The Desolation of Robot King



I’ve always been more of a Daily Show person than a Colbert Report person. I guess I just like my humor a little more straightforward. In case anyone has noticed, I’ve tried writing this post several times before, having put something up and taken it down at least twice before. Hopefully, the third time will be the charm. I don’t usually write like this, but these past few weeks have been a bit tumultuous. You ever have those days where you wake up wanting to watch the whole world burn? Yeah, I’ve been having a little bit of that lately. It’s a combination of financial stress, time-management problems, and the interpersonal friction that can happen when you spend prolonged amounts of time around the same group of people. I’m trying to remember the line from that David Foster Wallace speech I’ve posted once or twice: “This is water.” If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Google it or check YouTube. I don’t feel like linking to it again.

chris rockI’m having more trouble going to bed lately. I like to think of myself as a morning person, but since I can’t just go to bed after getting home late in the evening, I always need a few hours to unwind, meaning that I typically go to bed around 1 am these days. This needs to stop. I just can’t seem to turn my brain off, and on countless occasions, I’ve gone to bed, then gotten up to watch some silly YouTube video or something that I thought about watching earlier but didn’t get around to. How does something that tiny lodge itself so deeply in your brain? Sometimes that happens multiple times in a night and I overcompensate by staying up until 1:30 or 2 as if to say, “What do you want from me?” I’ve missed one or two shifts at my new job because I keep misreading my schedule and it makes me furious. I need every dollar I can get, yet more than once, I have come in to work only to find that I’m supposed to stay later than I thought (but still have to leave early because I already made plans) or gotten a call from my supervisor saying that I was supposed to come in today. I am very, very careful in copying down my schedule every week, yet somehow, that still happens. What the fuck, universe?

I’m generally pretty reliable when it comes to shit like this. I have locked myself out of my car (once), locked myself out of my apartment (once), and recently locked myself out of my locker at the gym for the first time. (I had to get somebody else to run and get an employee because I couldn’t go running out there in just a towel.) Something is out of joint. I know nobody’s perfect, but there’s a reason I solve jigsaw puzzles for fun and write a blog that’s all about hating humanity: it’s because I’m a perfectionist. Specifically, I’m an INFJ with OCD, and yes, I have used that line before. One on hand, maybe it means that I’ll save the world that day. Because I do see things that other people don’t see. I often tell other people that they are wrong about something despite having less firsthand knowledge of the subject than they do. And you know what? I’m usually right.

My supervisor doesn’t even seem to much mind that I keep screwing up my schedule. That’s not the point. When I was doing theater back in high school and didn’t get a part I wanted, my mother thought I was being a spoiled diva by storming around the house. She didn’t get it, either, which is part of the reason why I keep my distance from her these days. I was angry at myself for not getting a role that I was certain I could have played. It wasn’t my fault; the director liked someone else and there was nothing I could do about it. (The dude did fine in the role, by the way, but I was kind of competitive with him. He’s a nice fellow, but kinda boring. I’m not.) When I turned on my phone today and saw that I had a voicemail, I prayed that it was my mother for the first time ever. Of course, it wasn’t. I’ve had enough of a hassle working with my student loans and trying to get my employment situation straightened out. It might actually be nice to get a message from her saying, “Call me sometime. Bye.” Because I don’t have to worry about that, you see.

I’m going to have to see The Hobbit sometime, probably next week. What I’ve heard about it is that it’s the worst of the three, which is kinda depressing considering the lukewarm opinion I had of the first two. What happened to the Peter Jackson who was both a technical wizard and a strong storyteller? Neither of those elements are on display in these films. They are bloated and overlong, and they look like video games. I guess he just got carried away with himself. Stephen Colbert is, like, the biggest Tolkien nerd on the planet. I love Tolkien, but I don’t feel the need to know everything about him. Colbert’s humor is more “out there” than Stewart’s ever was. When one of his bits flops, I often find myself scratching my head wondering what he was even going for in the first place. Since the news is filtered through the lens of the character he plays, it’s not as grounded. Stewart just reacts to the news; Colbert tries to insert himself into it. It’s funny, though.

I like to think of what I’m going through these days as nothing more than growing pains. I’ve asked a couple friends for financial assistance and we’ll see if I get it. Just don’t feel sorry for me, that’s all. I have enough problems of my own. I can’t carry yours around, too.


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.

More Than Human

BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEADThere is a difference between mellowing out and losing your edge. Most people mellow out as they get older. That’s natural. Sidley Lumet made a string of good-to-great movies from the late 50s into the mid-70s, from 12 Angry Men to Dog Day Afternoon. His pace slowed after that, but he never lost it completely. His final film was Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, an unflinchingly cynical piece of work that would be impossible to sit through if it weren’t so gripping. A lot of artists have a 10-15 year period relatively early in their careers during which they crank out one classic after the next. Springsteen was like that. So was Akira Kurosawa. John Carpenter, too, although he was a little hit-and-miss even when he was in his prime. Alfred Hitchcock is an outlier. He made two of his best-regarded films, Psycho and Vertigo, when he was pushing 60. I haven’t seen any of his films from the 70s, but I’ve heard some very positive things about Frenzy. If I mellow out, that’s fine. If I lose my edge, kill me. I’m not kidding.

I’ve cried at only a couple of movies in my lifetime. Ikiru is one. If you’ve seen that one, you probably know which scene I’m talking about. Even if you haven’t, the DVD cover gives it away. Dear Zachary is another. It’s one of the most wrenching films ever made, made even more so by the fact that it’s a documentary. The last half hour of that movie will rip your heart out. The most recent one was Mary and Max, a claymation film from Australia. It’s on Netflix, so if you haven’t seen it, hie thee hence over there and watch it immediately. It’s about a New Yorker with Asperger’s who becomes pen pals with a little girl in Australia. As a warning, let me say that though the film is animated, it is not kid-friendly, and it gets dark pretty late into its running time. But it’s worth it. I respond to dark comedies better than most other genres, perhaps because my life is one. That film is hopeful, just unconventionally so. Don’t feel sorry for Max.

There’s a general rule that I’ve observed when it comes to couples. People who are in healthy, fulfilling relationships rarely feel the need to talk about it. You can spend a significant amount of time getting to know them before they say the words, “My girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/wife/partner/whatever….” People who are insecure about their relationship and want to hide behind it as a means of deflecting criticism are the ones who always gush about their partners and how perfect they are. It’s more willful self-delusion than anything else. They want to believe that because of this relationship, they are a totally different person than they were before. This requires that their partner sit still and be objectified to be complicit in maintaining the illusion. It’s a form of co-dependency, an immaturity that tries to pass itself off as maturity. There’s nothing wrong with a little PDA here and there, but if you make YouTube videos consisting entirely of you and your boyfriend kissing and canoodling, I feel justified in saying that your relationship is not long for this world. That is all.

I’ve said before that I never want to work a 9-to-5 job. I’m actually starting to like the feeling of being free when everyone else is at work, even if the flipside is that I often have work when everyone else is out partying. Maybe that’s because I’m a weirdo, or maybe it’s because I like to remind myself that I’m a weirdo. I wonder if other people find me intimidating. Do they hang back from talking to me because I scare them off? As I write this, I’m still doing a slow burn over the events in Ferguson, Missouri. I don’t have the time or the energy to talk about that at length now. But I will reiterate what I have said before: If you are one of those people who insist that this isn’t about race, you’re part of the problem. I hear people tell me that if I were nicer, people would be more willing to listen to me. No, I think the only way I ever get someone to listen to me is by telling them exactly what I think of them. It’s not “I speak my mind, and if you can’t handle it, fuck you” so much as it’s “I speak my mind, and if you can’t handle it, okay then”.

You can’t really get anywhere if you can’t have a discussion. And a lot of discussion gets shortchanged because the instant I say something negative about, say, a movie, somebody says, “It’s just a movie. If you don’t like it, you can watch something else.” That’s…not a response to my criticism, however. Sometimes, I watch/read/listen to stuff that I don’t exactly like. Sometimes I say so just to see what people say back. If all people have to say is, “Why can’t you just let Person X do their own thing and not be so judgmental”, I sorta shrug and roll my eyes at the same time, then walk away. When you put yourself out there in a public forum, you are opening yourself up to criticism. That doesn’t mean you have to like it. It doesn’t even mean you have to listen to it. It just means that you should acknowledge it. Because you can’t make the stuff you don’t like just disappear. And the reason other people exist is not to tell you how wonderful you are.

I’ve been getting more into classic comic strips lately. Does anyone remember Pogo? I had never read it, but then I found out that my main man Bill Watterson is a fan. So I guess I have some reading to do.



savioYou might have heard about a certain controversy regarding Bill Maher’s comments about radical Islam. He got into a heated debate with Ben Affleck on his show a few weeks back in which Affleck came down on him very hard for blaming Islam for so many of the problems in the Middle East. He had a very similar debate with Affleck several years ago, only that time, it was a little bit more about Middle Eastern society itself and Ayan Hirsi Ali was there to back him up in saying that his criticisms were fair. In this case, he had only Sam Harris. I don’t think Harris is all that deep of a thinker, but that’s besides the point. Bill Maher is no stranger to controversy. He was fired from his job hosting Politically Incorrect after saying that the 9/11 hijackers, as evil as they were, were not cowards. And now he is posing the question as to whether or not the root of all of our political issues in that part of the world could be Islamic fundamentalism. Well, he’s never been a big fan of religion.

Let me make something clear: I have issues with Maher. I watch his show whenever I can and consider him a good interviewer and a good discussion leader, but yeah, his hard-on for blaming everything on religion does get on my nerves, and I say that as a nonbeliever. Even then, I think he had a point. It’s not necessarily racist to say that Islamic fundamentalism is holding the Middle East back, but of course, you could make the argument that fundamentalism is always bad and whether it’s Islamic or not has nothing to do with it. That’s the root of the debate, anyway, and for once, I’m going to decline to take sides. I get what Maher’s saying and am maybe even sympathetic to it, but I feel like the issue here is whether what he said was even that bad to begin with.

My criteria for determining if I want to spend time around somebody is very simple. Essentially, all I want to know is whether they can teach me anything new. I learned an interesting trick from a new acquaintance last month that I’ve just now tried. He suggested that if I need a few more bucks, I should show up to work a half hour early, clock in, then make myself scarce until I’m actually supposed to be there. You might point out that this is dishonest, to which I say: So what? Just don’t tell my boss, is all. With any luck, nobody will notice, and yeah, I kinda feel like I do need the money more than my employers do. My new apartment has a fucking killer location and is decent-sized if not exactly lavish. And I really, really need to put some space between myself and my family.

Cormac McCarthy once said that he doesn’t understand the appeal of writers like Henry James and Marcel Proust because they don’t explore issues like life and death. “A lot of writers who are considered good I consider strange,” he said. That bugged me more than it should. It shouldn’t really be a big deal that a writer I like doesn’t like another writer I like, but I feel like there is more to it than that. First of all, I love The Turn of the Screw, and would be happy to expound on the virtues of that densely layered ghost story anytime he wants. (Call me, Cormac. You still have my number, right?) But the keyword in that statement is “strange”. He didn’t even call Henry James bad; he just said he doesn’t get it. I know the feeling. I’ve had it happen once or twice where I’m getting into a disagreement with someone and somebody says, “You two have different opinions, and that’s okay” as if that’s all that needs to be said. What the fuck is the point of life if we can’t have a conversation?

There are a lot of beloved cultural icons that I’m not totally enamored of: Breaking Bad, Paul Thomas Anderson, I could go on. But I wouldn’t really describe them as strange; I just don’t like them all that much. I seek out the things that have me scratching my head. I discussed violent, extreme movies in my last post. I’m thinking I should check out Saló, Or the 120 Days of Sodom at some point. That is widely regarded as one of the most revolting films ever made, but art isn’t supposed to make people comfortable, is it? Bill Maher has never sought to confront people with the easy truths. That’s part of why he’s on HBO. But college kids don’t want to be challenged anymore. Part of the reason I never went for my Ph.D. is that I don’t want to spend my whole life in that kind of environment. I mean no disrespect to the people who do, but man, it just ain’t for me.

I’ll close with a story about my BFF, Dan Savage. He was visiting a university not too long ago and, in the midst of a discussion about why he no longer uses the word “tranny” because it is offensive to transgender people, a transgender student stood up and told him that he couldn’t use that word even in the context of explaining why it’s offensive. Fuck that. He refused and the student left the room in tears, later complaining that Dan harassed it. (And yes, “it” is this student’s preferred pronoun. I’m all for self-identifying, but talk about a lack of self-respect, huh?) I witnessed some of that attitude in my time in college, especially when I dipped a toe into the waters of the LGBT community. I hate to say it, but people these days are too fucking sensitive. And you don’t have to make everything all about what a special snowflake you are. Seriously, Berkeley people, grow some thicker skin.

Idle Hands

I’ve never really gotten the hang of doing nothing. It’s part of the reason I update this blog so frequently and have done so for over two and-a-half years. Seriously, it would take you several days of focused reading to get through the whole thing, and that’s assuming you do nothing else besides eat and sleep. Sometimes I wonder if I would have more readers if I posted less often, sort of a quality over quantity kind of thing. I’m not sure. What I do know is that I spend more time than I should doing shit that I feel like I have to do. My new job is both helping and hurting at the same time. Physically, it’s even more taxing than the last one, and since I’m working more and longer hours, my days off never seem to last long enough. Also, since I get to go home only when I’ve finished everything rather than at a set time, the pressure is really on me to finish everything so that I can catch that last bus/train or whatever. The people I work with are nice enough. There’s just not much to latch on to.

I feel an overpowering need to see Gone Girl. I have a thing for movies about obsession. One of my favorite filmmakers of the moment is Darren Aronofsky, who has yet to make anything that can be considered fun or upbeat, but has a real gift for making visually arresting movies about people in a downward spiral. The Wrestler and Black Swan are two lovely movies that, in terms of structure and theme, are eerily similar. But back to David Fincher. I can understand why some might find him cold and clinical (especially his fascination with serial killers), but I think his movies are consistently good to great. You would be hard-pressed to find a more compulsively watchable thriller than Zodiac, a film that captures the human need to have everything make sense better than anything since 12 Angry Men. See, I don’t see films that are that well-made as depressing. Maybe it’s just that I have a natural fascination with fucked-up shit (one of my favorite authors is Cormac McCarthy), but I actually thought The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was, for lack of a better word, fun.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: One of the nice things about being an adult is that there is no “have to”. You either feel like doing something or you don’t. If you don’t like your job, leave. Yes, you might have a family to feed, but if your job really is shitty and dehumanizing, you owe it to them and yourself to at least try to find something a little better. Because having a breadwinner who is surly and distant and who treats their time together as just one more thing to get done today is going to take its toll in the long run. I have no intention of ever having kids and even I can see that. As far as I’m concerned, there is no need to ever stop having adventures, so long as you decide for yourself what they are.

Some people just start going through the motions after a while. I’ve never figured out why Rob Reiner suddenly went from making great movies to making crap. Maybe he just got so comfortable with his personal life that he stopped feeling the need to challenge himself? I have no idea. Every couple years, Woody Allen will make a decent film that will be hailed as the start of a late-period resurgence, then go back to making mediocre films for the next few years. It’s pretty apparent that these days, he just makes movies because he likes traveling and writing and getting actors together and shooting. He doesn’t have all that much to say anymore. Most of what he does is what somebody else on the internet referred to as “Starbucks intellectualism”: that is, attractive people briefly pondering the Big Mysteries of Life before deciding that it doesn’t really matter and going off together and being happy. It says something that his most financially successful film to date is Midnight in Paris. From what I’ve heard, Magic in the Moonlight is the sort of thing you see on cable while flipping through channels one night and decide to stick with just because.

woody allenI anticipate my blogging schedule to become a little bit more inconsistent in the coming weeks. I’ll still be updating regularly, as the dogs in my head are still barking and so on and so forth. But I would like to devote more time to my games: jigsaw puzzles, computer games, and board games. I downloaded an old RPG called Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura a while back, and between that and Skyrim, I hope to find myself very engaged during my free time in the coming weeks and months or so. I’m still on a bit of a horror kick when it comes to my movies, so I expect to see more of those pretty soon as well. (I watched Drag Me to Hell last week. Classic Raimi. A good discussion question about that one would be just how much of it happens in the protagonist’s head. I’d say a lot.) So no, I’m not going anywhere, just reshuffling a little. I kinda have to. Because I am still getting over being effectively forced out of my last job and being stuck living with my parents and unable to find an apartment.

With regards to that last bit, I have one more thing to say: It’s depressing when people function as a unit rather than individuals. Because I complain a lot about my parents, but it’s important to remember that even though they are two distinct people, they seem to function more as a tag-team than anything. And that is a problem. Because you can’t just play a role.