In This Place We Learn To Wait

September 25, 2012

ImageSometimes I get so mad, mired in the mundane. Lusting after adventure while I feel my knees, under my desk, degenerating long before their time. Wondering if, by the time I make it to Maccu Piccu, I will be able to even climb it any longer. Wondering if I will ever fucking make it to Maccu Piccu at all.

On the other hand, I’m not positive that I want progress, anyway. I seem to dig my heels in as everyone marches forward, and I’m just tied to this life. Maybe dragged behind it like a sleigh, or a dead body. Bumping along with minimal resistance.

I know it’s my choice, but I can’t slow anything down. All I really want to do is stop it for a while because these are the best years of my life. Or so I have been told. I wish I could enjoy them, each one of them; savoring slowly, lingering in seconds, reveling in the moments in between. Instead I am watching life out the window of this train– it’s happening to me, but not really. Some snapshots, an occasional stop at a station; eventually, I’ll just get to the end with everyone else and shuffle off. I know people who have toured Spain with the same passivity I am living my life.

Image

The train’s not moving that fast, but I can’t jump from it, either. Hop off into the brambles and hope my barrel roll is up to snuff.

Or can I? Maybe I am simply afraid of the future.

Okay, I am afraid of the future. But it doesn’t feel all that simple.

I am afraid of what comes next; while the people around me are getting married, making babies, settling in for a life of mortgage payments, and biweekly paychecks, and I don’t desire any of that. I wonder if it’s just me. Should I be so quick to judge their happiness in complacency? Should I want that? Am I broken?

Twenty Five years, and what do I have to show for it? Student loan debt, a few creature comforts. I’ll be the proud owner of a 2003 Subaru Legacy this coming winter. Where am I going? Not in the car, just generally.

It’s so comfortable to maintain the status quo. I imagine it similar to the feeling Himalayan climbers have as frostbite sets in during a major storm. You just go on ahead without me, I’ll be fine. I’m just going to sit here and warm up for a while.

Today marks my third soberversary! WOAH.

(Note: you can read last years soberversary post here, and my first one here)

It has been 1,095 days since I stopped conveniently excusing my thoughts, my words, and my actions. It has been three years of conscious self-reflection. Three years of rewriting my story to make the part where I was an lost little drunken fool fit in.

Today is my third sober birthday, and I am damn proud of me.  Conversely, I feel a need to self-deprecate a bit, since our culture finds shame in self-celebration, so I ground my little party balloon by pondering improvements.

Every year on new years, I (like a few million other Americans) set a resolution for myself. Something completely achievable, but not necessarily simple. I suppose 8 months out, on this particular day of personal celebration, is a fair time to analyze my success; if any.

My 2012 resolution was: Question your true motives.

This has actually been a bit of a theme since I quit drinking. After years of drowning all negative skeptical emotions in whiskey, hiding behind a partygirl persona; getting to know yourself is actually really fucking hard. All the standard existential questions apply, times a thousand: WHO AM I??? WHAT DO I WANT?? WHAT AM I EVEN DOING AND WHY???

I’ve said before that I spent the first 6 months without booze in a cocoon, which helped me get my bearings. I sorted through a lot of that maudlin loathing, and learning to love myself (ick. Cliche alert). This year I decided to take it to the next level by getting into my own head.

oh, thats a face.

Truth be told, the most challenging part of sobriety has been interpersonal relationships– learning to socialize without imbibing, and learning to communicate without emotionally dumping, then apologizing the next day “for whatever I said.”  The challenge has lain in finding self-control, patience, and perspective when dealing with others. And to do all this, I have had to take a long, hard look at the things that motivate me.

As a drinker, anyone who knew me will agree, I was rash, impulsive, and unwilling to negotiate. In sobriety, I have found that those qualities cannot be attributed to alcohol alone. It’s hard not to fall back into a depressive mindset when you realize you can be a total asshole sometimes without even knowing it. In 2012, I resolved to be more honest with myself about why I behave the way I do, and I’ve so far concluded only that we humans are petty, silly creatures.

Or maybe it’s just me! I don’t know…

A lot of the time, I find that my root motivators are selfish. My mind wants to act out of desire for personal gain, and react to envy. Which is the worst kind of emotion. I don’t understand WHY. It would be easy to blame corporate capitalist culture, to point fingers at consumerism and society’s emphasis on status. To say I was indoctrinated with the mindset of self-interest from birth, led by a carrot-on-a-stick toward the idea that I always deserve more. But I think that misses the point; and anyhow, becomes irrelevant because, the more you think about things, the more cyclical they become. At the end of the day, it’s not just me, but 7 billion+ humans acting in their own best interests.

So then I hit this catch-22. Where does self-preservation end, and self-interest begin? In the first world, it’s not realistic to say that food and shelter are our only survival requirements. Maslow’s hierarchy confirms, feeling whole in this society means one is physically, spiritually, emotionally, and socially content. On any given day, I would say I’m between 60 and 90 percent there.

Now I am splitting my deeper desires into “wants” and “needs,” it becomes confusing which is which. It’s everyone in competition, so why not get your slice (or 5) of the pie? And then you look around you, and there are all these people with what you perceive as more than what you have. Before you can stop yourself, you’re wondering which of you is really more deserving.

This is when I start to feel like a guilty jerk again. Jealousy is so hard to free your mind from, it grabs hold and gnaws at the frontal cortex. It becomes a motivator, much like one of those parasites that makes snails into suicidal zombies. All of a sudden, you’re in the middle of plotting a bank robbery, and you’re like “wait, why?” Because I need a private jet and my own island nation?

No!

So, I’m working on it. I’m getting better at checking my true motives, and curbing myself when I recognize that I am acting out of envy, rather than self-preservation. I think that’s the best one can do, apart from becoming a cave-dwelling buddhist monk. I’m realizing that life is a constant state of negotiating my “needs” with the “needs” of others, and learning to not get so offended when my toes get stepped on. Sometimes, your lines in the sand need to be just that– arbitrary and moveable. Sometimes you need to compromise on your principles, and pick your battles. Sometimes you just need to stop being such an asshole.

Our lives are not as limited as we think they are; the world is a wonderfully weird place; consensual reality is significantly flawed; no institution can be trusted, but love does work; all things are possible; and we all could be happy and fulfilled if we only had the guts to be truly free and the wisdom to shrink our egos and quit taking ourselves so damn seriously.

[[TomRobbins.StillLifeWithWoodpecker]]

Smells Like Teen Spirit

September 13, 2011

When I was a teenager, I was angry. Even though I felt very special and unique at the time, I realize now that I was a less-than-impressive example of every teenager ever. Nobody understood me. I didn’t understand the world. Everybody sucked. Everything was all fucked up.

In adulthood, most of those feelings still reside within me. But now, I can’t get angry. Not the way I used to. It doesn’t manifest. I can’t just fly into a blind rage, shouting and punching and breaking things. I don’t have it in me, and I don’t know where it went.

These days, I experience a wide range of emotions– anger representing only a tiny fraction. Instead of just green and red, I operate within a whole spectrum of chartreuse and maroon feelings. I wade through this rainbow cacophony of emotions, perspectives, and events, attempting to sort out where in the void I am even standing. It’s nearly a miracle if I can use “sad” “angry” or “happy” as adjectives. Usually it all mixes into this ubiquitous tear-stained brown.

How are you feeling Kat? Real fucking confused, thank you.

Recently, while discussing something or other with a long-time friend of mine, I made an off-the-cuff remark. Something so typical that I don’t honestly even recall what it was. But her response, I will assuredly not forget. Very matter-of-factly she replied: “Yeah, but that’s because you’re a pessimist.”

A pessimist.

The words hit me hard. It was like finding the corner piece to a jigsaw puzzle. Suddenly things started making a lot more sense.

A pessimist.

I wanted so badly to argue. To refute her analysis. To advocate myself as a shining beacon of hope and positivity. But, when it comes right down to it… I have no argument. I have no retort. I have no ground to stand on.

I am a pessimist.

This isn’t to say I think of myself as a bad person, or even a depressing person to be around (for the most part). I laugh and dance. I smile and take joy in many things. I revel in the beauty this world has to offer. I love with my whole heart.

I guess I’ve always just considered myself a “realist.”

 

Planning for the worst, working on contingency, and never expecting miracles. But the glass must either be half full or half empty– it’s not just half. And, to be completely truthful, when you show me a half glass of water, I’m most likely to say it’s half gone.

So. I am a pessimist. A doomsdayer. A nay-sayer.

In this day in age– this era of instantaneity, with a 24 hour news cycle and live streaming from the other side of the globe– it feels difficult to optimistically project a future. War, pestilence, and oppression abound– and maybe that is, and always has been, the human condition. But our wars are no longer fought with sticks and stones; spears; or even simple guns. The reality reflects a planet at the mercy of egotistical apes. Take that evolution.

Americans, meanwhile, are hell-bent on self destruction, as distinctly evidenced by our celebrity culture. Our perverse infatuation with not only watching, but encouraging those in the lime-light to make all the wrong decisions has reached a critical mass. Countless “celebrities” over the past few decades have lost everything to overindulgence. And everyone sits home and laughs while stuffing their faces with foods we know are killing us. Because, as I hear casually stated far too often for my own comfort, “everything gives you cancer!” Excusing away our own bad behaviors is much more simple when we can compare them with the self-negligent behaviors of others. Drugs and binge drinking are not healthy, casual sex is extremely risky, and laying in a tanning bed is FACT: bad for you.

The glamorization of morally and questionable decision-making does not bode well for our society. Gen Y, grasping desperately for idols, comes up somewhere between Lindsey Lohan and Charlie Sheen– a tragic drug addict promoting himself successfully as an “unemployed winner.” Our culture of shameless excess is beginning to repulse me.

For much of my life, I touted myself as merely cynical. I’m realizing now that perhaps cynicism is just a symptom of an entire worldview. A helplessly dismal perspective on the universe as a whole. And I see, in the discouraged faces of many of my over-educated unemployed peers, that I may not be alone in my outlook. While I cannot speak for a whole generation, it does seem undeniable that Gen Y has quite the uphill battle ahead. Toward what end, there are no guarantees. Our culture’s self-depricating, overtly cynical sense of humor bears the brunt of harsh reality. Mama bear always says– you can either laugh or cry.

Most of the time, I am more than capable of coping with my emotions. While my initial reactions tend toward sheer negativity, I balance it out in my head. I know not everything is as bad as it initially seems. But I can’t fight that instinct which jumps to the worst case. No sooner has an idea has been conceived in my mind, than I’m on the “what if” committee throwing out disaster scenarios. Tossing monkey wrenches into the dream works.

Call me reality police.

I wake up every morning and live my day in fear of the “other shoe dropping.” Good things, in my perspective, never come without the bad. The bad is often worse than the good. Everything ends. And everybody dies… Depressed yet?! Sheesh…

Not too long ago, I read quite possibly the most beautiful and inspirational thing I’ve ever read. A fact I have been obsessing over since learning it. Billions of years from now– after the sun has flared up, incinerating the planets and unhinging our universe as we know it– the gaseous ball will cool into carbon. At the end of relative time, what was once the life-providing center of our galaxy will overzealously destroy everything it sustained, then proceed to lay dormant for eternity– forming a gargantuan diamond at the heart of our solar system.

The sun ends it’s glorious life as a diamond. For whatever reason, this brings a passionate spark of hope to my pessimistic little heart.

Shine on.

Self-deprecation is my security blanket, my shield, my shelter from life’s emotional storms. When it looks like someone else may have the last laugh on me, I try to ensure I get the first. Walking through life with an arsenal of one-liners aimed at myself, I am generally prepared to self-destruct and look the fool.

Because I have such a difficult time ever accepting something as-is, I can’t help but ponder the motivations behind this common coping mechanism.

Laughing at one’s own expense usually considered a sign of good-naturedness; an understanding that we don’t always have to be so damn serious. But I’m beginning to realize that it’s more of a way I protect myself from criticism than anything. I take myself down to the ground before someone else can knock me there. A strategy the emotional equivalent of playing dead.

Self-deprecating humor is an easy way to get a laugh, keep things light, and avoid delving deeper into an issue. By making yourself the butt of the joke, it seems like nobody gets hurt. For me, being ready to concede some level of defeat right away is effective, firstly, because it allows me to stay within my comfort zone. I live within myself and like to think I know my strengths and weaknesses. Joking on my gullibility, my perpetual tardiness, or my inability to perform simple mathematical functions hardly bruises my ego because these flaws fit my perspective-of-self very comfortably. We can joke on these things all day, I’m ready for it. But then there are other aspects of myself that I find myself rigidly not amused by. If a joke is made on, say, the way I drive my car, I don’t find it particularly funny. In fact, I may get upset in a way that seems relatively out-of-character.

Humans notoriously use humor to deflect negativity. People love a clown– laughing at something together is unifying. Bringing happiness can be addictive; an escapist method of diverting focus from the tragic, or simply mundane aspects of life. Using one’s self as the punchline is simple, effective, and seemingly harmless. But is it?  Perhaps it’s no coincidence that some of our most beloved comedians were actually depressives and drug addicts.

With all the focus on romance this week, what with Valentines Day and all, a pontification on this purely human phenomenon from yours truly was largely inevitable. Dissecting the most opaque human emotions is something of a past time (or, more likely, a neurotic obsession) of mine. My primary observation is that society at large has shunned Valentines Day, replacing the sappy sentiments the greeting card industry imposes on us with a harsh dose of snark. I’m no advocate of bastardized, Hallmarked holidays, and it’s been a long time since I celebrated February 14, but what does the perceptible disdain for romance say about our society? Where along the way did this celebration of love become a day of self-loathing, guilty eating, and trying our very hardest to not be disappointed with just about everything?  What does it mean that it is more socially acceptable to say “I Love Blowjobs” on Valentine’s Day than “I Love You?”

The line between self-deprecation and cynicism is a fine one. I’ve noticed a cultural trend toward this type of personally undermining comedy and, although it gets a laugh, I wonder if it’s not indicative of an entire society deflecting insecurities. A whole generation who need to be capable of laughing in the face of any number of the harsh realities broadcast into our homes. Homicides, genocides, rape, and hate. We are all acutely aware that our planet could be blown to bits at any moment were an “international leader” to simply go off the deep end… not that human beings are volatile creatures or anything…

Unlisted.

January 28, 2011

I don’t know what it is that compels me to make lists of everything, but it’s a habit I have yet to break myself of. Whenever I’m feeling the need to organize my thoughts, a bulleted, segmented, thrice-written inventory has always been my preferred methodology. The end result of my list-making varies on the purpose of said composition. Lists work great for “To-Do” and “Shopping” but I think I take it to a whole new level sometimes…

My most recent list was penned out a few days ago in hopes of ascertaining some semblance of linear progression in my life. That is to say, I was trying to boil very complicated ideas down to the lowest common denominator. The lists were as follows:

“Things I want out of life”

“Things I stand for”

Easy right?

Wrong.

I wrote these two headlines. Traced the letters thoughtfully. Asked myself to be truthful, candid, and self-aware when responding. I doodled in the margins as I debated response; these two simple inquiries, staring me in the face.

I wrote half an answer. I scribbled it out. I closed my eyes and tried visualizing myself being/ doing anything I wanted. I wrote another half answer. I scribbled it out. I realized: I had no fucking clue. On either count, really. I didn’t feel confident in any of my responses enough to “solidify” them on paper– even just for my own reference.

I then spoke, out loud, to myself. “Come on, Kat,” I coerced. “This isn’t that hard.”

But, still, the swirl of uncertainty flushed my mind. After about half an hour, I had the same stupid cop-out answers I always give to what “I want out of life,” and– and it’s not with pride that I confide this– absolutely nothing in the “Things I stand for” section.

Nothing.

On the verge of tears, I gave up on my list and ingested half a benzo before I experienced a full-on anxiety attack. I felt utterly confused. Helpless. Stupid. Staring at a blank page where my fundamental beliefs should have been proudly staring me back.

Goddammit.

Days later, I still have no good answer. To the questions I wrote down, to what my problem is, to any of it. I’m thinking, more than anything, I am having a commitment issue– the plight of the college-educated journalist. I can’t stay interested in one thing. I can’t pick a side. I have a hard time putting myself into the story. But what do I do about this?

Stop making excuses for myself, as step 1. And step 2 would probably be JUST PICK SOMETHING. There is no gun to my head, no life or death scenario here. In fact, the only one expecting me to answer these questions is myself! Just pick a passion and roll with it. I can change my mind tomorrow. The next day. Or next year.

Much like standing before the pasta selection in my local airport-hangar sized grocery chain, the world is presenting me too many options. Too many ways to not just make a decision. Bowties or Elbows? Capellini or Rigatoni? I wish I were joking that these decisions stress me out, but I’m quite serious. Apply this indecision to my entire life.

So instead of drawing some faux conclusion, which I am always tempted to do when I write such entries– make it seem like I’ve got it all figured out just because I’ve broken it all down– I am soliciting advice…

How does one make the hard decisions in life without their hand being forced? How can one decide, with no reservations or doubt, what they stand for? How does a person follow their passion when they can’t even be certain what that even IS??

Pomp and Pride

January 24, 2011

One of my all-time favorite quotes comes from William Shakespeare, and I have used it on here before. “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.”

Since reading “As You Like It” many years ago, this phrase has stayed with me as a fact. It resonates strongly with my life paradigm, and reinforces my suspicions about most people I meet. It has inspired me to fill my life with fools, and to recognize my own incapacity to know it all.

I love to learn. As a child, I enjoyed school, devoured books, and relished tales from my grandparents. New knowledge is like food for the brain and spirit. It can change your whole perspective on things.

What I have come to realize, however, is that this seemingly insatiable desire for information is, in fact, hindered by my reluctance to be taught. My distinct inability to surrender the platform of knowledge upon which I stand, and simply go with the flow.

Human ego is a two-sided coin; both our species’ best and worst quality. Ego allows us to be self-aware, motivated, and conscious of societal concern. On the flip side of that, our egos are fragile little pieces of ourselves; parts we work hard to establish and then militantly protect. When creating– whether it be visual art, music, poetry, performance, food, software, whatever– the ego is in it’s glory. As humans, we tend to take some level of pride in the things we do: this is ego.

Throughout my childhood, I recall being asked by nearly every educator to provide two copies of a body of work– one copy of the finished product and, the other a “rough draft.” I presume that this rough draft would provide our teachers some sort of insight into the creative process, thusly ensuring that our spongey little minds were, in fact, the ones producing such masterpiece analyses of “Lord of the Flies,” US governmental structure, and the first world war. I assume the other benefit of such documentation would be to chart a student’s progress between initial thought and end result.

It is only in retrospect that I’ve come to realize that I never handed in a legitimate “rough” copy of anything. At least, not that I can remember. Instead, I wrote (as I do now) neurotically working my way through, obsessively analyzing every word the first time it was used, and created one copy of something I was very proud of. I threw away the scribbled-upon pages of college-ruled note paper as garbage– never something I would consider handing in with my name on it. Once finished, I would carefully contrive some “rough draft” to hand in alongside the final product.

No joke. I just couldn’t bring myself to hand in the real thing– the roadmap to my thoughts. Something about this seemed to violate my creative process; seemed a voyeuristic request on the part of my educators. Nope. What my teachers were handed was an even more carefully crafted version of my final– they read my “raw thought” and, in my mind, were perceiving exactly what I wanted them to. Move a comma, switch a sentence around, draw a few arrows– yes, dear fifth grade teacher, look at all I learned between the first time wrote this and the second time. What a good job you’ve done!

The truth of it is, writing is the only thing I’ve ever felt very confident in creating and, as mentioned before, creation is the physical manifestation of our egos. Inviting another to assess this creation is, in and of itself, an invitation for open season on this prideful sector of self. While this strange unwillingness to subject my thought process for review may not have negatively impacted my word-smithing, I’m able to note increasingly how it has affected other aspects of my life.

For instance, as someone who is almost constantly surrounded by musicians, I have only once, and only for about 3 hours, earnestly attempted to play guitar. With much anxiety, I sat in a room of my friends, most of whom were paying no attention to me whatsoever, and apprehensively took my first and only “lesson.” After a while, I thought to myself “nobody wants to hear me play bad guitar for hours” and never played again. I’ve spoken several times since about purchasing my own instrument and teaching myself, but I’m fairly convinced music is something I am simply not good at– especially in light of how incredible some of the people I know are. It sounds like a defeatist attitude, and perhaps it is just that. But I’m coming to realize that maybe it is my insane inability to forego the preconceptions that I’m supposed to be prideful of something before I allow another to bear witness to it. The old “rough draft” problem.

In light of all this, I suppose it’s high time I at least make an attempt at reforming this aspect of self. Pride and ego stymie creativity, not encourage it, and the more we put out into the universe, the more we are to receive. I know it’s no simple thing– old habits die hard, and my writing will always be a soft spot– but making a concerted effort to be more absorbent of the vast information available to me can only be beneficial to my worldview. Regardless of what value I determine something to have, there is no harm in allowing another to exert their egotism and “teach” me.

I mean, who knows, I might actually learn something?