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Seven and Forty

This morning, I woke up on the proverbial wrong side of the bed.

Ever since my car’s transmission decided to go belly-up, 25 days after I bought it as-is, with no recourse or grace from one of the St. Louis Area’s top 20 privately-held companies, with revenue in the mid nine figures – getting to work takes me four times as long, and involves a particularly inconvenient ordeal. Our transit system has some real bright spots, and my new apartment is close to several of them. My work, on the other hand, has limited transit access, exacerbated by system planning, which doesn’t favor westward commutes.

Not exactly how I envisioned my life at 47: broke, divorced, childless, and working in a job that takes every bit of my energy, along with a schedule that requires insane amounts of caffeine, in order to keep up.

When I was younger, and would find myself in situations like this, I would often think to myself, “there has to be more to life than this.” Today, I know better. This is life. This is how it is. This is as good as it gets. The sooner I accept it, the happier I am.

These are the consequences of my actions and decisions.

The last six months have been a constant tumult of movement, followed by roadblock. I lost a job, due to performance issues directly related to drinking and drug use – otherwise known as Relapse Number Seven. It was a job I was increasingly growing to hate, given the increased toxicity. Working for the government can be rewarding – until it isn’t. And, when the budget runs constant deficits, and your agency is a perpetual, political football, it ain’t fun.

Relapse Number Six cost me my marriage and house. Number Seven cost me my job and any hope of financial solvency. With every relapse, over the last 25 years, the will to recover becomes more difficult to muster, the faith in recovery that much harder to grasp. The hope of a better life fades even farther from view.

And, every. Single. Obstacle. Every messed up transmission, every discouraging meeting with an attorney, every stressful e-mail from a realtor, every hard conversation with a  family member, every time I have to chase down a non-responsive car dealer, every impossible customer or selfish co-worker, every damned time the key-card to my building doesn’t work, and I have to wait an hour for a maintenance guy – who knows nothing about key-cards – to show up without the proper tools (the fault of his employer, not him), so that his best course of action is to hammer the hell out of my lock, and tear the damned thing off (scaring my dog in the process)….

Every. Single. Obstacle. Becomes another punch I take. And, take. And, take. The gloves some down, arms slack and sore with each blow, leaving me vulnerable to the next one  – the inevitable take-down.

Depression is like that for me.

Life is hard enough without a bunch of extra BS getting in the way – both the external circumstances, and my inability to accept them. Add those elements to the equation, and life becomes damned near impossible.

For most of my life, I’ve thought that money, success, status and a partner in crime would help mitigate most of this difficulty. That’s a lie.

I’ve never had much money, but I keep reading about high-profile suicides of wealthy people. So, that can’t be only solution.

I’ve had success and status, and aside from a sense of self importance, those things come with their own stress.

I’m not the greatest at being a partner, which helps explain why I’ve never been able to attract a good partner.

These latest suicides – that of fashion icon Kate Spade, and Chef/Writer Anthony Bourdain – prove that “having it all” can leave a person wanting. I mean, here I am, mourning the death of all my dreams, only to realize that achieving those dreams isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be.

I don’t know much about Kate Spade, however, I was a huge fan of Anthony Bourdain. He’d be a guy I could drink with, if I could drink with impunity. Sometimes crass, often irreverent, he was – at the same time – deeply insightful. When he launched his new show on CNN, it felt to me like he found the perfect fit – a channel that would allow him to go as deeply into global perspectives as he did food – to really draw out the relationship between food and the community it serves, and to place some favorite dishes within sociopolitical context. As a viewer, Parts Unknown was a perfect fit for me, too – a beautifully complicated tale, as told by a thoughtful but tortured soul.

Anthony was never shy about discussing his past with heroin or cocaine. And, so much of No Reservations was the crew rolling film on “drunk Anthony.” Prolonged use of those substances will re-wire brain chemistry – and, alcohol is a depressant. That doesn’t even get into the life circumstances that cause trauma for so many. For me, it was growing up the target of grade-school, and junior-high bullies, weathering my parents’ divorce, feeling so acutely different, because of how I walked and talked, and because I had little to no social skills, among my peers.

More likely than not, I’ve suffered from some form of depression since childhood, but it was easy to mask by making myself busy, or distracted. As I got older, I learned about drugs and alcohol. Then, in periods of sobriety, I would throw myself into busyness. And, when recovery left me wanting, then work became the escape. Once work was the problem, I got married. Then, bought a house, then…

Thing is, take away the busyness, the substances, the distractions – both good and bad – and I’m left with nothing but anxiety and depression – which was what hit me square, this morning, as I struggled to get out of bed and go to work.

During my darkest nights of the soul, before I would get sober (One. More. Time.), I would have this routine conversation with myself. It was a simple question that my inner dialogue would ask, upon my awakening, each morning:

“You gonna kill yourself, today?”

It was a nonchalant question, along the lines of “What’s for breakfast?” or “Did you let the dog out?” Every morning, I would answer back with a litany of responses as to why I wasn’t going to do it, that day: Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem; or, suicide doesn’t make your problems go away – it only passes them on to those left behind. The last one is what has kept me going. With as much grief as my family has dealt with, regarding my behavior, I can’t bear the thought of how they would react or respond. I can’t bear the possibility that those I love would struggle with the question of what they could have done differently – when I know damned well it wouldn’t have been their fault.

Problem is, nothing would quiet the dialogue.

Over the last seven months, I’ve found myself occasionally in the midst of this dialogue. It’s not as strong. The question isn’t as loud. But, the fact that it even comes to mind is concerning. Here’s what I know, however.

Over the last seven months, the thought of drinking over my problems no longer sounds like a great option. That doesn’t mean I don’t think about it. It only means I’m better able to think it through.

More importantly, the driving force seems to be that, no matter how bad I feel, no matter how dark it seems, it’s important that I learn to keep going – to press on – not by simply finding some other thing to buy or achieve – thereby masking whatever feelings exist. It’s critical that I remain as honest with myself as possible. And, doing so means I need to recognize that there are days when life feels insurmountable. When I feel like the Universe just hurled a big “I-Told-You-So” in my face. When it feels like God is punishing me for wanting what I want.

I don’t have a pat answer for this, and I sure as hell don’t trust anyone who claims to have one. And, I don’t trust anyone who can’t understand the depths of depression or mental illness. Recently, I read the status of someone I don’t know all that well, who – in a way that was meant to be non-hurtful – admitted as much. And, while I appreciate the sentiment, it makes me want to run away from that acquaintance. As fast as I can. I don’t need a lack of empathy in my life.

I can only talk about what’s working. And, what’s working is continued efforts within a program of recovery, that allows me to uncover more and more hard truths about myself. And, in so doing, I’m able to change how I react and respond to life. I have a family that loves me more than I could ever appreciate. I have a dog that means the world to me. I have coworkers who love having me around, even when I can be really difficult.

I have one or two good friends who can give it to me straight, doing so with a necessary level of kindness.

One bad decision could ruin all of that. And, my addiction has already taken enough from me. It doesn’t get any more of my dreams.

If you find yourself in one of those lost nights, with endless dialogue, reach out. I know it’s easier said than done, because it’s the last thing I want to do. But, for the love of God, do it. Know that you’re loved. Valued. Appreciated. You will be missed. It will get better. But, most importantly, know that you are worthy of living.

Brokedown Palace: Confronting Prejudice, And Finding Solace In Loss Through Music

Brokedown Palace: Confronting Prejudice, And Finding Solace In Loss Through Music

Fare you well, my honey. Fare you well, my only true one. All the birds that were singing, are flown, except you alone. (Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter)

If my brother-in-law ever reads this, he would find it rather amusing that I’ve referenced what was once one of his favorite bands. He was, for all intents and purposes, a Deadhead. One of my favorite stories he told me was about running into Jerry at The Grind. Some of us are old enough to remember the place, in its original Maryland Plaza location. These days, Maryland Plaza is the picture-perfect representation of gentrification. Back then, it was still a bit bohemian, a little rough around some of the edges as you got east of Newstead, but a wonderful place for a bunch of crazy college kids to hang out and escape suburbia.

Back then, I was “too cool” for The Dead – largely due to the caricatured representation of its fans – especially during their high point in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when people started to deify Jerry – something that really frustrated the band.

One of our greatest flaws as humans, is that we allow our prejudices to close us off – whether that’s artistic elitism or the fear of people who don’t look, act, or worship like we do.

Bob Weir has become one of my top five favorite guitarists. The man plays rhythm guitar like a jazz pianist – and that was very intentional, as he studied Bill Evans (Miles Davis’s pianist) and McCoy Tyner (John Coltrane’s pianist). He had me there. The Cool period of Jazz is my absolute favorite. His fans include Lee Ranaldo from Sonic Youth and the members of The National.

From a technical standpoint, their Wall Of Sound remains one of most innovative PA systems created, and was the model for current line-array systems – allowing the music to sound GOOD and LOUD.

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One of their tech crew went on to head up audio post-production for Skywalker Sound. Dennis “Wizard” Leonard has made many of your favorite movies sound as phenomenal as they look. He was in charge of the live-to-recording mix of Europe ’72.

As per usual, I’ve gone fanboy and digressed.

Lately, I’ve found such great comfort and catharsis in the lyrics – and so much damned respect for each of the band members as musicians (all without the assistance of psychedelics).

“A lot of Garcia’s music was about death. That’s an appeal of the man that you have to discover over time. You don’t see it, immediately, because of the way he presents – historically – as this sort of big, happy hippie icon. You get to know, as you listen to the music, that actually, he’s a deliverer of dark news, you know. And, that’s when you begin to really take him seriously.”Nick Paumgarten from the docu-series Long Strange Trip

As I’ve said before, many people listen to music simply for background noise, or to keep the party going, etc. And, there’s a place for that – one, of which, I need to be mindful. But, my relationship to music has been so much deeper. I’m told that obsession was such for me, long before I could remember it.

My earliest memory is crawling and bumping into one of my dad’s Bose 901 Series II speakers – part of his own elaborate sound system. When I was eight, he began to trust me with the big-boy toys. He taught me how to set recording levels, and I learned my first lesson about being careful with high-end gear, when I damaged the diamond stylus on his Technics SL-1100 turntable – released the year of my birth and predecessor to the legendary SL-1200 series, which became the professional standard for radio and club DJ’s alike. It was recently resurrected by Technics and costs thousands, today.

And, because he has an engineer’s mind about EVERYTHING, my dad taught his eight-year-old about signal paths. Which switch did what. Which cable connected to which device. I became a natural troubleshooter, so it should be no surprise that I spent several years producing commercials and running live sound. I owe you for that, Pop.

In short, music was my first escape mechanism, my first love, a career path, and my current therapist. My favorite artists tend to have a bit of a dark side to their writing, and as such, I’ve been able to jump into the fire, so to speak (inadvertent Harry Nilsson reference, but I’ll leave it). So, whether it’s an obsession with Radiohead‘s discography, starting with Kid A, Dave Matthews Band’s Before These Crowded Streets, The Dead’s version of Morning Dew from Europe ’72, just about anything from Nine Inch Nails, or Pink Floyd’s The Wall – all of it has served a purpose. It’s been a way for me to face my own demons, grieve them, and move on, one step at a time.

For any Pink Floyd fans, I highly recommend Roger Waters’ recent documentary on his three-year tour performing The Wall. The man is 72 years old, worth a quarter of a billion dollars, even after four divorces, and he is still grieving the death of his father in WWII. Call it the universal human condition, if you will.

Today, I face the prospect of losing everything – as if losing my wife to divorce wasn’t enough. I’ll be involved in some practical measures to put me back on a path to healthy coping skills, but to be honest, I don’t hold much hope of gaining any kind of meaningful life back. Much of that is the consequence of my own bad decisions, and unhealthy behavior. And, while it’s important to own that, the consequences aren’t any easier. And, the hope of rebuilding isn’t there. I’m leaning on the only people in this world that I have ever been able to trust – my family. I’m leaning on their hope for me, because it’s all I can do, right now. And, in the meantime, I grieve. And, I trust the music to be there for me.

“Going to leave this brokedown palace, On my hand and knees, i will roll, roll, roll. Make myself a bed in the waterside, In my time, i will roll, roll roll.” (Garcia/Hunter)

Koan Of Shame

FeaturedKoan Of Shame

I’m a morning person. Sort of. I’ll wake up early, without an alarm, and – once I’ve shaken off the cobwebs I’m moving along. Sometimes, the dog is my alarm clock, and I’m on her bathroom schedule. Either way, I’m up. So, I might as well do something.

Lately, I’ve been working on making the best use of that time. Mostly by being still. Quiet. Doing what I can to get the internal dialogue that’s so often a part of my day to shut the hell up. Sometimes, I’m successful, and other times…well…take recently.

Much of my internal dialogue, the last few weeks, has centered around wanting to throw in the towel – to undo all of the hard work I’ve undergone in the last six months. And, when that dialogue becomes a shouting match, the impact ripples into every facet of my life.

Maybe not shouting, per se. Maybe loud and insistent. Like an intense family meeting, or my dog, when she sees a random creature she doesn’t like. Which is all the time.

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The dog. This is why I could never stay mad at her.

I like to think this isn’t my normal resting place – this deep level of negativity and despair. But, really, it’s the undercurrent that has subconsciously driven much of my life. To sum up…

Calling divorce a humbling experience is like calling being struck with a sword slightly painful.

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The only time I’ll get away with mixing Star Wars with Monty Python. Deal, purists.

I loathe failure. Which puts me in good company. I don’t know too many people who like it. I see all sorts of motivational quotes from famous people who talk about how they learned the most from their failures, and used those incidents to become successful, later on. That sounds peachy.

I wish I could say I look at failure the same way it’s pictured in those shiny motivational posters. Someone screws up, misses the big shot, doesn’t achieve the business goal, fails in relationships – repeatedly, loses their run for the Presidency, because the Electoral College favors less populated states, and 50% of the electorate decided to sit this one out.

Pick one. They all suck.

The posters would have you believe that all those people simply brushed off the dust, got back up, and did it again. And, it’s a lie.

I’m fortunate to be close to some amazingly successful people, and can tell you that, with each failure, was a period of grief. Anger. Bitterness. Self pity. Perhaps to lesser degrees, and for smaller periods of time, but no one is immune from being human.

Feelings may not be facts, but they are, in fact, real.

Lately, it’s become important to trace the feeling back to the internal dialogue that may be causing it. And, that takes a certain amount of internal quietness. Which leads me to mindfulness. And, the study of Zen. And, it hit me that my long-standing internal drama functions as its own koan – and, not in a good way.


The reason I hate failure so much is that I’m rarely kind to me. As much as I want to think I have this instant likability, I don’t like myself too much. If at all. Success becomes the fix that blunts the inner pain, quiets the negative koan. Laughs in its face and flips it the bird. It’s fleeting, temporary, and then, it’s off to the next thing.

Failure is not an option. Which is, to use the vernacular, bullshit.

My hatred of failure, and ultimately, of myself, leads me to make rash choices, react quickly, keep moving. Do not sit. Do not feel. Do not acknowledge how much it hurts. Just. Keep. Going. Dodge the demons. Fake-throw and run.

Watch closely for the fakeout

The thing about demons is they’re persistent. Patient. Crafty little bastards. And, when they finally catch up to me, they’re pissed. I guess if I was part of a pack of howling, shiftless, spawn of Satan, running after some dodgy asshole, I’d be a little miffed, too.

So, there I am, face to face with a child of Beezelbub. I’ve just laughed in his face, given him the finger and made him chase my ass. It’s not much different from when I experienced this in grade school, with real-live bullies. Except, then, I usually got my ass kicked.

This chase scene is rather Benny Hill-ish – except not bawdy or humorous.  So, maybe, not at all like Benny Hill (I just wanted to get Yakety Sax stuck in your head. Have I succeeded? Good.).

And, it’s an illusion.

First off, the wiry little fucker is only in my head. A figment of my overactive imagination. The culmination of years and years of bad thinking, picked up from a multitude of sources – each with their own set of broken agendas.

This particular lying asshole demon wants me to believe I’ll never succeed. Never get what I want. Or, it would have me believe that I’m an impostor. That any success is fake. Ready to be snatched from me at any instant.

Any screw up is merely confirmation.


The first time I confronted this, in any healthy way, my therapist told me I needed to re-frame my concept of failure. Instead, I needed to look at what I learned in the experience. And, I needed to practice self compassion. He challenged me to call out the negative thoughts as harsh. Because, they are. And, he challenged me to ask the question about the source of the thought. From where, exactly, is it coming? Why would I possibly think such a thing?

In so doing, I have just made the unconscious conscious. I’m staring that son-of-a-bitch demon in his beady eyes, ready to throw the first punch.*

Jung

Right now, I’m scratching the surface – becoming aware of tiny acts of self-sabotage, in which I engage almost daily. I’m realizing that, when such a thing happens, my subconscious is screaming for help. And, this time, it’s a true scream.

Which gets me back to my study of Zen and mindfulness. A true koan forces us to examine our perception of things, abandon ultimate dependence on reason, and connect to intuitive enlightenment. I’m nowhere near there. I’m still learning how to be – to breathe in and out, and let the waterfall of thoughts simply be. Don’t try to control them, stop them or force them out. Let them be.**

Lately, that’s been more difficult. The thoughts and the feelings are strong. Fierce self hatred is so ingrained, and people fail my expectations regularly. But, every time I breathe in and out, every time I sit down and articulate things, I’m throwing a punch at that scaly, worthless demon. With enough practice, I connect. Connect enough times, and the bastard goes down. He might get up again, but I’ll be ready.

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Mama said, “Knock you out!”

*Most modern-day therapists would say the unconscious mind is not the enemy. This is a departure from Freud, who called it a storehouse of repressed thought. And, it’s a shift from those would treat the unconscious mind as a superhighway to achievement – then wonder why the constant barrage of positive affirmations aren’t working. The above links are to the same article, which gives the unconscious mind the proper respect it’s due.

**I identify as Christian, which I may discuss in later postings. The concept of Zen meditation does not conflict, at all, with the teachings of Christ. For more on this, I highly recommend Christian Zen, by William Johnston – a Jesuit priest, serving in Japan on the heels of the Second Vatican Council. Also, this app has been immensely helpful.

Isn’t this where we came in?

Isn’t this where we came in?

The difficulties of extenuating life circumstances, a need to process deep-seated pain, a comment thread on a Facebook post, and a several-weeks-long obsession with Roger Waters’s recent documentary on his three-year world tour.

It’s funny how seemingly unrelated events can connect. A quick preface…

The last six months have been full of both upheaval and stasis – none of which is happening at the most opportune times. When I want things to stay static for a moment, they change. When I want things to move forward, I get another roadblock. Rinse, repeat.

My wife of ten years and I are getting divorced. I won’t comment on details, as the legal proceedings are – for better or worse – still pending. It’s in the attorneys’ hands, now, so let the continuances…well…continue.

And, we still have a house to sell.

In that time, I’ve gone through the five stages of grief numerous times. And, I’ve gone from committing to turning the ship around to just wanting to set fire to the damned thing and jump.

The first is impossible. It’s among the most humbling of moments to read a legal document, in which a standard line states that “the marriage is irretrievably broken.” Sadly, no truer words have ever been written, concerning our predicament. It’s probably the one thing, on which, both of us agree.

The second is irresponsible and unhealthy. Which, leaves the third option: do what’s in front of me, in as much time as it takes.

I could get into all sorts of reasons why this frustrates the living shit out of me, but it wouldn’t be prudent, right now.

All I know is, recently, I found myself at a point of despair similar to where I was, emotionally, when all Hell broke loose in September. The ninth, actually – our ten-year anniversary. Thus, my several-week obsession with Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and specifically, the role bassist and songwriter Roger Waters played in its conception.

 When Syd Barrett went schizophrenic and was unable to continue as front man for Pink Floyd, Waters stepped in as chief songwriter. He was the band’s intellectual – a tortured soul, who channeled that angst into broader commentary on mental illness, politics, the music industry, authoritarianism, and – finally – his own damn demons.

Some people look to music to get them out of a specific mood, make them feel better, etc. I don’t. I’m in it for the catharsis, and it was clear I had some of my own damn demons to exorcise.

In the midst of this phase, I posted an article on Facebook, concerning a young, incendiary, conservative host who was suspended from her job.

What stayed with me was an off-tangent conversation I ended up having, related to the comment I wrote along with the post. I wrote, “Be nice to people on your way up. You may need them on your way down.” An old classmate – someone, with whom, I don’t interact regularly – responded. He agreed with the sentiment, then apologized for an incident that took place in 7th grade. He had tripped me, apparently, while I was holding a huge stack of books and supplies. I say “apparently,” because I don’t remember it. I assured him there were no hard feelings. And, truly, there weren’t. Kids are mean and stupid. Myself included. Most of us outgrow our childish behavior, and some don’t. Or, don’t outgrow all of it. Again, myself included.

But, because I am the kind of person that can over-analyze a plate of food, I asked myself why. Why didn’t I remember the incident? The likeliest reason: 7th grade was part of a year that included other deeply traumatic events. It was bad enough that I was in a new school, with new people to make fun of me, because of how I walked (the product of a mild form of Cerebral Palsy) or talked (the product of a precocious childhood, surrounded by adults, and a well-above-average reading comprehension level). It was even worse that I was one of the working-class kids from Rock Hill, all of a sudden surrounded by the old money of South Webster Groves. Money and status were important to me, at the time, and dad had made it clear that we were on our way up…until October 1983.

That was when my parents announced their divorce. My dad was both my hero and champion; home was safe. Irrational as it was, I was afraid I wouldn’t see him again. Also, he was the sole breadwinner. I’m sure you can figure out the very real impact that had on my day-to-day life. Really, though, this isn’t about a decision my parents made, especially now that I find myself in a similar boat. This is about how I coped with it – or didn’t. How I internalized horrible beliefs and attitudes about myself, and the world around me.

At the time, I convinced myself and others that, really, I was fine. I wish I had been more honest.

I responded, in part, by comparing myself to others who I thought were worse off – so that I could feel better. I became less invested in studies and more invested in being liked. Or, at least, not hated. And, I built my own wall – only to have it become my eventual, and repeated undoing.

After decades of unhealthy coping mechanisms, followed by occasional fits of growth, I realized that I was capable of being that right combination of witty, charming, intelligent, personable.

I learned that I was capable of casting vision, coming up with a plan, and sticking to it – while allowing some of that plan to change, if needed.

I learned that I could persevere, no matter how bad it felt, and how many times I wanted to throw in the towel.

I learned to do what I love and love what I do. And, I learned that there are any number of things I can do – both vocationally and as hobbies – that fulfill my core passions of art and activism.

Slowly, I am learning to be okay with me.

Every once in a while, however, I get hit with a curve ball. Someone says or does something critical of me – especially in a public or semi-public forum – and immediately, I’m that kid who would get humiliated in public on a daily basis. It’s confirmation of my worst fear: that I am not worthy of being valued, liked, accepted, loved. That I am an impostor, and my success can be snatched up at any given moment.

And, while those new incidents take me back to a familiar place, the lessons to learn are new. The first having to do with holding seemingly contradictory beliefs in tension. It’s possible for an incident to feel very familiar, and in parallel, recognize that it is not the same. At least, that’s what my therapist said. I’m told that this tension of beliefs is a critical first step to breaking the familiar narrative – one that keeps me in the role of victim and justifies any number of bad decisions.

The second lesson deals with my unconscious beliefs about safety, security and trust. They developed before my parents’ marriage blew apart, and shaped my reaction. Today, those unconscious beliefs continue to shape decisions – good and bad. The more I’m able to make the unconscious behavior conscious, however, the better off I am in the long run.

As part of my quest for safety, security and contentment, I still look for hope in the external. And, that isn’t necessarily bad. But, externals can change in an instant. Frankly, it pisses me off that these things come from within. Historically, I haven’t had the faith that I could pull off such a feat.

Every once in a while, any number of my well-meaning friends who share the same faith as me point out that I should seek hope in the eternal. While those individuals are correct, I still want to punch them.

I’m overdue for another reading of the book of Job.

What I do know is that the last 40-something years of operating the same way haven’t worked.

Six months ago, I came up with a plan – much of which is on hold until the divorce is final. But, this – writing – is part of that plan. I have no expectation as to where it would take me. Only the goal that I would improve over time. For me, that’s huge.

And, it’s confirmation that the best thing I can do, today, is stick to the plan, do what’s in front of me, and keep things moving – at whatever pace I can. To never sacrifice direction for speed ever again.

I’ll never slay my demons – not permanently. I don’t think that’s really possible. But, I can rise above them, day by day. And, sometimes, it’s important to protect myself from their intrusion.

I just need to be careful that the wall I build doesn’t close me in or swallow me whole, so I can still deal with the difficulties of extenuating life circumstances…

It’s Not You, It’s Me

It’s Not You, It’s Me

Dear Facebook,

We need space. Indefinitely. And, let me be clear, it’s not you, it’s me.

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Seinfeld had the best riff on this, but I can’t seem to find it, anywhere. Ohwell. Emma will always do.

I know you’re used to all the attention. Depending on the day, your founder is either the most astute entrepreneur on the planet or the most irresponsible millennial alive. They even made a movie about the guy – scored by one of my favorite artists. The score won a Golden Globe and an Oscar – but, you know, Nine Inch Nails was going to be just a fad. Sorry, I went all fanboy on Trent. I go fanboy on people, sometimes. It can cause problems.

Anyway, the real answer about Zuckerberg is that he’s a smart, lucky young man, who worked hard and succeeded. He’s using that wealth for social good. A fellow human – for me, anyway, Facebook. You’re not a human. You’re a community, with its own set of challenges – something even your creator admitted, recently.

The problem is how I act in that community. Not all the time, and not with every move. First, the good:

  1. I’ve reconnected with a lot of old friends. It’s been so wonderful to see how everyone’s lives have evolved – friends from grade school, high school, college. Many of us are far-flung – especially the college folks. And, some of us are just a couple of streets over. So incredible how that works. And, I wouldn’t have done it without you.
  2. It’s become my newsreader. I stay caught up with current events and politics on every level, thanks to you. And, I get to read more in-depth stuff, when I have time. I wouldn’t be anywhere near the level of well-read or informed without you.
  3. I have family scattered throughout the US. I wouldn’t have much contact with them, at all, were it not for you.

There’s more, I suppose. But, I’ll start with those. And, it’s not all roses and dog videos.

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Not a video. Eventually, I’ll get the upgrade that allows me to post those. For now, enjoy this GIF (pronounced “Giff”…I don’t care what the creator says).

So, the bad:

  1. I’ve needed to do much more fact-checking, when I see a link. And, I need to avoid the most clickbaity of clickbait. This isn’t all you, Facebook. This started with e-mail chains – the thing that one person always sends us with the latest conspiracy theory or damning evidence, regarding a public figure. But, here’s the thing: fake news may have helped elect the current guy in the White House. And, that was spread primarily through you, Facebook. It took a while for your creator to hold you accountable. But, eventually, he did.
  2. Speaking of political posts, don’t you wonder about how divided and polarized we’ve become as a country? Of course you don’t. Because, you’re not a human. I wish you could see what’s happened, and the role you might be playing in it. Again, not all your fault. The divide began long before the first friend request. But, I’m not sure you’re helping. I’ve blocked more people – including old friends and relatives – over heated political discussions and diverging opinions on social issues. Somehow, I – and we – have forgotten that we are more than our opinions…no matter how strongly we hold them. And, sometimes, that means we lose the opportunity to connect with someone who really matters to us, in real life – because of some stupid thing they posted online.
  3. Drama. Too. Much. Drama. Sometimes, it becomes tempting to have it out with that one person who posted something you didn’t agree with. And, then, it becomes an all-out public slug-fest. The thing is, we always feel more entitled to slug it out, when we’re hiding behind a screen. I wouldn’t dare lash out in some of the ways I used to, if I was looking that same person in the eye. We might still disagree, but the tone stands a better chance of being civil.
  4. Vaguebooking (known as Subtweeting in the Twitterverse). Facebook, your presence in the universe encourages something else – a safe place to overshare. But, is it? Of course not, so we’ve developed the art of the vaguebook – the share that’s directed to a specific, unnamed person, but could also pass as a standalone post that others might find amusing. Of course, if there are others familiar with the specific target or situation, those folks find it even more amusing. It’s high school, all over again. Childish, insecure bullshit. I’m a middle-aged, grown-ass man. You have a problem with me, you come to me. But, wait…I’ve done it. Because, I’ve become part of the problem.

You see, Facebook, it’s really not you. It’s me.

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The truth is, I’ve also destroyed friendships – or damaged them in ways that aren’t easily reparable. Nothing is worth that, Facebook. Not even you.

In short, I need to take  a step back and assess things. What’s the best use of my time? How can I use this as a platform to communicate and connect, and eliminate the other narcissistic tendencies that come with its use (my narcissism is the real problem)?

I need to call my family members, read books, clean my house, and see my friends in real life.

It’s not forever. It can’t be. Ironically, you might be one of the best places to promote this blog. So, we’ve got to come together, at some point. Redefine the relationship. Put things in their proper perspective.

Until then, I hope you’ll understand the need for distance.

E.

FaceCation

FaceCation

Social media. The term is as ubiquitous, today, as was “record” or CD, or VHS, or DVD (but not LaserDisc or Betamax, or Super Audio CD. Those never caught on. Which is too bad, because they were superior technologies. That’s another story.).

bill murray laserdisc
He still looks like this. But, older. I digress.

Immediately, we know what someone means – or we think we do – when we use the term “social media.” It’s been lauded as the next generation of targeted mass communication and the worst thing to happen to the social sphere since…well…ever. While there are behavioral parallels that transcend generations, social platforms take advantage of new technologies that allow us to be more connected than ever – via mobile devices, laptops, even our smart TVs. But, are we really connected? In this way, the waters in which we swim are uncharted. Or, maybe not. Maybe, we do know where this is headed – and, it isn’t great.

And, I’ve been right there with the salmon, swimming upstream to an almost certain outcome.

salmon
We have two guarantees in life. I have yet to do my taxes.

It’s time to stop .

First and foremost, it’s a huge distraction. Or, can be. Especially for those of us with flexible schedules. Often, we end up taking work home, because we didn’t finish it during the day. So, did we ever truly unplug? And, how healthy is that, really?

Second, it encourages narcissism and other unhealthy behavior. Let me clarify that. This isn’t the Twinkie defense. Social media didn’t make me a narcissist or insecure, or any number of things that lead to unhealthy social interaction. It only exposed something that’s been there, all along. We justify it, because everyone else is doing it. I can hear my mother, now…

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I come from a long line of engineers. This would have been the perfect response. Family, I believe you have failed me.

We stay in our little cocoons and wait for our next crumb of validation. Someone upsets us too horribly, and either we get into a large, public online argument – the likes of which are often much harsher than would happen if we were talking face-to-face. Or, we just block the person. Out of sight, out of mind. Serenity now. Until the next time someone says or posts something we don’t like. And, the dance starts all over again.

Insanity-is-doing-the-same-thing-over-and-over-again-but-expecting-different-results-Albert-Einston
The internet seems to attribute this to Einstein. And, you can always trust the internet, right?

Sometimes, those knee-jerk blocks are with a long-time friend or acquaintance, and we miss out on what would have been a great opportunity to connect in meaningful ways. Then, something happens to change that possibility forever. The one thing we can’t ever get back is time. Do we really want to waste it being mad at people for their opinions? And, just how important are my opinions, anyway?

important
Humility

Or, we engage in “vaguebooking” or “subtweeting” – indirect confrontational behavior that is clear to the person targeted. And, maybe a few others familiar with the situation. It is passive aggressive behavior at its best, and is the preferred choice of those who want to send a message, with minimal drama. Or would prefer not to air 100 percent of their dirty laundry. Both laudable goals, I suppose, but they’ll never take the place of direct communication.

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Also known as vaguebooking. You thought this was about you? Why are you so paranoid?

Personally, I find passive aggressive behavior to be among the most abhorrent practices. My tolerance for it, from other people, is incredibly low. And, yet, I’ve done both of those things. It’s not how I wish to conduct myself.

So, since I can’t change other people, I choose to focus on me. Some would argue I do enough of that. But, again, different topic. Besides, my insurance company pays a therapist for that nonsense.

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That’ll be another $100…

Mostly, I’ll do what I always do. But, you won’t hear about it. I’ll work, read, listen to music, watch TV or films, and if I really want to say something, you might read about it here.

Otherwise, it’s no longer a good thing for me, in which, to engage. Not the way I’ve been doing it. And, not for now. The narcissist in me thinks I’ll be missed. The super critic thinks you’ll all be glad. The reality is, likely…yes.

What’s most important, is that my innermost self knows this is the right thing. So, for now, I’m out…

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I miss this guy. Like, really badly. How did 45 happen?