And Don’t Forget the Joker

“She was only 40,” they’d tell me repeatedly when I was a child, followed by an even more unsettling observation: “You’re so much like her!”

Tales of my grandmother were never far away — of how she was such a character, and of how she died so young. She was gone a year before I was born. Her legacy, coupled with my inborn fascination with death, led to the first life goal I ever remember actively having:

If someone were to have told the anxious, phobia-ridden child version of me that I’d later become a delinquent, (temporarily) drug-using, atheist risk taker — and even later, a world record breaking sword swallower who’d live on the road and travel to different countries alone — she would have been absolutely terrified. She would’ve tapped on the nearest surface 4 times with each hand, hopped on each foot an equal number of times, and then washed her hands twice before climbing up her Tree of Solitude — because that’s how OCD lets you take control when you’re surrounded by chaos.

I’m now 33 and facing a perpetually growing list of ailments; incidentally, I now find myself as the oldest living Williams woman on this branch of the family (my grandmother only had boys). It’s an odd thing to see yourself aging. Currently, I’m just getting over the worst of the absolute nightmare that is c. diff. — which I got from taking a course of antibiotics for a kidney infection — which I got from a silent UTI — probably from being more prone to dehydration after having my gallbladder removed recently.
Those are just the more pressing matters at hand. Always on the back burner is my awareness of my polycystic ovaries, precancerous cervical cells, hypothyroidism, and the odd array of problems caused by Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

…How did she make it to 40, anyway?

I can’t help but think of Motörhead:

And he didn’t, but going out at age 70 isn’t too shabby for a rebel rock star. He didn’t passively exist during his time here, and neither have I so far. I’ve lived with intention for most of my life; I’m not sure I was ever truly wired to live in fear for very long. I don’t want to die right now, but I do want to make nice with my mortality.

Why? Because . All of my childhood OCD rituals and my lifelong tendency to prefer things just-so are all tools to perpetuate an illusion of control that nobody actually has. I guess that’s why I have to shake it up every now and then. It’s what makes me a Type A Bohemian™.


I’m living, loving, and experiencing. Friends and loved ones have died, some are dying now, and we will all die. It’s one thing we’ve all got in common- but it’s up to us to actually live.

Living is active. Sometimes it means taking care of your kids, sometimes it means swallowing swords, and sometimes it means going on a road trip or making a nice meal when you get home. Whatever it means to you to live, just do it now. Love the hell out of your wife. Pet the hell out of your dog. Go to another country. Even (or especially) if you’re unwell,

Something I’ve never gotten off my chest until now is this: When people have asked me in the past what made me decide to give up all my belongings to hit the road as a circus performer, I’ve usually spouted vagueries about a linear sequence of events which inspired me, but that was only part of the equation. The truth is that I had the feeling I might not live long enough to try it out “later” or “someday.” I felt the innate urge to go do it Now, and I’m glad I listened.

I don’t know what the future holds, but acceptance of that very fact is what drives me to write this. Remember that you aren’t owed any time here, and you’re not invincible. In the meantime, don’t forget to stop and laugh occasionally while you’re out there kicking ass. You’re absurdly beautiful, just like the rest of us. Chaos must find us to be rather amusing pets.

Sociologist / mental health blogger / sword swallower []

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