted it on “my terms,” meaning convenient for me because I don’t have any way to get around besides the short bus! So stuff it.

You too, youngling, the only peeps I hear from you are through the conduit of the Accountant of Blame and Shame, and monies spent on me. And, Medical Assistance does not pay for private therapy through video apps. That you said that shows how little you know or care about my experience and life. It ain’t pretty. And hey look, I didn’t ask for that which was given, it was offered. And I never once abused my privileges, except by ticking you all off.

This is me writing. This is me preferring to care more about my own precarious state of affairs, than how many pieces of flair you want to see me wearing for your satisfaction . This is me, preferring not to care for “Mean Girl,” high school games.

You are the one holding an innocent hostage to hurt me. And, while it kills me, I prefer not to negotiate with terrorists. I prefer to live, love and express myself freely. I prefer my dreams for me to your unending punishments. I prefer silence to your calls. I prefer to speak to someone who doesn’t hang up the phone as I say “Love you Mom,” as you shove me off your phone’s “family plan.” I prefer to speak about the books I read for no good reason, because, sister, I’m a poet. Oh, and if you want me to take part in dead carcass on the table days, I prefer to go see Star Wars and eat Chinese.

So that’s my fifteen pieces of flair:

While you’re here: check out the wonderful work done by the people at The National Alliance on Mental Illness and donate.

Check out my Instagram! There are pictures of stuff I like and hate!

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About JLakis

Jessica Lakis - Writer/screenwriter. Geek & mental health blogger. Conqueror of the Useless. NERD INVICTA! View all posts by JLakis

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