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.

Progress

I’ve never made friends very quickly. Wait, let me back up. Let’s talk about movies.

veronica marsI saw Veronica Mars last week. Good movie. It might not hold much appeal for the non-Marshmallows of the world, but speaking as a fan of the show, I really just needed it to not suck. And it didn’t suck. So, good. If it makes a profit (which it might, considering its rabid fanbase and low budget), perhaps we might get a sequel (or a miniseries)? I’m still not tired of Veronica. As far as I’m concerned, the world of Neptune has secrets left to reveal. I also saw The Grand Budapest Hotel, which was a Wes Anderson-y good time as only Wes Anderson can Wes Anderson. (Not mocking him, just saying: The man lives in his own little world.) This week, I’m thinking I might have to go out of my way to find a theater that’s playing The Wind Rises. I’ve been a diehard Miyazaki fan ever since I developed even a passing interest in film, and I’m lucky to live in an area that has plenty of artsy theaters playing the less-commercial films of the day. It is Miyazaki’s swan song, after all. I feel I must pay my respects.

Okay, now that we’ve talked about movies, let’s talk about the screaming voices in my head. They’re persistent, you see. Every time I prove them wrong about something, they scream about something else instead. Even though they have shown themselves to be wrong about basically everything so far, they insist that this time, I should totally be worried. This, by the way, is why I do not use mind-altering substances. I really don’t want to find out what happens when the voices are amplified by chemical means. I knew one guy who fell off a balcony and died after having a paranoid reaction to some weed he tried at a party. Cases like that are the exception rather than the rule, but still.

I think the problem with anxieties is that you get caught in the trap of thinking that the instant you stop worrying about it, it will happen. Logically, worrying about something has no effect on whether or not it will happen, but that doesn’t mean that attitude can’t affect outcome. To put it another way: I don’t believe that positive thinking holds the cure for cancer, and all of the evidence that I have seen on the topic backs me up on that. But I do think that negative thinking can become a self-fulfilling prophesy. If you’re convinced that you’ll blow a job interview, the odds that you’ll blow it increase. Because what you’re really scared of is uncertainty, so if you make a negative outcome a certainty, you’ve solved the problem, haven’t you? It’s what happened with my last roommate. He couldn’t bring himself to trust me, but rather than admitting that to himself, he made so many unreasonable demands that my only choice was to get out of there while I still could. He probably just took that as evidence that the whole world is against him. Have I mentioned that he is a dangerous psychopath who should be avoided at all costs?

I find that my tastes grow more obscure as time goes by. This is a good thing. Why watch American Hustle? I know some people who thought it was entertaining, but seriously, why? There are obscure English B-movies from the 50s and 60s that are more memorable. Believe me, I can name a couple. I still see a lot of movies, but the part of me that needs to see every prestige picture dies a little bit more with each passing year. I like animation. I’m excited for Song of the Sea, the upcoming feature film from one of the directors of The Secret of Kells. (Tangentially, I’m glad the Oscars added the Best Animated Feature category, if for no other reason than that it made Hiyao Miyazaki an Oscar winner.) 12 Years a Slave might be the most deserving Best Picture winner since No Country for Old Men. There are those who will call it a “safe” choice due to the seriousness of its subject matter, but there is nothing safe about the film itself. It is every bit as raw and uncompromising in its depiction of a dark chapter in human history as Schindler’s List (perhaps even more so, given that film’s occasional lapses into sentimentality), but more importantly, it is a deeply humanistic film. Slaves may not have led easy or particularly happy lives, but they still found meaning. There is hope in that.

I’ve been reading more of the Bible lately. It’s slow going. There are long and boring passages about people begetting people and plenty of passages that directly contradict each other. Anyone who thinks that this is the inerrant and literal word of God has a lot of explaining to do. What I like about being a nonbeliever is that I don’t have to do any of that. If I come across a passage that doesn’t sit right with me, I shrug and move on. The Old Testament contains all sorts of archaic and unreasonable strictures, but even the New Testament condones slavery at one point. (Jesus forbids divorce, but is silent on owning people. Go figure.) Don’t get me wrong, I think there are profound moral truths in that book. I just think that having to cherry pick the parts that work for you while still explaining how you can believe that Jesus is returning someday takes more energy than it’s worth. For me, it’s just a series of guidelines, written by committee. Make of it what you will.

I have a long way to go before I reach the Promised Land. I don’t know how I’ll get there, but I’m getting a little bit closer as to why.

promised land

Misunderstood (And Other Emo Thoughts)

The more Mad Men I watch, the more convinced I become that Pete Campbell is one of the most misunderstood characters on the show. From a moral standpoint, he’s arguably one of the best of the main characters, but he gets little respect from his colleagues because he’s such a lousy communicator. Sound like anyone you know? He really doesn’t help his case by being so whiny and oblivious, but I’m on season four right now, and the outright condescension that he receives from Roger Sterling is simply contemptible. On a lot of issues (such as civil rights in season three), he’s not only right, but ahead of the game. Also, not that it has anything to do with anything, but I keep wishing Sal would come back. He was great, if extremely conflicted.

To be fair, Pete does have a very punchable face.

To be fair, Pete does have a very punchable face.

My spring break sucked. I didn’t do much except go to work and (unsuccessfully) look for a job, so I guess it could have been worse, but I really didn’t have much fun. For me, that’s basically par for the course, though. I have so much shit on my plate right now that I don’t even know what to do with it. It’s like all of the pressures that I’m facing have twisted into a hard knot inside me. I wish I could just reach in there and remove it, but there’s no way to do it without ripping out something that I actually care about. Last night, I stupidly spoiled one of the key plot twists in the third Song of Ice and Fire book by venturing into the spoiler section of an article about the second season finale. I don’t know why I did that–I think I just wanted to have a vague idea of what would happen, but not an overly specific one. Instead, I stumbled across two words that basically gave away what I’m guessing is the final scene in the book. It’s not completely ruined–I’m still not entirely sure why this Red Wedding that I’ve heard so much about is so important, nor do I know why George R.R. Martin said it was the hardest thing he ever wrote–but the oddest thing about my unfortunate discovery was that the instant I made it, I wanted to read the plot summary on Wikipedia so that the whole thing would be ruined for me. I resisted the urge, but it’s hard for me to do anything halfway.

I guess what motivated me to do that was anxiety. I have a lot invested in this story and these characters, yet I can never quite catch up with all of the fans who have plowed through the whole series multiple times. Yeah, I know: It’s important to live in the moment and all that. But this moment, for me, could be a whole lot better. And I’ve only had a handful of truly outstanding moments in my life, yet would like to experience many more before I die. I’ve been on Earth for close to a quarter century, and I still can’t escape that feeling so many young people have of thinking that everyone has it figured out except for them. I want to plan for my future, but since I don’t know what that will be, the best I can do is just sit around and fail repeatedly. By the way, if you’ve come here looking for a nice, inspirational pep talk, you should probably go somewhere else before I talk you into killing yourself.

Mad Men holds special appeal for me because I am drawn to the sight of people struggling against forces they don’t fully understand. The world of the 1960s was a heavily repressed one, and when it started to shake off that repression about midway through, it did so with a vengeance. There is a constant feeling on the show that the characters are miserable, and have honestly no idea why. Times are changing, but who is changing them? Some people, like Don Draper, benefited from the old ways, and others, like Peggy, benefit from the new ones. Without realizing it, they square off, and as one rises, the other falls. (As I said, I’m only on season four right now, so maybe that will change soon. I’m just describing what I see so far.)

I don’t usually talk about this, but my dreams have gotten even more intense lately. I lie down and the voices in my head scream nonstop for hours on end. Again, this is nothing new. It just sucks, that’s all. I’m trying really, really hard to gain some sort of control over the constant howling, but so far, all I’ve managed to do is take the edge off of it. A little. And it keeps coming back. I had a birthday at some point in the recent past. (Or maybe I’m having one in the near future. I’m not going to say.) Normally, I try to avoid getting reflective about what the last year meant and what I hope the new one will bring (I already avoided talking about that back on New Year’s), so I will say only that I hope I am still sexy, funny, and cool in another twelve months. Nothing else is constant, so I might as well hold onto that.

I used to make an effort to watch all of the notable movies that came out every year, although I’ve started to slip lately, just as I no longer see all of the Best Picture nominees. Actually, I still saw Django Unchained, Zero Dark Thirty, Life of Pi (that was with friends), The Hobbit, Les Miserables, The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, Brave, Cloud Atlas and probably one or two others that I’ve forgotten about in theaters, so compared to most, I’ve probably been a fairly consistent moviegoer. But I also skipped LincolnThe Master, Holy Motors, and several other critically acclaimed films that a younger version of me would have rushed out to see. The two that I was absolutely itching to see but didn’t get around to were Beasts of the Southern Wild and Moonrise Kingdom. I find that Wes Anderson films can feel a bit airless and repetitive, but still have little moments here and there that will take your breath away. Ultimately, they might help to relieve some persistent tension. That’s pretty much all for now.

Don’t go away.

I’ll be back soon.