Like a Friend

I think Ayn Rand was right about something. Wait, stay with me. I still hate her guts, but the basic premise of her “philosophy” is correct, even if nothing else is. We humans really do spend most of our time thinking about ourselves. It’s how we survive. You’re not a bad person because you declined to give money to charity on the grounds that you needed that cash to buy yourself some dinner. If you buy yourself some dinner first, you will have the energy to go out and make some more money, a small helping of which you might be able to donate to charity. Everybody wins. There are selfless acts and selfish ones. Ayn Rand’s mistake was in painting the world in absolutes, and in the messy, morally ambiguous universe that we live in, there aren’t too many of those.

The truly dangerous people, in my experience, are the selfless ones–you know, the ones who could go out and live their own lives, but choose to live yours instead because they’re so worried that you’ll fuck up. I fuck up all the time, but what the selfless ones are really trying to do is prevent me from offending anybody. Offending people is good. It means that you’re challenging them. Of course, you still might be wrong, and in the course of debating with the offended party, you might discover that both of you have valuable lessons to learn. But as John Adams said in 1776, in a revolution, somebody has to be offended. So if your only contribution to the discussion is that what I’m saying might offend somebody, please fuck off. You care less about me than about preserving the status quo. And I’m not a fan of the status quo.

It’s what douchebags don’t say that angers me far more than what they do. Any moron can let loose with a vicious stream of invective, but it takes a truly hateful soul to do so without even acknowledging the person they’re yelling at. It’s like they’re angrier at what I represent to them than anything they’ve done. My mere presence is a threat to their existence, so they do their damndest to tame and castrate me so that I have to get their approval every time I want to use the bathroom. That’s no kind of life, and it’s hard to explain that to people whose entire purpose in life is to control others. Since they’ve never treated anyone with respect, they don’t understand why you’re so angry that they’re not. It’s not quite the same as trying to explain colors to a blind person, as blind people didn’t choose to be blind. But somewhere along the line, every bigot chooses to be a bigot. They may not use that word–in fact, it’s far more likely that they’ll use some euphemism like “advisor” or “mentor”–but basically, the one thing they have in common is that to them, any disagreement between the two of you is the result of you being unable to handle the truthfulness of their actions. If you think what they said was offensive, you obviously didn’t understand it. If you reject they premise of their argument, it’s because you’re too young and naive to know better. They won’t admit this even to themselves, but in reality, they feed off of your negative feelings. As long as you stick around and allow yourself to be hurt, abused, and dismissed, they’re happy. And they will say whatever they have to say to convince themselves you that it’s all for the better.

I think a good general rule when it comes to figuring out what’s over the line and what isn’t is not to try to take offense for anyone else. The editor of The Onion apologized recently for a tweet about Oscar nominee Quvenzhan√© Wallis. I’ve got a screencap here, and I’m not proud of this, but I cracked the fuck up when I saw it:

onion tweet

Tasteless? You betcha. What did you expect from The Onion? I’ve been reading a little bit about this “controversy”, and much of the outrage is centered around the age of the actress in question. What does her being nine years old have to do with anything? If she’s old enough to star in a movie, she’s old enough to take a little ribbing. (This is, of course, assuming she even saw the Tweet, which I doubt. If she did, it means either that somebody showed it to her, in which case any harm she suffered was the fault of that person rather than anyone at The Onion, or that she reads The Onion, in which case her parents are at fault for letting her read something way too advanced for her age.)

Don't even get me started on this guy.

Don’t even get me started on this guy.

Every time a funny person says something that shocks people, we have this debate about how far is too far and how the purpose of humor is to challenge people’s assumdfjkdfjbkljdflkjdkfljdfjdfd.lkjfkldjfdfOh, what? I’m sorry, I fell asleep with my head on the keyboard because this conversation bores me to fucking tears at this point. Yes, I think Daniel Tosh’s rape jokes were over the line, because even though I am not a woman and have never been raped, the thought of being gang-raped while people laugh at me terrifies me. But I’ve been called far worse than a cunt by people whose opinions actually matter(ed) to me. Does anybody seriously think that the writer responsible for that tweet thinks Quvenzhan√© Wallis is a cunt? They wrote it because they were tired of seeing her coddled by the media. That is the satirical point that was made by that tweet, and if you can’t see that, you’re part of the problem. If I thought for one instant that Quvenzhan√© Wallis was in the least bit damaged or distressed by this incident, I’d boycott The Onion until they issued an apology. (Well, they already did, but you see my point.) But at the end of the day, I just don’t care. Let the finger-wagging folks of the world bother somebody else. It’s not their place to tell the rest of us where humor ends and insults begin.

Only the Beginning

I’ve had this feeling before: the feeling of being tired of revising something. I had it in my acting class my senior year as an undergraduate, I had it when I wrote an article for a professional blog last year that was never published (although I was paid handsomely), and I have it now that I have just received feedback on my op-ed for my writing class. I don’t disagree with the criticisms, necessarily, but I’m tired of trying to flesh out something that I don’t really have all that much passion for. The teacher has suggested we try to get something published in a student newspaper or magazine, which I think I might do, but not with this piece, which I’m pretty bored with at this point. I guess that’s what’s bugging me: Since I don’t want to tinker with it any longer (it’s about a topic I’ve covered many times on this blog), I just wanted to hear that it was wonderful so I could forget about it. Anyone who has ever workshopped something knows the feeling of fixing what they teacher tells you to, then bringing it back only for them to find all sorts of new things wrong with it. Maybe they just didn’t notice those things last time, or didn’t want to overburden you, and since it’s all constructive, there’s no need to take it personally. At the same time, it can feel like learning to kick farther only to find that the goalposts have shifted and now you have to work even harder and pour more hours to get something that you feel like you’ve already earned. The funny thing about this blog is that I rarely revise anything here, although I edit very carefully. I used to write 2.5 drafts of everything, and for whatever reason, I enjoyed that more. It really isn’t much fun to always get it right on the first try.

I finally got my bookshelf constructed. There were complications in putting the damn thing together, but the fact is that now it is up and running, so to speak. It’s tall and deep, but not very wide, which I suppose makes it fitting considering the limited space in my room. But there really are times when I feel as if the universe is thumbing its nose at me. I’m not going to go into detail there, except to say that I still don’t have my dream home, and something tells me that if I weren’t already considering finding another place as soon as the six month term that I agreed upon with my landlord, this one would find a way to kick me out. It’s not bad, really, just…aggravating. I haven’t talked to my father in a while, but since he still vacillates between being a bully and trying way too hard to be helpful, maybe that’s for the better.

I think part of my problem stems from an inability to understand how people can hold two contrary truths at the same time. Go on FOX News’ website, for example, and read a couple of articles about gay rights–specifically, read the comments section. The lengths that people will go to in order to soothe their own insecurities rather than confront their prejudice are astonishing. So many of them say something to the effect of, “I’m not for discrimination, but gay marriage is just plain wrong.” Um…the second half of that sentence kind of negates the first half, numbnuts. You can’t have it both ways: If you don’t think LGBT people should be treated equally, then you are guilty of discrimination. Every time I hear Antonin Scalia or some other douchebag talk about their “moral feelings” or some such nonsense, my eyes glaze over. You can’t legislate morality. Murder isn’t illegal because it’s immoral; it’s illegal because it takes away somebody else’s right to stay alive. If it doesn’t take away somebody else’s rights, then it’s fine. You aren’t special just because you have a very selective interpretation of the Bible and are content to either marry somebody of the opposite gender or desperate enough to force yourself into such a bond anyway.

I guess what I’m really trying to say is that I am tired of people failing to have the courage of their convictions. What is so frustrating about the gay rights movement is that the people who fight to deny rights to the gay community always have to qualify it with something about how they have nothing against anyone. I think I would much rather hear somebody say, “I don’t agree with the gay lifestyle, but I’m not going to force my beliefs upon anyone else”, wouldn’t you? If I remember my high school history classes correctly, antebellum Southerners tended to like black people as individuals but dislike them as a race, whereas Northerners liked them as a race but disliked them as individuals. Honestly, which one is worse? I couldn’t say, really, but there is some bedrock ignorance in the redder parts of this country, and it’s on the saner people from those states to tell the crazies to go fuck themselves. I could do it myself, but nobody listens to me. You don’t have to agree with me about everything, but if you can accept that Jesus did not ride a dinosaur and that gay marriage is not a threat to the foundations of our society, we have something in common. Take that for what it is.

I meet lots of interesting people, but don’t always get to know them as much as I like. Sometimes, I don’t even properly meet them, I just see them in various settings and think that they might be worth talking to. I almost never approach them, however, and I’m bad at small talk and generally don’t function around people I don’t know. I’m not alone in that, at least. But somewhere along the line, I have to actually hang around the people who are like me, and if they’re not the people who I often find myself feeling awkward and insecure around, they should at least be people like them. I hope that makes sense, because I’m through with philosophical musings for the day.

I should add, by the way, that while I loathe this song, I am always one for watching hot guys take off their shirts and dance. That is all for now.

The Age of Irony

I admit it: I’m a bit of a narcissist. Has anyone else ever posted something that they were really fond of on Facebook, then thrown a little hissy fit when it hasn’t gotten as many “likes” or comments as you were expecting? Yeah, me neither. The internet does that to us. And the problem is that it’s inescapable. I’m not fishing for feedback here, but I always get annoyed when a post I put a lot of time and effort into fails to get any “likes” or comments. It just makes me feel like nobody ever reads this (which, I’m fairly certain, is wrong, but sure feels that way). So from here on out, I’m going to try a bit of a different tack. I’m going to try being honest about what I actually want. Oh, I’m not going to stop being sarcastic. The one caveat is that since I still don’t know exactly what I want, I don’t exactly how to ask for it. So really, I guess you could say that I expect things to go on more or less as they did before. Sigh. My dreams have gotten increasingly vivid lately. That means that I am not quite acknowledging something that is very important to me, and need to start taking bigger risks. A few nights ago, I spent over an hour rooting around Spotify trying to remember the name of a song I wanted to listen to earlier but hadn’t been able to. When it finally came to me, I felt like I had scratched an itch inside my head. Whenever I fixate on something like this, it means something big is coming. I hope I can handle it, whatever it is.

This might sound strange coming from a dude for whom sarcasm is basically a second language, but I think we misunderstand the purpose of irony, and not just in the way that Alanis Morissette did when she wrote that song that, as every single “funny” person since the mid-90s has pointed out, lacks any real examples of irony. People use irony as a defense mechanism. That’s not how it works. Don’t say something stupid, then say that you were just being sarcastic. If it was a joke, what was funny about it? Ask yourself that the next time you can’t tell if I’m joking. If it sounds too ridiculous to be true, it probably is, but if it sounds even more ridiculous than that, it probably is true. I know that sounds confusing, but it really isn’t. We “funny” people have to walk a fine line. When I told a joke at Christmas dinner that was a bit too subtle, my father asked me to repeat it so that everyone could pretend to find it funny the second time around. I did, and they guffawed at my cleverness. I hate my family.

I think I’m beginning to understand why I dedicated so much time to tracking down that one stupid song (which is this one, in case anyone cares). Have you ever found yourself presented with so many options that you just don’t know where to begin? You know, you walk into a bookstore and see so much stuff you’ve wanted to read for years that you just want to buy everything? Sometimes, I go on a shopping spree, and that can be fun, but I prefer to moderate my approach a little more. It’s nice to not have to spend all of one’s energies at once. Part of the reason I am so cynical is that I am tired of people telling me it’ll all work out in the end. What end is that, death? I’d like shit to work itself out now, thank you very much. I’m not interested in how it all ends so much as what’s going to happen after. I still remember the first night I made quota as a canvasser. It was magical, working itself out so perfectly that I couldn’t have written it any better. They fired me not long after, as I couldn’t repeat the success (well, I almost did on the last night). It was a remarkable story, but not a happy one.

You were thinking of him just now, weren't you?

You were thinking of him just now, weren’t you?

It’s kind of sad that an unsentimental fellow such as myself has to stick up for sentiment. No, I’m not a big softie underneath it all. I do occasionally experience these things you humans call “emotions”, but that’s about it. I’m just sick of people couching what they really mean in several layers of coolness. I was surprised, upon seeing Les Miserables a couple months ago, to learn that some people consider the musical schmaltzy. Really? I just think it’s direct. Characters state their intentions, backstories, and desires just like that since we have a lot of story to unspool and musicals tend to work like that. It’s not shitty just because it’s not Sondheim, and I’m pretty sure that having characters express their feelings in a song because they would sound stupid if spoken aloud is the very heart of musical theater. I am not an expert on the medium, but I think Les Mis is easily one of the best musicals ever produced. Rent isn’t bad either, but sweet Jesus, is “Your Eyes” a godawful song.

Joss Whedon once observed that people tend to communicate better when they have to find nonverbal ways to communicate it. (Bonus points if you can guess what he was commenting on when he said that.) I would like that to change. It might make things easier on everyone if we could just take people at their word when they say they’re not interested, or that they’re happy to see you. I’m tired of wondering whether that person who promised to call me sometime is actually going to call me. And for the sake of bros everywhere, we have to be able to believe guys when they say that they’re just friends, and are totally not gay in any way, shape or form. For that to happen, however, all of the closet cases will have to stop lying to themselves. That could take a while.

On Being a Critic

I am going to delete my Facebook account. It’s possible, I believe, although unnecessarily drawn-out and convoluted. I have concluded that Facebook just isn’t necessary. Cell phones and email are technological advancements that I adopted to keep up with the times, and they do have practical uses. But aside from finding out about parties and shit, Facebook has no such use. I like to think that it is possible to keep up a fulfilling social life without having to be on an internet network several times a day. It could be a year or two before I’m ready to even try this, but mark my words: I am going to get rid of this time-wasting distraction. It’s not about privacy, it’s about my attention span. I just don’t need that cheap little thrill that comes with checking my notifications. It’s starting to wear off, anyway. Some things never get old, like Calvin & Hobbes or eating at your favorite burger joint. Facebook is starting to feel stale. It doesn’t have a real product.

A former friend of mine asked me if I’d read “Bullet to the Brain”, a short story by Tobias Wolff that we’d read in one of my undergraduate writing courses. It’s really not a very good story, giving us a cliched character–a critic who hates everything–then revealing that deep down, he’s a total sweetheart. Fuck off. Critics come off as assholes because some of us actually are. Or to put it another way, we’re picky because we love it so much that we hold it to a higher standard. I’m tired of critics being attacked just for having opinions. Stephen King, a writer I greatly respect, has a definite anti-intellectual bent to much of his own writing. He often inserts his own (frequently incorrect) opinions into his fiction, yet bashes academics just for using a term like “metafiction”. I’m not sure what his beef with that label is. It’s a handy descriptor of a certain style of writing, nothing more, nothing less. Everybody has opinions. Professional critics are just paid to talk about them, that’s all. Like a lot of things, it looks easier than it is. Try watching movies/reading books/listening to music across all genres and eras and you’ll see what I mean. To be fair and subjective at the same time is difficult. My main man Roger Ebert is pretty good at it, although he is also, as so many point out, the only critic who liked Speed 2. He organized a contest challenging young filmmakers to direct an effective parody of Speed. I’ve posted the winner below. It’s funny.

The thing about beliefs is that you can believe whatever you want to believe. I spent much of my Catholic upbringing trying to make myself believe that the Bible was the word of God. I never could convince myself, but when I gave up, it was because I chose to. If I wanted to devote all my energies to convincing myself that Jesus rose from the dead Adam and Eve Moses blah blah blah, I could, but it would take all of my energies. I have better things to do with my time. It’s fairly easy to pervert what I just said. Not many people understand that your opinions and ideas are a product of your own free will rather than something that is bestowed upon you. Some can and do take that as an incentive to try to pressure others into accepting their beliefs. The world is full of those people, and they’re called bigots. I’m just saying that criticism is not about figuring out what is good and what isn’t so much as deciding what you have the time for. I have limited time, as does everyone else. So I spend time around only the people and things who can teach me what I don’t already know. There’s plenty of that out there, but it’s usually not the stuff that seems appealing at first. I’d like to visit the Deep South at some point, and I suppose there are places in the most rural backwaters of that part of the country where the mere fact that I don’t go to church, suck dicks, and voted for Obama twice might be enough to get me cast out…or worse. I also believe that those areas are not only few and far between, but easily avoidable. Labels like male, female, gay, straight, liberal, conservative, and the like denote a point of view, nothing more, nothing less. Every now and then, I will encounter a defensive feminist who tells me that I don’t know what it’s like to worry if that short skirt will attract unwanted attention. Well, if that’s your criteria, then why don’t I shave my legs, throw on a skirt, and waltz down the street right now? There damn well are things about being female/black/transgender/whatever that you can’t understand unless you are one of those things, but they’re not so superficial as that.

This video has nothing to do with what I’m talking about. It’s just two artists I like covering a song I really love, that’s all.

The hardest part about overcoming anxiety is realizing that if you can’t get all your work, you’re not letting anyone else done. Teachers, advisers, coworkers and the like all–hopefully–just want to help, but it sure can feel like they’re looming over your shoulder at times. As I write this, I have a mountain of homework to work my way through. I wish I could just watch Avatar: The Last Airbender all day. I just started season three and it’s absolutely phenomenal. I used to have indigestion so bad that I found myself doubled over on the toiled and literally moaning out loud once or twice. I could barely eat sometimes because I felt like I was full even when I wasn’t, but forced myself to anyway because I knew that I would need the energy to get through the day. I don’t want to go back to that, not ever.

Funny thing is, I never get sick, not even the flu. I’m hoping to age well, too. I’m not one of the genetic mutants who looks like they’re 25 even when they’re twice that (if I were, I would work in Hollywood), but with any luck, when I’m 50, people will say, “Yeah, but he’s a good 50”, or something like that. I hold myself to high standards too, you see. Some people stop caring about what shape they’re in once they get married and buy a house in the suburbs. Some never did to begin with. I don’t put much work into my appearance, I just think that if you want people to think you give a shit, a good place to start is by wearing a cool T-shirt. I’ve got plenty of those.

Something Is Hollow

My mother rarely takes my side in arguments. This is not to say that she never agrees with me, only that she insists on seeing the good in everyone and thus always has to counter my misanthropic hatred with some insight about how the object of my hate might be just misguided, confused, or whatever. On occasion, she’s right. I still remember one day in high school in which I lost the runoff election for student body president and a speech contest. I, of course, would have preferred to win both, but the speech contest stung just a little bit harder, firstly because it came second, and secondly, because I really felt like I deserved to win. The topic was the role of the internet in our society and after I argued (persuasively, I hope) that the internet could be a tool for spreading democracy, some girl got up and said that the internet could be bad because it has ruined people’s lives, but it could be good because Mapquest (that seriously was her argument in its entirety). When the judges gave her the victory, my faculty sponsor and I were speechless. Even my mother flat-out said, “You were better.” But sometimes–and I’m going to sound really self-aggrandizing here, but whatever–the good guys lose.

I used to wonder what made me give up studying literature, theatre and the arts to study the environment and political science. At first, I thought it was because I couldn’t find any practical use for my artistic pursuits, but now that I think about it, that’s nonsense. As Tyrion says in Game of Thrones, “A mind needs a book like a knife needs a whetstone.” Art can’t save people’s lives, but it can help them keep the other parts of their lives in alignment. By challenging them with new ideas, we not only entertain them (hopefully), but get them to think critically about all other aspects of their experience. Math and science are also important avenues for innovation, but if you have a truly out-there idea that will either mark you as one of the greatest minds of your generation or a total batshit loonball, an artistic medium is probably the best place to express it. I intend to keep in touch with my old theatre and English major friends for as long as they enjoy hearing from me, but I’m starting to wonder if the politics and environmentalism crowd might be more “my people” after all. I don’t make friends quickly, so it’s hard to say, but I think I’m making inroads.

My life is starting to resemble my years as an upperclassman in high school. Everything is moving too fast, and I can’t seem to find the time to properly engage with anything. Strangely enough, I’m not too worried. As I write this, I have only a couple months to find a job before I graduate, and some of my debtors will start collecting payment right away. If I couldn’t find employment and became completely destitute, my parents would most likely step in, but it’s a little bit frustrating that I think of them every time I wonder how I’m going to do this. It used to be that my first idea every time I started to have trouble in school or finding housing was to drop out and move back to California. I think I’d like to stay in New York, however. Manhattan isn’t bad. It’s pricy, but I’m generally conservative in my spending. Brooklyn is a little cheaper and pretty “cool”, too. So I might stick around after everyone else has gone back home.

I get less bitter about Valentine’s Day with each passing year. I used to devote it to masturbating and hating all of the happy couples in the world, but these days, the couples I know are much more low-key. I’m getting old, I guess, although I’m fairly certain that I won’t pass my physical prime for a while yet. I’m nearing my mid-twenties, and I’ve still never been on so much as a proper date. So I think I’ll just post this–which is what Valentine’s Day cards would look like if I were in charge of the world–and move on.

Something very irritating happened on Monday. I don’t feel like discussing it yet, and maybe never will in this space, suffice to say that I got very, very angry and spent basically the entire late afternoon and most of the evening throwing a tantrum. I threw so many objects across the room or smashed them against my desk or cried out in rage so many times that I am amazed my roommates didn’t bang on my door and ask what the fuck was going on. The funny thing is that I slept better that night than I had in weeks, perhaps months. Maybe I exorcised all of the aggression that had been building for a good, long time. Last Friday, I got very angry when the IKEA deliverymen showed up hours before they were supposed to and instead of calling me and leaving a message, simply called me over and over again until I got so annoyed that I ducked out of the meeting I was having with the human resources person who had called me in to discuss a possible work-study position to answer. I got the job (which is at a library!), but was late for an appointment with my therapist and suffered undue stress and aggravation.

For the longest time, I wondered what drove me to abandon my study of the arts and move across the country to study environmentalism and politics and stuff. It’s taken a long time for me to realize it, but I think I might actually be better at this shit. At the very least, it’s easier to set aside. Acting has a way of getting under your skin, of making you wonder where you end and it begins, or at least it did for me. Writing can do that too, although I like to think that I can still keep a couple of secrets if I want to. One thing that I have learned about myself in these past few months is that while I might have some talent for cooking, my real culinary talent lies in baking. So far, I’ve only made simple things like cookies, brownies, and occasionally muffins, but whatever I do is almost invariably a big hit. By contrast, I have attempted to make sweet and sour chicken no less than three times, and in each case, I ended up with a bizarre concoction in which the batter had slid off of the chicken while frying (something I did by just dumping the chicken pieces into hot oil) so that blobs of batter floated around with the chicken and vegetables. It didn’t taste too bad if you mixed it up and ate it really quickly, but the texture was all off. I’ll try again someday, and maybe I’ll get it right. But for the time being, it’s kind of refreshing to say that I don’t know how to do something.

I haven't cleaned this much drool off my keyboard since the last time Jon Hamm did something.

I haven’t cleaned this much drool off my keyboard since the last time Jon Hamm did something.

One more thing: Last semester, I wrote an essay that will someday become a chapter in my memoirs about my struggle to find suitable housing. After Robert kicked me out, I wondered if I should revise the essay, as I had written it under the assumption that my housing difficulties were finally behind me. I chose not to. Robert kicked me out because he honestly didn’t give a shit about me. The other two kicked me out because I, Robot King, rubbed them the wrong way. Given the choice, I’d take them over Robert.