Life and How to Live It

I think the reason I resist the idea of happiness as the end-all be-all of life is that too many people mistake comfort for happiness. I saw a movie last year called Another Year, by English director Mike Leigh. It covered four seasons in the lives of Tom and Gerri, an old married couple, but the only character in the film that I could relate to was Mary, their lonely, miserable single friend. Over the course of the film, she rejects the advances of another of Tom and Gerri’s friends and hits on their son, who is not only too young for her, but happily coupled with a woman his own age. In doing so, she alienates Tom and Gerri, and as she sits at dinner with them and a few others at the end after a sort-of reconciliation, she realizes that she will never have what they have. To this I say: Good. Seriously, fuck Tom and Gerri (whose names, I realize, sound a lot like that old animated cat-and-mouse duo). Who wants to be like them? If you do, go away. I’m serious.

vV (from V for Vendetta) said, “Happiness is a prison.” That’s harsh, but it contains a grain of truth. Please do not act as if your liking things a certain way is an excuse for keeping them that way. Reading the reviews for Another Year, I was shocked by how many people seemed to think of Mary as nothing more than a lost lamb. I can’t be the only person who would rather be her than anybody else at that table. It’s not because her life is wonderful; it’s because it’s interesting. I hate boring people. I know a lot of people who think Rent is a piece of shit because it features a bunch of entitled young artists who are too hip and cool to, well, pay their rent. But that’s not why Mark and Roger refuse to pay. They do it because Benny, who was their friend until recently, turned on them and started demanding not only that they start paying rent (when he had previously allowed them to stay for free), but demanded that they pay rent on the year they’ve already stayed. That’s shitty, and his giving them barely any time to think it over or come up with the money suggests that he really just wants them gone. Perhaps they remind him of the life he never had the courage to live.

I hear a lot these days about how everybody, sooner or later, sells out and goes to work for the Man. That’s not true, but not because there’s anything wrong with a quiet life in the suburbs taking your kids to school in the morning and working an office job. If that’s what you want, go for it. I just don’t like the idea that it’s that or be an unemployed, broke artist squatting in a loft you can’t afford. You have to work the margins. I remember being deeply annoyed when I saw the trailer for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and realized that they had transformed James Thurber’s clever, subversive story into some vaguely life-affirming bullshit. Here’s the problem with the idea that somebody who feels stifled by their office job can just hop on a plane and go swimming with sharks or longboarding down a mountain: Once you’re done with that, you go right back to your office job. Essentially, the whole movie revolves around the hero finding a girl and settling down, but what does “settling down” actually mean? (And if anyone who has seen the movie is thinking of commenting and telling me that’s not what happens, don’t bother. I honestly don’t give a shit.)

I think that one of the most poisonous lies in our culture is the belief that you get your ya-yas out when you’re young, then lead a peaceful, dull existence for the rest of your days. Please. Reality is usually a little bit more subtle. We can’t all be globetrotting and shit, but that seems like the sort of thing that is best done in moderation anyway. Being a “free spirit” gets boring after a while. Most of the people I know who try that burn out, and it’s because they’re addicted to feeling like an outsider. Because I’m obsessed with Calvin & Hobbes, I’ll quote my BFF, Bill Watterson: “I guess one thing I like about Calvin is that whether he fits in with the wider world or not is almost beside the point, because he can’t help but be himself.” In other words, don’t be too obsessed with being a part of something, and don’t be too obsessed with being different. Nobody can be all one thing all the time anyway.

Somebody—I can’t remember who—once said to me that sometimes, the reason everybody likes something is because it’s really good. I can’t remember the context. I want to say that I was holding back from getting into something (most likely it was Game of Thrones) because, well, I didn’t want to just follow the herd. Of course, I have since started watching/reading that series, and I like it. I hung back from reading the fourth Harry Potter book because I didn’t want to get too obsessed, but that was only what I said when people asked why I was holding off on reading it. The real reason is that I…don’t like Harry Potter all that much (blasphemy, I know). I just didn’t realize it at the time, so people thought I was being a contrarian when I really just couldn’t articulate what I was feeling. That happens a lot.

You can’t get addicted to the feeling of finding “new” shit, as if something new is something better than something that’s old just because it feels different. People want to try new things, but they also want to be sure they’ll like them. As somebody else asked, are you the sort of person who is afraid to eat cake just because then there won’t be any more cake for you to eat? Think about it. And once you do, move the fuck on. I have worlds to conquer.

 

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Blurker

If I hear one more gay person say that they are “not like all those other gays”, I will lose my fucking mind. I hate to break it to you, but you are not special just because you like sports and have a bro-y affectation. Do you get a buzz out of telling people you’re gay only to hear, “You’re gay? Wow, I had no idea!” Yeah, I used to feel that way too, but then I grew up.

It’s probably a weird thing to say about a guy who just slaughtered seven people, but watching the last video by the UCSB shooter, all I could think was, “What a fucking drama queen.” He clearly had that speech rehearsed, complete with evil laughter. I would never dream of being dismissive of the tragedy that he caused, but seriously. What. A. Douche. Yes, college can be difficult, especially for those of us who feel like we have something to offer even though we’re not getting laid or going on dates. But I have no sympathy for this guy, certainly not after what he did. Sex is weird that way–no matter how bad you want it, you still aren’t entitled to it. It’s not like food, water, or shelter, which I believe everyone should have even if they can’t afford it or provide for themselves. You have to earn it. Besides, anyone with half a brain soon figures out that all of their peers who brag about getting laid or make a big show of how in love they are are just pretending. Relationships that are built on PDAs never last, and any man who brags about his sexual prowess has a miniscule dick.

It has now been just over two years to the day since I started grad school. It has been one year since I finished grad school, and three years since I finished undergrad. I look forward to the day when I see summer as just another season. Even when I was in elementary school, I remember those reflective days on the last or second-to-last day of school where you have a field day and a class party, talk about what you’re going to do over the summer, and reminisce on how quickly it all flew by. I fucking hate that. If I can’t make time move slower (and really, who wants to?), perhaps I can stop thinking of fall as a new beginning and summer as an ending. It’s just not healthy. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen one of my friends. I’m kind of hoping one of them would invite me to a party or something for a change, because I can’t get everything started all by myself. There is no rule saying you have to be friends with the people you work with, but it never ceases to amaze me how easily everyone else settles into a groove and gets to know one another. Maybe they’re just better at faking it.

My mother is really something. We got into another fight lately. Maybe calling it a fight is a bit strong, but that’s my point: She doesn’t seem to understand why I’m so annoyed that she keeps asking me stupid questions. I blame my father. He’s like Moriarty in all this, essentially pulling the strings. Regular readers may recall that I mentioned having most of my belongings in a storage locker in Queens waiting for me when I return to New York someday. When my father complained that it was costing him $50 a month to keep that locker, I told the storage people to charge my debit card rather than my credit card (which is on my father’s account), thinking that would be the end of it. Instead, my mother called me up to ask when I was planning to go back for all that stuff. The subtext was that she doesn’t believe me when I say I’m going to return to New York. There’s no explaining things to people who just don’t want to get it. When I say that the specifics of my healthcare plan are none of her damn business, it means that the specifics of my healthcare plan are none of her damn business. She still feels the need to email me a response every time I tell her to back the fuck off, but I don’t even read those anymore.

My mother called me twice on my birthday. I didn’t want to talk to her because we had had a fight a few weeks before, and I was still mad about that. But she didn’t take the ever-so-subtle hint, and kept calling me until I relented. I have close friends who live nearby who I barely see because they never seem to have the time for me. I don’t have the fucking time for this fucking bullshit. It’s like she senses that I might be having a good time and calls me up just to ruin my day. Would it kill her to wait for me to contact her for once? Or even just give me one fucking month where I don’t have to listen to her? I’m at my wit’s end here. I don’t see why it’s too much to ask to have one fucking month, but since she won’t let it go, I guess I have to.

Some people are remarkably dense when it comes to figuring out something that, to an outsider, would appear to be common fucking sense. But the further I get, the more I realize that I won’t make the same mistakes my parents did. My mistakes tend to be in assuming people have my best interests at heart. Theirs tend to be in believing they have my best interests at heart when they don’t. But sometimes, there really is nothing more to be said. If you can’t let me have the last word, maybe you can at least try not to waste my time.

mcgoohan2

On Being Different

I’m starting to understand why I like Elementary so much. Essentially, it’s about learning that no matter where you are in life, there are still adventures to be had. If that sounds corny, consider this: Lucy Liu and Jonny Lee Miller are both in their 40s (and looking amazing, by the way). I’ve never been a big fan of Lucy Liu before now. I’m not sure why; it just seemed that even when she was in something I enjoyed, her presence in it was more incidental than an integral part of what made it good. The only thing I had seen Jonny Lee Miller in before this was Trainspotting, and while I’ve since come around on it, I wasn’t terribly impressed with that film when I first saw it. I’m not sure whether I’ve changed or whether it’s just taken us this long to find each other, but either way, I am pretty squarely in both of their corners at this point. Dr. Watson was, well, a doctor before meeting Holmes. Sherlock was a detective before he met Watson, but he was aimless and troubled. Together, they form a partnership that is more than the sum of its parts. And that is rather inspiring.

deathI don’t really buy that the years go by faster the older you get. I’ve heard older people say that, but that just sounds like a lazy rationalization for the fact that your best years are all behind you. I try to face forward no matter what. I absolutely refuse to accept that what I am experiencing right now is a “quarter-life crisis”. A crisis means feeling bored and dissatisfied with one’s life so far. In a typical mid-life crisis, you get a tattoo and buy a sports car and start indulging all of the fantasies you had when you were a teenager that you have since given up on. I don’t feel bored; I feel frustrated, and that’s not the same thing. I want to travel the world, marry Jon Hamm, and take up archery. I just haven’t figured out where to begin. So I hope you’ll excuse me if I try not to wallow in angst over how fast the years flew by. If Death wants me, she will have to take me. I will not go willingly.

Harvey Milk did almost nothing of interest until he was 40. He also said that he “just knew” that he wouldn’t reach 50. He was right about that. It’s funny. I read his biography some years back, and the first forty years of his life fill barely 50 pages. The remaining 250 or so pages are devoted to the remaining eight. There is a man who took a while to figure out what he was really trying to do. I don’t think it’s going to take me that long. I just don’t think that being an adult means that I have to accept any sort of preordained future. No, I do not have to move to the suburbs and buy a house with a white picket fence while raising 2.5 kids and working in an office from 9 to 5 until I die. That’s not for me. Some people say that we all turn out like our parents, and that’s fucking bullshit. If you believe that, piss off. There’s no place for you here.

And of course, there are still people who don’t seem to get it. Well, no matter. I’m a supervillain. I’ll show them all. Stephen King once compared writing to unearthing a fossil, as if the piece already exists, and all you have to do is discover it. I don’t quite see it that way. I prefer to see it as constructing something rather than digging it up. The problem is that sometimes you already know how it’s going to end. Sometimes you get to the end and discover that it’s not the one that you originally had in mind. But sometimes you “just know” something and turn out to be right, which can feel confining in its own way. My mind does not move in a very linear fashion. I have a hard time going from A to B to C to D. I’m much more likely to start on A, jump ahead to G, do D, E, and F, then start at N and work backwards before figuring that actually, now I know what to do for B and C. It’s dizzying, but somehow, I more or less manage to keep track of it all. There are books that I’ve started reading, then put aside for months or years before resuming. Strangely enough, I don’t have that hard of a time picking up where I left off. I just wish I didn’t do it so often.

I don’t write every day. I’m not one of those people who needs to. Instead, I work in fits and starts, sometimes writing for hours at a time, other times letting days go by without a single word. It’s important not to compare yourself to others, but sometimes, you just can’t help it. I still feel sometimes like I’m just getting over the hump. Perhaps I should spend more time figuring out what the hell I’m going to do once I do. When it comes to navigating those directionless passages of your life, I find it helpful to look back and see if there is anything in my past that is relatable to what I’m experiencing right now. It is difficult, once you get going, to just tear it all up and start over. But it is surprising how much of an impact a few subtle changes can have.

Sooner or later, we all grow old. Even the Doctor, as it happens. So try not to spend all of your time thinking about what you would do differently if you could go back and do it all over again. What’s done is done. I’ve done a lot, if I do say so myself. More than you might think to look at me.

Adiabatic

this way out

Something just happened. It’s minor, but illustrates a larger point. It’s been a bit warm this past week. I got up for work very early in the morning, leaving the windows open and the fan on so that the air would continue to circulate while I was out.  When I got back from work, I saw that the fan had been switched off. Two people have now done that to me so far: my psychotic ex-roommate and my father. I’m not saying that my father is a psycho, nor am I saying that he is a terrible person to live with. I’m just saying that that was none of his damn business. The perfectly sane dude that I lived with in Manhattan for the spring and summer before moving in with the psycho in Queens would never do that. I know because I left fans blasting 24/7 during the sweltering New York summer and he never complained at all. Yes, I know that it increases our electricity bill by a little bit. But if you’re my roommate, you can leave the AC and a disco ball on all day in your room and I still will not set foot inside there (though I might bring it up when it comes time to pay my share of the utilities). Why? Because it’s not. My. Fucking. Room. So in case I needed a reminder as to why I have to find my own place, now I have one. Moving on…

It’s been my experience that friends rarely just drift away. Yes, sometimes you lose touch with somebody you were previously very close to because life is just getting in the way, but for the most part, the people who want to see each other will find ways to see each other. I still plan on returning to New York someday, but I’m starting to think that I shouldn’t get ahead of myself. When I left, I was hoping to be back in six months to a year. It’s been almost nine months now, and I’m not close to being ready. I have more money saved up in my bank account than I have since before I moved in with Psycho Queens Guy back in August. So that’s nice. But as regular readers will know, my main struggle these days is moving out from under my family’s shadow. Funny thing is, the more I think about it, the less moving back to New York has to do with working in my chosen field. When I was a child, I wanted to be an inventor or engineer of some sort. (Before that, I wanted to be an astronaut, but I’m pretty sure that the brief bout I had with asthma in middle school would disqualify me.) Maybe there is a mad scientist in me fighting to get out. It’s probably too late to go back to school to study engineering, but I definitely feel that I need to start exploring avenues for amateur scientists.

Speaking of something that has nothing to do with that,  it’s so nice sometimes to have absolutely nothing to do. The emotional state that I was in when I moved back here made it difficult for me to work up the attention span to even watch a movie all the way through, and these days, I’m not in a hurry. I notice that a lot of people my age seem stuck in a state of perpetual adolescence, essentially reliving the struggles that they went through back then because they made it through that, and if what they’re going through now is basically the same thing, it means that they can make it through this, too. But what they’re going through now is not the same thing, at least not exactly. It’s similar, but a little bit less solipsistic. When you’re in your teens, you’re so racked with anxieties over your own growth and so surrounded by people telling you what you need to do that it’s usually all you can do just to get anyone to listen to you. Well, I still feel like that sometimes, but I’m a little bit more willing to call people on their bullshit. I’m less inclined to say, “Well, if that’s the way it has to be…” when accepting something I don’t like and decide that actually, no, it doesn’t have to be that way. People who want to believe something often skew the facts to support that belief. Even if called on it, they act like it doesn’t really matter. It does.

I try to be as unpredictable as possible in my own life. Please note that “unpredictable” is not the same thing as “crazy”. I could travel the world, shave my head and become a monk, or change my name and start performing drag in a random Midwestern town. But I’m not going to do any of those things. Because that would actually be less weird than what I do right now, which is to try to figure out how I can balance all of my interests and crazy desires in the healthiest way possible. I remember going to the library as a preteen and checking out books on how to make paper airplanes or flying saucers out of Styrofoam cups and paper plates. Some of those proved to be surprisingly aerodynamic. I also had a kit that allowed me to make basic electronic devices like a rudimentary burglar alarm or a transistor radio (I could never get that to work, but never mind). If I’m a bit old for that now, I really should try to find the adult equivalent. I’m getting a little tired of the humanities.

I’m learning more and more these days to tolerate people I don’t necessarily like. Some people aren’t evil, just really, really hard to get rid of. And some people mean well, but lack the courage to do anything truly risky. I hope never to be like that. And the tradeoff is that I might have to take some hard knocks along the way. Let us hope that I can handle it. More importantly, let us hope that I find the strength to speak for myself.

From Where the Sun Now Stands

If you’re like me, you probably spend most of your time alone. The problem here is that I kind of have to be my own cheerleader. I do not need anyone—not friends, family, or readers of this blog—to follow me around with pom-poms telling me I’m wonderful. So don’t even try. But since I am alone with myself basically round the clock, I have to look to myself for reassurance. I am not always the best support group, which is surprising, considering my naturally optimistic and upbeat outlook.

two livesIf you spend most of your time alone, you have probably had those days where you can barely even drag yourself out of bed until late morning (or later, really). Eventually, you work up the energy to shower and eat breakfast (or not, if you’re way down in a hole). Somewhere around the early afternoon, you start to wonder if you’re going to get anything done that day. Then you start doing shit and keep doing it, and before you know it, you’ve gotten everything major out of the way for the day and several hours left to kill before bedtime. This describes most of my days off work. I’m not always good at estimating how long something will take, and in its own way, that’s almost as disorienting as shit taking longer than you thought it would.

If you’re not good at estimating how long something will take, you probably experience a lot of stress over whether or not you can get all of your shit done on time. I experience this at work. I was emptying the trash and was right in the middle of it when the shift leader gestured for me to come back and hop on register. Emptying the trash takes a minute, and it’s not the sort of thing you can leave midway through and just come back to. Yes, I could see there was a line, but couldn’t she see I was busy? (I think there might have been a small coffee spill to clean up as well.) “It’s just a job,” some woman said to me. I wanted to marry her.

If you’ve ever wanted to marry a total stranger, you are probably familiar with the feeling of suffocation that can arise from being surrounded with and having to deal with the same damn people day in and day out. Nobody is right 100% of the time (except me, of course), so you can only tell people to go screw themselves for so long. I don’t have the energy to fight everyone all the time, so I have to pick and choose my battles. Some days, I’m pissed off at my manager for sending me home after only two hours, meaning that getting to and from work that day takes me longer than actually, you know, working. Other days, I’m pissed off at my coworkers for the way that they already seem to have formed a little circle of friends after working together for a relatively short time. It wouldn’t be such a big deal, except that the social dynamics that they have outside of work often influence their behavior at work. And that means that I am often left out.

If you’ve ever felt left out, you probably know what it’s like to need a good laugh. I watched Night at the Museum on pay-per-view one night after a hard day of traveling. I was not in a good mood. I’m also not a big fan of Ben Stiller. Under any other circumstances, I might have thought it was pretty damn mediocre, but that night, it came like a breath of fresh air. The “Real Actors Read Yelp Reviews” YouTube series is amazing. This video in particular had me howling.

And then there’s this one. I question the writer of this review’s sanity.

I feel the need to reiterate once again that my brilliance is beyond compare. Have you forgotten that? Allow me to remind you. Because I’m not even sure if I’m joking when I say that anymore. There is no one who can push through your rough spots except you, anyway, so why not think that you’re the greatest human being in the world? Sooner or later, my robot army will wipe out everyone and kill all who displease me (this almost certainly includes you), so try to have fun in the meantime. It is becoming clearer to me that I cannot use this blog to vent all of my frustrations the way I once did. It doesn’t seem to contain all of my crazed fantasies anymore, which might explain my growing sense of unease. When I was in high school, my class voted me…well, I won’t name the category, but basically, it amounted to, “Interesting guy, but we don’t know what to make of him.” I don’t know what to make of me either.

Part of the reason I work my current job is that I don’t know what my dream job would be. If I could make a living writing fiction, I probably would, but that wouldn’t solve all my personal problems, and maybe the root of the issue here is that I’ve been thinking that it would. I’ve touched upon this before lately, but so we’re clear: I am not going to give up blogging anytime soon. I have said nowhere near everything I want to say. There is, however, a part of me that is definitely getting tired of this shit. Tired of the same old routines, the same old problems, the same old (sniff) crushing loneliness that actually isn’t that crushing, just persistent and oppressive. There are answers. You may never find them. You may not even like them if you do. But they’re out there.

deal riker