Someone’s Trying to Tell Me Something

Hey, Old Man. You home tonight? It’s about time we had a little talk. I know I’m a pretty evil fellow… killed people in the war and got drunk… and chewed up municipal property and the like. I know I got no call to ask for much… but even so, you’ve got to admit you ain’t dealt me no cards in a long time. It’s beginning to look like you got things fixed so I can’t never win out. Inside, outside, all of them… rules and regulations and bosses. You made me like I am. Now just where am I supposed to fit in?

–Cool Hand Luke

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: This past week or two has been rough. Really, really rough. I haven’t hung out with anyone since April, and I have to tell you, it’s beginning to get to me. It wouldn’t be so annoying if there weren’t folks out there who could totally make the time to see me if they really wanted to, but since they don’t, they won’t. This is not a cry for attention; it is a simple fact. Earlier this week, my manager received a very angry email from customers complaining that they won’t be coming to our store anymore because one of the employees was very rude to them. Though they did not mention me by name, I’m pretty sure they were talking about me. Except I wasn’t rude. Unfriendly, maybe, but friendly is not my default setting, and we all have our bad days. Did it ever occur to these guys that I might be having a bad day? Apparently not. They want their coffee, and if it’s not served with a smile, that’s my fault.

I don’t feel too bad about this experience. A little bit, maybe, but not really. You might point out that yeah, actually, it kinda is my job to smile at customers no matter how badly my day is going, and perhaps you’re right. Thing is, I’m not responsible for what people read between the lines. In the nine months that I have worked at this establishment, I have never raised my voice with a customer. With the possible exception of not doing something for a customer because they approached me when I was on break, I have never refused service to anyone. And somehow, that’s not enough. Well, gee. Longtime readers of this blog may recall a story in which I moved to New York for school and was kicked out of my apartment not one hour after moving in (although the lady did say I could stay for a few days just to find another spot to crash) simply because I rubbed my new roommate the wrong way. By her own admission, I didn’t do anything, I just wasn’t warm and fuzzy enough for her. Maybe I could have tried harder to make small talk, but I doubt that would have helped. You can always try harder. Yet there is no guarantee that that will change anybody’s mind.

According to this email, this group of customers was so put off by my service that when they had a business meeting later, they spent half of it discussing me. Seriously? Unless the employee purposely spills boiling water on your shoes or spits in your drink, I have no idea what could piss somebody off that hard. I’m sorry, but that’s just fucking ridiculous. Besides, these guys had visited this establishment before. Most likely, I had gotten their coffee before, which means that they have encountered me on my better days. Which makes their complaining, to my ears, sound a little bit entitled. Some people just don’t like me. And there’s nothing I can do about that.

I’m thinking of taking a little while off of blogging. Periodically, this happens. I’ll get so fed up with my life and my circumstances that I write a misanthropic post about how I’m going away for a week or two or even just a couple days, and that’s that. This time, I think I’ll take a month off. I can’t make people notice me. When you spend enough time alone, you start having existential thoughts about the transience of life and the crushing inevitability of death, and that’s just not healthy. I should have time enough to do the shit that I mean to do. What’s more, I should even be able to have a little fun doing it. I don’t agree with what Owen Wilson said in Midnight in Paris: “Life is a little unsatisfying.” It’s only unsatisfying if your expectations are too high. And I just want to conquer the fucking world. Will somebody please tell me what’s so unrealistic about that?

It takes strength and courage to let go of the shit that you cannot change. What’s more, things rarely get better immediately after. There are some folks who seem to think that by your mid-twenties, you should have all of your shit figured out. Technically, nobody has all of their shit figured out, we’re all works in progress, etc. Even then, I think I can do better than this. It’s been three years since I got my bachelors degree, one since I got my masters. That’s not really that long. And since I’m holding out hope that most of my great accomplishments are still in front of me, I think that I am in a position to put my foot down and set some terms. I don’t seek isolation, but given the choice between that and being surrounded by people I don’t like, I know exactly what I’m going to choose. It has to be on my terms or not at all. Here’s something funny.

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Mhysa

Kai winnI used to watch those educational shows on TLC and the Discovery Channel. I’m not sure if they still air anymore. Some of them were reenactments of old crimes, others were about haunted houses and stuff. I’m sure some of it was bullshit, but a lot of it was entertaining. A lot of the supposed paranormal phenomena that people report can be explained by faulty eyewitness testimony or magnetic fields causing machines to act in weird ways. I liked to watch the shows that would air around Halloween (I think) about the Tower of London and how anybody managed to escape from that. Since I’ve been getting more into science-y things lately, maybe I should get back into history and shit. The problem is that most unsolved mysteries have more mundane explanations than people realize. The Bermuda Triangle, from what I can gather, is nothing more than a stretch of sea where ships and planes disappear sometimes. (Okay, I’ve also heard something about methane bubbles and magnetic fields fucking with navigation controls, but that still ain’t Cthulhu.) The craziest stuff is usually the everyday.

The annoying thing about my insecurities is that they migrate. That is to say, I’ll spend an unhealthy amount of time obsessing over whether or not that mole on my back has grown in size, and as soon as I’ve convinced myself that it hasn’t, I’ll spot something else and start worrying about that instead. It would be stupid to say that worrying about melanoma makes you immune to skin cancer, yet I can’t help but feel that whatever health or body image issues I might have to deal with in my lifetime, that mole on my back is no cause for concern. The voices in my head never shut up. They’re always there. I keep looking for simple pleasures to help me fend them off—a few days ago, I tried out a new restaurant, which is an interesting experience even if the place turns out to be no good (it was decent)—and at the end of the day, they’re still there. I can’t spend all of my time wandering around with my head in the clouds.

I mentioned a post or two ago that I had started watching Orange Is the New Black. Well, I’m only a couple episodes in, and I already have an opinion on it. It’s a good show. For the most part, it’s very deft at balancing comedy and drama, and it makes a political point about the prison-industrial complex without being too heavy-handed about it. (Seriously, we need to cut it with this “I’m a good person, I would never do something like that” bullshit. Most of us are capable of murder and armed robbery, given the right circumstances, and the characters on Orange, generally speaking, are guilty of shit like credit card fraud. If you think you wouldn’t pull that shit if you found yourself in a tight spot, you’re a goddamn liar.) The show is sensitive in confronting issues of race, gender, and sexuality (I just watched the episode about Sophia’s transition; it was great), and I love the way that every episode ends with an “Oh snap, shit just got real” moment that practically begs the viewer to binge-watch. I think I was right in my assumption that the show would have been structured differently had it aired on TV rather than being on Netflix.

One thing that I’ve learned from my time in customer service is that the customer is always right…except when they’re not. People apologize for not being clear about their orders sometimes, but the only bad customers are the ones who don’t know what they want and blame you for not reading their minds. There are people who give all sorts of specifications about how something is supposed to be made, then send it right back after we’ve followed their instructions to the letter. You wonder why they even got out of bed this morning. My problem is that I’m not very good at time management. For a guy who works only part-time, I still manage to finish only a tiny fraction of the shit that I want to get done every day. That’s not unique, just annoying. And I used to be a bit better about forming a plan and sticking to it. But my brain keeps dragging me in weird directions.

Everyone has their guilty displeasures, the stuff that they don’t like even though everyone tells them they should. For me, one of those would be the movie Being John Malkovich. I’ve liked other stuff by Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze, and while I wouldn’t say I disliked the movie, there is something so cold and bleak about it that I found off-putting. It’s an endlessly inventive and clever film, yes, but also one with no human core to it. Even for a dark comedy, that’s a problem. When you think about it, it’s more like a horror movie. The thought of entering somebody’s head and forcing them to watch as you live out the rest of their life for them seems like the worst human rights abuse imaginable, like rape and slavery combined. But nobody in the film has even the slightest qualm about what they’re doing to the title character. I can admire a film like that, but enjoying it is really, really hard.

If there’s any attempt I can make to tie all this together, I will say that I’m trying to figure out what I want out of my entertainment. Some of my favorite TV shows are like televised crack. The Battlestar Galactica reboot comes to mind. For the first season and a half, it was possible to blaze through four or five episodes in a single sitting without even thinking about it. They’re not all like that. Mad Men is a phenomenal show, but I wouldn’t call it addictive. Two, maybe three episodes at a time is about all I can take with that one. I would say something similar about Louie, although that’s a half-hour show so it’s a little easier to take, as surreal and bizarre as it can get.

For no apparent reason, here’s Neil DeGrasse Tyson taking down UFO mythology. There are phenomena worth exploring. They’re just not the ones you first think of.

Manumission

The first time I read Rudyard Kipling’s “The White Man’s Burden”, I thought it was a joke. Surely nobody could be this racist? But it turns out he was. There was no irony in Kipling’s writing: he believed that the white race was superior, and that it was their duty to civilize the savaged. There are those who believe it is their duty to willingly submit to their overlords, but strangely, I don’t think any of the brown people Kipling was domesticating ever wrote a poem from that perspective. (Kipling would argue that that’s because they aren’t literate or civilized enough to realize how uncivilized they are. Bigotry is self-rationalizing that way.)

robin hoodI seem to be experiencing a resurgent interest in classic adventure stories. Towards the end of middle school, I read the first handful of stories in A Thousand and One Nights. They were pretty good, but kind of predictable and all cut from the same cloth. In one incident, some dude ends up staying in a place for 99 nights that has 99 rooms. He is told not to open the door to the last room, but since he stays in one room each night and finds each room to be even more beautiful than the last, he just can’t help himself. I can’t remember exactly what happens when he opens the door to the last room, but it was pretty bad. Who could have seen that coming?

(If I had to pick a favorite swashbuckling movie, I’d go with The Adventures of Robin Hood, which has everything: romance, gallantry, hair-breadth escapes, all that good stuff. And at the center of all of that was Errol Flynn. Apparently, he was a party animal in real life, but he was perfect for that role.)

Why am I telling you all this? I don’t know. I guess I just had a lot of thoughts to unload. I’m trying to find things that will occupy my mind that don’t involve staring at a screen, but that takes time. I’m kind of glad that I don’t own a smartphone, because even though I don’t text very much, I would probably spend an inordinate amount of time browsing the web while I should be doing other things. Actually, I do that already, but a smartphone would just make it that much easier. I don’t hate the internet; I just don’t see why so much of it is necessary. In a way, that’s why I’m so suspicious of new technology. I can see why Google Glass is cool, but why the fuck does anybody need it? If there ever were a technology that could bring out my inner grumpy old man, that was it. What’s next, a cybernetic implant that allows you to stream Netflix and Spotify while texting and driving all at the same time?

Conversely, I don’t think there’s anything less “real” about the internet. I hate it when people tell me that I shouldn’t get into arguments on the internet, as if that’s somehow better than arguing in real life. 99% of the time, that’s just a cowardly way of saying, “You’re kicking my ass, so I’ll pretend you’re the one who just doesn’t get it and scamper away with my tail between my legs.” Ah, it’s good to see that my inner misanthrope is alive and well.

I don’t know if I’ve ever completed a crossword puzzle. Even the really easy ones in my school paper or the Monday New York Times ones, I could never seem to fill in all the way. Maybe it’s because I’m such a perfectionist that I have to make everything fit, but it’s hard for me to let go of something like that. You ever have only one space left in a word, but you cycle through all the letters in the alphabet and still can’t find one that fits? That happens to me a lot. People tell me I overthink things, which makes this the perfect medium in which to express myself. Sooner or later, common sense kicks in and I regain the ability to see the forest for the trees. When I took physics in high school, I noticed myself getting stuck on one-step problems even as I breezed through more complicated ones. Sometimes, the answer is so simple that I’m amazed no one else can see it. And sometimes, you bang your head against your desk for hours and still can’t see what’s obvious to everyone else. I need to learn to be more patient.

I’ve been told on one or two occasions that I was exhibiting sociopathic tendencies. There aren’t too many things that I’m sure of, but one of them is that I’m not a sociopath. There are some people who just take and take. The only reason they ever take an interest in somebody else is so that they can be like them. I’ve run into people like that, people who twist your words so that even when you say something that they agree with, they have to repeat it back to you like they thought of it first. That’s not sociopathy, but it is insecurity, and if I can’t defeat that, I can at least fight it.

This was one of my more rambling entries, to be sure. So I’m not even going to try to tie it all together. Instead, I’ll leave you with the words of the great Dr. House, who said that everything happens for a reason, we just might not know it at the time. He didn’t mean that in the fatalistic sense, but rather the purely logical cause-and-effect sense. I maintain that everyone has the power to find the answers they’re looking for. But even if you don’t know where you’re going, it kind of helps to know why you want to get there.

Closure

The 6th Doctor has an abysmal reputation in Doctor Who fandom. It’s not undeserved; while Colin Baker was a talented actor who deeply loved the series, there’s only so much he could do with writing and production that turns the whole thing into really bad cyberpunk. He’s my least favorite Doctor, although even that comes with qualifiers. He is much better on the Audio Adventures (where’s he’s less abusive bully than admirable-yet-pompous windbag) and from what I hear, he is just about as friendly and gracious as you can imagine when meeting his fans. But for me, that doesn’t change the fact that mid-80s Doctor Who is a near-total wipeout. I enjoyed The Ultimate Foe but found the rest of Trial of a Time Lord to be mediocre at best, and as for Timelash and The Twin Dilemma…ugh. Just don’t even go there. Doctor Who is a pretty trippy show by nature, so when it doesn’t work, it’s like a bad acid trip (or so I’ve heard).

Because the Game of Thrones finale just aired, I feel the need to talk about it just a little. This show is a bona fide pop cultural phenomenon, so even if you don’t watch it, you must surely hear or read about it if you spend any time on the internet or interacting with people. The show’s gender politics have come under fire, not just for the blatant imbalance of male and female nudity (seriously, can we get a fucking Gendry sex scene up in this bitch?), but for the way that it skews towards making women look like lying whores. From taking an icky-but-consensual sex scene and turning it into a rape scene to giving Shae an arc that goes from love interest and confidant to vengeful shrew, it feels like the showrunners aren’t always completely aware of what they’re doing. (Skip to the next paragraph to avoid spoilers.) Seriously, why did Tyrion have to kill Shae? I had somehow forgotten that scene was in the book until now. I don’t know what it says about me, maybe just that so much happens in A Storm of Swords that I could forget even a major event like that. Either way, I feel like Shae deserved better. Yes, she was stupid to believe the Lannisters would let her go for testifying against Tyrion, but come on, why not have her escape somehow? It was still a beautifully directed sequence. Maybe now the actress will go back to doing porn.

It’s never effective to try to wall off aspects of your personality from the rest of it. I’m trying to spend less time on Facebook, but I feel it might be useful to try to check my email and the traffic on this blog a little less frequently while I’m at it. Sometimes it can work to say that somebody’s a great person so long as you don’t discuss politics with them. But I think it’s a better idea to talk politics with your friends, even if you don’t share them. You can’t separate that from who they are, at least not entirely. So I try to reconcile who they are with what they believe.

My problem these days is that I have to motivate myself. My parents are giving me zero encouragement. They say they want to support me, but somehow, that doesn’t seem to amount to anything other than trying to subtly encourage me to do shit I don’t want to do. If I tell my mother that I’m looking for a second job, she’ll suggest that I contact some of the environmental organizations in the area and ask if they’re hiring. Um…when the fuck did I say that I wanted to do environmental work? Oh, I know what she’ll say if I point that out to her—namely, that I shouldn’t give up on my dream so quickly. Thing is, I never said that working at some environmental organization was my dream. A few years ago, my dream was to get a Masters degree in something related to environmentalism. Well, I’ve done that now, but I never said that I wanted it to be my life’s work, or that I was going to get into it immediately after graduating. Essentially, the problem is that she steers the conversation. I have to say that I’m going to work for the NRDC or Environment California or it means I’m abandoning my dream. Fuck the shit right out of this shit.

Lots of people worry that they’re turning into their parents. I don’t have that fear anymore. If their goal was to kill that fear, mission accomplished. Because I don’t think I’ll ever turn out like this. I wrote a post a few years ago called “My Parents Bore Me” and didn’t realize until after I’d published it that the title was a pun (get it?). If you think I’m saying that everyone has to walk on the moon or build a better mousetrap in order to be interesting, please. “Interesting” is a highly subjective word. But the fact remains that I don’t want the life that my parents have.

I sometimes wonder if Netflix shows are designed with binge-watching in mind. The days of appointment television are mostly behind us now. These days, people catch up on DVR or streaming sites. I do know some people who have Game of Thrones viewing parties, though, so maybe that’s not entirely true. It’s an incredibly addictive series, yet I didn’t mind waiting a week between episodes for the last season. (Maybe that’s because I read the book. I don’t know. What I do know is that I just watched the first episode of Orange Is the New Black and am fighting to urge to just binge the whole thing right now. Would the show be as successful if people had to wait a week between episodes? Maybe not.)

There is a blog I used to read that stopped updating a year and a half ago. I didn’t like the blogger all that much; he tended to vacillate between bloviating about his brilliance and bouts of miserable insecurity (totally different from me, of course). What I find odd is that his sign-off post (if indeed he never intends to resume blogging) was basically just a bunch of rambling about how difficult his home and family life had become. A few posts previous, he had been gushing about his fiancé and how he felt like the luckiest man in the world. (To be fair, his family background sounded like a real nightmare. An abusive father and a crazy Christian mother? Damn.) Either way, I don’t feel very sorry for him. We all have our ups and downs, but if you’re going to act like your whole life is wonderful one minute, acknowledge that it might not be so the next. It’s just common decency. I feel some low points coming up. I hope I have the strength to pull through.

arya hound

Anticipation

isle of the deadI spend way too much of my time thinking about death. Technically, everybody dies, but if you’re like me, you spend most of your time trying to straighten out your issues so that you can live, then realize that by the time that happens, you’ll be dead. So I guess you have to live in the meantime, or something. I am trying to master that Buddhist idea of mindfulness, of being aware of things without letting it get to you. I just hate it when people say, “Cherish every moment. It all goes by so fast.” No, it doesn’t. My memory is a jumble these days. I can’t distinguish between two years ago, two weeks and two decades. So I’m trying to get it straightened out. Because nothing is more annoying than meeting somebody and knowing instantly how your relationship with them will proceed. It’s nice to have surprises. Most of the ones I get are of the unpleasant variety, and I’m hoping that changes eventually.

I had a minor realization as I was making drinks recently. It’s hard to put into words. It wasn’t so much that I decided that I would have to move on eventually as that I figured out that I was almost ready to take on a little more. I’m not just talking about a second job, nor am I talking about getting my own place. I’m not graduating from anywhere, so as far as I’m concerned, I can keep doing this shit for as long as I like. Most of my jobs so far have ended either when I was fired, the summer ended and I had to go back to school, or my term as a student employee ended. For once, I might be able to end things on my own terms. But that shouldn’t be for a while now. We have a pretty high turnover rate where I work, and being a better barista no longer feels like the only thing I’m working towards.

I think the reason I like the It Gets Better campaign so much is that it doesn’t pretend that everything will be wonderful once you come out. Too many of the movies I watch on Netflix have that message. I watched an awful one called Geography Club a few months back that, like so others, was about a bland everyman protagonist who realized that being gay doesn’t have to be that big of a deal. Of course it’s not that big of a deal, that’s why you made a whole fucking movie about it. The one moment of truth came late in the film, when his closeted jock boyfriend says, “I don’t want to be gay. I want to be normal.” I think everyone can relate to that. Even if you’re not gay, you have surely had to deal with the feeling that you don’t fit in. Why the movie was not about the jock instead of the boring everyman, I have no idea. I watched another one just now called Edge of Seventeen that was actually decent. It didn’t sand the edges off of the experience the way so many others do, but still gave us a cypher of a protagonist who, instead of coming out so he can be with his boyfriend, basically comes out so he can have lots of sex. I wish like hell the movie had been about Lea Delaria and her queeny old friends instead. Those guys must have stories to tell.

I hate it when people say that the anticipation of something is more fun than the thing itself. If you’re a little kid who is too excited to sleep on Christmas Eve, maybe. But there is a truth that runs parallel to that with which I wholeheartedly agree: that having something to look forward to is a great motivator. Some might say it’s the best. It doesn’t have to be something really exciting, like a wedding or holding your first child. It can be something simpler, like a social gathering, a date, or even a job interview (provided that you actually want the job). I haven’t been to the movies in a while. I used to go more frequently. I’m thinking of seeing How to Train Your Dragon 2 because I like animation and I like dragons. For whatever reason, none of the big blockbusters that have come out in the past month or so have really drawn me, although I hear Edge of Tomorrow is much better than the ads made it look.

There has never been a point in my life at which I was absolutely pumped to start the day each morning. That’s why I rail so hard against the mythologizing of childhood. People talk about how happy and carefree they were. It seems to me that they are looking at the whole thing through rose-tinted glasses. I keep moving forward because all I have is the blind hope that whatever I’m working towards is better than this. I have to keep moving. People I went to high school with are getting married and having kids. I know it’s stupid to compare yourself to other people, but seriously, when do I get to conquer the world?

I find that my interests are getting more and more specific and nuanced. I keep wondering if I should take up role-playing games again, either tabletop or on the computer. When I was a child, my entire day revolved around computer games, usually either RTS or RPG. I miss those days, but only a little. I would spend the entire morning playing games, then go do other shit for the rest of the day because even I could see that you couldn’t do this all the time. If I’m out to recreate that experience now, it’s only to figure out what to do after I’m done playing games for the day. Because nobody can live a fantasy all the time. Even if you escape, you can’t live that escape more than once.