In God’s House

The challenge is to resist circumstances. Any idiot can be happy in a happy place, but moral courage is required to be happy in a hellhole.

—Joyce Carol Oates

The thing about anxieties is that they don’t go away so much as migrate to other areas. You can never really stamp them out, and even if what you’re obsessing over is, on its face, ridiculous, it’s hard to just forget about it and move on no matter how many times you’ve been through this before. So forgive me if I’m even more self-pitying than normal here, but I’ve been in kind of a reflective mood lately. The holidays are right around the corner, and I’m starting to understand why they’re so stressful for so many people. I mean, the whole point is that they’re fun and festive, right? But it doesn’t seem to go that way for most people. I’m not buying anyone gifts this year. I found a second job (it’s seasonal, but still), which will hopefully enable me to make ends meet for the time being, but beyond that, I’m out. Right now, I have to look out for myself and no one else. It’s just where I’m at.

The crazy thing, of course, is that now I have to fight the urge to indulge in all those things that I’ve been holding back on lately. Even with my income nearly doubling, my personal budget sheet is going to be only slightly in the black. I’m not sure how long it’s going to be before I can move back to NYC. I’m hoping to do it by next fall, but at the rate things are going, who knows? This is one of those cases where I wish I had one of my optimistic (or is it fatalistic?) friends around. You know, one of those people who says, “Oh don’t worry, if it’s meant to be, it’ll happen.” I hate that attitude, but it can be rather comforting. I think the universe is a pretty cold, indifferent place, but it’s not completely without order. I also have to figure out what’s going on with my healthcare and other such adult things. I was not happy as a child, so all things considered, that’s kind of a step forward. Even so.

prayer in schoolMy problem isn’t that I’ve never been able to accept responsibility; it’s that I’ve never been very good at kicking back. It’s part of the reason that I spend most of my time off sitting in my room dicking around on my computer: after a long, hard day of doing shit, that’s usually all I have the energy to do. And I’m still not working nine-to-five, which is good, as I don’t want that kind of schedule and likely never will. I think part of my fascination with religion comes with my inability to function in the gritty, messy reality that I live in. I like to think of myself as pragmatic, but since I’m an obsessive perfectionist, I’m probably more idealistic than I care to admit. Some of my favorite co-workers back at the coffee shop weren’t even particularly good at their jobs; they were just fun people to be around. I don’t know how much fun I am to be around, but I try not to let every tiny slip-up at work get to me the way I used to. My father said once that 90% of success is showing up. It’s one of the few valuable things he taught me.

In case it’s not obvious, I’m starting to wind down. I’ll keep writing these posts for a little while yet. I think I am finding better ways to communicate with people than blogging. This thing still doesn’t get many hits, but as I’ve said many times, I don’t even know who the fuck reads blogs anymore. These days, it’s all Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter, or what have you. Nobody gives a shit about WordPress. In a way, it’s liberating to know that you have a small but devoted group of followers. It means that you don’t have to work as hard to keep everyone happy. I finished 30 Rock not too long ago. Maybe the reason I like that show so much is that it’s unafraid to include jokes that are so specific and obscure as to appeal to only a tiny percentage of the population. Jenna had a line at one point that was like, “You’ll have to move to the Bay Area. Have fun always carrying a light sweater everywhere.” I know millions of people live there, but still.

I have found that people tend to use their free time more efficiently when they have less of it. This is not at all surprising. I’m working full-time now, so I don’t have too many days to just sit around doing whatever. It’s only natural that I might miss that. Then again, part of my problem in the first place was that I had all this time to do nothing and no idea how to fill it. I loved computer games as a child, but even I could play them only for a few hours every day before thinking I should find something else to do. I actually did spend a lot of time with my friends in those days, it’s just that everyone seemed to think that because I had no obligations, I had nothing to worry about. It doesn’t work that way. My pursuits at the moment are still fundamentally selfish. I’m not looking for a job that will make other people happier, just one that will pay the bills and not bore me to tears. If it benefits other, great. But my motives are not altruistic by any means.

The Robot Warrior

redwallMan is least himself when talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.

– Oscar Wilde

I think I need a new job. I just got written up for shitty customer service. Again. I think it’s even less my fault than it was the last time. I was making drinks, and some lady told me that her latte was supposed to be iced. The order said hot, but I remade it anyway. Then she complained that I showed attitude in correcting a mistake that wasn’t even mine. There was also something about me taking a sip of it and saying that it tasted fine to me, but I didn’t do that in front of her. I think I set the latte by the espresso machine and took a drink while I was remaking it, remarking to no one in particular that it still tasted pretty good. My memory of the whole thing is a little fuzzy, but I guarantee that I didn’t do it to taunt her. So essentially, I took the heat because somebody else fucked up and I let my true feelings show. Oh, what a wonderful world.

We also have new management in my store. I’m not going to go into detail there, as that would be unprofessional, and anyway, it’s generally a bad idea to go whining about your job in a public forum, even when it’s an anonymous blog that some of your Facebook friends read. So I’ll just say that we have new management and that they may or may not do things the same way the old management did. And I may or may not be looking for another job. That’s all.

I have a thing or two to say about Michael Sam. As of Monday, he is signed up to be on the practice team for the Dallas Cowboys, making him technically the first openly gay man in the NFL. This is a milestone, but something smells fishy to me. Chris Rock once said that if say, his test scores are lower than a white dude’s, it would be wrong to give him a job or whatever over the other dude, “but if there’s a tie, fuck him”. Because he’s white, he’ll figure it out. See, affirmative action is about the acknowledgment that nothing is 100% merit-based. There is a symbolic value in seeing people who are like you on the field/in office/on TV/wherever. And there are biases in our system so deeply engrained that most of us can’t see them that are designed to prevent anyone who doesn’t make people feel comfortable from making it that far. So if a gay player performs as well as a straight player but the straight player makes the team, I am prepared to go ahead and call that homophobia. Because the straight guy had a head start.

Because I am not in the best of moods these days, I should talk about things that aren’t so shitty. I saw a movie last weekend that I think deserves more attention, a 2006 family film called Penelope that stars Christina Ricci as a blue blood girl who is born with a pig’s nose. It basically aims to be a modern-day fairy tale, and while it doesn’t completely succeed, it was a lot better than its 53% Tomatometer suggests. The big problem with it is that it expects us to believe that prospective suitors would be so repulsed by Penelope’s deformity that they would run screaming from the room. Then again, the film itself acknowledges this by having other characters basically shrug and say, “She has a weird nose, so what?” I think what worked about the film is that it didn’t pretend that all Penelope needed was a man to make her complete (not even a man who is played by James McAvoy) and approached the subject of learning to love yourself and your body with more subtlety than expected. The lesson isn’t so much that you can feel proud of your appearance even if you’re not conventionally attractive, but that you’re probably not that ugly to begin with. Also, Peter Dinklage is in it. With an eyepatch.

When I was a kid, there were three things that I spent most of my time doing: playing computer games, watching TV/movies, or reading. Problem was, that’s not enough to occupy all of my time. My social life has never been where I’ve wanted it to be, and if I had to find the root of it, I guess it would be my need to attach myself to a routine, even if it’s not exactly what I want. Whenever I ate lunch, I would pop in a VHS tape and watch one of the several dozen or more movies we had lying around. Not surprisingly, I saw a lot of them quite a few times. I’ve seen Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Clue more times than I can count. At least two of those are endlessly rewatchable, but that’s not the point. I get very anxious when crashing at a friend’s place because it upsets my sense of rhythm. I’m probably not the only person who has that problem. It’s still a problem.

I haven’t missed an episode of The Daily Show in years. I love Jon Stewart, but I do get tired of him returning to the same old jokes about how deep dish pizza is not real pizza and stuff like that. (Other running jokes, like the Lindsay Graham/Southern belle impression, never get old.) I don’t know what it would take to get me to stop watching. (And in case anyone is wondering, no, I don’t have Asperger’s. There’s a really good animated movie on Netflix about a dude with Asperger’s called Mary and Max. Check it out.) I don’t know what it would take to get my life where I want it to be. I just hope I get there before I die.

Games You Can’t Win

I find it depressing that we categorize entertainment by the age demographic at which it is targeted. I suppose it makes sense to call The Hunger Games a young adult novel. Certainly I can see how its themes would resonate with teenagers (and teenage girls, specifically). But whenever I hear someone refer to the Looney Toons or Rocky & Bullwinkle as kids’ stuff, I am reminded of the great Maurice Sendak, who, when asked why he wrote for children, said, “I don’t. I write and somebody says, ‘That’s for children’.” When I visit bookstores (which I do quite often), I frequently find myself wandering over to the kids’ section so I can read Sendak or Dr. Seuss. Seuss’ stuff holds up really well. The Butter Battle is a powerful allegory for nuclear war that scared me even before I understood what it meant, The Sneeches is a sweet story about tolerance and overcoming prejudice, and I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew is a really funny book about learning to face your problems instead of running from them. And then there’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, which was the last book he wrote and is a popular gift for young graduates. I will say no more about that one.

When I was in college, I read Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, figuring that if I read one book for pubescent girls in my lifetime, it should be that one. I did feel a little weird checking that one out from the library, but I think we tend to shelter our kids a little bit too much these days. I recall an incident when I was a child in which I was trying to cross the street. It was rush hour, so even though I lived in the suburbs, I couldn’t really find a gap in traffic large enough to fit through. So I sat down on the curb and started crying. Within one minute, a woman pulled over, asked me what the problem was, then held my hand as we crossed the street. I never saw her again. Would that fly today? We talk to kids so much about stranger danger that you’d think everyone who doesn’t have kids is a pedophile. I don’t have kids, but I’m pretty sure I’m not John Wayne Gacy.

I’m not sure where I’m going with all this. When it comes to the media I consume, I just don’t think very much about who it was made for. I’ll watch How to Train Your Dragon and Stranger by the Lake (an erotic gay French thriller) one after the other if I feel like it. It’s the nice thing about being an adult: you don’t have anyone telling you what to do. Yet I still know people who would return to their childhood if they had the chance. That makes no sense to me. I was not a happy child. I’m not much happier now, but I am freer.

Customer service is a good way to learn to hate humanity. I had a guy complain the other day that he had to wait four minutes for his americano. Wow. Four whole minutes. Then when I gave it to him, he complained that the water had gotten cold because I let it sit on the bar while I made the drinks for the people in line ahead of him and pulled the shots. So it dropped from 180 degrees to 170? Geez, I feel so sorry for you! It’s almost like coffee shops get really busy in the mornings or something. But seriously, you have to at least try not to let shitheads like that one get to you. Let’s face it, most of the people you interact with when you’re doing that kind of work aren’t the sort that you would want to talk to outside of work anyway. One of the regulars started complaining about Asian drivers and how they don’t belong here the other day. I said nothing because, um, what I really have to say to that would get me fired. Just take your drinks and leave, dude. Nobody wants to hear it.

There is a reason I’ve never even been considered for any kind of management position even though I’ve been working at this place for a little less than a year, and that’s that I don’t have the patience to fake it with people who get on my nerves. If you want to be a dick to me, I’ll still get you your coffee. But I won’t apologize to you because you had to wait less than five minutes for it. I just won’t.

Currently, I have so many balls in the air that I just can’t seem to focus on anything. I’m in the middle of, like, six books right now. I’m splitting my time between various movies and TV shows on multiple streaming services, and I still don’t have as much of a social life as I’d like. (That said, I went to a farewell party for a friend who was leaving for grad school over the weekend and met one very pleasant couple who pretty much single-handedly made all of the other shit that happened that week worthwhile.) It’s funny. I can feel some of my old friends pulling away from me. I guess that’s just the way of things. I can’t seem to find my center. My dreams are still frantic and jumbled, like a kaleidoscope of my own life. Sometimes they’re really, really intense, reminding me of shit I’ve been trying to bury for years now. I feel like the universe is going to have to meet me halfway sooner or later. But I have a sick feeling that there is a lot more pain in my near future.

Someday I think I’ll have to travel through the red states. I’m getting tired of hypocritical liberals who voted for Obama but skip to the other side of the street if they see a black dude in a hoodie coming their way. But tempers will have to cool a little bit first. I’m still angry as hell. And I’m going to take it…well, a little bit longer, maybe. But not too long. I think there are far too many people who pride themselves on what they aren’t. And all of them, it seems, are on the internet.

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.

Go Away

May is the cruelest month, or so I just found out. Nothing disastrous happened; it was just long, slow, and shitty. I’ve often said that for me, time moves slower the more fun I’m having. That’s true, but lately, the days have started to blur together. Since I don’t work a nine-to-five, Monday-through-Friday job, I have almost no reason to know when the weekend is coming and when it isn’t (besides keeping track of train schedules). I need more going on in my life, and I’m not talking about people asking me if I’m okay. I don’t need anyone’s pity. I just need them to listen. I’ll figure the rest out by myself.

I haven’t seen a movie in a while (not in theaters, anyway). I heard Godzilla was okay and that X-Men was pretty good, but there’s nothing that motivates me to rush right out to see it. It’s hard to get motivated unless you have something to look forward to*. Maybe I should see concerts more often. I haven’t been to one since They Might Be Giants back in August, and that was the first time I’d seen a band that one of my friends wasn’t in in years. The local music scene where I live is pretty good. Maybe I should look into that. Of course, I’ll be going alone, but I’m pretty used to that by now.

(Off-topic, but this article reminds me of my assistant manager. I have an obsessive need to Myers-Briggs everybody I know. Retail, by nature, tends to attract ambitious, outgoing, rational and dedicated people, so it’s rather fitting. Meanwhile, I’m just over here with my head in the clouds and some chaotically insane dreams.)

When I was in elementary school, some friends and I decided to enter a science fair. I tried to design a machine that would open doors for handicapped people, but looking back, I can see how ungainly and impractical it was. Instead, we built bottle rockets, then filled them up with varying amounts of water to determine what air-to-propellant ratio would produce the most lift. (Our results: 25% water, 75% air.) It was fun. What’s the adult version of that?

lonely tree

Everything feels like it’s moving too quickly. I’ve spent so long spinning my wheels that I don’t know how to process change. Most likely, I’m about to hit a snag (braces self).

My fifth grade teacher was the kind of guy who was perfectly fine with people thinking outside the box and being creative so long as he got to have final say. At one point, he called into a local radio station and asked them to play a country song he liked just because he wanted us to hear it. Then we turned on the radio and heard ourselves greeting the host, followed by the song. I have to admit that’s pretty cool. But more than once, he and I butted heads because I did something unexpected (but not expressly forbidden) that he considered cheating. I’m sorry, but that’s just fucking lazy. I followed the rules, more or less. It’s not my fault that I found a loophole. In some cases, it didn’t even occur to me that what I was doing would be considered out of bounds, anyway, as I was still technically doing what had been asked of me. But in his eyes, I was using the letter of the law to defeat the spirit, and that justified a whole lot of self-righteousness and condescension. His praise on my report card, however, was effusive.

I find myself slipping more and more into existential negativity these days. I hate that feeling. You know, the whole “We’re all going to die anyway, so what’s the point?” kind of thinking that is totally unproductive, but impossible to stop yourself from doing. Funny thing is, death doesn’t scare me as much as you might think. I don’t relish the thought of getting hit by a bus or wasting away in a hospital bed surrounded by friends and family, but as far as I’m concerned, the atheistic idea that it’s nothing more than an eternity of nothingness seems almost simplistic. I am not a believer. Organized religion, in whatever form, has always struck me as little more than a fairy tale. I’m not an agnostic either, because I really don’t see the point in just saying “I don’t know” and leaving it at that. Consciousness is besides the point (and not really an either/or thing to begin with). You can have an idea of God that is as vague and generalized as you like (“God is love”, “God is the universe”), just don’t act as if the only thing that gives this life meaning is the thought of an afterlife. There is so much more to the universe than that.

A lot of the stuff I write on this blog is stuff that’s been floating around for a while. The titles in particular frequently have little to nothing to do with the content. It’s just a combination of words I heard somewhere that I liked, usually. This is a blog, after all. It doesn’t have to make sense.

It helps to have a bit of levity.

*Okay, so the advance reviews for Edge of Tomorrow are pretty positive. We’ll see how that one turns out.