Life During Wartime

Lately, I’ve been rediscovering the joys of watching TV on a TV. Since moving back in with my father, I’ve caught up on Game of Thrones and Doctor Who, kept up with Bill Maher, and am thinking about watching Looking, that HBO series about the gay guys in SF. (It’s by the same dude who did Weekend, which is one of my favorite movies of the last couple years. So you can see the appeal.) There is something about watching it on my laptop that isn’t the same, and I’m not just talking about screen size. Not only are the sound and picture clearer on the TV, but it’s just so much easier to relax when you’re sitting on your couch and the TV is on the wall, isn’t it? Even reclining in my armchair with the laptop on my lap feels more cramped, less communal. It’s probably like the difference between reading e-books and reading the real thing. The text might be the same, but the overall experience is vastly different.

I had a friend in high school whom I haven’t spoken to in years. She was a conservative Catholic, one of quite a few that I knew in those days. She was also one of the first people I came out to, largely because I knew perfectly well she wouldn’t have a problem with it. I think there needs to be a bit more dialogue between Republicans and Democrats in this country. A few years ago, such dialogue seemed impossible. I’m not going to play the false equivalency game and say that that was everyone’s fault, as it was mainly the Republicans’, but I think the shell might have cracked ever so slightly since the election. If you have a minute, read this article. It’s by a Central Florida liberal who gets to know his conservative friends and neighbors and discovers that they are not as stupid or narrow-minded as he had assumed. A lot of what is holding the GOP back right now is simply ignorance. People don’t understand that you cannot have a functioning democracy and not provide healthcare for your citizens, and that the rights of non-white, non-Christian, non-heterosexuals matter, too. Of course, some Republicans are just assholes. But we have to learn to tell one from the other.

Here’s something funny about me: I generally don’t go for walks just to go for walks. Sometimes, my mind is so disorganized that I’ll leave my house and wander around for a bit, but that’s not the same thing. If you ask me what I’ve been doing, I almost never say, “I was out walking.” But if I have somewhere to go and it’s within walking distance, I am inclined to go on foot even if I have a car. So I suppose I am very practical even when it comes to the more contemplative aspects of my life. All I know is that it is good to know where you’re going. Sometimes, you don’t know where you’re going until you get there. But once you know the taste of forward momentum, there is no turning back.

I’m starting to hateread Buzzfeed. I used to read it occasionally, like when people would share shit on the Book of Faces, and it is mildly amusing sometimes. A lot of the time, I don’t even agree with it. Look at this one, if you have a minute and hate yourself. It’s so full of generalizations that I don’t even know where to begin. I’m in my mid-twenties, and surprisingly, the older I get, the more things I discover that my parents were wrong about. Oh, they were right about a lot of things, too, but a lot of that was shit that I kind of always knew to begin with. God, the internet is so full of this stuff: shallow comfort food, designed for the sole and express purpose of being shared on social media so that everybody can hit the “like” button and talk about how it’s just so true. Fuck you. Some of us knew drinking five nights a week was bad even when we were eighteen. But I agree that getting to make a living doing what you love is a rare treat.

sherlock russianI got a couple of good Christmas gifts. One was a DVD set of a Russian adaptation of Sherlock Holmes from the 80s. This was produced in the Soviet Union, so I imagine that a lot of people who watched it didn’t have access to Jeremy Brett, Basil Rathbone, Peter Cushing, or any of the other Holmes adaptations out there. So it’s a good thing that the Russians did such a good job with this one. (Only problem with the DVD is that the subtitles suck. They even misspell the characters’ names in places. How hard is that to fix?) I’m fascinated by Russia. It’s a country with a rich history and many great cultural accomplishments, yet to the outsider, it appears so cold and brutal, and I’m not just talking about the climate. Surely Russians, when you get right down to it, aren’t that different from us? Apparently, the Russian Sherlock is kind of a big deal over there, because when some Russian show did a Sherlock parody, they made fun of Robert Downey Jr., Benedict Cumberbatch, and the Russian dude from the 80s.

They say living well is the best revenge. I’m trying to believe that. I’ve met so many awful people in my lifetime, and the frustrating thing is that even when you lay out what makes them an objectively horrible person and explain, in no uncertain terms, what they would have to do to redeem themselves, they always find some way to misunderstand you. They don’t get it. They don’t really want to. So you mock them. Because it’s the one thing they can’t do back.

Seriously, who could have guessed Utah would make gay marriage legal before Oregon?

I Hate Everyone

Let us talk, for a second, about the holidays. I barely even noticed they were approaching. My Christmas shopping consisted of buying books for a handful of people. I had neither the time nor the money to do much else. I worked on Christmas Eve and work again tomorrow. This job doesn’t allow for much vacation time. Since I was so broke when I went Christmas shopping, I had to charge everything for my credit card, and since my father pays the bill for that, he essentially bought his own Christmas present. At this time last year, I had five weeks off of school. I spent it sitting around working on my resume and cover letter. I also watched lots of movies. Netflix has an annoying tendency to make stuff unavailable for streaming with very short notice. A few months ago, they made every episode of Columbo available after inexplicably making on select episodes available for years. So there’s that.

johanna

“Hooray, we slipped f-bombs into a PG-13 movie!”

Let us now talk about The Hunger Games. It’s a pretty good series. I saw the second movie and finished the first book not too long ago. The second movie is definitely better than the first, although I have no idea about the books. Suzanne Collins is not a brilliant writer, nor is she a terrible one. The second movie essentially does everything the first did, except better. Haymitch was my favorite character in the first movie, because I wish I could work up the courage to stop giving a fuck. In the second, it’s Johanna, who is played by Jena Malone as a woman so fed up with being told to dance by the government that she’s not even trying to hide her contempt. Since the whole movie is about a totalitarian system that is slowly crumbling, the most relatable characters are the ones who see right through the whole thing.

I was starting to like New York, you know. It takes a long time to adjust to the rhythms of a different city, but New York is certainly more interesting than California. I’ve often wondered what it would be like to live in a rural area, but maybe that would just be really boring. Maybe I’m just tired of living on one side of the country or another. Keeping in touch with friends at that distance is difficult, but then again, it’s not like I have any friends. From the looks of things, I’m stuck here for a while. It could take close to a year to save up enough money to move back, especially with what I’m making. And I don’t particularly like California; it’s just hard to escape. So I think I’ll just keep moping about for the time being if you don’t mind. I don’t even seem to be getting much reading done these days. I know people who read, like, three books a week. How do they do that? I have only a part-time job, yet I still don’t have all that much free time.

Science fiction, to make a generalization, is a little bit more idea-driven than “literary” fiction. Suzanne Collins has been accused of stealing her premise from the Japanese book/film Battle Royale, but that really isn’t fair. The idea of teenagers being forced to kill each other until only one remains is essentially the same, but in Battle Royale, it’s part of a military experiment. The whole reality show/dystopian future aspect is completely missing. Anyway, there aren’t very many truly original storylines to begin with. The Matrix was great, but the question as to whether our world is nothing more than virtual reality has been around since Plato’s Cave. Sci-fi seems to lend itself more to accusations of stealing ideas than any other genre. (Harlan Ellison sues people left and right, but that’s because he just can’t help himself.) And of course, Shakespeare ripped off half of his plays from commedia dell’arte. So at a certain point, we have to call the whole thing off.

plato's cave

Could Katniss Everdeen be the first female action hero since Sarah Connor? (The Bride doesn’t count. She was more of an antihero.) She’s tough and feminine at the same time. (That her weapon of choice is a bow says something, but I’m not quite sure what.) I like Ellen Ripley a lot, and I feel that movies need more badass women in general, so if Katniss is to become a role model for young women, I’m okay with that. She’s no Mary Tyler Moore, but she doesn’t need to be. Cinema is not about realism, but escapism, so anyone who thinks that it’s harmful that so many teen girls are eating up a story in which one of their own shoots arrows through people can bugger off. Why do you even go to the movies?

I am, as usual, rather miserable these days. I just don’t have much going on, that’s all. I see movies on my own a lot, which is fine, but annoying, because it also reminds me that most of my friends don’t live close by. If I want to hang out with anyone, I usually have to go way out of my way to do it, provided that they can even find the time to see me. So it’s not entirely by choice that I spend so much time by myself. It’s just that when I am by myself, I like to be able to decide what to do. And when I go out, I like to have at least some agency in what I’m doing. Got it?

By the way, if Jennifer Lawrence is the new It Girl, I can live with that. She’s a good actress and, by all appearances, a very charming lady.

The Bubble

I was supposed to have today off work. My schedule changes every week, so I have to check it every Friday in order to make plans for the next week. Last Friday, it said that I would have this Saturday and Sunday off. But when I came in for work yesterday, I saw that my manager had written in another shift for me that began at 9 am this morning. I usually take the train to work, and the way the weekend train schedule works, I had to leave my place two hours before my shift began in order to make it. Who likes getting up that early on a Saturday? I am a morning person, but I also like being able to plan ahead. Today, I was going to go to the gym and watch a movie. I haven’t done more than one complete workout in a week since August, I think, and it’s because I’m always too damn tired. I might still have time for the movie.

I am using Facebook less and less these days. One FB friend said that it looks like a ghost town, but that’s not quite true. It’s still by far the most popular social media site, but since there are so many other social media sites these days, a lot of people are migrating to Twitter, Vine, FourSquare, Tumblr, or what have you. Of course, some people are just growing bored with the whole social media concept, and that’s fine. I’m one of them. But getting off of Facebook is like jumping from a moving vehicle. There are so many friends that I keep in touch with primarily through FB, and a lot of the social events that I attend (on the rare occasion that I do go to one) are organized on Facebook. So from a practical standpoint, it’s hard to break with FB completely, at least for the time being. I don’t like it very much, but it is useful, and I’m still not quite over the cheap thrill of logging on, seeing how many notifications you have, and clicking on the button to see who gave you a hollow sense of self-satisfaction by “liking” something you did.

Gotta admit he rocks those skinny jeans.

Gotta admit he rocks those skinny jeans.

I never knew Tom Daley was so naive. He came out as bisexual a few weeks ago, and his boyfriend, it turns out, is Dustin Lance Black. Black seems nice. There are some nasty rumors about Black having a tendency to seduce and abandon young twinks, but they are just that. They seem happy together. The fact that Black is twice Daley’s age doesn’t bother me. But to hear Tom Daley talk about it, he seems to think he is the first person ever to fall in love with anyone. He actually used the phrase “love at first sight” when he talked about meeting Black. (He also said he couldn’t tell if Black was gay, which, um…have you tried Googling him?) At nineteen, Tom Daley should be old enough to know at least a few people who have fallen in and out of love with someone. It’s what I like to call the Romeo & Juliet stage. (To be fair, I know a few people who are still with their high school sweethearts, but they are the exception rather than the rule.) I guess losing his father and being a star athlete has left Tom with no time to learn the ways of the world. Oh, well.

I got very angry lately when one of major plot twists in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was spoiled for me. I was reading an article making fun of one of the worst episodes and I stupidly assumed that the writer wouldn’t talk about anything that happened after that episode, but instead, he spoiled two plot points, one relatively minor, one very major (from the sound of it). I was so angry. I like Deep Space Nine, and I’m happy to report that I’ve made it this far without having anything spoiled for me. I’m listening to the seventh Harry Potter book on audiobook at the moment, and since I’m not as big on that series, I don’t mind that I already know how it ends. But Deep Space Nine? Fuck, yeah. Maybe I should learn not to compartmentalize everything into stuff I care about and stuff I don’t care about. There are probably still some surprises in store for DS9. I just wish the writer of the article had had the decency to not to assume that everybody reading the article had seen the entire series (the article, I repeat, was about just one episode). Is that so hard?

My boss told me a day or two ago that I should start asking people if they’d like a pastry with their coffee. Nobody does that. We’re supposed to, but I just say, “Will that be all?” Because it’s just awkward an annoying to have to ask every single person if they’d like a fucking pastry. I’m not going to complain too hard about my job. It’s better than most of the other jobs I’ve had, but at the end of the day, I’m still just another twentysomething college grad who lives with his father and works part-time because that’s the best he can do. I could get a second job (as many of my coworkers have done), but that would require coordinating its schedule with this job (tricky, as this one depends on my open availability), learning a new set of skills and people, and, of course, filling out applications and shit. Doesn’t sound like fun, does it? I’m still polishing my ability to my ability to make small talk with customers. I haven’t really made friends with any of my coworkers. I’d like to find a better job someday, but for the time being, I just want to have a conversation.

Tangentially, this could be the dumbest thing I’ve read this month.

Back to Rome

I am generally wary of drugs. I don’t drink (much), don’t smoke weed, don’t even use over-the-counter stuff like aspirin (fortunately, I almost never get headaches)…you get the idea. The best way to explain this would probably be to say that I need to be able to function on my own terms before I go adding drugs to the mix. For obvious reasons, I’ve been drinking a bit more coffee these days, but a small cup of coffee shouldn’t give you more than a little jolt, right? If you have a small mocha at 6 pm and are still wide awake at 3 in the morning, there must be more going on than a low tolerance for caffeine. (Before someone asks, that actually did happen once. I don’t remember exactly when I had the mocha, but it wasn’t very late and I’m not even sure if I drank the whole thing. And I had work that morning. Fun.) My problem, it seems, is that I have so little experience with coffee that even after the physical effects have worn off, my mind is still sorting itself out.

A person should not be able to focus on more than one thing at once. I like to do one thing at a time and one thing only. I’m not a fan of multitasking. The night I had the mocha, I went home, watched a movie, and somehow thought about something else without taking my attention off the movie. How is that even possible? I have a lot to work on these days. It will be much easier to get it all done once I’m able to start with what’s most important. As always, the big question is, “What do you really need?” Once you answer that, you can move on to other things.

2013 is drawing to a close, so I feel that I should talk for a second about one of my favorite topics: movies. I saw a fair amount of films in theaters this year. Not all of them were masterpieces; some were fun (Thor), others interesting, but flawed (Ender’s Game), and a few were truly excellent (The World’s End). Of the films I’ve seen this year, my two favorites were Upstream Color and At Berkeley. The latter is a four-hour documentary about the administrative politics and academic culture of the titular institute of higher learning. I had to go way out of my way to see it, but believe me, it’s fantastic. (PBS is set to air it in chunks starting January 13, I believe. Keep your eyes peeled.) At Berkeley has no narration, interviews, or even subtitles to identify the people in the movie. As a California resident and an alumnus of one of the UCs, I identified strongly with the plight of students who are finding it harder and harder to pay for their education, what with the constant fee hikes and all. (Seriously, imagine that you’re paying $800 in rent. Then one day, your landlord knocks on your door and tells you that next month, it’ll be $1100. Then a few months later, he jacks it up to $1500. If that’s not illegal, it should be.)

What I’m really trying to get at here is that at a certain point, it’s impossible to separate who we are from the media we consume. I’m not sure how many others would list either of those movies on their best-of lists, but I don’t think that my love for them is purely a result of my own subjective biases. I’ve sung the praises of Upstream Color on this blog before, but to recap: It’s a mind-bending, ultra low-budget science fiction/romance about a parasitic organism that causes its victims to form a weird telepathic bond with each other. There’s way more to it than that, but if anyone remembers 2004’s cult hit Primer, you should know that this is by the same filmmaker, Shane Carruth. Someone should give him a million dollars. The way that man works, he could make ten movies for that. And judging by his only two features so far (nine years apart, because that’s how long it took him to put the second one together), they’d be good.

I had to go out of my way to see Upstream Color as well. There was only one theater in all of Manhattan showing it, and I had to clear space from my schedule because that week was a little busy for me. Who else gets so excited for low-budget science fiction and marathon-length documentaries about higher learning? But I find that as I get older, my tastes get more particular. There’s a lot out there that doesn’t interest me, but I feel that says as much about our culture as it does about me. We need blockbusters, but we also need documentaries. More people will seek out the former than the latter, but it doesn’t have to be that way. At Berkeley probably sounds like a chore to sit through, but it really isn’t. You just have to be open to new experiences, that’s all. I just wish there were someone out there who wanted to join me for this stuff. One of my acting teachers told me once that I gave performances that were strong, but self-contained, as if I didn’t want to let the other actors affect my performance. I can’t live my life that way. A friend asked me if I wanted to audition for a play she was directing not too long ago. The last play I did, I did largely because several people all but begged me to.

I wish like hell I had someone working that hard to get a date with me.

Stand

Zen

“Though I am alive now, I do not believe an old man’s pessimism [not to mention bitter armchair trollishness] is truer than a young man’s optimism, just because it comes after. There are things that a young man knows, that are true, and not yet in an old man’s power to recollect.”

– Richard Rodriguez, “Days of Obligation: An Argument With My Mexican Father”

I’m in a rather unpleasant mood as I write this. So let’s see if we can get to the bottom of it. My mother cornered me when she was over for Thanksgiving and told me that I seemed to be lacking in ambition these days. Lest anyone forget the subtitle of this blog, let me remind you that my ambitions are as lofty as ever. I didn’t write this to whine about my family anyway, because I’m tired of doing that for the moment. I will blog about anyone and everyone who gets on my nerves. No matter who you are, if you do something that bugs me, I will shit-talk you here. Don’t like it? Door’s that way. Now that we’ve made that clear, let’s talk about just what my mother meant.

In high school, I was an overachiever. You know the type: straight-A student (mostly), active in student government, president of a bunch of clubs, generally well-liked, everyone talks about how he’ll be President someday. Except I always had a bit more of an edge to me. I got elected junior class president essentially by making fun of the campaigns people usually run. One year later, I almost got elected student body president by doing basically the same thing again. And I was always stressed out. Oh, I had my good moments as well, but one thing about that era that I do not miss at all is the indigestion. It got so bad at points that I was literally moaning out loud as I sat bent over on the toilet. Senior year, I came dangerously close to being happy at one point. But there was something in the way. It wasn’t the last time that happened.

My junior year of college, things were going okay at first. I wasn’t totally comfortable in my own skin, but I had friends, a decent apartment, was active in several extracurriculars and was getting pretty good grades. Sound familiar? Spring semester, everything came crashing down. Even to this day, it’s hard to pinpoint just what went wrong. All I knew is that getting a good night’s sleep became next to impossible, even when I had nothing to get up for the next day. Especially when I had nothing to get up for the next day. One day that summer, I stayed in bed until late afternoon just to get a handle on what was bugging me. Why am I telling you this? Simple: This time, I want to get it right.

My mother has always been something of a go-getter. She encourages me to reach out to environmental organizations and introduce myself. Even if they’re not hiring (or they just don’t want to hire me), it’s good to get your name out there. But I don’t think she’s quite right that people will become less impressed with my degree the more time elapses since my graduation. I serve coffee because it’s something that is worth learning about. I don’t drink coffee, but I order different drinks and try different varieties of tea because coffee is interesting, even if it’s not my thing. Before I got this job, I’d never even had a latte. Now I know what a latte tastes like. I even know how to make one. That may get me a job with the New York Department of Parks & Recreation, but it is knowledge worth having. Yes, I suppose I am complicated in some ways, but in others, I’m really not. I know what I want, more or less. Can you say the same?

Sometimes, I don’t know how to tell people what I really think of them. I guess I could just tell my mother that my decisions are my decisions and that I’m not interested in her opinion, but that’s not quite fair. The person I was in high school was brilliant, driven, ambitious, and terminally anxious. I think it’s kind of a miracle that I have made it this far without developing a caffeine addiction, which is an odd thing for a person with my job to say. The person I was in college took things a little bit slower. I wasn’t out to prove myself as much. I did things because they seemed interesting, not because I figured I could fit one more thing onto my plate. I’m not on a clock anymore. I’m not rushing to try a bit of everything before I graduate. I’m just trying to figure out how to make the world outside my head look anything like the one in it. And I don’t know how to do it, but I’ll be damned before I’m made to answer for it.

I’m not going to contact nonprofit organizations just to introduce myself. I haven’t figured out what to do next, but I know I don’t want to do that. Don’t judge me. I get up every morning and do whatever I feel like doing. Since I have a job, sometimes I have to go do that and when I’m there, I just try to figure out what my coworkers and customers want from me so I can give it to them. With any luck, somebody will start to give back, eventually. Because I don’t intend to stay right where I am forever; I just don’t see why I should have to move before I’m ready.