Enigma

douglasThe difficulty with anxieties is that they make you feel nervous about decisions you’ve already made. You get really nervous because you’re seeing your significant other later, and as much as you love them, you almost don’t know what to do with them now that you’ve got them. If you’d dated or gotten laid a lot while in high school and college rather than pining for your friends and masturbating incessantly, maybe you would have an easier time processing this. But since you’d almost gotten used to spending all that time alone, it’s disorienting to have the option to do something else. And of course, there’s sex. Where would we be without that?

I’m still single, by the way. I’m just spitballing.

There’s been talk of making Blood Meridian into a movie for years now. It’s one of my favorite novels, and arguably Cormac McCarthy’s masterpiece. It’s a challenging piece of work. For one thing, it is unrelentingly violent. I don’t think then pages go by in that book without somebody getting skinned, shot to pieces, or their head bashed open on a rock. It’s not exactly beach reading, is what I’m trying to say. For another thing, its point-of-view is, if not nihilistic, certainly more interested in portraying evil as something that is immortal and eternally destructive than in telling the kind of story in which the good guys win. Since the story consists of a bunch of cowboys going on a killing rampage across the Southwest, I’m not even sure if it has any sympathetic characters. Actually, that’s not true. The kid (the nameless protagonist of the novel) is somewhat sympathetic, but only because he kind of just goes along with what’s happening rather than actively encouraging it. With a story like that, you kind of have to take what you can get.

I’m not sure who you would get to adapt such a book. Badlands-era Malick could maybe do it justice, but I doubt he’d want to now. The Coen brothers could probably do it, but they already adapted one of Cormac McCarthy’s books (No Country for Old Men), so perhaps they wouldn’t want to do go there again. Werner Herzog, maybe? Resurrect Klaus Kinski and he would make an amazing Judge. I’ve probably spent too much time thinking about this.

I’m on the last season of 30 Rock. It’s easy to get caught in the trap of taking things too slow when you realize that you’re enjoying something. I love 30 Rock. I think it’s one of the best sitcoms ever, but I’ve seen only a couple episodes of Seinfeld and haven’t watched Cheers at all, so I clearly have a lot to learn about that. There’s a line in Battlestar Galactica where Adama says that he likes the book he’s reading so much that he doesn’t want it to be over. Part of the reason I read, like, five or six books at once is that it’s hard for me to focus on something once I realize I like it. I’m not prolonging it so much as missing the forest for the trees. Because I have fallen into that pitfall of reading something just so you can say you’ve read it or watching something just so you can say you’ve watched it. And you can’t do that. Because then you’re just counting the pages/episodes until you’re done and then you can move onto the next new thing. I might look more composed to other people than I actually am. All I know is that sitting down to actually watch/read something, even and especially if I like it, is way more difficult than it should be.

The thing about 30 Rock is that it is not much concerned with either plot or character. It’s a joke machine, that’s all. When it’s on a roll, it will have you pissing your pants, clutching your sides and howling with laughter, because it is the kind of show that can fit a brilliant sight gag, one liner, and obscure pop culture reference into the same moment. Even the worst episodes have at least a handful of good jokes, and from what I’ve heard, the show went out on a bang, so I’ll be excited to get there. I have so much else to watch, after all.

It can be difficult to reign in your own weird impulses when you’re the only one in control. Especially when you spend 95% of your free time in your room. I’m talking about myself here, in case that’s not obvious. One of my high school English teachers was fond of reading some of our essays aloud to the class. The high points came when he read the bad ones and made fun of them, but he read the good ones as well, and wouldn’t you know it, mine were often featured. Except that one time I didn’t even do a very good job of exploring the topic; I just wrote a really entertaining (albeit) weird piece and he gave it the highest grade in the class because it was nothing if not memorable. Again, it’s easy to go up your own ass when you’re the only one calling the shots. It’s part of the reason I think Kubrick’s last masterpiece was A Clockwork Orange. The man was a genius, but to call him a control freak is putting it mildly.

I’m listening to Rent as I write this. It’s not bad. I listened to it as a high school theater nerd and thought it was the best thing I’d ever heard. I don’t still feel that way, but I sympathize with Mark, Roger, and Maureen. Maybe they are entitled assholes who don’t contribute anything. But they’re trying to. Roger’s music sucks and I’m not sure if Mark’s movie would really be any good, but honestly, who are they hurting by squatting in that loft? (Also, I saw somebody play Maureen as a dumb blonde once. It worked surprisingly well, especially her performance piece, which is actually really funny.) Benny doesn’t need the money; he can let his old friends stay there for nothing, and at the beginning of the show, he’s asking them to pay rent on the year they’ve already stayed, which seems like a half-assed way of trying to throw somebody out. I know people who hate that musical. I think it’s overlong and sentimental, but still powerful. Maybe I’ll think differently in another ten years. Then again, maybe not.

Suddenly, I have so much more respect for One Direction.

Water

water

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but my mother and I had an argument a little while back in which she told me that she was worried that I was spending too much time alone. That’s probably true, but it’s not my fault. I still have a social life. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve hung out with anyone, but I’ve gone for months at a time like that and while I wouldn’t want to live through it again, it remains that I don’t need to go out partying every night to stay sane. Just every so often. What frustrates me is the feeling of having to go way out of my way to find someone to spend time with. It’s usually I who reach out, not the other way around. That needs to stop. I still don’t know what to do about it.

The irony is that my mother was correct when she said that she thought I might be “venting [my] frustrations on the internet”, but not in the way she thought. What do you picture when you hear that phrase? I see somebody leaving racist comments on YouTube. I’m not a troll. I can be a mouthy bastard, but I don’t say shit just to piss people off. More than likely, I’m the guy who mistakes a troll for somebody who is actually trying to start a discussion. They’re easy to spot on YouTube, less so on Facebook. I don’t use the Book of Faces quite as often as I used to (although I still check it multiple times a day—baby steps, people) because most of the interactions I have tend to be negative. I commented on a friend’s post about something, some friend of hers took exception to what I’d said, and when I said, “Who asked you?”, he said, “I could ask you that same question.” What is this, a fucking playground? I should have known better than to fall for that “I know you are, but what am I?” bullshit, but I hadn’t realized until then what a dbag he was. So I deleted all my responses to anything he’d said so that it looked like he was arguing with himself. Ha ha.

I don’t have to explain why what he said was obnoxious, do I? If you don’t get it, don’t bother to say so. I hate it when people try to resolve an argument by dragging you down to their level. Instead of responding to what you say, they just deflect it, as if both of you being wrong somehow makes them right. It’s the logic used by Aaron Eckhart’s character in Thank You For Smoking, and in case you were still on the fence about it, let me assure you that smoking is very, very bad for you. The person who benefits from stalling rational discussion and preventing anything from getting done is the enemy of the world. (“The Enemy of the World” is my favorite 2nd Doctor storyline. I had to work in a Doctor Who reference.) The tricky part is that nothing is very, very good at masquerading as something. Look at the Keystone XL Pipeline. That’s a whole lot of nothing. No, it’s not something. If you think it is, go away. That, or read a book not written by a right-wing nutjob. Please.

There is one thing that I have learned about relationships despite having never dated anyone: You don’t have to compromise on everything. Maybe I’m an asshole for saying this, but I get a little dose of schadenfreude from watching smug couples fall apart. It’s not that I’m parading around laughing at them or anything, but really, is there anything more irritating than somebody who acts like they’ve got it all figured out because they’ve found someone? They see having a partner as the endpoint, and everything after that is just coasting downhill. Happily partnered people, back me up here: It’s not at all like that, right? Being in a relationship doesn’t mean saying goodbye to all of your problems so much as seeing all of them played out on a larger scale. I’ve heard people say that they think of the period of their life prior to meeting their One and Only as a completely different phase. Of course, you can’t go around auditioning people to be the One; you kind of just find people you’d like to know better and go from there. If you choose the right one, you’ll want to keep knowing them better. I guess.

I refuse to think of what I’m doing these days as “finding myself”. I don’t know what that means. It sounds like something affluent white people do in big cities after graduating college in every TV show ever made. My problems these days are not so very different from the ones that I dealt with as a child. I still suffer from crushing existential dread much of the time, although my attitude might have altered slightly. Things have been a little slow lately. There might be a shakeup in the staff at the restaurant, which could be tough for me to adjust to. Also, we just had the slowest night I’ve ever seen. Nobody came in, except to get takeout. Nobody. I bring a book to read on my downtime and even I think that’s boring.

As Dr. Seuss once said, unslumping yourself is not easily done. I just have to double down on learning how to use my alone time. Because I will take that over being surrounded by the wrong people. I hope I never get desperate enough to let that change. In the meantime, I must ask you all to stay strong and, if you haven’t yet, check out Orphan Black. It’s a really, really, really good show. What’s more, nobody watches it, so you’ll look extra cool once everyone does (which they will). Mazel Tov!

fucks

More Than Human

BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEADThere is a difference between mellowing out and losing your edge. Most people mellow out as they get older. That’s natural. Sidley Lumet made a string of good-to-great movies from the late 50s into the mid-70s, from 12 Angry Men to Dog Day Afternoon. His pace slowed after that, but he never lost it completely. His final film was Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, an unflinchingly cynical piece of work that would be impossible to sit through if it weren’t so gripping. A lot of artists have a 10-15 year period relatively early in their careers during which they crank out one classic after the next. Springsteen was like that. So was Akira Kurosawa. John Carpenter, too, although he was a little hit-and-miss even when he was in his prime. Alfred Hitchcock is an outlier. He made two of his best-regarded films, Psycho and Vertigo, when he was pushing 60. I haven’t seen any of his films from the 70s, but I’ve heard some very positive things about Frenzy. If I mellow out, that’s fine. If I lose my edge, kill me. I’m not kidding.

I’ve cried at only a couple of movies in my lifetime. Ikiru is one. If you’ve seen that one, you probably know which scene I’m talking about. Even if you haven’t, the DVD cover gives it away. Dear Zachary is another. It’s one of the most wrenching films ever made, made even more so by the fact that it’s a documentary. The last half hour of that movie will rip your heart out. The most recent one was Mary and Max, a claymation film from Australia. It’s on Netflix, so if you haven’t seen it, hie thee hence over there and watch it immediately. It’s about a New Yorker with Asperger’s who becomes pen pals with a little girl in Australia. As a warning, let me say that though the film is animated, it is not kid-friendly, and it gets dark pretty late into its running time. But it’s worth it. I respond to dark comedies better than most other genres, perhaps because my life is one. That film is hopeful, just unconventionally so. Don’t feel sorry for Max.

There’s a general rule that I’ve observed when it comes to couples. People who are in healthy, fulfilling relationships rarely feel the need to talk about it. You can spend a significant amount of time getting to know them before they say the words, “My girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/wife/partner/whatever….” People who are insecure about their relationship and want to hide behind it as a means of deflecting criticism are the ones who always gush about their partners and how perfect they are. It’s more willful self-delusion than anything else. They want to believe that because of this relationship, they are a totally different person than they were before. This requires that their partner sit still and be objectified to be complicit in maintaining the illusion. It’s a form of co-dependency, an immaturity that tries to pass itself off as maturity. There’s nothing wrong with a little PDA here and there, but if you make YouTube videos consisting entirely of you and your boyfriend kissing and canoodling, I feel justified in saying that your relationship is not long for this world. That is all.

I’ve said before that I never want to work a 9-to-5 job. I’m actually starting to like the feeling of being free when everyone else is at work, even if the flipside is that I often have work when everyone else is out partying. Maybe that’s because I’m a weirdo, or maybe it’s because I like to remind myself that I’m a weirdo. I wonder if other people find me intimidating. Do they hang back from talking to me because I scare them off? As I write this, I’m still doing a slow burn over the events in Ferguson, Missouri. I don’t have the time or the energy to talk about that at length now. But I will reiterate what I have said before: If you are one of those people who insist that this isn’t about race, you’re part of the problem. I hear people tell me that if I were nicer, people would be more willing to listen to me. No, I think the only way I ever get someone to listen to me is by telling them exactly what I think of them. It’s not “I speak my mind, and if you can’t handle it, fuck you” so much as it’s “I speak my mind, and if you can’t handle it, okay then”.

You can’t really get anywhere if you can’t have a discussion. And a lot of discussion gets shortchanged because the instant I say something negative about, say, a movie, somebody says, “It’s just a movie. If you don’t like it, you can watch something else.” That’s…not a response to my criticism, however. Sometimes, I watch/read/listen to stuff that I don’t exactly like. Sometimes I say so just to see what people say back. If all people have to say is, “Why can’t you just let Person X do their own thing and not be so judgmental”, I sorta shrug and roll my eyes at the same time, then walk away. When you put yourself out there in a public forum, you are opening yourself up to criticism. That doesn’t mean you have to like it. It doesn’t even mean you have to listen to it. It just means that you should acknowledge it. Because you can’t make the stuff you don’t like just disappear. And the reason other people exist is not to tell you how wonderful you are.

I’ve been getting more into classic comic strips lately. Does anyone remember Pogo? I had never read it, but then I found out that my main man Bill Watterson is a fan. So I guess I have some reading to do.

pogo

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.