Unfinished Business

I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this. See, if you’ve been reading this blog or have interacted with me in person or maybe have just talked to someone who has talked to me over the past few weeks and is marveling at how intensely I dislike my roommate, you probably know that I intensely dislike my roommate. I kept hoping that he’d mellow out. I figured that surely, given time, he would see how absurd it is to yell at somebody for leaving a dishrag hanging from the refrigerator door handle because that makes getting to it easier than placing it on top of the fridge. But no. This man has just turned 30 (I think), has a Ph.D (or at least some sort of postgraduate degree) and is apparently capable of tying his own shoes, yet has no idea how to live with another human being. So I’m going to tell this story in the form of advice for anyone who is still learning how to live with a roommate.

If you’ve ever lived alone, you are probably used to having everything just the way you like it. You never have to wait to use the bathroom, the oven, or the TV (if you still own one). However, living with another person complicates things, in the sense that there is another human being present and that human being has just as many desires, hopes, and dreams as you do. Negotiating any conflicting living habits can be tricky, so let me provide some helpful tips:

1. If you want to use the bathroom, but your roommate is inside, wait. You might feel that you absolutely have to shower, shit, and shave right this instant, but your roommate would probably feel the same way if you were in the bathroom. So observe the Golden Rule. If your roommate is in the bathroom for a long time (45 minutes, let’s say) or if you really need to relieve yourself right this instant, it is acceptable to knock and ask them to get out. Politely. Under no circumstances should you demand that they get out just because they got up before you did and you have work this morning. You need to plan for shit like this. Speaking of which…

2. If your roommate, in an unimaginable act of generosity, decides to get out of the bathroom even though he was just about to step into the shower and he’s pretty sure you said you weren’t going to get up until later (which is exactly why he got in the bathroom so early in the first place), do not scold him for showing “attitude”. If he tells you that you are the one showing attitude, consider the possibility that he is right. Do not under any circumstances start knocking stuff over, screaming and yelling because you can’t believe your subordinate roommate would speak to you that way. They are, as I have already explained, a person. People like to be treated with respect.

3. If you do start screaming and yelling at your roommate over something that petty and childish, apologize immediately. By that point, you’ve probably burned your bridges already, but there might be a faint hope of reconciliation if you show that you value their presence and are perfectly willing to compromise on some things in order to keep them happy. Don’t just insist that they don’t do “it” again (especially when “it” is something like closing the bathroom window when they shower and forgetting to open it again). There is this thing called “force of habit”. If a person is used to doing things a certain way, it might take them a while to adjust to a new way. Be patient. A few gentle reminders might be acceptable, but if you’re banging on their door multiple times a night because they put the toilet cover down (or something equally minor), sit down and rethink your priorities. Take a good, long time to ponder. Your roommate will appreciate the respite.

The long and the short of it is that I’m moving out. I was going to get a job, furnish my place, and settle down, but this guy has made it impossible. He’s a nightmare. Never in all my years have I seen a grown man act the way he did this morning. It was fucking unreal. Since I never signed a lease, I’m pretty sure I can just back out. I’ll pay rent for September just to give him time to find somebody else (good luck finding someone who will put up with this bullshit, bub) and move back in with my father in California. (My father, thankfully, took the news well.) I plan on returning to NYC someday. Maybe this time I’ll get a place in Brooklyn. But for now, the plan is to put all of my shit in storage, fly back (probably next week, as I have to say goodbye to some people), get a job, save up, then come back here when I have enough money that my need to find a place right fucking now isn’t so dire. Six months, maybe? A year? I don’t know. But believe me: I will be back. I was borderline homeless for a week or two last year. I considered dropping out of school. When a bizarre incident took care of that problem (see: “Disclosure”), I decided that the Flying Spaghetti Monster wanted me to stay in New York. Perhaps it would send ninjas after me if I left. I think I can handle the ninjas now.

Every time I told my roommate to be patient or that he didn’t need to make this big of a deal out of something, he responded that I was showing him “attitude”. What is this, one of those old English primary schools where kids could get caned just for talking back? My attitude isn’t the problem. My not wanting to roll over dead is.

inigo

Try not to worry about me. I’ll be okay, I think. I’m still rattled by all this drama, but I’ll get over it. At least now my roommate won’t have to worry about anyone leaving the toilet lid down. It’s what he really wants, isn’t it?

I’ve never been to Burning Man, but I like this video. I can’t imagine why I’d be thinking of it now.

Shakers and Movers

How much of what right-wing pundits say do they actually mean? It’s a tough call. Ann Coulter clearly believes less than 10% of what she says. She’s a shock jockey and just wants attention. Glenn Beck, according to the people who have encountered him, really is every bit as bugfuck crazy as he appears on TV. Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, I would estimate, believe some of what they say, but by no means all. There is a chicken-or-the-egg quality to their relationship with their viewers/listeners. Do they say it just because they know people will eat it up, or do the listeners/viewers eat it up just because they want more of the same? I doubt Hannity, Limbaugh, or any of those assholes are secret liberals. It’s more likely that they believe that as long as they can dupe people, this reinforces their belief that they really are special, and the rabble who give them money are just that, and should keep working their shitty jobs and voting for politicians who will screw them over because that’s all they deserve. I’m feeling cynical today.

Let’s talk about privilege. It’s a rather loaded term, one that tends to set many people on the defensive. Most people don’t like being told that they’re privileged because they take that to mean that they don’t work hard or that they don’t still have problems. Of course, that’s not how it works, but how can you explain that to them? At a certain point, you can’t. It hasn’t happened in a while, but it used to be a fairly regular thing that I would get into an argument with a Tea Partier/homophobe/some other kind of douchebag on the internet and tell them to fuck off, at which point a bunch of other assholes who were ostensibly on my side would dogpile on top of me because I wasn’t being respectful. So? Respect isn’t like love, numbnuts; it has to be earned. If you believe Obama was born in Kenya, then I don’t respect your beliefs. It amazes me when I hear people say that what you really need to do with someone like that is listen politely, acknowledge their concerns, and then explain why you feel differently. Do you really think that someone who thinks the Affordable Health Care Act was a communist plot is going to listen to reason?

swearing

Let me put it another way: This American Life had a killer episode last year about the polarization within our political system. They had stories of liberal college students refusing to come home and see their parents because their parents were voting for Romney and a Republican who would let his Democrat friend into his house, but wouldn’t let him eat his barbecue. (What a fucking tease.) A pair of authors–one Republican, one Democrat–who had written a book on this subject explained that the best way to argue is not to focus on changing the other person’s views, but on trying to understand why they feel that way. I agree. That’s why I’m mistrustful of people who say that they’re genuinely interested in my views on [insert topic here]. I don’t like explaining myself. If you have to tell the other person that you’re being respectful and courteous, you probably aren’t. I flip the bird at people who piss me off not because I think that’s going to change their views, but because that’s my honest reply to their claim that all U.S. Presidents should be Christian because the United States is a Christian nation. What is there to understand about that view? Why open up a discussion? The other person has admitted that they are willfully ignorant. I think I have a greater chance of changing their views by turning away. Because I already understand them perfectly.

I’ve said it before and I will say again that I have less patience for moderates than for conservatives. Conservatives believe something that I do not believe. That is their right, and I’ve met enough of them by now to know that they are not all narrow-minded assholes. I won’t pretend to understand their view that Dubya is basically a good guy who made some mistakes, but that’s besides the point. Moderation for the sake of moderation is idiotic. That’s why I respectfully disagree with the folks who say that straight couples who live in states where gay marriage is illegal should refuse to get married until their gay friends can, too. If you want to get married and you can, fucking get married. It’s no skin off my back.

When you get right down to it, most people don’t start arguments to learn about the other person; they do it to reinforce their own beliefs. It drives me nuts when I’m debating, say, movies with another person and somebody jumps in and says, “You two have different opinions! It’s okay!” as if that’s supposed to end the discussion. It’s actually where the discussion begins. The shakers and movers of history knew when to get up in people’s faces. They knew when to get angry. And more importantly, they knew when to let go. I’m still not quite ready to let go. But I am getting closer.

Imitation of Life

I think we need to get something cleared up here. You might be wondering why I blog so much. It’s not because I can’t stop myself; it’s because it’s a useful way to make the dogs in my head bark softer. And I don’t do it at the rate that I used to. I wrote my 100th post exactly eight months after I started. It’s been slightly over ten months since then, and this is my 200th. You could say I’m emphasizing quality over quantity. See, I’ve always believed that the only way to possess something is to detach oneself from it. (It’s kinda Zen.) If you want a good job, you have to show people that you are a productive and hardworking employee, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll hire you. If you want a romantic partner, you must show people that you are sympathetic and independent, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll date you. If you want good friends, a nice apartment, or what have you, similar rules apply. Jesus said that if you want to be saved, you must sell all your possessions and follow him. It’s not capitalism that he was opposed to, just selfishness. What I’m talking about is either selflessness or solipsism, depending on your point of view.

It might surprise you to learn that while I spend a lot of my time writing, I don’t consider myself an artist. It’s not because I can’t stand labels. (Frankly, I’m tired of people saying that they don’t believe in labels. You know your name is a label, right? It’s alright if you don’t want to be confined by an arbitrary signifier, but labels aren’t supposed to tell us who people are, just what they are. The problem is that people misuse them so much.) No, it’s because I could give this up if I wanted to. Blogging is by turns fun, cathartic, and stressful. There have been multiple incidents of real world drama due to something I’ve said here over the past year and a half. You’d think I’d learn not to crack sick jokes or bash people whom I know personally after a while, but it’s not my fault that I like to rape babies and my mom is a whore. (I don’t and she isn’t.) I just think that no matter what I’m talking about, I had better be honest. Sometimes, that means offending people. Winston Churchill said that having enemies means you’ve stood up for something, but I don’t set out to make enemies, and if you’re even reading this, you aren’t one of them.

vonnegutKurt Vonnegut mentioned this in his rules of writing fiction, but it’s a dirty little secret of storytelling that the ending doesn’t have to be a surprise. Shakespeare is a prime example. If it’s a tragedy, just assume that everyone will die. If it’s a comedy, assume they’ll all be married. That covers about 2/3 of his plays right there. Everyone loves a good surprise twist (“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”, The Sixth Sense), but sometimes, it’s comforting, even enlightening, to see everything play out exactly as you thought it would. My favorite writing manual (and there are some good ones out there) is called How Not to Write a Novel. The authors realized that telling people how to write fiction is silly, because great art is all about breaking rules, and the established classics all became that why by doing things that everyone said couldn’t be done. Instead, they list things that, in their experience, just don’t work. Don’t, for example, write 80% of a romantic comedy, then switch to sci-fi/horror in the last act. Gear shifts can work (the Japanese film Audition comes to mind), but it’s more important that you play by the rules of your own universe.

I had a friend growing up who infuriated me. For one thing, he was a selfish, two-faced asshole who would stop by my house uninvited and step inside the instant I opened the door but would literally slam the door in my face if I dropped by his place unannounced. For another, his family had significantly more money than mine did. His father was a successful businessman who, thanks to his connections, had met several famous people (he had pictures of him trying on an NFL star’s Super Bowl ring and sitting in the DeLorean from Back to the Future). He was a nice guy. But back to my friend. Viewed from the outside, my friend’s life was infinitely more exciting than mine. His parents bought him his own computer at a time when the rest of us had to take turns on the family computer. (When I remarked upon what an expensive gift it was, his response–I swear–was, “It was only, like, $1500.”) His mother seemed like the model of a perfect housewife, and whenever I hung out with him, we would do cool stuff like go berry picking or play in their fancy treehouse or play video games on a console that my parents refused to buy me.

Why am I telling you this? Simple: If you want to live a life that is not just happy but, let’s say, spiritually fulfilling, you have to walk the fine line between looking out for yourself and still acknowledging the needs of others. It sounds easy, but since there are infinite ways to get it wrong (and comparatively few ways to get it right), it’s tricky. The better I got to know my friend, the more I realized how fucked up his family truly was. His mother could turn on a dime from sweet and charming to a vicious bitch resembling something out of a Bette Davis movie. His father was fun and friendly, but kind of ineffectual. My family…well, they are certainly more trustworthy than my friend’s, I will say that for them. I don’t pretend to be anything I’m not. But that doesn’t mean I broadcast everything about me, either. Privacy is an oft-misunderstood concept. It’s not about drawing a line in the sand between your private life and your public life. It’s about realizing that the barrier between the two is permeable, and telling people only what they need to know. So, you know, keep plugging away. It’s not easy, but it can be rewarding.

It Ain’t Easy

I find that I grow more confident the more arguments I get into on the internet. I had one not too long ago about homophobia. Since I don’t have the time to summarize everything, I’ll just say that as we make greater strides towards full societal acceptance of LGBT people, it’s important to remember that, “It was a different time, everybody thought that way” is not a valid excuse for the bigotry of, say, the 1950s. In this case, somebody was arguing that since The Big Sleep was written in 1939, we can excuse any homophobia in it, but since Ender’s Game was written in 1985, we can’t. Was there any homophobia in The Big Sleep? I haven’t read the book and it’s been ages since I’ve seen the movie. And while Orson Scott Card is a homophobe, Ender’s Game does not contain any homophobia, just a fuckton of homoeroticism. Most importantly, if that’s your attitude, what’s the cutoff date? Is homophobia pre-Stonewall acceptable, but homophobia post-Stonewall not?

I don’t think homophobia was ever acceptable, necessarily, just more prevalent. There have been plenty of societies throughout history that have accepted homosexuality in some form or another (ancient Greece/Rome, feudal Japan), but nothing like this. The entire world is slowly creeping towards equality. That’s a big deal. But you can’t write off thousands of years of persecution and hate as simple naivete. There are always bigots. There are always people who see through the bigotry. The only number that’s changing is the number of people in between. And they don’t need an excuse; they need forgiveness. It is human to fear what you don’t understand. But that doesn’t make it okay.

Since everyone is talking about Breaking Bad, I feel the need to weigh in. I’ve never felt the love for that show. There’s a lot to like about it, but there is also something amoral and anti-humanistic at its core. You might counter that nobody said TV has to be humanistic to be good, and you’d be right. But as a humanist, I can’t help but access everything that way, even if it only tints my understanding. Torchwood is not the most humanistic series either. It’s bleak and cynical, essentially saying that it doesn’t work out for everyone, and sometimes, we have to do shitty, regrettable things to survive. Breaking Bad glorifies its main character, who, it becomes increasingly apparent over time, is less antihero than villain. It seems like an odd choice to put the villain at the center like that. Imagine Sherlock Holmes told from Moriarty’s perspective. I can’t see that working. Vince Gilligan has said that the show is about the potential for evil that lurks within all of us, but since his protagonist was never sympathetic to begin with, I’m not really sure if he’s making the show that he thinks he is. I would much rather see a series in which Pinkman, Skyler, and Hank are the main characters, and Walter White lurks in the background making guest appearances. Cranston’s great, but the show has a dark sense of humor that sometimes just feels mean-spirited, as if we’re so busy laughing at Pinkman’s upper-middle class white family that we forget to see them as people. Call me a prude, but I think this show about drug dealers could benefit from a more somber tone.

I just finished season two of The X-Files, so I’ll say that I like it so far. Apparently, it was revolutionary, pushing the limits of what kinds of stories could be told on TV. That’s great, but I’d rather talk about something that puzzles me. Why do so many episodes feature Scully in peril? Mulder gets into trouble sometimes, but I think he tends to have more agency. Gillian Anderson’s great, but the way her character is written is repetitive. In every episode, some weird shit happens, Mulder insists it’s something supernatural, and Scully insists it isn’t even though she is almost always wrong. Why doesn’t she learn? Since she is the one who has to accept that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in her philosophy, she has the more interesting character by default. The show just doesn’t seem to know what to do with her. I like the episodes that focus on her, like “Beyond the Sea” and “Irresistible”. I don’t really care for the will-they-or-won’t-they dynamic between her and Mulder, but whatever. I’m told that the show never provides a satisfactory explanation for its mythology. I can live with that. Lost just gave metaphorical answers and left viewers to figure the rest out themselves. The X-Files is a bit too literal for that, but it’s probably still worth watching, at least for the first six or seven seasons.

Break time: I can’t help myself. I promised I wouldn’t post any more Tom Daley pictures on this blog, but this one is just too hot. LOOK AT THAT PACKAGE. I’m probably going to buy his calendar now. I can’t resist.

tom daley15

There’s something else that I need to talk about before leaving you, and it’s a bit more philosophical. I’ve always been a cranky old man trapped in a young person’s body, but I don’t really have much use for the attitude that being young means you automatically know nothing. I once had an abusive asshole ask me if 25 year-old me was going to want to go back in time and beat up 20 year-old me. He thought he was giving me friendly advice, but there was only one person I wanted to beat up right then, and it wasn’t me. Some things change, some things don’t. Being older doesn’t automatically make you wiser, although it can. I was a self-absorbed, temperamental asshole at sixteen, and will most likely still be that way at 60. That said, I think there is a middle ground here. A lot of teenagers and early twentysomethings really haven’t had enough hard knocks to realize that they don’t know everything. Taylor Swift sucks, but is she any worse than the pop stars of the 60s? Maybe. The Beatles, at least in the early years, wrote songs about nothing more than wanting to hold someone’s hand. But as that scene in Across the Universe demonstrated, that does no good when the person in question doesn’t want to hold your hand back. It’s simple, universal, and somehow more nuanced than most people realize. I could not for the life of me make the same argument about “Love Story” or that stupid “Never, Never, Never” song, although there are probably equally shitty songs from the 60s that nobody remembers today. I can’t say for sure, but I can say that I think we can do better than Swift and Bieber. There is better shit out there, and today’s kids need to be made aware of it. I have somewhat thicker skin than I did when I was in high school, and perhaps just a bit more worldliness. I’m all the better for it.

That’s it for now. Talk amongst yourselves.

Bad

It’s been at least one or two posts since I’ve moaned about technology, so I think I should mention how my new computer is aggravating me. It didn’t come with a disc drive, which used to be included on all computers. I know that a lot of people don’t even have physical copies of their media, but DVDs and CDs aren’t that old. The last movie released on VHS was A History of Violence in 2005, and VHS tapes have been around since the 1970s. Can’t DVDs get a little bit more time in the sun before being ushered out by Blu Ray or downloads and shit? I still like DVDs. I’m even a little bit proud of my collection. So please don’t make me shell out more money and wait several days just to get an add-on for my computer that can play discs. (Although I have to admit that swapping out the extra fan for the disc drive is kind of cool.) The fun didn’t end there, by the way. I got on a plane with my DVDs, then discovered that the computer did not come with software that would play the DVDs. Great. So now I had to find some other way to occupy myself for the next seven or eight hours. I have to pay extra to download a program that will play the DVDs. Any day now, I expect to hear that yes, you did pay for a car, but if you want one that has seats and runs, you have to buy the premium package. Also, my computer didn’t come with a word processor. I have to pay extra for Microsoft Office. Fuck you, Windows 8. Didn’t this shit used to come standard?

There’s no way to easily summarize what’s been going on these past few days. A lot has been floating around in my head, so I’ll start with this thing that really pissed me off. Frank Bruni–a writer I’ve always admired–wrote a characteristically pointed blog post not too long ago in which he expressed dismay that if you are gay, you are at risk for physical and verbal harassment no matter where you live. It’s a simple point, one that should not generate too much controversy, but as always, somebody had to turn it into the Oppression Olympics. Female commenters pointed out that single women get harassed, too. One, who calls herself californiagal11, even said his comments were “rife with male privilege”. It takes a lot of nerve to tell somebody who has just opened up about the fear that they feel when their partner takes their hand in public that they are full of privilege. Bruni wasn’t talking about the pressure that he feels as a single gay man, but as a partnered one. So the only prejudices that are analogous are those faced by straight and lesbian couples. Lesbian couples deal with shit, but 56.7% of the harassment that couples face based on sexual orientation is anti-male, according to the FBI. And last time I checked, straight people get harassed for being straight…never. So I think it’s fair to say that gay guys have it worst here. The irony of the Oppression Olympics is that the person who starts it almost always loses.

I feel now that I should talk about body image, except I don’t have much to say. There’s this TLC song that I saw on MTV back when MTV played music. I think it contains a valuable message for young women.

There’s also that new Robin Thicke song, which is the source of much controversy for its ultra-rapeyness (with a liberal sprinkling of rape for good measure). Honestly, watching the video (which I won’t embed, so seek it out if you must), I was speechless. Thicke apparently thinks that women should feel liberated by the message that inside every good girl is a bad girl fighting to get out. Not true, but what’s especially troubling is Thicke’s misconception that the only way to free that bad girl is to put his penis inside her. You ever hear that expression that conditional love is not love at all? I think that’s what they were talking about. There’s a funny parody here, which shows that the problem isn’t so much objectification as the notion that objectification is automatically empowering. It isn’t. Objectification is fine only if you consent to it. I’ve always said that while I appreciate Game of Thrones/Song of Ice and Fire for its badass women (seriously, it doesn’t just pass the Bechdel test, but passes it over and over again), I find George R.R. Martin’s loving descriptions of the womens’ anatomies just a bit pervy. The show might have benefited for a hardcore assfucking scene between Renly and Loras, but alas, it was not to be. Oh, well.

(For those who have seen the Robin Thicke video: I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of a better way to get the word out about one’s enormous penis than spelling it out with balloons. Who ever heard of fucking people, then letting the word spread? No, you should totally broadcast your insecurities, Robin. That will make them go away.)

I’m not really sure where I’m going with all this. It’s been a weird couple weeks. I guess I’m just baffled by the way so many people have to take every discussion and make it all about them. The frustrating thing about being young is that nobody seems to stay in one place for very long. I have friends in California who have no intention of moving to the East Coast. That’s fine. But I don’t much like travelling, and I’ve never tried Skype. So how exactly am I supposed to keep in touch with them? If you’re young and liberal, you flock to the big cities, but I’m in my mid-twenties, and already, I wonder if I shouldn’t buy a house in rural Michigan. Honestly, it seems like fun. For some reason, I’ve been listening to goth metal lately. I have no idea why. Perhaps it has something to do with my exploration of the horror genre? Horror can be fun, but I see it as something to dabble in rather than live in. Many of my favorite writers (Neil Gaiman, to name one) are heavily influenced by H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe, and I recently finished season two of The X-Files, one of the only TV shows I can name that is consistently scary. (More on that in a later post.) Just how much of this is escapism? I’ve always said that real life resembles fiction in more ways than we realize. Maybe I just need to get my ass to a RenFaire, but one nearest to NYC is a long, long drive away. And of course, I have no money.

RenFaire

I’ll just post this song. I used to think “One” was my favorite U2 song, but now, I’m leaning towards this one. In his prime, Bono had a real gift for writing lyrics that were open to interpretation without just being vague and meaningless. These days, I kind of wish they’d just break up and get it over with.

Apropos of nothing, this is one of my favorite Christmas songs. It will warm your heart, trust me.

And here’s more Weird Al for you.

Someday, we’ll have a serious conversation about race in this country. Someday.