Essay

Museums, Retrospect, and Disappointment

My visit to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, and how looking at the objective science of natural history helped me stare down my own personal history.
The best day
He really did.

This past Monday I went to the Natural History Museum of LA. I’ve lived out here for 10 years and this was my first trip. Natural History museums have something of a special place in my heart. New York’s was one I grew up visiting every year for school field trips, and beyond that there’s something comforting about how they feel like they contain art, when in reality they contain an artistic display of the past.

I think that may be why I ended up there on Monday. I needed some of that. I’m struggling right now with some objective facts that have been weighing me down for the past weeks. While wandering the museum, those facts were ever on my mind. They were there the whole time I strolled through the exhibits and posted stories to my Instagram, some of which I have saved and will be sharing with this article.

Gulls
This being said, check out the Black Panther soundtrack.

I’ll be frank, because New Yorker pride is one of those incurable maladies I’ll have to suffer till my last day: the Museum of Natural History in NYC is far more impressive. It’s surprising really, even with so much space in the sprawl that is Los Angeles, NY’s museum is perhaps ten times the size. More than just sheer size, NY’s museum has exhibits that can take your breath away. One that I’ve always enjoyed when I visit with people who are going for the first time, is the Blue Whale.

You enter the deep sea exhibit by way of a tight hallway that deposits you onto a mezzanine overlooking the football field sized room with upper and lower level exhibits. When walking through the hallway for the first time, I always ask my companion to close their eyes, and when we reach the mezzanine, I walk them right up to the railing and then tell them to open it. This is what greets them:

df.bluewhale.0072.jpg_imagelarge.jpg
Photos don’t do it justice, but this thing is the size of a 747 and hanging from the ceiling.

A life size Blue Whale mounted from the ceiling, staring you right in the face on that mezzanine. It’s simply breathtaking. There are a number of other exhibits and displays with similar awe and power (heck, even in that room, the darkly lit exhibit of a giant squid strangling a whale is a horrifying still life of the mysteries of nature). I found no such awe in the exhibits at the NHMLA, but it was the right escape for me, even just to find the humor in what I did see.

Dino Butts
Jurassic Park was brave enough to discuss Dino poop all the way back in 1993.

I needed that because making lame jokes is how I salve my way through knowing I fucked up. I had the ongoing disappointment and sadness that comes with being dumped by someone you really like and had been developing feelings for, but on top of that, I had heaped a laundry list of personal failures that I knew had caused it.

At the core of my failure, if I can find anything, is my fear. Fear of a good person sending you away, fear of not being good enough for that person. It’s a bitter irony to swallow when the fear is what contributes to the actualization.

In that fear, I couldn’t bring myself to whatever natural level of comfort that allows most people to enjoy such things as they are, and to simply seize the most of their time with another person, and that failure is the kind of thing that still has a knot in my stomach, just like I did while I posted a joke about Dinosaur butts.

It’s a funny thing for me, perhaps for some men as well: meaningless sex is easy.  There’s no pressure. I don’t care if I’ll see this person again. I don’t care if this person never invites me over again, stops responding to my texts or phone calls. There’s nothing at stake. It’s easy in how little there is to lose.

Penguin
The bird also looks as angry as every dude with a chinstrap.

But add in feelings, and it becomes a far more terrifying thing. Add in the fear that those feelings are a liability; add in the fear that those feelings are the very thing that will make it all crumble and that it’s only a matter of time- sex becomes a far more intimidating thing.

It’s not the only thing, but those feelings were a problem, they were a liability, and the fear and challenge they caused in me were obviously a problem, and no one owes anyone that kind of patience while they “get over themselves.”

It’s a sad truth that wanting something very often is the road block that’ll keep you from getting there. Wanting to be comfortable just makes you anxious. Wanting to be creative just creates an empty space in your mind. Wanting to be good can very often convince you that you’re a vile, wicked thing.

So, the museum was my escape. Exhibits and information on nature. I alternated, exhibit by exhibit from trying to take my mind off of all these things, to trying to wrestle with them, to feeling defeated by them. But still I walked on. Still I joked. Still I posted.

Costume Tattoo
Imagine running into a guy wearing nothing but this tattoo in a dark alley.

I fought the urge and lost. There’s a joke about the “green dot” of someone being available for chat is the modern equivalent of Gatsby’s green light. I didn’t even need that. Eventually, when I was taking the bus home to Torrance, after I’d posted some two dozen of these, I checked the view list. There she was, having followed and viewed every single joke I’d posted throughout the trip.

I’ve wanted to ask for a while for the truth. To bridge the divide between what I was told and what the truth may be, but now four days later, I don’t think it matters. I think what matters is all the things I’m aware of and disappointed of in myself as shortcomings.

The truth that matters at this point is what I take away, what I learn and how I grow. Maybe posting jokes to my Instagram Stories is an odd look. Maybe these gave the impression that I’ve sailed on, happily oblivious to how I let us both down. Maybe I just needed a day where I could at least appear to be so unfettered.

Bird
It was something of a running joke just how “extra” so many of the exhibits made their subjects appear.

What’s the point of this? I saw fairly impressive exhibits on dinosaurs. I thought of how much more I’d have enjoyed sharing these jokes with her there rather than like that and now like this. I thought about all the ways I was disappointed with myself, and what, if anything, I should do next.

I made a point of reaching out to her to let her know that I wish her the very best. I expressed genuine gratitude for her being as patient with me as she was. I’ve tried to apologize, and I’m trying to move on as friends and let go of the thing I lost the chance at- that last one is the hardest of all.

Tomorrow I’m going to try to be better. I’ve learned too much about myself and the number of ways I can grow and improve to just sit still. Tomorrow, I’ll form a plan to take steps forward. Tomorrow I’ll think to the future and the man I want to be, and how to continue the trek to that goal.

But for this one Monday, I needed to spend the time in a space that was all about the beauty of looking back.

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