Dorian Gray is Awful…(but we might have something [else] in common)

When I first entered the adult world and started taking college classes, I went on a big reading binge of classic literary works because I was leaning into feeling smart and sophisticated. I’m not saying that that worked, but it was a good journey. I now know why ‘Frankenstein’ was terrifically tragic, how ‘Dracula’ was somehow both lamer and way cooler a tale than I’d thought it would be, and that Dorian Gray is a massive douche.

I’m serious. It’s a decade later, and despite the hundreds of stories I’ve taken in since then through the different mediums – books, movies, television, video games, etc – I haven’t found a character I vehemently despise with a greater fervor than I hold for Dorian Gray.

Now, first off, I recognize that it’s a little ridiculous, and I’ve cooled my jets some. Kurt Vonnegut has a great quote about hating fiction:

“Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.”

Well for a while, I bathed my armored boots in the sugary blood of Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” for the simple reason that the protagonist is an utter shithead.

I rant about it now a lot less often than I used to, but I hold to the opinion that Dorian Gray sucks. That’s probably a good thing, though, since I think he’s supposed to be disliked. If you haven’t ever read or heard of the story, it essential goes that a young nobleman, Dorian Gray, has a portrait painted of him by his meek friend Basil. He soon discovers that the portrait, rather than he, will bear the marks of things that ought weigh heavily on the soul: stress lines in the face, silvered hair, wrinkles that come from a Liar’s Frown, etc. He struggles a bit with whether or not he’ll lead the kind of pure life that will render his portrait forever perfect and unblemished, or live wantonly since the picture will foot whatever ethical tab he runs up.

Spoiler, he opts for the latter option, like a total dick.

*RANT INCOMING*

(I’ll keep it short, but) What I can’t stand about him isn’t that he’s selfish, conceited, arrogant, smug, and manipulative, but that he whines, bitches, and is so spineless too. Whenever he’s in a position of power or leverage, he’s completely mad with whatever little power that may present him, but the moment the tables are turned even slightly, he moans, complains, begs, weeps, and mews. Then, if he gets his leverage back, it’s right back to being an insufferable ass-hat. Like, if you’re going to be a conceited, villainous asshole, at least be sure of yourself in that. At least stick to your damned guns. But to flip flop back and forth between villain and victim is SO gross, and I’m SO happy when he *spoiler* f__kin’ dies at the end.

I forgot where I was going with this, but- oh! Yeah, my car.

Right, trust me, it ties in.

I realized earlier today that my car, Phoebe, is kind of my own portrait. I took great care of her a few years ago. Got her regular washes, got her oil changed ahead of time, maintenance and check-up’s before things had a change to break, and she’s served me well for it.

Then, life got sort of topsy-turvy and difficult, I’ve really had to realign my financial priorities, and that meant Phoebe couldn’t get the same kind of treatment. At the end of the day, with everything I’ve been through and continue to work against, I try to keep my head up, shoulders back, eyes forward, and a bit of smile at the life I’ve got. Almost like you wouldn’t know things have been rough.

But my car looks like total ass now.

I’ve said from the beginning, that as my first car that I’ve had for over a decade now, I’m going to drive it until it dies. She’s in her twilight years, and BOY does she look it. But until lightning strikes her outright dead, I’m going to act as though she intends to roll on.

It’s just created a funny bit of imagery and comparison wherein it’s like I’ve endured some rough stuff, but maybe you wouldn’t know it, and meanwhile my car is bearing all the telltale signs of hardship instead of me.

And I think that’s worth a larf.

Have a good one, everybody.

Ciao.

Thoughts on Pain (from a Wizard)

I’ve been binging paperbacks hard this year, and a fair amount of those have been The Dresden Files series. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s a series of novels by Jim Butcher centering around a private investigator in Chicago who’s a wizard. Or it might be more appropriate to say he’s a wizard who works as a private investigator. Either way, it’s great. I had friends recommending the series to me for years until one of them just bought me the first five (there are seventeen so far) and I’ve been cramming them almost constantly ever since.

They’re fun reads.

But you ever have one of those moments with a book that sits you down? That can either mean sits you down on your ass because it took you off your metaphorical feet, or it could mean that it sits you down, puts a hand on your shoulder, and has a talk with you. It’s one of those moments where, for a brief minute, you set aside the story the book is telling you and audibly thank the author by their first name like you’re on that kind of basis with them.

This was one of those.

It was a perspective on life that I realized I’m going to be loosely quoting, paraphrasing, and otherwise referencing in deep talks with others for a while, if not the rest of my days on this earth. And I won’t lie, I had expected something like that to come out of ‘The Art of War,’ or ‘The Book of Five Rings,’ or ‘The Alchemist’ (which is also good), or something. Not necessarily a novel about wizards, zombies, vampires, angels, warlocks, and all the rest.

I’m going to put the excerpt here, in all its glory. It’s out of the ninth book in the series, ‘White Night,’ pg. 307-309 if you nab the edition published by ROC. (I don’t know if there are other “editions,” it just sounded fancier to say that way.)

“The wisdom, maybe, was still in process, as evidenced by her choice of first lovers, but even as an adult, I was hardly in a position to cast stones, as evidenced by my pretty much everything.

What we hadn’t known about, back then, was pain.

Sure, we’d faced some things as children that a lot of kids don’t. Sure, Justin had qualified for his Junior de Sade badge in his teaching methods for dealing with pain. We still hadn’t learned, though, that growing up is all about getting hurt. And then getting over it. You hurt. You recover. You move on. Odds are pretty good you’re just going to get hurt again. But each time, you learn something.

Each time, you come out of it a little stronger, and at some point you realize that there are more flavors of pain than coffee. There’s the little empty pain of leaving something behind – graduating, taking the next step forward, walking out of something familiar and safe into the unknown. There’s the big, whirling pain of life upending all of your plans and expectations. There’s the sharp little pains of failure, and the more obscure aches of successes that didn’t give you what you thought they would. There are the vicious, stabbing pains of hopes being torn up. The sweet little pains of finding others, giving them your love, and taking joy in their life as they grow and learn. There’s the steady pain of empathy that you shrug off so you can stand beside a wounded friend and help them bear their burdens.

And if you’re very, very lucky, there are the very few blazing hot little pains you feel when you realize that you are standing in a moment of utter perfection, an instant of triumph, or happiness, or mirth which at the same time cannot possibly last – and yet will remain with you for life.

Everyone is down on pain, because they forget something important about it: Pain is for the living. Only the dead don’t feel it.

Pain is a part of life. Sometimes it’s a big part, and sometimes it isn’t, but either way, it’s part of the big puzzle, the deep music, the great game. Pain does two things: It teaches you, tells you that you’re alive. Then it passes away and leaves you changed. It leaves you wiser, sometimes. Sometimes it leaves you stronger. Either way, pain leaves its mark, and everything important that will ever happen to you in life is going to involve it in one degree or another.”

God. Damn.

Thanks, Jim.

A Few More Things I’ve Learned in my Time as a Tradesman

Anthony Bourdain has a great quote that floats around the internet from time to time, saying how you can tell a lot about a person who has worked in a restaurant. There are, he goes on to say, a lot of soft skills that kitchen experience teaches a person, like the ability to accept criticism, to be punctual, to handle the dual role of servant and provider and all the subtle dynamics that entails.

Put a pin in that for a moment, and bear with me.

Earlier this year, I continued a recent reading binge by tearing through Musashi Miyamoto’s ‘Book of Five Rings.’ I’d had it recommended to me for years, told that it was a tome of ancient teachings and great wisdom and all the rest, blah, blah, blah. What I found was that, so much more, and not quite that at all – all at once. In it, the author states pretty clearly that the book you’re holding is a manual for his particular view on swordfighting, and it stays very true to that.

But one thing that he emphasizes in the Ring of Earth (if I remember right; don’t take me to court over that) is how alike all things are. He draws the distinction in terms of weapons, but extends the principle throughout: a sword may seem heavy and unweildy at first, but it’s that way for everyone; a bow may seem difficut to pull at first, but everyone gets stronger with time and practice; even a halberd is complex and tricky, but with training one learns the in’s and out’s. The point being that that trend continues for everything: pottery, painting, serving food, making shoes, carpentry – everything. Whenever you’re new at something, it seems difficult and nebulous, but the more you immerse yourself in it and learn about it then the more you are able to navigate it; and the more you realize that’s what everyone in the world does with everything. The only thing that separates you from an expert (or a novice from a master, in other words) is time and devotion of study.

Coming back to my point with Bourdain, there’s a TON of sh*t you pick up working with folks in the trades, some of it I’ve touched on before, and not all of it is as direct as how to cut a miter or fit a stud. There are a number of valuable soft skills and observations that come with it, and here are what I think are a couple of the highlights.

  1. You learn to tell the difference between a joke that has venom in it, and one that doesn’t.
  2. You learn to take pride in your work, if for no other reason than the things people will say about it when you don’t.
  3. When you see someone’s work around town and you get that “Hey, I know that guy” mental ping, it comes with a reminder that we’re all in this together. Sometimes we forget that our cities are just collections of people that work somewhere.
  4. (I’ve done this for years, but) Talk about people like they’re standing behind you. Keeps you considerate, and bad gas gets around.
  5. Patience pays off. It just might take a while.
  6. That said, swearing makes you stronger. Use that power.

Anyway, thanks for letting me rant. Get back to your day.

Ciao.

Why (I Think) Writing Should be Hard – A Rant

Not saying that’s what this is at all, but I get into about one online fight a year. I do them annually. I keep it to that, because otherwise I’d go insane, since they all go exactly the same way: I see something I disagree with, I look into it to see if I stand to learn something, after which I tell the person I disagree and why, they disagree back, I cite sources and supplemental arguments, they post a picture and call me dumb, I explain why that’s insufficient, whereupon they say that I’m insufficient, and I close with a final argument, a plea that they improve themselves, and a promise to myself to never do that again because it’s fruitless as hell.

It’s dumb because it’s <sigh> too easy. And I’m not saying that at all in an “I’m so much smarter than so-and-so” egotistical way. I’ve gotten into plenty of online discussions wherein someone stakes a claim and backs it up with reasonable evidence and rationale, I try to do the same, and we both come away with an evolved view of our positions even if they haven’t necessarily changed. The problem is that those things are rare as a pink manta ray (look ’em up, biologists have found ONE that exists), and the remaining overwhelming percentage are folks posting pictures, regurgitating easy rallying cries, and slinging insults.

That’s because it’s way easier to do the latter than the former, and that’s so damn disappointing. Ideally, one should either take part doing it correctly, or not at all. Just because you can post an inflammatory picture or meme that’s supposed to summarize your point, doesn’t mean you need to. (Also, if your world view has so little nuance as to be completely encompassed by a rehashed picture and a joke, that may be part of the problem.)

I’ve been a longtime lurker on reddit, too. Always reading and surfing posts, but never posting my own or commenting much. Recently however, I’ve started getting a bit more involved with commenting at least. I stumbled upon the r/writingadvice forum, and that seems to be where I do most of my talking. It’s always great to spread and pick up tips and shared wisdom from other writers, and that’s as good a place as any. It also feels good to have your advice find some small purchase with another person and resonate with them.

That said, I found one bit of advice I’ve shared that never seems to get a positive response. I’ve dwelled on it critically, whether it’s sound advice or if I’m just being an asshole, but I earnestly lean toward the former (not out of defense, either; I’m down to be called out if it’s correct). In a nutshell, it goes as follows:

The OP says they know they’re a strong writer with a powerful voice, but they never find the motivation to finish projects or commit to anything. They have talent, those close to them praise their work and reassure them, but still the doubt remains. What can they do?

Whether it’s right or wrong, this is roughly what I try to share with you now as I have on those posts:

You can’t tell yourself you have talent. It may very well be true, but for the vast majority of us, it isn’t. It doesn’t always come easy, and it shouldn’t. There will be times when inspiration strikes and the words flow, sure, but you can’t just accept that your words will effortless spin gold because it’s natural. It takes effort over time, commitment, and exhausting levels of energy. “I don’t like compliments,” Jimmy Hendrix was once quoted saying. “They distract me.”

Be like Hendrix. Even if you are talented, don’t tell yourself that. Make yourself earn it, time and time again. Celebrate successes, absolutely, but don’t get lost in them. Live, strive, learn. You have to be your own biggest fan, but only while paired with being your own harshest critic.

Doubt, loneliness, some self-loathing, exhilaration, wonder, elation, and all the rest are part of the trade, it seems to me. Having wonderful ideas, observations, and tales to tell is something literally all of us do. The trick- the job is in building a bridge between that realm of imagination and fantasy into the real world.

Y’all, that takes work. Just like a bridge, it needs structure. It needs fittings, cables, hangers, bolts, sub-structural braces, decorations if you’re fancy, and maintenance. It needs all these things before it can work like you want it to. So just like with the aforementioned internet squabbles, it needs more effort than expecting it to come naturally and have people see it the way you do in your mind’s eye. The work is wondrous, lonely, heartbreaking, but uplifting and rewarding.

Can you do it? Fuck yeah. Please, Christ, share your story. But put into it tenfold the energy you expect to see out of it. Will some succeed and find it easy? Maybe. But even ninety-nine out of a hundred success stories you’ll hear about by very talented people are built with insane amounts of unseen work and luck. Enough patience and fortitude is what will make the difference for us normies.

If you’re looking to succeed at an art, at a project, or whatever else, that’s the secret. It’s simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Great artists that seem untouchable are people just like us. The only difference between us and them is time spent. That means time spent trying, spent working, spent failing, spent regrouping, spent learning, and spent trying again. That really seems like the secret everyone wants, but doesn’t like. But if you’re looking for a sympathetic ear and a pat on the back, ask for those instead.

Or shoot, maybe it’s a diet rich with Vitamin A. Like, somehow fifty years from now science will find that’s the trick to creative genius and everything I’ve just said is malarky.

But it’s worth a try.

Ciao, y’all.

A Weakness for Reality TV: A PSA (sort of)

I wish I was going to come into this with some sort of “here’s a way for turning your weaknesses into a strength” angle, but I don’t think that’s present here. The basic fact of the matter is that a seared Ahi tuna with spring greens is wonderful, but sometimes you really just want a greasey burger and fries. A roasted chicken with seasoned fingerling potatoes and balsamic glaze is a worthwhile culinary creation, but I’ll be damned if I wouldn’t take a box of white chedder shell mac n’ cheese for a last meal.

My point is just that there are finer things in life, things that are worth the time and effort that go into them, but sometimes all we really want, crave, and maybe even need are the crap. The Velveeta cheese. The mental diet equivalent of “mechanically separated chicken” (that’s the first ingredient in most packages of bologna you’ll find).

I’ve battled with my weakness for trashy reality TV for years, but with growing older comes maturity, and that maturity materializes with recognizing one’s limits and one’s nature. Turns out that an indellible fact of my being is that I just love this sh*t.

Flavor of Love. MTV’s Are You The One? Love is Blind. Sexy Beast. The Circle.

I love the fights. I love watching them gossip and bicker and drunkenly profess undying love for someone they’ve known for three hours.

I recognize that magic of TV editing, let that not go unsaid. I realize that the show editors can cut, clip, edit, and paste the footage to make anyone come off to look almost any which way. So in that way, I try to keep a healthy barrier between myself and the FULL enchantment of the brainless web it weaves.

But this latest round of binging I’ve done really brought to bare an important question: How the heck is this even legal?

Like, I understand that everyone on the show likely has to sign contracts, sign waivers, and give permissions to be there and have their likenesses be used and such. They sign up for the ride, I get that. But, I mean, we give ZOOS the ethical side-eye for how they treat their captive animals. How is it okay to take a bunch of young twenty-something’s whose hormones are peaking, throw them into a house with a bunch of unerringly hot people, liquor them up, put cameras on them, and whisper, “Go on. Go. Fight!”

Obviously, this isn’t a legitimate grandstand. I’m not on this little soapbox of mine in any serious capacity, and I’m guilty as HELL for consuming it after a hard week of work, it’s just struck me as funny. We worry about the dignity of captive animals (c’mon, obviously, rightly so), but cheerfully commit similar abuses to our youth for the sake of entertainment.

No kidding, season three of Are You The One? showed one guy having a mental breakdown in one of his private confessionals, whereupon he said, weeping, “I can’t do this anymore,” and tried to exit his confessional and hide behind the camera he’d been speaking to while telling himself to “Pull it together, man.” You know how I know that? Another camera on the ceiling filmed the whole thing. These people can’t take a shower or drop a Number Two without a production team seeing the whole thing.

I don’t really know what I meant to get out of this rant, but I feel better now (lol). Next time you just need a mindless laugh, check out any of the above shows. Just make sure no one sees you do it.

You Should Run

As much as that sounds like an ominous line out of a horror story, I mean it literally.

(Oh, and up at the top, we should acknowledge that the following is going to continue a recent trend of involving a fair amount of crass, poo-based humorous anecdotes. So if you’re too sophisticated for that, I understand. No hard feelings.)

If you’ll remember, the first rule of Zombieland is “Cardio.” Followed swiftly by “Double Tap” and “Limber Up,” but rightly put first in the list. You can be clever, well-stocked, and prepared, but if you can’t run or swing a bat when the time comes, the zombies are going to win. (Also, if you haven’t seen the movie, do yourself a favor and do it. It’s a great time.)

I’m not necessarily saying everyone should run a marathon each week, either. I go through seasons of putting in road work, interrupted by equally long seasons of being a couch potato. But I was just confronted with an experience that showed having at least a fair cardio base is truly invaluable.

This isn’t a life-and-death story, but it comes close. Listen up…

A few weeks ago, my fiance and I took a trip out to Austin, Texas to visit her family for the Fourth of July. We had a great time! The day of The Fourth, we began by taking it relatively easy, then went to a place called The Longhorn Saloon to play “Chicken-Shit Bingo.”

Yeah, you read that right.

You might be thinking, as I was told it would be, it was a goofy name wherein you played regular Bingo, except a chicken was responsible for choosing the ball. Could NOT have been more different. Players would be called to line up at a table at the beginning of each new round where they could buy essentially a raffle ticket. You’d pay either $1 or $3 for your ticket, affecting the pay-out if you won, then sit back and hope. After all players had their tickets or the tickets had run out, they game-runners would go over to a coop of chickens that had been chowing down. They’d take one of those birds, and bring it over to another oversized cage with a floor that had a checkered pattern with numbers on it corresponding to the numbers on the tickets given out. The chicken would eventually take a squirty poo (sorry for the imagery, but it’s true) on one of the numbers, and if it was yours you won.

After that truly bizarre but hilarious new experience, we went back to the house for BBQ. Through that BBQ, I learned two lessons, one in the moment and another that would hit me later. The first was that unless you live in Texas or Tennessee, apparently, the BBQ you might think is good is actually total bullshit. Y’all, on that trip, I tasted the flavor equivalent to seeing the face of God. That brisket, the cream corn, the mac n’ cheese, the coleslaw – it was all out of this world. I ate so much I was in physical agony but could NOT be happier for the sacrifice my stomach was making for the sake of my soul.

Which brings me to Lesson #2. (<– lol Get it? Ah, you will.)

After a delightfully painful dinner, we walked down the way about a 3/4 mile or so to a spot to watch a fireworks show. We reach our grassy destination, set out our lawn chairs, and get ready for the show; whereupon my tummy grumbles. And not in that kind of nonsense way where it’s telling you your hungry despite having just stuffed yourself. It was the, “Hey, because you just added a bunch of inventory, we need to move some stuff along to make room” kind of grumble.

Like a gentleman, I measured whether I could endure an hour or so sitting with the discomfort, whereupon my body delivered my brain a report stating “You can try, but they’re your shorts.” So, with a resolved sigh, I asked where the nearest restroom was. Now, I was hoping her folks might toss me the house key that I might back track to their house and use a private bathroom. Instead, my mother-in-law laughs and points the other way down the road, saying, “You see that traffic light intersection?”

I look and see waaaaaaay down the road is the traffic light, so I nod.

“Cool,” she says. “Go to the OTHER one just down the road from that one, and go left. There’s a park and they’re bound to have facilities.”

If it wasn’t so full, my stomach would drop at how far of a walk it was going to be, but rather than waste time, I nod and start power-walking in that direction.

Lesson #1.5 proved to be that unless you’re SURE of a shortcut, just go the way you know, especially if you’re in a hurry. I made it to the first traffic light and saw a pizza place across the street. Thinking I might save some time rather than make the full journey, I hop across the street to ask if they have a restroom the public can use. And just so you’re aware of the severity at play here, I was ready to bribe the guy with a $20 bill I had in my wallet. Alas, he wasn’t in any kind of mood to sneak me in the back, and recommended instead I try Domino’s across the street and down the way.

I start crying internally, I head back out the door and down the way. I risk another short cut, and hike up to the Domino’s. This time, before I can even get my hopes up, I can see their bathroom is still boarded up from public use due to Covid restrictions. So I try cutting across from the parking lot to where I can see the field of the park that I was originally supposed to go to. Bear in mind, it’s getting dark and the show is supposed to start soon, but I can see I’d have to climb a tall, chain-link fence if I wanted to cut across, and I didn’t want to risk adding a twisted ankle to my current list of problems. So I add yet MORE minutes to the time the journey’s taken by going back around and getting on the main road I was supposed to be following this whole time.

I make it to the second light and turn left into the park. It’s dark, it’s crowded as HELL with campers flooding into the park for the coming show, and I realize I left my phone behind. So along with balancing internal control of my bowels, I had memorizing street signs and turns I’m taking to the list so I don’t get lost too. Cause, you know, THAT’D be awkward.

I make my way through bustling crowds and finally, like spotting a beautiful oasis amid a desert, I see the bathrooms a short hop away. I make my way inside the brick building, find one of the many open stalls, and take my place upon the thrown.

I should note here that earlier in the evening, the question arose from my fiance’s little sister as to why we celebrate the Fourth with fireworks. The answer, rightly, had been that they were meant to simulate bombs going off, explosions in a time of war, given it was celebrating a fight for independence. I’d always found that a little funny since, always seeing the show from outside, it never felt quick like I’d imagine experiencing a bomb blast to be.

It sounds like the timing of a hokey joke in a cheap comedy, but I swear to God that the moment I <ahem> “placed myself upon the throne” and immediately <ahem> “got to work,” the fireworks show started DIRECTLY above the restroom facilities.

It REALLY added to the moment. And I can say with certainty now, that the simulation feels accurate. From inside that little brick building, it felt like I was taking cover from a shelling. The walls rattled, my guts shook (for a number of reasons), and the cacophonous booms soaked the earth beneath me.

That new experience under my belt, I collected myself and headed back towards the rest of the group to watch the show. Knowing I had already burned up part of the show with my <ahem> “business” <ahem> I decided to run back to the group rather than walk in order to save time.

Now, I’m in the middle of one of those aforementioned couch potato seasons, but was pleased to find that my cardio base could handle a little one-mile run despite the trauma I’d just gone through and being loaded to the brim on Texas BBQ. I made good time, only had a minor stitch, and was able to enjoy the rest of the show with family.

So, I hope you in no way got lost in the <ahem> details here and absorbed the true point of how important some baseline measure of personal fitness can be in the face of true emergencies.

Take care, everybody.

Making My Worry Work for Me

I guess I’ve just been in this sort of mood lately to ruminate on and dispense advice nobody asked me for.

I try not to complain. And by that I do mean in general, I’m not much of a complainer. It’s a habit that has some merit, but also means I wind up enduring a lot of stuff that I might not have to, otherwise. Let me explain.

It isn’t born from a spineless attitude, some sort of head-hung-low, “Okay, whatever you say, sorry,” disposition. As a little kid, I grew up in a house that saw more than its fair share of shouting and violence, and through life – like we all do at times, I imagine – have been surrounded by people with short fuses. And the takeaway, thank God, wasn’t that “shouting is totally the way to assert yourself and get things done so people know you’re not a push-over,” but that anger is ugly, more often than not. Really ugly. And if nothing else, I’m a creature of vanity, so I want everything to do with charm and nothing to do with ugliness.

That said, I have had two times in recent memory (meaning probably a dozen years) that I’ve shouted while beside myself. Once was while playing Settlers of Catan and Micah skyrocketed ahead to seven Victory Points and so I built my road up to try and close the gap a little bit for the rest of us but then Alan blocked me because “You got longest road last time” and even when I diverted he did it again even though the ONLY resources I was sitting on were Lumber and Brick so what the hell else was I gonna do, but he still felt super justified despite the fact that Micah had more than the three of us COMBINED, like are you kidding me with that f*cking STUPID lack of tactical awarene-……

Anyway, and the second time was at a doctor smugly refusing to help a loved one.

I’d say both were equally justified.

Patience is a virtue, and it’s one that all too uncommon these days, it seems; and so it’s one that I strive for with my utmost. I feel like with patience comes integrity, comes dignity, and comes a certain amount of peace. Not that it’s easy, at all. In fact, paired with a relatively undying sense of optimism, it can be pretty exhausting. It’s tiring to know that against whatever the odds may be, I’ll still hope; and even when those hopes have been dashed time and time again, know that beneath it all my core head will still insist that there’s a way for whatever it is I’m hoping for to work, and I’ll endure it quietly throughout the process.

I’ve blown a few gaskets, but still together, mostly.

And on the whole, I do find that honey wins more than vinegar. Gratitude wins out over attitude. Resilience beats out rage. Patience trumps pettiness.

But it is not easy, though some that know me have told me it seems that way.

Harkening back to the aforementioned vanity, yeah, when I’m told that I’m always such a cool cucumber, I lean into it because it feels sexy, but I’m human as hell, which means I still plague myself with nightmares of what could go wrong. All the time. I imagine those things I don’t want to have happen: people or pets dying, running out of money, losing a place to live, on and on and on. The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows (if you haven’t heard of it, check it out) defines the form they often strike me as Nighthawks. I can have a peaceful, happy day, and as soon as my head is on the pillow at night, I think of how one day I’ll have to eulogize my mother, or might outlive my partner and bear the burden of dying alone, or wrestle with my own mortality if I ever get cancer and just hope I’m loved enough that people will miss me…

You get it.

But what I try to do, since those things sound way too ‘woe is me,’ is think past them and, well, game plan, essentially. A recent example…

The topic of moving out of state has come up a lot recently. If you haven’t heard, California is expensive as balls, which makes prospect-building here rather low. With those talks, there are certain familial concerns that have to be taken into account before we could move anywhere, and my brain ran the Worst Case Scenario simulation, like this:
Theoretically, the strain of those familial obligations could be too much to bear for my partner and I, leaving us feeling anchored and without options and whereupon it’s ultimately what kills our relationship, and they breaks things off with me. Say that, a month or so after that, the family member in question passes away of health complications, leaving me with another set of pieces to pick up alone. Cherry on top would be that said partner hears of this and is so taken with grief and moreover guilt they take their own life. In a span of weeks, my life is turned upside down and my life loses two of its cornerstones.

It was a rough day.

But, mental/emotional nightmare that all that imagining was, I didn’t let it stop there. Much as it twisted my stomach and hollowed my heart, I made like an amateur improv artist and “Yes, and’d” the thought. If all that were to happen, take a few minutes to sit in how that felt. For a little while, look out at the scenery as if that was the world I knew at present. In a sense, pretend or fake myself into thinking that was the case I had to contend with…what would I do? How would I behave, what would that change about me? What prospects would I be left with, what options would I have then?

I was forced to admit it would probably change a few things about me – my personality, my tolerance for certain things, what I would choose to do with myself. But there was a certain amount of comfort that came from three things. Firstly, that was damn-near a worst of all worst case scenarios, and in a very facsimile-style sense, I’d lived through it; like I’d had a practice run of living in it. Secondly, when my car had issues later that day, it was no big deal at all. In fact, mentally putting yourself through the worst your anxiety can conjure makes small potatoes out of a lot of other problems.

Lastly- well’p, I’ve mentioned before a few times here that I’m a UFC fan. And any fellow combat sports fans on here would probably know the name Nick Diaz if I said it. I found a quote of his that actually sums up my third point a bit better than I would put it:

“Other people are always- you know they wanna think about the positive, don’t think
about the negative. And I believe that thinking about the negative is kinda- you know
a way of cancelling out all these possibilities one by one. Cause the odds are I’m
not gonna guess what’s gonna happen, but if I can guess every scenario gone wrong,
then um, you know, maybe, I can change the outcome.”
-Nick Diaz

It’s sort of that age-old bit of work advice: Don’t mention problems if you see them, mention problems and solutions. If you see a busted pipe and go, “Huh, that’s a busted-ass pipe,” that hasn’t really done much. Actually, it hasn’t done sh*t. But if you see a busted pipe, find someone, and say, “Hey, this pipe is busted. Should we turn off the water, do you know where the valve is?” Or, “Do you know who could replace this thing?” then you’re already a billion lightyears ahead of the first example.

My point is simply that if you play the “What if?” mind games that WE ALL DO, but let it stop there, that’s when it hurts you. WE ALL run the “What if X bad thing happened?” – some more than others, absolutely – and f*ck me, make no mistakes that it is not easy at all, but gee golly I’ve found it helpful.

Dunno. If nothing else, the next time you get hit with the Worry Hammer, try pressing forward a little bit. It ain’t painless, but it beats the hell out of building a world in your head of things that want to go badly for you and giving yourself no options.

Best of luck, all.

Why You Should Tip Big

I once heard somebody say, “Everyone needs to work a season of retail during the holidays so they know not to be disrespectful,” and I respectfully say, “F*ck that.”

Not because I don’t think people need better manners on the whole, mind. In fact, most definitely the opposite – all too common nowadays is it for people to feel insanely entitled – I just really don’t want to work a season of retail. Rather, I don’t want to work any retail, if I can help it, precisely for the above reason.

But that’s one of two occupations that experience a ton of entitled crap from a largely unforgiving public. The other, of course, being restaurant staff. (And yes, yes, before we go any farther, clearly there are other jobs that have to endure this too, but let’s focus here for today.) From complaints, to demands, to unreasonable privilege-seeking, Martha who grooms dogs or Bruce that manages a car lot seem to suddenly find a gem-crusted crown atop their domes the moment someone shows them to a booth at an Applebee’s.

And even setting those cultural, societal, (dumb) norms aside for the moment, working for damn-near free/”grovel wages” would be reason enough for the title. So yes, tip big if you find yourself able.

I tip between 20%-30% on average regardless of the bill for a number of reasons that will soon make painfully clear that those figures are in no way some sort of ‘humble brag.’ The first being that I can never remember what’s proper: Is it 15%? 18%? Is that with gratuity, or without? Was there a gratuity this time? I don’t want to leave 15% when 18% is the norm, and now that person thinks I’m stiffing, them or making a negative comment about their help, or something. So, if for other reason than laziness, err on the side of a touch more than a touch less.

Another shade to that reason too, actually, is embarrassment. Not at my powers of retention regarding customs, but at…hmm, expectation? Let me put it this way, if it’s Valentine’s Day and your classmate (pretend for a moment we’re in grade school, it makes the mental exercise work) gives you a Valentine’s Day card that states simply “Will you be my Valentine?” is that a sincere gesture, or just witnessing the fulfillment of a perceived obligation? Right? So if you’re given that card, it doesn’t say anything special and isn’t really even for you, it was just done out of tradition, but now you have to thank them or you’re the turd; but if you aren’t given a card, oof, well now you’ve been snubbed. Ouch.

But if you get a card from a classmate that goes a little above a beyond…? Oooo, that’s kind of sweet. That card has some hand-drawn glitter art? Got a little chocolate that comes with it? A personalized note? Oh, lawd, well now it’s kind of touching.

I don’t see how tipping is really all that different in form from the above situation with Valentine’s Day cards. It’s a win-win, too. If the service was great, the bonus tip sends the message, “Hey, you there, for real, thanks for taking care of me today.” And even if the service was awful and the person was kind of a butthole about the whole thing, you leave with the satisfaction that that person is probably going, “Aw, jeez. Well now don’t I feel like a rube…”

Moral victory secured.

But really, even all of that is just because I enjoy crafting a torturously long wind-up to my real point. And what I really draw from when I press this, is the following experience.

There was a time I went out to lunch with a friend (shocking, I know – I have FRIENDS), and I covered the bill. My memory’s a little fuzzy on who it was with, I don’t quite remember where we went, what we ate, or even clearly how many years ago this was, but I do very clearly remember what happened as we were leaving. I left a pretty sizable tip for all the above reasons (maybe closer to 30-35% this time; I was doing alright), and did so in cash just because it was what I had on me. As we were walking to the door, the fellow who’d served us ran interception and asked me if I’d made a mistake. Honestly perplexed, I just raised an eyebrow, smiled, and said, “No. No mistake, that’s yours.”

Now, there were no tears. No heart-pouring tales of hard times. But there was an indescribable look in his eyes that I didn’t know at the time I would one day understand intimately well. On the surface, he was just really grateful, and a bit surprised, so I took it that way. It was nice. Put a pep in my step, and I got to be That Guy (the good kind, not the bad kind) to somebody that day.

Fast forward a few years to Fall 2019, life’s gotten pretty hard. I’d left my job somewhat ambitiously only to wind up pouring most of myself and my worldly goods into a family emergency (Don’t regret it, do it again in a heartbeat only smarter), dropped classes I’d promised myself I’d finish that semester, had maxed out credit cards, and had $1.63 in my checking account…

It was rough.

I had a job lined up, but it didn’t start for another week. So I was taking a walk to a local deli, and I was going to put that last dollar and sixty-three cents to work (technically, I also had a paper dollar and two quarters in my pocket, as there’s a debit card minimum set above $1.63 at most places) on a cheap roll and a mini cup of salad dressing, which I knew to be a $1.25 in total. I get to the counter, and I guess prices had gone up, because the register rings me in at $1.89.

I stare at the numbers. My stomach drops out, anxiety and embarrassment prickle my scalp in turns, and I start muttering to myself about how it’s okay, I’ll just put the cup of dressing back. The fellow behind the counter waves it off after a moment with a smile. “You’re in here all the time,” he jokes. “Let me cover this one.” He presses a button on the machine and the balance goes to $0.00. I don’t know precisely how I must have looked to him, but in that moment it occurred to me with a painful lucidity that I must be giving him the same stare that waiter had given me years back. I choked out the same, whispered “Thank you.”

I barely made it to the door before I was bawling my eyes out.

So there you have it. You never know where someone’s at, and there’s no risk in being kind. Not just nice, but kind. Really, it’s a “There but for the grace of God go I” type of tale, a reminder to be kind in all those ways that can help even if you aren’t around to see it and it costs you next to nothing, because you could very well at some point wind up desperately grateful to be on the receiving end of a token like that.

Throw in that extra two bucks, Money Bags. You could make someone’s day, or leave an impact so deep and meaningful someone will preach about it online years later.

Ciao, everybody.

A Quick Rant: Unicorns are Badass

Hey-o. It’s that time again.

I’ve been (thankfully) busy of late, which has also sort of rekindled this dry lil’ well…hmm, mixing those two bits of metaphorical speech is kind of contradictory.

…anyway!

Yeah, I’ve been finding myself more and more over the past couple of days thinking, “Oo! That thought might be one for the blog,” and then jotting it down. So the next couple of days will be seeing some of those, but I figure we’ll loosen up with the easy one: Unicorns are kind of badass.

There’s a beloved coffee shop in town – we all have one that’s our go-to – and this one is particularly special due to their decor. They’re very outwardly LGBTQ+ friendly, meaning rainbows and sparkles EVERYWHERE. Their mascot, for lack of a better term, is a bright silvery unicorn. And that places brings about so much comfort and productivity, a real writers’ haven, that it inspired the very deep thought: God, unicorns are pretty badass!

To the point where, now as an adult, I’m really at a loss as to why they ever were considered as “sissy horses,” or a symbol for little girls meant in a pejorative way. They’re a freakin’ stallion with a freakin’ horn on their head. You’re talking about a strong, magical, terrifyingly intelligent equine with a weapon on it’s face. What, it’s cool for rhinos and dragons to have horns on their faces, but give one to a horse and suddenly it’s nansy-pansy. Get the f*ck out of here. If we’re riding into battle, I’m taking a unicorn (or a centaur – probably a better conversationalist) any damn day. There’s no lack of stories placing unicorns as lieutenants in fantasy armies, incredibly valued for their blood, horn, mane, or overall wish-granting abilities, and thankfully more and more stories where they gore an mf’er with that fancy piece they’re sporting (thank you Cabin in the Woods). They were one of my favorite Clans in Legend of the Five Rings (like, two of you will get that reference, maybe) and now I can understand why. This has all seriously absorbed me, too, to the point where I’m considering decor for my office space, just so I can start those conversations. “Evan, why the unicorns?” “Intruder, why NOT unicorns?”

Anyway. Been fun, but I’ve beleaguered the point to hell and back and now I gotta be off for a day of manual labor.

Catch you again soon!

What Would you do with the Lottery? (You’re Wrong)

Hey everyone, and sorry – the title’s a mite too aggressive, but you can never be too careful.

Let me explain.

You know when you’re going through your daily life, and all of a sudden you’re struck all over again by something that got your irritated years ago? Something that really chive’d your spuds, ground your gears, got your goat, years ago? Well I had one of those moments the other day.

I was working in an optics factory at the time, and I had a coworker who regularly followed the lottery. Not one of those “If you just follow the numbers, man” types, just kept a healthy eye on it. Well, as I remember it, the Super Lotto Jackpot (if that’s what it’s called) was at some truly ridiculous sum. If you hit all the numbers, the winner would be given something like 500 million dollars, either in the form of a 350 million dollar one-time payout, or basically $300,000 every month for the rest of your life.

Three hundred thousand dollars, every month, until you died.

Naturally, the question roamed around work: What would you do with it if you won? And some of the answers I heard infuriated me. “Oh, you know,” they began. “I’d keep my day job, of course. I’d make sure that plenty of it went into savings, and I’d use the rest to take care of my needs and live comfortably. Maybe a small house.” Even now, years later, I can feel my pulse quickening at how stupid that is.

Do you-

Can you even-

Does it settle on you how much money $300,000 is? Much less, that much every MONTH. That’s $10,000 A DAY. For most of us, that’s more money than we’d know what to do with. “Keep my day job-” Listen lady/dude/you, fu** your day job. Your day job doesn’t matter anymore. Literally, whatever you were doing, it doesn’t outweigh the net good you can now do with these boatloads of cash. It would be the most actual waste of time. Your day job is now hiring the right people to make sure this money gets spent properly. Set yourself up, set your family up, then you know what you start doing? Start solving sh**.

Homelessness in your area? Not anymore there isn’t.

Local schools having issues with budget constraints? Thing of the past.

People with crippling medical debt? Be gone, foul financial demon.

Your main concern now is living a loooooong healthy life and putting together a network of qualified, trustworthy individuals who will make sure the funds hit their mark and achieve the most good. With that much money, there is no such thing as a savings account for you to squirrel away to; and if you did you’re a villain who will wind up in Dante’s Fourth Level of Hell (Avarice). In a single month, you make more than the FDIC will insure.

Maybe it’s the fact that it is so unfathomable that made my friends give such dumb answers, but it just struck me as sublimely poor reasoning. “I’d buy a yacht.” “I’d buy a private jet.” Sure, you do you, boo; but I say forget the luxury industry. They have plenty of Old Money twits to keep them in business. Be the hero the world needs. Buy whatever kind of house you want, pre-pay your life and your grandchildren’s lives, then fix the world.

In other news, I have another book out!

Well, one that I helped contribute to. Proper ownership goes to Jessica Augustsson, as she’s the editor. And due credit to her, as she was a joy to work with. So, if you’re feeling like a tale featuring a quirky future kid getting tangled up in the misadventures of time travel, check it out on Amazon, and look up my piece, “30,000 B.C.” [Here, if you’re in the UK, chaps.]

I’d be much obliged.

Stay frosty, remember ya beautiful, and I’ll see you around.