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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Morpheus

There’s a line in Mad Men where a woman whom Don Draper has just spurned tells him that he “only likes the beginnings of things”. I said once that the hardest part of anything is getting started, but the flipside of that is that it’s also the most intoxicating. Everything is new, which gives it a heady rush that the follow-up can never quite match. I try not to be one of those people who is always seeking the next big high, but that also means that I take a long, long time to get warm. I’ve recently started watching The Fall, a psychological police drama that stars Gillian Anderson as a criminal psychologist. I like Gillian Anderson. Part of what I like about the show is that it is not afraid to let her look her age. She looks great for a woman in her forties, but the show doesn’t shy away from the fact that her character is a woman of a certain age with no husband or kids (that we’ve heard about so far, anyway). This is not a role for a young starlet, and that’s to everyone’s benefit.

I’m coming up on one year since I moved back in with my parents. My first week back, I did almost nothing, and I don’t regret that. Some mornings, I didn’t get out of bed until rather late, and for much of it, I just watched YouTube videos and whatnot. It was fun, but of course, you can’t do that forever. I hear that unplugging appliances when you’re not using them saves electricity, but I don’t know how much. If you leave your laptop unplugged, then plug it back in when it’s down to about 10%, you get the thrill of watching it charge back up. But you can’t do that forever, and some people probably prefer to just leave their laptop plugged in all the time. It’s easier, and clears some space for you to think of other things.

I’m finally starting to understand the expression that you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. It’s good to save something up for when you’re ready, but you can’t hold off forever, as I keep saying. I have books that I got for Christmas years ago that I still haven’t read. In that case, it creates a weird sort of anxiety, as if I’m somehow disrespecting my friends and family by not reading the book they got me. But you can’t read a book just to have read it. That’s idiotic. A great Zen master used the example of a cat watching a mouse hole to illustrate mindfulness. It’s not that you aren’t aware of what else is going on, just that you have your eyes on the prize. I have a vague idea of what the prize is, but I have no fucking idea what else is going on around here. Does this mean I’m doing alright?

Also, Richard Attenborough just died, which is why I feel like kind of an asshole for posting this.

I find myself looking forward to eating breakfast and eating dessert more than eating anything in between, which is odd. Why are the bookends the only parts that fascinate me? In order to explain this, I am liable to get a little bit scattershot.

One of the most important names in the world of environmentalist literature is Aldo Leopold. His book, A Sand County Almanac, is a must-read for anyone with any curiosity about the natural world. I’ve been working my way through it lately and hope to finish it by the end of the month. I don’t read as often as I used to, but that’s the problem with me these days: my attention span is so short. I start watching a movie, then pause it ten minutes in to check my email. Then I watch five more minutes, and decide to break for lunch. Except that by the time I’ve made lunch, I might have remembered a YouTube video I wanted to watch. Or something. This is not unusual. I know plenty of people who have crashed their computers by opening so many windows that they can’t focus on one. I just wish that I knew how to sit down and watch a fucking movie like I used to. I still have that ability buried somewhere within me, because when I go to the movies, I don’t have any trouble paying attention. But of the stuff I’ve streamed on Netflix or Hulu, anything longer than half an hour usually has to be watched in chunks, sometimes days or even weeks apart. My mind is disorganized, but I’m stuck living in it.

I’ve noticed that my blog traffic seems directly tied to how much I have going on elsewhere. That’s encouraging, but the problem is that whenever I’m in a slump, it feels like I can’t catch a break elsewhere. This slump is taking me a long, long time to pull out of. There’s just nothing to grab onto, and seriously, I’ve never had an apartment search drag on for this long before. Maybe it’s because I’m pickier now and don’t want to move in with a total psycho? Maybe that’s progress, but it’s hard to see it when you’re in the thick of it.

Ayn Rand said that people act in their own self-interest most of the time, and that even when people act altruistically, they’re really just doing it to feel good about themselves. That’s not exactly true. It’s not altruism to do something for somebody else, and it’s not selfishness to do something for yourself. You should do what’s best for you and others. Because there are greater forces at work here.

I’m a day late here, but happy 60th, Mr. Costello. I first discovered his work when I was not too far out of high school. Since then, “Veronica” and “Oliver’s Army” have become two of my all-time favorite songs. He’s a charming fellow.

costello

Mhysa

Kai winnI used to watch those educational shows on TLC and the Discovery Channel. I’m not sure if they still air anymore. Some of them were reenactments of old crimes, others were about haunted houses and stuff. I’m sure some of it was bullshit, but a lot of it was entertaining. A lot of the supposed paranormal phenomena that people report can be explained by faulty eyewitness testimony or magnetic fields causing machines to act in weird ways. I liked to watch the shows that would air around Halloween (I think) about the Tower of London and how anybody managed to escape from that. Since I’ve been getting more into science-y things lately, maybe I should get back into history and shit. The problem is that most unsolved mysteries have more mundane explanations than people realize. The Bermuda Triangle, from what I can gather, is nothing more than a stretch of sea where ships and planes disappear sometimes. (Okay, I’ve also heard something about methane bubbles and magnetic fields fucking with navigation controls, but that still ain’t Cthulhu.) The craziest stuff is usually the everyday.

The annoying thing about my insecurities is that they migrate. That is to say, I’ll spend an unhealthy amount of time obsessing over whether or not that mole on my back has grown in size, and as soon as I’ve convinced myself that it hasn’t, I’ll spot something else and start worrying about that instead. It would be stupid to say that worrying about melanoma makes you immune to skin cancer, yet I can’t help but feel that whatever health or body image issues I might have to deal with in my lifetime, that mole on my back is no cause for concern. The voices in my head never shut up. They’re always there. I keep looking for simple pleasures to help me fend them off—a few days ago, I tried out a new restaurant, which is an interesting experience even if the place turns out to be no good (it was decent)—and at the end of the day, they’re still there. I can’t spend all of my time wandering around with my head in the clouds.

I mentioned a post or two ago that I had started watching Orange Is the New Black. Well, I’m only a couple episodes in, and I already have an opinion on it. It’s a good show. For the most part, it’s very deft at balancing comedy and drama, and it makes a political point about the prison-industrial complex without being too heavy-handed about it. (Seriously, we need to cut it with this “I’m a good person, I would never do something like that” bullshit. Most of us are capable of murder and armed robbery, given the right circumstances, and the characters on Orange, generally speaking, are guilty of shit like credit card fraud. If you think you wouldn’t pull that shit if you found yourself in a tight spot, you’re a goddamn liar.) The show is sensitive in confronting issues of race, gender, and sexuality (I just watched the episode about Sophia’s transition; it was great), and I love the way that every episode ends with an “Oh snap, shit just got real” moment that practically begs the viewer to binge-watch. I think I was right in my assumption that the show would have been structured differently had it aired on TV rather than being on Netflix.

One thing that I’ve learned from my time in customer service is that the customer is always right…except when they’re not. People apologize for not being clear about their orders sometimes, but the only bad customers are the ones who don’t know what they want and blame you for not reading their minds. There are people who give all sorts of specifications about how something is supposed to be made, then send it right back after we’ve followed their instructions to the letter. You wonder why they even got out of bed this morning. My problem is that I’m not very good at time management. For a guy who works only part-time, I still manage to finish only a tiny fraction of the shit that I want to get done every day. That’s not unique, just annoying. And I used to be a bit better about forming a plan and sticking to it. But my brain keeps dragging me in weird directions.

Everyone has their guilty displeasures, the stuff that they don’t like even though everyone tells them they should. For me, one of those would be the movie Being John Malkovich. I’ve liked other stuff by Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze, and while I wouldn’t say I disliked the movie, there is something so cold and bleak about it that I found off-putting. It’s an endlessly inventive and clever film, yes, but also one with no human core to it. Even for a dark comedy, that’s a problem. When you think about it, it’s more like a horror movie. The thought of entering somebody’s head and forcing them to watch as you live out the rest of their life for them seems like the worst human rights abuse imaginable, like rape and slavery combined. But nobody in the film has even the slightest qualm about what they’re doing to the title character. I can admire a film like that, but enjoying it is really, really hard.

If there’s any attempt I can make to tie all this together, I will say that I’m trying to figure out what I want out of my entertainment. Some of my favorite TV shows are like televised crack. The Battlestar Galactica reboot comes to mind. For the first season and a half, it was possible to blaze through four or five episodes in a single sitting without even thinking about it. They’re not all like that. Mad Men is a phenomenal show, but I wouldn’t call it addictive. Two, maybe three episodes at a time is about all I can take with that one. I would say something similar about Louie, although that’s a half-hour show so it’s a little easier to take, as surreal and bizarre as it can get.

For no apparent reason, here’s Neil DeGrasse Tyson taking down UFO mythology. There are phenomena worth exploring. They’re just not the ones you first think of.

From Where the Sun Now Stands

If you’re like me, you probably spend most of your time alone. The problem here is that I kind of have to be my own cheerleader. I do not need anyone—not friends, family, or readers of this blog—to follow me around with pom-poms telling me I’m wonderful. So don’t even try. But since I am alone with myself basically round the clock, I have to look to myself for reassurance. I am not always the best support group, which is surprising, considering my naturally optimistic and upbeat outlook.

two livesIf you spend most of your time alone, you have probably had those days where you can barely even drag yourself out of bed until late morning (or later, really). Eventually, you work up the energy to shower and eat breakfast (or not, if you’re way down in a hole). Somewhere around the early afternoon, you start to wonder if you’re going to get anything done that day. Then you start doing shit and keep doing it, and before you know it, you’ve gotten everything major out of the way for the day and several hours left to kill before bedtime. This describes most of my days off work. I’m not always good at estimating how long something will take, and in its own way, that’s almost as disorienting as shit taking longer than you thought it would.

If you’re not good at estimating how long something will take, you probably experience a lot of stress over whether or not you can get all of your shit done on time. I experience this at work. I was emptying the trash and was right in the middle of it when the shift leader gestured for me to come back and hop on register. Emptying the trash takes a minute, and it’s not the sort of thing you can leave midway through and just come back to. Yes, I could see there was a line, but couldn’t she see I was busy? (I think there might have been a small coffee spill to clean up as well.) “It’s just a job,” some woman said to me. I wanted to marry her.

If you’ve ever wanted to marry a total stranger, you are probably familiar with the feeling of suffocation that can arise from being surrounded with and having to deal with the same damn people day in and day out. Nobody is right 100% of the time (except me, of course), so you can only tell people to go screw themselves for so long. I don’t have the energy to fight everyone all the time, so I have to pick and choose my battles. Some days, I’m pissed off at my manager for sending me home after only two hours, meaning that getting to and from work that day takes me longer than actually, you know, working. Other days, I’m pissed off at my coworkers for the way that they already seem to have formed a little circle of friends after working together for a relatively short time. It wouldn’t be such a big deal, except that the social dynamics that they have outside of work often influence their behavior at work. And that means that I am often left out.

If you’ve ever felt left out, you probably know what it’s like to need a good laugh. I watched Night at the Museum on pay-per-view one night after a hard day of traveling. I was not in a good mood. I’m also not a big fan of Ben Stiller. Under any other circumstances, I might have thought it was pretty damn mediocre, but that night, it came like a breath of fresh air. The “Real Actors Read Yelp Reviews” YouTube series is amazing. This video in particular had me howling.

And then there’s this one. I question the writer of this review’s sanity.

I feel the need to reiterate once again that my brilliance is beyond compare. Have you forgotten that? Allow me to remind you. Because I’m not even sure if I’m joking when I say that anymore. There is no one who can push through your rough spots except you, anyway, so why not think that you’re the greatest human being in the world? Sooner or later, my robot army will wipe out everyone and kill all who displease me (this almost certainly includes you), so try to have fun in the meantime. It is becoming clearer to me that I cannot use this blog to vent all of my frustrations the way I once did. It doesn’t seem to contain all of my crazed fantasies anymore, which might explain my growing sense of unease. When I was in high school, my class voted me…well, I won’t name the category, but basically, it amounted to, “Interesting guy, but we don’t know what to make of him.” I don’t know what to make of me either.

Part of the reason I work my current job is that I don’t know what my dream job would be. If I could make a living writing fiction, I probably would, but that wouldn’t solve all my personal problems, and maybe the root of the issue here is that I’ve been thinking that it would. I’ve touched upon this before lately, but so we’re clear: I am not going to give up blogging anytime soon. I have said nowhere near everything I want to say. There is, however, a part of me that is definitely getting tired of this shit. Tired of the same old routines, the same old problems, the same old (sniff) crushing loneliness that actually isn’t that crushing, just persistent and oppressive. There are answers. You may never find them. You may not even like them if you do. But they’re out there.

deal riker

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.