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.

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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]]


Only Speak in Pantomimes

September 9, 2010

All too often, I open my mouth and, instead of expressing the poignant conjecture which had only moments before occupied my brain, I find myself stranded in the Gobi Desert of sentences. I awkwardly twist, attempt at backtracking, and tangentially grab hold of any remaining shred of logic before I realize that my foot is now too far down my throat to say anything else.

In this way, I frequently embarrass myself, and have been known to confuse, berate, or offend others. I don’t intend to, quite the opposite, actually. My brand of honesty is just a little too honest. Like an obnoxious game show contestant, I share too much of the process and not enough well-developed thought. My emotions take charge of the rhetoric while my rational mind follows thisclose behind screaming “Stop talking! SHUT! UP!”

This is why I’m best in black and white. Letters, spaces, and punctuation. Structured sentences and fully-formed theses. My mental processes require stringent editing– I need to be cut, deleted, and re-evaluated before I can be taken seriously. And, even then,  my intentions come across botched, at best.

Language is our species’ blessing and curse. It helps us understand, and just as often misunderstand, one another. it can be literal or ambiguous, sarcastic or dead serious. Unlike much of the animal kingdom, our “language” is not based soley in brain chemicals, hormones, or singly interpretive waves. Our methodology is so convoluted, even “yes” and “no”  become interchangeable.

People crave communication. Contact with others keeps our reality consistent. We find comfort in shared experience: if the sky appeared crimson to you, basic instinct would be to seek a second opinion. We just want to be sure we’re all on the same page, or at least still in the same book.

In my human scramble to ensure a cohesive reality, I find myself sharing thoughts that aren’t quite thoughts at all. I express my perception of things as facts when, in reality, I can be rather presumptuous; occasionally all-together wrong.

Knowing this about myself, I will sometimes go so far as to rehearse even a minor monologue aloud before it’s delivery. But in the end, without fail, I say too much. I elaborate some trivial detail; drive home some irrelevant or questionably related point. I see my proverbial foot heading toward my mouth, recognize that I am about to make a fool of myself, and then proceed to either continue making things awkward or flail about wildly making conclusions that sound more like accusations.

I have a fear of the things people find “between the lines” during dialogue, so I fill that space with nonsense. I’m discovering, however, that there is truly greater value in conversational minimalism. Something about the mystery.

This is what I find most encouraging about the writing trades: they allow mediocre people who are patient and industrious to revise their stupidity, to edit themselves into something like intelligence. They also allow lunatics to seem saner than sane. [[WampetersFomaAndGranfalloons.KurtVonnegut]]

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.

That’s Just Lovely.

July 30, 2010

I am a child in wonder at the constant ebb and flow of our lives.

While the earth revolves in science, humanity revolves in love. It’s a cycle. A circle. A collective pool of all that is good.

Although sometimes it seems hard to tap into this well, if we open our hearts we find some of it always trying to seep in. The more we contribute to this positive energy, the more we get back.

Usually when we least expect it.

At a time in my life where I feel certain about very few things, I find solace in knowing that love is real, strangers are friends, and family is all around. I have seen it, time and again. I feel it. Every day.

All this — this stuff and money, the work and bills, the routines and lines– all of it is made bearable to me only by the smiling faces, the hugs, and the little niceties of others. The sweet gestures, the kind words, and the joy we are capable of bringing into one another’s lives are the spiritual equivalent of sunshine and water. Some days our being may feel wilted, but if we stretch toward the light, nourishment is never far.

A Naive Melody.

July 22, 2010

As a person, I like to fancy myself rather astute. I think most people do. We like to believe that our world is as we perceive it. That we know what is going on with those around us, and where we stand in the bigger scheme of things. We like to believe that we know the people who spend their days (and/or nights) with us. That we are being graciously presented a whole picture of the world by our friends, families, and lovers.

Some of the most powerful human emotions are stirred up when one is left feeling ignorant and foolish. When the rug of perception is pulled from right under our feet. Especially when it seems no accident.

Above and beyond the dramaturgical desire to “save face,” it is a severe ego blow to realize that you’ve been kept in the dark, given the run around, or just plain ruse’d by someone you trust. The closer this person is to us, the more complex the emotions which emerge from a major rift in communication.

There is the initial hurt of realizing your world is much different than you thought. The brain scrambles to catch up; make sense of the new information. There are feelings of inadequacy– wondering why the wool was pulled over your eyes in the first place; what you could have done to be more… more trustworthy, more anything to fit into the (apparent) bigger picture. The deeper the lapse in cohesive reality, the harder it becomes to backtrack, untangle, and make sense of it all. It is harsh, feeling like an oblivious dumbass. Plain and simple. There is no sugar coating the cold bite of reality. There are countless poems and songs about these emotions.

Our culture recognizes the revelation of one’s own foolishness as a very real phenomena.

Mama bear always told me that “A lie of omission is still a lie.” And I am the worst liar in the world. Brutally honest to a fault, even. My stories are told in their entirety and in great detail, regardless of who they are being told to. I am coming to realize that not everyone was raised with my mother’s perspective, but how can intentionally glazing over pertinent information (repeatedly) be seen as anything but purposeful deception?

I honestly just want to understand.