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.

More Than My Wine

August 17, 2011

(Sidenote: You can read last year’s “Soberversary” post Here)

Two years without booze. That’s two years of designated driving, two years of remembering every night, and two years of occasionally stopping and wondering: “WHO THE HELL IS THIS PERSON, anyway??”

When I quit drinking, exactly 730 days ago, I told myself and those around me “I definitely need a break.” Back then, I guess I would have labeled the decision as “long-overdue.” Now? Not sure there is such a thing.

I’m not one for religiosity, so I wouldn’t go so far as to call my wakeup a divine intervention, but I do firmly believe that my sobriety came in it’s due time. No late fees incurred, no interest accrued. It happened exactly how it needed to. It’s possible there’s even some mathematic explanation, the way theres math for gravity or gambling. Or perhaps there was some astrological tale of new beginnings written just for me by the larger members of the cosmos– planets and stars colliding, converging, aligning perfectly for a moment of profound influence on one tiny spirit within. Regardless, I’m grateful not only for my sobriety, but for every experience that got me here. Lost phones, loud fights, misdemeanors, hospital visits. All of it.

While I was drunk I may have said and done some stupid things; I may have hurt some people, including myself, along the way. But that’s life. With or without alcohol, shit happens, hearts break, the world moves along at a furious pace. I did some things while drinking that I would never have done sober, but just maybe all those things needed to be done. In retrospect, even the “bad” parts of our personal stories seem nostalgically accessible, don’t they?

People have a readiness to dismiss the past as gone, and to denounce who they were. I see this as a critical error in self-understanding. You can’t ever “become a different person.” You are you. You are who you have been. You are the owner of every decision made along the way. 

Like a matryoshka doll, one inside of the next, we become more intricate, complex, and spacious as we grow. But inside, there is always that teeny tiny, roughly painted little you– just as valuable as every other piece. Little matryoshka you might not be as richly detailed as the outer versions, but it doesn’t belong to anyone else, doesn’t complete any other set.

Although these days, the only cocktails I obsess over are fresh juice concoctions, the only going-wild I do is riding my bike without a helmet, and the only hangover I get is from refined sugars; I am still Kat. I didn’t wake up one day, quit drinking, and suddenly become a more socially apt person who fit into a much smaller pair of jeans. Personal evolution is work every single day. Emotional, physical, and spiritual effort. There is no “old Kat,” and the drunk asshole who used to put herself in dangerous and stupid situations: that was me, not some other person who I hardly know. Even if it feels like it.

I am everything I ever have been. My resume includes alcoholic– in big black comic sans font. There is no hiding or denying it. No putting it under a more subtle somber guise. Drunk Kat looked silly, and I need to remember that almost daily. For better or worse. Because I am that person as soon as I let myself be.

Cheers!

O God, that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains! That we should, with joy, pleasance, revel, and applause transform ourselves into beasts! [[WilliamShakespeare.Othello]]

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…

For Auld Lange Syne, My Dear

December 29, 2010

At the end of each December, we in the first world feel compelled to reflect, introspect, and project into the future. We think about the past 365 days, and all the nouns and verbs that have filled them.

Our linear human sensibilities provoke nostalgia over another measured segment of a relative concept. We think back on all the promises we made ourselves 52 weeks ago, and how successfully these goals were met. Realistically, we could pick any day to start over. To get a new job, a new lover, a new home. We could select any of the 364 “other” days to begin our diets, stop procrastinating, or spend more time with the kids.

But something about this singular date 1/1 incites within our ambitious little souls an urge for improvement. Something about this mid-winter’s day– after the excitement of the holidays has worn out it’s welcome, and the guests have all gone home– causes us to think about who we’ve been and, more importantly, who we want to be.

The word of the day is Resolution.

What can one do to be more, or different? What changes can be made, starting January first, to improve our lifestyles? To become better humans?

I spent the first 6 hours of 2010 inside my head. Sitting at the wheel of my car in a parking lot, with a friend I’ve had since highschool. We talked. And sat. We listened to one of my favorite Grateful Dead shows, loudly, and opened the moon roof in the snow. I thought about who I was sitting with. I thought about everyone I was not with. I thought about Phish launching their drummer from a cannon in Miami, my car, and the strides I made in 2009. I thought about work, about my family, and how long it had been since my last drink. And then I made some resolutions.

Stretch more, drink lots of water, and be nice to your car.

That was it. Those were the best, most reasonable resolutions I could envision for myself. Being more limber, hydrated, and ready for action. Baby steps.

Here, in the final stretch of 2010, there is no doubt in my mind that this was a personally successful year. I kept all my resolutions, and then some. Early last January, I began spending time with a man whom has, many times over the past 12 months, been the sunshine in my otherwise overcast Rochester sky. In the spring, I started this blog which has, to date, well over 5,000 hits. In the summer I saw a bunch of shows, and began a large-scale writing project– which is still very much underway. In August, I was blessed with the opportunity to visit some friends in Colorado, who are some of the most wonderful and inspiring people I know. I’ve lost ten pounds. I’ve only been sick once. I feel good about myself, inside and out.

And now, a year after sitting stagnant in my blue Subaru (which got 4 new tires and a new head-gasket in 2010) in a parking lot in my hometown, thinking about Phish and the world at large; I am getting in my car and driving to the biggest city on the east coast to see one of my favorite bands with friends from all over the country. For whatever negativity and complaining occurred (and I know I’m full of it), I feel overwhelming gratitude toward everyone and everything that has pushed this year toward it’s culmination.

For 2011, I am resolving to create more structure in my life outside of the 9-5. Join a yoga class, or a team (kickball in 2010 did happen), or volunteer some time. Getting in the habit of doing things I enjoy. I’m also promising myself I will write more and sleep better. That’s it.

Drink responsibly. Get home safely. Love and appreciate the life you’ve been given. Happy New Year, see you all in 2011.

“If you believe in peace, act peacefully; if you believe in love, acting lovingly; if you believe every which way, then act every which way, that’s perfectly valid – but don’t go out trying to sell your beliefs to the system. You end up contradicting what you profess to believe in, and you set a bum example. If you want to change the world, change yourself.” [[TomRobbins.StillLifeWithWoodpecker]]


Out on a High Wire

December 21, 2010

There’s a fine line…

Between right and wrong; genius and insanity; fact and fiction. Between comedy and tragedy; love and hate; excitement and danger; art and pornography. Between success and failure; perception and reality. There’s a fine line.

Somewhere, there is this microscopic division elusively chalked, deceptively drawn in the sand. Somewhere, there is a border and an other side. There exists– between the perfectly ok and horrendously offensive– a detectible limitation, however small it may be. In fact, the smaller this division, the more curiously appealing it’s location becomes.

Lately, I have found myself in the throes of a deep introspection. I know, what else is new? But something about this feels much more fundamental than my daily identity crisis– more tangible. It was pointed out to me that this may be what is referred to as a paradigm shift. That feels right.

I recognized this shift after a long stretch of unusual reservation on my part. Instead of boisterously participating in conversations, I noticed myself with minimal contribution. Not for lack of knowledge, but because I couldn’t pick a damn side. On anything. I tried writing and, before I could really complete a thought, found myself making a blatant counterpoint. It is frustrating to be so personally conflicted.

There is a fine line between knowing exactly what you mean, and having no clue what the fuck you are talking about.

So I’m standing somewhere near this fine line. I must be. It feels like everything and nothing, all at once. And the line is moving, creeping, edging further. It is changing, rearranging the landscape of everything I “know.” Meanwhile, grasping desperately at my ideologies, I feel them tumbling after. Jumbling into some familiar, yet foreign archetype of social framework.

I am wondering whether it’s just me, or if there’s not something at work in our collective consciousness– everyone testing the edges. As though humanity is trying to suss out where precisely that fine line lies. All of us pushing against the box at once.

It’s very subtle, yet legitimate; feels more like slide than a plunge. Cognizant evolution.

Whatever it is, I’m so ready.

Some Say Men, But I Say No

August 13, 2010

Lately I’ve been wondering what the long-term effects of the women’s rights movement have really been on America.

Now, before defending to me my rights to vote, and pointing out the many freedoms I enjoy as a modern female, hear me out. I actually consider myself to be a feminist. I’m not going to say it was a one step forward; two steps back situation. More like society took two steps forward; right off the map.

The past hundred years can be seen as a cold war between the sexes– an arms race where each side stockpiles with a smile. “Anything you can do, I can do better,” and that “Men are From Mars, Women are from Venus,” are now a given. From the inception of women’s suffrage,  the genders have been inherently pitted against each other in the public mind. Separate. But equal.

Does anyone really believe that to be the case?

In entering what we decidedly refer to as “a man’s world” during the 20th century, womankind came  to assume the responsibility of professional success– that is to say, she put on a mans suit, walked into a mans office, and demanded the respect of the men around her.

Woman was ready to prove that she was strong, intelligent, and prepared to be everything that man had been for so long. She wanted to drink their scotch, talk their sports, and smoke their cigars. Arguably, women didn’t want to be equal: they wanted to be men. In an attempt to earn man’s respect (which, in and of itself seems to undermine the concept of the movement) she toned down her sex appeal; she put her heels on the floor; and made it clear that she was nothing– NOTHING– like her toilet-scrubbing, pot scouring brethren.

The true tragedy of the “battle of the sexes,” in my observation, is that modern woman seems more in competition with her sisters than anything. Instead of standing together, women have unwittingly divided and conquered ourselves. My argument here, as someone who has studied other primates eagerly, will be that our gender has been unable to fully assume the archaic male conceptualization of solitude. We just aren’t wired for it.

I am, of course, still a proponent of conscious evolution. But the fact of the matter is that we are animals, and in nearly every species on the planet– our closest genetic cousins very much included– males mate, males protect, males compete for alpha. Males operate in self-preservation mode. Females, for their part, tend to form family-like nodes, take care of each other, and raise children. There is competition for female alpha, but it tends to be much less war-like, and based more in a group “respect” and seniority. Women do not compete in the physically obvious ways men do, it’s a much more socially interactive structure– what each female has to offer the group determines their status. This may help explain the way women, often without bad intent, seem to be constantly judging each other.

The crux in these organizations being that the females generally determine the alpha male of the group. Although males are physically dominant and seem to weld the power, the balance of the social dynamic rests in the willingness of the females to be dominated by a certain male. In a strange way, it’s nearly democracy. Check out Iroquois tribe structures for similar findings.

Humanity has attempted to thwart natural order, in the curious way we do. It seem to me, and I am speaking primarily in Western cultures, that from the time mankind had the revelation that women were, in fact, great bearers of power (if only for being bearers of future generations), they attempted to harness and control womankind.

Lust became sin. Woman came to represent temptation, weakness, and the harbinger of evil to the garden of Eden. In shifting the psychology of our biology, men did their best to subjugate femininity.

This attitude has prevailed for thousands of years, replicated in politics and religion alike. A woman who uses her natural-born sexuality– her biological gift of power– is considered a hussy, an opportunist, and is somehow rationalized to be less successful for “self-exploitation.” On the flip side, a woman who chooses to stay at home, raise a family, and has her husband generating income is, however silently, still judged.

In contemporary culture, men seem confused about what women want. And I am starting to realize that’s due in large part to women’s confusion about our roles in this new era. What is the measure of success for a woman? What is the measure of success for a man? Are they the same? What does a man provide a woman? What does a woman provide a man? Are they the same?

I don’t have the answers. What I do have is something that my mother (a perfect product of her generation’s gender identity crisis, having grown up in one of the only single-parent homes on her block at the time) told me during my formative years. Something her mother told her, and something that I consider the best advice for maintaining a relationship in a cultural period where even defining the word “is” has proven difficult.

Mama bear never ever told me “don’t trust a man.”

She advised I don’t depend on one.