Eyesight to the Blind

american beautyThere’s a good line in the film The Brothers McMullen where a man who is in his early thirties says that it feels like just yesterday, he was in high school, and his wife replies, “No, you’re at least fifteen years too young for a mid-life crisis.” Where did the mid-life crisis come from? Technically, your forties and fifties are only the middle of your life if you’re leading a very long one, but never mind. I’ve had angst over where I’m going over the past year or so, but absolutely refuse to consider that a “quarter-life crisis”. I guess that term springs from the realization that once you’ve finished school and are trying to start a professional life, you are once again at the foot of a mountain. You can chase the brass ring if you like, but even if you do get it, you’ll look around and ask, “Is this all there is to it?” And the answer to that is no, but the real fun stuff is in between the lines. I keep fixating on that stupid Ben Stiller movie from last year, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which might as well have been called Mid-Life Crisis: The Movie, because if your idea of living life to the fullest is jumping out of a helicopter and skateboarding down a mountain, you need to rethink your priorities.

Kirk Cameron is a real asshole. That’s hardly news to anyone who has followed his career. He peaked at eighteen, then decided that rather than mature into a complex, interesting person, he would like to tell other people how to live their lives. It’s sad, and by “sad”, I mean “infuriating”. I’m not sure if he was all that good of an actor to begin with, but then again, he might have had a pretty good career had he applied himself to learning his craft and not spent all his time going on and on about how much he loves bananas. But what’s frustrating is that somebody is continuing to finance what he does. His movies make money, even if the only people who watch them are far-right Christians. How do we reach these people? Do they even want to be reached? I hate Kirk Cameron for many reasons, but the biggest one I can think of at the moment is making Piers Morgan look reasonable.

I’m trying to find the right balance between being outraged and serene. It’s easy to get burned out following the news. That happened to me when I was writing for a political magazine in college, and even though I didn’t want to write about the news, I found ways to write about it, essentially by taking a step back. The thing that’s got me angry these days is the treatment of livestock by our farming industry. Chris Christie plans to veto a bill that is almost unanimously supported by both legislators and the electorate because it might hurt his chances in Iowa, which depends on pork production. What an asshole. It drives me insane that this guy was reelected in such a landslide, because anyone who is even half-awake can see that he is a rude, temperamental, petty bully who cares less about enacting change than becoming president. (And if don’t think he was involved in the closure of the lanes on the George Washington Bridge just because there is no definitive evidence tying him to it, give me a fucking break. Seriously.) He buried his opponent, Barbara Buono (embarrassingly, I had to look up her name) in the last election, but she is a class act.

I don’t know what to do about stuff like this. There are some people who just sit back and say, “The world has enough problems. I just look out for myself.” There are also people who get very angry over the blatant mistreatment of pigs, but don’t have the tact to engage with people who might be sympathetic to their point of view. I can’t be like that. I have no use for purism, as high-minded and idealistic as I am. I do not believe that Barack Obama is a traitor to his base just because he governs from a more moderate and diplomatic point of view than the liberal firebrands like myself would like. I do not believe that the United States is an evil nation just because we kill people with drone strikes, although I won’t attempt to defend that, as it is appalling. All I know is that I have no use for people who complain about this shit constantly while doing nothing about it. Don’t just donate to the cause or whine about it on your blog (oh hi, everyone); get off your ass. I’ll do that just as soon as I figure out what it means.

I think I need to spend a little bit more time writing fiction. I decided a while ago that writing wasn’t going to be my main pursuit, just a side gig. Fortunately, it’s the kind of thing that works well as a side gig. And I keep saying this, but I really do need to get back into gaming. I’ve missed out on it for too long. There is a part of me that’s glad I’m not in college anymore. College is supposed to be a place where you learn shit and try out shit and hopefully get a clearer idea of what you’re trying to do with your life. A lot of kids seem to mistake that for being right about everything. And I probably sound old when I say that, but that’s the kicker: I’m not that much older than most college students. I remember what life on campus was like, and even then, I thought there were a lot of twits around me whose response to any kind of criticism, even the constructive kind, was, “Fuck you, I’ll do what I want.” That’s not even a response. Refusing to acknowledge the needs of others doesn’t make you sassy and outspoken; it makes you an asshole. And nothing is less humble than talking about how humble you are.

I’m trying to push my limits, to figure out just what I’m capable of. I keep meaning to take up a sport, but never get around to it. I’m not an athlete, really, but there’s no harm in dabbling. Just don’t do things because you’re trying to prove anything to the world, that’s all. The reality is that most people can’t and never will be able to play at my level. I can live with that.

Dream in Red

way he looks

I’ve come to a realization lately that, as realizations often do, seems obvious in retrospect. See, I’ve met a lot of people in my lifetime who have made me feel insecure, and for the longest time, I thought it was something I just needed to get over. But it isn’t. People who make others feel insecure are usually projecting their own insecurities, be it consciously or subconsciously. The people you should want to be around aren’t people who are like you, but people about whom you really don’t care whether or not they’re like you. I thought about this while seeing The Way He Looks, a Brazilian coming-of-age drama about a blind teen who realizes he is gay and falls in love with the new boy in class. I won’t spoil things for you, except to say that everything ends happily, which is not unusual for this kind of film. I’ve railed against this subgenre before, but somehow, this one got through my defenses. And I think I know why.

I tend to tiptoe around going into too much detail about my own experiences in high school on this blog. It’s not so much that I get off on being withholding as that I don’t generally find it relevant to what I have to say here. But I don’t mind saying that this film bears no resemblance to my own experiences. I spent most of my time in high school crushing on straight friends. That’s a staple of many a young homo’s story, and a lot of gay fiction plays into that by having the shy, nerdy protagonist get assigned to tutor the captain of the football team and…you know the rest. In real life, this almost never happens. I’m not saying that the captain of the football team is never gay, only that the odds that he will fall for his shy, nerdy math tutor and find his feelings reciprocated are infinitesimal. I almost got angry at The Way He Looks for presenting a story that is so goddamned warm and fuzzy, but then I realized that that’s not fair. There are teens getting thrown out of their houses for being gay, but there are also teens whose biggest fear is just that the boy they like is more interested in the cute girl in class and their stories matter, too.

I’m about a decade older than the characters in this film. I remember very clearly what being that age was like. So when I see a film like Shelter or Summer Storm, I get kinda pissy because what they present is a fantasy, nothing more. Yes, it would be nice to be pushed out of the closet by a handsome surfer who takes you by the hand and helps you to realize that everything will be okay and that this thing you’ve just learned about yourself changes nothing. Yes, it would be nice to realize that you are gay and then have your straight best friend instantly forgive you for getting overly physical and cockblocking him earlier. But that never happens and you know it. Stories like that of Leonardo and Gabriel (the guys in The Way He Looks) do happen occasionally. They’re nowhere near as rare as they used to be, but I suspect that they did happen even when I was a teen. Some people lead charmed lives, and others just know how to roll with the punches. I’m not sure if either of those can be applied to me, but hey, I don’t begrudge those to whom they can.

I’m realizing that I won’t keep in touch with everyone I know over here when I move back to New York. And I’m okay with that. You don’t have to stay friends with somebody forever in order to say that they had a meaningful impact on your life. A lot of the people I hang out with these days are California types. They’re the kinds of people who can exist only in a certain region, and since they live in that region, that’s okay. But there are folks who live in California and like California who transcend their region. And then there’s me. I’m not a California type. At the moment, I’m a New York type, but I talk about that enough already. I made the decision long ago not to pursue a career in academia. Some people never leave the college campus. I go back less and less with each passing year.

You have to be judicious in deciding who is really worthy of your time. Sometimes, that hews dangerously close to cruelty. It’s weird, because I complain a lot about how my friends never hit me up and ask how I’m doing. Most of the time, I’m the one who has to initiate any interaction. Somehow, I still feel like I’d be in a better place if I could drop a few more of them from my mental Facebook feed. It’s not even that I hate them, just that I hung out with them to vent my frustrations, and since I’m very, very slowly learning to deal with some of those frustrations, I think they’d be better off if I cut them loose. Why do you think I update this blog so often? If I had more people to listen to me in real life, I wouldn’t have written hundreds of thousands of words here. But all that barking madness has to go somewhere.

I try not to look at what I’m doing these days as “finding myself”. Maybe part of the reason that my parents were so frustrated with my progress when I lived with them was that I wasn’t rushing along and wasn’t doing nothing; I was moving, just very incrementally. In a way, that’s more aggravating than going nowhere. Then again, maybe not.

In the Morning

I said when I left New York for California that I was going into what I thought of as an exile. It’s been over a year since that happened, and it really wasn’t my choice. I’ve never been able to uproot myself completely. I had a very awkward experience my freshman year of college when I returned to my high school to see the improv club perform and ended up performing in the show. It wasn’t like I was trying to pass myself off as a student, so I don’t suppose there was anything wrong with it, but man, did it ever feel weird. When I was in grad school, I frequently found myself wishing that I could pop by California for just a few hours or the same way that I spent many weekends in my first year of college at my parents’ house and still revisit my college town on occasion. (I’m not always there just to walk around. I have friends over there and sometimes, there’s a movie showing that isn’t available where I live.) I’m starting to worry that some of the people I hang out with are a bit too much like me. So maybe it’s time to get out of this town.

It’s probably better to feel as if you are leaving shit behind rather than getting out just to get away from all this stuff. And I definitely won’t be able to move back to NYC anytime soon, for reasons both financial and otherwise. What I know for certain is that I’m getting tired of this shit. I’m tired of this wussy climate. I’m tired of having to commute sometimes several hours in order to spend time with a friend. I’m tired of being reminded of shit that I did growing up but don’t really care about anymore. I don’t know if my high school has reunions, but if it does, I’m never going to one. That’s a promise.

A lot of my coworkers at the coffee shop knew each other previously. I didn’t know anyone there when I walked in and was older than most of them anyway, if only by a few years. I can’t help that I prefer to hold myself at kind of a distance from the LGBT community. I hate it when people say, “Being gay is only a small part of who I am” because no, it isn’t; I just think that it’s a mistake to define yourself in terms of how well you do or don’t fit in with a particular group. It is one thing to look at certain issues through rainbow-colored lenses and quite another to make everything about gender and sexuality. The former is not only fine but vital and perhaps even inevitable. The latter is dull. Dull, dull, dull. And I know I’ve talked about this before but that doesn’t make it any less true.

I worried for a long time about how I was going to keep in touch with all my friends when we lived on opposite sides of the country. The obvious answer to that is that sometimes people drift apart. The ones that don’t stay in contact via Skype or social media or Pony Express or telegraph or whatever the hell else you’ve got. And I think the rocky quality of my social life up until this point is due to the fear that my friends will forget me if I don’t stay in constant contact with them. One of my best friends from college is getting his Ph.D in condensed matter physics at Urbana-Champaign Illinois. I haven’t seen him in over three years, but you had better believe I want to see him again. I hope he feels the same way about me. Because we haven’t talked in a while.

Maybe the frustration here is that I can’t seem to distinguish between people who are really important to me and people who are only kind of important. It’s okay, I guess, to have friendly acquaintances with whom you exchange Christmas cards but don’t actually see much if at all, but then again, writing Christmas cards sounds like a real drag. My parents sit down to do them every year around December and…God no, I don’t want to go there.

There are a lot of nice people in the world, but as for people I would actually want to get to know, the list is rather short. Someday, I might like to meet my heroes, but of course, there’s nothing that says I should have to be friends with them. When I leave this state for good, perhaps it will feel necessary more than anything else. I’m not itching to get out of here, but the fact remains that I never really liked it all that much to begin with. And I might return periodically for the holidays and whatnot, but don’t count on it. Because people need to reach out to me from time to time, and while I didn’t write this to point fingers at anyone, I think some of them could try a little harder on that front. Of course, the ones I’d really want to see this probably aren’t the ones reading it. So it goes.

It should not come as news to most of you that reading YouTube comments is a bad idea. I still do it sometimes for reasons I can’t begin to fathom. After reading way more of them than any reasonable person should, I have concluded that most people are fucking idiots, and that most of the racist/misogynistic stuff attacking Obama/Anita Sarkeesian/Nelson Mandela/Dora the Explorer/whoever the fuck the trolls are after these days are left by a small group of people with diagnosable mental disorders brought together by a shared need to live in a bigoted fantasy rather than the real world. It’s pretty much the only way I can maintain my faith in humanity. Not that there was much of that to begin with.

 

Let’s Talk About Piracy

spotifyWhen I was in high school and college, I used Limewire for all of my music. I’m not proud of that, but I justified it to myself by saying that if I really liked the music, I would buy it on CD anyway. These days, I use Spotify for the stuff I kinda like and pay actual money for the stuff that I really like, which seemed reasonable until I discovered that Spotify pays the musicians whose work they stream almost nothing, which I really should have suspected, as the whole thing seemed too good to be true. The worst part is, now I’m agreeing with Taylor Swift on something. What is the world coming to?

In all seriousness, I can understand the conundrum that up-and-coming artists face when dealing with something like this. If you’re an international superstar like The Beatles, you can afford to say no to making your work available on Spotify (or iTunes, which they also refused to do at one point). But if you’re a nobody, you have to ask yourself whether it’s worth allowing your stuff to be licensed by a service that will pay you $0.0005 for every time somebody streams one of your songs on the off-chance that that the increased exposure will lead to more lucrative deals down the line. In that position, I would probably say yes to Spotify. But I’m not a musician, so what the fuck do I know?

The inescapable reality is that if we want our artists to keep producing, we are going to have to pay them at some point. You can justify torrenting to yourself in any way you like, and it’s not like my hands are completely clean either, so I’ll withhold judgment for the time being. My father said once that after paying for something on vinyl and cassette, he really didn’t feel like buying it a third time, but then again, he has the disposable income to buy whatever the hell he wants, as long as it’s not a sports car. I don’t think downloading movies/TV/music/books/whatever on the internet is a crime in the same way that stealing a wallet or a car is. It exists in a sort of weird gray area. The ethics of ownership as they extend to electronic media are still being hammered out. It’s illegal to share one’s HBO GO password, although HBO doesn’t seem to mind. I use my cousin’s boss’s Hulu Plus password and feel no shame about it. Because at that point, you might as well just tell people they can’t lend books to one another.

HBO isn’t really helping matters by saying no to any streaming deals with Netflix, for that matter. I guarantee that if the network offered a limited subscription package, wherein one could pay for one HBO show and not the whole thing, they would make a fuckton of money. There is one HBO show that basically everyone watches. You’re already humming the theme song, aren’t you?

B&N is to bookstores what Starbucks is to coffee.

B&N is to bookstores what Starbucks is to coffee.

I’m lucky enough to live about a half hour away from a Barnes & Noble. I preferred Borders back when it existed, but it folded, and these days, I’m glad just to have an actual brick-and-mortar store that sells books, even if they also have toys, puzzles, DVDs, and other random shit. I can wander down there and browse when the howler monkeys in my head get especially noisy, and once or twice, I have stopped in and read a book cover to cover that I didn’t want to buy and couldn’t or was too lazy to get from the library. I’m not hurting anyone, am I? I have issues with Amazon, but I don’t begrudge them their success. There is definitely something to be said for being able to order something online that you can’t get from the store. Even then, a lot of good stores can order stuff for you anyway. I did that at another bookstore and got it in two days for less than I would have paid at Amazon. Yippee!

I wouldn’t mind paying to use Spotify. I already pay a monthly fee for Netflix, and their selection is sadly lacking when it comes to more artsy-fartsy stuff. (Of course, Spotify Premium already exists, but I’m still too cheap for that. I’ll start paying for my music when they make me pay for my music. I’m not perfect.) As is often the case, technology might be making things more convenient for some people, but don’t expect the old ways to go away entirely. Some people still have landlines. Some people still listen to the radio. The military still uses the Morse code for some messages, doesn’t it?

I need a conclusion now, and the best I’ve got is that when it comes to the stuff you consume, you get what you pay for. Usually. It’s not necessarily wrong to take advantage of an opportunity to get it for free, but whether it’s legal or illegal, it can’t last forever. I knew a guy once who justified torrenting by saying that he didn’t believe in intellectual property. Well, I don’t believe in property, so I’ll just come into your house and take your stuff. How would that make you feel? If it’s an inconvenience for you to shell out some of your hard-earned money for something or leave your house to go buy it, that’s because it should be an inconvenience. It’s an inconvenience to sell and market the thing, so why should the consumer get off the hook? I see a lot of entitlement in people who say that artists should be grateful to just to have their work seen or heard. Those same people will often criticize musicians for letting their music be played in commercials. Look, not everybody can be an artiste, okay? Not everyone wants to be. There has to be a give-and-take, that’s all I’m saying.

By the way, I like the new Weezer album. It could be their best since Pinkerton.

The Angels of Our Nature

I read the final two chapters of The Fault in Our Stars in a bookstore once out of simple curiosity. This is the book that has reduced readers the world over to tears, inspired a blockbuster movie, and as far as teen romances go, definitely captured the cultural zeitgeist. It’s probably a good book. People whose opinions I respect have very positive things to say about it. I guess I just wanted to know if it ended with both of the young lovers dying. (SPOILERS follow.) It doesn’t, which makes sense, because you still have to have somebody to narrate the story. The writing is perhaps a little manipulative, especially the way that Gus describes himself as a “shitty writer” before writing a lucid, eloquent letter that perfectly sums up the story’s main themes. In fairness to John Green, capturing the messiness of colloquial speech, with all of its “likes”, “you knows”, and grammatical errors while staying coherent, is pretty damn difficult. Essentially, the young hero concludes that the only true measure of a person’s life is the other lives that they touched, and that while everybody dies, a person’s lifespan has little to do with the impact that they have. Fair enough. (End SPOILERS.)

I learn that John Green is an Episcopalian and was at one point a chaplain in a children’s hospital. I have heard from other people who have done this that there is no faster way to despair of ever finding any meaning in life or making sense of our cruel, chaotic, capricious universe that to try giving comfort to people (especially children) with cancer. I don’t doubt that. People die having never fulfilled their last wish, be it to meet their hero, fall in love, or even just finish the fucking scarf that they were knitting for their kid as a keepsake. It’s rough. I don’t have any real conclusion there, I’m just saying it’s rough. Then again, do we always have to think of children as such delicate flowers? I think of children as younger people, nothing more, nothing less. It’s probably a bigger tragedy when a teenager dies than a senior citizen, but it’s still death, and that is a fact of life. Maybe the reason I didn’t see the movie when it was in theaters was that I felt like Green was mythologizing adolescence, as if there is nothing in the world as perfect as young love. But I haven’t seen the movie or read the whole book, so what do I know?

Our culture is obsessed with youth. That’s nothing new. It’s why I often feel old even though I am in my mid-twenties and have to force myself to live in the moment and not worry overmuch about my future. There’s the usual factors holding me back: finances, friends (or lack thereof), my complicated relationship with my parents (moving out helped, but it didn’t solve everything, and how could it?), my own neuroses, you get the idea. It’s amazing how much time I can spend obsessing over something that I know perfectly well is a waste of time. That’s the thing about douchebags. It’s not so much that you can’t see that there is something wrong with them so much as that you can’t stop yourself from thinking that if you could get them to listen, they would learn to act a little nicer. I don’t like the divide the world into good and bad people, but there are a lot of people out there who are simply assholes. They’ll die having accomplished nothing of value, and even at their wake, people will be struggling to find positive things to say about them. I’m sorry, but that’s just a fact. I don’t know why.

My roommate spends very long periods of time sitting in front of the TV or doing other shit with it on. I guess he just likes background noise. He’s a painter, so he spends most of his time in the living room painting or watching TV and frequently falls asleep in front of the TV. There are times when I wish he would leave or go to his room so that I could hang out in the living room, but whatever. I’m actually more amazed by his ability to be vegetative for so long than anything else. Seriously, how do you fucking do that? I’ve tried that, but even I can spend only the entire morning playing computer games or something before I think that I should find something else to do with my time. I guess I never learned how to goof off.

There are few things that increase my blogging frequency more than having nothing to do all day. I don’t mind watching TV or reading or doing some other sedentary thing for a while. The problem is that I usually feel like I’m doing it because I have no idea how else to pass the time. I have the good fortune to leave near a shopping center, so I can always go wander around for a while if I need to get out of my apartment. Also, I can walk to work now. It’s not a short walk, but still. And I get a free dinner every night I work, which cuts down on my groceries and means I’m less inclined to go out to eat a lot during the week. Yay. Now I just have to find a second job. Because my bank account is dwindling fast.

It’s no good to sit around all day waiting for the phone to ring. So I try to turn it off or leave it behind when I can. Maybe I will miss a phone call or text, but anybody who can’t wait isn’t worth hearing from anyway, right? Oh well, at least I have other shit with which to distract myself. I feel the need to reconnect with nature.