Monday, September 12, 2016

Spitting In The Face Of Change

You are about to head down something that is not so much a rabbit hole, but more of an ant farm - with twists, turns, dead end, and alcoves. The words are an attempt to find the queen, and with the proper mixture of metaphors, we might break even.

For the longest time, I loathed change. Growing up secluded (for the most part) on a farm, in a house filled with books, I had the perfect environment full of constants. If change came into my world, I would lock the doors. Friends moved away. Lust gave way to indifference. Love was ephemeral. Goldfish died. Fluidity and dynamic interaction were not friends. If anything, they were met with anxiety. These three elements would dance until they collided in a meltdown. I strove for non-variables.

And it sucked.

Flux could go take a flying leap.

(I wonder if they've found a link between those who are seasonally-affected and their personal resistance to change?)

Lately, I've found myself on the other side of things, and I enjoy change, evolution, development, whatever the hell you want to call it. Not chaos per se, but the ability to embrace information, thoughts, and emotions that may not have been there before, and watch them grow. No More than watch - to actively experience.  

We have the ability to be agents of change, without laughing maniacally or becoming comic book villains. We also have the ability to change our feelings or points of view in light of new data, rather than try to synthesize everything through our personal simulacra of what life, love, beauty, and success are supposed to be. My cat freaks out at change, due to impressions of the very abusive household she was in before she was rescued. My cat is also a bit of an asshole, for similar reasons. My mantra is to not be like my cat on at least two counts.

I live (for those who haven't encountered me when I've turned into a one-person tourism department) in New Orleans. The people here are an excellent reflection of the architecture of this city. There are run-down shacks. Grand mansions. Building that are centuries old, with two or three facades slowly crumbling, to the point where even the original structure doesn't know what it is anymore. And there are shiny new places, with the best heating, wiring, and plumbing - as were all of these places (probably) at the time they were built. (We'll circle back to this in a bit.)

The city also exists simultaneously in a realm of tradition and ritual while embracing change - even if that change is brought about by entropy. A building crumbles, and (eventually) a new one takes its place.

Recently, I walked into my local watering hole after being away for a month or so (possibly longer - work is a run on sentence, punctuated by sleep) to try and look at the place with fresh eyes and figure out why the hell I started going there in the first place. And there they were - all of the houses described above, lined up at the bar. The difference is that, with "dive bar culture," there is no change.

And that was it.

Nothing changes at any given bar. The archetypes are all there, but the depth of the personalities make any Billy Joel song on the matter seem like a cheap Whitman's Sampler that you'd pick up for someone you really didn't care about on their birthday, because happened to be passing the local pharmacy, and don't want to be a complete jerk.

The people at local bars are fantastic. The minds you will encounter, conversations you will have, and the stories you will hear are amazing - and you get to participate. They are the easiest relationships to maintain, because all you have to do is show up. The magic is always there.

Yet there's another side to this.

It's the part you don't see because you are participating in, well, whatever is happening at your regular bar - which, cosmically speaking, isn't a hell of a lot. The debates about "the best whatever" or the wistful reminiscing that happens when someone plays a song on the jukebox, or the spats that crop up between people - those were happening before you showed up, and they will continue long after you've gone.

But this isn't happening just in my bar. It's happening in every single one that has repeat customers. It's Bukowski's paradise. An eternity of 80 proof comfort. Your best support group. The ultimate cable package where there's always something on, and the channels change as people enter and leave. The dysfunctional family gathering you can walk away from without feeling an ounce of compulsory guilt.

And that was my revelation.

The conversations hadn't changed, regardless of the calendar. People still had the same problems. I guess in the long run, people either resign themselves or figure this is an existential war of attrition, where the victories are Pyrrhic, at best. After all, if people didn't have problems, the bars would be empty. The regular patrons of a bar don't enact change. If I leave, there will be another person to fill my spot. I've never been good at playing an archetype, anyway.

I met a wise man a few days ago. He's been a regular for over 25 years and counting. When we first met, many moons ago, he asked me why I was at the bar. It wasn't one of those, "You're not from around here are you?" questions. Simply put, he said this place was filled with wonderful people who are ultimately miserable. He pointed out that I have a lot of positive things in my life. I know how to dress myself. I know how to use words. I'm functional. So he posed the question again.

I tried to sum it up: I am a deeply flawed and broken individual.

He laughed. That was it. We are all freaks under the same tent. Whether it's the person who is too afraid their estranged relationship; the musician who can't quite establish himself as a ukulele virtuoso on the local circuit; the person who peaked in life while playing high school lacrosse; or the professor who doesn't quite grasp talking with the outside world. Like a commune of hermits. It's a very interesting biosphere. But again, the kings and queens of any bar, are the ones who have been there the longest. At some level, there is an awareness of being broken, and "gooble gobble" bring in more regulars - we'll all feel better that way.

Time to shift gears for a bit.

I've never "belonged" to anything. I tried the Boy Scouts for a few years, but left once I had knot tying down pat. (Most teenage boys in rural areas knew how to start fires, so a lot of what the manual taught was redundant.) Hell, even in my own group of writers and creative types, there is rarely structured collaboration. I just never had the need, nor felt the desire to belong. (I'm also fairly certain this is a mutual feeling modern society has toward  me, so it's not like it is a one-sided relationship.)

Once you transition from patron to "regular" at a bar, you belong. And that was a problem. One of the most successful television shows of the 1980s and early 90s was Cheers, and I do not recommend anyone with fond memories of the sitcom to go back and revisit it. It is not funny. It does not holdup. Odds are, your local bar is funnier, and possibly more dramatic. But it's still a bar. No one "hangs out" at McDonald's to have great experiences with the other clientele, stumbling in late at night and reeking of fries. No one goes to a hospital lobby to blow their money on the vending machines, hanging out with the malady flies. Only at a bar - where nothing changes but the faces.

This is why I've disengaged. The change is not fluid, but rather glacial at a place where "everybody knows your name. A bar is a great place to get a drink. A bar can be a great touchstone in a hectic and chaotic world. A bar is not a good place to make your home, because change can actually be fun and character-building (in a positive, non-dice rolling sort of way).

Now that I've managed to hijack my own blog post, I'm going to go outside and do something.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

I Stayed Too Long At The Fair

I need to make revisions. Refactor, if you will. This seems odd to type - not only at the beginning of an entry, but because the more I stare at it, the more it seems like unnecessary exposition.

Yet here I am, a little bit older, with a life that couldn't get closer to the one I'd envisioned without retreating into my imagination permanently. And depressed. If you are not depressed, or have never been prone to depression, please find another blog entry. From the outside, this chemical, emotional, and psychological swing will always seem self-indulgent.

"I'm only faking when I get it right."

For whatever reason, through millennia of random combinations, the stuff of the universe has culminated in a species which is capable of both curiosity and self-contemplation. I am grateful to the friends I've made over the years, and everyone who has given me pause to figure out my coordinates on the big map.

Anyway, there is a point to this...somewhere.

One of the major drawbacks to being an insomniac is having the time to over-analyze (sometimes rationally, when pushed) situations. When coupled with some form of anxiety, it leads to an unconscious need to play out all possible moves across multiple timelines. (I would like to take this time to congratulate those of you who exist as Fire-Breathing Squid Batman in an alternate universe. You are awesome.) There should be a caveat here, because playing out these possibilities often leads to treating life as a deer treats an oncoming car on the Taconic Parkway at 3 a.m. It also does not mean that the best decisions are made, in the end.

Yesterday, by the sheer virtue of having thrown myself at reality and managing not to die, I turned the calendar on another year - possibly by shaving time off of the big inevitability in the process. It was good. I've never been adept at making friends.

"But you write for a living, can barely tie your own shoes, and have hermetic tendencies," you say. "How can you possibly suck at getting to know people?"

It happens when staying locked inside for months on-end removes the social dimmer switch, and I end up either not saying a single word when I'm around people, or I cannot stop an outpouring for...a selfish reason. The need to have someone hear a sound in the jungle. The need to be understood in order to get a different perspective from someone. The need for contact.

Again, it's selfish and self-indulgent. The mind and other metaphorical organs should learn to be happy with the friends and life I have. But it's not. I had a very well-built fence between being alone and being lonely, and I seem to have ended up in the wrong yard. And forgive me: I'm usually quite good at nullifying these maudlin maunderings and self-reproaches to the point of making posts like these unnecessary. But it's not working this time.

There are days I wake up and wonder if I'm still in one of the best dreams ever. I live in a city I wouldn't trade for anything in the world - both the good and the bad of it. Beautiful people everywhere. The sex won't (necessarily) kill you, but the sensuality is more than most people can handle. Like some benevolent Cenobite inundating my life with potential pleasure for all the senses.

I have my own barriers. Not "dare I eat a peach?" barriers, but others which are hardwired. And they need to be broken. A gag reflex, if you will. Getting to the "what now?" point that seems to trigger all-too-familiar social patterns for which there are no vests that fit close enough.

These big lame feelz. I do not like them. I do not like the chemical shift to depression. But at least it telegraphs itself much better than when I was younger. I peek at it from around the corner. I dodge it. I hide from it. I try to surround myself with friends. Attempt to make new ones. Hold my dick of a cat because she is warm and soft, and her claws provide that momentary distraction I need from ad terminus tendencies. (PURRPURRPURR *swipe* "Daddy, let me be the cutter so you don't have to!") I try to explain it, and it only ends up being frustrating, because this shift never sounds as serious as it seems when it's put into words. Hence the title of this entry. If you ever want to heap on more self-loathing when depressed, listen to Streisand. It's a great way to invalidate your own feelings by turning them into caricatures.

And once again, just a few paragraphs in, and the focus of this whole exercise is lost. I'll return to it tonight, or tomorrow, or raise the banner of "Coming Soon!" which seems to be the overarching theme, this time around.

We care a lot about Transformers 'cause there's more than meets the eye.

This is the second major chemical shift in the past year, which is not bad, all things considered. It used to be a pendulum with severe swings of elation followed by falling apart due to small things, like that damned Subaru commercial with the dog and the checklist. (Bite me Subaru, we ALL know what the last item was on that list. Your job is to make and sell cars, not run roughshod over my emotions.)

The problem with these downturns is that there is no actual thing. If I am cold, I can look at the thermostat or put on a sweater. If I am hungry, I can eat something. Loneliness and depression - especially when (analytically) there should be no reason for either - makes no sense. And solving for this unknown is like trying to bite one's own teeth. It's invisible, insidious, and gets less apparent the harder you look for it and try to nail it down - like some emotional scalar wave.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

I Lost A Stranger Today

For years now, I've been getting updates from someone on Facebook. Little, joyous posts about a person, her offspring with prodigious talent with music and dancing, pictures of places they'd been to, and even they'd attended. The person started following me roughly five years ago. Her profile listed her as a self-employed editor, so I made the assumption that she was a friend of a friend, or perhaps someone who enjoyed horror, and therefore took pleasure in seeing the new ways I managed to mangle words in my posts.

As the years went by, I saw her show off fashion, art, some brief downturns in health, her children's amazing knack for both music and dance, authors she had helped, and pictures of many wonderful social gatherings. Just last week, she had gotten on a kick of posting pre-Raphaellite art.

Today, my feed is filled with people sharing wonderful memories on her timeline. At first, I thought it was one of those annoying chain posts along the lines of "list the best memories you have of spending time with me," or something of that ilk that people post now and again when they feel a lack of connection to other people in this digital world - especially if they've spent a good portion of their lives in a world which did not have cat macros and where people enjoyed physical media.

I checked and scrolled and referenced other stranger's timelines, and this was no such meme. Quite factually and suddenly, this person died.

In real life.


For realsies.


Further searching revealed there was no reason for me to know this person. She had no standing friendships with other authors or editors on my lists of friends. No tertiary connections. If her profile was a bot (and these thoughts always cross my mind, because I want to believe) it was very convincing. I even contemplated this being a very creative ARG (again, because I want to believe). It's not like a character death in a novel, or even some expanded-universe non-canonical story about demise of an on-screen extra.


This was real. The outpouring is real, and I'm watching it unfold as I type this. I find myself thinking, "Well, what about the children? They're not quite old enough for college, and there weren't relatives present in the timeline, so what happens now?"

Why am I thinking about a stranger's world? Why am I spending time on this? I feel like I've crashed a wake. An indelicate stranger. Weird, voyeuristic, vicarious (wait for it) existentialism. It makes absolutely no sense.

Facebook says she's alive. I'm not certain social media curates the bigger real-world inevitabilities. Friends do. Family members do. But no one packages up these profiles and delivers them to the "virtual estate of." There are services which take care of these digital presences, but one has to be enrolled well in advance. There are groups working on developing AI systems to keep our online personalities "alive" and functioning long after we are gone. However, I don't think there are archivists - either working for these larger networks or independently - cataloging these lives.

I'm not certain where I'm going with this.

When people go away from us in the real world, there is a notification. Those closest are usually the first to know. Word of mouth informs the rest. Obituaries. Notifications of estate sales. Funerary services. Eventually, the IRS, creditors, utility companies, and others are informed, so services and bills can stop.

This doesn't happen in this virtual world. Facebook and Twitter do not pin a post at the top of the person's page saying "In fond memory of..." or even a dispassionate "Currently deceased pending user verification."

Maybe we need a better method for documenting our virtual lives, or at least archiving them. This makes for a large library of aliases, pictures of food, cat videos, and eve actual content. Perhaps we need a repository with better depth and linking than The Wayback Machine.

We're left hunting ghosts and solving mysteries from our screens. We become unwitting biographers. Raconteurs.

I'm not certain of the social decorum of a "like" or "retweet" to act as a bobber in the timestream. I'm sure I am not the first person to experience this. I certainly won't be the last. Hell, there may even be a German word with for the increasing familiarity with dissociation. I don't think technology is alienating us from our humanity; I just think it's something we have to come to terms with, like everything else, including the punctuation at the end of our personal stories.

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