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.

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…

This experience is not a costumed run-through for some well-polished performance of Life.

This is it. The real thing. All we get. Right now.

This is life, it is short, and we are using it up more quickly than we realize. Our ultimate non-renewable resource.

The seconds, the hours, the weeks, the years. Every moment of every day, humans are providedopportunity. We need to stop waking up in the morning and giving that opportunity to someone else. We need to stop worrying about judgement, or repercussions. The future always seems so far away until it’s the past– then all we want to do is hold it closely, whispering of all the ways we could have done it differently. Foregoing our “right now” for another glimpse at yesterday. Reveling in a bittersweet nostalgia while more opportunity slips away. Slips away. Slips away.

From where I am standing, that is my biggest fear. Regret. Remorse. A perfect view in hindsight of a life I could have had.

Somewhere along the way, it was planted in my fertile little mind that I could be anything I wanted to be. After 24 years of going through the motions, I’m realizing that it’s no longer a matter of “what do I want to be *when* I grow up;” the question is now “what do I want to be *since* I’m grown up?” And it’s a pretty legitimate question, no matter what walk of life you are in. Are you who you want to be?

In a world where comfortable survival were guaranteed, monetary pressures were irrelevant, and society passed no judgement on you: what would you do?

In my mind, whatever answer you provide to that question is what you truly, deeply desire for your life. In asking others this question, I’ve noticed several things. Firstly, many people cannot even fathom existence without money as their motivator. In contemporary culture, money = survival.

Another observation is that many people turn, then, to procreation. They would, in a simple world, expend reallocated energy on family. This led me to conclude (perhaps obviously) that our species understands survival. Without the concern over making it another day, I think many would feel a sense of purpose-less-ness.

Which brings me to my second point– that feeling of purpose-less-ness is what I experience every day. Money motivates me only insofar as doing what I’m “supposed to do” is concerned. It keeps the collectors from calling my mom to pick up my tab, it keeps my dog fed, and having a job gives me something to talk about at social functions. I went through the education system, the higher education system, and now I’m working in an office. It’s all very linear and logical. I get a gold star on my chart, cultural approval, and I get to pat myself on the back every other Thursday, while standing in line at the bank.

As far as breeding, it just doesn’t feel right for me. It has never felt as though a family could be my “purpose,” nor has it ever been my desire. Perhaps some women *can* do it all– the career, the kids, the social life– but I don’t think I want to try the balancing act. I am not a jack-of-all type of girl; I’m something of a perfectionist, and feel disappointed in myself if results are anything short of praise-worthy. I get anxiety over starting something I don’t have confidence in my finishing well, and raising kids is a complex objective art. Time-consuming, to say the least.

In a world without any necessity for labor, I would travel and write. This has been my answer for as long as I can remember. I would see the world, learning as much as possible, then synthesize and regurgitate this information with others. Words thrill me. They always have. Thrilling others with my words– bringing them to a time and place where  I stood, and trying to share a feeling– that is the greatest gratification I find in life.

I’m realizing that I am my own biggest roadblock. I have created the wall of “what if(s)” and “but I could never(s)” that separates me from the life I want to live. I adopt a defeatist attitude before I even enter the ring and face my opponent. I am excusing away my opportunities, as though the ship set sail long ago. No more.

It’s time for me to take action on a number of things. First and foremost, giving myself credit where it’s due. I am living one version of my dream. In little bits and bites. In fragments every time I post a blog, and x-number of people intentionally digest the contents of my mind. I am a published author; even if it’s one tiny corner of a vast sea of information. I started something from nothing, and I am getting back what I put in. It may not be the most monumental “something” of our time, but I’m not finished yet. And I AM learning about the world. Every single day, I encounter a new person, place, or bit of information.

So what more do I want?

That has become, for me, the most essential inquisitive. Who do I want to be? That’s step one to getting there.

Something spectacular. That’s my answer; the only thing I will settle for. I have this whole life to get there, and not starting today is inexcusable. More and better tomorrow. More and better the next day. The only thing holding me back from possibility is myself– pride, ego, and fear. In the end, I am realizing, it is better to have a long track record of phenomenal failures than to have taken no risks at all.