Have you filled a prescription lately?
Testing out a format where I only speak in metaphor
My daughter Laura got a pretty bad burn on her leg a few months ago -- she was sitting at the kitchen counter and her dad was standing on the other side, pouring hot water into a French press. Madeline asked him a question and he replied with a grand gesticulation that accidentally knocked over the press. It hit Laura’s leg and was pretty dramatic (skin bubbles!) but ultimately, thankfully, anticlimactic. I took her to the doctor and we were told it would recover in the next two weeks. Precautionarily, the doctor prescribed a topical ointment that would accelerate the process of healing. On our way home, I went to Walgreens to fill the prescription.
Later that night, I was making dinner and running through what bathtime would be like: Laura would raise hell to such an explicit degree of magnitude that she might actually summon real fire. Her burn would get worse but only hyperbolically, then I’d lay her down and dry her off and begin to apply the ointment that came in a painted white metal tube with a sticker that reads an illegible word, which registers still in my brain as, “the C+ you once got in science.”
I wondered what would happen if I’d have filled the wrong prescription. If I was using, say, medicated foot cream on her leg instead of an anti-burn cream. Would the burn get worse? Would it delay her recovery? Would it reveal that actually, the antidote was nothing more or less than water and time? It doesn’t really matter because the cream was correct but it did make me think about the less literal prescriptions we fill in our lives.
The ones that are written out for us based on: the diagnoses of our caretakers, gatekeepers, the cultural idols we assume vs the ones that we write ourselves. These, ideally, are based on the convictions we develop independently, the secrets we keep in our journals, or locked into the fissures of our imaginations. At best, they call upon who we’ve been and who we want to be and how that shapes who we are.
I’ve been going downtown at least twice a week almost every week since I moved away. When I get there, I mostly do nothing -- either turn around and go back or get a coffee or call a friend who’s still in New York to see if they’re free. It’s like when I pass 23rd street by foot, or get off the subway on Canal or out of a car near Washington Square, a zipper comes undone by no force of my will and I step out of a sleeping bag that has been protecting my parts from the cold.
Suddenly, it’s summer.
I start to wonder if moving from where it seems I am warm was an act of unawareness on my part -- the filling of an outdated, now wrong prescription that I’d written years earlier for happiness.
I can always just write a new one, I say. This one will land me back home!
But here’s the thing: the prescriptions we write have way less to do with where we end up so literally.
The particulars are contributing factors, no question -- seasoning that makes the steak better or worse. But the prescriptions are actually representations of the internal architecture that motivates our desires to fill them at all.
So I can say that I filled an outdated prescription. I can call it wrong, and then say, “Okay, time to make it right! Let’s fill a new one!” And then I can go and do it. I have done it! But lately, I’m thinking it misses the point of why the sensation of achievement -- that purportedly “full” feeling of actually filling the prescription — can register empty sometimes.
Satisfaction, enoughness, contentment -- whatever you want to call it — is very static air to sit in. And boring as anything. Like opting to drink water instead of wine or something.
My mom used to joke that when I want something, I become a bull. It’s like I sense proximity to The Red Curtain even if I can’t actually see it and then I go -- just go and go and keep on charging -- recklessly, often, until I find the curtain. We used to talk about this in a flattering way. About the extent to which my being possessed by ambition has enabled me to manifest my desires.
And we’d leave it at that, never questioning what happens to the curtain or the bull after the former is found but you know what I’ve realized?
The curtain’s just a fucking curtain!
Nothing happens to it after the bull charges through. It just drops to the ground, or remains in thin air until its actual owner -- the matador -- decides what to do with it.
The bull, on the other hand, really fucks himself up, and that’s only if he doesn’t straight up die.
But wait a second — even if he doesn’t get hurt, what is truly accomplished by charging through the curtain?
Some steam burned off, a broken sweat — that’s great! But ultimately, he’s just left standing, you know? Ahead of the curtain, behind the curtain, above it, below it — whatever. He’s in static air.
Writing and scrapping and updating prescriptions can be the thing that keeps us going. Delivering purpose, meaning, value and on. But it can also be a distraction. A remarkably effective way to interrupt a calling to search for whatever is deeper. I should probably stay put. For now.
Laura’s leg, by the way, is doing great. The doctor was right. It took almost exactly two weeks to recover. Towards the end, I thought we might need to refill the prescription for her burn cream but turns out what we had was exactly right. The perfect amount of enoughness.