Once in a Lifetime

 

I’ve never made friends quickly. You all should know that by now. At my previous job, my boss told me that I seemed to have put up a shell around myself. That’s not entirely true, but he meant well. I heard recently that he walked out of the store he’d been transferred to because the district manager is a total bitch. I flatter myself that I might have started a bit of a trend by walking out when I did. I wasn’t the first person to walk out, but still. They started a dangerous precedent by pushing good people out, and anyway, I didn’t come here to gloat. I’ve learned by now that what they say about living well being the best revenge is true. It doesn’t mean that the bad guy always gets his comeuppance. Oftentimes, they kinda just drift away. Most of the time, they never learn their lesson. They go on being shitty, and the most you can hope for is that the people around them realize what shits they are and keep their distance. But they don’t ever just go away.

It was a big decision when I decided to be a blogger instead of a vlogger or whatever. I have a very animated speaking style and a rather distinctive voice, but I would prefer not to go on camera. I don’t like having my picture taken. Sometimes I think I might have fit right in in one of those cultures where they believe that having your picture taken robs you of your soul or something like that. Then again, maybe not. I’m not a Luddite (it’s actually a common myth that the Luddites were anti-technology, but never mind); I just try to resist the temptation of going with trends. That’s why I’ve always felt so out of my own time. I know that we all like to think of ourselves as special snowflakes, and that’s great. But there are a lot of people out there who don’t think of themselves as ordinary who, to my eyes, appear rather conventional. I don’t believe that’s entirely subjective. I think that most people are boring, and that interesting people come in all shapes and sizes. There’s nothing wrong with being boring, I suppose. It’s all in what you want out of life.

cybermenIt’s frustrating, working in a medium that doesn’t provide you with any immediate gauge as to what people think. Actually, I think that might be a strength. Facebook has the “like” button, and actually, so does this blog. But it’s not like there are message boards where people discuss my stuff at length. If they did, I probably wouldn’t read it because I need my headspace. That’s the problem with the internet: it’s all just nerds with opinions. I still don’t understand why so many Whovians hate “Nightmare in Silver” so much. I remain convinced that it’s the best Cybermen storyline since “Earthshock”, not that the competition is particularly steep. It’s definitely overstuffed and yeah, the kids are kind of annoying, but it also has some arresting visuals, a great performance by Matt Smith, and some of the snappiest dialogue the show ever produced. (“I trust the Doctor.” “Are you saying he knows what he’s doing?” “I’m not sure I’d go that far.”) For once, the Cybermen act like Cybermen (sort of proto-Borg, although I don’t know if there’s any truth to the rumor that they inspired the Borg) rather than substitute Daleks. Go Gaiman.

There’s nobody I agree with 100% of the time. This leads me to believe that nobody is right 100% of the time except for me. But seriously, I do believe that there is such a thing as absolute truth. I believe in subjectivity as well; I just think that while most human beings might, on some level, be more or less the same, that doesn’t mean you have to get along with everyone, and it’s okay to think somebody’s a shithead if they’ve wronged you. I guarantee that there are folks out there who think I’m a shithead, although I think most of them are shitheads too, so I guess it kind of evens out. There’s no bigger waste of time, in my opinion, than trying to make friends with everyone. A lot of my idols probably wouldn’t have much to say to me if they met me. Then again, maybe they would and I just need to get a little bit better at making overtures.

I’ve always believed that endings aren’t bad so long as you get to end things on your own terms. I talked to an asshole on an online dating site just now who couldn’t believe that I choose to work in retail and customer service jobs despite having degrees from two of the best universities in the world. Well, I am a smart motherfucker. Right now, I need my headspace, that’s all. You can’t get back at everyone who has hurt you. Robert, the near-sociopath who screwed me out of my living situation about two years ago, is probably living quite comfortably now. Whether or not he’s happy is debatable. I’m not very happy, but it’s all in how you define happiness, isn’t it?

In case it’s not obvious, I’m signing off here. I’ve cranked out these last few posts in what could be considered a binge (albeit the tamest binge in the entire history of the word) because sometimes, you just want to get it over with. Oh no, don’t take that the wrong way. I’m glad I did this shit. I used to think that you needed to have all your shit figured out before you ended something, but it turns out you don’t. Is death the only part where that happens? I don’t know. But it’s not as scary as it looks. Not that I plan on doing it anytime soon.

I’ll leave you with something silly. I’m still kind of a funnyman despite spending most of my time here sharing Deep Thoughts. See ya around.

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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

Anticlimax

tree of lifeI find that myself thinking less about loan debt the more time goes by. Because it’s not really on me, you see. The costs of education have ballooned to the point where you would have to be either Mitt Romney or a redheaded lesbian Olympic skater in order to get the inheritance or scholarships necessary to get out of college debt-free, so I’m trying not to worry overmuch about the fact that my debt is almost $2,000 larger than it was when I graduated simply due to interest. Seriously, who the fuck has this kind of money? More importantly, who the fuck has this kind of money in their mid-20s? In order to have it all paid off by now, I would have had to spend the last year or so working at least 120 hours a week. And wouldn’t you know it, but good jobs are kind of thin on the ground these days. I have a part-time job that could be a lot worse, but even then, I think my loan providers are going to have to be content with the tiny, tiny amount that I send them each month. At this rate, I’ll have to live to be 200 to pay it all off, so it’s in everyone’s interest to keep me alive that long, right?

It’s funny. I’m not a very happy person, yet I seem happier than my parents these days. They’re mad at me, but they can’t even articulate why. I’ve been looking for an apartment for almost two months now. I’ve been looking for a job since January, although I was filling out about one application every two months in the beginning. So no, I do not get up every morning and respond to every single Craigslist post that even remotely applies to me, but neither do I sit around all day patting myself on the back for taking advantage of my parents’ endless generosity. They seem to think simultaneously that I don’t want to leave and that I’m prickly and unpleasant to live with. Sort of like how Barack Obama is a weak, ineffectual leader and an imperialist tyrant all at the same time. If the only criticism you have for someone is that they could be working harder, you’re wasting time. And I really don’t owe them all that much anyway.

Because I’ve already spent God knows how much time talking about my finances and problems with my family, I’ll switch gears here and talk about movies. Basically everyone is telling me to see Boyhood. Some reviewers are even calling it the greatest American film of the past few years. That’s saying a lot when The Tree of Life is only three years old. (Yeah, I like Malick. Suck it, haters. And in case anyone is wondering what he did in the 20 years between Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line, read this. Turns out he didn’t disappear or anything; he just had projects in mind that he couldn’t get off the ground. While I’m in parentheses, I think we need to distinguish between being media-shy and a recluse. Thomas Pynchon once quipped that to the media, “recluse” just means “someone who doesn’t like to talk to reporters”. Bill Watterson, from what little I can gather, is basically just a quiet dude who likes oil painting and riding his bike. He’s not a hermit; he just doesn’t care for the spotlight. I respect that.)

Before Sunrise is not actually that great of a movie. Yeah, I said it. I liked Dazed and Confused an awful lot and thought School of Rock was fun, but I think Richard Linklater’s problem is that he tries to make movies where nothing happens like it does in the movies. Alfred Hitchcock once said that movies are life with the boring parts taken out. Our lives are rarely as dramatic as the movies, but the keyword is “rarely”. For example, less than two years ago, I was borderline homeless and got help only when I jokingly threatened to go on a shooting spree and some people took that threat seriously. Less than a year ago, my roommate burst into my room at nine or ten and night and screamed that if I didn’t do what he wanted right now, he would “fucking kill” me. Sound like something you’d see in a movie? I’m still reeling from at least one of those. But Before Sunrise is, to use a decidedly uncritical word, boring. I just don’t give a fuck about these two assholes, which is interesting, since I’m roughly the same age. It’s a will-they-or-won’t-they where it’s obvious from the first five minutes that they will. I like to get that out of the way early on, then see how well we click otherwise.

I’ll probably like Boyhood when I eventually see it; I’m just saying that I don’t really feel the pull. It’s been almost a year since I moved back to California, and the last twelve months have been pretty quiet. I’m really not sure how else to describe them. It’s the longest I’ve ever been out of school, which means that for once, I’m not living according to any predetermined structure. The hard part is finding a way to work within that structure so that the micro is interesting even if the macro is predictable.

If you've seen the movie, you'll get why this is in here.

If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll get why this is in here.

Because I felt like it, I watched Rob Zombie’s The Lords of Salem recently. That man…has a vision. If you don’t like horror movies or have a low tolerance for nasty, vile, sadistic shit, avoid this movie at all costs. I once made the mistake of watching Re-Animator with my mother in the next room. That film has a scene in which a severed head goes down on a woman who is tied to a table. My mother told me not to watch “that crap” around her again. If I had watched The Lords of Salem with her in the house, she would probably have disowned me. It’s a moody, atmospheric film that looks great given its budget and is about as good as a film can be while still failing on a storytelling level. It really isn’t bad—on the contrary, it has a sort of campy, intentionally cheesy charm that offsets the balls-out nihilism that marks the last 20 minutes or so. It’s the sort of thing that is so twisted and provocative that it almost crosses back over into just being fun.

Why am I telling you this? Because it’s what’s on my mind these days. There is a lot of worthwhile media out there, and it occurs to me that even if I were working more hours or had a boyfriend or more than two friends, I would probably still spend most of my time doing shit like this. I plan on traveling and learning archery and shit, but I’ll have to make space in my head first. Daniel Radcliffe is amazingly cute.

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.

 

Dirt

Films are made up of many elements. Literary, theatrical, painterly, and musical. But there is something in film that is purely cinematic. When I make films or go to see the films of others, I go in hopes of experiencing this. I’m at a loss to express the quality in words. I hope one day to make a film in which every moment has that power. Until I do I am still only a student.

—Akira Kurosawa

I think my problem is that I’m obsessed with endings. I keep wanting to know how shit will turn out, and thus am always looking for ways to cap off the evening rather than bowing out when it’s time to go. “Productive” is not the easiest word in the world to define. I’m trying not to get too wrapped up in the idea that I have to have done something meaningful in order for the day to have meaning. It’s kind of poisonous, and makes it difficult to enjoy the part that you’re on. Besides, I’m still getting started. A lot of things have gone up and down over the past few years. I would like to find a way to at least make those changes less sudden and more manageable. The rest, I’m afraid, is out of my hands. Or maybe I’m just trying to explain why I love desserts so much.

cocoa

Bill Watterson once said, “It’s surprising how hard we’ll work when the work is done just for ourselves.” I often feel like I need to rediscover my sciencey side. When I was a child, I would have described myself as more of a math and science than humanities person. Somewhere along the line, that flipped, and I’m still not sure why. Maybe I am better at reading people than equations. But even that takes time. I did well in all of my subjects in school, but of all the science courses I took, I did best in physics. Maybe that’s because it’s more intuitive than, say, biology. Physics seems to lend itself to just saying “Figure it out”, and however you get your answer, well, that’s how you got your answer. It’s also the sort of thing where you might spend an hour working on one problem, then check your answer, find out you did it wrong, throw your textbook across the room, kill a puppy, and set out figuring out what you did wrong. Maybe I’m mischaracterizing chemistry and biology, but they just never seemed to work that way for me. I might have made a good physicist or astronomer. It’s a bit late to go into one of those fields. They might be worth studying as a side project or something.

I don’t handle awkwardness very well, and I’m starting to think I have confidence issues. I can barely make it through this video, and it’s basically just a cute demonstration of how people react when a total stranger asks for their phone number.

I think what’s bugging me these days is that so much of what I’m doing right now is uncharted waters for me. I plan on having enough money and enough of a career that I can eventually become completely financially independent from my parents. I’ve never experienced that before. They have literally been with me since I was born, so what the fuck am I supposed to do without them? I can only imagine what I’ll be capable of when my relationship with them exists squarely on my own terms. Some nights, I’ll be baking cookies and watching Doctor Who or something and I’ll think about how awesome it would be to share this with someone. I like desserts, I like cheesy old science fiction, and I like blowjobs. That might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but you cannot seriously expect me to believe that there is not a reasonably attractive twentysomething male out there who would like to go there with me (in that order, preferably). But maybe I just haven’t made the space for him yet. Some people think of themselves as private people just because they don’t like it when somebody touches their stuff. No, having personal space means fighting off a meltdown every time somebody stands too close to you. My personal bubble extends for about 100 miles in every direction. Maybe I can get that down to just five or ten?

Everything feels crammed together in my brain. I want everything, and I want it now. I’m trying to find ways to space things out, but sometimes, my mind just latches onto something, and it’s like having an itch inside my skull. It’s always something maddeningly specific. But talking about it does help a little. I just want to know why I fixate on stuff in this way. But some things have always come more easily to me than others. I guess this is my subconscious’ way of pointing me in the right direction.

I’ve spent the (almost) one year since I finished school trying to build a life for myself. This is different from anything I’ve done before. When I was in school, I was just trying to get through the damn thing. And I won’t say that while I was in school, I wasn’t living in the “real word”, because as far as I’m concerned, everything is the real world, but the fact remains that I am, for the first time ever, basically making it all up as I go. There is no end point here (unless you count death, which is a bit morbid and anyway, I plan on living forever). So what I’m working with here is…dirt. I have to find the fine line between just taking what I’m given and giving something back.

Phooey.