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.

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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.

 

I Hate Everyone

Let us talk, for a second, about the holidays. I barely even noticed they were approaching. My Christmas shopping consisted of buying books for a handful of people. I had neither the time nor the money to do much else. I worked on Christmas Eve and work again tomorrow. This job doesn’t allow for much vacation time. Since I was so broke when I went Christmas shopping, I had to charge everything for my credit card, and since my father pays the bill for that, he essentially bought his own Christmas present. At this time last year, I had five weeks off of school. I spent it sitting around working on my resume and cover letter. I also watched lots of movies. Netflix has an annoying tendency to make stuff unavailable for streaming with very short notice. A few months ago, they made every episode of Columbo available after inexplicably making on select episodes available for years. So there’s that.

johanna

“Hooray, we slipped f-bombs into a PG-13 movie!”

Let us now talk about The Hunger Games. It’s a pretty good series. I saw the second movie and finished the first book not too long ago. The second movie is definitely better than the first, although I have no idea about the books. Suzanne Collins is not a brilliant writer, nor is she a terrible one. The second movie essentially does everything the first did, except better. Haymitch was my favorite character in the first movie, because I wish I could work up the courage to stop giving a fuck. In the second, it’s Johanna, who is played by Jena Malone as a woman so fed up with being told to dance by the government that she’s not even trying to hide her contempt. Since the whole movie is about a totalitarian system that is slowly crumbling, the most relatable characters are the ones who see right through the whole thing.

I was starting to like New York, you know. It takes a long time to adjust to the rhythms of a different city, but New York is certainly more interesting than California. I’ve often wondered what it would be like to live in a rural area, but maybe that would just be really boring. Maybe I’m just tired of living on one side of the country or another. Keeping in touch with friends at that distance is difficult, but then again, it’s not like I have any friends. From the looks of things, I’m stuck here for a while. It could take close to a year to save up enough money to move back, especially with what I’m making. And I don’t particularly like California; it’s just hard to escape. So I think I’ll just keep moping about for the time being if you don’t mind. I don’t even seem to be getting much reading done these days. I know people who read, like, three books a week. How do they do that? I have only a part-time job, yet I still don’t have all that much free time.

Science fiction, to make a generalization, is a little bit more idea-driven than “literary” fiction. Suzanne Collins has been accused of stealing her premise from the Japanese book/film Battle Royale, but that really isn’t fair. The idea of teenagers being forced to kill each other until only one remains is essentially the same, but in Battle Royale, it’s part of a military experiment. The whole reality show/dystopian future aspect is completely missing. Anyway, there aren’t very many truly original storylines to begin with. The Matrix was great, but the question as to whether our world is nothing more than virtual reality has been around since Plato’s Cave. Sci-fi seems to lend itself more to accusations of stealing ideas than any other genre. (Harlan Ellison sues people left and right, but that’s because he just can’t help himself.) And of course, Shakespeare ripped off half of his plays from commedia dell’arte. So at a certain point, we have to call the whole thing off.

plato's cave

Could Katniss Everdeen be the first female action hero since Sarah Connor? (The Bride doesn’t count. She was more of an antihero.) She’s tough and feminine at the same time. (That her weapon of choice is a bow says something, but I’m not quite sure what.) I like Ellen Ripley a lot, and I feel that movies need more badass women in general, so if Katniss is to become a role model for young women, I’m okay with that. She’s no Mary Tyler Moore, but she doesn’t need to be. Cinema is not about realism, but escapism, so anyone who thinks that it’s harmful that so many teen girls are eating up a story in which one of their own shoots arrows through people can bugger off. Why do you even go to the movies?

I am, as usual, rather miserable these days. I just don’t have much going on, that’s all. I see movies on my own a lot, which is fine, but annoying, because it also reminds me that most of my friends don’t live close by. If I want to hang out with anyone, I usually have to go way out of my way to do it, provided that they can even find the time to see me. So it’s not entirely by choice that I spend so much time by myself. It’s just that when I am by myself, I like to be able to decide what to do. And when I go out, I like to have at least some agency in what I’m doing. Got it?

By the way, if Jennifer Lawrence is the new It Girl, I can live with that. She’s a good actress and, by all appearances, a very charming lady.

Things That Happen

quill penI don’t much like traveling. Besides the environmental consequences and health risks of being a frequent flyer, I just don’t want to have to fly thousands of miles to see my friends or conduct my business. Sure, there’s Skype and social media and all that shit, but that’s just not the same as seeing somebody in person. But since my friends these days live all over the country (all over the world, really), I have to learn to live with seeing some of my friends only once every several years or so. It’s not a state of living that appeals to me. I have very good friends whom I haven’t seen in over a year. Hell, with my schedule, it’s hard to even make it up to Boston to see my friends at Harvard. It bears repeating: I don’t like living this way. I still write letters every now and then. (They’re these little paper things you stick in mailboxes. Mailboxes are where you put Netflix envelopes. Is everyone on the same page here?) That’s a dying practice, but it needs to come back. It’s how people kept in touch in the days of powdered wigs and horse-drawn carriages, and let me tell you, it’s more effective than Facebook. Probably better than Skype, too, although I haven’t tried that yet.

I hate the feeling of being squeezed. You know, like when you have so much to do that you can’t even process it all. Your schedule is filled up by all of these solid chunks that you can’t figure out how to finesse or work around. Meeting here, work there, to the point where you spend the whole day looking forward to getting home just so you can lie face down on your bed. It’s not a fun way to live. It’s hard for me to pay attention in class, and when I get home, I won’t be able to focus on my work. It might be nice to learn to focus on one when one is happening and the other when the other is happening, but that’s some Zen Buddhist shit I still haven’t quite got the hang of. So I think I’ll shift gears and talk about something else that has been on my mind lately: comedy.

I do not generally have “fun”. To some people, this makes me seem funny. Don’t be afraid to laugh, however, because there is nothing more annoying than somebody who thinks you just need a shoulder to cry on. (When I cry, I usually do it alone.) I met a girl at a party some years ago who condescended the holy living fuck out of me. It was a friend’s birthday party, and we were doing a photo scavenger hunt. When she jokingly offered me sex as a reward for driving everyone around on the hunt, I declined, but told her that I would be fine with chocolate. “You are the most uptight person I have ever met,” she responded. I punched her in the face repeatedly, then shit in her mouth just for good measure. Later on, when we needed a picture of somebody doing something weird with a fake Santa (my friend’s birthday happened to be near Christmas), I grabbed a miniature wooden Santa’s balls (we were in some kind of store), somebody snapped a pic, and we left. She came up to me and gave me a hug. “I’m glad to see that you are coming out of your shell,” she said, her breath still reeking of shit. I slit her throat and left her body there. (Okay, so I didn’t do any of that. But I wanted to. Also, it turns out that she basically invited herself to the party, as neither my friend nor anyone else there liked her any more than I did, which is to say that if they had birthed her, they would have killed themselves out of shame.) To you, this might be funny. To me, it’s kind of…annoying.

I hate having to explain myself to people. Every argument I’ve ever had has followed roughly the same pattern: A person has disagreed with me, I’ve told them that I found what they say somewhat offensive, they scold me for saying that, and when I finally manage to explain clearly and logically why they really shouldn’t have said/done that, they switch gears and become a smug, condescending asshole. “Come on, Robot King, you don’t really believe that,” they say. “Surely, we can all be friends.” If you’d apologized when I first spoke up, maybe, but the Smug, Condescending Asshole (SCA) realizes that they’re losing, so they try to pretend that the entire dispute was much ado about nothing. I got into an argument on one of my favorite websites recently over (what else?) Doctor Who and was amazed at how rude and dismissive people were towards anyone who wondered if they newer stuff lacks some of the charm of the older stuff. That’s it, really. I get that anything that is around for 50 years is going to have to reinvent itself to stay relevant, but if Batman threw on a tutu and started shooting an Uzi, you’d cry foul, and you’d have every reason to. It’s not so much that I can’t see how anyone can like Matt Smith or Steven Moffat, just that I feel that their understanding of the series’ purpose is fundamentally different from my own. It’s less about style than spirit, anyway, and I think that if you dig very deep, you’ll find that the simple, childlike glee that infused the classic stuff is present, but heavily distorted in Moffat’s vision. And that is a perfectly fair reason to call bullshit.

I’m still not sure how to deal with all of the SCAs I meet. But I do know that they’ll always lose. I don’t have to worry about earning their respect. I already have it.

To be continued…

The Age of Irony

I admit it: I’m a bit of a narcissist. Has anyone else ever posted something that they were really fond of on Facebook, then thrown a little hissy fit when it hasn’t gotten as many “likes” or comments as you were expecting? Yeah, me neither. The internet does that to us. And the problem is that it’s inescapable. I’m not fishing for feedback here, but I always get annoyed when a post I put a lot of time and effort into fails to get any “likes” or comments. It just makes me feel like nobody ever reads this (which, I’m fairly certain, is wrong, but sure feels that way). So from here on out, I’m going to try a bit of a different tack. I’m going to try being honest about what I actually want. Oh, I’m not going to stop being sarcastic. The one caveat is that since I still don’t know exactly what I want, I don’t exactly how to ask for it. So really, I guess you could say that I expect things to go on more or less as they did before. Sigh. My dreams have gotten increasingly vivid lately. That means that I am not quite acknowledging something that is very important to me, and need to start taking bigger risks. A few nights ago, I spent over an hour rooting around Spotify trying to remember the name of a song I wanted to listen to earlier but hadn’t been able to. When it finally came to me, I felt like I had scratched an itch inside my head. Whenever I fixate on something like this, it means something big is coming. I hope I can handle it, whatever it is.

This might sound strange coming from a dude for whom sarcasm is basically a second language, but I think we misunderstand the purpose of irony, and not just in the way that Alanis Morissette did when she wrote that song that, as every single “funny” person since the mid-90s has pointed out, lacks any real examples of irony. People use irony as a defense mechanism. That’s not how it works. Don’t say something stupid, then say that you were just being sarcastic. If it was a joke, what was funny about it? Ask yourself that the next time you can’t tell if I’m joking. If it sounds too ridiculous to be true, it probably is, but if it sounds even more ridiculous than that, it probably is true. I know that sounds confusing, but it really isn’t. We “funny” people have to walk a fine line. When I told a joke at Christmas dinner that was a bit too subtle, my father asked me to repeat it so that everyone could pretend to find it funny the second time around. I did, and they guffawed at my cleverness. I hate my family.

I think I’m beginning to understand why I dedicated so much time to tracking down that one stupid song (which is this one, in case anyone cares). Have you ever found yourself presented with so many options that you just don’t know where to begin? You know, you walk into a bookstore and see so much stuff you’ve wanted to read for years that you just want to buy everything? Sometimes, I go on a shopping spree, and that can be fun, but I prefer to moderate my approach a little more. It’s nice to not have to spend all of one’s energies at once. Part of the reason I am so cynical is that I am tired of people telling me it’ll all work out in the end. What end is that, death? I’d like shit to work itself out now, thank you very much. I’m not interested in how it all ends so much as what’s going to happen after. I still remember the first night I made quota as a canvasser. It was magical, working itself out so perfectly that I couldn’t have written it any better. They fired me not long after, as I couldn’t repeat the success (well, I almost did on the last night). It was a remarkable story, but not a happy one.

You were thinking of him just now, weren't you?

You were thinking of him just now, weren’t you?

It’s kind of sad that an unsentimental fellow such as myself has to stick up for sentiment. No, I’m not a big softie underneath it all. I do occasionally experience these things you humans call “emotions”, but that’s about it. I’m just sick of people couching what they really mean in several layers of coolness. I was surprised, upon seeing Les Miserables a couple months ago, to learn that some people consider the musical schmaltzy. Really? I just think it’s direct. Characters state their intentions, backstories, and desires just like that since we have a lot of story to unspool and musicals tend to work like that. It’s not shitty just because it’s not Sondheim, and I’m pretty sure that having characters express their feelings in a song because they would sound stupid if spoken aloud is the very heart of musical theater. I am not an expert on the medium, but I think Les Mis is easily one of the best musicals ever produced. Rent isn’t bad either, but sweet Jesus, is “Your Eyes” a godawful song.

Joss Whedon once observed that people tend to communicate better when they have to find nonverbal ways to communicate it. (Bonus points if you can guess what he was commenting on when he said that.) I would like that to change. It might make things easier on everyone if we could just take people at their word when they say they’re not interested, or that they’re happy to see you. I’m tired of wondering whether that person who promised to call me sometime is actually going to call me. And for the sake of bros everywhere, we have to be able to believe guys when they say that they’re just friends, and are totally not gay in any way, shape or form. For that to happen, however, all of the closet cases will have to stop lying to themselves. That could take a while.