Sunday, November 1, 2015

Happiness: a choice... like being warm

I have a confession to make that doesn't feel like a confession because there is simply no shame behind it:

I cried for no less than 80% of Pixar's recently pirated movie Inside Out. The remaining 20% was spent cleaning tissues off the table and shouting out recognized voice actors.

It's just that I've always found myself driven by emotion in the strangest, seemingly profound way. And while you may be reading this as “I'm weepy,” it's not just my weird, adulthood-developed movie-crying habit that I consider to be one of these drivers.

Emotionalism, along with being a decent Avett Brothers album, is defined as an “inclination to rely on or place too much value on emotion when dealing with issues or confrontations.” And then the next sentence on the Wikipedia page starts talking about Adolf Hitler, but we'll address that in a future blog post that will never be written.

I have no problem admitting that I'm inclined to put too much stock in my emotions, I just wonder how many times I could say I've put too much stock in my logical brain when I should have been listening to the thing in my gut saying “wrong way, dude.” And, yes, my gut says “dude.”

Growing up I always heard teachers and guidance councilors and day-time talk show hosts mention the idea of “emotional intelligence.” At face value, this phrase sounds like a new-agey excuse parents use to invent redeeming qualities for their stupid children, which it may be, but there is undeniable value in learning how to get your brain to cope with stress and the general concept of things not going your way.

So often the way we think about life's obstacles is summed up by stupid sayings that sound like a grumpy alcoholic farmer grumbled them from behind a corn cob pipe and people somehow kept repeating it.

“Life's not fair.”
“Life sucks and then you die. Deal with it.”
“Life's a shit sandwich, and every day you have to take it out of the fridge, pack it into your lunch cooler and take it to your job at the shit sandwich factory where you taste-test the shit for proper bitterness before it's packaged and shipped to everyone on the planet so SUCK IT UP, PRINCESS!”

The fact is that life often does suck, you always die, we all have to deal with it, so remember a time that you were feeling bad for a second and stop looking at me like I'm the one that fed you a shit sandwich. I guess I just feel like you can think a little harder than that.

And life's only unfair when you choose to make it that way. I'm looking at you, 6th grade math teacher. I mean... just because I dropped all the worksheets that one time doesn't mean you have to make a joke about it every time you need someone to hand out papers. At some point, you're just an adult being mean to children, you having a bigger desk changes very little.

About once a year, I seem to meander my YouTube search towards a famous speech by college basketball coach Jim Valvano. Accepting an award for courage with a body covered in tumors, Valvano spoke on what seemed to be a mindset that defined his character and personality.

“To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears.”

To some, he's explaining something akin to manic depression. To others, he's describing the last six minutes of their lives. The former isn't a sociopath and the latter isn't a baby. They're both people built with a different set of tools, and they've acquired different ones along the way. It's just easiest to identify with people that have a similar-looking toolbox.

That's why when I see an animated character named Sadness put on that face after making what feels like a life-shattering error, I weep because I know how many times that face has been my face.

It's also why I obnoxiously burst out with laughter when I see Sadness look at an impossible maze of adversity and barely muster the courage to lift their ankle in the air so they can be dragged through it. Sometimes the most joy can come from the same part of you that makes you feel truly awful. Empathy can be a brilliant asshole like that.

So, is it really realistic to expect people to sweep the entire emotional spectrum every single day of their lives? Perhaps not. In the same way that you're not going to ace life's daily logic test, you're not always going to score well on your... well... emotional intelligence, I suppose.

Just, be good to people. Even when you think it doesn't matter or you don't have to or even if you feel like you shouldn't. Be good, and know that you won't actually always be good.

Alright. That's it. I'm nearing the point where I suggest that people “love themselves,” which may be the point where I'd have to officially classify this as a self-help blog, so I should probably shut up.

Keep finding ways to be okay and always correct your shitty parking job.

Friday, September 12, 2014

I'm not a model

The above fact does not stop me from being an unrelenting narcissist.

Since moving to Denver, I've been looking for a job. You see, freelance work can be fickle in the moments when it's not the best job in the world for someone who hates putting on pants. I make a living off of putting together lots of little jobs, and one of the big little jobs took its business elsewhere. So, the rat race for rent money intensifies.

I've found it difficult to look at sites like, because they're so very adult. Their jobs have rigid requirements on experience, and many of the employers expect the people they invite for interviews to have laundered business attire and regular showering habits. That's just not who I am.

Craigslist is a little more my speed. People that are just as weird as me, people that eat just as much morning ice cream, people that also own multiple cats, they post their jobs on Craigslist. My people. Of course, some of these cat people are trying to scam you into wiring them money that you don't have. But that's the fun, dice-rolling part of Craigslist you're never going to get from LinkedIn.

In my endless scrolling and page-refreshing sessions, I've stumbled upon many odd jobs, many of which involving “photographers” seeking women for a “discrete” photo shoot for their “personal collection.” I chose not to follow up on these particular leads. I was looking mostly for writing jobs, and maybe I'd help some guy move his entertainment center for $40, whatever.

But, I did decide to make one horribly self-involved decision.

“Male models needed for blue jeans ad” it said.

“$1000+ for one shoot” they said.

I was suckered. Finally, enough people had told me I was handsome that I was about to sell off a small piece of my soul to find out if they were right. I made the call, set up the interview, and started doing sit-ups.

This decision didn't feel terribly different than the first time I decided to sign up for an open mic. Now, rather than thinking I'm so ridiculously funny that I should be given a stage and a spotlight, I was semi-confident that my jawline and oddly Aryan features would earn me a couple months of rent. The difference is that being a model doesn't take any talent. There. I said it.

And, similarly to my start with comedy, it stemmed from a desperate situation. Upon first trying comedy, it was a response to a drawn out bout with heartbreak. Now, my heart is in fine condition, it's my bank account that's broken this time. I didn't want to be a model. I wanted to be a guy with 1,000 more dollars.

My girlfriend and I made the drive to Colorado Springs after steaming my best linen button-up and a few sarcastic jokes about how good-looking I am. This is a tactic I've learned to at least put on that I'm not taking myself very seriously. It's a cover-up rooted in Minnesota-niceness and caring way too much about what other people think of you.

Like the time I stupidly called something “gay” while hanging with a group of friends. I had to follow up the statement with several over-the-top masculinity-affirming lines in order to show the group that I don't actually use “gay” as an aggressive adjective. This reflex often garners more cocked-heads and nervous laughter. Some day, I might just learn to just think before I speak as a preventative.

They call this “neurosis,” and it can be absolutely exhausting.

I got to the office and waited politely for my turn to be approved or denied aesthetic worth. As I waited, I caught myself staring at all the framed men and women, some of them provocatively biting their bottom lip, some of them looking like they are literally about to jump out of the picture and fuck me. I couldn't help but think “I've never looked like that in my entire life.”

“Hopefully,” was my next thought.

I sat down with a man who had alarmingly sharp features and a thorny tattoo on the underside of his collarbone for the interview. He made some small chit-chat about how I'm liking Colorado so far and why he prefers it here to California. He asked about the tattoo on my forearm, he seemed to half-care about it and the dead uncle it originated from. I was probably his 900th interview that day, and not everyone has to be profoundly emotionally impacted by my uncle's illness. I give him a pass.

He then asks me about how confident I am with my body. I started with the words “I'm not exactly a gym rat” because I didn't want to open with “this morning I was out of milk for cereal so I microwaved some vanilla ice cream instead.”

Eventually, I made a comment about how I'm “not self-conscious,” to which he promptly waved his hand up off the armrest and said “let's see it.”

I stood up and pretended to start shame-crying when I unbuttoned the top button. His face showed immediate concern, then he relaxed when he saw me seeing his face. I couldn't help myself. Little things like this keep me sane. In fairness, I'm sure some 19-year-old girl with an appendectomy scar wasn't kidding when she did that earlier this week.

I get my shirt off after a laugh and I experienced what women have to go through every day. I was looked at like an object, or a “piece of meat” if I were an indignant feminist. It was strange, to say the least.

“Some stretch marks there, okay,” he said.

Oh, you mean those things on my biceps and chest that girlfriends and mom have told me they can barely notice for the last four years? Cool. Insecurity confirmed.

After a few more up-and-downs with his eyes he allowed me to put my shirt back on.

“So, not bad,” he said “Not a six pack, but not bad.”

The only time I had ever heard his tone before was when I got feedback from professors on my papers in college. My body had never been such a direct subject to critique. Which is not that his criticism was harsh or inaccurate. It's just that it existed that I found so odd. I took my shirt off and some stranger gave it a meh/10.

I found out that they required $400 to “build my portfolio.” They got me all the way here just so I could be reminded of the dice-rolling I mentioned earlier.

I told him I'd think about it and he let me be on my way. But, there was just one more off-putting moment this guy had in store for me. As he walked me out he said lots of nice things about how I “have a great look” and that I “just need to tone up the body a little bit” and we could work together. It was his last line that stuck with me.

“You've got... *sigh*... personality.”

He said it like it was disappointing, like it was a deficiency. I, of course, took it as a compliment, but that sigh made it all a bit back-handed. I walked out, taking one more glance at their framed clients on display, avoiding eye contact so as not to be visually accosted. I'd had enough of that for the day.

I got back in the car and was welcomed by my girlfriend reading several online reviews of the place, claiming this agency were crooks who took “portfolio building” money and did nothing with it. I returned home with a few hours of my life wasted, but with the satisfaction of knowing I was able to add “model” to my “Things I'm Not” list.

I'm happy to say that this list has been growing recently, as has the opposite list. I assume moving across the country with nothing resembling a plan has that effect. Forced, but welcome growth.

All my friends and I are still trying to find ourselves, a hopefully endless process. Self-discovery tends to be high in demand, but infrequent in its supply. So, I try to relish in the moments when I feel I actually understand myself. And while being told I have “personality” by someone who seems to have given up on their own is far from a cathartic moment, it may lead to one.

For now, I'm back to Craigslist in hopes of finding my dream job. Or, at the least, in hopes of finding a source of income.

One thing is certain, I need to get back on stage and tell some jokes. It's been about a year since I used that “...*sigh* … personality” for anything worthwhile. I hear Denver comedy is as loving as its population, so I think I'm going to stop using this “hiatus” nonsense as an excuse, and go attempt to make people laugh.

If I remember correctly, it was comedy that made me write my first entry into my “Things I Am” list. I see no reason why it couldn't keep adding to it.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

How often do you want to kill yourself?

It's a terrible question, isn't it? It's such a painful thing to ask, mostly because you are absolutely terrified of what the answer might be. If you're a good person, you're terrified because you know the answer could break your heart. If you're a not-so-good person, you're terrified because the answer may lead to a very long, very sad conversation. But, you're probably wondering why anyone in the world would ask this of someone. Well, anyone that has ever sought out treatment for depression will be able to tell you that this question has been directed at them nearly every time they see a doctor.

Having been prescribed three different anti-depressants in my lifetime, I have had to answer this question, or some form of it, no less than a few dozen times. Every time I've been to the doctor's office about my depression, I've been given a survey with roughly eight questions on it. They want to know how often X has happened in the last two weeks. X is usually things like losing interest in things you normally enjoy, a loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, and other things that depressed people usually experience. You answer on a scale from zero to three, with zero being “never” and three being “every day.” The first seven questions are essentially a “how ya doin?” The eighth question is more of a “exactly how worried should we be?”

I've seen it phrased a few different ways, but it's always something like “how often do you have suicidal thoughts?” I've been tempted in the past to mark it as a “3,” then when the doctor asks me about it I'd tell him that I'm more worried about my loss of enthusiasm for Oreos.

“Suicidal thoughts come and go, but I've never said no to cookies and milk before. Something is wrong, doc.”

I've never done this, because I've found most doctors don't take potential suicide to be a laughing matter. I come from a perspective of everything being a laughing matter, which includes my unending emotional distress. “Unending” is an exaggeration, but considering the headline I'm using, dramatic is the name of the game around here.

Here's what brought on this morbid line of thinking.

Today has been uneventful, and lonely. If suicidal thoughts were a cocktail, those two would be the main ingredients. It was in my somber wallowing that I received a phone call from an unknown number.

As a single freelance writer working at the same desk, in the same room, as the one I used to update my AOL Instant Messenger profile on in 8th grade, an unknown number has limitless potential. It could be an employer. I've been sending out applications, maybe someone has finally noticed this “talent” I apparently have. Maybe it's just someone who's phone number I lost, and now they're calling to catch me up on all the interesting things going on in their lives, breaking up the monotony of my day and validating that someone felt like talking to me today.

I answer the phone using the least desperate voice I could manage, being certain that the person on the other end is sure to either have a job for me, or at the very least they want to talk to me.

“Hello?” the sad person said with audible desperation.
“Hi, this is Something Something from Clinic Thing, I'm calling on behalf of Dr. Person and we just wanted to know what was going on with your prescription.”


What is “going on with my prescription” is I have stopped using it. After my last breakup, I was feeling pretty terrible and got prescribed with Prozac. Now I'm fresh out of another breakup, and I've stopped taking it after convincing myself that it wasn't working. Stupid, maybe, especially since I did so without telling my doctor. This is probably the sentence I'm supposed to have some clever justification for my decision, but, no, it was stupid. Moving on.

I don't mention my real reason for going off of the medication, instead I brush by a couple secondary excuses, namely the fact that I've recently moved away from that clinic and that it would be impractical for me to make appointments there to re-up my prescription.

She then asks me if it was okay if I took a quick survey. At the time, I was thinking this was going to be a survey asking about the quality of the care at the clinic, or how I was treated by the staff there, things of that nature. I said yes, thinking all I had to do was give them a verbal thumbs up for the next 90 seconds and then be done with it.

If that were the case, I wouldn't be writing this.

It turned out to be that strangely routine series of eight questions that I am now answering over the telephone. The woman on the other end sounds sweet, with a heavy Minnesotan accent that has probably delivered more bad news than I've ever received in my life.

By question #2, I'm already thinking about #8. I go through the motions of telling her that I haven't had any trouble eating or sleeping, but that I am occasionally feeling abnormally down. Par for the course.

Question #6:
“How often in the last two weeks have you felt like a failure, or that you've let everyone down?”
(scale of 0-3, remember)
“Well, I just moved back in with my parents. So that's gotta be at least a two, right?”

She let out a nervous laugh. She was probably already looking down at question #8 like I was in my head. After saying something about how “it's really tough out there for you guys,” I realized that she was probably looking at a document that told her I was 24 years old, and therefore I get a pass on being a fuck-up for at least another three years.

Finally, we get to the doozy, #8. The periods in the upcoming dialogue represent stiff jolts of discomfort shooting up Mrs. Minnesota's spine.

“How often. In the last two weeks. Have. You felt like. You'd. Be. Better. Off. Dead?”

I gave her my honest answer, “one,” representing several days in the last two weeks where I had these feelings.

I followed that answer with a laugh-like snort, and by saying “I'm so sorry, this has to be absolutely terrible for you. I can't believe they make you ask people that.”

I think my levity took her off guard, and she responded with an apology for having to do this on the phone. She told me that the survey showed “mild” depression, which I guess is an improvement over the “extra spicy” depression I had last time I took the test.

She advised that I go to a doctor that is closer to me so that I could talk about renewing my prescription with somebody, and I lied right into my iPhone and told her that I would.

I hung up the phone standing on the brick patio in my parent's back yard. I put the phone in my pocket I started to cry-laugh. I laughed the loud, howling, crazy laugh that you don't let out for funny jokes or people getting hit in the balls. It was the kind of laugh that is just for you. If anyone else heard it they would have you committed, and rightfully so. I don't know what it was about the whole conversation that I found so profoundly mortifying and hilarious at the same time.

Here I've been moping around all day, examining the decisions I've made that have put me back at a place that feels a lot like square one, and I get a phone call asking me to describe exactly how depressed I am. That's like a soldier getting sent on another tour in Iraq (or where ever we're killing people now), and when he gets there, the president calls asking him to detail how much he hates getting shot at.

There are so many ways that my depression is like being deployed for military service. So many.

This one got a little long, so I appreciate all three of you that stuck around till the end to see that I have indeed not killed myself yet. If I ever do, I'll make sure to blog about it after to let you know how it goes.

And just in case this post isn't long enough, I would like to leave you with an obnoxiously long quote from a Stephen King novel I've been reading, The Stand. This is one characters description of a main protagonist in the story, Larry Underwood.

“Men who find themselves late are never sure. They are all the things the civics books tell us the good citizen should be; partisans but never zealots, respectors of the facts which attend each situation but never benders of those facts, uncomfortable in positions of leadership but rarely unable to turn down a responsibility once it has been offered... or thrust upon them. They make the best leaders in a democracy because they are unlikely to fall in love with power. Quite the opposite. And when things go wrong... a man like Larry blames himself.”

Well, Internet, things have gone wrong. And, yes, I blame myself.

This account hit close to home, as anyone that knows me will tell you that I am rather uncomfortably stuck in the “finding myself” phase that you always hear snoody people coming back from studying abroad talk about. And even though I have no plans on being a leader in a democracy, certainly not this one anyway, I take a small amount of solace knowing that Stephen King thinks I'm going to turn out okay.

In the meantime I will be writing about video games for almost no money, and writing about my depression for none at all. All while drinking my dad's beer. Whether I like it or not, this is where I'm going to have to find myself.